A Length of Joy

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


Disclaimers: Please See Chapter One

Chapter 15

“HALT! Back the jeep up,” commanded the Major, as he turned and continued assessing the body they had just driven past. “Stop here, corporal. Come help me check out this one, Sergeant,” the army major ordered, as he swung his dusty boots out of the jeep and slung his rifle over his arm. The sergeant hopped down off the back of the jeep and cradled his weapon, surveyed up and down the demolished street and checked the roofs of the remaining buildings before he joined the major kneeling beside the blood- soaked body.

“Check her pulse, Sergeant.”

“Begging the Major’s pardon, but there must be four or five pints of blood pooled under her, and….”

“Check her pulse anyway, Sergeant.” He bellowed, glazing up to survey the street again. “The general sent us out to find and bring her back, so just do it.”

“Waste of time,” he muttered, but reached down to check the pulse on the woman’s right hand. He noticed her left arm was bent behind her back and not available to the Major. “Anybody that has lost this much blood just isn’t…Hell-fire! Major… there is a slight pulse.” He dropped her wrist and placed his fingers on the side of her neck.

“Yep, a slight pulse there. I don’t know how that is, considering all this blood!” He said confused by the barely pulsation he had felt in both her wrist and neck.

“CORPORAL, call for a med-i-vac-helo. Tell them to have several units of plasma on board. They’ll need to check with headquarters as to blood type. And call HQ, and inform the General, we have found his photo-journalist, but it is doubtful she’ll make it back due to the multiple injuries and blood loss,” he called to his driver and radio operator.

The Sergeant jumped up, ran to the jeep and returned with the first aid kit. He unsnapped the box, and pulled out several large gauze pads to use as compresses on the bleeding wounds on the photographer’s body.

He took off his field fatigue jacket and removed his tee shirt, which he folded in one ten-by-ten square and placed it on top of the scattered gauze. He then applied pressure to the area with his hands as a compress in an attempt to stop the bleeding from the abdomen of the downed woman.

“Here, let me do that, Sergeant, and you take off your belt and my rifle sling and belt to keep that compress in place. We have got to stop the flow of blood, for it’s obvious she doesn’t have much left,” he directed, as he handed the sergeant his belt and rifle sling.

They worked diligently with the woman for several minutes, before they took time to survey her other wounds.

“This jiggered scalp wound is bleeding, but it isn’t that deep.” He said as he tapped a long bandage over the cleaned wound. “But, that right leg received either shell fragments, or concrete mortar on that knee. It looks fractured, and the way she’s lying, I assume it’s broken,” he continued, “Looks as if that camera bag took the initial impact of the abdomen wounds, but those shell fragments cut through that canvas like it was butter and, in turning her just a little, I can see she is bleeding on the other side where some fragments came out as well. I need to get another compress on these two exit wounds, but I’ll need your tee shirt, Major,” he reported.

The major removed his tee shirt quickly and handed it to be used on Raven’s back.

The sergeant pulled up the back of her shirt out of her pants, and placed the tee shirt on her back and taped it in place. “Let us turn her back over, the weight of her body will act as a compress for her back,” he said as they gently turned the unconscious woman on her back. Just as they started the maneuver, they heard the helicopter overhead.

“Radio them to land in the middle of the street behind the jeep, Corporal.” He called to the driver-radio operator turned guard.

“You know the USA will get the blame for this don’t you, Major?” The sergeant asked.

“Yes, I know. We’ll also be blamed not only for the destruction of this town, but the useless and unnecessary slaughter of these people.” He replaced his field jacket, and stood up.

Three minutes later, Raven Longgear was in the air and on her way to an emergency army hospital unit about fifteen miles from where they had found her.

“Let’s get out of here,” commanded the Major, as he climbed back into the jeep.

“Why is that one woman so important, Major, and what was she doing here in the first place?” Asked the corporal, as he turned the vehicle to avoid the remains of the town’s water well.

“The State Department asked the General to keep an eye on her. When she was reported to be in this area without a patrol, we were sent to bring her back.”

“She’s that Pulitzer Prize Photo-journalist all the men were talking about, isn’t she, Major?” asked the sergeant.

“Yes, she is. As to what such a good-looking woman is doing out in the middle of this conflict--your guess is as good as mine.” He scratched his chin as he pondered the question he couldn’t answer.

“I have to tell you two, I had my own reasons for volunteering to come look for her, and would have come, even if the General had not asked me to volunteer,” he took a long shuddering breath.

“What’s that, Sir?” they both asked in unison.

His voice like granite, he passed on his reasons: “Either of you fellows remember that DEA fiasco in Columbia a couple of years ago, when the special detail of the Army was sent in to assist the Columbian government and DEA to stop one specific drug lord and his operation?” he asked.

Both acknowledged they remembered the incident, and almost half the Army detachment being wiped out in the process.

“Either of you read about that woman photographer who picked up and carried on her back a wounded Captain, and pulled another service man to safety at the same time?”

“Yeah… she was some well known photographer, and the president gave her a medal for saving their lives. Damn,” it hit him, “Was that bloody heap we just put in the chopper the same woman?” the sergeant asked.

“One and the same, Sergeant McMillan. I went to West Point with the Captain she carried to safety. He’s a good buddy of mine, and looking for her was the least I could do,” he replied as he picked up the radio and proceeded to call headquarters with his report.

Back at HQ, he directed the corporal to drop him at the medical unit where Raven had been taken. The sergeant asked if he could join him to find out if the tall photographer had survived the trip or not. They waited outside the operating room of the field hospital until two of the doctors came through the doors.

“She’ll need all the A Negative plasma we have, Tim. I’m afraid that might not even be enough. She received one in the chopper, the second upon reaching the hospital and Clark started the third unit five minutes ago.” The surgeon said.

“What we need is a few pints of whole blood,” the other doctor offered.

“Yes, but that will be difficult to come by.” He pulled off his surgical cap, “I need to call the General and inform him of her condition and the extent of her wounds. Do what you can to stabilize her, and I’ll be back in five minutes.”

The second doctor turned to walk back into the scrub area, when the Major intercepted him, “Excuse me, Colonel, I couldn’t help overhearing you say your need of A Negative whole blood for Longgear?”

“Yes, Major, you heard correctly,” the Lieutenant Colonel responded as he stopped, adjacent to the Major.

“I’m volunteering to give her a pint of my blood, Sir,” the Major spoke up.

“Just show me where to go.”

“You’re A negative, Major?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You might be taking a chance, Major Hampton. We will be running short of your blood type if we save this woman. She is leaking like a sieve, and if anything happens to you, we may have difficulty getting you proper units of plasma, should the need arise.”

“I’ll take my chances, Colonel. I will lay low for a couple of days before going back out on any missions. That should give the Corps time to replenish the plasma reserve units.”

“Excuse me, sir, but I’ll give her a pint, too,” spoke up Sergeant McMillan.

The Major and Colonel turned to the sergeant.

“Before you ask, yes sir, I’m also A Negative, and I’ll happily give Ms. Longgear a pint of my blood.”

“Well, that’s a start. Come on, you two, I’ll get a nurse to get you settled and draw the units. You both know this woman or are you related?”

“We’ve seen her around, but neither of us know her personally,” the Major answered. “But, lead the way, and we’ll tell you all about it.” He extended his hand to his Platoon Sergeant. “Thanks, William.”

“My pleasure, Major. Hey, don’t we get a steak for this?” He asked grinning.

“I’ll see what I can roust out of the mess hall for you two,” the doctor said.

*****


“SHE’S HURT?” Joanna screamed into the phone. “How badly is she injured, Daddy?” She proceeded to pace back and forth with the cordless phone. Marla and Rosalin both sat anxiously on the edge of their seats as they listened to the one sided conversation between Joanna and her father.

Eleven hours later, a private, fully equipped medical 747 aircraft landed at Cruitar, Afghanistan. An anxious honey-blonde, her father, sister and brother-in-law exited the large jet, along with a highly qualified medical team of four of the USA’s best surgeons and other medical personnel numbering sixteen in all. Not only had they brought with them the best medical equipment assembled in record time, but also, thirty pints of A Negative blood, as well as fifteen units of replacement blood for the Army hospital, where Raven was being given emergency medical care, and enough crisis surgery to maintain her life.

At the State Department’s request, four large helicopters airlifted the entire entourage to the military hospital in record time. Joanna had not taken ‘no’ for an answer when told she couldn’t see the injured photographer until after the surgical procedure was completed. Her beseeching look at her father had been all it took for him to intercede with the medical personnel and Joanna was granted one minute to see the unconscious photographer.

Joanna gasped and almost lost consciousness herself when she saw the countenance of the woman she loved. Her face was so drawn, frail, colorless, and she looked so helpless.

“Oh, my darling, I am so sorry.” She whispered into the ear of the unconscious woman. “I’m here, Raven, and I will not leave your side once the doctors are finished. We’re going to take you home as soon as we can, Darling. I love you. Oh, Raven, I love you so much.” Soft lips gently touched Raven’s ear.

The military personnel had cleaned, stitched and bandaged her head injury, and had removed the shrapnel from her right knee, reset the knee cap and three other bones in her leg and placed the leg in a cast from the tip of her toes to half way up her thigh. They had removed all known shrapnel from the tall woman’s abdomen area, and stitched as many of the blood vessels and arteries as possible, while they had continually given her blood and stabilized her condition.

The new assembled medical staff appreciatively accepted the assistance of the medical staff of the military for the next eleven hours, while they reconstructed most of the tall woman’s internal organs.

Pulling off his surgical mask, the lead surgeon entered the established waiting area of the unit and slipped the cap from his head as he addressed the two women and two men anxiously standing there. “Ambassador Stern, we have done all we can do for right now. She is still on the critical list, and the next few hours will determine if she makes it or not. Before you ask, we only give her a forty percent chance to make it, due to the extent of the abdominal wounds.”

“She’ll make it, I KNOW SHE will make it!” Joanna hugged the physician. “May I see her now?” she asked nervously.

“Ms. Stern, it will be at least another hour before they even have her in recovery. We can’t allow you in there right now. And it will probably be several hours of monitoring after that, before it would be practical for you to see her.”

Joanna looked anxiously at her father again.

“Doctor Keansburg, I’m sure you could allow her to see Raven once they have removed her to recovery, if only for a minute?” he questioned, as the doctor looked from the father to the daughter a number of times.

“I don’t know, Mr. Ambassador, it will not be a pretty sight.”

“Please, doctor, I must see her for a few moments, please?” Joanna pleaded. Looking at Joanna’s sister and brother-in-law, and back to her father, it finally occurred to him the relationship between Joanna and his patient. “Oh, I understand, but it can only be for a minute. I don’t want to risk the possibility of contamination and you will have to scrub down completely,” he informed her.

“Whatever you say, doctor.”

