For disclaimers, or lack of them, see Part 1
My thanks as always to my beta reader, Barbara Davies. Read her work on her page, Barbara Davies
For over fifteen minutes Jo had stood `guarding` Edna's shopping trolley. A number of people had passed her, curious as to why a decently dressed young woman should be there with what appeared to be her worldly possessions in a wheeled supermarket trolley.
But the old woman had asked her to watch it, and watch it she would.
Edna had left her near a small park, deserted in the cold winter morning. There was very little in the park, which was ringed by bushes which hid metal railings. A couple of trees stood to one end, a flowerbed to the other. Between the two trees was a picnic table, next to that a waste bin.
Jo looked down at the trolley, full to overflowing with plastic bags, and wondered how this woman survived like this. Would she be able to? She thought not.
She sat on the bench that was beside a bus stop, pulling the trolley closer to her. She wished now that she'd chosen something warmer to wear. She had a sweatshirt on under her leather jacket, but it was proving inadequate against the extremely cold weather. Her thoughts strayed to Rocky. Where had she slept the night before? Where had she woken up this morning? Where would she sleep tonight? If she found her, what then?
Harry's words echoed in her head. Hi, I'm Jo, and I want to take you home, or words to that effect. So what would she say when she saw her? What if Edna came back alone? What if she refused to see her?
A hand on her shoulder shook her out of her rapidly building panic, and she jumped at the contact.
"Hey." Edna took a step back. "It's only me."
Jo stood, looking past the woman. "Is she here?"
Edna shook her head. "No, but she'll come in a while."
"What is it, what's the matter?" Jo was shivering now, blowing her warm breath onto cupped hands.
"Nothing's the matter." She reached out a hand and rested it comfortingly on the younger woman's forearm. "She's just taking her time." Edna pulled back her arm, watching as Jo surveyed the street. She pointed towards the small park. "She'll meet you there."
Jo followed Edna's gaze. "In the park? Is it safe?"
"This time of year, yes. Too cold for your average rapist."
Jo looked doubtfully at her.
"It's safe, Jo. I have a couple of friends watching it too." Edna took possession of her trolley. "I have to go, try to get some breakfast. You wait here."
The old woman began to shuffle away, but Jo took a gentle hold of her arm. "Thank you," said Jo, her voice breaking.
Edna merely nodded and walked away, never looking back.
Jo made her way to the picnic table in the park, and sat on the damp wood, swinging one leg across and straddling the narrow bench. Resting her elbow on the table, she massaged her forehead, trying to quell the headache that was beginning. She couldn't feel her feet now. Cowboy boots were great to look at, but didn't keep out the cold. But then she'd never needed to before. Where did she go that was cold? She went from her house to her car. From her car to a restaurant. From a restaurant to a club. Then back to the car. She didn't walk anywhere that she could take her car to.
Suddenly the lack of sleep in the past forty-eight hours seemed to catch up with her, and she bent her head forward to rest on her forearm, which acted as a pillow.
"What do you want?"
The voice was low, soft. There was a hint of anger in it.
Jo raised her head and found herself pinned by green eyes.
"Rocky?" she asked.
The girl said nothing, standing about five feet from the table, still on the stone path that bisected the park.
Jo stood abruptly, causing the girl to stiffen.
The blonde girl seemed to be weighed down by the amount of clothing she was wearing. The trousers Jo could see were khaki, but they seemed to be only the top layer. They were too long, but she could just see roughened boots peeking from beneath the hems. Her jacket was also khaki, and was also huge, the sleeves turned up a few times, and even then her gloved hands were all but hidden. On her head she wore a hat. The kind that possessed flaps which could be let down to cover the ears, which they had been. The small leather ties that would be used to tie the earflaps on top of her head hung loosely against her shoulders.
Her blonde hair peeked out from beneath the hat, and once again it seemed to tangle with her eyelashes. At her feet were a couple of large bags, her hands never leaving the carrying straps.
Jo started to walk around the table and, as she did so, Rocky picked up her bags and took a step back. The taller woman raised her hands and slowed her advance.
