When We Met
by b soiree
Chapter 9
See all disclaimers in Chapter 1


“Wow,” Ruby breathed softly, “I didn’t know it would be so nice.” On first appearance the baby on her shoulder greatly favored the blonde. The infant’s hair was light as were her eyes, though at present they were pure blue, more like the other woman’s than the emerald green of her mother’s. Ruby glanced up at the people filing into the plane. A steady stream moved past them going through the open curtains into the back section.

“First class, hon,” Lonnie grinned, her blue eyes dancing. The tall brunette had never flown first class herself. “Coach is in the back.”

Ruby twisted in her seat to look into the crowded belly of the jet where passengers were locating their seats and stuffing items into the overhead bins.

“That’s neat, too.” Ruby’s eyes swung back past the welcoming stewardesses to the open door of the cockpit where some men in uniforms were settling in, totally surrounded by banks of buttons, switches, gauges and meters. They appeared to know what they were doing. Ruby certainly hoped they did. She caught Lonnie’s eye. “Lonnie, an airplane trip--our first family trip.”

“Fun, huh? Hey, don’t forget to fasten your seat belt.” Lonnie reached to help. Ruby held the baby at arm’s length as Lonnie adjusted the belt across Ruby’s lap. The young mother wiggled the baby gently and made a face at the little one, who drooled and kicked happily in response.

“Thanks.” Fastened in, Ruby lowered Bethy and considered what she needed to do.

“You’re supposed to feed her during take off so her ears don’t clog, right?” Lonnie’s eyes centered on the alert baby dressed in her cute onesie. She was being so good. “I know you don’t want to, uh, breast feed her here.” Ruby was ultra modest. “Bottle’s in the diaper bag.”

“But Lonnie,” Ruby’s brow furrowed, “I didn’t think--it’s cold. It’ll hurt her tummy.” She cradled the infant in her arms and gently rubbed the baby’s tummy. “Maybe I could take her to the rest room to breast feed her there.”

“I’m pretty sure they won’t let you do that on takeoff. No, I’ll get the stewardess to heat up the bottle.”

“They do that?” Ruby’s eyes were huge.

Lonnie laughed as she dug a bottle out of the bag. “I think so.” She raised a hand for the stewardess, who hurried their direction.

“Tell her not too hot,” Ruby cautioned softly. “Test it on your wrist, Lonnie, to be sure.”

“I will.” Lonnie explained to the stewardess, who hurried off with the bottle. She glanced at the window seat where Ruby was gently rocking the baby girl, “I hope takeoff doesn’t scare her,” the brunette added.

“Or me either,” Green eyes glanced up, “I’ve never flown before.”

“It’ll be fine, hon,” Lonnie encouraged. Fortunately, they wouldn’t be flying that far. They’d barely have time for breakfast to be served and eaten before it would be time to land. “Want me to hold your hand?”

Ruby looked around. “Here? In front of everyone? Nuh uh.” Embarrassment pinked her cheeks.

“I’m not ashamed of loving you, hon,” Lonnie said softly.

Surprise captured Ruby’s face. She put the baby to her shoulder. “I’m not either, Lonnie,” she said almost indignantly. She gently patted the infant’s back. “Why would you say that?”

“Well,” Lonnie wanted to word her thoughts carefully, “Didn’t you hold Raleigh’s hand in public?” She knew public displays of any kind were something Ruby found very difficult to accept. She’d gotten used to Lonnie calling her endearing names and gently hugging her in the privacy of their apartment when their friends or even when Lonnie’s parents were around. She’d even taken to calling Lonnie loving names of her own in return. But was Ruby making a difference now in public between an accepted male partner and a possibly not-accepted female one? “Maybe you even kissed Raleigh in public.”

“I most certainly did not!” Ruby exclaimed without hesitation. Then she looked back with puzzlement. “Raleigh sometimes wanted to hold my hand, but I wouldn’t let him.” I always felt he was trying to show ownership or something. Besides, it’s just not done. Her voice dropped to a fervent whisper, “Some things are private, not for the public’s entertainment.”

Lonnie looked at Ruby wondering if that was her mother speaking. Just how strictly had she had been raised anyway? “Oh. Okay. Sorry.”

Ruby’s brows formed a puzzled scowl, but seeing Lonnie look away then return her gaze with a tender grin, she finally returned the smile and cradled the baby back into her arms, ready for her bottle. The excitement of the flight overrode every other feeling. This was one of the most thrilling things Ruby had ever done in her life. It bubbled inside her.

The minute the plane began to taxi and Bethy was sucking on her bottle, however, Ruby’s eyes whipped to Lonnie. “Lonnie,” her voice trembled. Fear had overridden excitement.

Lonnie gripped the elbow of Ruby’s bottle-holding arm, “You’ll feel it push you back a little. That’s all, hon. Relax.”

Ruby’s look was pure trust. “Okay.” Saucer-shaped green eyes snapped shut as the speed intensified. Lonnie held a steady grip. The huge jet shuddered as it lifted off, the wheels noisily grinding into the wheel wells ending with a distinct ‘clunk’ as they sped upwards. Bethy’s eyes opened in question but she continued sucking her bottle.

Ruby’s pounding heart eased some as the noise steadied. Lonnie withdrew her hand. Ruby opened her eyes to see the Columbia River below getting small as a ribbon as they moved west along it till it joined the Willamette. They turned south, following that river toward California. They climbed higher until only clouds could be seen under them, sun above, with few open spots showing to the ground.

“The pilots know where they’re going, don’t they?” Ruby worried. “You can’t see the ground.” She glanced at the cockpit door, but it was firmly closed.

“Their instruments know.” Lonnie smiled reassuringly. “This is the late nineties, after all, the age of technology--nearly the millennium. Don’t worry.”

“Yes, you’re right.” Ruby could not hold back her excitement. “This is fun,” she giggled. After the disaster with Nicole’s fiancé David the day before, they were both looking forward to a little fun. Fleetingly Lonnie wondered how serious David’s injuries turned out to be, but said nothing, knowing Ruby carried enough worry for both of them.

Bethy finished her bottle, her eyes remaining open. She happily kicked in her mother’s arms. “Here, I’ll take her.” Lonnie reached for the happy infant, rubbed her back to burp her then instantly cradled her back in her arms and began muttering to her.

Ruby looked back out the window. She could feel her heart still pounding in excitement and couldn’t help wondering what her family would say if they knew she was traveling to California in a huge jet, not to mention going first class. Bobby Lee would be so impressed. Even Danny would be, though he would pretend not to be. It had always been that if her family couldn’t get where they wanted to go in their beat up pickup trucks or on a Greyhound bus, they simply didn’t go. Few had ever flown.

Ruby’s smile dropped. Her father wouldn’t be impressed--not with her or anything she did. On the other hand, he might find some merit. After all, Raleigh had been known to travel by air. And in her father’s eyes, her ex-fiance could do no wrong.

A soft gurgle of delight from the baby drew her attention as Lonnie gently bounced the infant. Lonnie and Bethy...her new life, her total joy. Her relatives would never approve of them. She blinked, forcing the idea of her kin from her mind. They were lost to her, even if they did keep popping up in her thoughts. She wouldn’t allow them in right now.

Everything was new and exciting. Ruby’s full smile returned. After what she considered a delicious breakfast, Ruby got up and walked to the restroom, jumping into the door in the cramped quarters when she turned on the water to wash up. It made a forceful noise and sprayed indiscriminately. She came back to her seat chuckling, the front of her speckled with water drops.

Flying was like a caffeine boost to both Ruby and baby Bethy. The blonde heard Lonnie cooing to the infant, “I’m gonna tell you about when your Momma and I met. It was raining. Pouring, in fact. I’d been to the big book store downtown. I’ll take you there sometime. It’s huge. Takes up the whole block and has three floors. Anyway, I was headed back to my car with a bag of books I’d bought and I got caught in the rain without my jacket....”

Ruby settled back in her seat by the window. She leaned over to whisper to Lonnie, “Remember,” her eyes scanned the cabin, “there are things I don’t want her or anyone to know.”

