Disclaimers in Part 1
My thanks as always to my beta reader, Barbara Davies. Find her work at her page, Barbara Davies
It was Monday morning, and for most the beginning of another week. But for Lady Joanna Holbrook-Sutherland it was just another day.
True, weekends were more memorable, but Joanna's days all started very much the same. Rising in the late morning, if not early afternoon. Then, after showering and dressing, she'd most likely leave to meet with one of her myriad of friends for a liquid lunch.
Jo was asleep - hardly surprising as it was only a little after 8am. She and Harry had talked long into the night. Harry had coaxed out of her the events following her return to the house after her last meeting with Rocky. She had tried hard to understand Jo's inability to resist what Trixi had offered. She'd listened to her friend's tense whispered voice as she tended to the scratches across Jo's shoulders.
"She did this to you?" Harry asked as she spread an antiseptic cream across the worst of the marks.
Jo nodded, her face buried in the quilt. "She's very physical, likes it rough." Her breath hissed through her teeth as Harry examined what looked like half-crescent punctures in her shoulder.
"Sorry." Harry reached again for the tube of cream and squeezed some directly onto the wounds, rubbing it in with gentle fingers.
"No, I should be sorry." Jo's voice was barely heard, muffled against the quilt.
Harry's fingers stilled, and rested lightly on Jo's back. "I'm still your friend, Jo. Your best friend. Right?"
Jo turned her head to look up at the blonde who was kneeling on the bed beside her. "I was beginning to wonder, after the other night. I wasn't thinking about you; I didn't realise..."
"Exactly. My fault too. Jealousy is an ugly thing." She rested back on her heels, taking a towel and wiping the cream from her hands. "I was jealous. But I don't want to lose you as a friend."
"Me neither," said Jo, and she reached out, curling her hand around Harry's smaller one.
Harry crept into Jo's room and raised the blind a little, allowing some of the grey light into the room. Jo was asleep, lying on her stomach, the quilt covering her up to her shoulders. When Jo asked Harry to stay the night after their talking had gone on beyond 2am, Harry decided to stay in the guestroom. The look on Jo's face almost changed the blonde's mind. But she kept her resolve, walked up to her friend, placed a kiss on her cheek and left her on her bed.
Which was where she found her the next morning.
She reached over and gently shook the sleeping woman's shoulder, noticing the dark shadows beneath Jo's closed eyes.
"Hey there." Harry smiled as the blue eyes fluttered open.
"Yeah. You expecting someone else?"
"What time is it?"
"Time I was going - I have to go home first to change. I'll be late for work if I'm not careful." She eased herself down onto the edge of the bed and watched as Jo gingerly turned onto her back, pulling the quilt around her against the cold. "I just went down and turned the heating on; you don't have it set to come on yet."
"I'm not usually conscious yet, let alone up." She squinted up at the blonde. "Thanks for last night."
"Anytime, you know that."
"Yeah I know." Again she squeezed her friend's hand. "Anyway, your Dad's your boss. You won't get into trouble."
"You wanna bet?" Harry stood and walked towards the door, but turned before leaving. "Take care?"
Jo nodded, smiling. "I will."
Jo snuggled down into the quilt, listening to the sound of her friend as she let herself out of the house. Then she heard a car door slam and the car itself pull away. Obviously Harry had called herself a taxi to take her home to change.
Jo pushed the quilt away and swung her legs out of the bed. The cold hit her warm body and she quickly picked up her robe from the floor, wrapping it around herself against the chill.
She padded downstairs to the lounge, smiling when she saw that Harry had turned on the fire in the lounge. She sat in front of it, warming her hands, and immediately her thoughts went to the blonde that had occupied her dreams the night before. Would she have a fire to warm her hands on this morning? Would she be able to go to a kitchen and make herself a hot drink?
Jo sat heavily on the sofa, watching the artificial flames. She imagined the girl here with her, sitting in the warm comfort of her home. She imagined holding her as she slept, combing soft hair with her fingers. She imagined waking her with a gentle kiss, and then watching sleepy green eyes find hers and smile in recognition.
