Disclaimer: "XENA: Warrior Princess" is owned and copyrighted by Pacific Renaissance Pictures, Studios USA Television Distribution LLC, and licensed by Universal Studios Licensing, LLLP. All rights are reserved by them. The following story is strictly nonprofit fan-fiction, and absolutely no copyright infringement is intended.

The following story contains adult language. Kiddies beware.

With their Halloween preparations only partially completed, a sudden medical scare compels Captain Gabriella Duncan, MD, USN, to accompany Colonel Gina Ryan, USMC, as she goes to the base hospital down in Coronado…which results in a life-changing event.

 

"Celebratio Interruptus"

By Ernie Whiting

mailto:bloodyvisigoths@netzero.net

Gina Ryan’s favorite holiday was just a few weeks away, and as always she anticipated it with an almost giddy delight that never failed to elicit a wry grin and a shake of the head from Gabriella Duncan. The days here in Nevada City were still hot and summer-like, but the nights were getting chilly now; there was a trace of an early autumn in the air, with a soft breeze and a slight yet distinct chill in these foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains of northern California. Pumpkins were growing in their vegetable garden, ready to be picked and delivered to their friends and scattered about their property, and cornstalks whispered in the wind at night to contribute to that deliciously eerie, Halloween atmosphere.

Dressed in faded blue jeans, a red t-shirt with “When In Doubt, Use More Explosives USMC” emblazoned in gold across the front, and heavy white cotton socks, she was currently occupied behind their latest acquisition, in the midst of wiring the stereo receiver and the VCR- DVD recorder into their brand-new, 40-inch LCD-TV. Sam, their tuxedo-patterned, black-tan-and-white Queensland Heeler and who was now sporting a black, new, Harley Davidson collar with his name tag and rabies tag dangling from its steel loop sat nearby, with his weight shifted to one haunch, as he watched her with great interest while the Marine worked.

Dressed in dark brown corduroys, dark socks and an urban-camouflage t-shirt, Brie Duncan picked up the cordless kitchen phone in the middle of the third ring. “Hello?” she asked. “Oh, hey, Ronnie,” she said, her voice brightening considerably. She hadn’t heard from her sister in a while. “What’s up? Nothing much new here; just getting’ ready for Halloween. We did, however, have to replace the TV in the living room… It ceased to function,” she added by way of explanation. “Why? Umm… well, that was because…” She cast her eyes toward Gina, and discovered that her partner was gazing back at her with a “How many more times am I gonna have to listen to you tell that story?” look. “…well, maybe I should let Gina tell you. Hang on.” She stepped around the tiled counter that separated the open kitchen from the living room, and approached the Marine to hand her the phone.

Gina took the phone, and put it to her ear. “I killed the TV,” she said, keeping it short and sweet. “Here’s Brie back.” She handed the phone back to the Navy doctor, and went back to work on the television.

Brie put the phone to her ear once more, and then waited for her sister’s laughter to subside. Finally, they could hear her voice identical to Brie’s asking, “What’d she do?”

“We’d just scored a couple of cases of wine that day down at the Villa Toscana vineyards, and it was late, and we were enjoyin’ maybe a little too much vino rosso,” she explained, “and we were crabbin’ and complainin’ about all the tasteless advertising on TV. So the next thing we know, there’s ol’ Smilin’ Bob from those commercials for those ‘get-a-bigger-dick’ pills, y’know? And all of a sudden, Gina just snapped. I can’t really say that I blame her, y’know? That guy really is irritatin’ as hell. So she’s swearin’ up a hell-storm in Italian I don’t know what she was sayin’, but I’m sure as hell glad it wasn’t directed at me she headed upstairs for a minute, and then came back down with her Beretta, and with the intent of puttin’ a round between ol’ Bob’s eyes she shot the TV.” She had to yank the phone away from her ear, and now even Gina could hear Veronica screaming with laughter.

Cautiously, and with a wry grin, she put the phone back to her ear, and continued: “So she’s standin’ there with this sudden, bug-eyed, ‘What the fuck did I just do?’ look in her eyes…”

Even Gina found herself smiling now, just slightly, and with a minute shake of her head as she continued to work, while Brie continued to regale her sister with this tale.

“…so now we still gotta fix a hole in the wall, ‘cause the bullet went through the TV, through the wall and into the hot tub outside…oh, man, there was sparks flyin’ from the pump, and enough smoke to set off the smoke detector in the living room, and there was water all over the deck…”

Veronica Duncan continued to shriek with laughter. Even Gina had to chuckle softly now, as she heard Ronnie’s screaming laughter as it came ever louder over the phone.

“…which just goes to show you,” Brie went on, “that alcohol and loaded firearms are definitely not a healthy mix…”

***

“...with a pneumothorax and a diaphragmatic hernia, I’m surprised as hell that the guy even made it to the triage tent, let alone recover as well as he did…” Brie was saying into the phone as Gina waited for her with strained patience. “Bein’ that badly damaged, he’s lucky he didn’t bleed out before the med-evac chopper even got off the ground…”

"Hey, come on!" the Marine hollered again, from her position on the sofa. "The movie's waiting!" After the enthusiasm Brie had shown earlier over their unexpected acquisition of "Eight Legged Freaks" on DVD a sci-fi/action/comedy about fast-moving, giant mutant spiders attacking a small, southwestern town, starring David Arquett Gina was now puzzled over her current reluctance to hang up the damn phone and join her on the couch. "I'd like to start this movie some time tonight!"

"Hang on a sec," Brie said into the phone. She swung the mouthpiece away from her lips, covered it with one hand, and hollered back, "Hold your damn horses; I'll be there in a minute!" And then she returned to her phone conversation.

Gina sighed heavily, and growled in aggravation as she returned her attention to the TV, which was currently displaying the disc's menu, complete with the little black tarantula (accompanied periodically by a woman’s high-pitched, terrified shriek) that skittered across the screen. "Jesus," she muttered. Then she turned to Sam, who was curled up next to her on the couch. "That's what she said fifteen minutes ago," she told him. Whenever Brie got to talking shop and swapping old stories with her medical colleagues, there was just no dragging her away from it.

She gazed at the dog. "Well, okay," she said, "as long as she's on the phone, I'm gonna go grab a bottle of wine. And as long as I'm getting that, what do you say to some extra snacks?"

Sam pricked up his ears as he raised his head, and cocked it to one side to gaze at Gina. Did she just suddenly say something of interest to him?

