1971 by Tonya Muir and CN Winters

Disclaimers: This story is ours and based on characters in the Xenaverse<G>. No offense is intended to anyone associated with Xena: Warrior Princess. You know the rules about stories regarding two women in love. If you’re too young (or too old<G>), live someplace too medieval or are offended by such things please move along.

Authors Note: Upon examining X and G’s relationship I realized they are at opposite ends of a spectrum regarding their ‘ideas’ in life but their moral foundation is the same – the greater good. How they go about preserving the greater good has always been different. With that in mind I considered what other kinds of people would be similar in recent times. My answer – a flower child and a police officer. It should also be noted that this story was started well over a year ago and long before Gabrielle’s India trip and ‘way of love’ fetish. With that, we venture into this uber story.

Summary: In 1971, as the ‘flower power’ era comes to an end, soon-to-be-grad Erin O’Fallon, confronts Officer Carol Johnson, leading to Erin’s arrest at a college peace rally turned explosive. Both women are forced to make life-altering choices to find true happiness and themselves. One Belief Away is about two women, who come together to find common ground and deep love.

bus

1971

by Tonya Muir and CN Winters

 

 

Chapter 1

Carol Johnson stood tall in formation. With her gun on her right hip, and her nightstick on her left, she felt nearly invincible. This impression of strength, however, did nothing to dissipate the suffering heat. She could feel her upper lip growing heavy with perspiration.

She’d heard all the stories and seen all the news reels – Detroit, Watts, Chicago, Kent State, Vietnam. The country was at war – abroad and at home. And for what? None of it made sense.

She’d enlisted on the force to pay the bills. Simply put, being single without a man in her life or a father to take care of her, she’d needed work to make ends meet. At first it was just a job – something to earn an income and it had seemed as good as any, appealing to her stoic demeanor and solitary preferences. She had the strength and the stamina to walk a beat so the decision hadn’t been a terribly difficult one in the end. Her father had been proud of her decision so she’d attacked it with a certain amount of relish.

The longer she was on the force, however, the more pride she felt in the job. It had changed from just a paycheck to keep a roof over her head to a reason to get up in the morning. Each day was a challenge she could face and win, each battle deserving of her attention and finesse. She was a guardian of order in an age of upheaval. Carol had always been a peacemaker of sorts, hating to see the senseless eruption of violence, wanting to find the middle ground for everyone involved. That’s not to say she didn’t understand the need for retaliation or a heavy hand and she’s been trained to use the strong arm method when there was a time and a place for it. So it seemed only a natural progression that the tall woman would be standing here this day, dressed in a heavy polyester uniform, sweat trickling between her shoulder blades and plastering jet black bangs to her forehead.

With three years on the force, she wore her badge and her nametag proudly as she stood in formation, overseeing a ‘peaceful’ demonstration that could turn ugly – perhaps even deadly – in seconds. As with anyone who’s had to stand at attention, Carol had learned long ago how to inspect her surroundings without appearing to be watching. Cool blue eyes that seemed to focus straight ahead were now sliding surreptitiously across the crowds of people in the field beyond. They were a rag tag bunch, dressed in long flowing dresses or baggy pants. Their long hair was free and blowing in the minimal breeze of the morning. The sun beat down uncharacteristically hot for the spring but, in a way, the officer was grateful. That meant the demonstrators were hot and sweaty, too, and that was just fine by her as misery does truly love company. Though their training classes suggested otherwise because in an uncomfortable situation, be it heat, rain, snow, things were more likely to get out of hand since tempers were high. Easily she recalled the air conditioned room where she’d learned that lesson and longed for the coolness of false air. Or a fan. Hell, a palm frond would be okay right now.

“Goddamn Hippies.”

The voice of her partner hissed in her ear, breaking into her wandering thoughts. It took the tall woman a full second to reel her traveling mind back in. He’d continued speaking by the time she used her peripheral vision to survey her surroundings once again, noticing things hadn’t changed in the least.

“They should just let us open fire. Might increase the intelligence of the American gene pool,” he smirked, keeping his eyes forward. Even without turning to him she could easily envision his narrow pinched face, his deep brown eyes would be glaring at the people around him, the distaste for this bunch evident in every feature. She’d seen that look from him before on several occasions and still despised it. When you worked with someone day in and day out, when your very life depended on that person, you learned to respect him, understand him, anticipate him. You didn’t really have to like that person, which was good, because she didn’t. But he’d kept her alive and he’d watched her back and he was good at his job. So it was one of the things that Carol just accepted in her life: my partner’s an ass and as ignorant as they come … by the way, can you shoot that robber who’s pointing a gun at me? It’s all give and take and Carol had come to accept that fact of life once everything had been taken and she’d been forced to re-evaluate her future.

Now Carol grinned at her partner, without really doing more than slightly tilting her head. It was as a show of faith: brotherhood. It was not an agreement to his ideals. Deep down she knew this bunch had every right to express themselves as long as no one was getting hurt. Hell, most of those kids were her age, if only a few years younger. That was what made this job hard for her: she believed in their rights just as she believed in everyone else’s. And, in a way, she took it as a personal responsibility to provide a safe environment for such a demonstration. Unfortunately, her companions on the force always seemed to be itching to turn a rally violent, to control these kids and their beliefs and ideals. Many of them had children who were doing the same things and protesting their parent’s work, the job that put food on the table. Carol couldn’t imagine going home to that kind of criticism. Sometimes being single had its advantages.

Her partner didn’t speak again, his witticism already dried up for the day … perhaps the week. The officers stood silently as a young woman with strawberry blonde hair began to approach the formation. She carried a bleached willow wood basket, the branches bending and wrapping and twining in on themselves. The handle was clutched easily in her hand and she looked like a little girl who might go skipping through the field at any moment to collect wildflowers. Maybe she would, Carol mused. It wouldn’t have surprised the officer.

The blonde stopped at the end of the line, two officers down from Carol. This motion brought girl and basket out of Carol’s peripheral vision and she found herself moving slightly to get a better look at the blonde and what she was doing. Several other members of the force were doing the same thing, heads tilted, eyes scanning, but the commander’s voice put an end to it.

“Eyes front!” he ordered his squad in a loud gravelly voice, his own nerves strung taut. Like his force, he’d heard all the stories, read the news articles, saw the news casts. And he’d be damned if he was going to be caught up in one of those disasters. His paranoia forced him to rule with an iron fist and his troops responded readily to his snapped words. The police had enough bad press as it was, his team sure as hell wasn’t going to add to it.

Carol complied readily, knowing she’d been wrong to break anyway. She even mildly cursed herself for her stupidity: she was better trained than to be sidetracked by a pretty girl. Seconds passed, though it felt almost like a lifetime with the minimal breeze and the glaring sun, as the young blonde made her way slowly past the two officers to stand in front of Carol. She was short, only reaching Carol’s collarbone and having to tilt her head up to search the taller woman’s face. Her aloof appearance seemed to say that she wasn’t bothered by her short stature or her billowy dress or the odd way she’d chosen to spend her day. She stood close and still, as tall as she could, with a gentle air of self-confidence and a warm honest smile. She might have been in her early twenties though guessing her age was hard for Carol since the officer was unable to study her closely while keeping her bearing.

“Peace be with you,” the blonde said sincerely, either not aware or not concerned about the scrutiny she’d just undergone. She placed a daisy in Carol’s belt. Her voice was soft and lilting but carried a bit of a challenge and conviction. Carol registered all of this easily and tucked it away in the back of her mind for later consideration. She’d seen a hundred girls just like this one already this spring. But she felt a charisma, a magnetism from the small body in front of her.

A loud shot rang out, shattering the air around them. The chanting of moments before halted in mid-word, leaving complete silence in its wake as each person waited for someone to react. Without preamble or instruction, the formation charged and the protesters scattered. Motivated to protect those around her, Carol instinctively grabbed the golden haired girl in front of her, wrapping talon like fingers around slender upper arms before turning her and forcing her to the ground. It wasn’t until after she was covering the prone body that Carol realized she needed to make an arrest. The fact that her job had come second to protecting the blonde startled the tall woman a little but she didn’t have time to dwell on that. So she raised up and placed a knee in the girl’s lower back, pulling her arms above her head. Carol was easily able to subdue the young woman by holding the thin wrists together in one large hand. Her ice blue eyes caught the willow basket nearby, upturned and surrounded by trampled daisies.

“You okay?” Carol’s partner called as he watched the tall woman patting down her perp.

Carol gave a quick nod, feeling in control now as she subdued the young woman. “Help the others!” she instructed, giving the man beside her permission to leave her without backup. As annoying as she may have found some of his views, the man was a consummate professional and she appreciated having that on her side.

With a return nod that went undetected by Carol, he charged into battle, nightstick at the ready, looking for his own perp or maybe just a good fight. It was hard to tell. Continuing, Carol cuffed the young woman, reading her the Miranda rights in a sure, strong voice. The familiar words slipping easily from her lips as she snapped the metal rings into place.

“Why am I being arrested?” the young woman asked, growing irritated but moving minimally. She apparently wasn’t dumb enough to resist arrest and risk personal injury which made Carol wonder how many times the girl had been through this already. She acted like a professional.

The blonde tried to look over her shoulder at the woman on her back but her own hair fell in her face, impeding her view. In truth, she hadn’t really looked at her before. One cop’s just the same as the next, what do I care?

“Obstruction of justice for starters,” Carol said after pulling the girl to her feet, surprising both of them with her ability to literally pick the slight form off the ground and plant her back on unsteady legs. Lighter than she looks, Carol mused. It’s hard to tell under that dress.

The girl didn’t fight Carol but she was no great help either as they moved slowly towards the cruise, shuffling her feet, looking around at the foray the demonstration had become. Carol let it go, knowing they’d get to the car soon enough anyway and not eager to force a confrontation with the smaller woman. The officer saw her commander out of the corner of her eyes and moved toward him, changing their direction slightly.

He was flustered and yelling, face red with stress and rage, eyes searching the melee before him to ensure nothing was getting out of hand. “Permission to take the perpetrator to the station sir?” Carol asked formally, stopping in front of him and dragging the girl forward for him to see.

“Permission granted, Johnson. Nice job,” he grinned at her quickly before scowling at the young woman. He looked her up and down briskly, trying to intimidate her with narrowed eyes and stern face but realized he was unsuccessful. He waved the two of them off and went back to surveying the scene beyond.

Carol opened the door and the young woman clambered inside without resisting, settling into the back seat as if it were familiar. She bounced slightly on the padded bench and even managed a grin of enjoyment, completely unconcerned with her situation. Carol climbed into the driver’s seat and shook her head with slight amusement, somewhat intrigued by the young woman’s upbeat attitude. The officer had barely made it down the block when the girl’s soft voice drifted through the mesh partition dividing front and back seats.

“How old are you?”

Carol looked into the rearview mirror and raised a slim dark eyebrow, unsure of the question. “What?” the taller woman responded, not certain of the girl’s motives. It wasn’t the typical chit-chat of an arresting officer and a perp.

“I asked how old are you? I’d say about 25. It seems odd someone as young as yourself would already sell out to the establishment.” The young woman spoke easily, meeting blue eyes with mist green in the rearview mirror before turning her head again to watch the passing scenery.

“I don’t care what you think,” Carol replied coldly, her icy blue eyes in the rearview mirror emphasizing her point.

“No one in the establishment does,” the girl sighed, her voice sounding oddly defeated and conflicting starkly with her previous brash demeanor. “So why should you?”

As Carol came to a red light she turned to face the girl, “You know…you do have the right to remain silent.”

The young woman chuckled heartily, re-establishing her prior confidence. “I’m waiving that right,” she smiled wickedly, green eyes dancing. “So tell me…what does it take for a lady to become a cop? Were you raised republican? Did you see too many episodes of the Mod Squad? …What gives?”

“Are you looking to join the force?” Carol replied sarcastically, starting on their way again. “Cuz I can get you some brochures that you might find helpful.”

“No,” the girl grinned slyly, enjoying the teasing banter. “I’m looking to change the world. Whatta you do in your spare time?”

The car fell silent for the duration of the trip as the officer elected to not answer that question, knowing it was rhetorical anyway. The words of Carol’s partner came back to her as she looked in the rearview mirror at the woman in the earth toned granny dress and long tangled locks. ‘Goddamn hippies’. But she couldn’t even think it in the same hostile manner he’d spoken it.

Chapter 2

Carol brought the young woman to fingerprinting and when the desk sergeant asked her name the girl refused.

“Names are irrelevant. My friends call me Skylon and that’s all that matters.”

Carol and the sergeant exchanged a look of frustration. Carol pressed the issue.

“What’s your real name? Ya know? The one your parents gave you?”

“Barbara,” the girl replied as the sergeant began to write it down. “Barbara Eden,” the girl grinned wickedly.

Carol stepped closer, towering over the girl, hoping perhaps to intimidate her. “I’m gonna ask one more time or I’m taking you to lock up … And I want the truth … what’s your name?”

Though hardly intimidated by the tall form standing in front of her, the girl had to admit to herself there was a certain fire about this woman that made her skin tingle. Unlike many of her other friends, she had never been intimate with a woman. She’d never found a woman who attracted her sexually, but the longer she looked into those blazing eyes the more she wanted to see. She liked to play with fire. After all, It was her undeniable need to buck the status quo that had gotten her here to start with.

“Okay! Okay!” the girl said, looking away and playing with her bead necklace. “My name is Jane … Jane Fonda,” she giggled.

“That’s it!” Carol howled, frustrated. She pulled the young woman away from the desk and tugged her toward the holding cell. “I’m sure you’ve got priors so make yourself at home. You’ll be here for awhile.” She turned the girl roughly and unlocked the cuffs before pushing her between the shoulder blades, forcing her to stumble into the small enclosure.

As Carol locked the cell the woman rushed back to the bars.

“What about my phone call?” she taunted. “I’d hate to see you arrested for violating my human rights.”

“I’ll tell you what,” Carol began with a sinister grin. “As soon as I have a phone line free, it’s all yours. Until then, you’ll have to wait.”

“Just how long?” the young woman asked with an equally powerful expression. “I’m a busy woman.”

“Oh, I’m sure you are,” Carol answered sarcastically. “But this could take hours … maybe even days.”

“You can’t keep me here for days,” the girl argued. “I know my rights.” She was quickly growing angry with this little game that had been amusing only moments before.

Carol sensed it and her smirk turned into a full-fledged smile. “Don’t blame me,” the officer shrugged as she walked away. “You wanted to play around…besides I’m sure one of your long-haired boyfriends will be here to bail you out soon.”

The woman couldn’t see Carol anymore but she knew the cackle she heard had to be hers.

“Goddamn Pig,” she muttered under her breath, throwing herself onto a barren wooden bench bolted into the wall.

Chapter 3

“Her name is O’Fallon. Erin O’Fallon,” the records officer told Carol.

Carol smirked. “Oh really?” she asked.

“Oh yes!” he replied just as conspiratorially. “Would you like her rap sheet?”

Carol snatched it from his hand with a wink and began to make her way to the cage.

“Erin O’Fallon,” Carol smiled in victory. “Let’s see … priors include marijuana possession and flag burning … It appears we have a phone line free all of a sudden. Would you like to make that call now?” Carol finished, fluttering her eyelids triumphantly.