This was one of the few things they disagreed on. Still Lonnie considered it Ruby’s choice. “The donor’s anonymous, hun. I was going to say you wanted a family, and, of course, the donor was anonymous.” That version liberally danced around the truth. “That all right?”

The tall brunette sighed softly. She still thought the best course was to be as honest as possible when the child was old enough. But then, how did one ever discuss rape, much less possible gang rape? She hated that Ruby felt any sense of shame or guilt around it, and knew beyond doubt she didn’t want Bethy to bear that burden either. No, she’d abide by Ruby’s choice.

The glow left Ruby’s face, “That’s fine. I don’t know the, uh, person responsible--for sure anyway.” There was a pause. “Nyri said he was in Idaho, right?”

“Yeah. I called last night.” The tall brunette resumed story telling for a minute, then said aside, “I’m hoping Bethy’ll fall asleep, if she hears me talking enough in a soothing voice.”

A gleam appeared in Ruby’s eyes. “She looks pretty perky.”

When she finally heard Lonnie saying to the wide-awake gaze of the infant, “And that’s what happened...that wonderful day, when we met,” Ruby put a hand on Lonnie’s arm. “I don’t ever want to know personally, uh, positively for sure who...,” she made a face, “the donor, Lonnie.” The blonde’s voice was quiet, barely heard above the engine. “No matter what Nyri finds out, I...I don’t want to ever outright lie to Bethy, if I can help it. I’ll be a lot happier not ever knowing for sure.”

Lonnie nodded in agreement. “Okay.” Whatever Nyri found out, if anything, Lonnie would know, but she’d keep it to herself.

By the time the plane had landed, all three were wide-awake, ready for new adventures, even though Bethy had consumed another portion of bottled milk for the landing. Eating usually made her sleepy. Lonnie’s enthusiasm had grown to match Ruby’s, who talked nonstop as she carried the baby off the plane.

“Oh, Lonnie, I’ve never had such a good time. Everybody was so nice. Bethy loved it too, didn’t you, sweetie?” She kissed the infant’s forehead. “This is like the hallway we went through to get on. So, where do we get our luggage? Where do they keep the rental cars? Is it a long drive to your sister’s? Feel how warm the air is coming in. My, it was lots colder in Portland, huh?”

The questions were coming so quickly that Lonnie didn’t even attempt to answer. “How’s your ankle, babe?” she asked. It had been a touch swollen after their tussle with David the day before.

“Doesn’t hurt. A little bruised, that’s all.” Ruby’s smile was bright. David had tried to break it, Lonnie was sure of that. “It feels good walking on it.” Ruby bounced a little. “See?”

The gangway opened into the waiting room. Lonnie was startled to look over the heads of the crowd and see a tall, thin woman, a slightly shorter man in heavy glasses and an active seven year old bouncing like a kangaroo beside them.

The thin woman’s dark hair was parted in the middle, tied in two long, unbraided pigtails hanging well below her shoulders. Her features seemed plain compared to Lonnie’s, but there was a resemblance. While not the silky black of Lonnie’s, her hair was dark with an auburn hue. Her eyes were bluish-green and though thin, she was not frail by any means. She wore a heavy, baggy off-white cotton sweater over a blue blouse, all covered with a denim jacket. A pair of well-fitting blue pull-on cotton pants clung to her long, reedy legs. Tennis shoes rounded out her outfit.

The boy had a mischievous grin on his face and was in constant motion. His shoes were hiking boots and looked as though they spent little time being tied. His hair was naturally messy and a touch lighter than his mother’s. He wore jeans and a heavy cotton soccer shirt covered with a handmade jacket.

The man was a Woody Allen type of man in size and attributes. He was a couple inches shorter than his wife. His disheveled hair rose in a widow’s peak of light, reddish brown strands. His pale complexion highlighted his horn-rimmed glasses, one hinge of which was taped with masking tape, attrition from apparent heavy use. He was slender but with wide hips, his slightly too large khaki pants kept in place with a belt. His cuffless trousers wrinkled loosely on comfortable brown shoes. His light blue button-down shirt was covered with a brown vee neck sweater covered with a khaki wind breaker.

The small group began waving.

“Tina! John! Hey, Johnny!” Lonnie called, waving back. “Honey, look, there’s my sister and her family. Hey, guys, we didn’t think you’d be here waiting for us. I do know how to get to your house, you know.”

Tina stepped forward and threw her arms around her sister. “Hey, sprout. We thought you’d like to head out to visit cousin Chuck in Sausalito today. We’re all available. And they’re going to loan us a bassinet. So, what do you say?”

“Uh, that sounds good.” Introductions were hastily made. Ruby said her hellos but became very shy thereafter, staying very close to Lonnie. The baby was suddenly in the spotlight. Lonnie reached in her pocket and withdrew packaged hand wipes. She handed them out.

“What’s this?” her nephew asked.

“You have to have clean hands to touch the baby,” Lonnie explained. “If you can’t wash, this will do instead. We have lots of these. Open it like this.”

Tina and her husband’s eyes met. “New parents,” Tina mouthed to his nodding grin.

They decided to get their luggage, put it in her sister’s van, and drop back later to pick up Lonnie’s rental car on their way back home to San Carlos from the San Francisco area.

John asked if instead of driving they’d like to catch the ferry to Sausalito. Were they up for that adventure? It had been a long time since any of them had been across to the small, picturesque town. Johnny Jr. bounced around his favorite Aunt, and hugged her several times in his enthusiasm. “Can we ride on the ferry boat, Aunt Lonnie? Can we?” he extolled.

“It’s ‘may we’, honey,” his mother corrected. “Do you think it sounds like too much for the baby?” Tina worried. “Isn’t she a darling? Look at that precious face.” The baby was smiling amongst little grunting faces.

“Oh oh,” Lonnie grinned. “Time for a diaper change.”

“How do you know?” John Jr. paused mid bounce, confused by how adults might know such things.

Lonnie teased, “She’s not old enough to get herself locked in the bathroom like someone else I know, some young fellow who shall remain nameless.” Or some pregnant woman, either. She grinned at Ruby then back at the boy, “So we don’t know by that.”

“Aaaunnnnt Lonnie,” Johnny blushed. His parents laughed and his father rustled the boy’s hair.

“That’s my boy,” his father grinned.

“It’s really quite easy,” Lonnie tweaked the boy’s nose, “We know from watching her face or using our sniffers.”

“Oh,” the youngster replied. He sniffed the baby and rapidly pinched his nose. “Phew.” Everyone laughed.

“Here’s a restroom. May I help you change her?” Tina begged. “It’s been years since I’ve had a baby to fuss over.” Then she held out her hands. “I cleaned my hands, Mom,” she added tartly.

“Goofball,” Lonnie scoffed, “What do you think, Ruby?” Ruby nodded enthusiastically.

“We fellas will be over checking out the papers and maybe some comic books at the news stand, eh, son?” the father said.

“Jibbers,” the youngster replied. “And some gum. Can I buy some gum, Dad? Can I?”

“Sure, son. Only it’s ‘may I’.” The three watched Johnny wrap his arms around his father’s arm and bounce along beside him as they headed toward the newspaper stand. Johnny was a strapping child for his age, apparently getting his potential height from his mother while his father had all the earmarks of a smaller, stereotypical computer nerd. The only thing missing on the man was a plastic pocket protector in his shirt pocket.

“Those two, two peas in a pod,” Tina said proudly. “Just watch, Johnny will have his mouth full of bubble gum when we get back and so will John Senior.”

“John’s a proud father,” Lonnie grinned. “Always has been.”

“No kidding! Don’t get me started. I don’t believe there’s another father in the universe like John. He wanted children from the minute we were married. He and Johnny are inseparable. But look at this little dumpling,” her attention turned toward Bethy. “Aren’t you just the cutest little thing alive? Look at your little fingers. Sometimes I wish we had a little girl, too.” She leaned down and kissed some of the baby’s fingers, “And, ewww, let’s get her changed.”

