My thanks as always to my beta reader, Barbara Davies. Her work can be found on her page, Barbara Davies.
It had been the most wonderful week for both of the young women. They had grown more confident in their blossoming friendship, falling into an easy routine together. Rocky had reluctantly agreed to Jo buying her some clothes. Although Jo didn't mind the blonde borrowing her things, the difference in the women's size made for a strange look for the shorter woman.
As Rocky's shoulder healed and she became more independent, Jo asked her if she would prefer to sleep in the guestroom.
"Do you want me to sleep in there?" Rocky asked.
"I want you to sleep wherever you're comfortable."
"I'm comfortable with you. If you're comfortable with me."
"That's settled then," said Jo.
"Looks like it."
And that was that. Jo had immediately turned away from Rocky, so that the blonde couldn't see the look of relief that crossed her face.
So it was a surprise when Jo woke in the early hours of the morning to find herself in an empty bed.
She lay there in silence for a while, listening for any sound that might tell her where Rocky was. But heard nothing but the sound of the wind outside.
So she slipped out of bed and went in search of the blonde. After checking the bathroom, she descended the stairs, seeing a pale light emanating from the lounge.
She hadn't realised how shaken she was at Rocky's brief disappearance until she found her, sitting on the floor in front of the illuminated Christmas tree. The fire's artificial flames also added to the gentle glow reflecting off blonde hair.
So deep in thought was the girl that she didn't see Jo come into the lounge and jumped slightly when the taller woman knelt on the floor next to her.
"Hey there," Jo said quietly.
Moist green eyes met her own. "Hi." She wiped away a tear and reached for Jo's hand. "Sorry, didn't mean to wake you."
Jo squeezed the small hand. "No problem." She watched the blonde head turn away from her, the Christmas tree lights reflecting off the tears escaping from green eyes.
"What is it?" Jo felt a little helpless, but was relieved when Rocky snuggled up against her, and she made them both comfortable, sitting on the floor with their backs against the sofa.
Rocky was quiet for a while, seeming to draw comfort from the nearness of her companion. "I had a nightmare," she said simply.
"You haven't had one for a few days."
Rocky nodded. "I know. I was stupid enough to think they were going to stop for good." Her voice was a little muffled, and Jo had to strain to hear her. "But I think I'm always going to be reminded."
"Reminded of what?" She ducked her head, wanting to see the blonde's face. But Rocky just burrowed deeper into Jo's embrace.
"I'm going to tell you something now, and I want you to promise me you won't interrupt." Rocky looked up, finding confused blue eyes looking back at her. Jo started to speak, but the blonde shook her head gently. "No. Please, Jo. I want you to hear this, but it's going to be hard, and if I stop I may not be able to find the words again."
"Okay." Jo's voice broke on that single word, for she felt the small body in her arms trembling and knew the fear that Rocky had of the words she was about to speak.
Rocky took a deep breath and began. Her voice was devoid of emotion; her breath hot through the thin tee shirt Jo was wearing.
"A week after I had been admitted to the hospital, my Aunt Susan and Uncle Ron turned up. Susan is my mother's sister. They told me I was going home with them to Leicester. My parents had been buried the previous day; I wasn't taken to the funeral." Rocky felt a flinch from the woman holding her, but Jo kept her promise and kept her silence. "They took me to Leicester.
"About a fortnight after I got there, Ron began coming to my room at night. At first he just touched me, and I pretended to be asleep. But then he started climbing into bed with me. He raped me on a Saturday night after he and Susan had been out to a dinner party. I remember smelling something on his breath, but I didn't know what it was. He hurt me, and when he had finished he walked out of the room without a word. I didn't cry. He would come to my room most nights after that. But I was numb then. So I'd let him do what he wanted to do.
"They wanted to send me to school, but I was diagnosed as being depressed so they kept me at home. That just meant he had more opportunity to rape me. He would come home in the afternoon, and take me on the living room floor. I never fought him. I know I should have. He started to want to do things..." Her voice broke, but the arms around her tightened and she continued. She swallowed. "I had to get away. So I collected as much as I could carry, and left." She focused on the clenched fist of her friend as it rested on her thigh, fascinated by the whiteness of the knuckles. "I didn't try to stop him, Jo," she said as she smoothed her friend's rigid hand and opened it, finding Jo's nails had cut into the skin of her palm. "I'm sorry."