“You should have that tic looked into,” Erin replied defiantly, pointing at Carol’s eyes. “It could be something serious.”

“Come on, funny girl,” Carol said, opening the cell without further comment. Once Erin was free and the cell locked, Carol took Erin over to a phone and waved casually at it. “Call daddy or whoever it is that usually bails you out.”

“Humph,” Erin responded, picking up the phone.

Carol gave her some privacy and wandered across the small room to the coffeepot but she kept an eye on the girl. She didn’t think the woman was a violent threat but having her slip away wouldn’t look too good in front of the boys. Carol had a hard enough time proving herself as it was, she didn’t need some waif of a perp making life more difficult.

As Carol watched the young woman, it was obvious to her from what she already seen and heard that the blonde was bright. How she got hooked up with these other losers at the demonstration was beyond Carol and she tried to imagine a home life or a strict upbringing that would lead to this. The girl had so much promise – she was passionate and quick-witted with a gentle demeanor and definite self confidence. And there was something else about her … some kind of spark. Carol had noticed it from the first moment but had witnessed it again when they’d first entered the squad room. It was as if every head had turned in the room. It wasn’t because the girl was drop-dead gorgeous because she wasn’t. But that isn’t to say she was homely either. She was … what was the word … cute … attractive. She was charismatic. Carol knew the attention this ‘Erin’, ‘Skylon’, whoever – this attention was just the aura the girl projected to the room. She was a woman of natural leadership and perhaps someday, she would be a force to be reckoned with because of her attributes.

Carol watched as Erin’s slender fingers worked the rotary, dialing a number of someone who would come for her. The tall officer couldn’t help but wonder who that someone might be. Probably some long-haired, guitar carrying, Jim Morrison-wannabe. A pang of jealousy rushed over Carol at the thought as well as a greater sense of confusion. She wasn’t attracted this young woman was she? She knew that love was given very freely between many people of her generation – regardless of gender – but she wasn’t that kind of person. She wasn’t that type of girl … was she? No she decided. ‘You’re not. So stop thinking about it’.

She’d bet a paycheck that Erin was, though. And if the girl was willing…

Erin hung up, turning pale green eyes to the officer and, thankfully, stopping the tall woman’s train of thought. The blonde tilted her head slightly at what may have been a blush crawling up the olive skinned features before Carol returned to her side.

“All set?” the officer asked.

“Yes,” Erin replied. “I’ll be out of your hair in a short while,” she grinned.

Carol wasn’t sure, but she felt a bit saddened by the fact Erin would be leaving. So she did the only thing she could think of standing here at the station outside of holding. “Would you like some coffee?” the officer asked.

Erin smiled both at the incongruity of the suggestion and the proposal itself. “Is this some sort of peace offering – cop style? Are there doughnuts too? Isn’t that standard operating procedure?” But her teasing words were softened by a tilted head and a warm smile.

Carol found herself smiling as well. “I didn’t know we were at war,” the officer countered. “If I slapped the desk sergeant hard enough on the back, there’s a good chance a doughnut would pop out. Would that do?”

Erin had to admit this woman was beginning to have an effect on her. But she pushed it back in order to keep what dignity she had left. She didn’t need any of her friends finding out she was flirting with the enemy. But being one to buck the system, even the system within her own sect, the idea was exciting. What would her friends say if she confessed her attraction to the tall brunette? She still hadn’t answered Carol’s question and soon found herself facing a cup of joe without any idea of how it got there. “I think I’ll pass on the doughnut,” Erin replied belatedly.

“Cream and sugar?” Carol asked, sliding the cup closer and pulling a chair noisily over so she could also sit at the small phone table.

“No thanks,” Erin said coming back from herself, abandoning her impure thoughts and returning her attention to the uniformed woman across from her.

An uncomfortable silence washed over the small space the two women shared. Erin sipped her coffee slowly, avoiding eye contact with Carol. She couldn’t take those blue eyes watching her, they seemed to burn her skin as the coffee scalded her tongue. There was too much power in that gaze, the sapphire flames too much for her to take right now. Her self-confidence faltered at the reality of her attraction to this woman and what it might mean.

Carol, for her part, sensed the uneasiness that claimed the young woman. She watched her small companion fidget nervously with the cup and refuse to meet her eyes. This wasn’t the same brash girl she dragged across a field and put in a squad car. This wasn’t the young woman who’d teased the sergeant and made inprocessing difficult. This girl seemed older, calmer, quieter … yet she also emanated awkwardness.

Carol wasn’t sure what had brought this new facet of the girl to the surface but she found it endearing. She realized she needed to say something – anything – to break the growing, agonizing silence.

“Can I ask you something?” Carol began after enduring the stark silence as long as possible. She would have liked to study Erin’s features and those peculiarly green eyes but she was only privy to the top of the blonde’s head.

Erin rolled her eyes, waiting for the smart comment she was sure would follow Carol’s question. When she finally did look into Carol’s eyes she saw a sincerity that caught her off guard. Carefully she nodded her assent.

“Why?”

What kind of question is that? Erin’s mind raced. “Why?” Erin repeated dumbly as she waiting for an explanation.

“Yeah,” Carol nodded. “Why do you do this? Why do you put yourself at such risk? I could have killed you today, my partner might have,” she said matter-of-factly.

Erin smiled grimly. “Lots of Americans die on a daily basis – here and abroad. If I have to give my life for the greater good then so be it.”

“The greater good?” Carol asked, raising a dark eyebrow to dance with her disheveled bangs. It sounded a little too grandiose to her. “What do you mean?”

Erin didn’t have a chance to respond though she appeared ready to launch into a well-rehearsed spiel. The desk sergeant walked over with a young woman.

“Minos!” Carol’s slight companion said, rising to meet the stranger. She sounded thrilled to see this other woman and that tone in her voice caused Carol’s stomach to clench.

Carol rose as well and the desk sergeant turned to her. “I just spoke with the Captain. The department is dropping the charges against Miss O’Fallen and several others.”

“What you mean?!” Carol exclaimed.

“Means my friend is free and clear to go, right sergeant?” Minos interrupted.

Carol paused in her tirade long enough to get a good look at this woman, Erin’s friend and apparent savior. Minos was a tall woman, almost as tall as Carol, with flowing brown hair kept in a long braid behind her back. Her dress was similar to Erin’s in style but psychedelic in color. She returned the officer’s searching gaze with light hazel eyes, which revealed no emotion.

“That’s right,” the sergeant agreed with disappointment though Carol barely heard him. She was growing increasingly less concerned with the outcome of this case except it would mean Erin’s departure with this woman.

The officer finally remembered to question the Captain’s decision. “What about-“

Carol didn’t finish as the sergeant interrupted. “The ‘shot’ y’all heard was some kid with a firecracker. He thought it would be fun to see what happened if he let it off today. He’s damn lucky he didn’t get anyone killed. The department has decided to press charges against only those who assaulted officers. And since Miss O’Fallen didn’t assault you … Captain said she’s free to go.”

“Well, Officer Johnson,” Erin turned to the tall woman, wanting to tease her and boast but finding herself unable to when she met those sapphire eyes. She found herself not really wanting to leave with Minos and briefly considered her options. I could assault her now and I’d get thrown in the slammer. Or maybe she’d reciprocate, she thought wickedly before shaking herself back to her senses. “Looks like I’ve gotten my ‘walking papers’ … I’ll probably be seeing you around,” she grinned weakly, hoping Minos would accept that as boastful since it was the best she could muster..

Apparently it was good enough because Minos took Erin by the arm and the two walked from the stationhouse before Carol could reply. She left, Carol thought. Just like that. She left.

“Are you okay?” The sergeant asked. “You don’t look so good.”

Carol had collapsed in the chair next to her, seemingly deflating with each of the small woman’s steps away. She tried to shake off her feelings of abandonment, startled by the clarity of them. “Yes I’m fine.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah. I’m just … disappointed.” No kidding.

The desk sergeant grinned. “Well don’t worry too much about it, kid. There will be much bigger perps than this one to catch believe me,” he said, laying a large hand on her shoulder in a show of support. Then he turned and walked away, leaving Carol alone with her thoughts and two cups of coffee.

Perhaps, Carol thought silently. But none of them would be quite like her.

Chapter 4

Several days later, Minos and Erin entered the coffee shop, chuckling as they slipped past the heavy metal and glass door. The two young women were wrapped up in their conversation, discussing the entertaining plight of another comrade during the recent demonstration. As Minos continued her side of the story, the tall woman studied the chalkboard outlining the available selection. Listening absently, Erin’s attention wandered through the coffee shop until something caught her gaze. Her stomach flipped and she felt her face warm in a blush but she pushed it aside and shrugged into her bravado like a well-worn coat.

“Look at what we have here,” Erin announced. “A cop in a doughnut shop … if that isn’t a tired cliché.”

Carol had to chuckle as she let her gaze wander up and down the small figure several yards away. It was a good shot she had to admit. “I’m here for the coffee. The doughnuts are for my partner.” She’d been standing on the far end of the counter, watching the server fill a box with pastries. She’d seen Erin just a split second before the young woman had noticed her.

“Oh, sure. Sure, they are,” Erin nodded in agreement but her smirk and her casual stance playfully mocked the officer.

Carol shook her head with a grin, welcoming this self-assured version of Erin. She’d still like to explore the other side of her some time, she realized with surprise.

“So what brings you out this early?” the officer asked after many long moments of silence. She discovered herself wanting to continue this conversation regardless of topic. “I figured you’d still be worn out from all the orgies going on at that big community home of yours.”

It was Erin’s turn to chuckle. “Not bad,” she complimented, nodding her head, raising a honey colored eyebrow. “But you realize that’s not what goes on at the house … well at least not on Thursdays anyway. Orgy night is Saturday,” she said, maintaining a straight face for several long beats before cracking the tiniest of grins. Her green eyes sparkled with merriment and made her all the more attractive to Carol’s approving gaze.

“Is that so?” the dark-haired woman asked, taking a sip of her coffee, sparing a minor glance at the young blonde’s companion before returning to evaluate Erin’s wardrobe choice. Today’s outfit was much like the one she’d worn their previous meeting except there were new ribbons braided into sections of her long blonde hair.

“Yeah,” Erin smiled. She wasn’t sure why but the next words escaped before she had a chance to pull them back. “Why don’t you come visit sometime? See what my world is all about?” She could almost swear she heard crickets chirping as all three women stood silently. She felt Minos’s stunned stare aimed her direction and knew she was going to have to answer some pretty pointed questions. Though she’d surprised herself with the offer, Erin didn’t regret it.

Carol was taken aback by the request. The hippie wanted her to hang out? She even wondered for a split second if the smaller woman had actually asked the question or if her own mind had simply projected what she wanted to hear. The blonde’s expectant gaze implied the former. Minos’s hazel eyes were luckily unarmed though they certainly appeared dangerous. “Why?” Carol asked, finally, having decided the offer was sincere and not a figment of her imagination.

Erin smiled and felt her earlier discomfort wash away in the blue of Carol’s eyes. She pulled out a pen and scribbled on a napkin. “Here’s my address,” she said handing it to Carol. “You asked about the greater good and I really didn’t get a chance to finish our conversation … Consider this your chance to be enlightened.”

Both women were interrupted by a stern voice behind them. Minos had apparently grown tired of looking dumbstruck and tossing evil glares about the small room.

“We’ve got to get going, Skylon or we’re going to be late.”

Erin replied without turning to face her. “Go on. I’ll be there in a minute,” she urged her friend gently. Minos didn’t move so Erin turned imploring eyes her direction. C’mon, Minos, play along, she plead silently. Give me this and I’ll tell you everything.

Reluctantly, Minos nodded slowly and stepped away from the two women, coffee cups in her hands. “I’ll be outside. Scream really loudly if she arrests you.”

Erin gave her friend a grin before turning back to the dark woman in front of her. Carol had watched the exchange with mild interest but now was easily sucked back into those jade eyes. “So what do you say, Officer Johnson? By the way, do you have a first name or should I just call you Officer Johnson?”

Carol could tell Erin was playing with her at this point. Was it flirting? Was she simply issuing a challenge and the hippie really thought Carol didn’t have the courage to meet her on her turf? If so she was sadly mistaken. The reason for the invitation didn’t matter as much as the invitation itself and Carol realized she would have accepted it scribbled on an elephant’s butt. The napkin was better, the dark paper scratchy as she accepted it and slid it into her pocket.

“Carol,” the officer answered. “My name is Carol.”

Erin couldn’t understand what possessed her to step even closer to the cop but she did. “That’s a beautiful name. It suits you.” Again, the wall of apathy had come down, revealing a warm smile and gentle eyes that seemed full of emotions. Carol smiled back softly, wanting to reward the gift. “So what do you say, Carol? Think you’re up to seeing what the hippie lifestyle is all about – well, at least my hippie lifestyle?”

Carol swallowed so hard it was audible. And it took everything she had to keep eye contact with the young woman. Finally she cleared her throat. “I’ll think about it.”

“You do that,” Erin smiled.

Without further comment, Carol watched Erin quickly make her departure and head towards the microbus parked outside. The feeling of abandonment seemed to get worse with each parting and the dark woman absently rubbed above her breast before turning back to the counter to pour herself more coffee. Suddenly, her partner’s voice boomed from the entrance.

“Is that kid still hassling you? Why don’t you run her in?” he asked.

“She’s not a problem,” Carol assured him, trying to hide her grin. “Just young and idealistic but I’m sure you’re too old to remember being that way Randell,” she prodded.

“Ha. Ha. Very funny,” he replied with a grimace and a wrinkled nose. Carol realized he had never been like Erin, his heart was cold and his eyes were dull. “Can we get going now?”

“Sure,” Carol smiled making her way past him, coffee and doughnuts in hand.

XXXXX

Minos drove down the street in silence for as long as she could stand to. But the strain of keeping her mouth closed was beginning to show and her blonde companion was diligently waiting for Minos to burst. You wanna know, you gotta ask, my friend.

Finally, it was too much. “What’s with the cop?” she blurted, the words tumbling past teeth and lips and falling with a tinge of defensiveness between the two women.

“What do you mean?” Erin asked, innocently, all waif smile and wide green eyes.

“Don’t play dumb with me, Skylon. You know exactly what I mean,” Minos insisted, sparing a glance from the road to observe her companion.

Erin reflected a moment, trying to put her tangled thoughts into a string of words which would properly convey her feelings. “I think she’s … interesting,” was the best she could come up with after several long moments of consideration.

Minos shook her head, rolled hazel eyes. “I don’t believe it. You’re falling for a cop! And a lady cop at that!”

“Oh come on,” Erin found she wanted her friend’s support in this. It was all new to her but the emotions were so intense she didn’t feel she could ignore them. “You’ve had women in your bed.”

“Yeah,” Minos agreed. “But never a woman cop! Have you completely lost your mind?!”

“No! I have not! Besides, what business is it of yours whom I find interesting?”

Minos looked seriously hurt by the comment and turned wounded eyes from Erin to the road. The young blonde quickly made up for it, reaching over to place a warm hand on her friend’s arm. “I’m sorry. That was a terrible thing to say and it goes against everything I stand for. I don’t want to fight about this. Besides at this point she isn’t even a friend so I don’t think you have anything to worry about.”

“If you want a woman I can set you up,” Minos offered, glad for the subject change. Erin was her dearest friend and the thought of her free spirit with that rigid cop was more than she was willing to handle.

