For disclaimers, or lack of them, see part 1

My thanks as always to my beta reader, Barbara Davies. Read her work: Barbara Davies.

Cold

By Midgit

Part 9

The rest of the day passed slowly for Jo. She'd gone back to her house after leaving the small park in Whitechapel. She'd made herself a pot of tea and settled down to watch TV, something she rarely did. She couldn't quite bring herself to go down to the pub, which would be her normal course of action.

She went back into the kitchen, opening the fridge to see what Rosanna had bought her this week.

Her mother had employed Rosanna shortly after her parents had bought her the small house. Rosanna was the daughter of Marianna's cook at their London home. Jo's mother knew that her youngest daughter didn't know what a supermarket was, let alone what she should buy in it.

Rosanna bought food, and put it in the refrigerator and cupboards. Most of it she removed a couple of days later, untouched. But there was always food there should she need it.

So Jo peered into the fridge, amazed at the variety of things she found there. She also found bread in another cupboard and made herself a passable ham sandwich.

She switched on the TV and settle down to watch.

The rather droll TV fare and the warmth from the fire, coupled with the unsettled nights she'd been having, soon took their toll. Within minutes she was asleep.

There's nothing worse than falling asleep during the late morning then waking, thoroughly confused. Jo looked around, her eyes finding the illuminated clock on the VCR. It was 3.30pm.

She wondered what had woken her.

"Hi, Jojo."

She sat up slowly, scrubbing her face with her hands, and putting her foot onto the plate with a half eaten sandwich on it.

"Dammit!" she cursed, leaning over the back of the sofa to the shelf, which held a box of tissues. "What do you want, Trixi?" she asked, wiping off the butter stuck to her heel, but never once looking at the woman sitting in the chair opposite her.

"Just wanted to see you," Trixi pouted. "Aren't you glad to see me?"

Jo sighed. "No, Trix. I thought I made myself clear." Jo threw the butter-covered tissue in the waste paper bin and took her cup and plate through to the kitchen. She found a dishwasher there, and put both the items into it.

Trixi had followed her into the kitchen and came up behind her, wrapping her arms about the tall woman's waist. She nuzzled Jo's neck, her hands moving up from her waist towards her breasts.

Jo turned in the blonde's embrace and found a hot mouth clamping itself on her own. She reached between them and found the blonde's hands, which were caressing her breasts through her sweatshirt. She forcefully pushed Trixi back, her hands taking a vice-like grip on the blonde's wrists. "I said no, Trix."

Dark brown eyes narrowed. "You got someone else to take care of you?" she asked, pulling her wrists from Jo's grasp.

Jo took a couple of steps back, her hands shaking, until she leaned against the counter top. She reached behind her to steady herself. "I no longer need what you can give me," she said steadily. If she could convince herself of the fact, she was sure she could convince Trixi.

The blonde took a couple of steps towards her, completely aware of the power she held over the beautiful woman. "Oh, but you do, Jojo." She reached up and hands traced Jo's clenched jaw. "Why so tense?" She pushed dark locks behind Jo's ear. "I can help you with that tension." She took a handful of dark hair and pulled Jo's head towards her, kissing her roughly and biting her bottom lip as she pulled back. She pushed Jo back as the tall woman put her hand to her mouth, staring dumbly at the blood she saw on her fingers. "Call me when you grow up, Jo. I'll be waiting."

When Jo looked up Trixi was gone. She heard the door slam, and then the sound of a car driving away. Almost in a daze she went downstairs to the security box by the front door and opened it. She changed the entry code, and tested it. Then she went back upstairs and poured herself another large drink.

 

In another part of London, in a derelict factory, a lone woman watched the small fire she'd built. She'd managed to build a small lean-to with a large piece of panelling. The snow drifted through the ruined roof and threatened the flickering flames.

Rocky fed some more of the wood she had found around and about the structure.

There were some more people there, too intent on their own survival in the sub-zero temperatures to worry about who else was about.

The blonde looked up, wondering if she had really just heard her name called.

"Rocky? Are you in here?"

Rocky stood, looking into the darkness at the hunched figure stumbling across the debris towards her. "Edna?" She met the old woman half way, helping her across the fallen walls and ceiling to her little patch of cleared floor. "What are you doing here? Why aren't you in the hostel?"

Edna eased herself onto the floor, warming her hands on Rocky's small fire.

"I wanted to talk to you," she said indignantly.

"You need to be inside tonight," said Rocky, plumping herself down beside her friend.

"So do you, Rocky."

Rocky looked away, finding the fire more interesting than her friend. "You know I can't go to those places."

"Well, if you're going to stay here, so am I."

"Edna," Rocky warned, giving her a sideways glance.

