A Length of Joy

Copyrighted © 2004 All Rights Reserved
By B. S. Raven



Disclaimers: Please See Chapter One

Chapter 5

Joanna had no difficulty getting up at around seven o’clock. Her mind was so excited about the schedule for the day she could hardly contain herself. This was a very special day, and she didn’t want Raven to have to come wake her. Raven was still in her darkroom processing the film she had taken the day before on their excursion with Rex and Carl. When she arrived in the kitchen for a cup of coffee, she found Raven had made a pot, as usual.

“Merciful heaven, that was a fantastic day, and I slept like a log,” she almost sang the utterance. “Guess I’ll surprise her and prepare our breakfast this superb morning,” the honey-blonde said to the coffee cup. She raised her arms over her head and elevated herself on her tiptoes and stretched from side to side in for a long-drawn-out exercise to loosen and limber up the somewhat cramped muscles from the over exertion of yesterday’s outing.

She rummaged through the cupboard to find the ingredients and other necessities she had bought several days before, and sat them on the counter. Into the pancake batter, she stirred a cup of chopped pecans. When she felt the mixture was the right consistency, she poured out four, large-sized ones on the side grill of the range. While the first batch of pancakes began to bubble, along with country sausage and bacon starting to sizzle in a large skillet, she set the table with plates and silverware, and poured two large glasses of orange juice. Honey and maple syrup stood ready in separate bowls to be heated at the last minute in the microwave. She sliced and diced fresh honeydew along with half a cantaloupe for their fruit dish. She surmised Raven needed a break from preparing their breakfast, so happily she went about preparing a large hot breakfast for them before they headed out to one of their last shootings at the Lighthouse and the Bridge of Lions.

Then, this evening--“Yes, this evening,” she sang, “we are going out on our first official date.” Joanna wanted everything to be just perfect for this event, and picked up the paper to scan the weather forecast printed there. “Sunshine all day, but rain probability high for the evening. Good, I can handle that,” she said, then returned the paper to the counter where Raven had placed it for Joanna when she came to have her morning coffee.

She started humming as she began pouring the second batch of pancake batter in the preheated skillet. The melody floated from her head and out through her lips as she thought of the dark-haired woman who had captured her heart. When she turned the second four pancakes over, she opened her mouth and sang the ballad that had completely emerged this last week:

I hope that in my life Love will come along To fill me up with happiness until The loneliness is gone

When love comes along I better hold on tight Never let it fade away Like shadows in the night

What I really need Is someone in my life Someone who understands the kind of love That I can’t live without What I really need Is someone in my life Someone like you

When I see you smile When you look at me I feel I have a place on earth and I’m not lost at sea

What I really need Is someone in my life Someone who understands the kind of love That I can’t live without What I really need Is someone in my life Someone like you

She slowed the ballad down even more and sang the chorus once again.

What I really need Is someone in my life Someone who understands the kind of love That I can’t live without What I really need Is someone in my life Someone like you

Raven had entered the kitchen and stood leaning against the hallway entranceway, and listened to the most beautiful voice she had heard. Her heart leaped as the words of the song penetrated her being. Someone like you. Yes, Joanna, I need someone in my life just like you.

Raven clapped softly, “That was absolutely beautiful, Joanna.” She walked around behind the counter and just smiled down at the petite figure staring back at her.

“You really like it, Raven?” She asked excitedly. “It’s called Someone Like You. I’ve been working on it for the last three weeks, but it all materialized this past week. I finally decided on the key of D, and it has to be picked slowly on an acoustic guitar for the lead song in the second act.

“It sounded wonderful, Joanna. I didn’t know you had such a powerful voice.” The tall woman stated. “I know you play the piano and keyboard, but do you play the guitar as well?”

“No, I don’t play the guitar, but my keyboard has a key that resonates similar to how an acoustical guitar would, and I really think it works.”

“It did for me, and I’m sure the folks listening to it will appreciate it as well,” she said with enthusiasm.

“Thanks,” she said, lowering her head to break her stare. I wrote it for you, my darling. Perhaps, just maybe, it can become our song, and mean as much to you as it does to me? she reflected silently.

“I prepared breakfast for us,” being somewhat embarrassed, she changed the subject. “You never said why we were going back to the lighthouse to shoot again, as we were already there earlier?”

“I like several of the shots so well, that I would like to do a series of them,” her tone energized at the possibilities. “Maybe a series of shots with you ascending and descending the lighthouse staircase with the light hitting your face at different angles, and perhaps one looking out through the glass enclosure. I made arrangements with the Ranger to let us inside the actual lighthouse cage. I thought you standing with your hands on the huge light, looking down into the lens as if in thought would really be dramatic.”

“Sounds like you have it well thought-out. And so far, I have been very pleased with the results of your shots. I have to admit, I think you have done several dozen covers already, but I am looking forward to today’s outing.” She laughed. “You know I want a copy of everything you have done for myself, don’t you?”

“I have already taken that into consideration. I’m actually placing them in a little photo album, a souvenir for you,” she said.

“Great! Can I see it?” she requested.

“Sure, just as soon as I finish developing the last one and printing them up. Will only take a few minutes to place them in the covers,” she answered. “Are those pancakes you’re whipping up there?”

“Yes. Sit down please; four are already on your plate. The second batch are coming off the grill now. I’ve already poured the juice, but would you like coffee as well?”

“I’ll get us both coffee. I see you made a fresh pot, and I’ll wait for you to finish cooking.” She went and poured another cup into the mug she brought from the darkroom. “Hey, not bad coffee,” she smirked as she took another sip, as she poured a cup for Joanna, brought it back to the table, and sat down to wait for Joanna to join her.

“Have you decided what you’re going to wear today?” The tall woman asked as she looked up from the mug she was holding in her large hands.

“Sure have, but I want to surprise you with my choice.”

“OK, but nothing white today, the sun is supposed to be pretty glaring.”

“Nope. No white,” she laughed teasingly. “You’ll just have to wait.”

“You know you surprise me, Joanna. You have so many talents, you’re beautiful, you’re sophisticated, you cook like a gourmet chef, and yet, you still enjoy the simpler things in life. That is so amazing to me.”

“Thank you, Raven,” she said appreciatively. “That is one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me. I really like my life simple. But, in this business, it sometimes gets so busy and so hustling, that I have forgotten just how to stop and take it easy for a while. These three weeks here, although you have kept a pretty busy schedule, you have also shown me that you can have fun and slow down and enjoy the roses as well. I thank you for that, my newly found friend.” She reached over and patted Raven’s hand with her smaller one.

“It was and is my pleasure, I assure you,” the photographer answered back.

They ate leisurely, talking about the scheduled layout of shots Raven wanted to complete. Each had a second cup of coffee, as they removed the dishes and utensils to the dishwasher and finally sat their cups down on the counter, still talking.

“That was a splendid meal, Joanna. I’m stuffed,” Raven smiled at her.

“Thanks. I’m stuffed, too. Guess I shouldn’t have eaten your fourth pancake,” she grinned. “Bet the walking will relieve that situation rather quickly, don’t you think?”

“I do believe you’re right. Hey, we’d better get a move on if we want to finish by early afternoon. After all, I do believe we have a date?” Raven’s heart beat with eagerness.

“Yes, my tall friend, I do believe we do,” she giggled with anticipation.

Five minutes later, they jumped into the Navigator, and were off. The next six hours went by so fast, neither realized it was 1 p.m. until Joanna mentioned her stomach was having hunger pains, besides growling intensely. She suggested the need for a quick snack. They drove to a fast food location and ordered foot long corn dogs and large iced teas. Joanna pointed out a small park across from the square and suggested a break on one of the benches under the shade of a moss covered oak tree. On the opposite side of the park square, was the St. John’s River. The Bridge of Lions could be seen in the distance. While shooting there, Raven had arranged with the bridge tender to allow them to photograph on the catwalk, much to Joanna’s amazement.

“Yummy! This hits the spot,” the young woman rolled her eyes with contentment. She then picked off part of the bun and began feeding the pigeons and seagulls that were all over the area, scavenging for any morsels they could entice from the diners.

Raven looked over to see the younger woman tossing small pieces of the bun on the sidewalk. “Wait! Joanna, don’t feed them! They’ll fly over us and the next thing you know, we’ll have bird poop on our heads,” she warned.

Her warning came too late, for two seconds later, Joanna jumped up as a deposit hit her squarely on the nose and her cheek. “Gosh-all-mighty, that stinks,” she shrieked as she reached for Raven’s extra napkins.

“Told you,” Raven chirped.

“Why you, Meanie. You could have told me before when you saw me pinching the first part of the bun off.” She walked over to the water fountain and held her face under the water for a long time before she reached up with her hand and proceeded to wipe eagerly at her nose and cheek.

Raven opened her camera bag and pulled out the towel she always carried, got up and walked over to the stunned woman frantically wiping the water from her face with her hand.

Holding the towel out to Joanna, she said, “Here, try this. It’s clean. I just put it in my bag this morning.” She tried to keep the grin from her face.

Joanna looked up at her through dripping water, “Thanks,” she snatched the towel from Raven. “You’d better take that smirk off your face, Raven, or there will be retaliation. Do you remember the Fountain of Youth water?”

Raven threw up her hands in protest, “Hey, I tried to warn you.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” she mocked, “Guess we will have to head home so I can shower. We were about through, weren’t we?” she asked the older woman.

“Yep, all finished,” she said. “Joanna, you have another talent,” she waited for the young blonde to respond.

“And just what other talent have you come up with, Ms. Longgear?” She stood with her hands on her hips.

Raven walked back to the table, picked up her camera bag, turned to the wet blonde and cooed, “Well, I have never see anyone move as fast as you when that poop hit your face.” With that, she turned and made a dash for the car.

But to no avail, for the wet towel she had handed Joanna, hit her fully in the back of the head. Laughing, she reached down and picked it up, and was still laughing when Joanna flounced down in the seat next to her.

“Just remember, Ms. Longgear, my paybacks are repugnant and somewhat unpleasant,” came the promise.

“Shucks, Ms. Stern, it was worth it. If you could have seen the look on your face when that bird dung splattered, well, it was priceless,” she countered teasingly.

“Never a dull moment,” Joanna said, “but, I’ll get you back, Stretch,” the grin across her face was undeniably roguish. “Just wait,” she nodded as they crossed the Bridge of Lions. They drove back to the beach house with both women in good spirits, and both pleased at the morning’s activities.

After Joanna’s quick shower, they still had several hours before it was time to go to dinner. So, at Raven’s suggestion, they went for a jog on the beach. On the way back up the beach, Joanna convinced Raven to help her build a huge sand-castle, complete with ramparts, huge fortress walls, four distinct different size towers, and a moat all around the three foot high castle. They used the ends of two palmetto branches, and a discarded butter tub as tools. Upon completion, they both stood back and admired their handiwork.

“I’d say that is one mammoth sand-castle,” Raven surmised.

“That it is,” seconded the shorter woman. “Gosh! I know what it’s missing,” she spewed out, as she wiped sand from her face and arms.

“And that is?” Inquired the tall woman standing beside her.

“Why it needs a standard. You know, a flag, or a coat-of-arms,” she declared, smiling at the questioning face next to her.

Raven looked around and obliged by breaking off the end of a sea-oat, and bowed to the younger woman, “Your coat-of-arms, Mi’lady.”