“I don’t want to be set up,” Erin replied. “Besides the last time you set me up was with that peace corps volunteer who didn’t believe in shaving. God Minos, if I wanted hairy I’d date a man.”

Slowly both women began to chuckle before it turned into rolling laughter. Minos calmed down first and looked at Erin as they reached a stoplight. “You really do like her … don’t you?”

Erin looked out the front windshield as she spoke, unable to meet her friend’s searching gaze. “I don’t understand it. It’s like I’m drawn to her.” She shrugged slim shoulders helplessly.

“Like a moth to a flame huh,” Minos nodded, twisting her lips into a wry expression of defeat. “I don’t need to tell you what ends up happening to the moth?”

“You know, for a flower child you really are ill-mannered,” Erin jibed Minos gently but preferred this approach to the previous outburst of raised voices and accusing words.

“I’m sorry, I just … “

“Just what? Always hoped you’d be my first?” Erin teased, not expecting the reaction she got.

Minos smiled at first but the smile began to fade and she nodded her confession. “Your first time should always be with someone you love and who loves you.”

“You know I love you, Minos, but-

“See, there’s that word … ‘but.’ I know. You and I have been through this lots and lots of times before I just … I always wished I could be the one. But all I care about is your happiness – even if that someone you choose isn’t me.”

“Even if that someone I choose is a cop?” Erin asked softly, tilting her head towards the brunette slightly.

Minos nodded, a weak smile playing on her lips. “Even if it is a cop.”

Erin didn’t know what to say but after a few moments she found her voice. “You’re my best friend, Minos.”

Minos nodded but it seemed to Erin that she still had a quiet defeated air about her. She was going to press the point some more but Minos stopped her. “No, it’s groovy. I understand. I do. You’re my best friend too, Skylon … I don’t want anything to come between the love we do have … ya dig me?”

“Yeah, I dig ya,” Erin grinned.

“So,” Minos sighed. “Tell me about this cop.”

Chapter 5

Carol checked the fraying napkin again, comparing the number she held against the number on the house. Or rather, comparing it to what was left of the number on the house. The building was in an obvious state of disrepair, needing some minor work to doors and windows and several years past a paint touch up. But otherwise it seemed sturdy with a large wraparound porch and well-landscaped yard.

The porch was filled with blankets and cushions, various benches and chairs littered the vast expanse of painted wood. There were shelves of books, potted plants, musical instruments. Carol examined them all with minor interest before stuffing the tattered paper back into her pocket. Now that she’d selected her wardrobe carefully and made her way here clear across town, she was having second thoughts. What did she see in this slip of a girl? And better yet, why was the flower girl interested in a cop?

She stood casually in her jeans, sweatshirt, and jean jacket, an outfit chosen specifically to not make a statement of establishment, rocking back on sneaker heels, tilting her head in consideration. She was still deciding whether or not to leave when the door opened and searching hazel eyes pinned her where she stood on the top step of the porch.

“Look, cop, you gonna stand there all day or come in?”

Carol recognized Minos’s piercing gaze and disdainful voice. She shrugged her shoulders as if she didn’t care one way or another but the woman at the door smiled slightly, letting her know the act was seen through.

Minos opened the door wider, tilted her head slightly in invitation as if it was given reluctantly. Carol surmised it was.

“I’m here to see Erin,” the tall dark woman said at last, finally making her decision and taking the few steps that brought her across the porch to the front door.

The other woman snorted. “No kidding,” she said as if Carol were an idiot. “Figured that out.”

The cop chose to ignore the tone of voice and stepped into the house anyway, biting her tongue on a harsh retort that would get her nowhere.

“Skylon’s room is on the second floor, second door on the left.” The fact that Minos had over emphasized Erin’s hippie name wasn’t lost on the nervous officer.

“She has her own room?” Carol asked, surprised.

Minos shook her head. “No one has their own anything here. We all share.” Then the tall brunette left, leaving Carol to her own devices.

Hands still stuffed in jacket pockets, Carol made her way carefully up the stairs to the second door which stood wide open on broken hinges. She studied the scene first, looking at the small blonde who lay curled on a mattress on the bare wood floor. She was reading something in a tattered notebook, occasionally making scribbles, often chewing on the end of her pencil. After a long moment of observation, Carol cleared her throat slightly, watching the green eyes leave paper and look up.

Erin was shocked to see the officer standing in the opening to her room but she tried not to show it. She felt a warm sense of joy crawl through her belly and rest heavily in her throat, causing her to cough a couple of times and blush before she spoke. “Hi,” she said softly, allowing Carol once again to see the delicate side of her instead of the outspoken brash person she often seemed to be.

“Hi,” Carol smiled gently, trying to offer the woman comfort, not wanting to make her awkward or nervous.

The young blonde set aside notebook and pencil and stood up slowly. Today she was dressed in tattered jeans and an over sized T-shirt with a huge peace symbol emblazoned across the front.

“I didn’t think you’d come,” Erin spoke at last, both women still standing the length of the room apart.

Carol shrugged, broad shoulders lifting and relaxing under the denim of her jacket. “You invited me. I came.”

“Why?” Erin asked suddenly, surprising herself by her insecurity and the flutter in her stomach.

Carol grinned slightly and thought of a hundred smart retorts or teasing comebacks. Instead, she decided on honesty. “It was an offer I couldn’t pass up.”

“Fair enough,” Erin grinned back, feeling some of her composure return when presented with the officer’s relaxed demeanor. “Come in, I’m sorry,” suddenly realizing her manners, she stepped forward. “Let me take your jacket and we can leave it in here while I give you the grand tour. Who let you in?” she asked curiously as she took the extended jacket and tossed it on her double mattress.

“Minos.”

“Ah,” Erin nodded, looked back to her guest with an inquiring jade gaze. “Was she nice?”

Carol shrugged.

“Was she mean?”

The dark woman laughed softly, shook her head. “No, she wasn’t mean. But I wouldn’t have used nice as a descriptor.”

The young blonde nodded her agreement. “She’s … ah … not fond of cops. Policemen … um … police women,” Erin fumbled.

Carol smiled. “Cop is fine, Erin. And you aren’t too fond of us, either.”

The younger woman shrugged, tilted her head, “You’re different.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I do,” Erin nodded though she didn’t know from where she got the conviction of those words. Something about this dark woman called to her and she knew that under the tough exterior, the gun and the uniform, was a gentle person she wanted to get to know better. The attraction she felt was new and intriguing. And she’d be damned if she let it slip away without further exploration. “C’mon,” she reached out to gently tug at the woman’s sleeve. “Let’s go see who’s around to meet.”

Erin offered a quick tour, showing Carol the common rooms, waving to the shared bedrooms. They ended up in the kitchen with two long haired men and cups of coffee. Erin introduced the men as Bill and Stanley, telling them that Carol was her friend that she’d met at the demonstration they’d all attended. She left out that the dark woman had been one of the uniformed attendees. Carol noticed the absence and raised an eyebrow questioningly. Erin smiled, patting the older woman on the arm and letting that touch linger a little longer than necessary.

“So what are your plans for today, Skylon?” Stanley asked, standing to rinse out his coffee cup.

Erin glanced to her companion quickly and was met with inquisitive blue eyes. “No plans. Maybe go for a walk, do some talking.”

Stanley nodded. “We’re going to go down to the pharmaceutical company and sit on the steps,” he grinned, teeth barely showing beneath his beard. “We’re pretty sure they’re supporting the war efforts so we’re going to go make their lives a little more difficult.” He placed his wet mug upside down on a towel covering the counter. “Wanna come? The more the merrier.”

Erin looked to her hands, then her friend’s blue eyes, before turning to Stanley. “Not today, Stan. But good luck to you.”

“Suit yourself,” the tall man shrugged and patted his silent companion’s shoulder. “Let’s go, Bill. Places to go … people to see.”

Their departure left the two women alone in the kitchen.

“If you want to go,” Carol said at last, after a very long moment of silence, “I can come back another day.”

Erin smiled in that over-confident manner she must have perfected years ago. “Not up to it? We could both join them.”

Carol returned the grin. “I can’t, Erin. You know that.”

“Yeah,” the young blonde’s countenance turned more wistful as she looked away to study the kitchen. The water stained wallpaper curled away from the walls, the Formica counters were chipped and damaged. She tapped her toe on cracking green linoleum. “I know.”

“You didn’t tell them what I do,” the dark woman observed, watching her young friend with gentle eyes. She sensed a conflict in the other woman she could neither define nor understand.

Erin shook her head, traced a crack in the table with a blunt-nailed finger. “I wanted them to like you.”

“You don’t think I’m likeable in uniform, Erin? It’s part of me.”

“I know,” she shrugged her shoulders and sighed, able to meet the ice gaze only briefly. “But we kinda don’t look past the clothes to the person. Ironic, isn’t it? That’s what we claim the establishment is doing to us.”

Carol nodded silently, agreeing with her observation. She wondered why she’d looked past the granny dress and the flower basket to the charming woman beneath. She also wondered why she was here and where this could possibly go. “Two different worlds,” she muttered.

Erin looked up from her diligent tracing. “Yeah. But is that okay?”

“Whaddya mean?” the dark woman asked, rising to pour herself some more coffee and bringing the pot over to fill her friend’s mug as well.

“Can we get past that? If I don’t judge you by your uniform and you don’t judge me by mine?”

Carol smiled, regaining her seat. “I think so.”

“I’d like to.”

“Me too,” the taller woman agreed, sipping from her mug, watching the features before her. Erin was a beautiful young woman without make-up or a pretentious hairstyle. Her charm and looks were natural and Carol found herself drawn to them. She’d never considered herself attracted to women before meeting the blonde. Now she guessed she may have to redefine that part of herself because she could easily picture romantic moonlight strolls with this woman. She could almost feel the gentle caresses and the warmth of lips. She shook her head.

Erin noticed her blush but kindly declined comment. “You up for that walk? There’s a park nearby, we can take Rainbow.”

“What’s Rainbow?” Carol asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Four legged roommate. Catches a mean Frisbee.”

“Sounds like fun,” the older woman agreed, downing the rest of her coffee in a few short swallows. “Let’s get out of here before my true identity is revealed.”

Erin laughed, finishing her coffee as well and rinsing out both mugs to set them beside Stanley’s.

Chapter 6

“So what do you do?” Carol asked as she tossed the Frisbee. Rainbow ran with all he had to keep up to the flying disk. He was a large black mutt of some sort, probably had Lab and Shepherd in him. His breed was really irrelevant as it was impossible not to love him for his gregarious attitude and his large flopping tongue.

They stood in the middle of a large park near campus and had claimed a shady spot under a tree as well as a field for Rainbow’s activities. The afternoon sun was warm and bright, the rays chasing filigreed clouds along the sky’s blue expanses. It was a wonderful day for outdoor activity and pleasant company.

The walk over had been enjoyable, Rainbow had remained on a leash until they’d reached the edge of the park where Erin had turned him loose to bound across the manicured grass and hunt for butterflies or dandelions. He found the latter in much greater numbers than the former but it made little difference to him in his world of pure enjoyment and sensations.

“I fight for the betterment of mankind,” Erin answered, tilting her head up to regard her dark companion and squinting against the streaming sunlight. She sat in the grass at Carol’s feet, her bellbottomed legs stretching outward.

Carol grinned. Always about the movement, she thought silently. “No,” the dark-haired woman corrected, taking a seat next to Erin. “I mean for a living. You must eat. Buy clothes. What do you do for money?”

“I’m an artist,” Erin replied, watching her companion for any sort of negative reaction. She’d found that a lot of the establishment wasn’t impressed with artists or their works and dreams. “I paint. I sculpt,” she continued softly, seeing nothing in the other woman’s countenance to frighten her off. “Sometimes I write. About once a month I go to the village or Soho to sell my work. All the money the house brings in goes into a large fund. That way we always have electric and a fridge full of food,” she finished with a smile.

“What about if you wanted to go to the movies or something? Don’t you have spending money?” Carol asked nonchalantly, stretching out her long legs and watching Rainbow. The dog dropped the Frisbee halfway across the field and was now busily trying to scoop his nose under it and pick it back up. It was outsmarting him and he barked at it, scratching helplessly with large paws.

“I’m usually too busy for things like that. And I rarely eat out. So it’s not that much of a burden. But yes I do have some spending money,” Erin acknowledged softly, hoping that Carol was asking for another reason besides trying to understand the joint household living situation. She glanced sideways at her companion, enjoying the slope of her sharp cheekbones and the olive hue of her skin. Her long black hair was pulled back in a ponytail, revealing dainty dangling earrings in her lobes. Erin found her breathtaking: her eyes matching the sky and her hair darker than night. The artist in her began to plan a sketch that might reflect the other woman’s beauty. She blushed at the thought and looked away again before Carol could notice.

A silence filled the space between them until Rainbow recovered the toy and made his presence known again by leaping from woman to woman hoping someone – anyone – would throw his prize again. Carol took the not-so-subtle hint from the canine and rose to her feet once more, throwing as far and as hard as she could. She brushed off the seat of her pants while keeping her attention on the bounding dog and the way his ears flopped with each great leap. She grinned at him and envied him his simple pleasures.

“You’ve got quite an arm there,” Erin complimented, smiling up at the officer, shielding her eyes from the sunlight so she could see Carol’s reaction. She was surprised when she saw the blush rise to the other woman’s cheeks. If anything, she was more attractive with the added color.

“Well, I played softball for a lot of years when I was younger. The force has a league but I don’t play now,” Carol responded, rolling her shoulders with the memory of a good day on the field. She’d been the best on her team in high school. She’d even practiced with the boy’s team from time to time though she was never permitted to play a game with them.

“Why not?” Erin asked, honestly confused. The other woman’s voice indicated it was something she’d enjoyed. And her posture and stance seemed to prove she was more than capable. “They are obviously losing a great outfielder with that arm.”

Carol was both surprised and pleased that Erin knew something about the sport and she paused a moment before answering. “Ohh … I … the force doesn’t let women play on the team. It’s only recently that they allowed women on the force itself. Maybe in a few years that will change,” She replied reluctantly, knowing she was cracking the door for an argument. Thus far the day had been pleasant and their time together enjoyable. She didn’t want to ruin it with an abrupt reminder about how very different they were.

“So you’re good enough to wrestle flower children to the ground but not good enough to catch a grounder to third?” Erin teased gently, sensing the other woman’s tension but also angered at the obvious discrimination she faced.

As Carol began to laugh, Rainbow took a flying leap at her, sending her flat on her back. Erin scolded the animal who was now busy licking Carol’s face any place she could find. “I think I made a new friend,” Carol said between laughs and dodging a long seeking tongue. She put her hands on the dog’s broad chest and shoved at him weakly. Erin tried in vain to pull Rainbow off of her friend, her feet planted on either side of his body and her hands wrapped firmly around his collar. But no amount of tugging was lifting the eager dog away.

Giving up on the brute force approach, Erin released her hold on the dog and tossed the Frisbee, sending Rainbow on the chase again. She knelt down beside the tall officer and helped pull her into a sitting position. “I’m sorry about that,” Erin apologized. “He’s a little overzealous now and then.” She grinned ruefully at the understatement as she helped Carol pick blades of grass out of her hair. The strands were silky against her fingertips and caused Erin’s heart to flutter slightly. Her attraction to this woman was absolutely unnerving.