The old woman held her hands up. "They're keeping a place for me at the hostel. I have to be in before midnight." She nudged the grumpy blonde's arm. "Like Cinders."

Rocky turned her attention back to the fire. "So what do you want to talk about?"

"Jo."

Rocky shrugged. "Nothing to tell."

"Hey." Edna reached over with a gloved hand and turned the young woman's face towards her. "This is me you're talking to."

Rocky looked at the woman for long moments, wondering whether she could divulge the thoughts that had refused to leave her during the last couple of days.

"Tell me what you feel when you see her."

Rocky closed her eyes, picturing the tall elegance, the blue eyes. She felt a tingle on the back of her neck as the image was formed in her mind's eye. "Comfort," she said, simply. Her forehead creased into a frown. "Why is that?" She shook her head in wonder. "I don't know her."

Edna opened her mouth to disagree.

"Yeah, I know," said Rocky. "You tell me I already know her."

"How else can you explain the feelings you have?"

Rocky pulled her coat a little tighter around her cold body. "I can't; you know that."

"So... what do you want to do when you see her?"

Rocky turned towards Edna and smiled, then blushed. "I want to hold her. But something tells me I shouldn't. I've never thought about loving a woman, Edna. I've never thought about love, not since..."

"Go on." Edna had never pressed Rocky to tell of the circumstances that drove her to the hell that was her life now.

Rocky shook her head. "I can't, I'm sorry."

Edna patted the hand that was close to her own. "That's alright, sweetheart. Most of us out here have our secrets. One day you'll find someone you feel you can tell them to."

"I'm sorry, Edna." Tears now coursed down the strained face, and the old woman pulled Rocky into her arms. "She makes me feel again." Edna had to strain to hear the whispered voice. "And I'm scared that all the feelings will come back, the bad ones I've fought so long to forget."

"But if they do, she'll be strong enough to help you with them."

Rocky pulled herself out of the frail embrace. "How do you know that?"

"How did I know to be at Victoria Station the day you arrived in London? There are many things I know, Rocky. But I don't know why I know. Some call it a gift. I see in that woman a great strength, the same as I've always seen the beauty in your soul. Somehow, against many odds, she has found you." She wiped away the tears that were flowing unabated from green eyes. "She didn't know she was looking for you, but now her life won't be complete without you."

"I can't believe that." Rocky wiped her face with a dirty sleeve. "She's wealthy. She doesn't need me. She looks like she's never needed anything in her life."

"Up until a couple of days ago, she didn't. You, on the other hand, have always needed her. You just didn't have a face to picture in your dreams."

Rocky held her head in her hands. "I don't know what to do, Edna."

Edna put a bony finger beneath the blonde's chin. "You must do what your heart says is right. You must learn to feel again, to love again. Stop punishing yourself." Edna smiled, seeing the outraged look once again. "I know."

"No you don't!" Rocky stood, and stepped a few paces away. "You don't know. You don't know what he did. What he took from me." She walked back and towered over Edna. "I couldn't stop him." She collapsed to her knees next to the old woman, who gathered the weeping woman into her arms again.

"Sshh," Edna whispered. "Tomorrow, you will see Jo. Don't fight your feelings. You can't let the past rule your future. You must learn to trust again. You must learn to trust your heart, and the person who wants to hold your heart." She looked up through the ruined roof of the derelict factory, to see the moon peeking from behind the snow clouds. She would soon have to leave the girl she thought of as a daughter to the cold of the night. But for the moment she would stay, content in the knowledge that this beautiful soul she held in her arms was about to find her destiny.

 

Jo woke with a start, and discovered that spending the night on a sofa that was two feet shorter than you was not a good idea. Her left shoulder screamed at her, as did her neck. The fire was still on, and her mouth, as a consequence, was dry. She stumbled into the kitchen, pulling a carton of orange juice from the fridge, and grimaced as she bumped her wounded bottom lip as she drank directly from the carton.

She went back into the lounge and peered through the darkness at the clock on the mantelpiece. It was just after 5am. She'd been asleep on the sofa since the previous evening. The heating was still on, so she made her way upstairs to the bathroom and started the water running. A shower wouldn't do on this occasion, she needed a bath. She needed a long bath, with some of the Body Shop's very own aromatherapy oils added to it.

Well over an hour later she eased herself out of the bath and, pulling on her towelling robe, she went back down to the lounge, plumping herself down on the sofa just as the phone rang.

She started to reach for the noisy instrument, and suddenly realised just who would be calling her at such an early hour. Her hand shook as she picked up the phone, the sudden silence ringing in her ears.

"Hello?" She waited for what seemed like an eternity, listening to soft breathing. She knew who it was. "Rocky?"