“Why, thank you, Gallant Knight,” she acknowledged, returning a pretend curtsey, then lightheartedly placed the sea-oat atop the tallest tower.

“Hey, it’s getting late. I suggest we head back and shower some of this sand off, and slip into dry clothes for dinner,” the dark-headed woman said.

“I’ll race you,” came the reply, but the shorter woman had already broken into a fast sprint toward the secluded beach house before the words were completely out of her mouth.

“Hey, you cheated,” Raven called out, as she took off after the sprinting blonde ahead of her.

“You snooze, you lose, Raven,” she called back. Victory laughter could be heard the last hundred yards of the race. She knew the long-legged woman would not catch her, not this time, anyway.

“At the Shores Pier Palace, the fish are so fresh you can imagine you have just caught your own. You can watch the fleet of fishing boats unloading their daily catch. And it is a bit outstanding, where the stylish, glitzy setting is definitely Florida casual,” suggested Raven. She knew the food was excellent, but she thought it better to keep the true décor of the restaurant as a…bolt from the blue. Hopefully, the food would make up for her exaggeration of the interior decoration, she laughed inwardly at her stretch of the truth. Oh, well, the atmosphere should stand for something.

“It has fabulous water views, which adds to the backdrop for the enormous servings of a wide variety of delicious seafood. Plus, they have an especially awesome and vintage wine list. And, a special treat, Joanna, they have these small see-through glass, trap doors next to the table that you can feed bread to the fish below.” Raven was getting very excited about their real ‘first date.’

“Fabulous,” chimed the eager blonde. She could hardly contain herself about their date. She felt like a teenager, out for the first time. “I would love to feed the fish, and I love lobster, and you have fed me so much Red Snapper and Grouper, that I think I’ll have that also,” the young blonde said excitedly. “Also, a decanter of twenty year old white wine would taste great after the day you have put me through,” she laughed lightly, “But I think some of today’s shootings will make a stunning layout, Raven. I know you have several magazine covers in the batch photographed at the Lighthouse. And I have to tell you, those of me hanging over the Lion’s Bridge are something I have never dreamed about doing.”

“An exquisite subject makes for beautiful outcomes,” stated the tall photographer. “Shore Pier Palace it is then; shall we go?” She asked, winking at the beautiful blond as she opened the door of the blue Navigator for her. Raven ran her tongue quickly over her lips as she admired the shapely legs, which became exposed by the casual dressed, yellow wrap around skirt being hoisted up somewhat as the younger woman eased into the seat.

Dark brows knitted together in a mischievous grin as Raven’s midnight-blues surveyed the calves and then went down to the small, beautifully shaped feet clad in dainty, white sandals. Lord, she is beautiful, contemplated the tall lanky photographer…Get a grip Raven. Be calm. Don’t blow it…Just groan in silence! Lord, this is going to kill me! She moaned without a sound as she shook her head to dissipate the sight before her, then closed the door gently, prior to running around to the driver’s side of the vehicle for the short ride to the river front restaurant.

At the Shores Pier Palace, the crowd was mostly locals, but even the tourists were seasonal regulars and especially friendly. “Hey Longgear!” someone shouted as soon as the couple entered the low ceiling foyer of the restaurant.

“C’mon over here, woman, and bring the beautiful babe with ya!”

The silver haired woman standing at the check-in stand motioned for them to go through and join the bellowing voice.

“Thanks, Ms. Cissy,” Raven acknowledged the gray-haired, long-time waitress who was serving as reservations manager this evening. Raven waved at the gregarious, large bellied man whose backside was twice as wide at the black plastic seat of the barstool, but she took Joanna’s elbow and guided her towards a nearby booth instead. “If it’s all the same to you, Big Bart, I’m gonna keep my guest away from a sweet talker like you. No sense taking chances.”

A chorus of laughter went up from the group of regulars at the bar, while Raven directed Joanna to the far side of the large booth and motioned for her to sit down and then seated herself across from her.

Raven patted the glass trap door on the side, and Joanna’s face lit up as she saw a dozen or so large fish swimming in the river below them. At their elbow, a crude window opened outward, hinged at the top and braced with what looked like half a broomstick. A potted candle in a green glass snifter sent flickering light up to join that from the milk jug-covered light hanging above their heads. The bar was lit from the neon beer signs across the back wall, and weak splashes of color from the lanterns hanging over the planked bar.

When they were seated for a minute, Raven grinned teasingly. “Well, there’s one thing you can’t accuse me of, and that’s trying to impress a lady with atmosphere. I brought you here because Big Daddy John blackens the meanest grouper this side of the Mississippi. His lobster is to die for. And I don’t know about you, but I worked up an enormous appetite from our jogging and sandcastle building on the beach this afternoon.”

Joanna studied the plastic covered menu that she picked up that was between two bottles of cocktail and horseradish to cover her amusement over Raven’s choice of restaurants. “Mmm, me too.” But she felt she needn’t put her grouper or lobster in her mouth to taste it- - the smell was everywhere, mixed with a strong odor of garlic.

“Joanna?”

She met the blue eyes and found Raven still grinning, and one shoulder pitched lower than the other as she leaned back against the booth. “Don’t judge until you’ve eaten, okay?”

Joanna grinned, “I bet the food melts in your mouth here. I love it when they cook with so much garlic.”

Before she could say more, a buxom woman appeared, her breasts the size of cantaloupes, and earrings the size of teacups. She laid her hand familiarly on Raven’s shoulder. “Well, I declare, if it isn’t the most handsome woman to put foot in Shore Pier Palace since the last time she was here. What you mean by staying scarce all this time?” And she shamelessly leaned over and kissed Raven full on the lips.

Joanna watched, surprised, as Raven’s hand rested on the large woman’s hip while her breasts brushed her chest. She checked to see if others were watching, but just then, the man behind the rectangular window dividing the main room from the kitchen, bellowed, “Hey Big Bertha, you leave off kissing the customers so’s they can order grouper, you hear?”

Everyone at the bar laughed, and Big Bertha lingeringly raised her head, cocked a wrist on one hip and toyed with Raven’s bangs. Her eyes appeared hooded and sultry as she looked down into her smiling face and drawled, “We want her to come back now, don’t we?”

Joanna was astonished. Never in her life had she seen a big woman like Bertha kiss another woman in mixed public, yet she did so with apparent delight.

When Big Bertha finally disengaged herself, Raven belatedly reminded her, “I’ve got a lady with me tonight, Big Bertha. Meet Joanna.”

Big Bertha turned laconically, still one hand on her hip, the other cocked at the wrist. “Don’t pay no attention to me, honey. I been kissing your woman since before there were fish in that river outside. She’s like a daughter to me.”

Raven gave her a nudge and ordered, “Get out of here, Big Bertha, and bring us two orders of blackened grouper, a whole lobster, all the trimmings, and a carafe of that expensive white wine you keep locked up behind the counter. And two glasses of chipped ice, with bottled, spring water.”

“What you think we’re running here, a five star restaurant. Sheesh, shaved ice is what you’ll get, you sassy mouth, handsome woman, or nothing.”

She turned away with a chuckle, and sauntered off while Joanna watched her bulging backside wriggle in tight, blue-colored pants. When her eyes returned to Raven, she found the dark woman smiling at her.

“Just like a daughter, huh? She repeated matter-of-factly, cocking an eyebrow.

“That’s right,” Raven grinned.

Joanna pulled a hard paper towel from the spike holder she noticed decorated each booth and the tables. She scissored it between her two fingers, and cocked her wrist while handing it to the dark-haired woman across from her. “I think you had better wipe that gleaming red lipstick off… Daughter. We wouldn’t want it to get on that fancy white shirt you have on.”

Raven laughed while rubbing the bright lipstick off her mouth. “Don’t think anything of Bertha. She’s Big Daddy’s wife. That was him bellowing through the porthole from the kitchen.”

“His wife?” Joanna was astonished at the familiarity just displayed under the husband’s nose and with a woman no less.

“She kisses all the regular customers that way, both male and female. And every time she does, Big Daddy John hollers through the kitchen window, and everyone at the bar laughs on cue. Big Bart there, is Daddy John’s little brother. That’s how it is here on the river, Joanna. We’re all friends.

During the wait for the meal, Joanna couldn’t help but feel the genuine friendship and warm atmosphere in the building and the people who came by and spoke to Raven. Her dinner companion would ask about this child, or what was going on with them, and introduce Joanna. Each of them treated Joanna as if they had known her as long as they had Raven.

Big Bertha and Big Daddy John personally brought Joanna and Raven’s meal to them. The food was exceptional, and served in such sumptuous portions that Raven barely put a dent in hers. Joanna eyed her plate and asked, “Are you done?” At Raven’s nod, yes, she inquired, “Mind if I finish up the rest?”

While she did, Raven thought about Joanna’s eating habits. She eats like there is no tomorrow, and works out even harder. If I ate like that, even though I work out regularly, I’d be as large as Big Bertha. Then, she smiled at how much Joanna was enjoying the meal; and it made her exceptionally happy to see the younger woman so contented with her choice of restaurants.

Joanna glanced from her plate to Raven’s and back again, and removed the last of the hot butter cup from her plate and dipped the last chunk of lobster meat into the still warm mixture. Patting her lips with her paper towel, she moaned, “Oh, this was the best tasting food I have had in months. It was wonderful!” she replied brightly.

“I can tell,” replied Raven.

“I like your friends too, Raven. It’s hard to find genuine people like these.” She folded her paper towel, and placed it across her platter. “Quite different from the diplomatic crowd or the country-club set I grew up with. But, I did become pretty good friends with the crew and staff of the production company while filming the show in Canada. Great group of individuals, just like these here. Salt of the earth kind, if you know what I mean? A lot like Rex and Carl seem to be.”

“Yes, they are true friends. Rare indeed.”

Just then a small boy bounded to the booth and flung himself across Raven’s lap. He looked to be no more than six or seven years old, had a deep tan from the Florida sun, and wore a bright green Jaguar football tee shirt.

“Hey, Raven, where have you been, huh? You ain’t been fishing with me in almost two months. When we going again?”

Raven’s face lit up with laughter, ending with a grin as she indulgently hugged the youngster to her. “How about we try to go one afternoon next week?” She roughed the boy’s hair and asked, “Where have you been hiding?”

“Grandma, she wouldn’t let me come out till you were done eating.” The tyke reached up to loop an elbow around Raven’s neck. “You reckon we could go next Saturday? That’s the day before my birthday, and I sure do want to catch me a whopper for Granddaddy to cook for me? You know the ones you catch taste the best, don’t they, Raven?”

“I do believe you’re right, Johnny. Saturday sounds fine with me, but we’d better run it by your grandma. I’ll ask her before we leave, okay?’

“Sure is, thanks a bunch, Raven. You’re the best fishing buddy I have ever had.”

“You’re most welcome, Johnny,” she looked down at him and grinned.

“How about turning around here, and let me introduce you to my dinner date.”

“Oh, you don’t need to acquaint me to her. I know her from my favorite television show. She is the boss on “Negotiator” and she talks all the bad guys to give up. Iffin they don’t, she just kills them off.” He said, sticking out his hand to Joanna.

“Howdy. I’m Johnny.”

Joanna took the little hand and was surprised at the grip, “Hello, and I’m Joanna. So nice to met you.” The blonde laughed at the child’s elucidation.

“I thought your name was Parker?” spouted Johnny.