"What would you say to some Ritz crackers and some smoked cheddar cheese spread?" she asked with a growing smile. "Sound good?"

Sam's bushy black tail, with its white tip, thumped against the sofa cushion a couple of times.

Gina's smile turned into a grin. "Yeah?" she said playfully. "You want some shnackies? Sammy want some shnackies?"

With an enthusiastic grin of his own, and a steady thumping of his tail, Sam woofed softly.

"Well, all right, then!" she told him as she rose from the sofa, and started for the kitchen. "Come on, bud, let's go get some shnackies!"

With Sam following her, his tongue lolling in an open grin, his tail high and wagging merrily and his nails clicking on the hardwood floor, she approached the refrigerator. She pulled open the door, and out came the remains of a 12-ounce tub of smoked cheddar cheese spread. Then she reached for the wooden block that contained her kitchen knives. "Yeah," she told Sam as she smiled down at him, "you can't go wrong with smoked cheddar, Ritz crackers, and a good bottle of Montepulciano." Then she reached up with her right hand toward the cupboard, and took down the crackers. "Brie's probably gonna kill me for this," she told the dog, "for raiding the pantry without her and letting you eat this stuff, but what's a gal supposed to do? She'd rather yak on the damn phone. And," she suddenly added conspiratorially, as she cast a quick glance over her shoulder to make certain that she wasn’t being watched, "as long as she isn't around, what she doesn't know can't hurt her." Again, with her right hand, she reached up to pull the other cupboard door open, and with her left she reached up for the bottle of red Italian wine–

"God!" she cried out, in sudden, blinding agony. The pain came from nowhere, just from out of the blue, to slam into her like an out-of-control freight train. The bottle fell from her hand and hit the edge of the counter, and tumbled end-over-end to land on its side and shatter explosively on the hardwood floor. With her teeth clenched and her eyes squeezed shut, she suddenly clutched at her left arm and shoulder. Sam scrambled and dodged out of the way just in time to avoid getting hit with the bottle, and then he looked up at her with alert and worried brown eyes.

With her head bowed and her teeth still clenched, and as she leaned heavily against the counter with one hip, she cried out again, even more loudly and in blinding, nearly paralyzing pain, her voice almost a scream. "Oh, God!"

All Brie could see, with suddenly anxious eyes, was her partner in the kitchen, with her back facing her and her hip against the counter, her head bowed, and with her right hand clutching was it at her chest? while Sam stood by, whining with anxiety. And then, all of a sudden, she was standing next to her with troubled green eyes and a pounding heart. "Gina? Darlin'?" she asked, her voice filled with apprehension. The way her partner was standing there, with her eyes squeezed shut in obvious agony and her hand at her left arm, the first thing she thought was, Heart attack? Could she be having a heart attack? It wasn't likely, considering the Marine's excellent physical condition. She was still about a month shy of her 41st birthday, but younger people in comparable physical fitness had been known to suffer a myocardial infarction...

"Gina?" she asked again as she guided her toward the breakfast nook and eased her down on the padded bench. "C’mon, babe, talk to me. What's wrong? You havin' chest pains?" Oh, God, she cried silently, please, no…don’t let this be a heart attack, please, God no…

With her clenched jaw and her squeezed eyes slowly relaxing, she tried to gently wave her off. "No, no, I'm okay," she groaned at last, "I'm alright." She took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. "It's just..."

Brie continued to watch her with worried green eyes, and a fearfully pounding heart.

She slowly rotated her left arm at the shoulder. "Oh, man..." she said softly as the pain slowly ebbed, and as her range of motion slowly increased. "Son of a bitch, that hurts..."

Brie quickly checked her over for other signs of cardiac arrest–at least, as well as she could without her medical bag–and found none. Her pulse was strong and steady, at about seventy-six beats per minute. There was no clamminess or perspiration, no paleness or ashen color...

"You okay?"

"Yeah," she replied as she slowly rotated her arm again. "It's just an old injury that's come back to haunt me."

"You sure?" Brie asked. "I’m getting my medical bag. You want me to call for an ambulance?"

"No, I'm fine," Gina replied quickly. Perhaps a little too quickly, she thought a moment later, as she took note of the mildly stung expression in her partner's eyes. Her own expression softened as the worried doctor continued to crouch before her on one knee. "I'm okay," she said, her voice soft. "I'm sorry I snapped at you."

And then she regarded Sam, and reached down to scratch him behind one ear. "I'm okay, Sammy," she reassured the dog, "everything's okay."

Sam's look of concern immediately transformed to one of relief. Excitedly, he nudged and licked her hand for a couple more strokes behind his ear, which she was happy to give him.

She finally slid over to make room for Brie, and her partner sat next to her as her own pulse finally slowed.

"So what the hell happened?" the doctor asked, the worry not completely gone from her eyes.

"It's just an old injury that caught me by surprise, that's all," she said by way of explanation, and then her doctor began to gently palpate her shoulder. "I took a bad landing on my left shoulder once, back in jump school. I couldn't move my arm for about twenty minutes, even after a medic checked me out; but I worked it out after a while, and by the end of the day I felt fine. I never even gave it a second thought." She took a deep breath, and let it out in a long, calming sigh as she continued to slowly rotate her shoulder with gradually increasing range and mobility. "I had a couple of subsequent dislocations over the years, and...well…I guess tonight it all decided to catch up with me and bite me in the ass."

Brie finally breathed her own soft sigh of relief. Then she slipped a soft, warm hand behind the Marine's neck, and gently drew her head toward her, and gave her a kiss on one cheek. "Man, you scared the hell out of me; don't do that anymore," she said softly. And then, louder, she added, "I'll tell you what; we're goin' down to Coronado, and I'm takin' some x-rays and runnin' some MRIs on you to find out just what the hell's goin' on in there."

Slipping an arm around her shoulders, Gina gave her a reassuring smile. "Naw, that's okay," she said as she gave her a gentle shake. "I'm okay."

She shifted slightly in her seat, and there was a subtle shift in the expression of her green eyes, from concern to mild yet unmistakable determination. "You aren't gonna force me into making this a medical directive, are you?" asked the irascible Navy doctor. "Don't make me pull rank on you."

Gina looked at her with wry and amused disbelief. "You?" she asked, "Pull rank on me? Yeah, right." She sighed. "Gabrielle, I–" She stopped abruptly when she saw the expression in her partner's eyes. There was a little, teeny, tiny bit of a smile in them, but that smile was far outweighed by her unwavering resolve. There was just no arguing with her. Even though a Navy captain and a Marine Corps colonel wore the silver eagles of equal rank on their shoulders, in this instance the former was a doctor; and in medical situations–as this most certainly was–the doctor was always the ranking officer.