"Um, hi."

"Are you alright, is anything wrong?"

"No, I'm fine... Did I wake you? I forgot how early it was."

"No, I've been up about an hour. How about you?"

"I've been up a while."

There was silence for a long moment.

"Jo, I need to see you."

Jo's mouth suddenly lost the ability to produce coherent sound. Instead she made a vague croaking noise, which caused her caller some alarm.

"Jo?"

"I'm here," she said, after clearing her throat.

"There's a cafe, not far from the park. It's called Mario's. Can you meet me there?"

"Of course I can. When?"

"As soon as you like."

"I'll be there in half an hour."

"Ok, I'll be outside."

"Rocky..." Jo began, but pulled the phone away from her ear when she heard the dialling tone. Rocky had hung up.

She placed the handset gently back in its cradle and stared at it as if it was about to burst into flames. The she remembered she would need to dress before venturing out into the elements.

Jo found the cafe quite easily, and drove slowly past, trying to see in through the grubby window. She couldn't see Rocky, but quickly dismissed the fact and went in search of a parking space. With it being so early, she found a space relatively easily in a side street, not even having to pay a fee.

She pushed her hands into the pockets of her short leather jacket, pleased that she was finally meeting Rocky in a place that hopefully wouldn't require thermal clothing. She stood outside the cafe, and looked up and down the street, seeing no sign of the blonde.

And then suddenly she was there.

"Good morning," said Rocky softly, dropping her bags onto the pavement beside Jo.

If Jo was startled, she hid it well. She bent and picked up one of Rocky's large bags. "You ready for breakfast?"

Jo didn't wait for an answer but headed into the dingy cafe, glancing back once to make sure the blonde was following her in.

Inside Mario's was almost as grubby as the outside, and it bore no comparison to the trendy Italian eateries that Jo frequented. In fact the name was the only Italian thing about the place. There were about a dozen small tables, just over half of them occupied. Most of the customers looked like early workers, truck drivers, and factory workers stopping off for breakfast on their way to their place of work. Jo took the bag to a table in the corner and placed it on one of the four plain wooden chairs that surrounded it. Rocky had followed her in and put the bag she was carrying on the floor beneath the table.

"What do you fancy then?" Jo asked, eyeing the menu, which was on a blackboard behind the counter. "Do you want the full breakfast?" She read the list: bacon, egg, fried bread, tomato, sausages. She turned to Rocky who was easing herself into one of the chairs.

"I'll just have some toast and some tea," Rocky said quietly.

Jo turned towards the seated woman, the tired voice suddenly becoming apparent to her.

"Hey, you ok?" she asked, sitting in the opposite chair, and ducking her head to see into the bowed face of the blonde.

"I'm fine, just tired," Rocky said, not looking up.

"Let me get you something substantial to eat. Just this once." She ducked her head again, reaching across and tapping the table just in front of Rocky. "Please?"

Rocky looked up, and once again revelled in the soft blue gaze. "Ok," her mouth said. Her brain, on the other hand, was trying to come to terms with the emotions that blue gaze evoked.

Jo's smile made Rocky's stomach clench, it was such a beautiful sight. And she knew that smile was for her and her alone. She wanted to see it again, she wanted to cause it again.

Rocky watched Jo as she stood and went to the counter to order their food.

"I'll have two of the breakfasts, please," she said to the man in the dirty white teeshirt behind the counter, and pulled out her small wallet from her back pocket of her jeans. "And two large teas as well." She handed him her credit card, which he peered at, his hand hovering over the cash register.

"No plastic," he said, crossing his arms.

"Really?" Jo peered at her card, and then back at the man. "How does one pay then?" she asked.

The man, a huge hairy man with bushy eyebrows and black moustache, looked at her with obvious amazement.

"Cash?" he said, shrugging his shoulders.

"Cash," repeated Jo flatly. She hadn't had any of that for years, since she was a teenager. Everything she paid for, she paid for with plastic. "I'll be right back." She went over to Rocky, who was gazing out of the window. "Don't move a muscle. Be back in a jiffy."

Jo sprinted across the road; she'd seen the bank earlier and just hoped she could remember the PIN number as she fed her card into the cash point. She got it right at the second attempt, and drew the notes from the machine, stuffing them into her back pocket.

Back in the cafe, she put two 10 notes on the counter for the man. He handed her one back and then gave her change and two mugs of tea. "I'll bring the food over when it's cooked."

Jo watched him walk into the back room and then returned to her table, absentmindedly looking back at the menu, trying to work out how much breakfast for two had cost her. "6, that only cost 6?" she said as she placed the mug in front of Rocky.