“My real name is Joanna, but my name was Parker on the show.”

“Oh, well, Joanna is a pretty name, too.” He turned and whispered to Raven, “She is a really pretty lady, you can bring her fishing with us if you want to, Raven.”

Joanna couldn’t help but laugh at the loud whisper.

Raven considered the boy’s request and grinned, “I’ll see what I can do about getting her to come with us, Johnny.”

“You and her can both come to my birthday party on next Sunday. Like you use to, and you can stay for dinner after church and we can play ball and--”

“Come to think of it, I do believe, Big Bertha has already invited me to your birthday bash. I’ll even come for church and the cook-out as well.” Raven affectionately swatted the boy’s backside and watched him barrel off toward the kitchen.

“He is Daddy John and Big Bertha’s grandson. A bundle of dynamite, and energy stored up enough to give out ten grownups.” At last, she dragged her blue eyes back to Joanna, who wore a slightly amazed expression.

“Something wrong, Joanna?”

“Nooo…” Joanna sat up straighter. “No.” But after adding it up, she queried, “You come over here and go to church with them?”

She deliberated silently for some time and finally answered, “Sometimes. They’ve got a nice little church out on the edge of the island, and I prefer it to the regular churches around here in town. Well, you know what those little New Age, New Thought churches are like. Peaceful. Besides, it’s not over here, they live about two miles south of my beach house. Except, they live on the bay side of Route 1, not on the ocean side as I do.”

The younger woman studied the older woman for a while, and then it all came clear. “Part of your family, Raven?” she questioned softly.

Raven studied her thoughtfully before answering, “No. But, I guess you might say they are my surrogate family. They lived next door to my aunt, who raised me. I was really close to their son, Jimmy, that’s Johnny’s daddy. Used to shove his face in the mud bank of the St. John River every afternoon after school. That is, when we could get away from the chores my aunt and Big Bertha had laid out for us.”

Again, they were interrupted. “Beg pardon, Raven.” It was Daddy John, standing beside their booth. “Johnny forgot his manners again, Raven. Big Bertha and me, well, we sure would like it, for you to bring the nice lady here to Johnny’s birthday next Sunday,” the burly, large man wiped his hands on his stained apron.

Raven looked over at Joanna, catching a pleasant countenance as the young woman considered the huge man’s invitation.

“I’d be happy to come, Sir. That is, if Raven doesn’t mind the company?”

“Just call me Daddy John, everybody does,” he said as he looked to Raven for her response to Joanna’s question.

“Joanna accepted, so we will both be there, and if Joanna says ok, we will even come to church with you and your family first,” she said as she looked back at Joanna for confirmation.

“I’d love to attend church with your family,” she answered softly.

He raised a beaming smile to Joanna. “You make sure she is on time, Pretty Lady, and bring a big appetite, the both of you. We plan on having a cookout and a table full of food.

Joanna nodded acknowledgment with a warm and wide grin. “

Ms. Joanna, how was the grouper and lobster?”

“The very best I have ever eaten,” she replied truthfully, warming to the big man who hovered self-consciously beside the booth. “And please, just call me Joanna.”

“Glad to hear you enjoyed the food. Got to get back to the kitchen. You all come back. Raven, you bring Joanna back, you hear?”

“I’ll do that, Daddy John. And would it be ok for Johnny to go fishing with me next Saturday?” she asked just as the man turned.

“Don’t see why not, I’ll tell Big Bertha to have the boy ready. You call and tell her what time you’ll pick him up, ok?”

“Certainly. And the dinner was excellent as always,” Raven replied.

“Thanks. Goodnight, Joanna, Raven. Drive careful out there, the tourists are out thick tonight,” he said as he walked stiffly back to the swinging doors of the kitchen.

“Shall we go?” the tall woman rose from the booth, and dropped enough bills on the table, that Joanna didn’t have to count the money to realize it included a more than generous tip.

“I didn’t see a check, Raven?”

“They never bring me one, but I know the prices, so I always leave more than enough. They put it in a fund for Johnny’s college.”

On their way out, Raven raised a goodbye salute to Big Bart at the bar, and blew a kiss to Ms. Cissy, as she opened the door for Joanna.

Joanna and Raven walked down the wharf and stopped at the rail to take in a deep breath of the salt air. “That was superb,” Joanna sighed contentedly. Then she turned toward Raven and asked, “Does Johnny live with his grandparents?”

Raven folded her hands on the top plank of the board railing. “Yes, he does,” she said dryly, then stuck her hands in her pants pockets. “Guess we need to get home,” she nodded her head towards the parking lot and the SUV. After Raven had politely seen Joanna to her side of the car, she watched the older woman in the glow of the overhead light as she slipped behind the wheel, her face introspective now, and grim. She found herself evaluating this side of her, which she hadn’t seen often since she arrived here three weeks ago. She reached out to touch her warm, bare arm, and immediately felt the muscles tense.

“I’m sorry, Raven,” she said softly. “I didn’t mean to be so inquisitive about your friends. I just wanted to know. I really like them, and Johnny is so sweet,” she explained.

“I’m not angry or irritated, Joanna, and no apology is necessary,” Raven switched off the motor and turned to face the lovely woman beside her.

“Might as well tell you now, instead of letting it come out at their home. Jimmy is in prison. He’ll be there for the next twenty or more years of his life. He killed a man. Louisa, Jimmy’s wife died from a beating rendered by the man that Jimmy killed. There was a mix-up or something with the law or the investigation and the man was going to get off and not even be tried for Louisa’s death. Jimmy went ballistic, and was out of his head with grief and accidentally pushed the man in a tussle on the top of a roundhouse of a fishing boat. The man fell off the pilothouse and onto the side of the boat rail, broke his neck, and died. Jimmy’s been in prison since Johnny was two years old,” she stated dryly.

She looked over at the green eyes staring back at her, “Daddy John and Big Bertha aren’t ashamed of their son, and neither am I. I just don’t want them to be hurt by some remark that could be avoided. Does that answer your questions?” she asked soberly and with sadness in her voice.

“Gosh, yes, Raven. I understand completely, and I’m glad you told me. I’d never say anything to them, I promise. It is so sad,” she answered just as soberly, but her voice resonated with a deep empathy for Raven and the friends she had just met. She tightened her hand on Raven’s arm and squeezed it gently with compassion.

“Thank you, Joanna.” Raven changed the subject, “You think you might like to go the Dairy Delicious and get an ice cream cone before we go home? Or are you too stuffed for ice cream?”

“That sounds like a wonderful idea. You’ll learn, Raven, there is always room for dessert, and I never turn down any kind of ice cream. Want to share a banana split with me?” She inquired.

“Nope, but I’ll go you a hot fudge sundae?” Raven smiled and turned the key in the ignition once again.

Joanna slipped closer to the energized body next to her. She wrapped her arm around Raven’s as the tall woman placed the vehicle into drive and the vehicle pulled out into the four-lane highway. Just a few hundred yards down the road, Raven put on her left blinker to turn into the Dairy Delicious and the hot fudge awaiting them.

“Two hot fudges coming up,” Raven spoke, as Joanna pointed to the blinking sign and licked her lips with eagerness.

On the opposite side of the street, a dark figure stepped out of the shadows of the bus enclosure as the SUV with the two women pulled off. The face was twisted with disgust, and the eyes shot evil images at the happy couple. “Damn you to hell, Joanna. What does that tall bitch have, that I don’t? She will only hurt you as Margie did. I have never hurt you and never will. I only have your best interest at heart. Why can’t you see that?” spoke the icy voice, full of vengeance.

There was a muffled sound of thunder heard off in the background coming from the other side of Anastasia Island, and the once clear skies were now turning very dreary and dark. Very dark indeed. Little did either woman realize that the evening they were sharing, would, in just a couple of hours, change unexpectedly, and alter both their lives significantly and forever.

*****


When they returned home from dinner, the pleasant evening turned sour.

Joanna hadn’t wanted the evening to end and suggested they sit for a while and chat. The smaller woman wanted the opportunity to inch her way down the sofa and begin a closer, more intimate relationship with the taller woman as they talked about the photo shoots and the evening meal. For some reason, the conversation ventured into their previous relations, with Joanna admitting how there had been so much deception in hers, and how she admired Raven for her honest relationship with Clarea. Raven tensed as repressed feelings returned to haunt her.

Each had said some hateful and very hurting words. Joanna had accused her of not living in the present and having ice running through her veins. The actress blurted out harshly that Raven had been leading her on the entire time here. Raven had slammed the smaller woman for being too forward and pushy. Each took offense and stomped out of the room, one to the safety of her dark room, the other to the guest bedroom.

The clock struck eleven, and still Joanna paced back and forth in the dimly lit bedroom, the only light coming from the night-light in the bathroom. Raven hadn’t even mixed up chemicals. She just sat and thought about how the evening had ended. Finally, Raven went and sat on a stool at the kitchen counter. What went wrong? she questioned herself silently. She could barely swallow. It felt as though her heart had slipped up into her throat. She’ll leave me just like Clarea did.

Raven felt a little queasy. Mentioning Clarea in Joanna’s presence had brought back painful memories. Memories Raven thought had been laid to rest years before. She did not want to revisit the nightmare that followed Clarea’s death. Now it was happening all over again, the pain, the feelings, and Raven hated it. All the dark woman could think about was how she felt in the past when her partner died, and the hurt. The pain was awful and she never thought she would find anyone else again or find anyone like Clarea again: Clarea’s personality, her laugh, her smile, the way the Chilean woman made her feel, the way she held her, their intimate times together, everything that attracted Raven to her.

Now she was back in that position! Although she wasn’t saying the same things and the feelings weren’t exactly the same, because the feelings she was having now were so much deeper, she knew the pain would be so much more than before. The dark headed woman did not want to go through what had happened before when Joanna finally left. Joanna would leave her just as quickly as Clarea had left. Is this queasiness because I’m having certain feelings for Joanna? No! I’m not going to go through that again! I won’t lose another love. Joanna will leave. I’m not going through that hurt again. She kept thinking about the pain, the hurt and the loneliness.

Raven just didn’t know if she could open up her heart to Joanna and have the younger woman just up and leave her. I just won’t go through that again, and as sure as the sun comes up, Joanna will be gone soon!

Joanna slipped quietly from the house. It was late, almost midnight, and she welcomed the cool embrace of the salty, night wind. She’d been sitting by the window in her room for hours, looking at sea oats bending slightly, the surf starting to pound the beach, hoping the tall woman in the other room would give some indication she was feeling the same as she. But she was extremely disappointed when there had been no interest shown by the photographer at all. Finally, she’d been unable to stand it another moment and had sought escape.

She stayed concealed in the shadow of the screened porch until a clinking of ice cubes in a glass told her the woman with the midnight-blue eyes was pouring iced tea. Joanna knew Raven would be coming to the swing on the end of the porch to sip the iced tea, as had been her custom these past three weeks. She ran out the screened door, down the three steps and crossed the tended yard, not daring to even breathe until she passed the large sand dunes on the right, which partially concealed the beach house from the massive ocean.

The sea oats grew tall along the narrow path that led south toward the deserted beach in front of the house. Because of it, Joanna no longer feared detection, yet, still, she hurried past the sandcastle she and Raven had spent hours constructing that very afternoon. The air smelled of freshly churned incoming tide, running under the ramparts built around the sandcastle. A trickle of water made its slow way through pebble sand, taking part of the outer wall with it back to the Atlantic. Once around the sandcastle, she crossed the dew-moistened sand and broke into a silent run down the beach, with tears slowly covering her cheeks.