“No need to apologize. I love animals,” Carol smiled in response, evidently oblivious to the effect she was having on the smaller woman.

“Even ones that plant wet kisses all over your face?” Erin questioned as Carol wiped her cheek with her sweatshirt sleeve.

“Well, that depends on the animal. There are some kisses I like more than others,” Carol bantered easily, trying to reroute the conversation and embarrass the brash young blonde.

“Is that so?” Erin replied with her eyebrow arched, considering possibilities, feeling her face warm again. The twinkle in the dark woman’s eyes told her that she’d fallen for Carol’s gentle ploy.

Carol’s mind went blank except for two thoughts – one, Erin definitely had accepted the flirting and two, she really wanted to find out what Erin’s kisses would be like. Though brave a moment before, the reality of it was a little more than she was ready for so Carol visibly shook the images out of her mind and moved to her feet, mumbling something about the returning dog.

Erin, for her part, stayed still a moment, soaking up what had just transpired. She knew Carol had initiated the playfulness and the flirting and she knew now by the other woman’s reaction how awkward it felt to her. What she didn’t know was how much Carol was playing and how much of her was seriously interested in pursuing something further. And even if she were interested, would the officer have the courage to explore it? She was reasonably certain Carol didn’t have a lot of experience in pursuing romantic relationships with women. The dark woman’s rigid, up-tight attitude left Erin little doubt Carol would not be making any bold moves. That would have to be Erin’s task but she didn’t want to rush into things either. Given time, perhaps the officer would come to her.

Carol threw the toy again as Erin came to her feet, dusting off her pants and raising her face to the sunlit sky. The officer wanted to find a topic of conversation that might ease the awkwardness they’d settled into. She could think of one that would make the silence go away.

“So what’s the greater good?” Carol asked slowly. “You said you would explain it to me if I stopped by.”

“Where to begin …” Erin pondered. “It’s a theory. A way of life … It says that our own existence isn’t as important as the living condition of man. I would sacrifice my own life, if need be, for something I thought would be best for mankind.”

“I’m not sure I follow you,” Carol confessed, glancing away from Rainbow’s continued antics to meet the gentle green eyes of her companion.

“Okay, lets take that peace rally where you ran me in,” Erin smirked and waited for Carol’s reaction. When Carol grinned too she continued. “I could have been killed by being that close to your force. But I had a message to present – violence is not the answer to maintaining order, be it here or in Vietnam. If I died by trying to get that message out then so be it. My death would result in people taking notice – maybe ten more people would have taken up the cause as a result. And from there perhaps ten more. And ten more. And ten more -“

“Okay,” Carol interrupted, pretty sure the blonde would continue in her present phrasing for quite awhile. “So if you’d been killed it would have drawn attention to your cause. I understand,” she agreed, seeing a huge flaw in the plan. Her grin and shaking head illustrated her unspoken words.

“But it’s not just that. I would have given my life for something I believe in. I would have made a difference unlike the soldiers in Asia now. All they know is death and destruction. They kill innocents in the name of ‘Old Glory’ … That’s not the America I know and love,” Erin responded, warming to the subject and wanting her companion to understand just how much she was willing to give.

“So you’re telling me you’re a patriot?!” Carol laughed, the imagery not quite fitting. “It doesn’t look like it to me.”

“Why? Because I don’t agree with the course America’s taken? I think I’m more American than anyone who sits in congress. I know I’m more American than Tricky Dick who sits in the White House. I don’t have to like what my country is doing but I’ll always love what it stands for. It’s just that right now I think we are getting off course from what we stand for.”

“So do all you flower power types think this way?” Carol asked with condescension in her voice, regretting the tone immediately but unable to stop it from creeping in.

“Most do. Yes,” The blonde responded with a raised eyebrow. Aside from general good-natured teasing, this was the first time she’d felt that Carol didn’t approve of her or her lifestyle.

“So tell me … do you go to airports and spit on the soldiers who come home? I mean, after all, they’re the key element in what the country is doing wrong in your eyes,” Carol replied sarcastically.

“I would never do that,” Erin said, growing angry and taking a step away from Carol so she would be better able to look at the woman’s expression without bending her neck backwards.

When Carol didn’t look at her, Erin put her hand on Carol’s arm for emphasis.

“Honestly,” she said calmly, controlling her rising emotions. “If they chose to serve this action then that’s their choice. I don’t agree with it, I think every young man should burn his draft card. But I can’t blame those who go if that’s the right decision for them. It would make me a pretty damn big hypocrite, don’t you think?”

“Preaching about people doing what they think is best then chastising those who do just that would make you a hypocrite,” Carol agreed, the smaller woman’s touch warm on her arm. “But if that’s the case, what are your options?”

“I’m not sure what you mean about options,” Erin tilted her head slightly, confusion showing on her wrinkled brow.

Carol had to think a moment to collect her thoughts. She was more a woman of actions than words and she had to admit this little blonde had her on her toes. It was obvious that Erin had a lot more experience in verbal debates and in expressing her beliefs and feelings. “What I mean is: if you don’t hold the soldiers accountable for what’s going on then who do you blame?”

“That’s easy. The lawmakers. They-“

Carol held her finger up. “Then why aren’t you working within the system for change? Let’s be honest. The lawmakers see you as nothing more than pot addicts making a lot of noise.”

Erin smiled and nodded in agreement. “Yes. I think that’s exactly how the establishment views us … and for that very reason I don’t want to be a part of the ‘ole boys club’,” she retorted.

Carol felt the jab, she scowled slightly. “But you think I do. Is that it?”

“I didn’t say that,” Erin replied evasively, though she did see it a little bit. Carol was trying to do the right thing, trying to make a difference in her own way, but she was wrapped up in a machine that was confining and restricting and belonged to the brash men of society. She was shunned for her gender and her skill overlooked. Surely she could see that?

“Not in so many words,” Carol argued, fidgeting, refusing to take the Frisbee from a frantic Rainbow. She didn’t want Erin to see her that way; she didn’t want to be that way. “But that’s what you meant. You have no idea why I joined the force. So who are you to judge me?”

“I’m not judging you, Carol,” she began gently, sensing the other woman’s quick temper and defensiveness. “But you are right when you say I have no idea why you joined.” Erin could feel her blood getting warmer – her own anger rising. “How could someone who’s so bright, intelligent, strong and sometimes witty want to be part of a machine? A machine built on the WASP philosophy of life? A machine that says if you’re not the right color, sex, age or education you’re not worthy? Forget about me spitting on soldiers. How many times have you detained a black man a little longer just for kicks?! How many times have you pushed a beatnik off a street corner for a laugh?!”

Carol lost what little control she had on her emotions and bent down so she was mere inches from Erin. Her steel blue eyes bored into the young woman’s misty green. She held her there in a silent glare for several long seconds, wanting to impress upon her these next words which were absolutely true. “Never,” Carol whispered, her hot breath brushing across Erin’s face and moving blonde locks of hair. “Never. I have a sense of honor despite what you may think of me.”

“Oh, really?” the blonde answered quickly, her own anger dancing like flames in those emerald eyes. “Maybe you haven’t,” she nodded smugly, not backing down in the slightest. “But I bet you know people on the force that have.”

Carol flinched and turned away, backing down from the fight, knowing there was truth in the young woman’s words. She had seen it although she was never a party to it. At least that’s what she told herself as she began to walk away, the uncertainty warring with her anger for control of her emotions. She left the young blonde standing in the shade of the tree, green eyes watching her every move. Erin’s voice stopped her steps before she’d gotten very far.

“You know it happens, Carol. And you do nothing to stop it. And whether you choose to believe it or not, you’re a good ole boy, too, because you turn the other cheek,” Erin called. But her voice was gentle and pleading, the anger having drained away. She wanted Carol to see the whole picture, to see the role she played in it.

Rainbow sensed the tension between the women and wisely stayed down in the sunny spot he had picked in the grass moments before. The animal watched and whimpered as Carol slowly walked back to Erin.

“I joined the force so I could make a difference,” Carol announced slowly, believing it to be true. “I’m trying to open doors for women that have never been open before. I’m trying to keep order in this unruly age. Don’t be a hypocrite, Erin. I’m doing it my way; just like you’re doing it yours.” Her voice was soft, urging the smaller woman to understand. She’d wanted so badly to make a difference, to provide people like Erin a fair and honest counterpart on the force. She wanted the young blonde to see her that way and not as an uncaring member of the establishment.

Erin sighed along with Rainbow who now had his chin on his paws, eyes flashing between his two friends.

“I’m sorry,” Erin apologized sincerely, reaching a hand out and laying it on Carol’s muscular arm. “I didn’t want to fight. That wasn’t the intention of my invitation.”

Since Erin had opened the door, Carol walked on through it. “And just why did you invite me?” she prodded, relaxing inexplicably at the younger woman’s gentle touch. This was the answer she really wanted. Was Erin as interested in her as she was in the hippie?

“I … uh … I just thought … I thought maybe there was more to you than most folks see,” Erin stuttered, uncertainly, being put on the spot. That was NOT groovy, Erin thought silently, kicking herself in the butt. So much for being suave and seductive. She didn’t add anything more for fear of shoving her foot any farther into her mouth.

Carol wasn’t sure what to make of Erin’s sudden lack of grace. She was very eloquent, well spoken, she appeared to always have a solid handle on things. The innocent question left the young beatnik nearly tongue-tied. Carol had to smile as she assumed the other woman’s behavior answered her biggest question.

“Well, whatever the reason,” Carol said trying to lighten the girl’s discomfort, “I’m glad you did.”

Erin knew this was the only opening she would get. She had to take it now. “Would you like to do it again sometime? Minus the arguing … well, maybe not as much arguing. I don’t like to make promises I can’t keep,” She grinned faintly, her stomach tied in knots waiting for the taller woman to respond.

Carol saw that angelic grin and agreed immediately. “Sounds great … but I don’t want to take up too much of your time.”

“No!” Erin regretted her desperate reaction instantly. “I mean … It wouldn’t be a bother at all. I could use some time out of the house anyway. That’s if you’re interested. I mean you are interested aren’t you?” She stuttered stupidly and then decided that closing her mouth would be the best approach.

Carol swallowed hard. Was she interested? She was, she realized but at this point she couldn’t tell just how much. Or more to the point, she wasn’t ready to admit to herself just how much. Outwardly, she grinned slightly and took a step closer, letting her body language imply as much as the young blonde was willing to read in it.

“How about this Friday?” the dark-haired officer asked casually. “I know you’re not big into movies but maybe there’s something playing you might like to see.”

Erin grinned and nodded in agreement, not trusting her voice. With a whistle to Rainbow, they were on their way.

Chapter 7

What had started as a bad morning only promised to get worse. Carol had been late getting up, a brief power outage causing her alarm to reset. So she felt half-ready when she walked into the middle of roll call, her hair still wet and pulled tightly into a thick braid. She smoothed her uniform self-consciously as she sat next to Randell in her appointed seat. He cast her a sideways glance that was a mixture of amusement and consternation. Carol ignored him and the other glances she received.

Thankfully, Randell held his tongue when they hit the road in their patrol car. Carol had been prepared for a verbal berating about looking bad in front of the men but she was rewarded with no such discussion. For that she was grateful.

It was a slow morning as they drove their beat with little interference and no radio calls. Towards lunchtime they agreed to stop for some doughnuts. Though the pastry was Randell’s delicacy and not Carol’s, she felt justified in giving in since he’d spared her a tongue lashing for her tardiness.

They stood in line quietly, not speaking while they watched the patrons in front of them. Carol wasn’t paying too much attention until a black kid standing at the counter started raising his voice at Eddie, the shop’s regular cashier.

“Ya can’t charge me more for my doughnut than you did for his,” the kid raised his voice, shaking his head. “I only brought what the doughnut costs.”

“Then you can’t have a doughnut, boy. Move a long, I have other customers.” Eddie was not impressed by the young man’s display and quickly moved his attention to the next person in line.

“Don’t blow me off, man! I’m a paying customer!” the kid was outraged, stepping forward. “Dr. King gave me the right to buy a damn doughnut and you sure as hell aren’t going to take that right away from me!”

Carol grew uneasy, watching the crowd as their attention was riveted to the display. Eddie shook his head, a smug grin on his face. “I don’t have time for your nigger garbage. Move along.”

The dark-haired woman cringed and evaluated the situation. It was bound to get out of hand rather quickly. She checked out the rest of their patrons, tried to determine everyone’s position and what kind of role they may play. She needed to get the kid out of here and calmed down. Later she’d come back and read Eddie the riot act. The asshole’s narrow-minded view needed a good shaking up.

The one part of the equation she’d not seriously considered in her layout of the small shop was her partner. Though often an idiot, Randell was a professional and she’d assumed his mind was following the same tract hers was since their training had been the same. She was mistaken.

Randell swaggered forward and rested a hand on the butt of his weapon. “You heard him, move along, boy.”

“No sir!” the kid shouted, dancing from foot to foot. He was either high or nervous or a little bit of both as he watched his new adversary with slitted dark eyes. “Martin Luther King died for my rights! You’re nobody! I deserve to be treated equally.” Angrily he shoved his hands in the pockets of his ratty red hooded sweatshirt. Carol recognized it for the frustration it was, Randell saw something else there.

“Knock it off, kid,” the male officer growled, his voice low and threatening, his hand flexing on the handle of his service revolver though it was still holstered.

“Calm down, Randell,” Carol stepped forward, touched her angry partner’s tense shoulder, “He’s just a kid. He wants a doughnut for God sakes. I’ll buy him his doughnut.” She turned to Eddie. “How much?”

“You ain’t buying a doughnut for that nigger,” Eddie shook his head, his lip curled in a smirk.

“Knock it off, Eddie,” Carol said, her voice low and dangerous, her blue eyes glinting like ice. “I want a God damned doughnut for the kid. My money’s just as good as his money … same as your money.”

“Carol, get a grip,” her partner scoffed. “Kid doesn’t need a doughnut.”

The kid in question shook his head in exasperation and started backing up, hands fidgeting in his pockets still. “Forget it, lady. I’d sooner cut y’all to pieces than take your damn charity.”

Carol sighed, defeated. She was disappointed that the boy had misinterpreted her actions. While rotating on her booted heel away from the counter and towards her partner and the frustrated teen, she heard a reverberating crack. With utter shock she watched as the boy fell to the floor, a red blossom growing at his stomach on the white T-shirt revealed between the unzipped front of his sweatshirt.

She paused just long enough to stupidly register that his blood was almost purple compared to the bright red of the sweatshirt. Then she sprinted across the floor and fell on her knees at his side. “Call an ambulance right now, dammit!” She turned to look at her partner. “Put that away, Randell!”

The rest was a blur until Carol stood outside their boss’s office where Randell was inside discussing the shooting. She leaned her head back wearily against the wall and reconsidered the day’s events. The kid had made it to the hospital but was in intensive care listed in critical condition. Carol had ridden in the ambulance with him, leaving Randell behind to talk to the officers newly arrived on the scene to question the witnesses. She could only imagine what they’d said.