*****


“General Hapstrum, old friend, I want to thank you for all your assistance in this matter. I will forever be in your debt.” The former ambassador shook the area’s commanding general's hand.

“Think nothing of it, Howard. I am a little confused, though. You said Ms. Longgear was your daughter-in-law, and yet, I had Howie and his wife as our dinner guests only four months ago. I wasn’t aware you had another son, or that Howard, Jr. had changed wives?” confusion filled his face.

Howard Stern laughed, “Raven belongs to my youngest daughter, Joanna.”

The baffled expression on the Generals’ face soon changed to one of skepticism,

“You mean our little Pumpkin has snagged that beautiful woman, and they are actually married? I’ve known for years that Joanna was batting for the other team, but I hadn’t heard she was off the market as well.” He laughed at the big narrative just revealed to him, and then became serious. “Honestly, Howard, is she your daughter-in-law?”

“She is Joanna’s partner, and they will have a commitment ceremony soon, I’m sure.

“Raven mentioned to me three weeks ago that she wanted to ask Joanna to marry her and now Vermont accepts those union-marriage things. I know it will only be a matter of time. But, to answer your question, she is my daughter-in-law as far as Joanna, my wife and I am concerned. That goes for her brother and sister and their families as well. I hope this hasn’t caused you more problems?”

“No problem, Howard. If this tall beautiful woman is what our little Pumpkin wants, then that is fine by me. The don’t ask-don’t tell doesn’t apply here. How about we go over and see if there is any change in her condition?” Responding with sincere friendship, he clapped Howard on the back and motioned for him to lead the way.

*****


Once Joanna had been allowed to sit with Raven, the young woman had literally not left her side except to relieve her. Coaxing from her sister and brother-in-law to eat something went unheeded. Only under the firm insistence of her father did the young woman finally eat a few bites before she returned to Raven’s side, and continued holding the long lean hand gently between both of hers.

Two days later, Raven, still unconscious, was stable enough to be airlifted to the airport and placed on the 747 Jet for return to New York. She would be leaving with only one kidney, only a third of her upper and lower intestines, and no gallbladder, but her body had responded in a very recuperative way, totally unexpected by the highly qualified medical team assembled to care for the tall dark-headed photographer.

Although she remained unconscious, the photographer’s bodily mending and healing capacity had the medical team shaking their heads. All four of the doctors wanted to write her case up for the AMA, but were told they would have to convince Raven of the need for the article. As she would be under their care for many weeks, perhaps a month or more, they started detailed journals of her operations and her recovery for future use.

Pale, her hands twisting in her lap, Joanna looked directly into the face of her lover, who had been strapped into the bolted hospital bed in the middle of the aircraft. They had been in the air for several hours now, with Joanna keeping a steady vigil on her estranged partner. Finally, a flight attendant brought her a stool, which was placed beside the bed so the young blonde could sit next to Raven and hold her hand.

Raven moved her head and breathed deeply until her diaphragm reacted to the recent wounds in her abdomen and the many stitches found there. Gasping at the pain, the dark woman opened her eyes and licked her lips slowly.

Joanna stifled a cry at the obvious pain in the wheeze of the tall woman, and jumped up off the seat and leaned over her.

Joanna met Raven’s gaze direct and unblinking. Raven’s stare told Joanna without saying a word that she loved her. Joanna whispered back the words of love in return.

Drawing her into her one good arm, Raven gave her a tender, too-short kiss; then, before she was ready to let her go, she sank back into unconsciousness and her arm fell back to the bed.

Joanna didn’t consider herself one of those emotional females who got all weepy eyed in public at the drop of a hat, but there was something about Raven and the way she touched her heart that just got to her. So, in front of ten or twelve pairs of medical orbs who had watched the encounter, she wept, never bothering to wipe the tears from her face. Panic hit her then, the kind that was soul-deep and frightening. She wanted to throw herself into Raven’s arms and remain there forever!

Shaken, but relieved by the sight, Raven needed some time to think, to figure out how her life had become so complicated when she’d been so sure she was in control of it, but there was no time, as she sunk back into unconsciousness without speaking and telling Joanna she loved her.

Silence fell like a stone.

Joanna maintained her vigil for hours. Only at her father’s insistence, did she take time to refresh herself in the lounge area, and change her smelly clothes. Her sister promised to remain by Raven’s side until she returned. Rita had the flight attendant prepare her sister a light meal and a glass of tomato juice over ice that she knew Raven and Joanna enjoyed.

“Sit down over there, Joanna, and eat everything on that tray,” her sister commanded, “and don’t try to con me that you aren’t hungry. You haven’t eaten anything since yesterday.”

“I’m really not hungry, Sis.” The honey-blonde tried to convince her sister, attempting to regain her place beside the tall woman.

“I SAID SIT, AND EAT!” Rita demanded, pointing to the seat next to the window.

“If you don’t, I’ll get Daddy to convince the doctors to give you a shot to knock you out, whether you want one or not.” She crossed her arms over her chest in a non-defiant manner.

“Oh, for Jiminy Cricket’s sake, I told you, I’m not hungry.” But the growling of her stomach, at that instant, had her sister raise an eyebrow and again, she pointed to the seat and the food on the tray being removed from the seat by the attendant for her to sit down.

“Eat!” She was commanded.

“Jiminy Cricket, Rita. Oh, never mind.” She flopped down in the seat, and the attendant again placed the tray into the arm holders of the seat.

Raven had regained consciousness and heard the conversation between the two sisters, and a little grin tugged at the corner of her mouth, although her eyes remained closed. Thought I had dreamed I hugged you, Sweetheart. But with you and Rita going at it, I think it’s a safe deduction that I’m still alive. But, I have to tell you, Joanna, my body hurts like hell! She swallowed, and all became black, once again.

Perhaps half an hour passed, when, Raven opened her eyes slowly, and turned her head, taking in the medical equipment dangling down from the two stands beside the bed. She crooked her head to the chivying voice of Rita.

“See, you ate it all. Now, didn’t that make you feel better?”

“I guess you were right, Rita, and yes, I do feel much better.” Joanna spoke softly to her concerned sibling.

Raven’s eyes settled on the beautiful young woman. A slow smile covered her strained face.

“Joanna,” she said faintly, almost inaudible.

Joanna’s head snapped at the sound of Raven’s voice.

“Raven!” She jumped up, knocking the tray against the wall as she stood. Not wasting another second, she took a step toward her, eliminating the space between them, and tenderly captured her face in her hands. “I knew you would return to me! You frightened years off my life, Darling.”

“Sorry about that, Sweetheart. I didn’t duck quickly enough, I guess.” The photographer spoke softly, and attempted to laugh, but couldn’t.

Joanna continued to hold her face, kissing her gently several times; when her eyes widened more in the surprise of Raven’s voice, she smiled crookedly.

“This isn’t the way I’d planned this,” she told her huskily. “I was going to sing to you, throw millions of roses all over the bed, but my heart won’t let me wait. I have to tell you how I feel about you,” tears welled in her eyes.

“Oh, Joanna, you don’t have to bear your soul to me.” Raven’s eyes watered, matching those of the woman before her.

“Yes, I do,” she said, dropping a quick kiss to her mouth. “I need you to know this. I thought I had my life all planned out. I never expected anyone ever to come into my life again, and most of all, I never expected to find my soulmate and fall so deeply in love. Then you walked in and, Raven, you knocked me out of my plans. You scared the hell out of me when you left that disastrous photo shoot.”

“I did?”

“Darn straight. I’d never dealt with anyone like you before. You were so--so strong and determined. Well, you put me in my place the way no woman or man ever had, before or since. You didn’t let me get away with anything, and I thought you’d never consent to do those four magazine covers. When I appeared on your porch in Florida, I was going to throw myself on your mercy, and pester you so much, you would consent to do the covers to get rid of me. But then, you opened the door and leaned against the doorframe, and I felt like I’d just gotten run over by a freight train. And you did, too, I believe.”

Raven didn’t deny it-she couldn’t when her cheeks were warm with color and the memory of that meeting was warming her eyes to a glittering shade of blue. Giving in to the temptation, her head tilted up and kissed Joanna gently again, before falling back to the pillow.

“I know that jackass, former production designer of mine, lied, and you were hurt, and worst of all, I didn’t doubt her when I should have seen the warning signs that were obviously there.” She murmured, gathering Raven’s hand close against her once again, “and I know I hurt you by not calling you and telling you I was ending early, having a quick working lunch with Mel, and would be home within two hours, which would have been three hours before my original schedule. But honestly, Raven, I wanted to end the day and be with you, so I accepted the quick luncheon with her to review the changed designs. I love you. You may be afraid of putting your heart on the line again, but you don’t need to be--not with me. I love you, and I’ll try never to hurt you again. Ever! I want to spend the rest of my life with you. No,” she corrected herself quickly before the tall woman could say anything, “I didn’t phrase that quite right, darling. I don’t want just to spend the remainder of my life with you. I want to go through forever and eternity with you by my side and in my arms.”

Raven stared helplessly at the woman leaning over her. She was the most beautiful woman she had ever seen in her life and, without a doubt, her eternal soulmate. Why hadn’t she waited for Joanna to explain? Oh, never mind now, Joanna was here, and she wanted her--forever. Joanna was a woman of principle and integrity and she could, she knew , trust her with her life, and much more, her love through all time without end.

“Joanna, although anger is not a sign of love, anger is an inevitable part of any loving relationship, and we should discuss our anger with each other as lovingly and consciously as we discuss joy and pleasure,” her strained voice was scarcely audible.

“Sweetheart, people frequently say things like, ‘but I have a hot Greek temper, and when I get angry, I just lose it.’ That’s wrong, Joanna. There is no such thing as a "temper." A temper is what we call it when we relinquish responsibility for how we express ourselves.”

Blinking back tears, she looked up at her with her heart in her eyes, “I never expected someone like you to walk into my life, Joanna,” she said hoarsely, as she was swiftly tiring and becoming groggy once more. “You made me… feel things I’d never felt before, or since. You made me love you even when I didn’t want to let anyone in again. I just couldn’t help myself. I love you so much. And I’m so sorry to have walked out on you like that, and for expressing myself like I did in that restaurant.” Her still throbbing stomach muscles knotted with tension, and she almost flinched at the pain, but held it in, not to alarm the young blonde next to her.

She realized she was about to slip back into unconsciousness once again, but her strong will forced her to remain with the honey-blonde woman for a few more moments. This was very important to them, and she had no idea how long she had been unconscious. She only remembered sinking down the block wall and then opening her eyes and seeing Joanna. Must stay awake… if only for a few more minutes. The injured photographer forced her body into compliance with her thoughts.

Tears clogged Joanna’s throat, “Then you’ll forgive me for being so blinded by someone, and neglecting you?”

“You’ll have to forgive me first, Sweetheart.” More than anything Raven wanted to wash away the past few weeks, and not have someone cast aspersions on their love for each other, or their trust in one another. Her eyes searching the green ones above her, she obviously saw something there that reassured her, because she suddenly sighed, a small, rueful smile propping up one side of her mouth.