“Joanna, not only do you miss her when she is out of the room, you long to be in her arms. Hell fire and damnation! Admit it, you are falling in love with her. Falling, my foot! I’m in love with her and have been from the first time I laid these green orbs on her in New York at that disastrous photo shoot. What the hell! I think I have been in love with her for many life times. Merciful God, my forever. My always. My eternity,” she cried out loud as she increased her speed. Now running in the edge of the water, her strides were only slightly slowing, as she ran in the surf up to her knees. After a full speed run for two or three minutes, she exited the shallow surf, shivering as she walked through a patch of sea oats and settled onto the damp ground. This was where she had come when she needed to be alone with her imaginings on those uncomfortable, uninspired nights. Except tonight, there was no sky filled with promises to greet her--just the heavy, uncomfortable threat of rain as she looked up to the darkened heavens.

The clouds that had gathered above the beach house during the evening were beginning to flow down the starless sky, drifting over the dunes, which looked like little mountains in the distance.

Feeling lost and alone in the now sprinkling rain, Joanna was unable to bring her imaginings and fantasies to life about the tall, dark woman. Tonight, not even her years of acting experience could help her forget the darkness in Raven’s eyes when she had blurted out after a very heated discussion, You’re a cold hearted, non-feeling woman, Raven. You have allowed Clarea’s death to turn you to stone. You have forgotten that life goes on, and there are still people alive who would share their life with you, if you would only give them the slightest chance.

A sound startled her, footsteps, no, it was a squishing, stomping sound? She whirled around, thinking it came from behind her, and then heard it from yet another direction. Muffled and misdirected by the now steady spray-like rain, the footsteps seem to surround her. She slipped over on her knees and crawled to the grass-covered dune and there, with her back against the sand, waited in breathless silence for the footsteps to find her. Before they sounded again, the wind freshened, blowing away the clinging mist of rain.

Terror tightened around Joanna’s chest and throat as she saw that the dune in which she’d chosen to cower, was less than a few feet away from where a lanky shadow was standing. The face beneath the outback Akubra hat was hidden in the shadows of the starless night. The lanky figure stepped on top of the crest of the mound and Joanna felt so suddenly overwhelmed that she knew, instantly, who it was.

“Raven!” she whimpered, her voice choked with the lingering effects of her fear.

The tall woman came quickly to her side. “Joanna? What’s wrong?”

“You frightened me,” she murmured, moving away from her to the path in front of the dune. High above her, the rain clouds appeared to be resting on the beautiful ridges of sand further down the beach.

Her hair, which was hanging like a blanket across her shoulders like a wet blanket, suddenly felt as though an unseen hand was stirring it, and so she knew when Raven came to stand beside her.

Raven brushed away a strand of hair that had blown across her face. Her hand lingered on the smaller woman’s shoulder, warm, comforting and very disturbing.

“We need to go back to the house,” Raven insisted. “It’ll be getting rough out here soon.”

As though on cue, a flash of lightning spiked across the sky, rearing a ceiling of brilliant, white light above the ridge of sea-oat covered dunes. Joanna turned away from it, hiding her face in Raven’s chest just as the thunder erupted, the great sound of it billowing and curling in the shifting air currents around them.

When the last rumble had faded into silence and her eyes no longer burned with the remembered image of the lightning, she lifted her head and tried to move away from her shield. Her attempts failed because undeniable arms were holding her captive. Raven gently pulled her closer, shielding her from the whipping anger of wind with her body.

“We have to go, Joanna. It’s going to be a downpour, even worse.”

Joanna was becoming confused by the softness of her voice and the way her legs were pressing close against her.

“Why did you come out here tonight? Why were you running from the house? Are you afraid of me?” Raven queried, then stiffened.

“No! Don’t!” She pushed against Raven’s chest, trying to force her back.

“Please, Raven, I can’t breathe!”

The photographer moved closer to her. Her body was warm, firm and strong, and she smelled of chemicals from the darkroom where she had retreated after Joanna had hurled the curt remarks earlier in the evening.

“Please,” Joanna whispered brokenly again, and the word clung to the silence around them.

“You’re shaking, Joanna. What are you afraid of?”

Joanna wanted to say she had been frightened by the dark of the night and thinking she was alone on the beach, or how very dark the night had become, or the oncoming storm. But most of all, she wanted to tell her she was afraid of how her own life was spinning faster and faster out of control, and that she didn’t know how to stop it. And, it was all because of the immense feelings for and the presence of the tall woman standing so close.

“I…I’m afraid of you,” Joanna whispered.

“That, sweetheart, is the first sensible thing I’ve heard you say.”

Then, Raven bent and kissed her. Lightly, gently, her lips brushed across hers, once, twice, hesitating, touching again, lighter, teasing, slower, lingering. Her long lean hands were touching her, moving across the curve of her chin, down her arm onto her waist, down to her hips and legs. She kept kissing her and caressing her, weaving around her a web of desire too real to be true, too wonderful ever to stop, until Joanna forgot everything except the feel and the smell of Raven, and the warmth that came from her.

Raven moved her kisses from her lips, across her face into her wet hair. “Why did you run away from me, away from the house tonight?”

Joanna pressed her face against the warm strength of her shoulders and slid her arms up and around her. At the first brush of her fingertips on her back, arms squeezed her so tightly against her that she thought she’d die with pleasure.

Raven’s teeth were gentle on her ear, nibbling, nipping, and sending chills and desires racing over her, through her, sweeping the younger woman away with the storm-tossed wind.

“Why?” The older woman whispered the word against her lips, and Joanna knew she couldn’t stop herself from telling her.

“I…”

A fierce bolt of lightning exploded in the air around the couple. It struck the sable palm about twenty feet from them, causing the tree to split savagely from point of impact to the ground. Raven pushed the blonde down to the ground and fell across her just as the thunder began to screech. Joanna thought the tree was going to fall on top of them, burying them in the sound, the fear, and the frightful darkness of the night.

The moment the thunder died, Raven jumped to her feet, pulling Joanna up with her. She stared at the tree, surprised to find it still standing, even if, just barely.

“Joanna, we’ll have to make a run for it! It isn’t safe here,” she exclaimed, then taking her by the hand, pulled her quickly down the dune and started scampering down the sandy path back in the direction they both had come only minutes before. She never let go of the shorter woman’s hand, holding it tightly and yet protectively at the same time.

The ruins of a demolished beach house caught the next bolt of the lightning in its one remaining doorframe as they ran a few feet in front of the heaps of deadened lumber. Fire and timbers showered down upon them. Joanna’s soaking shirt received a flying ember from the timbers. Raven brushed it free, half dragging and half carrying the smaller woman across a two yard channel, which was already beginning to fill with a torrent of rushing water, not only from the storm, but the now pounding tide.

Then the rain began to fall, big, heavy drops of water that struck with the impact of hailstones; in fact, Raven thought they were hailstones. The faster the rain came down, the faster Raven ran, pulling Joanna with her. Past the slope of dunes, the open ground between the next set of dunes, which were now being pounded by not only the raging surf, but the heavier sheet of rain that didn’t seem to end. They ran until they reached the path that wound between the dunes to the screened-in porch of Raven’s secluded home, and only once safely inside the enclosure did they both finally stop.

Exhausted, her breathing labored and painful, Joanna leaned against Raven for support. The photographer’s heart was beating as unevenly and rapidly as her own. She wanted to push aside the wet shirt and lay her face against the taller woman’s full breasts, to know what it felt like to touch her skin. Embarrassed by her sensual thoughts, she glanced up at Raven just as the taller woman tilted her head down to look at the honey-blond. The brim of her outback Akubra hat spilled a small stream of trapped rain onto her upturned face. She gasped at the cold shock of it, then began to laugh as she reached to wipe away the droplets of water clinging to the smooth, tanned skin of the tilted, beautiful face looking down at her.

Raven trapped her smaller hands beneath her own and brought them to her lips, where she gently kissed her fingertips. “Do you have any idea how absolutely stunning you look right now?”

“To be truthful, Raven, no one’s ever told me that I was stunning before.”

“I find that hard to believe, Joanna, with your swarm of fans and worshipers. I’m sure you have been told at least once a week how stunning you are with your lips moist with sweet, unspoken promises and your lashes heavy with raindrops begging to be kissed away,” her voice dropped to a seductive whisper.

“I…, ah…it’s been a long time since someone I wanted to…I mean… say… to me,” Joanna’s eyes devoured the midnight-blues looking down at her. She was so moved with her loss for words and at what she had said that she buried her face between Raven’s breasts to hide from her laughter.

Raven touched a finger beneath her chin and gently forced Joanna to look up at the blues. With a smile that caught at the corners of her heart, she took off her hat and leaned toward her, enveloping her in the warm promise of another kiss.

This time Joanna wanted more than the teasing touch of full lips on hers, and she leaned into the dark-haired beauty, opening her own lips and entrusting herself to the tall woman’s will. Raven tensed and pulled away.

Embarrassed by the tall woman’s response to her plea of yearning, Joanna tried to escape from the arms encircling her.

Raven stopped her though, turning her back to face her and pulling her close against her again.

“Please,” Raven breathed with desire, “don’t pull away, don’t go,” and her voice was as soft as the rain that was now falling in a gentle cascade from the silent, darkened sky.

Raven’s fingers were cold, and they touched the rain-soaked cotton blouse clinging like a second skin to Joanna’s breasts, causing her to shiver, then melt as she traced the outline of her right nipple with light, circling caresses. Raven’s long fingers caressed around and around…lighter, lighter, they circled slower, then faster until she was touching Joanna’s nipple that was hard and rigid with the ache of deep desire.

Joanna’s knees gave way beneath her. Raven pulled the smaller woman to her, holding her close against her warmth and her need while her hand kept melting her, molding her, making her breathless and helpless and almost afraid. Then, when she was hers, completely, absolutely, leaning away from her and arching into her and wanting her more than she’d ever dreamed possible, Raven kissed her. Not teasing this time, and not gentle either. They were hot, intense kisses, sweltering, fiery kisses that drew her up and into the taller frame, claiming her, receiving her, her tongue ravaging her softness, searing, penetrating her very soul.

When the actress couldn’t bear it another moment, when she thought her heart would shatter if her kiss lasted even another second, Raven released her. Joanna collapsed against the wall behind her, her hands grasping at the stucco surface for support.

Raven braced her hands on either side of the blonde’s head and leaned her face against her own left arm. Her breathing was as labored as it had been after running the long stretch of beach just minutes before. When the dark-haired woman lifted her head to look at her, her expression was as unreadable as the emotions raging with her trembling body.

“I should’ve let you go, sweetheart.” She touched her lips to the smaller woman for a moment as brief as a single beat of her heart. Then she was gone, moving off into the night and the rain, leaving her shivering and alone. She pushed away from the wall and ran to the edge of the porch, where raindrops fell like tears onto her face. She couldn’t see the tall woman. She couldn’t see anything except the darkness. Moments later, she heard the Navigator’s engine and the sounds of tires screeching in the driveway… Raven had gone.

“Damn! Now what? First she won’t let me go. Then she asks me not to go; then she drives me insane with her kisses and next her touch fires me to a desire I have never known before, then she tells me she should’ve let me go… then she walks out on me without so much as a by your leave. Sweet Jesus, now what do I do? And where has she gone this time of night?”