Lonnie laughed. “Definitely.” Inside the restroom the baby was centered on the changing table, while Tina cheerfully took over the gamy task. Ruby dug out the fresh supplies. “Hey,” Lonnie teased, “Let’s take Tina back with us, Rube. She’s good at this.”

“Careful, I might take you up on that,” her sister replied. She busied herself, talking baby talk to the infant the whole time the change was underway. Ruby and Lonnie looked on smiling.


Ruby’s first look at the Golden Gate Bridge brought unexpected tears to her eyes. “Look, Lonnie, it’s just like in the magazines.”

“It is,” Lonnie agreed, leaning back in the van seat to see the structure in the distance.

“I know, let’s walk across it!” Tina suggested. “It isn’t far. Can you get us close enough, darlin’?”

“Certainly,” Her husband glanced with admiration at her from the steering wheel, stifling his desire to blow a large gum bubble. His wife had the knack of constantly keeping him off balance with her unique approach to life, which he most often found delightful. Johnny hollered for joy from the back seat, then blew a small, loud-snapping bubble with his gum.

“What do you think, girls?” Tina grinned enthusiastically.

“Is your ankle up to it, do you think?” Lonnie asked Ruby softly.

“It feels good. I want the exercise...no, I need the exercise.” And it won’t be as expensive as riding the ferry each way.

“I’d best carry Bethy so you don’t put extra strain on it,” Lonnie commented seriously.

“Hey, not fair,” Tina pouted. Her husband rolled his eyes. Okay, his wife wasn’t always delightful. “I get to carry her sometimes.” Lonnie stuck her tongue out and Tina laughingly tried to grab it over the back of the front seat. The two sisters instantly resorted to acting like five year olds. “Make her share, Ruby,” Tina pleaded, surprising the small blonde.

Ruby looked imploringly at Lonnie. “Lonnie?”

“Oh, all right, I”ll share,” Lonnie smirked at her sister, “Buuut... after me, you come first.”

“Baby hogger,” Tina thrust out her lip then instantly popped back to normal. “It’s a beautiful day for walking. We’ll give a call and Chuck will pick us up once we get across the bridge,” Tina made eye contact with her husband so he knew that would be his job.

“We’d better take the car seat,” Ruby fretted.

“Don’t worry. They have a baby’s car seat permanently attached in their car. Seems they’re always having another baby. Their youngest is about six months at present. And Chuck’ll come alone to get us.”

Ruby wasn’t sure, but Tina convinced her to leave their car seat strapped in the van. Chuck had one in his car.

“How will we get the bassinet if we walk?” Lonnie wondered.

“Same either way. Their place isn’t far from the dock. And Chuck knows the ferry boat people. They’ll let us take it across on that,” John assured them. “We borrowed it once before when my sister’s family came to visit. The legs fold, so it’ll be easy to carry. Then I’ll get the van and bring it down to the ferry terminal to load up once we get back across. No problem.”

That settled, they decided the sunny, beautiful day was perfect for walking. Lonnie strapped on the front sling and proudly carried the baby next to her chest. She pulled a knit cap on the little girl’s head and wrapped a delivery blanket around her, further protecting her by overlapping the lapels of her jacket over the infant.

“Check her neck often, Lonnie,” Ruby advised softly. “Make sure she doesn’t get too cold...or too hot either.”

“I will,” Lonnie agreed. Ruby carried the diaper bag. The weather seemed unbelievably warm and spring-like to both women.

Hiking to the bridge entrance, they were surprised by the amount of foot traffic on top. Most of the walkers were high school age. The youngsters ran and laughed and snatched each other’s caps and talked loudly and were typical teenagers, not really misbehaving, just being rambunctious. Some adults walking with them rolled their eyes and called out warnings from time to time. The chaperones.

Some girls moved behind Ruby and Tina, who Tina had walking arm in arm. Lonnie noted that Ruby seemed to acclimate fairly quickly to Tina’s easy familiarity. Tina proudly pointed out ships and buildings for Ruby to see and rattled on about cousin Chuck and how handsome he’d been as a very young man, and how he and his wife were now into renovating an old house. Ruby actually did feel fairly comfortable. Despite her teasing ways, Tina reminded Ruby of Lonnie’s mother, who was one of Ruby’s favorite people.

Lonnie and the baby, John and John Jr. came along several people back. They were busy answering the rapid-fire questions that Johnny constantly asked about everything he saw around him.

Up close the bridge’s color ranged in the sunlight from flower pot red to deep orange. Overhead the suspension cables were huge. Where they dipped down close enough to touch, they looked like an oil pipeline painted orange. One could see where maintenance people could climb to the peaks. Lonnie wondered whether there was room enough for a person on a motorcycle to ride the pipe, if the wind didn’t blow and they could rig a safety net below. Not that anyone would be crazy enough to do that except in the movies.

The sidewalk was wide and clean. It was separated from the traffic by a short metal fence. The chaperones warned the teenagers continually that they were not to cross over that rail under any circumstances. Lonnie could see some of the students very much wanting to do so, simply because they’d been told not to.

Where the towers were, the walkers were forced to go around, out away from the busy traffic, close to the outside railing and the water far below. The bridge shook as big trucks passed over. Everyone’s eyes grew larger when that happened.

They stopped to read each plaque and took pictures at many scenic spots. At one point a tug boat steamed under the bridge and they stopped to watch it ply its course. They passed an emergency phone and laughed at the teenagers’ pranks at faking calls as the student group pulsed around them. It didn’t seem long before the rolling hills to the north grew larger in their approach. “My turn,” Tina insisted. Ruby nodded agreement.

They made the switch, Lonnie now taking the hand of her nephew while his father held the boy’s other hand. Ruby and Tina walked ahead with the baby; Lonnie, John and Johnny still trailing behind while teenagers palpitated around and between them. John Sr. took a minute to place a call on his cell phone to Chuck to give him their new plans. Then he looked meaningfully at his wife with his quaff of hair bobbing in an inquisitive fashion. She nodded. He’d done his job.

It was a day like no other, glancing back at the city by the bay as it stretched out behind them in all its glory. When they approached the north end of the bridge, they were surprised to find they had walked right into the focus of a fixed television camera whose crew was photographing everyone coming across the bridge. Ruby, Tina and the baby quickly ducked to the side and continued on past the camera crew.

“It’s the school’s public relations department,” some girls derided wearily. “Again. They’ve followed us everywhere. You’d think we’d won the band contest.”

“Hey, we’ll be on tv back home,” some others called eagerly. “Yeah, a marching bands’ holiday,” a group of boys laughed, “Marching across the bridge.”

Even if they hadn’t won, they happily commiserated with each other that there was something to be said for seeing the world outside the confines of Idaho, albeit in a chaperoned group. And it did mean getting out of school, which every teenager applauded.

Ruby shook her head in amazement. Her high school had never been big enough to even have a marching band.

“I waved at the camera,” one girl said proudly. “I did, too,” another added, “I’m gonna call home tonight and tell Mom and Dad to be sure and watch us on tv.” “Yeah,” one boy grumbled, “they won’t see us accepting any prizes.” Then he brightened, “But they will see me wearing YOUR hat.” He snatched one of the girl’s baseball caps and ran back to the camera’s position, waving the cap before the lens as the girl gave chase.

Tina chuckled, “That’s what we have to look forward to.”

Ruby looked over her shoulder and saw Lonnie further back. The brunette was happily walking and talking with John and Johnny. She glanced at the teenagers. “Yes, it’s wonderful, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, it is,” Tina agreed. “Johnny’s enriched our lives unbelievably.” She held up a hand, “Don’t get me wrong, I have made it clear to John that I don’t want any more. One’s enough. But we’ve got ourselves one heck of a fantastic kid.”

“You certainly do. Did you have him right after you were married?”

Tina hesitated. “No, we, uh, waited several years.”

“And you don’t want more?” Ruby asked. “I thought you said you’d like a little girl, too.”