"It's ok," said Jo. "I just want to talk."
Rocky said nothing, maintaining the same wary attitude.
Seeing that the girl was skittish, Jo went back to her seat. "Would you join me?" she asked, nodding to the bench on the other side of the table.
Rocky advanced slowly, her eyes never quite meeting those of the other woman. She stopped when her knees hit the bench, but remained standing. "Are you with the police?"
That was unexpected. "No, I'm not." Jo ducked her head, trying to get eye contact with the blonde.
"Did my uncle send you?" The girl was looking around, her eyes never seeming to connect with those of the taller woman.
"No, I don't know your uncle." Jo watched her, staying very still, not wanting to frighten the obviously nervous girl away.
Then, suddenly, the pale green eyes were fixed firmly on her own. "So what do you want?"
Jo suddenly realised she wasn't really sure of that.
The girl sat cautiously, but didn't put her legs right over the bench. She sat sideways, one arm resting on the damp wood of the table, the other still keeping a grip on her bags.
"I saw your picture." Jo immediately regretted the statement when she saw the anger wash over the face of Rocky.
"DeBurgh," Rocky said simply, and stood again, her back to Jo. "I thought I got away from him." She turned backed to the stunned woman. "Where did you see the picture?"
Jo managed to snap herself out of her haze. "My mother's gallery."
"Not in a paper or anything like that?"
"No." Jo was quiet, and watched the blonde as she processed the information.
"What kind of people would have seen that?"
Jo had had enough of this line of questioning. "What are you afraid of?"
The question seemed to affect Rocky like a physical blow, but she quickly gathered herself. "Nothing. I just want to know why you were looking for me."
"Are you hiding from someone?" Jo persisted.
Rocky gathered her bags and turned away from Jo. "I have to go."
Jo sprang from the bench and ran to catch up with the rapidly walking woman. "Please." She reached out and caught Rocky by the shoulder, turning her to face her.
Now she was up close she could see the pain in the green eyes, and for a moment she was breathless. This time the eyes did not leave her own, but she could feel the small body trembling. "I'm not going to hurt you," she whispered. "I just want to talk to you."
Jo let her hand fall slowly away from Rocky's shoulder, trusting the girl not to bolt again. "Whatever you like."
"Is this some kind of bet?"
Jo was confused, as the lines on her brow showed. "What?"
"Did your friends put you up to this?"
Jo shook her head. She knew now she had to tell Rocky the truth. "Yesterday I saw your picture at Mother's gallery. I don't know why, but it had a dramatic effect on me. I fainted." Jo chuckled, but her mirth was not echoed in the face of the smaller blonde. The smile left her face quickly. "Anyway, I had the sudden compulsion to find you. I'm not sure why, but the desire to go out and search for you was overwhelming. I went to see DeBurgh..." At the mention of the man's name Rocky turned away from Jo. "I know he hunted you. He told me. I'm sorry." Again she reached out to the girl and laid her hand on her shoulder.
Jo saw the small form in front of her relax, and then the blonde head shook gently. "I told him no. Why couldn't he take no for an answer?" She reached up and took the hat off, her blonde hair standing on end in its wake. Ruffling her hair with her free hand, she turned back towards the tall woman. "Edna says I should listen to you. I wouldn't be here otherwise."
"Then I have a lot to thank Edna for." Jo graced her with her most dazzling smile. It wasn't returned, however.
"So why do you think you needed to find me?"
Jo considered this. Should she tell the blonde of her attraction towards other women? Her attraction in particular to petite blondes? She stuffed her hands into her pockets. "Believe me, I've been asking myself the same question. I had to come here, for my own sanity as much as anything else."
"You think you're going mad then?" Rocky pulled the hat down onto her head again, pushing aside the hair that was forced into her eyes by doing so.
Jo nodded. "This time yesterday, my life was normal. All I did was to look at a picture in a gallery."
Rocky bent and picked up her bags. "I have to go."
"What!?" Jo took a step forward, stopping quickly when the girl flinched and backed away from her. "Can I... can I see you again?"
Rocky shrugged. "Not sure. Can't imagine you being a regular down here."