“I don’t know why, but I think we both have forgiven each other, don’t you?” Longing flashed in her green eyes, and there was no mistaking the unwavering love zeroing in on the blue ones.

If Raven hadn’t loved her before, she would have fallen head over heels right there and then. “Yes. Yes, I believe we have, and more importantly, I believe in us.” A slow grin spread across Raven’s face as her arms tightened around the small woman possessively.

The tears stopped, and they both were grinning like Cheshire cats, delighted that they had not abandoned their hearts, or destroyed their deep love. They had given up every other woman on the planet the day they had met each other, and each knew, it was eternally--and forever.

Resigned just to hold her hand, as continuous hugs were definitely not a possibility at this point being clearly interrupted by the physicians now attempting to get closer to the bed to examine their conscious patient, Joanna tightened her grip on the long slender fingers, and leaned forward and touched their lips. The lips lingered and were filled emotionally, passionately, and completely with the love they shared.

“Honey,” the young blonde released the full lips, “From now on, I believe it’s extremely necessary, that we talk to each other when something is bothering us.

“Deal?”

“Deal.” Raven whispered, her eyelids scarcely open.

“Rest now, darling. I’ll be right here when you awake.”

“You promise?”

“I promise, Raven.”

The tall woman’s grin faded as she slid back into a relieved, healing sleep.

The doctors completed their examination, and moved off so Joanna could return to her position next to Raven. With one whopper of a headache starting to throb in her temple, Joanna would have liked nothing better than to climb up on the bed next to Raven, place her arm protectively over her tall lover, and call it a day. But she knew she couldn’t jostle the bed or take a chance in ripping any of Raven’s stitches as she was still receiving IVs, including blood. She had no intentions of retiring to the prepared sleeping chamber; instead, she slipped out of her shoes and accepted a glass of lemonade the flight attendant had prepared. Silence settled over the converted cabin, and, with a sigh of relief, she dug out her briefcase, and removed blank music sheets. She thought would help her attempt some degree of work.

Pulling another stool closer to the seat she sat in next to the converted bed, she propped her stocking feet on it, crossed them at the ankles and began to pen a piece of music to the blank sheets.

She never intended to fall asleep, but it had been a long, tense two weeks, and she’d slept little the past five nights. Exhaustion came from out of nowhere to weight her lids, and it just seemed easier to close them. Just five minutes, she told herself sleepily. She’d just rest her eyes for five minutes, and then get back to the music, she promised herself, laying her head down next to Raven’s hand resting comfortably on the sheeted mattress.

Five minutes stretched into an hour and more, and she never noticed. She dreamed of the tall woman again, and a slow smile came upon her face as she tightened her hold on the hand beneath hers. Her father had come to check on her, and had placed a blanket over her shoulders himself, motioning to the medical personnel to allow her to sleep as long as she could without disturbing her, then he returned to the after-cabin and his daughter and son-in-law.

Startled, Joanna jerked awake to find herself being shaken by the flight attendant to return to the window seat and fasten her seatbelt as they were would be landing in New York in a few minutes.

“That was dumb, Joanna,” she grumbled as she returned the music to her briefcase. “Bloody neck will not be the same for weeks without a chiropractor,” she mumbled as she checked on Raven once more, rubbed her arm and hand, leaned down and kissed her gently on the forehead, then walked over to the window and slumped down in her seat, before she fumbled with the seatbelt for a few moments until she was able to fasten and tighten it up.

*****


Rex Marston and Carl Wareham, two of Raven’s oldest friends were at the emergency room doors when the ambulance arrived with Raven. Marcella Enthios, her cousin and only living relative, waited anxiously in the emergency room lounge along with Mrs. Geneva Foresiggnat, Raven’s publisher, and Margaret MacPager, the photographer's agent , and were soon joined by the Stern family who filled them in on Raven’s condition.

Joanna had insisted she ride in the emergency vehicle, even though the crew had put up quite an argument about rules and regulations and such. Howard Stern had again stepped forward and used his years of diplomatic skills to convince them they were losing valuable time, and that his daughter would have her way, so they might as well give in. After a few minutes of negotiations, and a couple of telephone calls, the crew was informed the actress would be accompanying the dark woman to the hospital in the ambulance.

Raven had awakened later that afternoon and talked to all of them for a few minutes, before she told all of them to get out of there and let her get some sleep. They were also instructed to take Joanna out for a decent meal and to see she went to bed by nine that evening and not bother to come back until the next day. They all laughed, the old Raven was back, but they knew they would have their hands full to keep Joanna from the tall woman’s bedside throughout the night. Rex and Carl were staying at Joanna’s brownstone in Manhattan, and had promised they would hogtie the short woman if she gave them any trouble.

“I’m coming back to spend the night, so you might as well give this argument up, Darling,” the young woman had insisted.

Raven asked her guests to step outside and allow her a few minutes with Joanna before they left for dinner.

“If you want to please me, Joanna, go home and get a good night’s rest. I don’t need you to become ill. I’ll be fine. You have a staff of full time, round the clock registered nurses looking after me, and I need you to get one good night’s rest, please!” She used her whining, pleading look on the young actress.

“Raven, please, Darling--I want…I have to be with you. I have to spend this time with you. I don’t want you out of my sight for a long time to come,” she insisted, placing her head ever so lightly on Raven’s chest.

“You’ll have all the time in the world to spend with me. As for having me, Sweetheart, you had me from the time you knocked on my door and bargained with me, not letting me get out of anything.”

Surprised, she lifted her head from her chest, “Are you kidding? That long ago?

Grinning, she nodded, “I was toast, sweetheart. Couldn’t you tell?”

“Not really, you are so stubborn,” she said, laughing. Sending up a silent prayer, she thanked God for whatever spirit watched over the inhabitants of the earth, and played matchmaker so well. Without that romantic soul, they would never have found the woman of their dreams--each other.

“What matters is that we found each other, and I need for you to go home and take Marcella , Rex and Carl and get a good night’s sleep. I want you to tell me every detail of what you have been doing for the past two weeks.” She pleaded with the young woman, rubbing her face gently with the palm of her free hand.

“Please, Raven, I want to stay?”

“Please, Sweetheart, get one good night’s sleep, and allow me to do the same. I need you well and rested, Joanna. Please, do this for me.” Reluctantly, Joanna agreed and left the hospital with Raven’s cousin, Marcella, Rex and Carl.

*****


The following morning, upon entering Raven’s room, the nurse’s aid and the private RN Joanna had hired were attempting to make the tall woman’s bed quickly with her in it. Her cast leg was stretched out in front of her. Joanna almost flew into a fury when she saw the tall woman’s face, and her clenched lips that had a little trickle of blood escaping from one side from Raven biting the inside of her lip to prohibit her bed-changers from realizing her pain. The tears were rolling slowly down her still-tanned cheeks.

“STOP! What do you two think you’re doing? Don’t you see she is in excruciating pain?” Joanna whizzed to her lover’s side.

“Sorry, Ms. Stern, but hospital regulations require her linen be changed daily,” responded the nurse’s aid.

“She’s correct, Ms. Stern,” added the RN.

“If you aren’t out of this room in ten seconds flat, I’ll throw you out!” The spunky blonde stood rigid with aggravation at the unrealized hurt being administered to Raven. She didn’t care if hospital policy wanted the sheets changed every hour or once a month.

“Now, Ms. Stern, I’m just doing my job,” the NA no longer had a smile on her face; instead, the tone of the blonde left no room for misinterpretation.

“Four seconds!” Spat the young actress.

The NA wheeled, picked up the clean linen she had placed on the serving table and tossed them on the chair next to the door on her way out of the room.

“Do you wish me to leave also, Ms. Stern?” the RN asked, not sure if she should get the heck out of the young woman’s presence, or take a seat.

“Yes, for right now. Please go find Raven’s doctor, and tell him I want to see him right now.” Joanna commanded icily.

*****


Several weeks passed and Raven mended remarkably well, much to the head shaking of the entire medical staff as to her rapid recovery. Their only concern was the leg and knee of the tall photographer. It wasn’t healing as fast as the balance of her body, but she kept assuring them that, in time, it would be as good as new and she’d even walk without a limp. Joanna smiled at the positive outlook of her lover and rejoiced each time she was able to get out of bed and sit in one of the uncomfortable chairs in the tall woman’s hospital room.

Raven’s cousin, Melissa, had to return to her flight attendant duties a couple of weeks prior. Her two best buddies; her closest male friends, Rex and Carl had responsibilities back in Florida that required both of them to cut the trip short.

However, they all had promised they would look after Raven’s house on the coast at Anastasia Island, and she would definitely see their charming faces for a long weekend this coming weekend

Joanna had gone home from her evening visit after a long conversation with Raven insisting she not spend all night at the hospital and for her to get the proper amount of rest to continue her daily demanding energy- consuming rehearsals at the theater. Joanna had pouted, but Raven had gently pulled the puckering lower lip with her teeth, then planted a savory all-consuming kiss on both lips.

Reluctantly, Joanna had conceded, gone home and left the recovering dark-haired woman alone with her night nurse. Raven sat quietly thinking about the events of the past few months, and did not see or hear the petite, elegantly dressed woman step into the room.

The older woman’s smile quickly flashed in the dimly-lit room and motioned for the private duty registered nurse to leave them and go take her evening meal. Raven hadn’t bothered to turn on the television, and only the night-light was on so the nurses could see.

“It has been a while since we’ve had a chance to talk,” she said as she sank onto the padded chair angled next to the bed Raven occupied. “Do you suppose, they could make these dad-blasted chairs any more uncomfortable?”

“Thanks for coming Ms..uh…Aunt Rosalin. I appreciate the telephone calls, and I hope you have interests in that Flower Shop. Between you and Joanna, and everyone else, every ward on three floors has an abundance of beautiful fresh flowers for this room can only hold so many.” She gratefully acknowledged her lover’s elderly aunt.

“Everyone has been complaining about the chairs, just like you. Joanna actually had them bring in those two from down the hall, but she said they are just as uncomfortable. I think they do it so people won’t get too comfortable and, therefore, won’t stay for a long time,” the tall photographer muttered.

“That seems logical,” the white-haired woman nodded. “I’ve been meaning to come over here for a visit, but the older I get, child, the more time just seems to get away from me, you know what I mean, dear? So, how are you doing, my pretty one? You sure do work hard at getting yourself all mangled, and disfigured. You couldn’t come up with another way to get

Joanna’s attention? This seems a little harsh to me. Look at you, that has got to be painful; plus, I know you will have to have cosmetic surgery on that forehead of yours.” Joanna’s aunt spoke her mind, and Raven knew she was attempting to make the situation a little more light-hearted for her.