“I told John,” Tina began drolly, “that if he wants to have the next one, be my guest. But don’t try and get me to agree to pop out babies on demand. I was in labor twenty two hours last time.” She chuckled. “Besides,” she sobered, “we both work. It’s hard enough doing justice, time-wise, to one kid.”

“Lonnie wants me to stay home, raise Bethy and not get a job.”

“That all right with you?”

“I guess. I’d like to stay home with her, but most people don’t. Most people, uh, both work...to make ends meet, you know.”

“Do I ever. One salary won’t handle our mortgage unfortunately. But Lonnie got a killer deal with that condo. That should give you guys a fighting chance.”

“Yeah, but most people...”

“Puh. Who cares what most people do? Sounds like you two’ve got yourselves a great deal. I say, ‘Go with it’.” Tina grinned and added wistfully, “They grow up so fast. One day they’re Bethy’s size,” she adjusted the baby’s hat, “ the next they’re in college, isn’t that right, sweetheart?” she added in babyish talk to the little one, who smiled and kicked in return.

“That’s what everybody says.”

They both looked back at Lonnie, John and Johnny making their way to them. “Far too true.” Then Lonnie’s sister smiled as she faced forward again, “You never know where the time goes. Oh, look, there’s Chuck.”

Far ahead of them a tall, handsome man with sculptured jaw and wavy black hair stood beside an older van, a large smile on his face. He was waving. They hurried toward him.

“How many children do they have?” Ruby wondered aloud.

“Five,” Tina replied. “The oldest is barely eight.”

Sausalito was a delight, a Mediterranean-style village right on the San Francisco bay across the Golden Gate Bridge from the city itself. The views back to the city were panoramically amazing. Lonnie snapped more pictures with everybody in them and the scenery behind. John said she could download and print them off on his computer when they got home.

The bathroom of Chuck and Helen’s older house had been remodeled in teak with brass porthole windows with picture postcard views, only slightly ameliorated by the addition of a child’s potty chair.

Tina, Helen and Ruby made delicious sandwiches for everyone, the conversation was casual and the afternoon was then spent wandering around town, all the children in tow. Before they left, they wandered back to the house. Ruby used the privacy of Chuck and Helen’s bedroom to feed Bethy. Then they headed to the dock.

Ruby had ridden ferry boats in Seattle, so going back wasn’t a new experience for her. The boat was not very full, and they found a completely empty section inside near the back.

John and Johnny rushed up to the outside front of the deck to feel the spray and watch for Alcatraz Island while the ladies watched the activity from the warmth of inside. Ruby was amazed at passing so close to Alcatraz. Their traveling speed allowed surging but little rocking, so no one felt motion sick.

Opting to eat dinner at a wide hallway spot of a restaurant in the ferry building, Tina held the baby while the three ladies ordered clam chowder in bowls made from small round loaves of bread, hollowed out with the plugs used as bread accompaniment. The folded but bulky bassinet sat out of the way on the floor at their feet.

John and Johnny finally came to join them from riding the bus to where they’d left the van. They loaded the bassinet then the two fellas ate while the baby was being changed in the large restroom. They all moseyed through a bookstore in the building before heading back to the airport. Tina’s family headed home while the two travelers and baby went in to get Lonnie’s rental car.

The company had provided for a mid-priced car, in this case a roomy green Mercury. Ruby inhaled the new vehicle smell, delighted. Her family had never had such fine conveyance. She ran her hand over the upholstery, checked all the knobs and buttons then made sure Lonnie had fastened the baby’s car seat in the back correctly before strapping the infant inside.

As they drove, Ruby said, “I really liked Chuck and Helen and all their children. They’re such warm and friendly people. And Sausalito’s beautiful. And my, Chuck’s still a very handsome man, like Tina said. He looks like he could be your brother.” Then she fell quiet, chewed her lip and gazed worriedly out the window.

Lonnie exited the freeway, driving to the top of a small hill and stopping. She took out their cell phone. “I know you’re worried, hon. Go ahead, call Nicole. If they’re back, then David wasn’t hurt that badly.”

How does she know what I’m thinking? How does she do that? “I was thinking of them,” Ruby admitted. “The cell phone number Nicole gave me’s in here,” she rustled in her jam-packed purse, “someplace.” A tentative smile crossed her face. “Never mind, I remember our dorm number. I’ll ask for her room. They won’t recognize my voice.”

She spoke to someone then hung up.

“Not home?” Lonnie asked worriedly. That was not a good sign.

Ruby looked over blinking. “She pledged a sorority. A long time ago. Isn’t that funny? She didn’t mention it. In fact the only people she talked about were our dorm mates. I wonder why?”

“I dunno,” Lonnie pondered. “For some people, the whole point of going to school is to be in a sorority. Was Nicole like that?”

“Never. She liked to party, but sororities weren’t important to her. I’d better change her address and number in my book. Where is it? Oh, here it is. I think it’s strange is all.”

“Yeah, it is. Maybe she thought you’d feel bad.”

“Me? Why? I wasn’t there for the social life. It was all I could do to handle Raleigh’s demands, my job and my classes.”

“Was David in a fraternity?”

Ruby stopped and looked over. “He was...but he never seemed to fit, really. I mean, his Dad had a lot of money and was a big-time patron. But David...well, he wasn’t very sociable. I suppose the other guys liked that he was a boxer, though.”

“Maybe having Nicole be in a sorority is important to his family.”

Ruby shrugged. “Maybe.” She dialed the number, spoke momentarily then hung up.

“Not home?” Lonnie asked worriedly. NOT a good sign.

“No. That was her roommate. I just missed Nicole. She’s on her way to David’s.” They both sighed with relief. At least that meant David probably had been released from the hospital.

“I didn’t say who I was. I just said I’d call back.”

“Nicole’ll know it was you. Did she know we were going to San Francisco today?”

Ruby pondered that question for a minute as Lonnie started the car and headed back to the freeway. “You know, I don’t think I said anything to her about our trip. Gosh, I meant to. So much happened. I sure didn’t mean not to tell her.”

A glint of despair flashed in Ruby’s vivid eyes. “I wish she’d leave David. I’m so afraid he’ll hurt her. There are lots better guys out there that wouldn’t lay a hand on her.” Ruby looked over the seat to check the baby. Bethy was sound asleep in her car seat.

“I know. But some people just won’t listen, babe.”

“I guess.” Ruby settled back then looked out the window for a minute before her gaze came back to Lonnie. She forced a smile. “Wasn’t that chowder at the dock wonderful?” Her eyes lit up as she changed the subject, “I’m going to try baking some small, tight, round bread loaves and serve clam chowder that way at home. Maybe the next time Maddy and Chase come over.”

“That’d be fun, hon. They’d love it. I would, too.”

It was dark by the time they drove into Tina and John’s driveway in San Carlos. The house was a very nice middle class home on a quiet, well-kept street not that far from the small town’s business area. The two travelers felt a wonderful glow. It had been a thoroughly enjoyable day.

Ruby excused herself and took the baby to their room to feed her. In the niche of the L-shaped room, obviously now used as a sewing center, she found the freshly washed down bassinet made up with firm, clean bedding. There was also a rocking chair, all behind a three panel screen, creating a small room of its own. She appreciated the extra privacy. She sat in the rocker and breast fed the infant without feeling at all self-conscious.

Lonnie decided she’d download her pictures the next day. Everyone was too tired. After socializing a bit more, she also excused herself.

The baby had been fed, rocked and was on her back in the bassinet sound asleep in the “nursery,” and Ruby was out of the room. Lonnie checked on the baby then got into her night shirt and crawled into bed. Her eyes followed as Ruby entered their room, returning from the bathroom next door. The tall brunette flicked back the corner of the covers on Ruby’s side, while the small blonde took off her red robe, hanging it on the hook behind the guest room door.

Clad in one of Lonnie’s old, baggy, flannel, button-down-the-front shirts that outlined the intriguing curves of her ample bosom, under it a pair of cotton shorts that hugged her toned behind and her thoroughly trimmed waistline, Ruby’s freckled features rounded out a fully fit, young, relaxed look.