"Well, if I come down, will you meet with me again?" Jo's voice was taking on a hint of panic.
"I don't know what you want from me," Rocky said quietly.
Jo saw fear in the green eyes, and a stab of guilt pierced her chest. She had put that fear there. "Just to be your friend." Jo maintained the distance between them, and there was a long silent moment, heavy with tension.
Rocky was silent, so Jo made the decision for them both. "I'll be back here this afternoon at 3. Will you meet me here?"
Taking a firmer grip on the straps of her bag, Rocky hoisted one over her shoulder. "Don't know if I'm free." She turned her back on the tall woman. "Don't count on it," she said as she walked out of the park.
Jo watched her walk away, grinning from ear to ear. "I think she likes me," she said to a pigeon, which had alighted on the picnic table.
Jo was inordinately pleased to find her Merc untouched when she returned to it. She got in and quickly started it, making sure the heat was turned up full. But instead of driving away immediately, she sat back in the plush leather seat, her hands resting lightly on the steering wheel.
So I've met her. She was cute, even cuter than her picture. I know she exists, but I knew that anyway. Didn't I? Why was I so sure? She spoke to me. What did she say? Nothing. She told me nothing. We talked about nothing. But we did talk. Didn't we? She's scared. Scared of being found. Scared of me? I hope not. She'll come back later. I know she will. I'll find out more about her then.
Jesus, what am I doing?
With a shake of her head, Jo shifted the Merc into gear and drove away, her freezing feet managing to obey the signals her brain was giving them.
It was nearly 3.30, and actually starting to snow lightly. Jo was a little better dressed this time, having spent the hours since her meeting with Rocky shopping. It was near to Christmas, hence more shops than usual were open on the cold Sunday afternoon. She'd found herself buying two of everything - thermal socks, shirts and gloves. She bought a pair of arctic proof boots, and a silly hat similar to Rocky's.
So there she sat, in the rapidly failing daylight. The sky was overcast, a gentle snow falling through the bare branches of the trees. On the bench beside her sat a box, her hand resting on its surface.
Jo felt more comfortable in the warmer clothes she now wore, but still wondered how people could survive in these severe temperatures. Her cheeks glowed red, and her eyes watered.
She heard the muffled sound of her cell phone, and fumbled in her pocket for it, having difficulty getting a hold of it with the thick gloves she was wearing.
She looked at the caller id on the display and rolled her eyes. "Hi, Trixi."
"Jojo, baby. Where are you?"
"Um, would you believe sitting in a park somewhere in Whitechapel?"
"It's difficult to explain."
"I missed you last night."
"Will you be there tonight?"
"I didn't make any promises, Trix."
"You've never missed a Sunday night yet. What's going on?"
"Nothing that I have to explain to you, Trix. Now, I have to go. I'll call you when I can."
Jo snapped the cell phone shut, ending the call. She looked at the device in her hand, and after a moment's debate dialled a stored number.
"Are you ok?"
"Yeah, I'm fine."
"I'm sorry about yesterday."
"Me too." A pause. "So what are you doing?"
Jo considered the question for a moment. Then decided to answer truthfully. "I'm sitting, freezing my rear end to a park bench, and probably being stood up."
Nothing but silence was forthcoming from Jo's phone. "Well, aren't you going to say `told you so`?"
"No, not my style, Jo. You should know that by now.... So you haven't found her yet."
"Oh yes, I found her. We arranged to meet here at 3."
"Jesus Christ, Jo! What the hell's she like!?"
"Um, I only spoke with her for a short while."
"So, she can speak?"
"Of course she can speak."
"What does she look like? Well, I mean, I know what she looks like, but... well, you know what I mean."
"She's gorgeous." The words were out of Jo's mouth before she realised.
"So where is she from?"
"I don't know."
"Ok. Where does she stay?"
"Um, don't know."
"So what do you know about her?"
Jo absentmindedly shut the phone, cutting off the connection. She glanced at her watch. It was nearly 4. The light was fading. And she came to the conclusion that, for the first time in her life, she had been stood up.
Back to the Academy