*****


Chapter 6

Raven glanced to the left for oncoming cars, then turned the steering wheel and pulled into the right lane of Route 1, and headed towards St. Augustine as her mind raced.

Raven did not want to go through the grieving process again for anyone, and yet, Clarea’s words from one of their long intellectual, heart sharing conversations came back to her as if it was only yesterday. “No one is meant to live a life without love, Raven, and more tragic than any death is continuing to live with a broken heart. If something happens to you, I won’t do that, and neither do I expect you to, either. One of the easiest and most powerful ways to heal the heart and release our pain is to link the hurt we feel in present time with the hurt we felt in our past. By linking our current painful feelings with unresolved feelings in our past, Raven, we can process these hot spots in our past and be free of the pain we feel in the present. This one concept is at the basis of all forms of therapy and healing throughout the world.” Her partner’s philosophy was of forgiveness, and then moving forward with your life, so that you could give of yourself again, freely.

“The boat, I’ll go to the sailboat, get out of these wet clothes and think…Yeah, think! Think…. Lord, am I afraid of loving again? Have I turned my heart to stone as Joanna said?’ Raven’s thoughts continued to race. “I--Oh! God, my feelings go so deep for her. But face it, old girl, Joanna could never really be content. She is used to the spotlight. She is an actress and has millions of fans and, face it, she would never stay with you!”

“Hell! That’s it, isn’t it, Raven? You’re afraid she will leave after the shooting is over, and you will be hooked on her, and she will just up and leave!” Her voice was tense and terse. “Damn it, I have never been so miserable before. I need a sounding board. I need to talk this out.” Raven snarled out loud, then picked up the car phone, and punched in Rex and Carl’s number.

“Yeah? This better be very important to be calling this time of night,” came the gruff response on the other end of the phone.

“Carl, it’s Raven. I need to come over,” her tone serious.

“Raven, what’s wrong? Of course, come over. Are you all right?” Came the questioning reply.

“I’m okay, physically, but the rest of me is about to go into wreck overdrive,” the tall woman reasoned stubbornly.

“Okay, we’ll put on the teapot. How long until you arrive?

“I’ll be there in about twenty minutes or so, and Carl, thanks.”

“No problem, my friend, no problem at all.” Carl returned the handset to the cradle on the nightstand beside the bed, and turned over to face Rex, who was now fully awake and had turned the night lamp on.

“Something wrong with Raven?” came the concerned question.

“I don’t know for sure, Rex, but I think our tall friend has had to face her fears, and been beaten at her own chilled-heart game,” came the genuine answer.

“Hmm. Are you thinking the of same honey-headed woman I’m thinking?”

“Yep. I believe our friend’s prowling days are over, and she just isn’t aware of it yet,” came the deep chuckle as Carl threw the covers back, sat up, and slid his feet into his bedroom slippers. “She will be here in a few minutes. Guess we need to put on some clothes. And I did promise we’d have the tea ready when she arrived.”

“I’m going to enjoy watching the Tower Of Resistance finally admit to opening her heart again. However, you know Carl, I knew the first time I saw those two together, that they were meant for each other. Now, all our stubborn friend has to do is admit it herself.” The sports announcer laughed heartily as he pulled on a pair of walking shorts, and went to the armoire for a clean, pullover shirt.

“Don’t kid her too much, Rex, she sounded like a wiped-out wreck already,” his voice was solemn, yet light hearted. He glanced over at his dressing partner, and remembered his own almost destructive courtship. If it hadn’t been for Raven, neither of them would have admitted their drawbacks and worked through the struggle. She had been instrumental in their meeting in the first place, and had been a trusted, good friend for years.

“It would be wonderful to see her happy again. She deserves it.”

“I agree with you wholeheartedly, Rex. I’m going to put on the tea now. You think green tea, or jasmine?”

“What ever you want. Probably green would be best-more soothing this time of night,” the sports announcer replied as they walked out of the bedroom together. Carl headed toward the kitchen and Rex to the living room to straighten up wine glasses and such that he and his partner had left earlier when the casual evening had turned into a more intimate one, and shed clothes needed to be picked up, prior to Raven’s arrival.

The door chime sounded, and both Rex and Carl went to let their friend in.

Raven stood trembling from the cold night air, as the rain came down almost in sheets around the edge of the portico. “Hi. Sorry it’s so late.”

“Hello, Stretch, you forget your feathers on a night like this?” Rex asks jovially.

“You are not funny, Slick, even the ducks aren’t out tonight,” came the sulky reply from the soaked photographer.

“Go on in the bathroom and I’ll bring you a pair of sweats to change into Raven. You’ll catch pneumonia if you don’t dry off. I suppose you were wet before you got in the car?”

“Yeah.” Was the only response, as Raven went towards the bathroom, to emerge a few minutes later in the sweats, and drying her hair with a towel.

“Okay, Stretch, out with it,” the sports announcer insisted as he handed her a hot cup of tea, and motioned for her to sit on the couch. “You look like you just committed a big booboo, or made an ass out of yourself, or even more appalling--you turned down a beautiful woman named Joanna, and now you feel like shit.”

“I think she probably ran like hell from her feelings and is quite frightened by this entire episode, and doesn’t have a clue that she is running, or petrified. That is fear I recognize on your tanned face isn’t it, Raven?

You’re worried, aren’t you?” Carl asked in a concerned, but friendly voice.

“Don’t think frightened is the right word. More like…ah…scared as hell. I admit, I am afraid!” The tall woman shrugged. “Afraid I have made a mess of things with Joanna. I don’t want a casual fling. I…I.. Well I…ah, mean, she is… Oh, hell, I don’t want to be attracted to a woman who won’t hang around… I mean, stay in my life…I.. We, that is, she and I…,”

“Calm down, girl friend. Just calm down and start from the beginning. And what I have witnessed in Joanna is constancy, stability and strength. I, also, perceive that her feelings run beyond the casual fling thing when it comes to you. So, settle down and enlighten us with a little more detail as to what, or how, exactly, you have messed up?” Carl commented as he sat down next to Raven and took her hand in his in a comforting gesture.

“Disaster! I, well… I ah… What do you mean her feelings run beyond the casual for me?” the dark-headed woman asked.

“What happened tonight, Raven? Then, we will get to your question.” Rex stated in a steady voice. “We are here for you, so let it out. What transpired, Stretch?”

“The shooting was some of the finest I have ever accomplished. Of course, the subject matter was the reason. She was so willing to pose anyway I suggested, and even came up with several good thoughts of her own. We had a wonderful day, and a fabulous dinner. We laughed ourselves silly. We flirted with each other throughout the day and evening. When we returned to the beach house after dinner, I poured us a glass of wine and we sat on the sofa and talked. We both felt the magnetism, the attraction… it was incredible,” sighed the tall woman as she lifted the teacup to her lips.

“Then she made it clear that the evening was too young to end, moved closer to me on the couch, and started rubbing her hand up and down my arm,” Raven recalled as she returned the tea cup to the coffee table and stared off into space.

“I then remembered she would be leaving in a few days, and I didn’t choose to engage in anything that would--that I…well, that I couldn’t handle after she left.”

“This is all about your fear of hurting again, isn’t it?” Rex placed his arm around his friend in a comforting manner.

“I can’t go through that heartache and pain again,” Raven mumbled and picked up the empty cup.

“You’ve felt the pain before, Raven, even if you did push it back in your memories.” Carl said as he stood and picked up the tea pot and refilled his friend’s cup.

“I don’t know how I got over it before, I can’t do it again.” The woman said gravely.

There was a long silence as the two men looked at each other. Finally Carl nodded to Rex, who rubbed Raven’s shoulder, then clasped it tightly.

“Basically, you know you've felt this before and yet somehow you got over it. Truth is, I don't know how or even when I got over my past pain, all I know is, I was in a new relationship with Carl and very happy when I started to wonder what ever happened to that pain. I know what you're saying, Raven, but this time it's different! It always is! Every time I've felt this pain I've always thought that the one I've just lost was a greater loss than the one before, this one was better, made me happier, etc. It's time to take hold and realize that you've been there before, Raven. You've been through this hard time before and you can get through this if you hang in there and don’t let it rule your life. You have to think about your past heart breaks and what became of them, that’s the only way that particular wound will ever heal. But, don’t let uncertainty and fear keep you from happiness.”

“Rex is right, Raven. Remember the feelings, all the pain you went through and how things finally progressed to the point where you had happy non- painful memories of Clarea. She didn’t leave of her own accord. You had her in your life for the time she was supposed to be in it and then it was her time to go. You know, she wouldn’t want you to deny yourself the chance of happiness.”

“I did think of Clarea. I feared Joanna leaving and…” she sighed.

“You didn’t want to just sleep with her, did you?” Rex’s hand rubbed her shoulder.

“I realized if I slept with her, I would never get her out of my head. Heck, I think about her every hour of the day, as it is, now.” She turned to face Rex. “I’m thinking long term here guys. I’ve been guilty of so many glaring errors in the past that it’s difficult to award a place of honor to any one of them. But, up there at the top of the list would have to be the destructive act of making decisions based on short-term results. That catalyst is jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. My decisions of expediency of the moment, which, of course, only makes matters worse in the long run. I just don’t want to--I can’t--I don’t just want to bed her. I want her in my life forever and then some. But…,”

Raven drained her cup, stood up and went to the picture window and stared out at the falling rain.

“But?” asked both men in unison.

“She has a fully planned career, and I’m afraid I’m not on the agenda for anything but the short term, a quick roll in the sack. She is world renowned, and will go on with her life and leave me high and dry. My feelings-no, not feelings--It’s me. I don’t think I can take another loss,” she said with finality, but her voice trembled on the last words.

The two men glanced each other again, then stared at Raven’s back.

“Is there more?” Carl asked as he rubbed the stubble on his chin.

“I told her I wasn’t one of her stage door playthings. And I wasn’t into nonchalant, sexual encounters, not even when it was with a very beautiful and exciting woman, as she certainly is. I was harsh and abrasive with my remarks toward her. She called me a stone-hearted and feeling-less individual, and stated I would never allow anyone to show warmth or emotions toward me if I didn’t let Clarea’s death go, and get on with living. Her words were like putting a knife in my heart. I stared at her for a long time, then got up and went to the darkroom.”

“You shut her out?” Rex drew a leg up over his knee.

“Just as fast as I could walk to the door and lock it. I heard her crying, and then go to her room. A couple hours later, I came out, turned off the lights and sat in the dark for the longest time. Eventually, she came out, and went onto the porch. I fixed two glasses of iced tea and was going to take it out and attempt a conversation with her, try and explain my feelings, but she took off running toward the beach as if Hades himself was pursuing her. I was concerned, followed her, caught up to her and after a few words, we kissed. The weather drove us back to the house, where we continued the seduction ravenously for a few minutes. Then that thought came back… SHE WILL LEAVE. I told her I should have let her go and walked out. I’m here and I’m miserable. End of story.”

“No, my friend, I believe it is just the beginning of the account,” Rex responded.

“I agree with Rex. I think it has just started. Well, no! Actually, I believe it started in New York when you thought you were frustrated with her and when she showed up on your doorstep, you just made concessions, took her in and offered up your heart on a silver platter and didn’t even realize it, Stretch.” Carl stood up, crossed to where his tall friend stood and opened his arms for a genuine, comforting hug.