Not one to dump her problems on others, Raven just nodded and started to tell the older woman she was fine, when she found herself confiding, instead, “Actually, Aunt Rosalin, I was lying here thinking I needed to make some changes in my life.”

“You’re not thinking of running off and taking some dumb, and dangerous assignment again are you?” Alarmed, Rosalin peered at her in the dimly lit room.

“You’re not thinking of leaving again are you, Raven? If anything happened to you, it would kill Joanna.”

“No,” Raven assured her, smiling. “I love Joanna. In fact, I can’t imagine living with anyone else. And no, I’m not going to run off again. No, I just need to change…” She floundered, searching for the right words. “I just feel like there’s something missing between us, you know?” she finally said. “And I’m not talking about things, Aunt Rosalin. We both have everything we need, materially. But there are times like tonight, when I sit here in the shadows and watch the couples strolling on the River Walk, that I feel so--so lost without Joanna here. Further, I feel as if there is more for us. Aunt Rosalin, I want to be married to Joanna, and spend the rest of our lives making each other happy.”

Beside her, Rosalin reached out to pat her hand reassuringly. “It isn’t all that difficult, dear, all you have to do is ask her. That is, if she doesn’t ask you first, because that is all she has been talking about these past weeks.”

“Really?”

Rosalin blinked. “Well, yes, she is driving poor Marla and myself daffy with preparations for you to come home, and she intends to make your relationship legal as soon as you’ve recovered enough to stand before a minister, that is, if she has anything to do with it.” Her aunt continued, “Raven, my child, give in to your heart, and just go with the flow of your love for Joanna. You don’t strike me as the kind that makes the same mistake twice. I’d hate to see you get hurt, or for Joanna to be hurt again, so possibly, this thinking of yours is appropriate, and who knows, you might even beat her to the question, if you don’t linger around too long,” she laughed and patted Raven’s hand again.

Raven considered herself the least impulsive person she knew, and had to smile at Rosalin’s advice. Rosalin’s words of caution echoed in her head, but she’d already made the decision, and she couldn’t believe it was the wrong one. Beat the holder of my heart to the punch! Now that was a marvelous thought.

The older woman was an incurable romantic who believed every woman secretly longed for a lifemate and 2.4 kids. She would never understand why anyone would ever settle for anything less than happily ever after.

Although she and Alexandria, her lover and partner of over forty years had wanted to have children, both were saddened when they couldn’t, so they had adopted two little girls. They had ten years of their smiling faces when a terrible, unexplained boating accident had claimed both girls, and two long time, good friends of theirs as well. The old woman was saddened for a moment at the long ago loss, then a slow smile turned up the corner of her mouth at the reminiscence, which was no longer heartbreaking, but a warm memory she cherished beyond words, and returned her attention to Raven.

“You in for a card game tonight, or do you just want to talk for awhile?” She asked the dark woman.

“Actually, Aunt Rosalin, I’d like for you to tell me something about you and Alexandria. Would that be too much for you to share?” she requested.

Rosalin blinked, slightly embarrassed, “No, Child, I would love to talk about my Alexandria. Mmm. Now, what shall I tell you? Perhaps you might enjoy seeing a photograph of her. I have carried this one in my purse for twenty five years, but she looked pretty much the same the day she passed on…,” she pulled out the cherished photo and lovingly ran her fingers along the edge of the leather binding that housed the much viewed likeness of her loved partner. “It doesn’t seem like ten years, and ten months since she went to the other side.” The long, but not very wrinkled fingers gently passed the photograph to the younger woman sitting in an upright position in the hospital bed.

Raven accepted the photograph. Her blue eyes glistened as she viewed, with awe, the image of one of the most attractive women she had ever laid eyes on.

“Wow! I’ve seen her photographs by herself and with you on the piano in Joanna’s music room and on her family portrait wall, as well as pages and pages in her family albums, and of course those scattered about at her parents' house. But this one with the white beads plated in her long hair makes her look like… like an Egyptian priestess or royal princess, at least.” Her eyes sparkled as she gazed down at the color photograph. “Aunt Rosalin, her skin looks so… so smooth, and I have never seen a shade of almond like that,” she muttered, rousing herself from the mind-boggling daze in which the image held hers.

“You ever heard of one being possessed by the presence of another?” The older woman asked the awe-struck photographer. “Well, she had that charisma, that presence in drawing everyone to her without trying.” She said proudly.

“Yes, I see what you mean.” The photographer continued to stare at the photograph. “I can almost feel her presence here, now… at this moment.”

“I have felt that presence for over forty years, Raven. She will be with me, for as long as there is time… time without end.” She closed her eyes and seemed to be completely at ease and quite content with the feeling as her memory replayed an intimate scene of many years before.

“Face it, my dear Miss Alexandria, you just need to up and come away with me for a few….well, a few months, or we could easily make it years?” Rosalin asked her bluntly. “We could travel, there are so many new adventures for us to find and explore. You need never feel the least bit unhappy or unfulfilled, ever again, my dearest.” She said enthusiastically, her lips twitching.

She waited for an answer, just like she had for the last six months, but Alexandria just smiled at her and continued to wait for Rosalin to change the subject reluctantly and ask her what she thought about some new plan she had for them to go off and get into trouble of one kind or another.

Only, tonight, the petite woman didn’t.

She sighed and crossed her arms, and sighed again. The tall dark-haired woman only smiled again. So, Rosalin decided to try something different.

Giving her a mocking salute, Rosalin strolled out of the eloquently decorated sitting room, leaving the tall equally eloquent woman alone. She had been steadily courting the tall, almond-skinned woman for three months, and attempting to convince her that they belonged together and should stop playing around with the friendship and make it more…

Alexandria, although smitten completely with the adventurous young, honey-blonde, was determined to keep their lives on some sort of level keel. Their last two years at graduate school at Georgetown University, in Washington, D. C., had been one of daring and exploratory experiences. It took all she could do to keep the diplomat's daughter in any kind of levelheaded itinerary. Not that Rosalin wasn’t smart; she was brilliant, and second in her class, with only the super-dedicated Alexandria ahead of her in grades by one-tenth of a point. They were exact opposites in temperament, background and physical makeup, but down deep, each was very much taken with the other.

Taken aback, she gasped at her. She obviously had changed her tactics, and tonight she apparently was leaving for the evening. Shall I allow her to go, or should I give her a reprieve. I have to admit she has been dedicated and determined in her seduction. She scolded herself playfully.

“Run away with you?” She softly asked the departing back.

Rosalin stopped in her tracks, and grinned from ear to ear. Alexandria had finally responded to one of her many efforts at tempting the beautiful woman to allow their relationship develop beyond the tight and close friendship they already had between them. She turned slowly, and walked back into the sitting room of the M Street house that Alexandria had purchased.

“Absolutely, my dear. That’s exactly what I propose you do. We will have such an exciting life.”

“Rosalin, I’m not unhappy…”

“I didn’t say you were. You seem content enough with the way things are. But that’s only because the right woman hadn’t come along yet…. That is, until now!”

“And you propose you’re that right woman? And what if I don’t want a woman, but a man?”

Humor glinting in her eyes, Rosalin chuckled at her confidence. “Oh, how the mighty set themselves up for a fall. A man, my foot! Sweetheart, I know you think you’re in charge of your own destiny, but when Miss Right, not Mr. Right, comes knocking on your door, trust me, you’re not going to know what hit you. And I assure you, Miss Right is standing here before you now. Whatever you do, Alexandria, please don’t let the promise you made to your parents about only giving your heart to the one you propose to spend the remainder of your life with, keep you from grabbing her while you can. For some people, love only comes along once. It was that way for me, when I saw you, and I think it was that way for you…. once you allow yourself that wonderful feeling. Please, Sweetheart, don’t let it pass you by. We might not get a second opportunity. Also, you have really been just as intrigued in my advances for the past two years, as I, in making them.”

Normally, she would have teased her that her real concern was the future, she was impatient to love and before she was too old to enjoy her adventurous ways, but her green eyes were dark with concern and she knew she was truly worried about her. I’ve known you’re my perfect match, Rosalin. I knew it that first day twenty three months ago when you knocked me flat on my backside in the library and not only sent my books flying all over, but my heart as well. But I was determined to complete my studies and obtain my license. If I had gone off with you before now, you would never have finished your Doctorate in International Relations, and you would have one day resented it, she thought to herself, and then cooed. “All right. I’ll keep my eyes open,” she assured her. “I want what my parents had, too, Rosalin. But you’ve got to remember, they don’t make girls like my mother anymore,” she teased.

“Of course they do, sweetheart,” she chided. “You’re just not looking in the right place. You’re not looking at me.” The small woman pleaded.

An image of Rosalin Stern flashed before her eyes. The button-down-collar, figure-concealing business suit with pants, the blonde hair scraped back into a no-nonsense knot, or bun if you wish, and then voilà, she cut it in a bob just below the ears. One thing about the small blonde, she was full of the unexpressed, and there was never a dull moment in either of their lives since she had literally run into the tall woman on her way into the reference section of the library. Oh, Alexandria went along with her many adventurous ideas, or at least a majority of them…but mercy, the green eyes persuaded her every time. And that soft, soft, enticing mouth, with lips that puckered in just the right way…oh, my, oh my goodness… A woman could lose herself in that mouth.

“Alexandria? Darling? What’s the matter?”

Jerking back from her hot thoughts, she blinked and just barely swallowed a groan as she forced Rosalin’s face back into focus. They were talking about Miss Right for her, and she knew beyond a shadow of doubt, Miss Right was indeed standing before her, pleading her case. It was time to allow Miss Right off the hook, and allow her to vent her energies more productively, she decided.

“Rosalin,” she said hastily, forcing a wolfish grin that didn’t come as easily as she’d have liked. “I was thinking of you, and your very soft mouth. I think, I’d be amiss, if I didn’t have a taste of it now.”

”What… What’s that you’ve said?” Honey-blonde hair was pushed from her face. “Oh, my heavens! Oh, my… Oh, my heavens to Betsy!” The young blonde stood dumb founded and could hardly breathe. “Well, why don’t we just sit down here on your divan, so we can put that particular savoring sample into practice?”

Both women had full smiles covering their faces, and even after sitting and practicing the tasting, they both kept flirting with each other’s eyes, teasing each other’s senses. Each of the excited women was experiencing sensual feelings and tinglings they had never experienced before this night.

Finally, Alexandria stood, and reached out her hand for the young blonde to join her, which she did. They walked slowly out of the sitting room, Alexandria snapped off the light as she and the warm hand held in hers became warmer and warmer. Neither allowed their eyes off the other’s twinkling orbs as they mounted the stairs, and into Alexandria’s bedroom. She pulled the small blonde into the room, and gently reached over her shoulder with her spare hand and pushed the door shut. Reaching behind her, the door latch was secured to prevent any unexpected and unwanted interruptions.

“Rosalin, my dearest, I don’t have any idea what to do from here.” She whispered softly as she continued her gaze into the green eyes gazing back at her.