Ruby puttered happily around the unfamiliar area while Lonnie took her turn in the bathroom. Ruby again checked on the sleeping infant in the small nursery, gently adjusting the infant’s cover, then finally came around the screen back into the main room and crawled into her side of the double sized bed. She smiled softly at Lonnie, who entered the room.

Lonnie gazed at Ruby’s upturned face. The thought of running her hands over the heated skin of the blonde’s supple form left her breathless. The further thought of Ruby’s touch sent goose bumps of arousal along her body. Almost in contradiction to her public persona, Ruby had proved to be a very willing, enthusiastic sexual partner, even with all that had happened to her.

Lonnie licked her lips in anticipation. There could be a perfect end to a perfect day. Their lovemaking had expanded, though it had certainly not been what could be called “robust” since Ruby was still recovering from giving birth and her additional surgery.

Ruby’s silky blonde hair, uncut and growing longer since they’d met, was now drawn to her neck in back and held with a couple twists of a rubber band. Her freshly scrubbed face and neck glowed and a soft smile covered her face as she gazed at the beautiful brunette she now shared her life with. “Today was wonderful,” Ruby sighed. “I’ve never had such a good time.”

“Um hum,” Lonnie agreed, climbing into bed. Ruby moved over a little to give Lonnie more room. The brunette reached a hand out to Ruby’s waist. “You’re wearing your shorts over your undies to go to bed?” she asked in surprise.

Ruby flushed slightly. “I didn’t want your sister’s family to see me in my underwear.”

“But you wore your robe...”

“Not in here,” Ruby’s eyelids dropped in modesty.

“They’re not coming in here, hon.”

Ruby’s eyes flicked to the door. There was no lock. “Just in case,” she blushed.

Lonnie chuckled. “Okay. I know you’re modest. C’mere.” She flicked out the light on the stand near her side of the bed and opened her arms in the darkened room for the small blonde. They were used to a queen sized bed. They found themselves somewhat bunched in the double.

Light from the streetlight softly glowed through the closed blinds. Ruby was beautiful in the dim glow. Lonnie wondered if she would ever lose that hankering she felt when they touched in private, a yearning ache ever desirous for more.

Beautiful, intense blue eyes sent an anticipatory shiver down the small blonde’s spine. I’m so in love with you, Lonnie, Ruby thought. You’re the only person I’ve ever felt this way about. A shy nervous smile was returned. “But honey,” Ruby whispered nervously. “Tina and John’s bedroom is just on the other side of the bathroom. This is their house.”

“I know,” Lonnie moved her body next to the blonde’s with tender insistence, pressing her hips into the small woman, nuzzling her face into Ruby’s hair. “John Junior’s asleep in his room far down the hall and even the baby is asleep in her own little nursery,” she muttered. “We’re all alone in here.” Heat spread with urgency from the pit of Lonnie’s stomach throughout her body. She pulled back silently, reached behind Ruby’s neck and carefully worked out the rubber band till blond locks cascaded free.

Green eyes looked back uncertainly. Lonnie gently ran her hands through Ruby’s hair, hearing the slight catch in the blonde’s breathing as Lonnie gently brushed her lips over Ruby’s ear and breathed a warm breath before cupping the blonde’s face in her hands and slowly lowering her lips, “Mmmm, I’ve wanted to do this all day.”

“But Tina and...”

“Shhhh..” Lonnie pressed her lips firmly over Ruby’s to still her objections till she felt the blonde melt and her lips opened without objection. When they finally broke the kiss, they were breathless.

“We can be quiet,” Lonnie insisted in a whisper, plying the blonde’s eyelids, cheeks, dimples, chin with hot, light kisses as she thrust her body ever more insistently against Ruby’s. “I’ll be very gentle. I love you so much, Ruby.”

She knew how much they dared do considering the degree of Ruby’s healing. She felt Ruby pulse in response to the rhythmic caress. The blonde’s breathless, “Ohhh..” followed in response to Lonnie’s leg slipping between her own. With a soft whimper Ruby pressed closer, her body thrumming.

Breathing raggedly Lonnie drew Ruby’s shirt over her head and discarded her own. Their underwear was brought from under the covers and tossed with abandon into the dark of the room as they jockeyed to feel skin on hot, silky skin, lips moving to silently explore all they dared. They endeavored not to let themselves or the bed make much noise while their hot caresses fanned the flames, their hands plied their passion, till finally they’d convulsed their heart pounding way to peaks of muffled ecstasy. With a sigh of pleasure they sunk into each other’s arms, reveling in the closeness, tired and spent. A perfect end to a perfect day.

Ruby’s tired eyes stayed open in the quiet room as she listened. Slipping free of her somnolent partner, she found her large shirt, pulled it on over her head then slid around the nursery screen and quietly inched the bassinet and its sleeping occupant out of the nursery and to her side of the bed. This way I can catch Bethy on her first cry so she doesn’t awaken everyone, she decided. After all, everybody needed their sleep. Tomorrow would be a busy day, particularly for Lonnie.


Ruby became conscious of the feeling of being watched but was warm and cozy and resisted awakening. She had already been up earlier feeding and changing the baby while Lonnie had slept soundly. Now she decided her partner could just feast her eyes on sleeping motherhood. Well, maybe they could do a little snuggling before Lonnie had to leave.

Languidly Ruby stretched for Lonnie’s benefit then turned her face with a sexy grin toward the brunette. She was completely taken aback when her hand reached out to find Lonnie’s spot cold and empty. Green eyes shot open to be met by frolicsome brown eyes twinkling down at her.

“Hi, Aunt Ruby,” Johnny declared joyfully. “Are you gonna wear shorts today?” His eyes went to her shorts on top of the covers near the bottom of the bed.

“Uh....” Ruby instantly pulled the covers up around her neck, glancing around frantically, remembering with relief that she was wearing the long loose shirt pulled on when she’d brought the bassinet in the night before. Then she noted that her partially unbuttoned shirt was on inside out. She saw her shorts lying on the covers out of reach and saw a bit of the band of her panties that had just slipped over the side edge of the bed cover toward the floor. She didn’t think the boy could see them. “Uh, morning, Johnny.”

“My Dad says it’s too cold to wear shorts,” Johnny informed her, “but my friend Melvin, he lives next door, he says it’s never too cold. He gets to wear them to school sometimes. But my folks make me wear long pants all winter.”


“Momma says I should ask if you want some breakfast. She’s fixing pancakes. Momma makes real good pancakes.”


Scenes of the night before flashed through Ruby’s mind. Now she heard the shower running next door and knew that had to be Lonnie. The alarm clock stood beside the lamp. It said seven thirty. She hadn’t heard it ring, but it must have.

“I, uh, tell your Momma, Johnny, thank you very much but she doesn’t need to bother. Uh, maybe I’ll skip breakfast...” With one hand she clenched the top of her shirt together near her neck.

“Johnny...” At that minute Tina stepped into the room and moved up to get her son by the arm. “Morning, Ruby. Sorry he came in here. He was supposed to ask from the doorway. Oh, shhhh,” she lowered her voice, “I see the little one is sound asleep. Isn’t she precious?”

“Aunt Ruby’s going to wear shorts today,” Johnny said in a child’s stage whisper. “SHE doesn’t think it’s too cold.”

Ruby felt the heat rise in her neck as her sister-in-law’s gaze went from Ruby’s inside-out shirt to the shorts on the bed to the discarded panties just over the edge of the bed. A mischievous grin spread across Tina’s face, “I said ask your Aunt about breakfast, Johnny. I didn’t say to come in and hassle Aunt Ruby. Maybe..” she grinned, “maybe she’s going jogging or something.” Tina winked and hustled her son to the door. Ruby wanted to die. That wink. Tina knew. She knew. The heat spread into Ruby’s face.

“Oh.” Johnny turned back to his mother with a frown. “What will she do with the baby if she goes jogging, Mom? Will she leave her here with you?”