And Doctor Gabriella Duncan Would. Not. Be. Swayed.

Period.

"Don't fuck with me on this, Xena," she summed up, her voice a mild and friendly warning, "'cause you will lose."

The former Warrior Princess sighed heavily, and her mild scowl lasted only a moment. She gazed at her partner for a moment, and as she did she thought, The only reason why she's not a Marine is because the Corps doesn't have its own medical corps.

Finally, she reluctantly smiled fondly and meekly at the blonde doctor. "Yes, dear," she finally mumbled.

***

Three days later, and with her arms folded beneath her breasts, she was standing at the partially open window of the examination room, dressed in a hospital gown and gazing outside with slightly narrowed eyes, while the brilliant San Diego sunshine warmed her face as it streamed in through the vinyl mini-blinds. The MRI and the x-rays had already been taken; so, while they awaited the results and since the hospital was having a slow day and they had the time Brie had decided to give Gina a complete physical exam.

The last time she had been down here, it suddenly dawned on her, was when she had to come down maybe four or five months ago for an inspection tour, and to get caught up on a mountain of paperwork. Brie had remained at home, but her other sister, Evelyn, had shown considerable interest in checking out the Marine Corps base. Having never been here, the assistant deputy district attorney for Sacramento wanted to get a taste of the military life that Brie and Gina lived.

So, with Gina trapped in her office, Evie had decided to go walkabout. Gina thought that was just fine, since there was no way she could wander off of this base, and she didn’t want Brie’s sister to be stuck indoors, waiting for her. One wrong turn led to another, however, and after a couple of hours of hiking and a few rides in Humvees (“Where y’all headed?” she had pleasantly asked the variety of drivers. “Mind if I come along?”), she found herself out in a massive expanse of desert, observing the battlefield maneuvers of the one of the Corps’s tank units.

Those who were conducting the exercises saw nothing wrong with Doc observing; after all, she was out of uniform for some reason, so obviously she wasn’t here in any official capacity. Actually, she seemed unusually buoyant and entertained by the whole thing. But what had really struck the instructors as odd, though, was that she had asked if she could have one of these metallic behemoths take her back toward the officers’ housing district.

Well. Far be it from anyone to refuse a request from Doc, whose angelic smile could melt the coldest of hearts (and whose acid tongue could send a shiver of fear up the spine of even a twenty-year drill instructor)…

With her own duties finally completed, Gina had gone out to locate the blonde attorney, but she was nowhere to be found. She had gone from the Officers’ Mess to the Recreation Hall, from the Rec Hall to the gym, from the gym to the base library but still, she couldn’t find Evie. After maybe an hour or so, she started to get a little anxious. She knew there was no way off of this base, but still where the hell could she be?

And that was when she heard the rumbling. Coming around one corner of the on-base Officers’ Housing section was an M1A1 Abrams tank 67.6 tons of desert-camouflage painted, armor-plated, and heavily-armed absolute badass nonchalantly making its way along the road, with absolutely nothing crazy enough to stand in its way…except for a lone and defiant colonel, dressed in desert-camouflage fatigues, cap and dark gold sunglasses, and standing like a student of Tiananmen Square, with her hands on her hips.

With its powerful diesel engines rumbling, the tank eased to a stop about six feet in front of her.

Gina made an abrupt slashing motion across her throat with one hand, and a moment later the engines fell silent.

“What the hell are you numbnuts doing, driving that goddamned thing through officers’ housing?” she roared. “You see what the fuck your treads did to that goddamned asphalt? Any of you dumb asses have anything to say for yourselves?”

And then the forward hatch popped open, just below and next to the tank’s main gun a very intimidating 120 mm (5 inch) cannon that could easily level a building, take out a concrete bunker and leave nothing behind but a big hole in the ground, or effectively kill another tank and Evie’s blonde head popped up. With that dazzling Duncan grin, and stroking the armored skin before her almost affectionately, she drawled, “Hey, Gina! Is this thing awesome, ’r what?”

Ryan stood silently for a moment, totally dumbstruck.

“Please don’t get mad at these guys,” the lawyer said. “They thought I was Brie, and…well, it was such a long walk, and… I…well, I kinda led them to believe that they were being ordered to bring me here, and…” Her smile faltered and failed, and she shrugged apologetically.

After another silent moment or two, she sighed heavily as she unclipped her radio from her belt, thumbed the transmit button, and brought it to her lips. “This is Colonel Ryan,” she said. “You can call off the search; I’ve found her…”

In retrospect, the memory of that day always made Gina smile.

There was a squad of Marines outside, at the moment, dressed in desert camouflage shorts, red-and-gold Marine Corps t-shirts and white running shoes, going through their daily PT routines physical training and at the moment they were jogging along, following their squad leader and shouting in rhyming cadence with their footsteps. God, how she wished she could be out there with them right now! To leave her rank behind, and go jogging in the sun to work up a sweat, and go running the obstacle course…to hit the rifle and pistol ranges for a little recreational shooting (come to think of it, she did need to keep current on her firearms qualifications; maybe, while they were down here, she could kill two birds with one stone…), and playing with explosives and making things go boom rather than being stuck inside this damn chrome-and-white exam room on such a beautiful day, while Brie was in another room and preparing her needles and syringes, and other instruments of medical torture.

She sighed. Since she had no choice but to be here, she decided that she would be absolutely, positively, and irrevocably determined to have as much fun as these circumstances would allow.

She heard the door open and then close, but she kept her attention outside.

"Y'know, Gina," said Brie's voice, "those gowns do close in the back."

Gina's grin widened. "Yeah, I know," she drawled softly, her voice almost a purr. "I'm just enjoying that cool, southern breeze." She finally turned away from the window and focused her attention on her doctor.

Dressed in short-sleeved shipboard khakis, and with her golden hair tied back in a sensible French braid, Brie was wearing a stethoscope draped around her neck and a sardonic little smile, while supporting a portable computer with the underside of her left forearm and rapidly keying information into it single-handedly.

"Come on, Marine," she said as she finally set the computer down on a small metal table, which stood next to a small refrigerator and which contained several drawers, and on top of which there rested jars of cotton, swabs, tongue depressors and a selection of lollipops the latter of which the Sailor teasingly referred to as Marine pacifiers. (Not only did this base care for military personnel, but it also cared for their families, including their children. It was a policy that Brie had instituted, since this hospital was her command it was her ship, and she would run it however she saw fit. The downside of this was that she had to appear before Congressional committees and the Secretary of the Navy more frequently in order to justify her hospital's expenditures. And with the arguments that she presented, those committees had frequently found it impossible to deny the increased funds she requested.)