“Neither, do I, my sweet, but I do believe we both will know what to do…once we get to that particular segment.” She answered just as softly as her soon- to-be lover had spoken earlier, and even slower, she reached up and started to unsnap the pearl button on the lace blouse the tall, light almond-skinned woman was wearing. Alexandria followed suit, and before either knew it, they were standing before each other, drinking in the essence of the other.

Alexandria bowed her head slowly, and they kissed again, gently, and searchingly. Hand in hand, they moved to the bed, where the coverlets were quickly pulled down and the two eager woman wrapped their limbs around each other and the long hours of exploration began in earnest. Only soft moans, and exploding kisses could be heard from the large four-poster bed, until finally, the womanhood of each was tenderly entered and they became true lovers. Summits were reached, and waves of contented bliss swept over both the enchanted women.

The vibrancy of her voice was fading with fast-rising languor, and Alexandria felt her body begin to drift in dreamy serenity. “Rosalin, dearest, don’t let me fall asleep. Not yet. Please…

The honey-headed woman tucked the dark hair of her lover behind her ears and pressed one kiss to her forehead. Wrapped in love, surrounded by joy, weak from fulfilled desire, Rosalin smiled. “Sleep now, my sweet. We have time later for anything you ache for or desire.”

“It was-you were so gentle.”

“Only as gentle as you, my sweet, and that is how it was meant for us this night. One more kiss, then sleep, my darling.”

The next morning, still wrapped around each other, the kissing began again, and both were gently and repeatedly aroused and pushed over the edge time after time, until finally, the last awakened sensation, sent them higher than either imagined, the gigantic surges sent wave after wave of pleasure through both women. At last, their lips touched ever so gently and they sank into blissful sleep for the remainder of the morning. Two new, yet ancient twin-flames had, once again, found each other, and the flame between them would burn for all time without end… throughout all eternity.

At length, the elegantly dressed woman was brought back to the present by an unconscious moan that escaped her lips. She instantly looked over at Raven, who was still entrenched by the photograph and obviously hadn’t noticed she was lost for a time in a most wonderful remembrance.

“She was beautiful, and a perfect partner. Her father was an Egyptian Architect, who had come to supervise the construction of his design for a liberal arts building at Temple University where he met her mother, a Louisiana French Creole. From those two entirely different lineages and her other ancestry is where she got the almond skin, and the dark hair.”

“I see. Whoa! Wow! What a smashing beauty.”

“Yes. Yes, she certainly was. Oh! How about, no…. well, how about I… aahhh…you enjoy fishing, don’t you, Raven?”

“Aunt Rosalin, you know I do. Why?” She asked puzzled by the change in demeanor of the petite woman sitting adjacent to her raised bed.

“You wanted me to share something of Alexandria and myself, and I thought you might enjoy our best known fishing event?”

“Sure, what ever you care to share. I’m all ears!” She reached over to get the ice water glass, but was immediately shooed back down on the bed, as the elderly woman stood, and placed the water urn and glass of ice before the woman on the serving tray she rolled over the tall woman’s lap.

“Thanks. You want a glass of water, or do you want me to ring for the nurse to brink some iced tea or hot tea?”

“No thank you, dear. I’m fine. Marla and I had two pots of hot tea before I had the chauffer drive me over here.” She said, sitting back down and attempting to get comfortable in the chair.

“Let me see now…” she paused and closed her eyes once again, “Oh, yes. Well, if my memory doesn’t fail me…umm. This was a long time ago, but I think we were in the second year of our relationship,” she started again, “Yes, and Alexandria’s first fishing trip.”

The two beautiful women lived in two homes, the Brownstone in Manhattan and one on Long Island. This particular time, they were in residence on Long Island, so a place was sought to go fishing as close to home as possible. Both had multiple obligations on the weekends, and both worked at their part-time chosen professions the rest of the week, so this was a one-day Saturday trip for them.

The gear and two women were loaded in the old reliable 1939 wood paneled station-wagon that Rosalin kept for a roust-a-bout vehicle, and they headed for a recently purchased cabin on the lake, in the Catskills.

There had been a pier built into the lake and even a rock drive had been installed by the cabin. That was where they parked the old station wagon. It was extremely beautiful that day at the lake, bright and clear. And the water, oh, it was just perfect. The two lovers sat and dangled their bare feet off the pier in the water next to the rowboat, as the smaller one separated and prepared the gear.

Rosalin had been trying for some time to talk Alexandria into going fishing with her. She agreed to go this time, provided the petite woman would bait her hook for her. After all, she was a young delicate, refined lady, and had never been fishing, much less played with worms. Well, they made a deal and both agreed to it! The deal was Rosalin would bait her hook until she caught a fish, then if she liked fishing well enough, she would bait her own hook from then on.

When they went fishing back in those days, they took both rods and reels, and the ever-popular cane poles along as well. That day, Rosalin had decided they would fish with the cane fishing poles. The poles were approximately 12 to 16 feet long. Alexandria watched determinedly as Rosalin curled about 20 to 30 feet of line onto the pole, tied the hook, which was a #8, on the end of the line. Then she squeezed a small weight about 8 inches above the hook, and sliped on a cork bobber that could be slipped up or down on the line to control the depth that she proposed they fish, and to signal that they had a bite. This was a wonderful day to fish, Rosalin had informed her tall lover as she kissed her gently on the lips, and took a position in the front of the rowboat so she could guide the boat to the spots that looked good. The blonde woman surveyed the lake, both up and down, attempting to find just the right spot for her partners’ first time ever fishing experience. Finally, an area came into view as they paddled the rowboat slowly up the shoreline.

Alexandria had shared the rowing to an area that was right over some sunken tree branches and underbrush, when Rosalin motioned to her to make no noise. “Sshhhhh”. She hissed again as the taller woman laid the oar on the seat with a not so gentle THUMP!

Rosalin rolled out enough line to get their hooks right in among the branches and handed Alexandria her pole.

"Now, no talking or noise. You'll scare the fish", Alexandria was told.

Then the petite blonde showed her how to bait the hook, still whispering "Now take a worm and put it on the hook like this, threading the worm on very meticulously, curling it around the shank and then sticking the point through the side of the worm, past the barb so it couldn't slide off, and leaving a little bit of the worm hanging loose so that it could wriggle and attract fish.”

Rosalin had placed a wad of Beechnut Chewing tobacco in her jaw as they left the pier, and the last operation of baiting the hook was, "Now, work up a good gob of spit and spit on that worm real good. That'll kill the human smell, then drop it in the water, set your cork, and you're ready to catch a fish". The young blonde worked up a good glob of tobacco juice and spit on the wiggling worm. “Then, be real quiet, Alexandria". That was the end of the lesson on baiting a fishhook.

Of course, Alexandria looked at her lover as if she had lost all her senses. “Rosalin, you know I don’t even smoke, not even one of your occasional black cigars. And I certainly don’t intend to put that disgusting concoction in my mouth, much less chew it,” the stunned woman looked at the wiggling worm on the hook Rosalin had prepared for her, then back to her partner as if she might throw up. Instead, the radiant adventurous damsel took a refreshing sip of the Orange Crush bottle, and waited for the petite blonde to answer.

Rosalin said, "That's okay, my sweet, just spit on it anyway". She demonstrated the art of spitting on her worm once again, turned her back, and threw her line in the water.

Alexandria looked reluctantly at the hooked, wiggling worm dangling from the line she held in her left hand just above the lead weight, and a quick grin covered her face, as she reached down and picked up the Orange Crush bottle once again and took another sip and spewed it on the worm. That was most un-lady-like, but there are more ways to wet a worm than to spit on it, she grinned, then cast the long line into the lake close to the branches as she had seen Rosalin do seconds before.

They didn’t do any good on the upstream side of the lake. The fish didn’t seem to be biting. The lake was not over-fished, but the fish continued to avoid the two savory baited hooks. Rosalin finally realized the sun was to their back, and their reflections were in the water, so she headed them downward and around a bend so that the sun was slightly in their face. There was a real calm pool there, and Rosalin could see a lot of minnows and tiny perch swimming around. The water was so still she figured there were only baby hatchlings in that particular pool.

Rosalin asked Alexandria, “They aren’t bass, but would you like to catch one of those?” She pointed to small fish swimming in the clear water.

”Yes, my dear, but you will need to help me get the line in the right place.”

Rosalin took her pole and swung the line out and allowed it to land near the covered bank, and handed her back her cane pole. “Now, occasionally, just keep bobbing the line up and down a little to attract the fish to the worm,” she demonstrated on her own line and allowed the cork to bob up and down a couple of times before she turned her back on the taller woman again.

After just a few minutes , Alexandria let out a screech! “Darling, it’s a big one. It’s a big one!”

The young blonde jumped about a country mile and whirled around expecting to tangle with a mountain lion or something big and scary! What she saw was Alexandria’s cane pole bent way, way over, and she was holding on to the end of the pole for dear life. The end of the pole danced up and down as the hooked fish fought and splashed like mad, diligently attempting to escape the hook! Luckily, she didn’t yank the hook out of its mouth. And it was a relatively large mouth bass. It wasn’t a prizewinner but it was a nice bass, just less than 14 inches long, a nice fat one. The grinning blonde helped the dark-haired woman with her catch, and demonstrated how to put the fish on the stringer. Then the blonde turned back around in the front of the rowboat and resumed her fishing.

After several minutes, Alexandria said, “Okay, Dearest, I’m ready”.

Rosalin turned and asked, “Ready for what, Sweetheart?”

“I need you to bait my hook, Rosalin,” the tall woman held the end of the pole with both hands and swung the empty hook towards her partner, who carefully caught the line just above the hook and laid it down on the seat next to her.

“Honey, didn’t you enjoy catching that fish?”

“Yes! Hurry, Darling, I want to catch another one!”

“What about our deal? If you want to catch more, now is the time for you to bait your own hook.”

The excitement left Alexandria’s face, and with her head bowed she muttered, “ I guess I just won’t fish.”

“Well, you don’t have to. I thought that once you caught a fish you would really enjoy it, but I can’t make you like it.” The young blonde went on with her fishing.

After a time had passed, she glanced around to see if her lover was attempting to bait up, and immediately started laughing so hard, she almost fell out of the boat. There sat the sophisticated Architect, hook in one hand, “PLIERS” with a worm in the jaw of the pliers, trying to put the worm on the hook!!! Well now what could a lover do? She laid down the pole, got up off the front seat and stepped over the center seat and sat next to the taller woman on the rear seat and smilingly baited the hook for her determined lover!

The elderly woman sighed contentedly upon finishing the story and looked over at an attentive, just as beautiful woman, listening to her every word.

“Alexandria, a worm, and a pair of pliers? Golly, Aunt Rosalin, I can just picture that scene, and I probably will every time I think of her, you or fishing.” Laughing a hearty laugh, the tall photographer shook as the fishing tale came to an end. “Remind me to tell you about Joanna’s first fishing attempt sometime when we have the time,” she added.