“I hope so.” His mother pushed him toward the kitchen. “Go eat while it’s hot, son.”

“But Aunt Lonnie’s leaving early. She said. And you have to go to work. You can’t take the baby with you.”

“Go eat, darlin’.” Tina turned back to Ruby. “Hungry?” Lonnie had warned that her sister was a big tease. Ruby glanced at Tina’s smirk then braced for the worst. “I’m sure you worked up quite an appetite...”

Tina’s grin was that of a cheshire cat. That alarmed Ruby even more. Oh, gods, Tina knows for sure! The bashful blonde felt mortification flood through her. She was sure she heard a soft chuckle along with the pause, “uh, you know, all that walking and everything that we did yesterday. Or did you want to sleep in?”

Ruby’s face was glowing red. There was nothing she could do about it. “No, uh, I think I’ll skip breakfast this morning, thanks anyway Tina. I’ll nap a little before Bethy needs to be fed again.”

She turned her attention to the bassinet next to her with the sleeping baby in it, hoping Tina wouldn’t see the chagrined heat glowing in her face, neck and ears.

“I’ll leave some batter in the refrigerator for you for later, then.” Tina’s eyes twinkled in merriment, “You’d best get some sleep while you’re not in such demand by...Morning, Sis,” Tina said to Lonnie, who squeezed in past her sister from the hallway. The tall beauty was fully dressed, rubbing a towel in her wet hair, “others,” Tina continued. “Sweet dreams.” She wiggled her fingers and headed back to the kitchen.

“Ohhhhh, gods!” Ruby scooted down and pulled the covers completely over her head.

“What’s the matter, hon?” Lonnie asked very quietly, shutting the door behind Tina. Neither wanted to awaken Bethy.

“Johnny asked if I was wearing shorts today. And your sister knew. SHE KNEW, Lonnie!” Ruby groaned.

For a minute Lonnie froze, worried that Ruby’s experience of being raped was creating a problem for her now. Ruby had managed to separate that horror from their lovemaking, at least to this point she had. Of course, she was naturally modest as well. Extremely so. Lonnie prayed Ruby’s modesty was the cause and not the “incident.”

“Look!” Ruby peeked out one eye and one hand to point to her shorts on the bed and her underpants just off the rim of the bedspread. “Why didn’t you pick them up?”

Hearing her tone of voice, Lonnie relaxed and started chuckling. It was her modesty. “Me?” Her body shook with quiet laughter. “Don’t blame me.” She couldn’t decide if it was actually more funny or embarrassing. It was really both. And she knew Tina. She wouldn’t mean any harm but she’d tease poor, modest Ruby.

“And look...look,” Ruby emerged from under the covers to grab a handful of her own shirt. “It’s inside out and half unbuttoned. Why didn’t you wake me up when you got up so I could have turned it right side out?”

“What? I wanted to let you sleep. I thought I was doing you a favor.” Lonnie came over and placed a soft kiss on Ruby’s lips. “I thought I’d worn you out last night,” she purred.

“Aaarrrrrgggggghhhh,” Ruby scooted under the covers burying her head again. “Tina knows! She knows.”

“Yes, well honey, Tina’s a big girl. She’s known about all this for a long time, long before we came to visit.” Now Lonnie couldn’t contain it any longer. Her shoulders shook with soft laughter, “But, if you’d like, I’ll go out and explain the birds and the bees to her. I can point out the differences involved when two women love each oth...”

“Ohhhhhh,” Ruby moaned again. She buried herself under the covers completely. “Oh, gods!” She curled into a fetal position.

Lonnie continued chuckling. She bent and kissed the lump that was Ruby. “Its all right, hon. Really.” She sat on the bed and towel dried her hair a little more then ran her brush in long strokes through it. She wasn’t sure she had time to use the hair drier. It was a bit of a drive to get to the software company. Her hair would dry in natural waves on the way.

She gently rubbed the lump that was Ruby. “I’m sorry, sweetheart. We’ll just have to live with the fact that my sister knows we have a love life. Now it’s no longer a well-guarded secret. Tonight we won’t even try to keep quiet. How’s that?”

“Oh, gods,” Ruby groaned. “There won’t be any love making tonight, believe you me.”

“Okay, we’ll keep quiet. After all, two life partners, completely in love, alone in their own room quietly minding their own business...”

“Oh, gods.”

“Tina has sex with John. Do you want me to go find a pair of his used shorts or her panties? Would that make you feel better?”

Ruby peeked an eye out. “Yes.”

Lonnie looked at her with surprise and at last Ruby sat up, dropping the covers back to her lap. “Don’t you ever leave the room again with my panties still left out on the covers,” Ruby scolded. Then she looked around. “I see you picked up yours.”

“Uh, yeah. Force of habit, I guess.”

“Well, why didn’t you pick up mine?” Ruby whispered with fervor. She was mad all over again.

Lonnie looked as pitifully as she could at the small blonde. “I’m sorry, love. Next time, I promise, I’ll pick up your panties when we throw them out of bed in the midst of wild, abandoned love making. Promise.” She drew her fingers in a cross over her heart. “Cross my heart.” She leaned over and whispered, “I know what. Don’t wear panties tonight. It’ll save time and we can outwit Tina in the morning. She won’t find any evidence.”

“Don’t you have to be somewhere?” Ruby grumbled, pulling the covers back up to her neck.

Lonnie chuckled. “Yes. In fact I do. You get some rest today, okay? I know you walked a long time yesterday on your bad ankle. Best to let it rest. Let’s take them out for dinner tonight, do you want to?”

Ruby sighed, “If I can still look Tina in the face.” Then she looked back at Lonnie. “Where? Do you know a good restaurant?”

“They always let Johnny pick, and he always chooses the arches. They rarely go, so it’s a special treat for him.”

“Oh. Okay.” We can afford that. Ruby was in charge of most of their trip money. She glanced down, unable to quit letting her eyes slip to her abandoned shorts. “Oh, gods!”

Lonnie leaned down and planted a quick kiss on Ruby’s lips. “Love you, hon.”

“Get away,” Ruby frowned. “That’s what started this whole thing last night.”

Lonnie began to laugh anew. Bethy began to fuss and Ruby reached for the infant. “She’s got to be wet, at least.”

“And probably hungry again,” Lonnie added getting a diaper from the diaper bag and putting that and the bag by Ruby.

“Yes, probably,” Ruby agreed. She stretched her legs out straight with the covers over them, spread the diaper blanket and laid the little one on top. “Oh, little sweetheart, the most embarrassing thing happened to your Momma...” She brought her face as close as she could bend to the baby’s blue eyes. “And it was all your Mumsy’s fault.” She planted a quick kiss. The baby gurgled. “I won’t say what it was, but take my word, it was Mumsy’s fault.”

“Hurry and eat, pumpkin,” Lonnie chuckled wickedly at the baby. “I understand your Mommy’s going jogging today. She even has her shorts out ready to go. Imagine that!”

“Your Mumsy’s going to find that jogging’s the only exercise SHE gets for a good long time,” Ruby countered with a raised brow.

“No. Not that. Please.” Lonnie reached down and planted a nuzzling kiss on Ruby’s neck. “I’ll be good, hun....or bad. However you want me. I’m yours.”

Ruby swatted the air, “Get away.”

Lonnie glanced at the clock. “Last night was worth it, though, wasn’t it?” she whispered, adding another quick kiss. She stroked the back of her hand along Ruby’s cheek, feeling Ruby lean into her hand. She planted a quick raspberry on the baby’s tummy, followed with a kiss. Then she stood and brushed off her tailored slacks. “I’ve got a long drive. I’d better get going.” She looked around for her keys.

“I saw you put the rental keys in your briefcase last night, if that’s what you’re looking for.”

“Thanks, babe,” Lonnie smiled with relief and dug them out.

“And I noticed your clothes got wrinkled in the suitcase. If I can find the iron, I’ll press them and hang them up while you’re gone today.”