The breath left Jo in an explosive cough. Almost as if she had been holding it throughout the telling of Rocky's suffering. She buried her face in soft blonde hair and cried, berating herself for not being able to find the words to ease Rocky's terror.
Rocky looked up again, her mouth opening in surprise at the look of pure hatred on the face above her. She tried to extricate herself from the tight grasp. "I'm sorry," she said again. "I'll go."
Those two words snapped Jo out of the place she had gone to, and she found herself looking down into terror-stricken green eyes. "Go?"
"I didn't stop him. I let him do it..." She was still squirming, vainly attempting to untangle herself from long arms.
Jo held on tighter. "I won't let you go," said Jo, resolutely. "Never." She cupped a flushed cheek in her palm. She felt the blonde relax again. "Never," she whispered again.
Jo watched the artificial flames of the fire. It had taken her some time to calm herself, and she knew she was no good to Rocky unless she was there for her, strong for her. But at that moment, she didn't feel terribly strong.
She found it hard to comprehend how the small blonde, now resting peacefully in her arms, had survived what she had gone through. She'd been orphaned and then raped by the very people who should have been there to help her grieve. But she hadn't had the chance, and Jo wondered if she had ever actually grieved for her parents.
"Jo?" The voice was very small, and the taller woman ducked her head, pulling Rocky closer to her own body.
"Yeah?" she whispered.
"I'm sorry for being so much trouble."
Jo tightened her hold. "You're no trouble."
There was silence for a few more moments, then she felt as well as heard Rocky draw in a long shaky breath.
"I would understand if you wanted me to go," said the blonde quietly.
"I don't want that."
"What about your friends?"
"My friends?" Jo rubbed her cheek against soft hair.
Rocky hesitated. "Jo, I don't want you to stop seeing your friends."
Jo lifted the blonde away from herself slightly, so that she could look into the still tearstained face. "What are you talking about, sweetheart?"
Rocky's eyes slid closed and she ducked her head. "I may not be able to give you what your friends do."
Jo mulled over the statement for a moment before realisation struck her. "Are you talking about sex?"
Rocky didn't look up, but nodded slightly.
A brief flash of anger changed immediately to sadness, and Jo reached out to take Rocky's hand. "Rocky, I don't want..." She saw the blonde head snap up. "No, I do want to have s..." She expelled a long explosive breath, and closed her eyes. "We've been here together for nearly two weeks," she said quietly. Rocky had relaxed back against her and she ran her fingers through soft blonde hair. "In that time I've been happier than I've ever been. Yes, I've had a lot of women, and yes, I just wanted them for sex. But when I'm with you..."Jo shook her head, trying to find the right words. "Just being with you fulfils me." She pulled gently on the blonde locks between her fingers, wanting to see the green eyes. "Does that make sense?"
Rocky didn't trust her voice, feeling her throat closing at the sound of Jo's tentative speech. So she nodded, and buried her face once again in dark hair.
The two women were quiet for a while, and then Rocky drew in a long breath. "I want to have sex with you."
Jo's hand stilled in Rocky's hair.
"I've only known his hands. Sometimes I wake in the night and I feel him on me; I feel the weight, smell his breath. I feel his hands." She extricated herself from Jo's hold and knelt up, straddling Jo's legs. "I want you to take those memories away."
Jo swallowed hard. "Now?"
Rocky smiled gently and leaned forward to brush her lips against Jo's. "No, not now. Now I need you to hold me, tell me I'm safe. Tell me he won't come back." She took a lock of midnight black hair in her fingers, twirling it around. "You were in my dreams before I met you. I'm terrified I'm going to wake up and find myself back out there. In the cold."
Jo lifted her knees slightly, causing Rocky to press against her. She pulled the smaller woman into her own body and held her tight.
Their faces were only inches apart, their breath mingled. Jo tangled her hands in short blonde hair again, and leaned forward, capturing soft lips with her own. The kiss deepened as Rocky's arms wound around the taller woman's neck, pulling their bodies closer together. They finally separated, both sets of breathing becoming ragged.
Jo was framing the blonde's face with her large hands, looking at Rocky in amazement.
Rocky searched the blue eyes, worry creasing her brow.
"You know what?" Jo finally said.