The explanation had taken more time than Rosalin had planned. And when she walked numbly out through the empty corridors, and through the partially filled waiting room, she saw or felt nothing except for Alexandria’s warm presence at her side. Their eternal entwined souls would go on and on.

*****


Chapter 16

You have me so baffled, Melissa, that I don’t have any idea where you’re coming from,” the tall redhead gazed confusingly over at the older woman on the bed beside her.

“And just what seems to have you in such a tizzy? Wasn’t the sex to your liking?” a caramel skinned finger reached out to briskly rake over the bare nipple of the tall flight attendant.

Puzzled, Marcella flinched at the intensity of the fingernail on her sensitive areola, “Confused, Melissa, I’m very confused. You originally told me you were from Texas, where you had been in the computer industry for over ten years and that your only living relative, your mother, was in a nursing home, which you have devotedly paid for in its entirety for a number of years. Just now, you told me you joined me here in Atlanta, from Jacksonville, North Carolina, where you visited an old flame, named Diana, and her son, and…another bewildering point…was joined by your nineteen year old son, Antonio, who arrived from Colorado, where, you stated jubilantly, he was “doing his own thing”…what ever that means. And that you produce web pages on the Internet for writers. And, finally, that you had to place your mother in another nursing facility in upstate North Carolina, and you were getting extremely tired of shouldering the responsibility for her as well as the expense.”

“Marcella, I share what I wish to share about my personal life. I suggest you take me at face value, spend the time I can arrange with you, and not put so much importance on my private life, which, to put it bluntly…is none of your fucking business,” annoyance obvious in the older woman‘s tone. She reached over and caught the chin of the redhead, and pulled her forcibly to meet her lips.

“Please, Melissa, you're hurting me,” the beautiful redhead cried out.

The older woman released her hold, but was immediately on top of the younger woman, and again, sought her lips, which she claimed tersely.

After several more intense and forced kisses, her hands proceeded to roam the tall woman’s body. While kissing the flight attendant, she realized she had relayed conflicting information about herself, and feeling she still might need this source of information on Raven Longgear, her mind raced for a satisfying response to ease the younger woman’s mind about her. True, she was just another of her conquests, and this one made deliberately to obtain inside information on the photographer whom she despised.

Still, she didn’t want to cut this woman out of her life…no, not at the present moment, but as soon as she had what she wanted… Well it would be soon. It was destiny that I saw her and that Longgear bitch in the departure area at the Jacksonville, Florida, airport. If I hadn’t stepped behind that telephone island as I saw her handing the attendant her luggage, and overheard her encourage her cousin to spend her next trip with her and Joanna, I would never have the insider information on Joanna and Longgear that I needed. Besides, she has been quite good in bed, and has been a most willing student to reciprocate the erotic pleasures that had so skillfully been shown her.

“I received an unexpected, full commission on some of my web designs, which I work on part-time when I’m not working in the computer industry, and I wanted to share with you, and show you a good time, baby. What’s wrong with that?” The sensuous, seductive tone was forced from the full lips, covering up the chilled irritation she really felt. “You misunderstood me earlier, my beauty… Antonio is Diana’s son, and it was Diana who had to move her mother again,” she lied, all the while, placing long teasing kisses on the throat of the beautiful flight attendant she had met almost two months earlier on a flight from Florida. “I guess you had me so hot and excited, that I didn’t realize what I was saying, or not completely," she laughed, “Now, come here, and let us do that double dip technique I taught you.” She turned over on her back and pulled the taller woman over on top of her.

Marcella, still somewhat confused, accepted Melissa’s explanation, after all, she believed she had found the person to make her dreams complete. She smiled slowly, and tasted the full lips with deliberate care. The flight attendant wound her arms around her neck and started the sexual movements painstakingly demonstrated to her. Her body was softer than ever and warm with arousal. Her breasts seemed to burn at the older woman’s touch.

“Marcella, I told myself I was going to be straight with you before I started any…” She tore her mouth from the redhead‘s, wanting to make sure she was in complete control of the situation.

“Hush,” she whispered, nibbling at her ear. “You’re feeling at fault, aren’t you?”

“Yeah,” the dark haired woman said, knowing she had made the taller woman feel guilty.

“Don’t, please, honey. You didn’t deceive me. I just misunderstood. I started it, remember?” The redhead didn’t want to end their short time together with distraction or complications. She was falling in love with the woman, and maybe she had just not heard her correctly.

“I remember,” she said heavily, her nose pressed to her throat. “But I can’t help it….., I don’t want…I’m trying not to-to-”

“Yes?”

“To hell with it…come back down here,” she finished in a rush, “and make love to me until we’re both exhausted.

Laughing, Marcella passed her palm down the short body, and slide her long fingers into her desire. “The evidence is all too obvious!”

Melissa moaned and gave her a shake by her shoulders. “You really need a smack now and then, don’t you? Get on with it, I-”

“Yes?” she prompted eagerly, holding Mel by her extremely damp hairs. “Will you, now? And later, too? All day and all night? Do everything we did earlier?” The redhead questioned as her fingers roamed.

“Yeah…sexy, everything, and then I’ll show you something new. You do want to try out something new, don’t you?” Mel asked, unworried about the answer.

Marcella smiled guilelessly, “Yeah, what ever you want to show me…anytime, anyplace,” she moaned, seeking some small physical contact to prolong the intimacy of the past few days.

Mel laughed wickedly, thinking, Like I have said so many times. No one can turn me down. Damn, she was and is soooooo easy. Wait a while, old girl, she will tell you everything you want to know about Joanna and that sly photographer without the least bit of prompting.

Later that afternoon, they sat at the table in the luxury suite, eating a much needed meal, talking and discussing their past week‘s apart. Marcella had explained how relieved she was that Raven was out of danger and would be going to Joanna’s brownstone in a few weeks to recuperate. Mel didn’t have to prod too much to find out that round the clock private duty registered nurses had been engaged for the first few weeks, and even Joanna’s aunt, Rosalin would be staying in the Manhattan brownstone to help out and keep Raven company while Joanna worked diligently on her musical.

Mel festered with bitterness and revenge. Hell! I can’t take the chance with that many people around. But she was soon to sneer inwardly, when she picked up on a tidbit that she found most interesting and that would be very beneficial to her. Joanna would be taking Raven to her cabin on the lake, in the Catskills, after her cast came off for a month of recovery and time together alone before she began final rehearsals on her musical. I have ample time now, to explore the lake, cabin andto set up the best possible position for my little surprise for that betraying blonde slut and her damn bitch, she thought, changing the subject, not wanting to let the only living relative of the tall photographer think she was the least bit interested in the whereabouts of her arch rival, or the ungrateful young actress. She had not told her she knew either of them, and had postponed meeting Marcella’s family for that very reason. She doesn’t need to know my business; she laughed out loud and received a questioning glance from the redhead sitting next to her.

“How do you like the accommodations I arranged for us, sugar?”

“This suite is wonderful, Melissa. Thank you, darling. When you asked me to take a long layover from the international flight to spend several days with you here in Atlanta, I did so willingly. And even hoped you would come to the apartment and spend our time there, instead of the Peachtree Plaza; even though it’s beautiful, it’s still a hotel and doesn’t have the comfy feeling of a lived-in-homey place. I told you both my roommates had flights out of the country for the next several days, and wouldn’t be back until next week, and we would have had the place to ourselves.”

“Just want you to have the best, and how often do I get to show my girl how much I adore her?” The dark brown eyes flashed, but the redhead didn’t pick up on the hypocrisy shown there. Damn, how naive can one broad get? I don’t want anyone ever to connect you to me, sugar, cause it might be necessary….well, I would hate to have you get in my way, and have to be disposed of, so, I don’t need to take the chance that your roomies return unexpectedly..

“You’re so good to me, Melissa. I really want us to get together in New York and introduce you to my cousin. You’ll really like Raven, and her girlfriend, Joanna. They are two absolute dolls, and since you have requested I don’t mention any details about you yet, I really want to show you off. Raven was so happy when I told her I had found someone really special.” The full lips capturing hers interrupted her.

“Soon, baby, soon. I have to get back to Texas. I have several web designs to get off to demanding clients before I go back to the corporate grid. I’ll let you know, but, sugar, it’s not going to be until after I get all this backlog of work done.” She stood up, and pulled the partially robed redhead towards the bed. “Enough talk, I want to do a little exploring, and your body looks ripe and ready.”

*****


It wasn’t until two days later, after she had returned to her second story apartment, over a fashionable women’s clothing store in New York and spent long planning bouts, which caused tossing and turning in bed before finally falling asleep, that she was ready to call Gordon Bagwell. But, of course, Gordon couldn’t come right away; it would be another day before he broke away from his wife for one of their outings.

Meanwhile, Mel wasn’t talking with her normal seductive charm to anyone at her newly acquired production design contract for a new television series being filmed in several warehouses, which had to have exclusive and extensive scenery designs. She was actually quite irritable, and a grumbler since returning from Atlanta. Her new associates were puzzled at her moodiness, and most of them gave her wide berth. She had been working this contract for just over a month, ever since Joanna had terminated her contract, overpaid her, and demanded she leave the theater immediately.

She had gone straight away to Gordon, the husband of Joanna’s co-producer, who through his acquaintances with some of the professional people that his wife had introduced him to, and some of the light legal work he had done for a few of them, had arranged an introduction for Mel with the new television series. Her married lover had pulled strings with the producers for her to begin immediately on the needed scenery in the warehouses where most of the series would be shot instead of the studio. The look in her eyes went from sadness to despair to fury, and then back many times in the course of the day. But it hadn’t started upon her return, but actually on her first day in Atlanta, and learning that Raven hadn’t been killed, but had been airlifted to New York, and that she and Joanna were together.

When she flew to Nashville on Wednesday, she barked at the ticket attendant who mistakenly handed her boarding pass to the passenger on her right, who then had insisted on an additional complete luggage and personal search when Mel became hostile. When she jetted from there to New York on Thursday, she snapped at the taxi driver whose sensible driving made her five minutes late for her much needed hair appointment. And when she returned to her New York apartment later that afternoon with her luggage, her husband, from a marriage of convenience, who lived on the third floor of her two floor apartment, had gone on a binge, and had puked on the entry stairs and not cleaned it up.

Finally, Gordon had called and couldn’t or wouldn’t see her until several days later. She was going to have to change that situation to, “Only for business,” she had wanted to talk business over dinner, she argued. Can’t until day after tomorrow, he had insisted. But he had to eat, she pointed out. He had an obligation he must attend; he attempted to appease the caramel-skinned woman. “Wait until he does call, two can play this game,” she screeched to the empty room.

The next day, Gordon called, stating he had been able to re-arrange his schedule and did she want to go eat, him come to the apartment, or them met at the pier? She had a date, she said, and then hung up the phone abruptly.