But how could that be? Jo's thoughts returned to the previous night, to her inability to resist Trixi. She remembered the feel of the woman's hands on her body and the feel of Trixi's breasts beneath her own hands. Could she really run from the woman she had become? Would trying to ignore the needs she had only make them stronger? Harry's advice had been given without the knowledge of what it was like to have a physical need so great it could gnaw at her very being if it wasn't sated. What would happen the first time her need reared its ugly head in the presence of the small blonde who occupied her sleeping as well as waking thoughts?
Jo shook her head and wound her hands in her own hair. What was she thinking here? She was contemplating changing her life for someone who had, so far, made it patently clear she wanted nothing to do with her.
"I'm going crazy," Jo said to herself. She thought of the willing bodies that pressed themselves into her in the many clubs that she frequented. Any one of them would gladly 'help her relieve the tension', as she put it.
So why was she now returning to her bedroom and dressing in a ridiculous amount of clothes to go out into a cold December day to look for someone who was not exactly reacting to her as she was used to?
Is that what made this girl so irresistible? Because that's how Jo felt. As unable as she was to resist Trixi, she now felt she needed to find Rocky. And she knew she would have to put aside her notions of romance for the time being.
Romance? Did I really just think that? Jo paused, boot in hand, her foot encased in a thermal sock. She still felt something compelling her to go out and find this girl and it wasn't a need to get her into her bed.
It was a need to protect.
The boot fell from Jo's hand, hitting the floor with a thump. Never before had she felt the desire to protect. Wasn't she the woman that mothers should protect their daughters from? So who was she going to protect Rocky from? Herself?
Could she expose the nervous girl to the person she could be? The person that had slept with Trixi the previous night?
Jo leaned forward, burying her head in her hands.
No, she couldn't.
It was just over an hour later that Jo found herself sitting in a traffic jam, watching the back of a bus.
Once again her weak will was overcome by her desire. This time, however, it was her desire to get to know a certain small blonde, rather than her need of the baser actions of the flesh.
She found herself bogged down in rush hour traffic, made worse by the horrendous weather. Her wipers struggled with the mixture of rain and snow, and her demisters also struggled to keep the screen unfogged.
The parking space she'd used the day before was occupied, as were all the others in the vicinity. So she had to look further afield, and half an hour later she was selecting a ridiculously expensive option and obtaining a 12-hour ticket from a machine in a multi-storey car park.
She hefted the large bag she had stowed in the back of the car, and made her way out into the foul weather for the longish trek to Whitechapel.
The only place she could think of going to was the park, and it was there that she found herself a half-hour later.
Her face was glowing from the cold as she entered the ornate gates, and she stopped dead in her tracks at the sight that greeted her.
Rocky was sitting on the bench, staring intently at the tabletop in front of her.
"Hi," said Jo softly, and eased herself onto the bench opposite the blonde.
Rocky looked up, and looked long and hard into the blue eyes.
Feeling uneasy in the long silence that ensued, Jo started her banal chattering. "It's cold."
Rocky continued to stare.
"I brought some hot drinks again." She bent to retrieve the thermos from the bag. "And I have some other things too," she said, pulling a number of items out and placing them on the table. "I had them yesterday, but forgot to give you them. This," Jo pushed a large rolled bundle towards Rocky, "is a sleeping bag. It's the sort they take up mountains." She looked for some reaction from the blonde, pleased when the green eyes flicked momentarily to the bag. "And I have thermal socks, vests, gloves, and longjohns."
The green eyes returned to hers.
"I'm not stupid enough to turn this down. But I don't want you to buy me anything else." Rocky pulled the items towards her, looking annoyed at her own need of the things that Jo had bought her.
Jo was almost startled by the husky voice. Rocky sounded tired and when she looked harder she could see dark rings beneath her eyes.
"Ok," Jo said quietly, and poured two mugs of steaming tea. "Glad the rain's gone off a bit." She handed Rocky a mug, waiting for the girl to pull off one of her thick gloves to take it from her. Then she put the milk and sugar on the table. "Would you let me get you just one other thing?"
Rocky looked up slowly.
"Would you let me buy you breakfast? You look all in."
Rocky laughed, and Jo took in the changes in the face opposite her. The small crease at the bridge of her nose, a flash of white teeth, and the sparkling green eyes. She decided she'd like to see more of that look.