Sailing toward her patient on a round, rolling stool with black vinyl padding and a chrome frame, she added, "The sooner we get this over with, the sooner we can pick up Sam from my office and go home."

"Are you sure he's gonna be okay there, all by himself?" Gina asked. She knew how lonely Sam got whenever they had to leave him at home by himself; and even though he would be left in the care of their house-sitters, Katie and Jaime, they would always find him upon their return lying by the front door, faithfully and loyally waiting for them, with the food in his bowl untouched. "I hate to leave him alone…"

"With Cates lookin' after him?" Brie countered, referring to her yeoman, while slipping on her gold-framed, aviator-styled reading glasses. "Don't worry, he's in good hands."

So the next several minutes were spent with a basic physical exam; Brie listened to her heart and lungs with the stethoscope, checked her blood pressure, had a look inside her mouth and at the back of her throat ("Say 'ah,'" she'd instructed as she pushed down on her tongue with the wooden tongue depressor; in response, Gina replied with a long, hollow, "Gaaauuuggghhh…"), checked her ears with an otoscope ("Hey!" the doctor softly said with a little smile. "I can see clean through to the other side of the room!" "Oh, yeah?" countered the Marine, with a little smile of her own, as she held up her hand next to her other ear, with an extended middle finger. "Can you see this?") and checked her eyes with an ophthalmoscope, and then went on to check her lymph nodes, feeling both sides of her throat, under her ears and behind the points of her jaw with her fingertips. So far, everything checked out normal.

"Okay," she said. "Now, I need some blood to send down to chemistry and hematology for a CBC, BUN, thyroid, glucose, cholesterol the works. So gimme your arm."

She winced slightly at the idea. "Is that really necessary?" Gina hated needles.

"As long as the American taxpayer is pickin' up the tab on this, they're gonna get their money's worth," the doctor replied as she removed a trio of 3cc glass vacuum tubes each with a different color of rubber stopper, which signified which blood test was to be run a sterile venapuncture set, and a rubber tourniquet from one pocket.

Gina sighed heavily. "Aw, man…" she moaned softly as she reluctantly presented her arm.

"Suck it up, Marine," Brie said with a little smile as she proceeded to expertly tie the tourniquet in place. "It'll only last a few seconds."

"Which'll seem like a fuckin' eternity…"

"Oh, boo-fuckin'-hoo," Brie said dryly, and without a trace of sympathy. "Now hold still..."

Gina found something over her left shoulder to gaze at, and winced again in mildly dreadful anticipation as she gritted her teeth, while Brie expertly hit the vein on the first try, and filled the tubes. Once she was finished, she removed the tourniquet and withdrew the needle ("You can open your eyes now," she had told the Marine with a little smile), and taped a cotton ball in place on the inside of Gina's elbow. Then, with a fine-tipped black Sharpie, she labeled the tubes with the corresponding number from the test request form, and deposited all into a clear plastic zip bag.

"Okay," she said, "I wanna do a Pap smear. You know the routine."

Gina smiled playfully. "Jesus, Brie, if you wanted to play doctor with me, we didn't have to fly all the way down here…"

She regarded her with diminishing patience. "Do you want to get out of this office or not?" the doctor asked. "Now, come on; a little cooperation will go a long way. Ass on the table, feet in the stirrups."

Gina stared at her for a moment as her buoyant mood began to take on water and sink. She had been determined to have some fun here, but somehow her plan just wasn't coming together. So, with a dark scowl, she groused, "What, no flowers or candy first? No foreplay?" As she slowly maneuvered backward, she added with a sarcastic grumble, "They're right; romance is dead…"

***

"Now can we get out of here?"

With the swab inside a sterile plastic tube, Brie rapidly filled out another test request form, labeled the tube, and dropped everything into another plastic bag. "One more little test," she said as she turned toward her computer once more, "and we're done."

"Oh, good grief. Now what?" the increasingly cranky Marine muttered. "I suppose you want me to crap into one of your little test tubes for you?"

Wordlessly, Brie reached into the small drawer beneath her computer, and withdrew a red-topped, 3-cc Vacu-Tainer blood tube. Without looking up, she tossed it to her.

Gina caught the tube in one hand, and stared at it. Then she turned her disbelieving gaze on her doctor. After a moment of silence, she said, "You've got to be kidding me."

Brie said nothing as she continued to key information into the computer.

With a puzzled scowl, she looked at the tube again, turning it first one way and then another, and then she turned her deepening scowl on her doctor again. With increasing bafflement and indignation, she regarded the tube one more time, and then she finally asked, "How the hell am I supposed to…"

Brie finally turned from her computer and addressed her patient. "Hey, you're a Marine; improvise. Adapt, and overcome," she said with mild sarcasm. "Isn't that what you Leathernecks always brag about?"

Gina regarded the small, syringe-like tube a moment longer…and then, with a dangerous look in her eyes, she tossed it back to her doctor.

At last, Brie decided to let her off the hook. "Naw," she said as she opened the drawer again, reached inside, and withdrew a clear plastic cup. "I just need you to fill the little cup," she said as she unscrewed its blue top. "I need to check your kidney function, and check for any possible bladder infections or other UTIs."

Gina accepted the urine cup and eyed it with an arched eyebrow. Then she looked at her partner. "You want me to put a head on it for you, bartender?" she asked dryly.

"A secure cap will do quite nicely, thank you very much," Brie replied, with a forced smile.

With an aggravated look in her sapphire eyes, the Marine started for the head.

***

"I'll show you a secure goddamn cap," she grumbled as she twisted down on the blue top; twisted down hard, almost to the point of cracking the container. She emerged from the restroom, and with a sudden and sardonic smile she…

In the exam room, Brie was sitting at the table once more, keying more information into her computer, when she heard her partner's voice saying, "Hey Brie, here's your urine. Catch!"

The doctor turned away from her computer to face her partner with a puzzled look in her green eyes. "Huh?" she started to ask and then the puzzlement in her eyes quickly transformed into sheer, wide-eyed horror when she saw the cup, bearing its sloshing, yellow liquid contents, sailing through the air toward her. Oh, my GOD! she silently screamed in near panic.