"I love you," Jo said simply.
"No-one has said that for so long."
"Shall I say it again?" She leaned forward, giving smiling lips another peck.
The blonde head nodded.
"I love you, Rocky."
Rocky turned her head, kissing the palm of Jo's hand, which still cradled her face. "And I've always loved you. When you came to me in my dreams, I loved you then, though I didn't know it was you. But you're everything I dreamed of. When you came into my life I was afraid to hope. It was easier to be numb." She traced a perfect dark eyebrow with a trembling finger. "But now I want to live, and I want you to show me how."
"We have plenty of time." Jo's hands moved down across Rocky's neck and onto her shoulders.
Rocky leaned back, and stood. She reached down to the still sitting woman. "Let's go back to bed."
Jo allowed herself to be pulled to her feet, and wound an arm around the blonde's shoulders.
As they left the lounge she bent to turn off the fire, but left the Christmas tree lights on, taking a brief glance at them over her shoulder as they walked out of the room.
Rocky groaned as Jo manipulated her left shoulder.
"How's that?" asked the taller woman.
"It's feeling a lot better, not so stiff. What was that stuff?" She peered around Jo, trying to see what she had used on her shoulder.
"You're having me on." Rocky tried to push past her to see the bottle of foul-smelling liquid.
Jo picked up the bottle and held it behind her back. "Does your shoulder feel better?" she asked, backing away from the curious blonde.
"Yes," said Rocky suspiciously.
"So what does it matter what it was?"
Rocky plumped down on the sofa, pulling the neck of the tee shirt back into place.
Jo had pulled the material away and reached into the opening with the liniment on her hand, massaging it into the blonde's injured shoulder gently. She disappeared into the kitchen, and Rocky heard the water running as Jo washed the stuff off her hands before returning and plopping herself down next to her.
"So what would you like for Christmas?" Jo asked as she draped an arm around the blonde's shoulders.
"There's nothing I need." Rocky reached for Jo's free hand, holding it within both of hers. "Please don't get me anything. I have everything I want," she kissed the tips of Jo's fingers, "right here."
Jo pouted. "But I'd like to get you something."
"There's nothing I want," she explained. "And besides, I'd just feel awful because I couldn't get you anything."
"I don't want anything."
"Then that's decided." Rocky chuckled and nudged Jo with her shoulder
"Then maybe there's something I can do for you. Something you've wanted to do or maybe see? How about a show or an evening out in a nice restaurant?"
Rocky shook her head, smiling. But then she seemed to remember something. "You know there is something."
"What? Anything, you know that."
"I'd like to go home."
Rocky watched as Jo's smile disappeared. "Hey, just to visit." She squeezed the large hand reassuringly.
"Oh. Right." Jo was embarrassed; the panic she'd felt for a brief moment had taken her unawares.
"I've never been back there." Rocky closed her eyes for a moment, remembering her home. When she opened her eyes they were watery. "I'd love to show you it."
"Then we'll go." She patted the small hand. "That's settled."
Rocky chuckled to herself. "What have I done to deserve this?"
Jo shrugged, "Why shouldn't you deserve it?"
"Oh, I'm not saying I don't. I must have been good in a previous life or something."
The hair on the back of Jo's neck stood on end at the innocent statement.
"What?" asked Rocky, seeing Jo's gaze turn inward.
"Just something Edna said."
Rocky's hand flew to her mouth. "Oh my god ... Edna." She looked up at Jo. "I haven't been to see her; she'll be worried."
Jo pulled Rocky a little tighter. "Believe me, sweetheart. I'm sure somehow Edna knows exactly where and how you are."
"You think so?"
"I'm absolutely sure. But tomorrow," she leaned in and kissed away the worry lines on the blonde's brow, "we'll go and see her and make sure she's alright. Okay?"
The door buzzer invaded the peace of the small house, and Jo stood, leaving Rocky curled on the sofa clutching a cushion in lieu of the tall woman.
She went to the entry phone and pushed the buzzer. "Yeah?"
"Jo? It's Harry."
Jo's face creased into a smile, and she hit the button allowing her friend entry. Then she made her way back into the lounge and to Rocky's side.
"Who is it?" asked the blonde.
"A friend. I'd like you to meet her."
"Trixie?" Jo laughed a distinctively unpleasant laugh. "D'you really think I'd let her up here?"