Carol sighed. She was confused and angry and sad. The whole scene played over and over in her mind and she was weary of the obvious conclusion. Randell had no reason to open fire. It was a kid, wanting a doughnut. She could see his lithe body crumpling to the linoleum floor and swimming in blood. His blood. As red as hers and Randell’s. It had drained from him like a fountain, seeping between her long fingers as she’d tried to staunch the flow of it, hot and sticky, from his body. But there was so much of it and it was so warm, she swallowed back tears, blinked her eyes at the fluorescent lights lining the ceiling. Oh God, what had she done?

Randell emerged with a slight grin and a confident step. He nodded once to his partner before making his way to the locker rooms to prepare himself to go home. Carol sighed, part of her wishing she had gone home already, putting off the interview, but she’d wanted to get it over with while it was still fresh in her mind. She rose to her full height and turned to the gruff man who stood in the doorway of his office, eyeing her.

“Listen up, Johnson. I don’t want to talk to you tonight-“

“But the shooting board?” Carol interrupted, confused.

He raised a hand to stall her, the look on his face was obviously annoyance. “I want you to have the whole weekend to think about this. I want you to consider your fellow officers and our mission to uphold peace … and that lippy kid who threatened your partner. Your partner, Johnson. Think long and hard and I’ll talk to you first thing Monday morning.” With that he slammed the door in her face.

She blinked. Surely he hadn’t just told her he expected her to lie. Had he? He wanted her to cover for Randell? Didn’t he care that Randell had shot a kid, regardless of skin color, and left him in the hospital?

She turned on her heel and headed towards the locker room to find her partner.

“Wanna tell me what happened?” Carol asked once she and Randell were alone in the back.

“You were there, you saw it.”

“But I’m thinking I saw something different. All I saw was a kid wanting a damn doughnut, Randell. I didn’t see anything warranting the use of a weapon.

“What’s one less nigger kid in this world? I’m sure his momma’s got a tribe more at their house.”

Carol’s lips and vocal cords refused to move. She couldn’t believe what she had just heard. Randell began to make his way around her but she stopped him by grabbing his arm before he got away.

“Hold on,” she replied. “I’m your partner and I have a right to know what happened especially when the reporters come beating down our door … For the last time … what happened in that doughnut shop this morning?”

“You heard him, Carol. He threatened to cut us up. He had a knife in his pocket. I had no choice,” Randell said innocently, turning away to finish organizing his locker before slamming the door closed. He sat on a rickety wooden bench and began tying his shoelaces.

“He said no such thing, Randell. I was at the hospital with him and there was no knife in his pocket,” she stared at the man before her with nothing less than astonishment on her features. Surely she would have remembered if he’d threatened them.

Randell shrugged, finishing with one foot and raising up the other. “That’s cuz the knife was on the scene. Found it on the floor.”

Carol’s eyes widened.

“Yep. That’s what happened, kid had a knife. Now the captain tells me I have to go before the review board. I guess the reporters were raising a stink – race issues and things like that. I didn’t shoot that kid cuz he’s a nigger. After I told the story to the captain he agrees with me and doesn’t think it will be a problem.”

Carol teetered on the edge of giving the older man a piece of her mind and backing away to consider his words. She really didn’t get far in her decision making as he stood up and stepped around her. When he was next to her, he spoke very softly. “Partners support partners around here, Carol. They’ll be looking to you to confirm my story.” With that he left the room.

She took Randell’s spot on the bench and covered her head in her hands. She thought of the kid in the hospital. She thought of the implications for Randell that lay ahead. But she also wondered just what Erin would say or more importantly, how she herself would justify it. She was pretty certain she couldn’t lie for Randell, consequences be damned.

Chapter 8

“Is … Skylon … here?” Carol asked casually once Minos opened the front door.

She stressed Erin’s hippie name, waiting to see if Minos would have any disputes with her presence this time around. The name didn’t help. Minos still didn’t seem very impressed with Erin’s outside interests.

Minos didn’t take her eyes off Carol as she yelled, “Skylon your c- … friend is here.”

Minos had agreed to keep Carol’s police identity a secret from the house and she’d had to catch herself from calling Carol a cop and breaking her promise. Carol could hear Erin’s racing feet making their way downstairs and she had to smile at the thought of seeing her young friend. After such a bad day, she’d been looking forward to spending some time with the gregarious blonde tonight.

“Thanks, Minos,” Erin said arriving at the door, almost winded from her quick journey. Minos stood still, sizing the two of them up. The younger woman realized that Minos wasn’t about to give them any privacy so she pushed her way between the doorway and her friend so she could slide onto the porch with Carol.

“I’m not sure how late we’ll be so don’t wait up okay?” Erin told her.

“I’m not your mother, Skylon,” Minos grinned.

“Oh yeah?” Erin responded, returning the teasing smile, “Then why have you stayed up every other time I’m out after dark, huh?”

“All right, all right,” Minos confessed. “So I worry about you.”

“Well don’t worry tonight,” Erin said wrapping her arm playfully around Carol’s. “I’m quite well protected.”

“You better be,” Minos said in a warning tone that wasn’t lost on the dark cop. She grinned sheepishly, still wanting to be friends with Minos if for no other reason than the older woman was obviously important to Erin.

“She will be,” Carol said sincerely, nodding her head for emphasis. With a slight tug, the two left the house and proceeded to walk down the street.

“It’s a nice night out tonight. Care if we just walk a ways?” Erin asked.

“No,” Carol answered with a smile, secretly grateful that the younger woman had left their arms hooked. “Fine by me. Any idea about what you want to do?”

“The local theater is putting on a production of ‘Hair.’ Did you want to go?” Erin asked.

“Have you seen it before?” Carol questioned, not knowing much about the play except it seemed to be popular with those of Erin’s lifestyle.

“Yeah,” the blonde nodded in response. “But I don’t mind seeing it again. Besides I get something new outta it every time.”

“Sounds good to me,” Carol agreed despite her misgivings. She figured she might learn something as well and it could distract her from today’s events. However, she really didn’t want it to spark another argument between her and her young friend.

A small silence fell between them until Erin asked, “So what’s the story on that shooting I heard about today?”

Though Carol had known this was going to come up, she’d really hoped it would be later rather than sooner. “You mean the kid in the doughnut shop?” Carol asked just for clarification, knowing that was exactly what Erin meant.

“Yeah – Jimmy Robbins,” her companion replied.

“You know him?” Carol asked with a raised eyebrow. She’d only gotten his name once they were at the hospital and she’d had to dig through his pockets for information to give the nurses.

“Sure, I’ve seen him at the student union once in a while. Nice kid. Can’t imagine him giving anyone a hard time.”

Carol shook her head and chuckled grimly. When Carol didn’t voice her thoughts Erin dragged them out of her.

“What is it?” the flower child asked.

“You know the victim,” Carol began.

Erin simply gave a nod.

“I know the cop.”

“Well it was your precinct after all,” Erin remarked. “I figured that.”

“No, Erin, the shooter – I mean the cop … is my partner.”

Erin had to take a moment for the implication to sink in. Now she was kind of wishing she hadn’t smoked that joint before Carol’s arrival. Slowly her mind turned – it wasn’t just someone in the squad Carol knew. It was someone with whom she worked quite closely.

“What’s his story on the shooting? Were you there?” Erin asked softly, trying to stay neutral and give her friend some room to discuss the issue.

“He said the kid was mouthing off and then he started to threaten him. So he shot him,” Carol answered, avoiding the last part of the question though she knew any attempt to evade it completely was a waste in time and effort.

“You were there?”

“Yeah.”

“What did you see, Carol?” Erin prodded gently, sensing both from the arm she held and the taller woman’s stature that she wasn’t comfortable with the topic.

“I didn’t see what he saw,” she said simply, glancing to the young woman at her side. She thought the blonde’s eyes looked a little unfocused and the realization made her grin slightly. “I’m not sure what else to say, Erin. Or should I call you Skylon?” she said jokingly at the end, to ease the tension, hoping for a subject change.

Erin considered the options of her name. No one had called her by her actual birth name since high school. She was getting ready to graduate with her political science degree this spring and she was going to be an adult. For some reason her hippie name just didn’t fit when Carol said it. Besides she liked the sound of her actual name from the other woman’s lips.

“Erin is fine,” the honey-blonde grinned but she began to digest Carol’s words, not letting the dark-haired woman sidestep the issue. “Mouthing off doesn’t seem like Jimmy’s style, Carol. I’m not saying that he’s an angel or anything, I don’t know him that well, but he was always very mild-mannered when I saw him.”

Carol shrugged, averted her eyes. “I think he was on something, maybe. Blood work’ll tell that. He was pretty worked up over something, talking about his rights and Dr. Martin Luther King. I had my back turned right before the gunshot, I didn’t even see Randell pull his weapon. But it’s not his style to fire for no reason. Maybe I missed something.”

“Carol,” Erin began gently, able to tell even through her high that Carol had doubts about the story she was telling. Her ice blue eyes were evasive as they studied the street around them. “You don’t believe that. If you’d really thought Jimmy was a threat, your back wouldn’t have been turned. You didn’t miss anything.”

“He’s good at what he does,” Carol said faintly, knowing that her argument was weak but not having the energy to stand up for a point she didn’t really believe.

“So he’s a defender of human civil rights? Lobbying for you to join the baseball team?” Erin pressed with a wily grin, trying to ease the pressure though dying to get the entire story out of her somber companion.

“I didn’t say that,” Carol responded with a very slight smile, hoping that this was a sign Erin was ready to let the topic go. She hadn’t sorted it out in her own mind and wasn’t prepared to analyze it out loud yet.

“Well you would know him better than me, right?” Erin asked flippantly.

“Right,” Carol nodded, relieved that the hippie was willing to drop it after all. She was also a little surprised that Erin had sensed her awkwardness and willingly backed away. Perhaps tonight wouldn’t be a night of fighting.

“Here we are,” Erin announced, going to the ticket window and propping her elbows on the wooden counter. “Two please,” she told the clerk.

“No, Erin,” the officer insisted. “Let me get it.”

“Think I can’t pay my own way? Is that it?” Erin prodded, a glimmer in those green eyes that Carol was growing so fond of.

“No,” the taller woman argued, drawing her voice out slowly with the explanation. “But I do know I make more than you so it’s only right that I pay.”

“Carol?”

“Hmm?”

“Take your ticket.”

Carol didn’t quibble further as they made their way inside. She did however whisper into Erin’s ear, “I am going to buy dinner later – no arguments.”

The blonde couldn’t help but love that protective, forceful nature of Carol’s. She nodded silently, taking the other woman’s large hand in hers, using the dark as an excuse to guide her.

XXXXX

“How can you say that?!” Erin asked before sticking another french fry in her mouth, chewing quickly. “It was a remarkable play. A landmark in our own time!”

Carol smiled and shook her head sadly, blue eyes twinkling in the artificial light of the burger joint Erin had chosen. It was far enough away that they’d gone back to the house to retrieve Carol’s car and driven here but the cop was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the food and had already told her companion so. “It was a bunch of people running around on stage … naked … singing about masturbation.”

“You got something against masturbation?” Erin joked. Her resolve fell apart and she found herself grinning with embarrassment from asking such an impulsive question. The flush from her cheeks, however, came more from the standpoint of imagining Carol masturbating than from the assertiveness of her words. Now that had possibilities. “I’m sorry. Really I am,” Erin said turning twenty shades of red and studying her plate with infinite concentration.

Carol realized this was the first time they had even come close to discussing sex so she didn’t want to just drop it. She wanted to plunge deeper into it and explore her friend’s thoughts a little more closely. So she answered Erin’s question and posed one herself. “In response,” Carol said smugly, “I have nothing against masturbation. I think fantasy is healthy. Would you agree?”

Erin wasn’t quite sure where this was going but she nodded slowly and cleared her throat, risking a brief glance at Carol’s probing eyes. “I …would …agree,” she answered straining, to get the words out.

“So tell me Erin … between you and me, no holds barred, who do you think of?” Carol asked mischievously, warming to the subject readily. She’d never been this invasive before and had she stopped to consider it, the audacity would have startled her.

“What do you mean?” Erin asked slowly, raising her head only slightly. She tried to nonchalantly chew a fry but she nearly gagged on it.

Carol smiled. She was sure the hippie was aware of exactly what she meant but if she wanted it spelled out …

“When you’re alone, and your fingertips are working your body into a frenzy, who do you think about? Is it you in your fantasies? Or do you close your eyes and imagine someone? Or maybe you’re a good girl and you don’t do that kind of thing, huh?” Carol hadn’t noticed how husky her voice had gotten but she did feel the temperature in the room go up considerably.

Erin grinned nervously, “I’m not a good girl,” she admitted not looking at Carol but giving up any attempt to finish her food.

“Well then,” Carol said before pausing to drink more of her chocolate malt. “Who is it? Lemme guess … some big rock star right?”

Erin listened to the words but her attention was focused on saying what needed to be said. Saying what she had wanted to say for quite some time as she’d been getting to know this dark woman better and better. “No,” she answered when Carol stopped and waited for some sort of response. “I don’t think of rock stars. It’s usually people that I know.”

“Okay, lemme guess again. Bill?” Carol said with a grin, hoping her attitude of levity was taking some of the seriousness away from her inquiry.

“No,” Erin said with a small shake of her head, finally looking up to meet Carol’s eyes, seeing in them a mixture of gentle humor and sincere affection. That look gave her a little courage.

“Stan?” Carol tried again.

“Nope,” Erin shook her head.

“Minos perhaps?” Carol smiled flatly as she tried to disguise that this was the answer she most wanted to know. Was Erin attracted to women? Was this even possible? The name made Erin look away again.

“You,” Erin said just above a whisper. She didn’t look at Carol, she couldn’t. The embarrassment of admitting the truth was almost too much. Instead she watched her fingers as her french fry made lazy trails in the puddle of ketchup on her plate. “I think about you,” she said a little more loudly when Carol hadn’t responded.

“I heard you the first time,” Carol finally acknowledged, trying to shake herself out of the shock from her friend’s statement. It was ironic, really. That was exactly what she’d been fishing for but she hadn’t thought the blonde would come right out and answer her unspoken question.

“Maybe you should drive me home now,” Erin offered, sullenly. She’d gone too far. For all of Carol’s brazen teasing, the reality really was more than she was ready for. Erin regretted the silence across the table and her own admission, which had ended their blossoming friendship.

Erin nervously wiped her fingers in her napkin. It felt like forever but finally Carol answered.

“I think that’s a good idea,” the officer agreed. She had to think about this and here really wasn’t the place to do that. So lost in her own emotions, she didn’t notice how glum Erin appeared as she stood and waited for the blonde to rise from the table and turn towards the door.

They drove in absolute silence. Erin still hadn’t met Carol’s eyes. As the car pulled to a stop in front of the house the young hippie watched Carol put the car in park.

“What are you doing?” Erin asked, finally looking over at the object of her fantasies.

“This,” Carol whispered as she leaned over and kissed Erin gently on the cheek. She stroked the other cheek with her fingertips. Reflexively Erin closed her eyes, soaking up the tenderness. “Would you tell me your fantasies some time?” the cop asked cautiously. “I’ll share mine if you’ll share yours.”

Erin didn’t know how to respond so she nodded mutely, overwhelmed by the move that Carol had just made and how closely it matched her own desires. The dark-haired woman pulled away and started to laugh softly, feeling nearly giddy with her admission and Erin’s warmth so close to her side.