The blonde chuckled. "Welcome to the real world, Jo," she said. "What do you usually pay for breakfast?"

"I don't usually have breakfast." Jo was spooning sugar into her tea, then she shoved the bowl across to Rocky who added some to hers.

Rocky was studying Jo intently, absently stirring the contents of her mug. "What happened?" she asked nodding towards the small cut on Jo's bottom lip.

Jo's hand flew to her mouth, feeling the small puncture there, and the slightly swollen lip. "I bit myself eating a pâté sandwich last night." She blushed, her first lie to Rocky and she felt as if she'd slapped the blonde woman.

Rocky seemed to accept the answer, and the blonde once again found the rapidly awakening sights and sounds of London beyond the cafe window fascinating.

Jo took a moment to study the blonde. Rocky had taken her hat off, and her gloves, but still wore the large, heavy coat. The coat appeared to be army surplus, as did the trousers and boots.

Jo decided that Rocky must cut her own hair, though she hadn't made a bad job of it. The blonde locks still fell into her eyes, and she would occasionally push it away, running her fingers across her eyebrows as she did so.

Although Jo knew Rocky to be about 20 years of age, she decided that she looked at least three years younger, and was amazed that the young woman had survived for the five years that Edna told her of, out on the streets. The hard facade that Rocky wanted to project was softened in the early morning light filtering through the dirty window. Now the girl just looked tired, and lost.

"I was surprised when you rang me," Jo said, unable to stand the silence any more.

Rocky closed her eyes. "I talked to Edna last night."

Two plates full of steaming food clattering onto their table made both women jump.

"Good grief!" said Jo, looking wide-eyed at the huge pile of food in front of her.

"Sauces?" asked the man.

Rocky tore her eyes from the startled-looking woman opposite her. "Red and brown," she said with a chuckle.

Both women were silent for a while as they tucked into their breakfast. Jo was pleasantly surprised that the stuff was edible, and was also pleased to see Rocky attacking the meal with great enthusiasm.

"You said you spoke to Edna," Jo said, laying her fork down on her plate.

"Yes, I did." Rocky slowed her eating, looking up to see Jo leaning back in her chair, wiping her hands on a napkin. The dark-haired woman then pushed her half-empty plate to one side and leaned forward, her elbows on the table.

"Would you talk to me?" Jo asked, resting her chin on her linked hands.

Rocky looked up from her all but empty plate and carefully put her knife and fork down on it.

"I've been out here for just about five years," Rocky said, so quietly that Jo had to strain to hear her over the conversations of the other patrons in the cafe. "In the beginning I was lost. I wouldn't have survived long if it hadn't been for Edna and Tom."

"Tom?" asked Jo, taking a sip of tea, surprised that it tasted like tea.

"He died, about a year ago."

"I'm sorry," said Jo, not really knowing how close this Tom had been to Rocky.

The blonde shrugged. "A lot of people I've known since I've been out here have died. It happens."

Jo was quiet, wanting Rocky to continue.

"I arrived at Victoria Station on an autumn day. I wasn't really sure where I was going or what I was doing." She looked up to find blue eyes regarding her intently. "That's when I saw Edna."

"Why were you there alone, Rocky?" Jo immediately realised her mistake when the blonde stood abruptly and gathered her bags.

Jo cursed, realised she'd pushed too much too soon, and caused a couple of the other customers to jump as she pushed the chair back and followed the blonde out of the cafe.

"Rocky!" she called to the rapidly moving form. She jogged to catch up with the girl and positioned herself in front of her. "I'm sorry," she said, breathing hard. "I didn't mean to push."

Rocky's shoulders slumped, and her head bowed. "It's me," she mumbled. "Not you." Rocky sighed, and looked up into Jo's concerned face. "Thanks for the breakfast."

Jo shrugged. "You're welcome. Is there anything else I can do?"

A small smile crossed the blonde's face. "I'd like to see the countryside."

"You would?" Jo's face lit up, a hundred different locations flitting through her mind. "Anywhere in particular?"

"I don't know anywhere around here. I wouldn't want you to have to go too far."

"We could be in Scotland by this afternoon if you wanted," said Jo with enthusiasm.

Rocky chuckled, and Jo, deciding it was the most adorable sound she'd ever heard, followed suit.

"I think Scotland's a little far. Do you know anywhere nearer?"

Jo reached over and took one of Rocky's bags, and gestured in the direction they would need to go to find her car. "We can go to Epping Forest, it shouldn't take much more than an hour. How does that sound?"

"Sounds good," said Rocky. "I haven't been out of the city for over five years; it'll be good to see the countryside again."

"Come on then," said Jo, and hoped this would be just the beginning of a longer journey for them.

Part 10

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