Harry appeared, framed in the doorway, pulling off a thick, heavy coat. "My God, it's absolutely bloody freezing out." She suddenly took in the scene in front of her and her mouth snapped shut with an audible clunk. "Gosh," was all she could manage.
Jo stood, chuckling to herself, and took the coat from Harry, throwing it onto one of the armchair backs. "Harry, I'd like you to meet Rocky," she said, pushing her friend towards the still seated woman.
Rocky stood as well, and took a tentative step towards the other blonde, warily extending her hand. Her experience of Jo's friends had not been encouraging up to that point.
Harry took the offered hand, shaking it gently. "Hi," she said. "I'm glad she found you."
The three women spent a relaxed evening. Harry and Rocky warmed to each other immediately. Of course Harry really wanted to dislike the other blonde, but found it impossible. Her feelings for Jo were such that she was delighted that the dark-haired woman had found someone to cherish. For that was what she saw when she caught a glimpse of Jo watching Rocky as the smaller woman told her the tale of Jo coming to her rescue. She watched as her friend took the smaller hand in her own, kissing it occasionally, then running her fingers along the inside of her arm from wrist to elbow. She seemed to need to be in contact with Rocky every minute they were in touching distance.
As the night went on, and the sound of the sleet grew louder against the window, Harry decided it was time she left.
"Are you sure?" asked Jo. "It sounds pretty filthy out. You could use the spare bed."
"No, I'm sure. I'll be fine. I have Dad's car." She stood and gathered her coat, slipping it on, then she turned to Rocky.
The two shorter women faced each other for a moment, and then they were hugging. Rocky somehow knew how special this woman was to Jo, and she felt that there was also a small amount of sadness in the woman she now held in her arms. "I'm sorry," she whispered into her ear.
Harry pulled away and held Rocky at arm's length. "Don't be." She looked up at Jo, who was looking on in confusion. "You've got your work cut out there."
Rocky turned her head as well, and Jo found herself the subject of twin sets of adoring gazes. She shuffled from foot to foot until each of the smaller women extended an arm and she bent slightly, joining in the group hug.
Then Rocky backed away, as Jo walked her friend to the door.
Harry was buttoning her coat as the descended the stairs to the front door. "She's lovely," she whispered, holding the door catch but not opening it.
Jo nodded. "She is."
"And you're happy." It was not a question.
"I really am." Jo shrugged, seeming to disbelieve it herself.
"I've never seen you like this."
Harry punched her friend softly on the shoulder. "Like a love-struck teenager."
"Absolutely." Harry laughed softly at the perplexed look on Jo's face. "But it suits you, so don't go doing anything to ruin it."
"I'm trying really hard."
"And you're doing everything just right by the look on that girl's face." She stood on tiptoes and kissed Jo's chin. "Being in love suits you."
Blue eyes went wide, and Harry patted her friend's cheek. "Don't tell me you haven't realised that yet." Harry shook her head, and opened the door, letting in a blast of frigid air.
Jo held the door open, the sleet hitting her in the face. "I knew that!" she called out to her friend, who shook her head and folded herself into her father's huge car.
Jo watched her leave the small courtyard, and then shut the door against the wind and rain. She stood for a moment with her back to the door. "I knew that," she said again to herself. "I just didn't know it was written all over my face."
By the time she'd returned to the lounge her grin was of epic proportions.
"Knew what?" asked Rocky as she sat next to the blonde and resettled her arm around her shoulders. "What were you shouting about?"
"Something Harry said."
"She loves you very much, doesn't she."
Jo nodded. "She was my best friend... is my best friend," Jo corrected.
"Did you and she ever...?" Rocky waved her hand around, trying to get her question across without saying the actual word.
Jo leaned away from Rocky, peering down at her. "Have sex?"
Rocky sighed. "Yeah."
"No, we didn't. I didn't know she felt that way, until a short time ago. But I'm glad we didn't; it would have ruined our friendship."
"Do you think us having sex would ruin our friendship?" Rocky looked down at the large hand she was holding in her own. But that same hand extricated itself from hers, moved up to her chin and tilted her head up. She found herself pinned by eyes as blue as the summer sky.
"Sweetheart, when we make love I will give you my heart. I promise you that."
"I know," said Rocky.
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