The younger woman tensed. Had Carol been playing with her feelings? Was she now going to kick her out of the car shouting a few unpleasant names at her in the process? Surely she hadn’t misjudged the other woman so completely.

“What is it Carol?” Erin asked confused, not sure she wanted to hear the answer but needing to know just the same.

Carol paused a moment and saw how nervous Erin had become. The young woman looked like she was on the verge of tears. Carol quickly explained her change in behavior.

“Oh sweetheart, it’s not you. It’s me,” Carol smiled, bringing the back of her fingers up again to stroke Erin’s face. That helped the young woman relax somewhat. “I wish I had some way of telling you how you make me feel. I’m not good with words – never have been. And for the first time in my life it truly feels like a deficit because … there’s so much I’d like to express. You make me feel so many things. Things I never felt before. I’m not a lesbian. I’ve never been interested in a woman … until now. I – I’m rambling now so I’ll just shut up.” The officer shook her head weakly, frustrated at her inability to share her feelings with the one person that needed to hear them.

Erin paused and took a deep breath. “When you wake up do you think of me?” she asked. Carol nodded silently. “Am I the last thought you have before bed?” Another nod. “Do you see things or hear things and wonder what I might think about them?”

“Yes,” Carol finally said aloud. “All those things. How did you know?”

“Because I feel them too. You’re in my thoughts constantly, Carol. It scares me because … oh man,” Erin paused she wasn’t sure how much to confess and it showed. But Carol gently prodded her to go on.

“Your voice,” Erin continued, “is like a siren’s call and those eyes are the bluest blue I’ve ever seen. You keep me centered by questioning my direction in life and I light up when you’re near me. I miss you when you’re gone and I count the minutes until I can see you again. So I’m scared, Carol, because I’ve never felt like this before. Nothing was this important to me before.”

“Nothing?” Carol teased, knowing how much the greater good meant to the young woman.

Erin’s face held no laughter, only sincerity. “Nothing,” she replied honestly and hoped the earnestness showed in her features and in her eyes. “The way I feel about you … lets just say it’s pretty far out.”

It was Carol’s turn to feel nervous. She wanted to kiss Erin but she didn’t know what to do. Erin didn’t recognize the look on Carol’s face but it made her grin foolishly, the tenseness of the situation lending to her silliness.

“What?” Carol asked tilting her head against the headrest of her seat, a lazy smile on her lips.

Erin just shook her head and shrugged, “Nothing really. You just looked perplexed there for a moment.”

“Oh that,” Carol’s smile grew. “I wanted to kiss you but I didn’t know how to go about it. I mean should I just kiss you and hope I don’t get slapped. Do I ask first – very friendly and very politely. I mean what’s the proper etiquette when it comes to two women?” she finished with a chuckle.

“I wouldn’t know,” Erin confessed. “You’re the first women I’ve wanted to kiss. But –

“Really?!” Carol asked her head shooting up from its resting spot. She’d assumed that Erin had been with other women because of her cavalier attitude. She’d even gone so far as to assume Minos had been one of them.

“Well yeah!” the blonde said in mock defense.

“I’m sorry. I just thought you were … experienced,” Carol finished for lack of a better word.

“I’m not a virgin,” Erin laughed. “But I’ve never fooled around with a woman either.”

Carol looked a bit concerned as she considered her smaller friend’s words. “Well if you’ve never been with a woman and I’ve never been with a woman … how are we going to know …”

“What to do?” Erin finished.

Carol grinned and nodded.

“I’m sure if we put our heads together as well as a few other body parts we can figure things out.”

A small rumble of laughter filled the car but quickly died down. Carol gently cupped the back of Erin’s head and brought her closer. Both women felt the explosion go through their bodies at the impact of the kiss. It was soft yet searching. Both wanting to know if the depths of the other’s desire was real. Once Erin was satisfied that the other woman’s intentions were true, she moaned. The vibrations it sent through Carol evoked a similar response. When they finally did separate, both women seemed to be gasping for air. However, the blonde soon found Carol’s neckline and began planting little nips and kisses along a path up to an enticing earlobe.

“Why don’t you stay tonight?” Erin whispered in Carol’s ear, licking where her breath had warmed. She thrilled at the shudder than ran through her companion’s body.

Carol’s desire to take the young woman was unbearable. Gently she grasped Erin’s shoulders and disengaged her from her activities. The cop still held the younger woman in place as she rested her forehead on Erin’s.

“I … I have never been this turned on in my life, but I … I need time, Erin,” Carol said sincerely, hoping she didn’t hurt the girl’s feelings.

“I understand,” Erin confessed honestly. “I’m not sure if I’m ready yet either. I just have a habit of letting my emotions get the better of me.”

“That’s not a bad trait,” Carol replied with a very tender grin. “A few minutes ago it felt pretty wonderful,” she chuckled dryly again before growing serious. “Honestly though, I think we both need more time before, well, you know.”

“Yeah I know,” Erin grinned. She kissed Carol delicately on the forehead though she had to restrain herself from doing more. “See you again this weekend maybe?” Erin asked hopefully, knowing her voice sounded nearly pleading.

“Count on it,” Carol answered soundly, nodding. She was glad to hear that Erin wanted this as much as she did.

“I should be here so just drop by if you get the chance,” Erin said calmly with a shrug of slim shoulders. No big deal, right?

“Hey Erin,” Carol caught her attention. “No more playing it cool and casual. I’ll be here this weekend. Tomorrow at six sound good?”

“Sounds great,” Erin answered with relief, a gentle grin playing at her lips. She got out and closed the door. She blew a kiss to Carol, which the officer caught, making her smile. Watching the Mustang pull away, Erin almost ran right into Minos.

“I thought I told you not to wait up?” Erin teased and avoided her friend’s inquisitive gaze. She knew the look in her own eyes would reveal everything.

“Is that lipstick I see on your collar?” Minos teased back, having no intention of letting the small blonde off the hook so easily.

Erin didn’t reply immediately. Instead, she asked simply, “How much did you see?”

“Enough,” Minos was smiling and put her arm around her friend. She closed the door behind them. “But you gotta tell me who made the first move.”

Chapter 9

Carol stood on the dilapidated porch again less than twenty-four hours later. She stuffed her hands in her sweat jacket and rocked on booted heels, lips pursed, glancing at her surroundings slowly. She’d already knocked twice and checked her watch three times, she was beginning to get a little worried that she’d been confused.

Suddenly the front door swung open a crack and Erin shimmied out, pulling the door immediately closed behind her. This action didn’t permit Carol to see anything going on inside though she had heard music and laughter.

“Hey,” Erin said softly, running a tender hand down Carol’s arm. “It’s good to see you.” She felt a little awkward, torn between kissing the older woman or moving on with the conversation. This confusion wasn’t abated when Carol tilted her head sideways, allowing her long raven hair to drape over one shoulder.

“You okay?” Carol asked curiously, glancing at the closed door and her nervous friend. One whiff of the air that had escaped the house with Erin gave her a clue as to what was going on.

“Yeah. Good,” the blonde replied with a tight grin, giving up on the welcome kiss and trying to edge her way around Carol and towards the walk, hoping her tall companion would follow.

“Am I interrupting something in there? Did you want to stay?”

Erin eyed her friend cautiously, unable to tell from the stoic expression and shadowed features what she was feeling. “No. I want to be with you.”

They stared at each other in silence for a long moment until Carol sniffed dramatically.

The blonde dropped green eyes to study her companion’s polished boots. “I didn’t, Carol. I swear.” She looked back up, pleading this woman to believe her.

“Ever?”

“Tonight,” Erin clarified, her heart thumping double time. Though she certainly didn’t have a problem with recreational use, her tall companion was an officer of the law. And she so much wanted Carol to like her. The blue eyes revealed nothing.

“I see.”

“Carol? I … let’s not talk about this, huh? Let’s just go somewhere and they can do whatever they’re doing.”

“Why didn’t you join them? You did last night.”

Erin closed her eyes, remembering well the smoke she’d had just before meeting Carol the night before. But that had been different, she was just going out for a good time. Now she knew she wanted more and Carol had admitted to the same, she didn’t want to mess it up by advertising the differences between them. She shrugged, answering her friend after a long silence. “I knew you wouldn’t approve … I … I wanted you to like me.” This time when she studied the face before her she thought she might have seen a twinkle in those icy eyes.

Carol decided to let her fidgeting friend off the hook. “Relax, Erin,” she whispered gently, allowing a smirk to claim her lips. “I’m just teasing you. I’m not gonna run you guys in. You can do what you want.”

Erin studied the features silently before releasing a nervous chuckle. “Don’t worry me like that.”

The dark-haired woman laughed out loud this time, her face appearing less angular when making the sound. “Didja really think I’d draw my weapon and bust in there?”

Erin shrugged sheepishly because part of her had thought exactly that. “Not used to dating a cop.”

“Not used to dating a hippie,” Carol returned gently, twining her arm through the smaller woman’s. “We’ll have to play it by ear.”

They strolled down the walk towards Carol’s waiting car. “Did you bring your gun?” Erin asked as Carol settled her in the passenger seat. The young blonde’s nose was wrinkled in distaste at the thought.

“No gun, no badge. Just you and me, Erin,” Carol responded gently, closing the door and trotting around to the driver’s side.

The dark-haired woman had been nervous the entire day, discarding outfit after outfit and finally deciding on something daring like jeans and a black T-shirt. Erin wore bell bottoms and a colorful sweatshirt. Her blonde hair was pulled back into several thin braids, revealing perfectly sculpted ears and freeing her pale features of cumbersome wisps. Carol admired her quietly.

“Where are we going?” Erin asked at last. It had taken her several minutes to even come up with the question. It seemed right somehow to just be riding in a car with this woman, enjoying companionable silence.

“Movie okay? Then I thought maybe some ice cream and a walk in the park?” The officer sounded hesitant, unsure if her young friend would approve of such a plan.

Erin smiled, reached over to lay a warm hand on her companion’s well-muscled thigh. “That sounds great, Carol,” she nodded. “What movie?”

In the end they’d skipped the movie altogether. Standing outside and reading the information on the ticket window proved only how very different these two women were. They decided against Patton and MASH because of the war theme. Across the street from the first movie house, the second offered Clockwork Orange which appealed to Erin but Carol had seen and had no desire to watch it again, especially with Erin, imagining the conversation that might follow. That left Dirty Harry. With quick looks exchanged, both turned on their heels and headed back to the Mustang.

“Ice cream, did you say?” Erin asked gently, humor in her voice.

Carol nodded, pursing lips that poorly disguised a wry grin.

They sat silently in the park not too far from Erin’s home, relaxing on a small hill that allowed them to recline slightly. They’d left the car outside the rundown building, ignoring the loud music and waving crowd now settled on the porch. Erin had blushed fiercely as she tilted her head away from her friends and followed the dark woman down the street. It was a pleasant night, chilly enough for the sweatshirts they each wore but warm enough for the cool tang of ice cream to provide a soothing sensation.

Erin finished her cone first, then settled back on elbows to watch the starry night sky. “Orion,” she said gently.

Carol had been too busy examining the young blonde to notice the stars. Now she directed her attention upwards and saw the sparkling jewels. “They’re beautiful,” she acknowledged.

“So are you,” Erin whispered, pulling the dark woman’s gaze back. Carol finished her cone and stretched out next to her young companion.

“Thank you,” she smiled slightly, leaning in close, her face inches from the blonde’s perfect ear.

Erin felt the hot breath on her lobe and it sent shivers through her.

Carol’s grin turned slightly evil. “You, on the other hand, are gorgeous.”

The blonde blushed, tucking her chin into her left shoulder as she turned her face to observe the woman beside her. Carol was smiling easily, her ice blue eyes dancing with merriment and deepening with desire.

It took only a moment of silence to lead to the inevitable. They met somewhere in the middle, tasting soft lips with velvet tongues, exploring, teasing, wanting more.

Slowly Carol moved closer, reaching her arms under Erin’s raised back and lowering her gently to the grass beneath them. The change in position allowed Carol to kiss the young woman more deeply, one large hand tangled in blonde braids, the other between the girl’s lower back and the ground. Carol’s long hair draped over both of their faces, closing the world down to several inches and hot breath.

Erin moaned, feeling her body react. Her hands wandered over broad shoulders and muscular back as she sought more from the woman above her, pressing her tongue deeper, involving teeth and lips.

The taller woman withdrew first, breathing hard. Erin chased her still, raising up to reclaim those lips.

“Easy,” Carol whispered, her voice dark and husky, her desire clearly evident.

“Oh God,” Erin moaned, still searching. Her small hands applied pressure at the back of Carol’s head, tangling in raven tresses, trying to bring her target closer.

“I know,” Carol chuckled softly. She stroked the flushed cheek in front of her and waited for those sparkling green eyes to blink open. “I want this so much.”

The blonde’s brow wrinkled. “Then why stop?”

“Not here, please?”

“People do it here all the time,” Erin grinned rakishly, sliding her hand down to cup the dark woman’s jean clad cheek.

She shook her head slowly, completely uncomfortable with it. “Come home with me.”

“To your home?” Erin seemed surprised.

“Didn’t think I had one?” Carol teased, brushing at the blonde’s lips with one of her own thin braids.

Erin laughed softly. “Sorry … no. I knew you did. I just didn’t … didn’t think you would want to take me there,” she admitted sheepishly.

“Why not?” Carol raised herself higher, lifting her upper body off of the smaller woman. “Maybe I’m sending mixed signals here, but I’m pretty serious about you.”

“Not mixed signals, no,” Erin grinned wryly. “I just wasn’t sure you wanted … well … more than this,” she blushed. “Do you?”

Sex just for release hadn’t really crossed the taller woman’s mind. She wanted a lot more from this vivacious person before her. She wanted to get to know Erin better, to understand her, to find out what was in her mind and in her heart. It wasn’t until this moment that it dawned on her that Erin might only want a roll in the hay. The young hippie lived in a world where sex was exchanged freely, where one’s body was an expression of life. Maybe this was all the blonde had intended. “I … I think so. I mean … yes. Do you?”

Liquid green eyes peered at Carol for a very long time before the girl nodded slowly. “Yeah. Not just tonight, not just sex.”

“No,” Carol responded, dropping her lips back down for another warm kiss. “Come home with me,” she repeated, her lips brushing seductively against the blonde’s.

Her answer was given when Erin pulled back from the kiss only to hold the dark woman more tightly. Her embrace was steady and sure, as was the whispered agreement when it reached Carol’s ear and traveled right to her heart.

Chapter 10

Erin managed to survive the teasing of her friends as she bid them goodnight and then allowed herself to be tucked into Carol’s car. The blonde remained silent for the trip, so involved in her thoughts of what they might do once reaching their destination that she wasn’t sure how long the vehicle was stopped before she noticed.

“This it?” she asked, peering into the darkened driver’s seat.

“Mmm,” Carol agreed softly, nodding.

It wasn’t what the blonde had been expecting. It was a quaint cottage-like home with white picket fence and intricate latticework adorning the shuttered windows. Even in the pale moonlight, Erin could tell it was well kept, the lawn neatly manicured.

“C’mon,” Carol said at last, breaking the silence. “You get the nickel tour.”

Erin felt oddly out of place as she entered the neat home and stood in the entryway, waiting for Carol to close and lock the door behind them. Sensing the other woman’s distress, the officer leaned forward and kissed Erin’s lips gently. “S’okay,” she assured her, reaching for her hand and squeezing it.