Whether it was out years of training and habit or years of ingrained concern for preserving specimens, she didn't hesitate for a moment and neither did she even think about what she was doing as she lunged forward to catch it. Clutching it against herself like a football, and half-way expecting it to break open and splatter all over her hands and soak her uniform blouse, she stood frozen for a moment with her eyes squeezed shut with combined emotions of horror and dreadful anticipation.

At last, when she felt no growing dampness, she opened her eyes and examined the cup.

No leaks.

With a sigh of relief, she then turned her cold and deadly green gaze on Colonel Ryan.

The playful force-recon Marine was now watching the irascible Navy doctor with keen apprehension. And then, when she saw that the cap had held, she sighed softly in her own relief, and then flashed her with a dazzling grin of forced encouragement. "Nice…nice catch!"

***

They were evaluating the results of Gina's physical.

“The good news is, you are disgustingly healthy,” Brie said as she removed the x-rays from a large, brown envelope. The rest of Gina’s results were being logged into her computer file, and then were uploaded into Brie's portable computer. “BP is normal, pulse is strong and respirations are normal, heart and lung sounds are good and clear, your blood chemistry’s all in the green, everything’s lookin’ really, really good. You have gained ten pounds, though, and

Gina turned to her in surprise. "I what?" Almost fully dressed in her forest camouflage utilities she had just slipped into her brown T-shirt and was straightening it around the bottom she stepped over to Brie's computer to see the results for herself.

"Ten pounds, Colonel," Brie repeated, as she showed her the numbers. "Read 'em and weep."

Gazing in dismay at the results, she softly moaned a melancholy, "Aw, man…"

"You definitely need to quit eating so much of your own cooking and push away from the table earlier, and start workin' out more. Lay offa your homemade pizzas."

Ryan sighed heavily. "I was kind of afraid that might happen," she conceded. "Like I said, things have been so slow lately, with the training programs running so smoothly and all… I really do need to get out more."

"Hey, you'll get no argument out of me," Brie concurred. "And your LDLs are way the hell out of control. You definitely need to work on that either on your own, or I'm gonna put you on some statin drugs."

"Oh, no," Gina groaned softly. "Please, Brie, no pills…"

"Well, it's either that, or change your diet," she informed her patient. "You're gonna have to cut back on the cheese, the mayonnaise, the ice cream, the fat… Try replacing butter with margarine…"

"Margarine?" Gina asked dubiously. "Margarine? Are you fucking kidding me? Bleahhh!" As a cook, she couldn't stand the idea of replacing nature's own butter with artificial crap like margarine. "I'd rather gouge out my own eyeballs with a rusty teaspoon than switch to margarine!"

"Hey, I'm just advisin' you as your doctor, that's all," Brie said.

"I'd rather reach up my ass and pull out my spleen than switch to margarine…" Gina mumbled.

Brie's face twisted in mild disgust. "Well, thanks for sharin' that pleasant li'l mental Kodak moment with all of us…"

"I'd rather fuck a "

"I got the point!"

"Margarine," the Marine muttered again, with blatant disgust, "…tastes like mucus…"

Oh, Jesus, Brie moaned inwardly as she began to massage one mildly throbbing temple.

"…tastes like snot…"

Not bothering to respond to that, the doctor instead focused on the x-ray results. She took the black-and-white films, one at a time, to slide under the metallic clasps of the fluorescent viewer. "And now for your shoulder," she said as she slipped on her gold-framed, aviator-styled reading glasses, and began to indicate a couple of points on the film with her pen. "See all this calcification goin' on in your shoulder socket? You've developed some arthritis."

"What?" she said as she gazed at the films. "Arthritis? You gotta be kidding me!"

"It's not surprising, really, considering how much damage has been done over the years." She turned from the viewer to regard her patient. "You told me the other night you had 'a couple' of subsequent dislocations; I've looked back on your record, and I've found six." She turned once more to gaze at the viewers, and continued. "On the Fujita Tornado-slash-Arthritis scale of one to five, five bein' worst case, I'd give you almost a four."

"Shit," Gina muttered softly as she shook her head in disgust. "Arthritis… I'm only forty, for chrissakes."

Brie regarded her with a smile that was both amused and a little sad. "Well, twenty years ago you were only twenty. What can I tell you?" She gave her a tiny shrug. "You're gettin' old, Gina. Shit happens."

And as she said this, she began to smile a little bit of that sweet and familiar Gabrielle Smile.

Gina watched her with mild suspicion. "What are you smiling about?" she wanted to know, after a brief moment of silence.

"I was just thinkin' about something we didn't get to do together back in Greece," the bard replied softly as she slipped off her glasses once more, and let them dangle from the leash around her neck.

"What's that?"

"Grow old together."

Slowly, Gina's disgust melted away, and then she smiled fondly in return at her partner; she even started to get a little misty-eyed. After a moment of silent reverie, the Marine finally sighed and said, "Okay, it's arthritis. So what do we do about it?"

"Glucosamine and condroitin," the doctor said. "It'll take a few weeks, but we can work on replacing that joint fluid, and grease 'er up a little. Limited exercise; you don't want to overdo it. If you want, I can prescribe some grunt candy for you, if you think you might need it; some extra-strength ibuprofen or acetaminophen, laced with some codeine, or maybe some hydrocodone, depending on the severity of the pain..."

"Whatever it takes to keep me going," Gina said. "I can't fall apart in front of the troops."

"Don't you worry about your troops, Colonel," Doc said, mildly but pointedly, "you just worry about yourself."

"I'm more worried about the programs I put into place. How can I expect my Marines to go through my paces if I can't go through them myself?"

"Hey you're a full-bird colonel. You don't have to get out there and put yourself through all that shit."

Ryan gazed at her with determined blue eyes. "Oh, yes I do."

Sighing heavily, Brie could understand what the Marine was going through, and she truly did sympathize with her; Colonel Ryan was one of those officers who would not and did not expect anyone in her command to do something that she would not do herself. But what could the doctor tell her patient?

Both of them were silent for several long moments.

Sitting once more on the rolling stool next to the small table that held her computer, she brought one leg up to drape over the other, and she laced her fingers together against her knee. "How long have you been in the Corps now, Gina?" she finally asked.

The Marine sighed, and thought for a quick moment. "Just about twenty-three years," she replied. "I enlisted at eighteen…" She thought for a brief moment. "Holy shit, has it really been nearly twenty-three years?"