It was only after a weekend that came closer to hell than any she had ever known, that, Mel made the concession she had fought and fought for days, and called her lover to meet her in the park, and then they’d come back to her apartment to talk, which meant they would come back there and have rough sex until neither could stand anymore.

Oh, they had been together many times in the course of the past several months, but never just to talk, as Mel needed to, now. There were some things on which she and Gordon had never seen eye to eye; rather than argue, as they had only done once, they had taken to skirting around each other, and just accepted their relationship for what it was: a sexual need, nothing more.

But Gordon knew the time for that activity was coming to a close. His wife was becoming more suspicious, and he relied on her money and influence to keep him in the theater and public eye as he had become accustomed, and around her show business acquaintances for some legal work occasionally. Yet, even if his involvement with Mel brought on the most vicious of arguments between them, and his wife as well, the liaison had been worth it. Melissa Albright Long was one hot and hard to satisfy sex machine.

Gordon Bagwell, was not the easiest man to talk with, or even to allow her to bounce ideas off him. He never had been, which irritated Mel every time she thought about it, but it appeared that not even age had slowed the middle-aged sex-driven man down, and he was just another pawn in her game of life. Mel half suspected that he was at his Forty-Ninth Street office, screwing a dim-witted redhead with mammoth boobs, just as she had been doing for three days and four nights in Atlanta.

She sat on the bench, in the small park feeding popcorn to the pigeons. It wasn’t quite the setting Mel had imagined for a showdown, but it would have to do. She had come too far and gone through too much grief to postpone the inevitable for so much as an hour.

What Gordon saw, though, as he entered the tiny park and approached the bench was a sad and lonely woman, true; but this time, he finally saw more. He stopped for a moment to stare, finding it hard to identify this figure as if it was his first time seeing her. She was sexually attractive for sure, but she reaped of danger as well. The woman sat alone. There were no children playing close by her, and even several senior citizens sitting on benches had obviously left benches on both sides of her empty. There was no laughter on her face, no spirit in her eyes. A rare breeze whipped through her straight, shoulder length hair, but she didn’t seem to notice, or, if she did, she lacked the strength or will to repair the damage, as she would have done in the past.

Melissa Long was proud of her appearance, her reputation, her status; this woman, however, seemed not to care at all. Against his will, Gordon felt a stab of compassion. This was his very gratifying lover. There were many things about the woman that he didn’t like, but he did enjoy her, and he loved to see her weave her web of intrigue and mystery around those she choose. So he pressed his body into motion, walking on until he came to the bench.

Mel didn’t see him at first. Her eyes were focused blindly on the pigeons on the sidewalk nearby, obviously lost in her thoughts. Her hand was buried in a small bag of popcorn, but it was as unmoving as the rest of her.

Then, apparently sensing more than a passing presence, she looked up. Her eyes widened when she recognized her conquered lover, and her posture straightened instantly. A faint tinge brushed across her eyes, and she scowled.

“What’s up, Mel?” Gordon asked, as he slid onto the bench, albeit leaving a generous space between the woman and himself.

“Glad you could finally get away from your wife, Gordon.” She blinked, but that was all.

“I told you, I had commitments that I could not get out of, and once I could, I called you. What do you want from me, Mel?”

“Damn, Gordon, you have to ask her if you can take a leak? Guess we know who wears the pants in your family?”

“My wife has her own life, so do I, which brings me back to my original question,” he placed his arm over the back of the bench, and turned so he was facing the brown-eyed woman head on.

“Chauvinistic statement,” Mel muttered, again almost under her breath.

Gordon wasn’t so lost this time. He turned on Mel with one brow arched high. “Why do you do this? Why do you act as if I have everything and you have nothing? That everything depends on my answering you correctly, and being at your beck and call!” He looked at her directly.

“You do have everything, and you like it that way, Gordon. You love to play the bent out of shape husband, the helpful friend, the prosperous benefactor.” She looked directly into his eyes.

He looked at Mel, and with resolve, calmly replied, “Mel, you were left a trust fund that would make most bankers swoon. You don’t know what it’s like to grow up with nothing. I do. We had to save and scrimp for every blessed thing we had. My father may have been clever, but most of what he earned, he pissed away. He was a crook, a clever one, but a crook never the less. I was only sixteen when I literally took over the family business,” he presented a skewed smile. “You didn’t know that, did you, Melissa.

She shook her head.

“No one does, and it’s a damn good thing. The old drunk-wheeler-dealer was running bootleg liquor, numbers racket and even drugs. I let him fly his planes and pay his hush money to the right people, but I stashed an equal amount away without him knowing it. Part of it went to my mother to buy the things the family needed, part of it went into a fund for my tuition for college and part went into an account I planned to use when I’d graduated and would really take over. It wasn’t all that much money, but it was enough for a nest-egg.” He cleared his throat, before going on. “My father, rest his pathetic, rotten soul, couldn’t see beyond a single day. He cheated, lied, and eventually stole from the drug big wigs from South America. They killed him. They killed my mother, my brother, my two sisters, and if I hadn’t been away at a university for three solid years, I would have ended up in a grave beside them. I never went back, not even to the funeral. If he were alive today, the poor schnook would probably be doing major drugs, with fried brains.” A sarcastic, rueful expression suddenly replaced the frown on his face.

“You’re damned right I married a woman with intelligence and money, and I damn sure won’t be drug-running, and I intend to keep my wife and my station in life. I like it this way, Mel. I like being able to have a little cake on the side and still have a warm house to go home to, and someone there waiting for me,” he shrugged his broad shoulders and tilted his head with his acknowledgement.

“You should be grateful you did marry a strong, but somewhat gullible woman.”

“I suppose,” Gordon mused. “if it hadn’t been for my wife, God only knows what I might have done. But I’m here, and yes, my wife handles most of our money, but I do make a good deal of money on my own, and I was able to set you up with the right connections for your new design position.”

“She’s a good manager.” She said, not acknowledging his statement of assistance or support to her.

“She’s a good person. This thing with you, Mel, should not have happened. You were too close to her profession, and her longtime friend, Joanna. If I could make it up to her somehow, I would.” He stated somewhat regretful of his sexual liaison with the attractive woman seated beside him. But he knew he enjoyed the pure sexual pleasure she always gave his body, and was unwilling to end the affair. He knew he would continue with her for as long as she wanted to maintain the blissful gratification, or undo his zipper at most unexpected times, or be mysterious about her time when she went off. He was receiving all from the relationship he wanted, and he knew without doubt, that he was simply another pawn in Mel Long’s bag of tricks.

“I don’t think she needs another car, Gordon, her Mercedes is less than a year old.” The look she shot him was caustic.

“God, you do think the worst of me, don’t you?’

“I only think what I’ve been led to think. Since this was supposed to be an honest conversation, you define happiness in terms of material goods and holdings. And self-indulgence and power.” “

You don’t seem to be doing so bad along those lines. How many do you have your hooks in, besides Joanna? Neither do I see YOU donating your entire salary or design fees to the Feed The Children or the NY Firemen and Policemen’s Fund.”

“I give to certain charities.” She stated icily to part of his statement; the dig, she refused to acknowledge.

“But you live damn well, also. And you do it off and over the backs of others. Don’t try to deny it, Mel. I can see the clothes you wear, the trips you take. And I’ve seen that fancy two-floor condo of yours a few blocks over that you refer to as an apartment. Bet you didn’t know, that I know you own the whole damn building. Just not sure what shakedown or payoff you had to purchase it, or if it was a gift like the land, and shack on the pier. You spend what you want where you want. You’re not hurting-financially, that is.”

“Not in the material sense.”

“Ahh. That’s right, Melissa. You’re lovesick.”

The muscle high in Long’s cheek jerked and she went back to the original motive for the meeting. “I need for you to lend me a vehicle, so I don’t have to rent one.”

Once more, though, Gordon posed a question of his own. “What do you want it for, Mel, you already have a vehicle? What are you up to? Why does this sound like you’re up to something illegal?” He asked again.

“Careful, Gordon,” she cautioned him. “You don’t want to get on my bad side, believe me, you don’t.” Her voice was as steady as the gaze she leveled at the man.

“Or what, Mel?”

“Let us say, you don’t need to know, and let it go at that, lover.”

He studied her for a few minutes, then shook his head, “Mel, does this involve Joanna Stern and/ or Raven Longgear? I saw you working the party and both of them, and you settled for me. Are you going to run one of them over or something sadistic and revengeful like that? Are you in love with one of them, or both?” he asked suspiciously.

The short woman stood up abruptly, “Just forget the whole damn thing. It wasn’t important anyway, and I really don’t need a car. You coming back to my place for a few hours, or must you get back to your pants-wearing wife?” She murmured.

When he remained seated, she turned and walked smugly down the small sidewalk in the opposite direction of her living facilities. Before she got out of sight, he quickly caught up to her and motioned to a nearby restaurant. She took his arm, and smiling, she thought, What an idiot! His thinking with the front of his pants will certainly be beneficial to me. The spineless bastard just doesn’t realize it yet.

He smiled in return and opened the door of the eatery for her. Wonder if I should tell her Joanna’s bringing Longgear from the hospital in the next few days? I think maybe that bit of information would be worth a few extra options in bed later. He stiffened at the potential feminine gratitude, and asked the waiter for a secluded table.

*****


“Yes,” the head nurse on the floor said when Joanna stopped at her desk to ask about Raven’s condition. The nurse took a quick, impersonal look at a clipboard. “She’s in her room and waiting for you to assist her in getting dressed. You may take her home now.”

“Now?” Joanna repeated blankly.

“Now?” Mrs. Stern asked, and her fingers convulsively tightened on her daughter's.

Mystified, the nurse glanced from her stunned expression to her mother’s and back again. “Yes, of course. Miss Longgear’s doctor authorized her discharge this morning. She’s very anxious to go, I believe. Will you sign these forms, ma’am? I’ll get a wheelchair. Standard procedure. And you’ll have to go down to the first floor and attend to the paperwork there.”

“Yes,” Joanna said, sounding confused.

“Oh, here comes the doctor now. Perhaps you’d like to speak with him about her condition? If she’s going to travel any distance to get home, I think it’s only wise-”

Joanna took a stepped forward and let her hand slip from her mother’s grasp. The doctor was in a hurry, but he paused to speak concisely to Joanna about Raven. Mrs. Stern backed away from the conversation. By necessity, Joanna’s attention was focused on the proper care of Raven now, and Elizabeth knew that she shouldn’t interfere. Her daughter had responsibilities that concerned her partner, and she wanted to know in detail any extra recommendations to make Raven’s further recovery as speedy as possible.

“I am stunned, Doctor, you told us only two days ago she would be in here for four or five days more, and now??? Don’t get me wrong, I’m ecstatically happy, and I couldn’t be more pleased… it’s just so unexpected or I would have had the ambulance service come in with me,” she stated excitedly.