She accepted the offered embrace. “It’s this leaving thing, Carl. I don’t want her to go. Guess I’m feeling sorry for myself, maybe unsure, also.”

“Then you need to tell her that, tell her how you feel, and what you’re afraid of; you need to discuss it with her, Raven. If she feels the same way, she will work out a compromise that both of you can live with.”

“And if she doesn’t?”

“Then it is best you found that out now, don’t you think?”

“This brings not only trust issues up, but the big “C” word, old Buddy. Commitment has to come to the forefront, even if it is an agreement to go one step at a time, see where the relationship leads, or how you both feel about letting it go.” Rex spoke up as he reached over and poured Raven and Carl another cup of tea, picked the cups and saucers up and walked to where they were standing in front of the picture window.

“Commitment? Shoot! Rex, we haven’t even slept together yet! Not that I haven’t wanted to, and I know from her responses tonight that she sure does.” Raven responded with a worried frown. Commitment, yes, I have committed to her for all eternity, whether she stays around, wants what I want, or leaves, this is forever with me. I should be there with her discussing this, or at least apologizing for running off. The thoughts filled her mind, and she regretted her hasty departure from Joanna, earlier.

“Raven, you know Rex and I will listen to you all night, be here for you, but you know you have your answers deep within yourself. All you need do is allow your subconscious to bring them to the surface. If she leaves, then you know it wasn’t meant to be. If she feels as you do, then you are wasting valuable time you could be spending together and working things out, which is best for the two of you.”

“I agree!” Rex seconded.

“You’re both right.” Raven acknowledged, “I need to head back. I have a lot of apologizing to do, and explaining my behavior. Thanks, fellows. I do appreciate you allowing me to unlock my thoughts. You guys have always been my sounding boards and I love you both.”

“You don’t owe us an explanation, Raven. We love you. We’re friends, and that is what friends are for. You sure you want to drive back in this downpour? Doesn’t look too safe out there,” Carl responded.

“I’ll drive carefully, and I feel I can talk to her now… that is, if she will listen to me.”

“Don’t think you will have any difficulty there, Stretch, I have a feeling that young lady is anxiously awaiting your return. But Carl is right, you drive carefully.”

“Call us if you need anything Raven; we are here for you.”

“Thanks Carl, I know you are, and hey, it works both ways, and thanks again, fellows,” came the response as the dark-haired woman sat the cup down on the coffee table and started towards the door.

Rex walked with her and reached into the closet next to the entranceway, and handed her a black umbrella. “You need to use this, Raven, you don’t need to be in wet clothes this time of year.”

She took the umbrella from him, and they hugged tightly. Rex opened the door and the photographer ran out into the drizzling rain. He waited until she was safely in her car, the engine running and backing out of their driveway before he closed the door, and turned to face his partner. “Well, that was certainly interesting, and the shortest time she has ever visited,” the sports announcer shook his head in bewilderment.

“Yeah, the shortest, but she knew her mind before she ever arrived here. I think she just needed to voice it out loud.”

“Yep. She will be fine. Just has to admit what she feels, and go with it. Could I interest you in another glass of wine and a continuance of earlier this evening?”

“Absolutely,” smiling at Rex, he nodded, “No wine, just the continuation,” as he walked quickly towards the bedroom, followed closely behind by his most willing partner.

*****


The trip back to the beach house seemed to take forever, but Raven used the time to remind herself that it made absolutely no sense whatsoever to sleep with a woman who’d probably not stay with her. She told herself that Joanna would break her heart. She knew that Joanna could have anyone she wanted and she didn’t feel she had much to offer the well-known actress. She was the desire of millions of fans, both male and female, who watched her television series weekly.

Actually, she thought, they lusted after her. “And you don’t, Raven? She asked herself out loud. “NO! Well, yes, but not like that. It goes far beyond lust.” The rain had stopped before she crossed over the Bridge of Lions onto Anastasia Island and still Raven talked to herself, both silently and out loud.

The photographer rambled over a lot of things. “But hey, they don’t add up to a hill of beans when compared to this driving need to be with her, to make love with Joanna. Not just have a night of casual release, but to show, to express my feeling, of how much, and how deeply I love her. Ever since she’s been here, I’ve wanted to take…NO! Give my love to her, unconditionally and for all eternity.”

She parked in front of her house and sat perfectly still, her hands clasped around the steering wheel to prevent her from reaching for the door handle. She jumped, startled at the unexpected tapping on her window. She had not noticed the young blonde coming around the corner of the house as she drove up. She momentarily stared up into the soft green eyes of the cause of her predicament.

An instant later, she was out of the car. Before the door was closed, Joanna was in her embrace and immediately wrapped her arms around the taller woman’s neck in what felt like a death clinch to Raven. Just as quickly as she had entered her arms, Joanna pulled the dark head down into a deep kiss. A kiss of all kisses. Not a kiss in passing. Not a kiss of: this will do for now, then I’m gone, kiss. But, it was a kiss of resolve. A kiss of certainty, of promise, of potential, of assurance. Yes, it was the kiss that left nothing to be said, or unanswered. Raven returned the kiss with like assertion and just as strong a declaration. Two soul flames were united once again. After several long minutes of the continuing kiss, their lips finally pulled slightly apart, but their embrace continued.

Joanna hugged Raven’s neck, and buried her lips on the side of her ear, “Raven, I love you so intensely, so totally, so completely. Please, Darling, please, don’t ever, ever leave me again. From this morning forward, promise me we will always talk, instead of running away from each other. Promise me, Raven!” Her trembling voice cried urgently, as the tears streamed down her face.

All misgivings, all fears and suspicions of Joanna leaving her were gone, as if they had only been a puff of smoke.

“Joanna, I am absolutely, utterly and wholly in love with you. I love you so deeply, it’s overwhelming. And, yes my Love, I promise, I will never, ever, willingly, walk away again. I have been so afraid you would just up and leave, once we were through with the shootings. I have been beside myself with the thoughts of you disappearing from my life. The thoughts of losing you, Joanna,” breathed Raven, her voice an urgent whisper as her midnight-blue eyes also became a tributary of hot tears.

Clearing her throat, Joanna gently touched a fingertip to the tall woman’s still trembling lips, “Perish the thought, Darling. I’m never leaving you, not now, not ever. You and I are meant to be together, for now and always. I have known that since I saw your photograph in that article you did in ‘Life’ about the Amazon Forest. I could no more leave you of my own accord, Darling, than I could stop breathing. Oh, Raven, our love is timeless and everlasting. Don’t you feel that?”

“Yes, Sweetheart, I feel the same way. Our love feels ageless, enduring, and unending to me. I do love you so deeply, Joanna,” her eyes pulsed with the feelings, visible even in the darkness surrounding them.

Their foreheads touched gently, resting together almost trance-like, as if it was a habit of they had done repeatedly in the past-lifetimes in the past. They stood this way for several minutes, until the need for their lips to meet again overpowered them both.

Breathlessly, the shorter woman pulled back slowly, never taking her green orbs off the blue ones, “Darling, I don’t think I can stand up much longer. Do you suppose we could take this inside, preferably to a more comfortable place?”

An instant later, Raven swooped the smaller woman into her arms and proceeded up the slate path to the porch, their lips never parting. Fumbling behind her, Joanna opened the door. Raven held the young woman closer to her as she kicked it closed with her foot and proceeded down the hall to the master bedroom. Her mind flashed back to the last sentence Joanna had uttered, I’ll never leave you, now or never. We were meant to be together, always. Lord, what have I done to deserve this woman?

She gently removed her right arm from under the blonde and gently allowed her to stand before she placed her arm around the younger woman again. Their lips touched again and again for several minutes. Finally, Raven took Joanna’s face between her hands and turned it up to her, “Sweetheart. I love you. Her lips trembled, and her eyes became bright with more unshed tears.

“I’m not asking for-ah--I’m asking if--I’m asking-“

“You’re asking me if I truly love you, and if I am sure of this.” The photographer was silent for a long moment before asking, “Do you, Joanna? Are you sure?”

“Yes,” she said, breathing the word softly, desperately. “I love you, Raven Lenna Longgear.” She stopped trembling. “You are my forever, my eternity. But, I need to know you feel the same for me and your doubt is gone. Do you?”

“Joanna, all I ask for is one miracle at a time; you just gave me my miracle,” she drew the smaller woman to her, wrapping her in a warm embrace, touching her lips to the silkiness of her hair. “And yes, I am in love with you, Joanna Rosalin Stern. I adore you. You are my never-ending flame, my love, and my always, all that I am. Not only for this lifetime, Dearest, but for all eternity as well.”

Joanna stared up into the midnight-blue eyes looking down at her. Those midnight-blue eyes that were at times so hardened with pain and loss. Other times, they appeared softened to almost a pale blue when they looked at her. Just a brief glimpse of those eyes made her tingle. And the kisses from those lips--so satisfying. There had been plenty of kisses in the past, with some very attractive and seductive women, and yes, a few men until she acknowledged her preference. None of those kisses received ever stirred her as much as this woman’s did. Joanna felt her heart tug inside her chest. She had imagined how she would feel in these strong arms. It was even better than she had imagined. She knew it wasn’t lust. She had lusted before, and kissed, and gone to bed with others, but she knew she loved Raven beyond any words she could envision and this feeling was pure fulfillment. She wanted what Raven could give her, what she was offering--herself.

Joanna felt her heart lurch. She raised her head up again and kissed each eye shut, then each check, and each side of Raven’s mouth. Her lips yearned to feel them once again, and she satisfied that yearning, and the yearning of her breast to nestle against the taller woman’s chest. Joanna raised her head slightly and ran her hands down Raven’s side. She unbuttoned her blouse and threw it down at the end of the bed. “I want you, Raven. I’ve never wanted anyone as much as I want you, Raven.”

“I want you too, Joanna. I haven’t been able to get you out of my mind since I first saw you at the studio in New York. I want the pleasure I get when I hold you, and the sweetness and peace I feel when you’re in my arms. And I want very much to make love to you, Sweetheart.”

“With me, Darling, with me. You and I, together, okay?”

“Yes, to you, with you…you and I,” came the soft utterance.

Joanna helped Raven shed her sweatshirt and pants. Just as quickly Raven removed the smaller woman’s remaining clothes, then stepped back, muffling a groan as her body responded in predictably eager fashion to Joanna’s exquisite, lovely torso, her slender waist, her coral-pink nipples that puckered in response to the admiring gaze of her soon-to-be lover. Dry mouthed, she licked her lips.

“Christ Almighty!” she gasped. Her body tightened, then quivered as the muscles of her stomach began doing flip-flops. She did not so much as blink as Joanna took that single step to bridge the gap between them. Taking the smaller woman into her arms, she cradled her to her chest. Joanna’s alluring scent, the womanly softness, her delicately perfumed body pressed to her were like sparks touched to gunpowder. With a groan, she tightened her embrace and lowered her dark head. Hungrily, she parted her lips with her probing tongue, and then torched a trail of tiny kisses from the corner of her mouth, down the smooth column of her throat.

“Please, Raven!” she rasped heavily when she drew her lips from the taller woman to draw breath. She reached up and gently stroked the tall woman’s jaw with the back of her hand. There was a world of meaning in that single, tender caress.