“We’re so different,” Erin whispered, as if her normal speaking voice might break something. This was nothing like her busy old house with people crawling out of the woodwork and someone always up and about. Her home was filled with laughter and music, it smelled of pot and incense, not wood polish and bleach. She felt horribly out of her element here, as if she weren’t upper class enough to stand on this wood floor and be encased in these shining white walls. She tugged at her sweatshirt.

Carol nodded, smiling encouragingly. “Doesn’t matter.” She turned on the hall light and guided the small woman with her. She showed her everything, turning on all the lights as they moved deeper into the small square home. “Kitchen, dining room, living room. Those stairs go down to the basement. That’s where the television is. And there’s a bathroom down there. Down this hallway,” she tugged the small form behind her. “This is my dad’s office-” she pushed the door open to reveal walls lined with bookshelves and a large roll top desk.

Erin froze and started to back pedal. “Your dad? I shouldn’t be here. How will you explain-“

“Shhh,” Carol wrinkled her brow slightly. Whatever false bravado this young woman had been parading around in had all but disappeared when she was removed from her own environment. “No one’s here, Erin. Just you and me. My father’s gone.”

“Gone?”

“He died two years ago. My mother died when I was born.”

“I’m sorry,” Erin dropped her eyes. “You must miss him.”

“I do,” Carol smiled gently. “I keep this room as he left it. I couldn’t bear to not come in here and feel him. Are you close to your parents?”

The sudden question startled the blonde. She smiled self-deprecatingly and shook her head. “Nah. I don’t need them.”

“Where are they?”

“Probably where they were when I left.”

“Did they kick you out, Erin?” the dark woman asked gently, studying her smaller companion’s profile in the poorly lit hallway.

She shrugged one thin shoulder. “It was by mutual agreement. There’s not much to tell. Minos took me in and helped me finish high school and apply to college.”

“I’m glad,” Carol said softly, brushing soft lips against softer blonde hair. “C’mon. Tour’s almost over.”

She led her to the back of the hallway, showing her another bathroom, the unused bedroom of her father, and her own room. Erin stepped through the open door without prompting and grinned suddenly. It was as if the atmosphere changed in this room, it felt warm and safe and smelled of the dark woman at her side.

There was a queen-sized bed covered in a beautiful hand-stitched quilt whose bright colors matched the blues twisting through the fabric of the curtains. There was a well-used desk in a corner, covered with loose papers and writing utensils. A bookshelf proudly displayed a myriad of reading selections along with several Police Academy awards. The long low dresser was covered with framed pictures of a dark man and a little girl. Erin stepped forward and examined them more closely.

“He loved you very much,” she said softly, fingering a large photograph of the man lifting an obviously squealing girl above his head. Carol was all pigtails and smiles.

The older woman simply nodded.

“How did he die?”

“Killed in the line of duty,” Carol answered, her response automatic as if she’d said it a hundred times before. “He was an officer, too. He was killed in a riot downtown, trying to help a young black couple and their baby make it to safety when a racial mess broke out. He was shot.”

Erin wrinkled her brow and turned to observe her friend. “I remember that. That was your father?”

Carol nodded silently.

“He was a very brave man, Carol,” the blonde whispered gently. “He believed in the greater good.”

Carol grinned and laughed. “Yeah … he did. Boy, he would have liked you.”

The smaller woman returned the grin easily, grateful she could give some honor to the memory of her companion’s father. They were interrupted by a loud knocking on the front door. Carol scowled.

“What time is it?”

Erin looked to the clock at the bedside, it was almost ten and she told her friend that.

“Let’s go see what’s up.”

It was with poorly disguised dismay that Carol opened the door and let her partner and another man step into the house.

“Randell? What can I do for you? It’s late,” Carol said quietly. She nodded her head towards the other man. “Will.”

Erin stood at the end of the hallway, very much wanting to slip back into the officer’s room and wait for her there. She didn’t like the looks of this. But Randell glanced down the corridor before the blonde had the opportunity to enact her plan. She couldn’t read the look on his face as anything but a sneer.

“You have company,” Carol’s partner said slowly.

“Yeah,” the dark woman acknowledged, holding her arm towards Erin. “This is my friend Erin. Erin, this is my partner Randell and another officer, Will.”

“We’ve met,” Randell replied, tracking his eyes from the blonde, to Carol, and then to the man who’d accompanied him. “Carol arrested Erin at that demonstration last week.”

Will smirked. “Sleeping with the enemy, huh?” Though his comment was meant more as a joke than anything, Carol paled slightly at the near accuracy of his words.

“What can I do for you guys?” Carol asked softly.

“Oh,” Randell brushed by the tall woman, obviously having been in the house before. He walked into the living room and planted himself on the couch, Will followed suit. Carol motioned with her head that Erin should follow but the smaller woman shook her head.

Carol went down the hall and took her hand. “C’mon,” she whispered. “They’re all bluff and blunder. You’ll be fine.”

“They already hate me and they don’t even know me,” Erin continued to shake her head, walking reluctantly behind the dark woman as Carol tugged her along. “I don’t want to be a target for their hatred.”

“Then let them see you and not what you wear or what you represent,” Carol said reasonably.

Logic won out and Erin entered the room slightly in front of her friend, crossing over to the fireplace and sitting on a large wing backed chair tucked into the corner. Carol smirked at her companion’s choice of seats which was farthest from the men, then sat on the loveseat beside them.

“We want to talk about the shooting,” Randell said immediately.

Carol blanched. Maybe having Erin hide out in the bedroom wasn’t such a bad idea after all. But one glance at the small woman let Carol know her interest was piqued and she was here to stay. The dark woman grimaced inwardly, she hadn’t thought of the shooting all day. She’d been too preoccupied with looking forward to her date with Erin and then Erin herself once they’d met in the evening. She certainly didn’t want to think about it now.

“I meet with the big man on Monday,” Carol offered, shrugging one shoulder. “What is there to talk about?”

“What did you see?” Randell asked, trying for levity but not quite getting there.

“You know what I saw, Randell.”

“The kid had a knife,” he smiled. “You know that. Every cop on the scene knew that.”

“What did the witnesses say?”

“That I was an officer of peace doing my job,” the smile was more plastic than the deck chairs Carol could see through the sliding glass door in the dining room.

The dark woman sensed her young friend bristle at the obvious lie and wished these men away and for her evening to continue without their annoying presence. She stood up. “I’ll only report what I saw, Randell,” Carol said softly. “Now if you’ll excuse us?”

The men stood slowly and reluctantly. Then they turned towards the hallway, followed by Carol and a lingering Erin.

Will’s hand was resting on the doorknob when Randell turned around, raising himself to his full height. “True officers stick together, Carol,” he said precisely, his eyes saying more than the words. “There’s no room on this force for hippie-lovin’ women who don’t have the guts to handle a tough situation properly.”

The words angered Carol visibly. Her shoulders tensed and her ice blue eyes seemed to shoot flames to the man who was no taller than she was. “I won’t be a party to a murder,” she said through gritted teeth.

“If I were you,” Randell said over his shoulder, following Will out onto the front step. “I’d think long and hard about what’s going to happen Monday.” He pulled the door closed behind him.

Carol locked it then leaned forward, her forehead on the cool wood. She took deep calming breaths and jumped at Erin’s presence when the young blonde touched her hunched back gently.

“Carol?” Erin whispered, realizing now how little her friend had revealed the night before and how desperate her situation might be.

“M’okay,” Carol responded with little conviction.

“You’re gonna lose your job, aren’t you?”

Carol shrugged, turned around to lean her back against the door. “Prob’ly,” she sighed. “My Dad would be so disappointed.”

So much was revealed to Erin in that one sentence. Carol was proud of her job and the ability it gave her to legally help others. Carol made a difference to at least one person every single day, just like her father had before her. She’d likely joined the force so he’d be proud of her, show her around, talk about her fondly. Now she was in danger of losing that tie to him and a job that had become a large part of her life. “No, no, Carol,” Erin whispered softly, sparing a smile for her friend. “He’ll be so proud of you for doing what’s right. So proud of you for being stronger than them.”

“I hope so,” Carol’s voice was strangled.

“I know so,” Erin encouraged, reaching out a gentle hand to rub the taller woman’s side affectionately.

“You never knew him,” Carol disagreed, confused and frightened, unable to let the younger woman’s words penetrate.

“But I know you, Carol. And it takes a great man to raise such a wonderful woman all by himself.”

Carol grinned weakly and pulled the small blonde in for a tight hug.

“Do you want to tell me the whole story?”

The dark woman took a deep breath, letting it shudder out of her. “Can we not do it as cop and hippie?”

Erin pushed back to peer at her friend’s face and appeared slightly wounded. “Who and who?” she teased gently. “I was thinking we could talk about it just you and me.”

The officer smiled gratefully. “How ’bout some coffee?”

Chapter 11

The table in the well-lit kitchen was green Formica banded around the edge with ribbed metal. Erin ran her finger’s idly along the cool raised surface, shifting to get more comfortable in the matching green vinyl chair. There was a more formal wooden table in the next room but it seemed cozier here in the gentle colors of the kitchen, listening to the coffee percolate.

Carol hadn’t said a word since pulling out the chair for her young companion. She was lost in replaying the scene of the shooting so she may better be able to explain it to the attentive blonde. The fact that she hadn’t been prompted into beginning her story slightly surprised the dark woman and she turned around and rested her eyes on the small figure sitting at her table. The blonde grinned at her gently, nearly oozing support.

“Coffee smells good,” Erin spoke softly, breaking the tension around them. She could feel the awkwardness and uncertainty in the tall figure across the room. Though they’d argued before about Carol’s profession, and though the small blonde didn’t agree in any way, shape, or form with the establishment that had sucked up her friend, she knew this was not the time to raise those points again. Carol was worried, confused. She needed a friend who would hear her out and help her reach a life-altering decision. Erin prided herself in her ability to be a friend to this woman who was her absolute opposite.

“Did you decorate the house?” Erin tried another conversation starter, letting green eyes wander across the wallpaper border and eggshell paint.

“No,” Carol said, turning her back again under the ruse of searching for something in the cupboards. “My mom did. My dad kept the place up as she’d designed it. The picket fence, the shutters, the wallpapers.”

Erin nodded, then vocalized since her companion was still facing away. “It’s nice.”

Carol shrugged. “It’s all I know her by … her decorating tastes. Isn’t that funny?”

“No,” Erin disagreed, finding it more sad than funny, but knowing the dark woman would bristle at her sympathy. “You can tell a lot from a person by the way they dress or how they surround themselves.”

“Yeah?” Carol poured the mugs and sat in the chair opposite her friend.

“Sure.”

“What can you tell about me?”

“You wear a uniform,” Erin grinned recklessly. “I sense some sort of authority about you.”

Though she tried not to, Carol grinned as well. “No. This me,” she indicated herself with a wave of one large hand.

“Ah. You’re a strong person with independent thought. You don’t love often, but you do it deeply and remember it always,” Erin whispered, reaching a hand out to squeeze the other woman’s muscular forearm. “You’re lonely sometimes, you feel you don’t fit in at the station or here. This place is more your parents and very little you, but you feel like it would betray their memories to change it. In fact, I bet you’d rather live somewhere else entirely.”

Carol’s sapphire eyes widened with surprise. “Wow,” she stammered. “You’re pretty good at that.”

Erin smirked, shrugged a slim shoulder. “What can I say? I’m gifted.”

“And humble.”

“Artists rarely are.”

Carol smiled and nodded, dropping her gaze to the slender pale fingers contrasting against her tanned arm. “I’d love to see your work.”

“We can arrange that,” the blonde said softly, withdrawing her hand to wrap it firmly around her mug. She took a sip, let the biting warmth course easily down her throat. It felt right, somehow, to be here with this woman, sharing their souls.

“So what’s your story? If I were gifted, what would I see in you?” Carol asked at last, letting the silence string between them for several long seconds. It was a bold question, really. People didn’t like to evaluate themselves, it was hard enough to hear what others saw in you, let alone admit your weaknesses yourself. She thought Erin might decline. She should have known better.

“I run a lot. From my family, from my past, from things that scare me. To escape that part of me, I grasp onto ideals and don’t let go. I’ll fight to death for what I perceive as another’s rights but I won’t pick up the phone and call my mother,” she shrugged sheepishly, her voice low and rich while unraveling the tale. “I believe in what I stand for … but I don’t quite fit in either. Not in that big loud house with the peeling paint and the crumbling people. Half of whom don’t even know or care about the cause they fight for … as long as they get to fight. I like a lot, love very little … am afraid to let go.” She finished her assessment and glanced to the searching blue eyes before her. She saw undeniable affection in them.

Carol smiled. “You are gifted.”

Erin chuckled, drank more coffee. “Now tell me, Carol,” she prompted gently, feeling the time had come.

The dark woman sighed deeply and rotated her shoulders as if warming up to pitch a fast ball. Maybe she was, maybe she needed this to be quick and dirty.

When she started to talk, Erin realized that’s exactly what she’d planned. Though absolutely factual and riveting, the dark woman’s depiction held little emotion. Erin let it go, recognizing it for the distancing it was. Carol finished in a few scant minutes and studied the swirl in the Formica table top.

“There was no knife in Jimmy’s pocket?”

“No,” Carol whispered. “I know there wasn’t.”

“He didn’t threaten to hurt anyone?”

“No. He said he’d rather kill us than accept my charity. Or something like that … he’d cut us … or something.”

“It’s hard to remember now exactly what happened,” Erin acknowledged softly and the dark head nodded.

“But I know there was no knife. I know Jimmy was frustrated and frantic and felt cornered. He was arguing and talking big, about his rights and how we couldn’t deny them.”

“He’s right,” Erin said before she could catch herself. She’d not intended to mount the soapbox during this discussion. The blonde grimaced, emerald eyes shining with apology.

Carol offered her friend a reassuring smile. “No, you’re right. I knew that. I could have done better.”

“No,” the smaller woman shook her head fiercely. “No, Carol. You tried harder than any of them. You probably saved that boy’s life.”

Carol sighed, silently reminding herself that Jimmy could still die. “I don’t know what they’ll do when I turn on them,” she whispered, swirling her coffee by moving the mug. The rippling motion seemed to have her full attention.

“Sometimes it’s harder to do the right thing, honey,” Erin said gently, the endearment slipping off her tongue with amazing familiarity.

“Yeah.”

“Do you have any doubts about what you’ll say? Do you think you might … um,” the blonde chose her words carefully, “see their side of the story?”

Carol glanced up immediately, narrowing those blue eyes as she surveyed her companion. “I won’t lie for those bastards. I just don’t think it’ll make a difference.”

“Don’t know until you try.”

“S’pose not,” Carol agreed reluctantly, knowing her ethics would never have allowed her to relay a different story from the one she’d just told. Her boss would get the same one in a little over 24 hours. She glanced up at the round clock hanging on the kitchen wall. She hated that clock with the silly goose wearing a bonnet as the face decoration. It was nearing midnight.

Erin took the hint, knowing Carol was all talked out and there really hadn’t been a decision to make anyway. She finished her coffee and stood to rinse out the cup. “I should go … I’m sure you’re tired.”