Brie watched her thoughtfully. "Long damn time," she said. Although Ryan was yet to show any gray hairs, the doctor had already heard a number of personnel refer to her as "the old man" a term of endearment that was applied to officers who deserved such respect and endearment. And despite the gender remark, it was a term that also was applied to both males and females alike.

"Yeah, really," Gina agreed. "Where the hell did it all go?"

"Where, indeed…" Brie said softly. "Listen. If you slow down a little and start takin' things easy, there ain't no one who's gonna think less of you. You've put in twenty-three good years. I'd say you've earned the right to slow down a little. I'm tellin' you this not only as your doctor, but also as your friend and as your partner." She shrugged her shoulders a little bit. "Take some time to smell the roses, Gina; relax a little. You do not have to keep on bein' the 'Warrior Princess.'"

Twenty-three years, Gina thought as she watched her for a moment. And then a thought suddenly occurred to her. "Are you suggesting that I retire?" she asked at last, with growing suspicion.

Brie raised her golden eyebrows so high they nearly touched her bangs. "Did I say that?" she asked defensively. "I didn't say that!"

"You didn't have to, Ms. Manipulator," Gina replied.

"Oh, yeah, right," the irascible Navy doctor shot back sourly. "Like I could manipulate you, the great Warrior Princess-slash-Recon Force Marine."

"You do it all the time…" Gina grumbled disagreeably. "What with that hurt 'puppy-dog' look you always give me whenever you want your way."

Brie stopped for a moment, and looked genuinely hurt.

"Y'see?" Gina asked after another moment of silence. "Y'see? You're doing it right now!"

"I am not!" she said, her voice sounding wounded.

"Yeah, you are!"

The hurt in her eyes increased. "Gina, I'm hurt," she said, and the hurt in her voice was mild but obvious. "I am really, really…Well, okay," she finished as she finally let the playful smile come. "Maybe."

And then she decided to get serious. "Look. Now that it's out in the open, maybe it's something to think about. As you said, you're pushin' forty-one. You'll still be relatively young, and you'll get full retirement benefits, full medical, and plenty of free time to pursue other interests. Maybe you'll finally learn how to really play that damn piano."

Gina gave her a defensive and mildly warning look. "I do know how to play that piano," she growled softly.

"Yeah, right," Brie replied sardonically, "'Chopsticks' and Chopin's 'Funeral March.' That's some extensive repertoire you've developed."

“I also know the complete soundtrack to ‘It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown,’” Colonel Ryan mumbled.

“Yeah,” Brie said with a soft laugh, “you do know those ‘Peanuts’ soundtracks.” And then the doctor grinned a one-sided grin as another idea suddenly came to mind. "And it'll give you plenty of time to put up that chain link fence so Sam can run around outside unattended."

Ryan was already beginning to weigh all of the advantages of a life of leisure… And then she quickly said, "Wait a second. Wait a second, wait a second, let's slow the cart down here. First, you said I gained ten pounds, and that I need more exercise; now you think I ought to retire?"

"I didn't say you should retire, it's just something to think about, that's all. I mean…" She sighed. "Shit, darlin', I won't even step into an OR anymore 'cause my eyes just aren't what they used to be. Do you have any idea of how many nightmares I've had about losin' a patient because I missed a bleeder I couldn't see? I love bein' a surgeon, and I don't want to give up the practice of medicine; but the idea of steppin' back into an operating room scares me. Sometimes I feel lucky that the Navy decided to make me a captain so I could run this hospital rather than continue on as a surgeon."

They shared a long, long moment of companionable silence as these issues of encroaching middle-age and eventual old age sank in. And as they did, Gina noticed for the first time that there just might be an extra, faint character line or two at the corners of Brie's eyes that she hadn't noticed before. Holy crap, the Marine suddenly thought, we're not young anymore.

"Yeah, well, I've thought about it," Gina said tersely about her own retirement as she reached for her fatigue top, and began to slip into it. "And the answer is " She sucked air through clenched teeth as she was suddenly cut off by another blinding bolt of pain that ran from her shoulder and along her entire upper arm. She let the breath out slowly in a groan, and relaxed her arm into the rolled-up sleeve of her top. " I'll think about it a little while longer. It's just that…" She sighed heavily. "After all the combat and special ops shit I've been through, I kind of hate the idea of being taken out by something as stupid and puny as lousy fuckin' arthritis, y'know?"

Brie raised one golden eyebrow. "Arthritis incurred as a result of numerous injuries and repeated damage over a span of twenty-three years of honorable service to the Corps and your country," Brie emphasized with her east-Texas drawl. "Not to mention bein’ wounded in combat three times. You're gettin’ off lucky, Marine. And," she added, "try to remember that you didn't get those three Purple Hearts, all those medals, or that Congressional Medal of Honor because of a li'l tiny bit of arthritis."

Gina thought that over for a moment, and then smiled a little bit. Leave it to her partner to raise her spirits by reminding her of something she ought to have remembered herself. That was just one of the many reasons why she loved this woman so much.

Doctor Duncan rose from her seat, and said, "One final thing before you slip into that shirt, Colonel." She turned toward the small refrigerator next to her table, and pulled open the door.

"Uh oh," Gina said, her voice soft and guarded. "Now what?"

She reached in toward the back, and withdrew a 10 cc glass vial. "Flu shot."

Gina watched her with mild apprehension in her sapphire eyes. "Flu shot?" she asked, as she felt her heart begin to pound inside her chest and her blood pressure begin to rise. "I don't need a fuckin' flu shot. What the hell do I need a fuckin' flu shot for?"

"It's a yearly booster," the Navy captain replied, inwardly amused by the Marine's growing anxiety, as she peeled open the wrapper of the plastic, 3 cc syringe. She was well aware of how one could measure one's anxiety and stress levels by the frequency of the subject's use of the word "fuck"; and the more she observed her patient, the more amused she became. Maybe she ought to check her blood pressure again… "Winter’s on the say, and so’s the flu season. And the Spec Warfare Personnel manual says it's mandatory, each year." She pulled off the blue, 22 gauge needle's protective cap with her teeth.

"Yeah, well, the fuckin' manual's fuckin' crazy," Gina grumbled. She would have been tempted to back away, but when she surreptitiously glanced around for an escape route, she found that there wasn't any. "Who the fuck wrote that stupid fuckin' rule, anyway?"

With the plastic cap still clenched in her teeth, Brie stuck the needle through the rubber top of the glass vial, and withdrew 1cc of pink liquid. As she did, she said, "You did."

Gina was struck silent for a moment. How the hell was she going to get out of this? "Well, what the fuck did I know?" she said at last. "I was fuckin' drunk then."