Raven swept her into her arms and lifted the smaller woman and laid her gently on the king-size bed. The arms around her neck drew her gently down beside Joanna. Never releasing the deep embrace, their lips continually moved over each other’s face. There was no impediment to their matching silky inches of soft skin to taller inches of soft skin. Tonight, they would touch the flame. Tonight, they would let its heat consume them both--for twin flame had touched twin flame.

Raven’s lips were too busy caressing the younger woman to speak, but the moans and breathing spoke volumes. Joanna writhed under an onslaught of kisses that covered every millimeter of her face. Raven’s lips remained puffed and full when she lingered on Joanna’s soft neck. Trails of fire followed the paths she traced on the smaller woman’s body. A shiver of delight ran through her at the brush of her lips against her throat.

Raven suckled her gently, then more deeply, nuzzling her sensitive flesh with teeth and lips until pleasure poured like fire questing through her veins. Raven dropped a taunting kiss on the nipple of her left breast. The blonde’s heart leaped beneath the gentle tugging of lips on her nipple as the long fingers of her lover’s hand covered her right breast for the first time.

Joanna’s hands kneaded the dark woman’s back while Raven’s mouth suckled her breasts. She marveled at the way her nipples swelled and hardened beneath the pursuing, hot, damp mouth and wicked tongue. Thrilled to the exciting pulses that throbbed and fluttered in her loins, as her body became fully wakened to the intense desire she felt for the woman above her. “Sweet Jesus!” she breathed. She had never known such desire.

Her hands moved up the strong back to the long hair of the taller woman when she moved lower and swirled her tongue in the navel indentation in her stomach. The young woman’s hands drifted almost dreamily though her love’s long hair. Joanna’s body began to tingle and quiver as Raven kissed down one slender thigh and licked behind her knee. The heated skin of her body quickly dried the moisture her tongue left on its path to her ankles, and, finally taking each toe into her mouth, suckled each with determination and desire. One soft instep received the tall woman’s attention, then the other. The trail of fire started back up the blonde’s bare leg, flared briefly at her knee again. Then she felt the full lips gently sucking at the silky skin on her inner thigh, as the left hand traced ever widening circles upon her sleek, flat belly until her long fingertips brushed the fleecy mound at it base. Joanna arched her back, seeking what she knew was about to occur, as Raven tenderly teased her with the tip of her tongue.

Joanna moaned softly with longing. Her breathing quickened. Beside herself, her head thrashed wildly, tangling her hands tighter in Raven’s hair, whispering Raven’s name over and over, and willing her on. “Oh, Raven. Oh, Raven, you feel so incredible, I don’t think I can stand it,” she whimpered.

“Just a moment more, Sweetheart,” she promised huskily, finally stroking her passionately on the swollen region. Gently, she traced the area between her pouting lips, groaning as moisture flowed like honey beneath her lips. Delicately, she stroked the hidden treasurer there. Tenderly, she suckled, as she slowly continued, when Joanna whimpered and arched toward her, her silken heat surrounded her fingers tightly.

Raven moaned, as she pressed deeper, gasping as if she had found the secret source of the spring within the smaller woman.

“Ra…ven, oh Rav…en, Raven,” she moaned over and over. The touch of her lover’s tongue sent sizzling messages to the quivering, moist flesh, promising her delight upon delight until she could bear it no longer. Nothing seemed to matter anymore but her; not the past, not tomorrow, nor all the tomorrows that would follow. Only Raven! Only Raven! Joanna’s body exploded into a million pieces. The eruption went on and on, lifting her to a realm she had not experienced before…but fell back together when she floated back to consciousness, and her body stopped quivering. She had never felt such desire, such passion.

Raven kissed her way up the soft stomach and lingered briefly, slowly moving up to her rib cage, as her own stiff and erect nipples slowly moved along the damp body beneath her, finally, nipples rested on nipples. Enthralled, she felt the fire rise in the body underneath her again, as she kissed the side of the slim neck. “Are you all right, Sweetheart?” Raven whispered tenderly.

“Yes, Love, I am definitely all right. I am more than all right!” Her mouth cut off any further questions as she sucked Raven’s tongue deep into her mouth and wrapped her legs around her lover’s hips.

Again, their lips crushed together, but when Joanna’s met her lover’s this time, her lips were insistent, probing, demanding the breath, the essence from the taller woman’s soul. Slowly, she turned and, effortlessly, the larger body moved from above her and casually she was pulled into the long arms of her new lover.

Glancing down, she grew weak at the sight of Raven’s dark head lodged against the creamy whiteness of her breasts; shivered again as the rose of her lips closed over first one brushing pink peak, then the other.

“No, darling, my turn, please.” Joanna felt every nerve in Raven’s body beneath her cry out for fulfillment. Her bare breasts rose and fell as the blond kissed each brown-tipped mound. The smaller hands caressed the vulnerable spots and then caressed them again. Raven was powerless to resist, but not because of some magic. She realized Joanna loved her, and that truth washed over her, consuming her completely. She had never felt like this with anyone. No, not like this! She was in love, deeply in love. Raven’s ice-covered heart had finally released the storm gates and had freely been offered up to her, and she accepted the wonderful gift. At that moment, Raven proclaimed her love for the honey-blonde. The long dark-brown hair was a tumble, the tan cheeks aflame, and her eyes were shooting midnight-blue fire as she reached an almost unattainable peak of passion. Joanna nibbled at the beating pulse, warmly inviting, in the throat she had just kissed passionately a dozen or so times.

“Hummmm, oh, yeah,” moaned the dark-headed woman.

“I feel passion coursing through your body, Raven,” she said then, releasing her long enough to gaze down at her lover.

“You like this, my love? Tell me what you’re feeling.”

She couldn’t. Raven was beyond words. She loved this woman who taunted her with butterfly kisses and velvety words, who could carry her to and beyond the highest peak of ecstasy. The smaller mouth covered hers in a sensuous, delectable kiss until her feeble attempts to respond were abandoned. Joanna had silenced her with a kiss that held the promise of every tomorrow and a length of joy she never dreamed possible.

“Yes,” Raven heard herself cry. But it was a blissful cry filled with meaning. It was special magic; magic she had never felt before. And she could not and did not want to break the extraordinary spell. “I love you,” she finally muttered, feebly. It was the bliss she had dreamed of, the world she wanted had just begun. This was a new beginning as they lay in each other’s arms weakened, yet refreshed as well.

They both knew this was day one of a new life, a new beginning as they blended together again, a molding of their bodies as one. They made love once more, bringing each to blissful heights and release. Two floundering souls adrift with hearts turned to stone had been entwined and made whole once again.

They came together several more times, making their tumble into ecstasy the most complete satisfaction either had ever known in their lives. The sun was well up, and a balmy breeze blew in from the ocean before they sank into an exhausted, but very blissful and contented sleep.

*****


The sun was well overhead before either of the women moved. Even though Raven had been awakened by boidly requirements, she refused to move from the most comfortable position she had ever found herself in. Joanna was sleeping soundly on her shoulder and had her arm possessively around her waist. Her legs were wrapped around hers, in such a way that Raven knew she couldn’t emerge without disturbing the gentle exhales of the twin flame of her soul, and the object of her love.

She breathed slowly as she leaned over and kissed the forehead of the attractive blond who had won her heart in such a short time. Life just didn’t get any better than this. No more uncertainties, no more misgivings, no more fears. Joanna had told her several times earlier, before their lovemaking and several times during, she would never leave her; would always be there for her. All she required was for Raven to stand and talk, no more running away. “I can handle that, can’t I?” Raven questioned herself softly. “I never want to be far from your side, my love, never.” She said to the hair of the smaller woman, who, subconsciously, wiggled higher on the tan shoulder, and tightened her grip around Raven’s waist and mumbled, “Never want to be away from you either, Raven, my darling.”

A shiver ran the length of Raven’s body and she drew the blonde tighter in her arms…. and her heart. She slipped back into a gentle sleep, her body functions calmed by the nearness of the young woman.

An hour later, Joanna moaned regrettably, “No. I don’t want to go to the bathroom. I am so comfortable here.” She squirmed, but tightened her hold on the taller woman even more.

“You keep increasing your embrace, and I will have no alternative, but to get up and go to the bathroom also,” Raven muttered to the top of Joanna’s head.

Joanna moved her head back gently on the shoulder she found so comfortable and partially opened one eye. “You awake?”

“Yes. I’ve been watching you for the last ten minutes, fighting off that same potty urge. You know, we could both go, come right back and continue in the same position.”

“That would mean moving, and my body is just-just too, comfortable. I was going to say, too content, but I find it has an awakening restlessness that going to the bathroom won’t satisfy.” She kissed the neck of the tanned woman she knew was her partner for life.

“That restlessness have anything to do with a deep stirring arousal that started in the pit of your stomach?” Raven chucked.

“Nope. My location happens to be a bit lower than that. I guess you know, I am going to be one difficult woman to satisfy, now that you have awakened the sleeping tiger?” Joanna taunted the neck and ear she had just begun to suckle on once again.

“You have never seemed like a sleeping tiger to me, Sweetheart. Actually, you come across as a roaring lioness,” she laughed.

“Haw. Haw,” Joanna purred into the delectable neck.

Raven began to move with the aggression being performed on her neck, but once Joanna took her ear lobe into her mouth and started nibbling and sucking, her entire body was screaming. “I have to go potty first, sweetheart. I would hate to stop right in the middle, and I’m sure you don’t want to lie in a large, wet area,” she whined.

“As long as it is wet from loving, I wouldn’t. But, I know what you mean. How about I run to the other bathroom, and meet you back here in two minutes?” But, before Raven could respond, Joanna had untangled her legs, swung off the bed and was down the hall to the guest bathroom before Raven realized she was on the bed by herself.

“Merciful heavens, woman. Don’t you know that is cruel,” she whined once again, as she also, jumped up, and ran to the master bathroom. She washed her hands with soft perfumed soap, and gently rubbed her soapy hands on her face, then splashed water all over her face and neck before drying them off. “Might as well take care of the morning breath while I’m in here,” she surmised, and picked up the toothpaste and brush for a quick once-over. She gargled with the mint-flavored mouthwash, dried off her face once again, and upon opening the bathroom door. Her mouth drooled; she ran her tongue over her puffy lips, as her eyes stared at the sumptuous young woman lying on her bed without anything on.

“What took you so long, darling? I even put lotion on my face after brushing my teeth,” she teased. “Guess those early morning wake-up calls taught me something,” Joanna chimed, as she held out her arms for Raven to fill, which she did immediately.

“Good morning, my love,” the smaller woman cooed.

“Good afternoon, light of my life,” the taller woman responded as she buried her lips on those of the woman beneath her.

“Afternoon? Oh! But, what a morning it was, don’t you agree, Raven, my darling?”

“I most certainly do, Sweetheart.” Raven stammered between long, drawn out, needed kisses.

“Why, and how long were you staring at me, before we had to get up?” Joanna asked softly.

“Not long, and because I want to get to know your face, Honey. I want to know your every mood, your frame of mind. I wait for the first words to come out of your mouth when you stir, because I am thrilled at your voice, Joanna. I love you.” Raven poured out her heart to her new lover.

“That was beautiful, Darling. I thought I was the composer, the poet in this family. Just shows you how wrong I can be. I love you, too. Do you really like the sound of my voice, Raven?” She questioned happily.