“Yours, too, of course,” Lonnie muttered. “The iron and board’re in the built-in ironing cupboard in the kitchen.

“Okay.” Ruby conscientiously pressed all their clothes, including tee shirts and jeans. “Uh, get rid of this for me first, will you please?” Ruby asked, handing the used diaper and wipe to Lonnie. The baby fussed as she stretched out on Ruby’s lap. It was unlike Bethy, who usually was in good humor once she’d fully awakened. Ruby wondered if the baby was still tired from the day before. It was good they were staying home today. Maybe they’d both get a chance to nap.

Ruby looked over at her well dressed partner holding a wet diaper with one hand. She was a striking woman. In her tailored charcoal pants and charcoal mock turtleneck with blue pullover sweater on top, her eyes were a knockout. “You look really nice, honey. I love you, but I can’t think why. Drive carefully, okay.”

“Yeah.” Lonnie puckered them both a loud, smacking air kiss, then moved out to get rid of the diaper and wash her hands.

“Ruby’s really not going to eat breakfast?” Tina called from the kitchen as Lonnie dried her hands in the bathroom.

Lonnie popped her head in the kitchen doorway near her sister. “No, she’s too busy being mortified,” she grinned.

“Really?” John asked, lowering his paper from his spot at the kitchen nook. “Why?” He and Johnny sat at the built in dining area eating their breakfasts. They both looked over.

“It’s a girl thing, John,” Lonnie replied.

“Oh, blazes,” John replied, hastily bringing up his paper again and burying his face in it. Lonnie and Tina exchanged a wide grin. “Hey, you look really sexy today, kid,” Tina told her sister, “Gonna bowl them over, huh?”

“Gods, I hope so,” Lonnie said worriedly. “I am a little nervous. They’re spending a lot of money to get my input.”

“Aaah, they’re made of money, those companies. Don’t worry about it. You’ll do great.”

“What does morfitide mean, Dad?” Johnny asked.

“Er, um, being embarrassed,” he replied. “Eat your breakfast, son.”

“When someone says it’s a girl thing, guys aren’t supposed to listen,” his mother explained.

“Oh,” the boy stuffed his mouth with pancakes and glanced at his father who obviously had distanced himself from the two sisters.

“What about you, Sis?” Tina grinned. “Pancakes?” She wiggled her brows. “I’m sure you’ve worked up an appetite.”

“I’m famished and I love your pancakes, but no. They’re serving breakfast at our meeting.” Lonnie replied. “Didn’t I tell you?”

“Oh, I think you did. Okay. I’ll leave the extra batter for Ruby.”

“Hey, great. She’ll like that. I think she’s real hungry.”

“I’ll bet,” Tina grinned.

“Leave her alone, you beast,” Lonnie said with a soft laugh. “She’s easily embarrassed. Some people are modest, you know.”

“Yes,” Tina smiled. “Well, the nursery should give her some extra privacy when she feeds the little one. She won’t be caught unaware if someone unexpectedly steps into the bedroom.” She paused, “John’s computer stuff is in your main room, and he’s so forgetful sometimes. I don’t want him accidentally scaring the wits out of her...and him, too.”

“No kidding. And that is a great little nursery you fixed up by the way. Real nifty. Thanks. And thanks for borrowing the bassinet from Chuck.”

“It was either that or use a dresser drawer. And I know you’re used to a nursery. Mom was telling us about the cute room you fixed up in your condo. You know, the one we fixed for you guys used to be Johnny’s nursery when he was a baby. The main room was our bedroom then, before we remodeled one of the back rooms, added a bath and made it larger, with patio doors to our own private patio outside.”

“I saw those improvements the last time I was here and also how you decorated Johnny’s room like Treasure Island. Real snazzy. We’ll have to show Ruby. Hey, we wanna take you guys to dinner tonight, if you’re free.”

“Sounds good. You know what that probably means, though,” Tina grinned. She cast an eye on her son. Everyone knew what he’d choose.

“A young man after my own heart,” Lonnie laughed, “Well, I’d better run. See ya later. Bye all.”

Both fellas gave a quick “bye” reply.

Lonnie reentered the bedroom. “I’m going now, hon.” She walked to the bed and planted a quick kiss on mother and child.

Green eyes eyed her thoughtfully. “You’re eating there, right? You should eat a good breakfast, Lonnie.”

“Yeah, they’re serving breakfast at the meeting. Believe me, I won’t forget to eat.” Lonnie grabbed her briefcase, pausing at the door. “Have a good day. Rest your ankle, babe.”

“We’ll be fine. Give ‘em what for, hon.” Ruby gave a small wave.

“I will.” Lonnie blew another kiss and headed out.

“Aunt Ruby’s going jogging,” Johnny announced to his father as Lonnie shut the front door behind her. “She gets to wear shorts and she’s leaving the baby here with Momma.” The boy lifted his glass of milk and drained the glass.

“What? She’s leaving the baby here? Tina? Is that a good idea? We’ll be late for work.” John Senior’s shocked face glanced at his watch then focused on his wife, as she leaned against the still warm range. She had turned off the burner and was digging into her own plate of pancakes doused with real virgin maple syrup from Vermont and sprinkled with healthy California pine nuts.

Her mouth was full as she jiggled with amusement. Her husband continued in a concerned whisper, “It’s almost time to leave as it is.” He tapped his multi-functioned watch, almost drawn into checking the weather with it again as he did a million times every day. “How fast does she run? Is she going right away? We could probably wait if she doesn’t take too long. She can’t leave the baby here alone.”

“Relax, John,” Tina said, swallowing, “She’s not going jogging.” She looked knowingly at her husband, her son then her husband again. “A slight misunderstanding.”

He nodded, although he wasn’t sure what she was talking about.

“Don’t feed the dog at the table, Johnny,” Tina warned. “I’ve told you before, people food’s not good for him.”

The small terrier brought his head from under the booth to give her a wary glance. He had just swallowed in one gulp the large treat offered him. Both fellows at the table looked guiltily at the terrier. His round tummy was an indication of the dog’s ability to beg and both father and son’s propensity for generosity.

“But Mom,” Johnny recovered quickly as Brownie was scooted further under the table by his father’s foot, “you said Aunt Ruby was gonna wear shorts to go jogging. She gets to wear shorts, Dad. SHE doesn’t think it’s too cold.”

Tina jammed a bite in her mouth and continued waving off her son’s remark with her fork while a large, teasing smirk covered her face from one side to the other.

John brought his coffee cup to his lips. It was true that his wife liked to tease. He couldn’t ever be sure when she was being serious. But she was far worse around her family... especially Lonnie or Buddy. And they were every bit her equal in teasing finesse. He finished his coffee. Has to be some kind of defect in their gene pool.

“Your Aunt Ruby’s an adult, son, and can choose to do what she wants. We’ve talked about this before. You can’t wear shorts to school. It’s too cold. And it’s not appropriate. Time to go,” he added. “Finish up and get your book bag.”

“Aw, Dad. Okay,” Johnny replied.

“Put the dog in his run,” his mother reminded.

“C’mon Brownie.” The boy carefully carried his empty plate and glass to the sink and placed them inside before opening the back door to shoo the dog outside to the fenced run and doghouse. His mother hastily fed the dishes into the dishwasher. The little piece of pancake the boy surreptitiously threw out for the dog’s retrieval helped get the task done easily.

Tina hurriedly finished with the dishwasher. Once the last dish was inside, she flicked over the “Dirty” sign and joined her family heading for the door. The only thing left out was her coffee cup.

“We’re going now, Ruby,” Tina called, swallowing her last sip of coffee. She put the cup on the small entry table and grabbed her purse. “Use anything you need. And if you can’t find something, just call me at work. The number’s there on the bulletin board.”

“Thanks. Have a good day,” Ruby called back.

“We will. Bye.”

Johnny hung on his father’s arm like it was a trapeze bar as he danced and half swung beside the beaming parent on the way out to the van. The boy’s shoelaces were untied again.

They make a great pair, those two, Tina preened proudly.