"You going to take me to one of your haunts, then?" Rocky stood, her arms out at her sides. "I'm not exactly dressed for it."
Jo sighed. "I'll take you wherever you want. Do you know anywhere around here?"
Rocky folded her arms across her chest. "Why are you doing this, Jo?"
Jo cupped the warm mug in her hands. "I could ask the same of you. Why did you come here?"
The blonde turned her back on Jo, and it was a few tense moments before she turned back towards her. "I talked for a long time with Edna last night. I wouldn't be here if she didn't say it was for the best."
"And what did you talk about?"
Rocky looked past her, toward the entrance, and Jo turned to follow her gaze. Manoeuvring her trolley across the grass was the woman in question. Jo quickly stood and helped the old woman with her load. Rocky had the same idea, but stopped when she saw Jo reach Edna first.
"Have you two been here long?" she asked, accepting Rocky's untouched mug of tea.
"Not long," said the blonde, returning to her seat.
"So you haven't told her yet?"
While Rocky shot Edna a look that would have been fatal to many others, Jo turned in her seat and faced the woman. "Told me what?"
Edna looked towards the smaller woman, who nodded.
"Ever since Rocky arrived on the streets of London she's been having dreams."
Jo looked towards the blonde who had, once again, found the surface of the table incredibly interesting. So she turned back to Edna.
"So what occurred in these dreams?" She asked the question of Edna, assuming that Rocky had talked to her at length about them.
"Nothing much," she turned to Rocky. "Did it, Rocky?" Edna took a sip of tea. "No, it was more like a feeling. She'd get a feeling of warmth, of safety. Didn't you, dear?" She looked at Rocky, wanting her to tell her own story.
Rocky merely nodded.
"She's told me of her dreams on many occasions. I'm no dream reader, but I got the feeling that she drew comfort from the images."
"There were no images, just feelings."
Both Edna and Jo looked at the girl.
"The dreams would come on nights that I felt most alone. Like some sort of message." She shook her head. "It's hard to explain. I've had them ever since I arrived on the streets. They helped me to survive."
"Why...?" Jo began, but Edna placed a hand on her knee.
"Why is she telling you this?" She turned to Rocky. "You tell her."
Rocky was silent for a moment. "Last night I had the dream."
"And this time I saw you."
Edna couldn't remember the last time she saw a smile such as the one that graced the face of the woman sitting beside her. And she knew then that this woman had come for her friend, and would keep her safe. Her job was done, she'd seen the girl survive through the hardest of times, and now she was a strong and independent young woman. From frightened child to adult. She had watched the change, and was pleased with the end result. She was sad to see what was obviously the beginning of the end of their life together on the streets. Rocky had been a part of her life for almost five years but would soon be leaving. She knew that the girl herself didn't know that yet and would most probably resist the pull of the dark haired, charismatic woman. But she knew destiny when she saw it, and this woman was Rocky's destiny. Now it was up to her to persuade her, to persuade both of them, of the fact.
"So I've never been in your dreams before?" asked Jo.
Rocky shook her head, looking up and finding blue eyes boring into her own. "No, but the feeling was the same."
"And you, Jo. Do you dream?" Edna asked the question, though she felt she already knew the answer.
"Not as a rule, no. But the other night..."
"The other night you dreamt of Rocky." It was not a question from the old woman.
"Yes, I did." Jo turned from the blonde to Edna. "But if Rocky has been dreaming of me for just about five years, why haven't I been dreaming of her?"
Edna patted her hand, but looked across the table to the blonde. "This is my guess, but maybe Rocky has needed you for that long."
Rocky stood, a look of outrage on her face. "I don't need anyone, certainly not a spoilt, rich ..."
"Bitch?" offered Jo.
The blonde paused in her tirade, then calmed. She returned to her seat.
Beside Jo, Edna cleared her throat. "I have to go."
Rocky stood again, a look of something approaching panic on her face. She ran around the picnic table and blocked Edna's path to her shopping trolley. "Please, don't go yet."
Edna cupped a chilled cheek. "Rocky, you need to talk with this woman. Listen to what she has to say. Tell her of your dreams." She leaned forward and gave the blonde a kiss on the cheek. "And your nightmares."