“I certainly do. Just the sound of it sends a well being, down deep into my existence. But, what if we don’t talk much for a few minutes and we do something else that I have found to be extremely pleasurable?”

“Oh? You have something in mind, my love? Show me, please.” Joanna pulled Raven’s head down so they could once again kiss.

The feel of lips against lips was like lightning for them both. Joanna sucked in a breath, while Raven made a sound deep in her throat and they held each other tighter. Then Raven’s mouth took Joanna’s in a kiss that was filled with fiery passion, and Joanna couldn’t think, much less speak. Her lips angled hungrily over the younger woman’s, never still, ever searching for more. In return, Joanna thrust her tongue into Raven’s mouth, deeply and eagerly. They had an unfathomable hunger to satisfy…. A hunger for each other that both of them knew would not be filled in a lifetime. But, they were certainly going to try… And try…. And try!

After a short nap from the long session of lovemaking, Joanna suggested they have a light meal on the swing on the back porch, and watch the incoming tide. They fed each other fresh fruit, and drank a decanter of orange juice as they chatted and kissed throughout the meal.

Raven suggested a long walk on the beach. Joanna agreed and further suggested wading in the incoming surf. Raven seconded, but surmised from her experiences, that they shouldn’t go out far, as the incoming tide did have strong undercurrents this time of the afternoon.

The couple walked hand-in-hand down the beach, then back up again. Finally, they sat on the sand, close to the water’s edge and talked for several hours about every topic under the sun, and each felt as if they had known the other forever. They even talked at length about their experiences in Egypt and the connection they had felt while there. Joanna explained how she was so drawn to the mystic of the country that her musical had an Egyptian theme and setting. Raven shared her mysterious dream of the pyramid and the golden tomb and her sense of belonging to that period of time. They sat in wonder of the mysteries that surrounded their past, and discussed the possibilities of them being partners in a bygone era in that far away land. Then, one subject that was a tender spot with Raven finally came up.

“I know we need to discuss whatever arrangements we need to make about us. Well, I mean…. We need to discuss our plans… Plans about us.” Joanna stammered, as she tightened her arm around Raven’s waist. “I know you have some assignments that are going to take you all over the country and even abroad to Lord knows where.”

“Guess you saw the calendar on the ‘fridge’, huh? I don’t want to go anywhere without you, Joanna. However, I don’t see how you can go on some of the assignments. I don’t see how I can cancel all of them, but I’m willing to attempt to come to some sort of agreement or re-arrangement of schedules between us. I also know you have this musical coming up, in what? Six months? What are we going to do about that?” Raven’s concern was evident by her shallow breathing.

Joanna chuckled at the tall woman’s obvious anxiety. “Darling, I will go with you on as many of your assignments as you think I should, and we will work out the rest. Perhaps, during some of your occupational workload, I can take care of my obligations in New York?

“That sounds like it might work. But, Joanna, I really don’t think it would be a good idea for us to be apart for long periods of time. I know that would drive me crazy,” Raven replied honestly.

“I don’t want us apart for long periods of time either.” The small woman stated. “I don’t believe we will have any difficulties the next four or five months with either schedule. But after that, I see some potential problems with conflicting timetables. I want us to come to some mutual and feasible concurrence on this, for I don’t want any troublesome issues between us. Do you understand, Raven?” she asked sincerely.

“As long as we have mutual consensus, and we talk it out and agree, then I, also, believe we can work anything out. Thank you for taking into consideration my uncertainties about you just up and leaving. I love you even more for that, honey.”

“I told you last night, I am never leaving you. And you promised me, you gave me your word, Raven, you will never just walk away, or leave without talking to me first. I’m going to hold you to your word on that, darling. From your own lips, and those of your friends, I know your word is your bond, and that will never be a doubt or question coming from me on that issue,” she promised. “And I love you with all my heart, Raven. I really do. Where you are, is where I want to be. I know that can’t be the case all the time, in every instance. But, from last night and this moment on, I know our hearts, our souls, our lives are as one, and will always be whole, even when we are not together. We are two wholes coming together for life. But, I like the idea of us being together with few separations.”

“I couldn’t agree with you more. You have my promise, my word. You have my love and my life, Joanna, do with it as you choose. Now, what do we do about your musical? I will not be a nuisance or hindrance to your career or goals.”

“You have my life also, Raven. I will treat it with love and care, just as I know you will with mine.” She promised, reaching up and kissing the lips leaning down to her.

“I have scheduled five more months of vacation time for myself. During that time, I have to complete the last act of the musical, which I have been working on for the past three years, in my spare time,” she explained to Raven, who sat listening attentively. “Actually, production will start in just over four months. There are the costumes to approve and fabrications to complete. On the actual production set designer has been developing the layouts and models for almost two years now, and the final props must be approved and manufactured as well. I must go back to New York, for at least four to five days a month for these next five months.”

She laid out her proposed sequence of events, and held Raven’s left hand between both of hers and rubbed the top of the long, slender fingers comfortingly, before she continued. “Then, we will have a full two months rehearsal, final costume modifications, set and music changes. Then we will, hopefully, open on Broadway about eight months from now.” She said matter-of-factly, hoping that Raven wouldn’t start to panic when she heard the last part about being in New York, permanently in eight months.

Before the dark-haired woman could respond, Joanna spoke softly to her, “Do you suppose I could interest you in taking a sabbatical to New York off and on, for, say…A year?” The young blonde tightened her hug on the taller woman. “If you say no, I’ll have no alternative but to cancel the show. For, love of my life, I have no intention of ever being away from you for more than a few days for the rest of our lives.”

Raven had turned her head and stared directly into the green eyes below hers. Her heart was pounding so hard; she thought her chest would break open. A year, a full year in New York, she thought. “Joanna, I can’t let you give up your dream. Especially, something you have worked on all your life.” She spoke with candor. “However, I am not sure I could live in a large city for a full year. I will try, but I have my reservations.” Her lips became dry with the uncertainties.

“I’ve thought about that, Raven. I propose a compromise, well, a concession of sorts. What do you say, for the next five months, we make our home here. I’ll schedule my NY visits to coincide with the assignments you have that I can accompany you on. Then, when rehearsals start, we will live in my brownstone in New York. On the weekends, we will either fly back here for two days or more, or drive up to the lake in upstate NY, where my hideaway place is located. When the actual musical starts, I won’t have much time off evenings, but I’ll have my days free. And, occasionally, I’ll let the understudy do a couple of days for me, and we can get away then to wherever. You could do your assignments from NY, and even come for a few days to Anastasia Island when you felt the need, or urge. How does that sound, darling?” she questioned hopefully.

Raven had placed her arm around the young woman’s shoulders as she explained her remedy, but sat for a long time in deep thought and considered the offerings of her lover.

The moments Raven hesitated seemed like hours to Joanna. She began to breathe unevenly and Raven could see questioning alarm spring into her green eyes. The glazed-over look could not be mistaken. The tears were forming.

“Raven?”

“Joanna,” she finally said, “I can tell you have obviously given this a lot of thought. It sounds… Hum... It sounds…. Sweetheart, I’ll do whatever it takes for us to be together. Guess you had better brush up on all the New York history and places of interest to keep me entertained.”

“Wonderful!” Exclaimed the young blonde, and jumped over onto Raven’s lap, put her arms around her shoulders and covered her neck and face with kisses. “Thank you, thank you. You will not be sorry, darling,” she cried out between kisses. Finally, their lips met, and slowly, the smaller woman pushed them to the sand.

“Hmm… Joanna, we can’t do anything here on the beach. Not during the daytime, anyway. There are occasional neighbors about, and I notice there are several boats just off shore.” She stated, then pulled both of them to a sitting position again.

“Do you think I care who is about, Raven? I don’t. But, our neighbors might not be ready for our escapades, yet. Right?” She laughed.

“I’d be willing to bet that most of ‘our’ neighbors wouldn’t mind,” she emphasized the word ours as Joanna had. “But that one boat out there is in pretty close. And I believe I caught the glimpse of sunlight on a binocular lens, or camera lens, coming from the cockpit.”

“I don’t care, Raven.” She leaned in and kissed the taller woman again.

“Might be one of those trash papers, paparazzi, just aching to snap your photograph in a compromising situation.”

Joanna turned and looked toward the boat, Raven had indicated with her head. She could see the plastic protector in place around the cockpit and wheelhouse, and could tell there was at least one individual behind the wheel. However, she could only see the outline as the sun glared on the plastic. Then she caught a glimpse of the sunrays on a glass of some kind. Whether it was a camera lens, binoculars, or even a mirror, she could not tell. Actually, she didn’t really care. She had been open with her lifestyle for a number of years to the public, and she wasn’t suddenly about to change her views on her private, or public life.

“Let the world know, I’M IN LOVE! I’M HAPPY,” she shouted as she turned back to her ministrations on the woman of her affection. “If it doesn’t bother you, then come here, my precious,” she pulled Joanna into another long, searing kiss.

The sky above was a deep blue with an occasional white cloud drifting by. The air had a clean salty smell, and was bracing. They drew in deep breaths and sank slowly and purposefully to the sandy beach.

Binoculars were slammed down against the control panel. The same figure that watched Raven and Joanna last night across from the restaurant smashed a tight fist up and down on the wheel of the small rented cabin cruiser, as teeth were gritted savagely.

From the undetected vantage point behind the plastic, wrap-around barrier around the wheel-house, the caramel-skinned figure had spied on Joanna and Raven for the last hour as the new lovers strolled up and down the beach.

The spy growled at the frolicking of the two on the sand. Long, heavy fingers ran up and down the back of the boning knife purchased at a bait shop the week before. Jealousy, hatred and massive resentment filled the irritated, brown-eyed figure’s gaze at the two women sprawled on the beach. Annoying rage was urging the figure to get rid of the dark-haired photographer immediately, in any way possible.

“How dare that tall whore touch my Joanna!” Spittle shot out of the figure’s mouth. “Fortunately for you, you dark-haired slut, there were too many people around this past week to implement your previously planned elimination.” The stalker growled bitterly.

The figure pulled the windbreaker’s collar up higher, helping conceal the obvious features there. “Can’t allow Joanna even to get a glimpse of me. She can’t know I am even here, or know I suspect anything about her or her current trollop,” came the exclamation as the fishing hat was also adjusted, and pulled further down on the dark hair of the determined stalker.

The obsessed fingers absently fingered the chain around the strong, short neck and narrowed the now loathing gaze, a different plot forming. “Well, now, maybe I shouldn’t be so hasty. I believe I just might have a use for the tanned bitch after all.” Thinking and planning, the caramel hand pushed the throttle forward slightly, cut the wheel abruptly, and headed back to the boat yard, to return the rented cabin cruiser, and get the deposit refund that had been placed for the boat rental. “Guess I’ll catch a return flight. I need the time to complete new planning. This one has to be better than the accident in California. There will have to be much suffering because of her invasion of my blooming relationship with Joanna.” The warped mind continued to formulate its ugly plan.

Joanna had been led astray. The betrayal had to be avenged. The dark-haired woman would eventually know who had taken vengeance on her, but first, she must suffer. Longgear must suffer intensely before her demise, the twisted mind thought. “Suffer, just as I have suffered.” A bloodcurdling shriek of vengeance could be heard, as the boat rose in the air and the waves crashed over the sides. The brown-eyed, shiny, caramel-skinned figure swayed, almost losing balance, as the throttle was thrust forward to full speed.


*****



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