Ruby heard the door shut, the van start up, then leave. She rocked and looked down at the baby nursing at her breast. Peace at last. But the longer the silence went on, the more uncomfortable she became. The unfamiliar house was eerily quiet.

Harsh sunlight, brighter than the mellow light of home, blazed through the closed blinds of the strange room. Ruby looked around for a television set or radio, anything to break the awful silence. There was nothing. Worry filtered into her eyes.

She felt suddenly edgy, a feeling she’d unfortunately felt before. An involuntary shiver coursed through her. He slipped into her mind. He thought she was in California, and now she was. I can’t let this happen. Not now. But she was helpless to force thoughts of him away. He doesn’t know where this house is. Does he? Anyway, I could handle him, if I had to. I handled David. Her mouth went dry. Her heart began to pound. She could feel herself trembling.

Bethy opened her eyes in question.

Ruby made a short gasp for air. It’s all right. Everything’s fine. Get your balance, Ruby. Nonetheless she wished Lonnie was there with them. Ruby’s arms protectively cocooned the infant. Breathe. Breathe, she told herself.

The baby quit suckling and began to fuss. “It’s all right, sweetheart. Mommy will protect you. She won’t let anyone hurt you. Not ever.”She cuddled the infant to her chest and rocked more freely. How she wished Lonnie was there. Lonnie hadn’t deserted them, of course, although occasionally Ruby was caught unaware fending off painful thoughts of abandonment. It had become an all too familiar concept to her.

Not that her parents had abandoned her, not as a child growing up, they hadn’t. But neither had they been available to her emotionally. When they were, it was only when she fully succumbed to their every radical expectation, and really not even then. Then after the incident, well, then they had forcefully cast her and her unborn child out.

Green eyes darkened. NO! She would not walk the gauntlet of either him or her relatives again! Her parents no longer existed. She couldn’t afford to let them. The anger at her family strangely made her feel more in control. With a sigh of relief, her breathing normalized. She was fine.

Lonnie, she thought heavyheartedly, it happened again, love. Surrounded by the familiar scent of the woman, Ruby shut her eyes and recalled the drape of Lonnie’s arms around her as they’d been the night before, her lips brushing Ruby’s neck, their lips meeting. She felt herself relax further.

“Drive safely, sweetheart,” Ruby muttered. “And hurry home to us.”

Coaxing the infant to her breast again, the baby once more began to suckle. “Mumsy’s at a meeting,” Ruby said aloud to the tiny girl. “We’re alone, but we’re safe. Your Mommy knows self defense. Just ask David.” It shored her resolve knowing she had thrown the heavily muscled man to the floor. “Your Mumsy’s not here cause she did some real smart things and this important software company wants to find out all about it.” She sat upright. Wait! Do I even know where Lonnie is? What’s the name of that company? Where are they located? I wrote it all somewhere.

A moment’s return of panic touched her. Her eyes searched the area. What if there’s an emergency? I have no idea how to find her. She licked her lips and tried to slow the unanticipated pounding of her heart. “Get a grip, Ruby. Stars!” she scolded herself aloud.

How she despised these feelings of vulnerability, this dread, this fear. It always snuck up on her. She’d never been like this. She’d always been a person firmly in control, a person who took care of others, a confident person who could certainly take care of herself. She was a manager, an organizer. Always had been.

She placed a tender kiss on the infant’s head. My hormones must be out of whack, she surmised, but she knew it was more than that. These heart-stopping panic attacks had troubled her since “the incident”. They’d merely intensified after she’d given birth. She’d thought they were easing. Perhaps they weren’t.

The ring of the phone startled her. Ruby wasn’t sure where it was or even if she should answer it. She unhooked the suckling infant and leapt out of the rocking chair to follow the ringing back to their bedroom to the far wall where a desk with computer equipment sat. Moving the baby to her shoulder, her eyes searched for the phone.

“Hello,” Ruby grabbed the found receiver from its cradle, her voice breathless.

“Hey, babe,” Lonnie’s voice eased Ruby’s heart, “I was part way there and I missed you. I wanted to hear your voice. I forgot to tell you I took the cell phone, so I thought I’d better call. I can’t call once I’m in the meetings. Uh oh, is that Bethy I hear fussing?”

“Yes, hold on a minute.” Ruby adjusted the fretting baby so Bethy could easily suckle while she talked on the phone. “There, now she’s set. Gosh, I missed you, too, Lonnie. We both did.” Ruby briefly debated whether to tell Lonnie of her attack, but was disturbed by the tone of Lonnie’s voice. “Is there something wrong, hon?”

“Nah.” Lonnie paused. “The baby must have been eating when the phone rang.”

“Right. She’s all fixed up now, though. But what about you? Are you all right?”

“Pretty much. Well, did you ever feel like you just needed to call? I don’t know, like you just needed to hear the other person say something.. anything.. just common, normal stuff? Nothing unusual. Is that stupid? It sounds stupid, doesn’t it?”

A warmth filled Ruby’s heart. Any remnants of panic totally dispersed. “Not at all. I always feel that way about you. Sure you’re all right?” She still could hear unease in Lonnie’s voice.

Lonnie looked out at the line of traffic she was stopped in. “I’m sure,” she replied. It might get more than its share of rain, but they didn’t have traffic jams like this at home--bumper to bumper, stop and go, on freeways yet. Portland’s freeways moved, sometimes slowly but almost never stop and go. Slowly the cars inched forward again.

“Love you, honey,” Ruby said.

The tension inside Lonnie eased. “I guess I’m just a little nervous about this meeting. Now that I hear your voice, everything’s much better.”

“Do you have the print samples they asked you to bring?”

“Yes, they’re in my briefcase. I even brought other samples.”

“See, you’ll do great. Other than that, just tell them what changes you made. That’s what they want to hear.”

“You’re right. No need to be nervous. Wish I knew someone there, though. I hate walking into a roomful of strangers. Oh, well. I’ll be okay. I’ll get home as soon as I can. Then we’ll take Tina’s family out to dinner. I already asked.”

“That sounds good. Especially a dinner we can afford.”

“’Kay. I’d best hang up. This is costing us a fortune. Love ya.”

“See you tonight, honey. I’d wish you good luck, but you won’t need it.”

“I was thinking, Ruby. Let’s don’t pinch every penny on this trip, okay? I’m getting an expense account for these three days plus we have the funds we brought. Let’s have fun--buy what we want...within reason, of course. Especially clothes, cause you need them so badly. Let’s promise that we won’t take any money home with us. It’s our vacation. We’ll live with abandon. Okay?”

“Yesterday was fun,” Ruby doubted that taking money home would be much of a worry. They weren’t starting with that much.

“Promise me.”

“About the money? Sure. I promise. And I love you, too.”

“Ditto, babe. Gotta go. Kiss the baby for me. Bye.” Lonnie hung up the phone and saw her exit coming up. Finally, she thought. She was nervous, but her disquiet was assuaged.

Ruby hung up with a smile, her equilibrium restored. Returning to the rocker, she ran a finger across the suckling baby’s forehead. “Remember when your Mumsy told me what happened to me would throw anyone for a loop? She’s right. I’ve spent too much time being afraid and angry. I think a counselor could help me work everything out once and for all. I’m ready.”

She began to hum a soft lullaby then stopped. “You’re not made of steel, that’s what your Mumsy said. She said professional help, somebody who really knew how to help me deal with things, she said Mattie knew someone--a really good counselor, a lesbian. And the insurance’ll pay for most of it.”

Ruby hummed again, feeling a deep tenderness for her child. “It’s a good idea, isn’t it, little Princess? I can get help till I’m feeling like my old self again.” She thought to the time when she was with her family, the time with Raleigh when too often choices were made for her, or tried to be made for her. “Much better than my old self,” she amended.

Again she removed the infant from her breast. “Change sides, little one. I want you to get your fill,” she chuckled, “As always.” Suddenly she stopped and smiled, Well, stars, she mused, I forgot to ask Lonnie the name of that company she’s visiting.


Continued in Chapter 10

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