"I'm not sure I can. I don't know her." Rocky whispered.
"But you do, sweetheart. You just don't realise that yet."
Edna waved away both women as they tried to help her navigate her way out of the park. With a brief glance at the two women standing awkwardly to attention beside the table, she left, a satisfied smile on her face.
Jo turned back towards Rocky, and took a tentative step towards her. "Would you let me help you?"
Rocky closed her eyes, and took a deep breath. "A long time ago, I learned not to feel, not to hope. It was the only way to survive. To not want anything, then I wouldn't miss anything. And I've been fine for a while now. I've come to terms with what I don't have. Then you come along."
Jo ducked her head, seeing tears forcing themselves from between tightly shut eyelids. "And?" she coaxed.
"And you made me feel." She looked up into blue, the tears falling freely from her eyes. "You made me want. I can't survive wanting. Not out here."
"Then come back with me." Jo took a step towards her, reaching for her.
"No!" Rocky held up her hands, backing away. "Don't promise something you can't give."
"I won't promise anything, and I don't want promises from you. I'd just like to help you. Why won't you let me?"
"Because I've lost so much, and if I have nothing, then I can't lose anything." She lifted her gloved hands to her face and sobbed into them. The feel of hands on her shoulders made her look up again. "Please don't," she said as Jo pulled her towards her.
"Sssh," whispered the taller woman, and pulled the tense body against her own. She felt the resistance slowly dissipate, and the blonde head, hat and all, tucked itself beneath her chin. "There," she said, closing her eyes. "I don't understand it either." She felt the small body shaking in her arms, and held on tighter. "I've got you," she whispered.
"Here." Jo pushed Rocky gently towards the bench and eased them both down, never letting go of the girl. "Let's see." She raised the tear-stained face and wiped away the moisture with gentle fingers.
"I haven't...cried for so... long," said Rocky between hiccups.
"Sometimes it's good to cry."
"Do you cry?" Rocky looked up into Jo's face, wiping her own with a dirty sleeve.
Jo's brow creased in thought, and she shook her head. "Can't say I do."
Rocky disengaged herself from the dark woman's embrace. "I'm sorry."
Rocky shrugged. "I should be going. I need to get a hot meal, I have to be down at the church."
"Let me get you something." Jo stood, gathering up her belongings, and putting them into the bag.
"No." Rocky put up her hands again, forestalling Jo's protests. "No. I need to think. I need to talk to Edna."
"But Edna said..."
"I know. But I've listened to her a lot. Ever since I've been here. Give me some time. Please."
Jo took a step back and nodded. "Ok." She turned to the items she'd given Rocky. "Will you still take these?"
The blonde gave her a smile, causing Jo to smile right back at her. "Thank you, Jo. I'll look after them."
"Oh!" Jo suddenly remembered another something she had in her pocket. "I want you to have this too." She handed a couple of cards to the girl. "It's a phone card. It has £10 on it. And the other card is my number and my mobile number. If ever you need me, any time, just use it to call me."
Rocky looked long and hard at the cards and then put them in her pocket.
"Can I see you later today?" asked Jo.
"No," said Rocky, looking up, and almost flinching at the hurt she saw in the blue eyes. "Just give me today. I'll be back here in the morning."
Rocky saw the doubt in her eyes. "Like you said, Jo, no promises." She took a deep breath. "I've been out here for a long time. For a while I had to rely on Edna and some of her friends to survive. But the past three years I've looked after myself. Sure, I have to rely on charity, but that's all. I've never taken money from strangers on the streets. I've never sold my body. I don't run drugs. All of those things could have made my life more comfortable." She tucked the sleeping bag and the other items into her bags. "This is the first time something has been given to me personally. I didn't think I could accept something like that."
"I was worried you wouldn't take it."
"Well, like I said before. I'm not stupid enough to refuse it." Rocky gathered her belongings, slinging the now heavy bag over her shoulder. She turned to leave and then paused, standing for a moment before turning back to the tall woman. "Jo, do you have a boyfriend?"
Jo's mouth opened and closed a couple of times, before she found her voice. "No, I don't. Do you?"
Rocky pursed her lips and shook her head. "See you tomorrow," she said, and was gone.
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