With a wry little smile, Brie sighed patiently as she removed the cap from her teeth and tossed it into a red trash receptacle that bore a black "biohazards" label. Then she turned to face her patient. "Come on," she said as she approached with the vaccine, "be a big, brave Marine and take your flu shot, and I'll let you have a lollipop."

Resentful at being spoken to as though she were a child, and scowling dangerously once more, Gina cast her narrowed, sapphire eyes from the syringe to Brie's patient, green eyes, and then back to the syringe. Then she looked up at Brie once more. Finally, she softly said, "You got any pineapple in there?"

***

Out in the corridor, they were on their way toward an exit when a voice called out from behind them, "Captain Duncan! Captain Duncan!"

Next to the nurses’ station, they stopped and turned. Black and orange crepe paper ribbons, and black paper bats and white paper ghosts, and orange paper and grinning jack ‘o’ lanterns, gently danced and billowed in the currents of the air conditioner.

A little out of breath, Lieutenant (j.g.) Darryl Greene quickly approached them with what seemed to be some important news. "I'm glad I caught you, Captain." Instead of saluting, since military protocol gave way to medical protocol inside of a hospital, he gave Gina a quick nod of recognition, and said, "Ma'am."

With the white paper stick of her pineapple lollipop protruding from one corner of her mouth, and with her hands behind her back, Gina silently returned his nod with one of her own.

Focusing his attention on Brie once more, he continued: "I've been trying to get in touch with you since this morning, ma'am. I've been calling you at home and there was no answer, and you’re cell phone is off

“Of course it’s off,” she said, “I’m inside of a hospital.”

and then I heard you were here, and then I

"Well, you caught me, Lieutenant," Brie said with a pleasant smile. "Relax, calm down, son. What's the emergency?"

"It's the SecNav, ma'am," Lieutenant Greene said. "He "

"The Secretary of the Navy is having an emergency?" Brie asked, with a hint of playfulness in her voice. "And he's calling for me? I'm flattered." Then she regarded the junior officer with a mildly puzzled expression in her green eyes. "Why didn't he call 9-1-1 instead?"

Now it was Greene's turn to look puzzled. He stared at her for a moment before finally saying, "Ma'am?"

Brie's playful smile faltered a bit, and then she finally shook off the lighthearted mood. "Never mind, Lieutenant. What's up?"

"Ma'am, the SecNav wants to conduct a teleconference to go over next quarter's proposed budget."

She stared at him for a moment.

"Next quarter's…" she began.

"…proposed budget, ma'am," Greene finished for her.

She stared at him for another long, silent moment. "Is it that time of year already?" she asked at last.

"I'm afraid so, ma'am," Greene replied, almost apologetically.

She sighed heavily. "Ah, shit," she said softly.

Colonel Ryan leaned toward her a little bit, and with an amused glint in her blue eyes she gently asked, "Time flies when you're havin' fun, doesn't it?"

"No lie," she said. "Listen," she added as she looked up into the Marine's eyes, "duty calls; I gotta go do this. It'll probably keep me tied up for a couple of hours. Do you think you can keep yourself and Sam occupied for a while?"

"On a Marine base?" the Warrior Princess asked, with a wry and merry little smile of delight and anticipation. "Gee, lemme think…"

***

I had a feeling I’d find her here, she told herself with an inward smile as she leaned back against the wall, and folded her arms. With Sam sitting next to her feet, the end of his leash around her wrist and a red-and-gold Marine Corps bandana tied loosely around his neck, and now that the meeting with the Secretary of the Navy was over and done with until the next quarter, she could finally relax after hunting down her partner who was currently engaged in some martial arts training with a squad of Marines. Across the expansive gymnasium there was a flag that proclaimed, “One Mind, Any Weapon,” and the colonel was currently giving an excellent demonstration of that idea.

“C’mon,” she called out, “who wants to step up and swing on a colonel?”

The rest of the squad stood about and looked at each other, wondering who was going to go first. Staff Sergeant Rudy Valdez, one of Ryan’s hand-picked martial-arts instructors, was standing nearby, also wondering who was going to go first.

“Come on, don’t be shy,” Ryan taunted, “your mothers weren’t.”

That did it. Roaring like an invading horde of Visigoths, they charged her en mass and by the time she was finished with them, despite the painful shoulder, she had actually broken out in a sweat.

“Let that be a lesson to you,” she told the moaning, groaning group of Marines, who were sitting and/or lying on the floor, rubbing their bruises or cradling their various painful extremities, “never judge a book ” and then she cast a glance toward a smiling Brie “or a scroll by its cover.”

Dressed in her Navy khakis and still leaning against the wall, Captain Duncan called out, “Colonel Ryan your presence is required elsewhere. Saddle up and follow me.”

“I guess play time is over for you, huh, Colonel?” Staff Sergeant Valdez asked.

“Yeah, I’m afraid so,” Gina replied. Then she indicated the men who were slowly rising to their feet. “A couple of those guys nearly got me; keep up the good work, Staff Sergeant.”

“Aye aye, ma’am.”

***

It was good to be home at last. The living room was festooned with all kinds of Halloween decorations; there were rubber bats, hanging by elastic strands and bobbing gently with any slight air current, and there was a pumpkin resting at each end of the mantle above the fireplace, waiting to be carved into jack ‘o’ lanterns; there were gauzy white ghosts that billowed gently on either side of the fireplace, and there was even a Halloween tree a dead, skeletal thing that was festooned with more ghosts and bats, black cats and witches, miniature skeletons and purple and orange lights standing near the front door.

The last of the dinner dishes had been dried and put away, and now the warrior and the doctor were relaxing in their living room, with a fire flickering and crackling softly in the fireplace and the Moody Blues “Days of Future Passed” playing in the DVD player. The sound was turned down, reduced almost to mere, faint background sounds, like soft rain, so it would be easier for the doctor to concentrate on her reading she was curled up at one end of the sofa, her elbow on the armrest and her hand supporting her head, trying to get caught up on some medical journals while Gina, with her arms folded and her long legs stretched forward and resting on the coffee table, was listening to the music with her head tilted back and her eyes closed. Between them, Sam was lying on one side, his tail curled around his back legs and his chin resting on Gina’s thigh, asleep and breathing softly.

Brie closed the journal for a moment, and looked at her partner. “Hey,” she said softly, “it suddenly dawned on me that if you want a skeleton to hang from that tree out by the front porch, I can get you a real one.”