“She is able to get around on the braced leg, and crutches, and she is driving my entire staff to… shall I say, distraction. Those who don’t want to sit and hold her hand… well, let me just say, I believe throwing her off the roof has been discussed. Get your friend out of here, young lady, and before lunch, please,” he smiled and walked away.

“Hot Diggity Dog!” exclaimed Joanna, turning to face her mother. “Can you take care of signing all this paperwork for me so I can run and see Raven?”

“Certainly, my dear. I’ll even call for the ambulance and change the schedule. As they are based down stairs, I imagine they can be here within the hour. Think you can have her ready by then, darling?”

“You bet your sweet….ah…patootie, I can. Thanks, Mom.” Without another word, Joanna slid away and headed for Raven’s room alone.

“Boy, am I glad to see you!” Raven exclaimed when she edged inside the door. She swung out of the bed, and assisted the braced leg to be lowered to the floor with both hands and stood up in one of her Jacksonville Jaguars sleep shirts. With a cautious hand on the railing to steady herself, she said, enthusiastically, “The doc says I can get out of this place today! I already called home, Joanna, and Marla said you were on the way”

“What’s the hurry?” Joanna asked automatically, holding back the teasing sound in her voice.

“What’s the hurry?” Raven demanded, and she looked around at her tone of voice. “I want to get outta this room? I’m going bats just looking at these walls, and with Aunt Rosalin refusing to come up here anymore during the evening, I won’t have anybody to- -”

“Aunt Rosalin!” Joanna repeated the familiar name of her favorite aunt. Something weird was brewing here, and Joanna frowned at Raven. “It’s Aunt Rosalin now, is it?” She forced a questioning look to cover her face.

Raven spun determinedly around the bed on her good leg, pulled the beautiful young woman into her arms and kissed her gently, “Yeah, but don’t make a big deal out of it, okay? She’s been visiting once in a while, that’s all. Get my stuff out of the closet, will you?”

“So that’s where Aunt Rosalin has been those mysterious nights away from the brownstone until midnight or later. How on earth did she get the nurses on duty to let her in after visiting hours?” Joanna handed Raven the selected clothes from the hanger, and proceeded to help her pull the gown over her head.

“Well, they didn’t at first, sweetheart. But after they found out she was the one this hospital wing was funded by and was named after, and that she donates those seven figures to the hospital every year--well, they kind of forgot she was here after hours.” The tall dark haired woman laughed and cocked her head down to nibble on the nose of her lover.

“I just bet they did. I’m surprised they didn’t offer to move a…. gods, is that where that nice comfortable chair came from?”

“Yes, it is. After her second night playing cards with me, she came back the next morning and talked to the chief of staff or administrator or somebody like that, and the next thing I knew, in came that huge well-padded chair.” Raven stated as she buttoned her blouse and pushed them inside the khaki shorts that Joanna had brought for her several days earlier.

Just then the door swung open, and in walked her doctor, “You about ready to get out of here, Ms. Longgear?”

“You got that straight, doc!” She ruffled Joanna’s hair as she was kneeling in front of the now seated photographer and gently placed her deck shoe on the left foot, and pressed the Velcro on the walking cast she had placed on the tall woman’s right foot.

“Good, I have signed your release, and Mrs. Stern has gone downstairs to obtain the final paperwork. Ms. Stern here has the written instructions for your immediate needs, and your round the clock private nurses have been briefed as well. There is just one last item we need to go over, and I needed to do it with you both,” he explained, flipping his clipboard shut.

Joanna stood up and beside Raven’s chair, taking her hand while they waited for the doctor to explain.

“Because of the nature of your injuries, Raven, I believe it’s in your best interest if you refrain from…uh… you see, your torso has so much missing and there are so many still tender spots that, in my opinion, it would be best if you refrained from any intimacy for at least three more weeks,” he said, and took a step backwards when he finished.

“WHAT!?” they both said in unison.

“Why?” Raven questioned.

“Your body is recovering remarkably well, Raven, that is, all except on that section of your lower intestines. We had to do so much stitching there, that it’s going to take that area a few more weeks without vigorous movements to heal completely and properly.” He looked at both women, “I have seen the necking you two have been doing the past couple of weeks, and, honestly, I would hate to have you back in here due to a setback. Not only would my staff revolt, but you’d make my AMA article go out the window,” he attempted humor.

“Ahh, Doc!”

“Don’t worry, Doctor, I can guarantee, she won’t be back in here except for her checkup and not one day before.” She assured the concerned physician.

Raven looked at her lover and then back to the doctor. She can’t really mean that, can she? Damn, I bet she will follow instructions to the letter. Well…I know a few tricks, and I don’t think I have lost charm….maybe a lot of weight, but my charm has only grown lying on that bed, filled with anticipation.

Joanna looked down at her partner, and knew exactly what she was thinking. She didn’t like it anymore than the tall woman did, but she didn’t want to start some physical loving and have to rush her back to the hospital because they busted something inside loose. She realized she would have her hands full with the anxious woman seated beside her. Dadgumit! I had so many plans for our first night home. Now, the first night will have to be in three weeks. “Oh, well, we have waited for six weeks now, so what is another three?” She stated nonchalantly and went to the closet, removed Raven’s suitcase, and placed it on the bed. “Any further last minute instructions you want to drop on us, Doctor Kline?” She asked, moving to the small chest and removing the half dozen sleep shirts she had brought up for Raven to use.

“No, I think that about covers everything,” he said, as he turned and walked out.

“I think that was damn well enough.” Raven called after him, only to have him stick his head back in the door, smile, and say, “I didn’t have to release you, Miss Smart Butt. Do you want me to change the discharge orders?”

Raven jumped at his return, “Hell no, I don’t. Get out of here and let us finish packing, and you won’t even see me exit this place, it will be so fast.”

“You have to use the wheelchair that is coming down the hall with Ms. Stern,” he insisted.

“Oh, Rats!”

“She’ll use it, doctor, thanks. See you at her checkup. Raven, button it, or he just might keep you,” she teased her tall friend.

“Just you wait, Joanna Stern, until I let your Aunt Rosalin in on how you conspired against me.” She attempted blackmail.

“Just you wait, Raven Longgear, until I tell my Aunt Rosalin the way you're behaving,” she came back.

“Oh, heck, forget it. She’d probably take the dish rag to me like Marla will.”

“Not a chance.” She stood regally, “She’ll just give you a few good thumps on your noggin, you silly goose.” Both woman laughed until Joanna’s mother stuck her head around the door questioningly, “Ok to come in? I have your chariot, Raven.”

*****


Joanna had modified her music room to house the required equipment and hospital bed necessary for Raven’s recovery. She could remain on the first floor instead of having to navigate the stairs until her leg was in better condition. Although she was getting about on crutches, and not putting any weight on her right leg which had a metal brace on the foot, the doctors' instructions were going to be carried out by the young blonde no matter how much Raven complained. Physical therapists had been engaged to work with the tall woman for the next several weeks. Then Joanna was taking her partner off for a week of privacy to her cabin on the lake, which was in the Catskills. Upon their return, the therapist would continue to work daily with Raven to get the knee back into shape. Raven had declared she would walk again before winter, and without a limp. Joanna didn’t care if she walked with a limp or not, as long as she was back in her life and in one piece.

Rosalin, Rex, Carl, and Marcella were all guests at Joanna’s brownstone in Manhattan, and had a small surprise ‘welcome home’ party planned for Raven when she arrived. Marla had made up the rooms on the fourth floor for the men and Raven’s cousin. She had been busy all morning preparing Raven’s favorite foods, including her favorite cakes and pies, when she heard the ambulance drive up to the back door.

Rosalin, Raven’s male friends, and Marcella were sitting patiently in the drawing room, when Marla stuck her head in and said, “The ambulance just arrived with our girl.”

Marla returned to the kitchen and opened the door for the wheelchair that was cautiously being lifted up the steps, with Raven complaining she could walk up. Joanna slapped her hand gently, and told her to behave, or she would have them turn around and take her back to the hospital. Raven looked up at her almost in shock.

“You wouldn’t do that! Would you?" The dark woman asked.

“Naahh. But you better stop the mumbling and being such a pain, or I might consider that option.” The honey-blonde chuckled as she passed Marla and turned to thank the ambulance attendants for their excellent service.

“Come here, old woman, and give us a hug,” Raven opened her arms to the loved housekeeper.

“Who you calling old, you young troublemaking whippersnapper?” Marla responded and reached down and returned the warm embrace. “You scared years off all our lives, Raven. I’ll take my brand new dish-rag to you if you ever do anything as senseless as that ever again.” She stated emphatically and with determination.

“You have my solemn promise, Marla; that is one lesson I don’t need repeated,” she countered humbly.

“Come on now, don’t make such a fuss, she’s spoiled enough already,” Joanna smiled and pushed the wheelchair and its occupant towards the drawing room.

“Just what you think they are planning on doing when she hits the sitting room?” Marla’s eyebrows rose, and she turned to the cart of goodies she had prepared for the home coming party.

“What you talking about, Marla? Who’s in the sitting room?” Raven chuckled.

“As if you didn’t know, go on, get your heiny in there, girl. I’m right behind you.

Several hours later, Joanna insisted that Raven needed to lie down and rest for awhile, so she pushed her to the music room and helped her get into bed. Raven pulled her onto the bed, and held her close for the longest time.

“Joanna, you never cease to amaze me. You had them in stitches in there. You laughed at the most intimate, passionate…”

“I wasn’t laughing at anything,” she protested, hiding her face against the tall woman’s shoulder to escape her light criticism.

Raven shook her head in wonder, and her hands smoothed Joanna’s skin with a new fondness. “I know what you were laughing about. I’m amazed, that’s all. Sweetheart, will you ever stop surprising me?”

“I don’t know,” Joanna whispered thoughtfully, feeling suddenly drowsy under her feather-light caresses. “There’s so much that’s new with us all the time, isn’t there?”

Raven kissed her once again, gently, but with barely suppressed excitement. “So we learn there is more than one way to relieve the passion reaping through our bodies. I never expected you to laugh at your Aunt Rosalin’s warming details of her and Alexandria’s satisfying their feeling so differently. You never do anything by halves, do you?”

“When I do,” she said softly, solemnly, “It will be time to give up, won’t it?”

The tall woman hugged her closer, “Sweetheart, I’m so happy to have you in my arms again. I love you so much. I can never tell you how much you being here means to me, and I’m glad you didn’t give up on us.”

“I love you too, Raven. I always will. I'll never be anywhere else, but here, beside you. You’re my heart, my soul, and my life. I don’t want to be anywhere else for the rest of my life; I only want to be with you.”

The two young women held each other tighter with this new-experienced happiness. Raven’s exhaled long, contented sigh was duplicated by Joanna, and then they were asleep.


*****



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