Gina raised her head and turned it to gaze at her for a moment. “A real skeleton?” she asked.

“Yep,” Brie replied. “A real flesh-and-blood skeleton. The kids’ll love it, if it doesn’t make ‘em all shit their pants.”

She continued to watch her, her face expressionless. “Isn’t that just a little…too grisly?” she finally asked.

Brie shrugged slightly. “Hey, it is Halloween…”

Gina turned her eyes to the ceiling in silent thought for a moment. At last, she returned her eyes to Brie’s face and asked curiously, “How would you get a real skeleton?”

“Medical supply houses got plenty,” the doctor replied, matter-of-factly. She picked up her journal, and began reading again.

Gina continued to silently watch her for another moment or two, wondering if the doctor was serious or just playing with her. Shifting slightly in her seat without waking Sam, she finally asked, “Are you saying, you can get a real, honest-to-God human skeleton? A real dead guy?”

“Sure,” Brie said, without looking up from the journal.

Gina thought about it some more. “Isn’t that kind of… I don’t know, sacrilegious or something?” the Catholic asked.

Brie turned her gaze on her once more. “Why?” asked the deist. “I mean, it isn’t like the guy’s using it anymore.”

Gina thought it over for a moment, and was a little surprised to find herself actually warming up to the idea. Finally, she smiled and said, “Okay.”

Some time passed in comfortable, companionable silence. While the doctor continued to read, the Force Recon Marine continued to listen to the music, with her head tilted back once more and with her eyes closed.

After a while, Gina sighed deeply. While it looked as though she had been dozing, in reality her thoughts were occupied with other, more important, matters. She picked up the remote to the stereo and lowered the volume even more.

“I’ve been thinking it over for awhile, and I’ve finally come to a conclusion,” she softly said at last.

Not bothering to remove her reading glasses, and with her head still resting against her hand, she looked at her partner. “Oh?” she asked, her voice equally soft in the near silence. “What, you think those white jeans you just bought do make your butt look big?”

No,” she replied with a little smile, while giving her a playful little shove. “I’ve given it a lot of thought…and…” She turned gently to face her more easily, hoping not to disturb Sam too much. The dog sighed, shifted slightly, and continued to sleep. “…I’ve decided I’m gonna file the paperwork for my retirement.”

That caught Brie by surprise. She closed and set aside the journal she had been reading, turned in her seat and straightened quickly, and gazed more watchfully at Gina. “Really?” she asked, her voice a combination of mild enthusiasm and surprise.

“Yeah, I think I’m going to do it,” Gina said. “I’ve got all my qualifications in on the rifle and pistol ranges, I’ve made it in rank to a full bird colonel, and I’ve given the Corps a good chunk of my life; so I think I’m going to just end my military career on a high note.”

Brie continued to watch her for a moment. At last, she asked, “You gonna retire undefeated? You still holding the base shooting records?”

“Yeah, but just by a pussy hair,” she replied. “There are some damned fine shooters out there. Between that, the martial arts and the Spec Warfare training course, I don’t think there’s anything else I can teach those people. I really should leave it up to a younger crowd.”

Wow, Brie thought. This is some news. “But I thought you loved bein’ a Marine,” she said.

“I like being a Marine,” Gina countered, “I like it a lot.” Softly, yet more earnestly, she added, “But I love you. And I love this big, charming house of ours…I love our home together…I love Sam, and our family…” She always thought of the Ryans, the Duncans and the Di Falcones as one big family. “I don’t want to take a chance on becoming dependent on pain killers so I can keep up with a bunch of Marines that are a good twenty years younger than me I mean, you know how I get on codeine and I think I deserve more time to devote to us.”

Brie thought it over for a moment. “Yeah, codeine does make you pretty goofy at times,” she agreed with a wry, Gabrielle smile. And then her smile broadened. “So you’re gonna take the plunge, huh?”

“Yeah, I’m gonna do it. And with me retired,” she added a moment later, “we don’t have to tippy-toe around our relationship on base not that there was anyone who didn’t already have their suspicions. You’ll still be the best damned trauma surgeon in the entire United States Navy, you’ll still get to run the base hospital in Coronado, and we can both be a little more open and relaxed. Neither of us will ever have to worry about the old, ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ crap anymore…and even if I do need a visitors’ pass, I’ll still get to drop in on you on base. And,” she added with a grin, “I’ll get a nice, fat pension check every month for the rest of my life, full medical coverage…the whole works.”

Brie looked thoughtful, and inwardly agreed that there were a lot of advantages to Gina’s proposal.

“You sure that’s your final decision?” she asked.

She regarded her with a raised eyebrow. “What, you don’t think I should?”

“Hey, I’ll back you up no matter what you decide.”

Smiling and sounding like a contestant on “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire,” Gina said, “Then that’s my final decision.”

Gently waking Sam by catching him between them, Brie leaned in close, slipped her arms around Gina in a warm embrace, and held her close before giving her a soft kiss. “I’m happy for you, babe,” she said, “I really am.”

Warmly returning her hug, she said, “This is gonna be one huge change in life.”

Brie grinned at her. “Yeah, well, even an ex-Marine excuse me,” she added, before Gina could interrupt, “ even a former Marine I know there’s no such thing as an ‘ex-’Marine can still improvise, adapt and overcome. You’ll do fine as a retired Marine.”

“And maybe…” She gazed at her with mildly hopeful eyes. “…if you’re up for it…we can even start our own family? I mean, what with in vitro fertilization and all…”

This time, it was Brie’s turn to be surprised. Her eyes widened, and she began to grin. “Are you serious?” she asked, her voice filled with hope.

“Of course I am,” Gina replied, her voice soft yet filled with excitement.

Brie was about to respond, but the telephone that rested on the tiled counter by the kitchen rang softly. Reluctant to allow them to be interrupted in the middle of an important discussion, but also reluctant to let the phone keep on demanding their attention, she sighed heavily and growled in aggravation, and started to rise, but Gina stopped her. “You stay here and finish your journal, I’ll get it.” She rose gracefully from the sofa, and headed for the counter.

Brie watched her, and smiled, as Ryan picked up the phone, and listened to her. Start our own family, she thought as her smile expanded into a grin. Hoo-ya!

“Hi, Mom, what’s up? What do you mean, I never call you? I called you two days ago… What’s going on here? Well, have I got something new to tell you…”

Leaning back against the sofa with her arms folded across her chest, Brie settled back into her corner, sighed in contentment, and smiled as Gina gave her mom the good news.

The End

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