Had she been facing the dark woman she would have seen the wrinkled brow and confused expression. “Do you want to go?” she asked hesitantly. Had she frightened the smaller woman off? Was the reality of being with her suddenly too much?

Erin took a breath and turned to face her friend. “I’d like to stay,” she said softly. “But I’ll understand if you need me to leave. I can get back to the house on my own.”

Carol rose from her seat with confidence, reaching around the smaller woman and depositing her mug in the sink as well. She made every effort to touch Erin with her arm in passing. Then she leaned forward and pressed her forehead to the fair one before her. “I would love it if you stayed with me tonight. No strings, you’re not promising anything by staying.”

Erin sighed and closed her eyes, feeling the heat of the woman’s breath and the warmth of the skin of her forehead. “I wouldn’t mind.”

“Staying?”

“Promising,” the blonde whispered.

“Let’s go to bed,” Carol tugged gently at Erin’s hand, leading the smaller woman through the house and turning off lights as they went until they were back in the raven-haired woman’s room.

They changed quietly, Carol turning her back to undress and slip on a nightshirt. Erin slid off her jeans and replaced her sweatshirt with the T-shirt the dark woman had provided. Then they slipped into the bed and Carol flipped off the lamp on the nightstand. The silence was nearly deafening.

“Can I hold you?” Erin whispered at last and Carol chortled softly, scooting closer and gathering the smaller woman in an embrace.

“Better?”

“Yeah.” Erin turned into the older woman’s arms, resting her head on Carol’s shoulder and her arm across a well-muscled stomach.

Carol could feel the hot breath on her neck and realized her heart was pounding and she wasn’t nearly as sleepy as she thought she was.

The blonde took a deep breath and resituated, her legs rustling faintly against the sheets as she tossed her right leg over her companion’s thigh.

Carol jumped slightly at the warm sensation.

“Sorry,” Erin whispered and began to withdraw but Carol stopped her with a large warm hand on the small woman’s thigh.

“S’okay,” she murmured. “I like it.” She dipped her head and was not surprised when Erin lifted up slightly to meet her seeking lips.

It started chaste, just as it had before. Slowly, it turned into something more with each shared breath, exploring more deeply.

“I can’t believe how you make me feel,” Erin murmured between kisses. She shifted her weight so she lay more fully atop the longer woman.

“Mmm,” was all Carol could manage but it was obviously agreement. The T-shirt Erin wore was too big and canted off one shoulder at a pleasing angle, giving the dark woman easy access to the smooth fair skin just above the blonde’s breast and towards her collarbone. She kissed there lavishly, applying tongue and teeth until Erin was moaning and squirming restlessly. Then Carol returned to the tempting open mouth to kiss her again.

“Carol,” Erin muttered and it was more of an affirmation than a plea or a query. The confidence of it allowed Carol to gain the nerve to run a large hand from where it had been resting at the small of the blonde’s back, up her side, and towards her front where she cupped Erin’s breast.

The hippie gasped, arching her neck back and giving Carol access to the column of her throat. The dark woman took the invitation gladly, sucking on the throbbing pulse point.

Carol savored each moment. She relished the salty taste of Erin’s skin, the musky scent that was part her, part laundry detergent, part arousal. The breast in her hand was pliant and warm, the tip of the nipple screaming forth into the T-shirt fabric and wanting more attention. She’d never imagined making love with a woman, in fact hadn’t really put much thought into making love at all. Her attention had always been on doing well in school, and then at the Academy, and then proving herself to her father. But now, suddenly, holding and touching this woman was all that she’d hoped for and more.

For her part, Erin was lost in sensations and emotions, melting into the warm body beneath her, getting lost in the delicate touch. She slid her hands down Carol’s front and under her shirt to rest on the well-muscled abdomen she found there, the heels of her palms laying lightly on the elastic waistband of the other woman’s underwear. The dark woman’s skin was warm and soft, the muscles twitching under Erin’s searching fingertips as they ventured upwards to stroke the underside of Carol’s breasts.

First the covers were too restricting and were discarded to expose their intertwined bodies to the slatted moonlight coming in through the blinds and curtains. The pattern was delicate on the fair blonde’s hair, striping her with gold-laced silver. Then clothing became too much and Carol tugged at the T-shirt, broke away from her partner with a raised eyebrow, requesting permission.

Erin hesitated just long enough for the answer to be clear to the officer. They had wanted to slow down. They’d both agreed to that only the night before. Carol smiled warmly, not wanting the young woman to feel awkward even though this reaction was somewhat surprising after the blonde’s readiness in the park only hours before. The cop smoothed the shirt back down and tightened her embrace, settling Erin snugly against her. She tucked the blonde head into the nape of her neck and stroked golden hair as they both fought for breath.

“I’m sorry,” Erin murmured, her lips moving against Carol’s neck, pausing to place a kiss there.

“Shhh,” the dark woman countered, squeezing her young friend even closer. “Nothing to be sorry for. We agreed to slow down, right?”

“Yeah,” Erin whispered. “God … it’s so much. Feeling you, touching you. Like I’m alive for the first time.”

Carol chuckled softly, bouncing the slight body on top of hers and parting blonde tresses with the snort of air. “Me too. I never thought I could feel this way.”

“Can you sleep with me here?” Erin queried softly. Her small body was only touching the bed at her legs, one between the dark woman’s silken thighs and the other on the outside. The rest of her weight was wholly supported by the lengthy body beneath hers.

Carol considered the question, finding the firm weight quite comforting. She felt safe here in this small woman’s arms, felt the world couldn’t touch them here where their differences were irrelevant in the darkness and the warmth each provided the other. In that respect, she would have no trouble sleeping with the blonde’s slight weight on top of her. However, the fact that her blood was singing and her body incredibly sensitized to the woman’s touch assured Carol she would remain sleepless for quite some time. The longer she stayed awake the more she could relish this gentle girl’s presence. “Yeah,” she said at last. “I’ve never been more comfortable.”

“Me either,” Erin murmured, snuggling more deeply into the arms surrounding her, inhaling great breaths of Carol-scented air.

“Sleep, sweetheart,” Carol crooned, stroking the woman from the top of her blonde head to her lower back. The motion was completely soothing to both of them. After several long moments, Erin’s breath evened in sleep. Carol sighed and pressed warm lips to silken hair. “Good lord, I think I love you,” the dark woman murmured, surprising herself both with the emotion and the admission.

Chapter 12

Carol sighed as the door slammed closed behind her. She knew the entire precinct was watching her every move. Randell glared at her from the side of the large room, close to where their desks were situated. She didn’t want to meet his eyes, knowing the fury she would see there and unable to deal with it at this moment.

The desk sergeant muttered something unintelligible when she passed him, but she knew it wasn’t good by the snickers from the other officers standing nearby. Unable to decide what to do, the dark-haired cop walked right out the front door so she could be out of the stifling building. She tried to remember the weekend instead, which had been much more pleasant.

She and Erin had slept in, warmly embraced in each other’s arms. Then they’d gone downtown for breakfast and a stroll in the open area of shops. The blonde had been animated and energetic, constantly making Carol laugh out loud, often doubling over and fighting for breath. It was at those times that Erin would rest a warm hand on the other woman’s back and laugh with her, the connection of souls and bodies too much to deny.

Carol took a deep breath, raising her face to the sky and feeling the sun’s warmth drown her. She’d taken Erin home after lunch, kissing her gently and holding her close on the front porch until the sound of Minos clearing her throat had interrupted them. They’d both flushed with embarrassment and said good-bye. Between missing the warm body at her side and dreading this meeting, Carol had slept horribly.

“Hey,” a soft familiar voice interrupted her thoughts and Carol opened her eyes to glance down the sidewalk. Erin sat on the curb, wearing a long dress and her hair free of braids again. Carol almost burst into tears at seeing her, the relief so overwhelming.

“Hi,” the dark woman responded softly, tugging self-consciously at the uniform she wore. She walked over and sat on the curb next to the blonde.

“You’ll get your uniform dirty,” Erin admonished gently, bumping the taller woman with her shoulder.

“I don’t care,” Carol assured her. “Why are you here?”

Erin smiled, reached a hand out to tentatively touch the dark-haired woman’s knee. “I thought you could use a friend.”

“Yeah,” the officer replied gratefully. “I do need a friend.”

“Here I am,” the blonde murmured.

“Here you are,” Carol confirmed. “Thank you, Erin,” she whispered, taking a deep breath.

“Was it bad, honey?” Funny how the endearment seemed so natural.

Carol shrugged. “He had me retell the story three times. The first two he hinted that I should change it slightly. The last time he flat out told me.”

“And you told the same story?”

“Every time,” Carol nodded, covering her face with both her hands.

Erin moved her fingers from the dark woman’s knee to take a hand and pull it away so she would be able to see her companion’s face. “I’m proud of you, Carol. You did the right thing.”

“Then why do I feel so bad?” the officer asked, tilting her head sideways to meet the emerald eyes peering her direction. She found in them affection and compassion. It was almost her undoing.

“Cuz the whole thing just stinks. It’s a bad situation any way you look at it.”

“No argument here.”

They sat silently for a few minutes, soaking in the late morning sunshine.

“How long have you been waiting?” Carol asked suddenly. She’d been in with the Chief for hours. What had started as an inquiry had turned into an inquisition.

Erin shrugged, the corner of her mouth lifting upwards in a smirk. “A while.”

“It means a lot to me that you came here … just to support me,” Carol responded softly, squeezing the fingers that were laced within hers.

“Wouldn’t be anywhere else,” Erin assured her friend with a warm smile. “Do you have some time?”

“Close to lunch?” Carol asked, confirming that when she looked at her watch. “Yeah. I’m supposed to meet with the desk sergeant at one to get my assignment,” she grimaced.

“Not good, huh?”

Carol snorted and shook her head. “Prob’ly not. What did you have in mind?”

“You wanted to see some of my work?” Erin asked, standing and tugging at her companion’s hand, which she still held.

The dark woman accepted the prompting and stood as well, fairly towering over her smaller friend. “I’d like that a lot. You sure you can take me there like this?” Carol asked, indicating the uniform she wore.

Erin hadn’t really thought of that or the questions that would arise if she saw people she knew. But more than anything she wanted to be with Carol. She could sense the dark woman’s uneasiness. The morning meeting had shaken her up and she was both depressed and confused. Erin had waited for close to three hours, often questioning the stupidity of sitting on the curb and watching the morning mist break with the rising sun. She’d especially questioned herself when cops had hassled her, threatening to take her in. She’d agreed to leave only because she wanted to be here for Carol, not in another jail cell. So she walked around the block and regained her seat once they’d left.

During all this time the only thing she’d thought about was how much Carol would need her and how much she needed to be there for her friend. She hadn’t considered what would happen now. How she wanted to embrace her companion and kiss her, wipe away the fears and uncertainty she knew lingered there. How that would be awkward for both of them in their separate circles. Finally, Erin raised green eyes to her companion, meeting dubious blue. “I don’t care what anyone thinks, Carol,” she affirmed softly. “Let’s go.”

Carol smiled and followed the younger woman down the sidewalk towards the college campus.

XXXXX

Erin led her friend slowly across campus, chatting the entire way about the weather or activities at the house. The ongoing babbling was welcome, the young woman’s lilting voice easy on the officer’s rattled nerves and soothing her immensely.

Carol provided comments where necessary but otherwise allowed the walk’s conversation to belong solely to the blonde at her side.

They walked through the Student Union towards the back of the building where Erin opened the door for her friend, ushering her into a room which served as a gallery for student art. Carol followed willingly, stepping just inside the room and waiting for Erin to come to her side.

“This way,” the smaller woman encouraged, leading her companion towards some paintings on the back wall and standing silently in front of them. Carol tilted her head, studying the signature first and then the art itself. There were three pieces side by side, all were signed simply with Sky. One was of sunrise coming over the college campus, washing the buildings in orange and red. The common grass areas should have been open and green but instead were littered with lifeless bodies, each calm as if sleeping. But the flavor was different, the question remained whether the crowd was sleeping off an overindulged night or dead where they lay.

The next painting was of a child, long brown hair and deep brown eyes, wearing a blue gingham dress. She was sitting in the grass in front of headstone, hugging a stuffed bear in her arms. The bear wore a uniform, the grave presumably belonged to her father. The emotions and expressions in the child’s face were nearly tangible and touched Carol deeply. She turned to the young woman who was looking at the paintings as well. “That’s amazing,” the officer said softly. “You’re very talented.”

Erin blushed and shrugged her shoulders. “I paint what I feel. My drawings are better … oil and water color really aren’t my preferred medium.” She pointed to the third piece of art hanging with the others. It was a charcoal drawing of Rainbow at the park, bandana around his neck, tongue lolling freely.

Carol smiled at the familiarity of the work. “Do you have a drawing of the little girl?”

The blonde nodded. “Have drawings of all my paintings. They start there.”

“I’d like to see it. What do you call it?”

Erin shook her head. “I don’t name them. Gives them preconceived interpretations, don’t you think? I want people to get what they can out of them, not what I think they should.”

The dark woman pursed her lips in thought and nodded. The rationalization made sense.

“There ya go!” Erin shrugged, turned to her friend.

“It’s wonderful, Erin. I really am impressed,” Carol smiled, running a warm hand down the blonde’s arm. “Is there more?”

“Not here. I sell some from time to time. There’s a small private gallery downtown that has one but it’s not one of my favorites. One in another place on campus. The rest I keep at home.”

Carol glanced at the works one more time, her eyes lingering on the mourning child, before stepping back and walking towards the door. “Lunch before I go back?”

“Sounds good,” Erin agreed readily, following her friend through the Union and back out to the daylight.

They agreed on a deli down the street and were silent for the small journey, ordering their sandwiches and taking seats on the small outdoor patio. “I checked on Jimmy,” Erin said cautiously, not sure that Carol would want to talk about this.

“Chief said they didn’t know about him.”

Erin nodded. “They don’t think he’s going to make it. I guess the bullet did extensive damage to his stomach and spleen. It nicked his spinal cord on the way out.”

Carol took a deep breath and swallowed it, knew her eyes were welling with tears. “Thanks for finding out for me.”

The blonde reached a hand out and touched Carol’s arm. “It’s not your fault, honey. You know that.”

“Seems like I should have been able to prevent it. Has he been conscious?”

“No. And there were a couple of uniforms crawling around.”

Carol snorted, slowly chewing a bite of her turkey sandwich before responding. “They’re probably waiting to tell him what happened when he wakes up. Arrest him or something.”

“The blood work came back clean,” Erin provided.

This caught the officer’s attention and she looked at her friend. “How did you get that information?”

“I’m pretty persuasive when I want to be,” the blonde grinned. “He wasn’t on anything, that much was evident.”

They ate in silence for several long minutes. “Was it really bad?” Erin asked softly. “Your boss? Was he hard on you?”

One broad shoulder shrugged. “He knows I was telling the truth. He also doesn’t care. I’m sure they’ll clear Randell and make me a desk jockey or something.”

“I think Randell’s an asshole.”

“I think you’re a smart woman,” Carol leaned forward conspiratorially.

Erin laughed, watched her friend finish off her sandwich and soda, then wipe her mouth. The blonde did the same.

“Walk me back?”

“Love to,” the smaller woman smiled, falling into pace beside the dark officer.

They stopped outside the station, standing awkwardly and watching each other. “Are you gonna be okay?”

Touched by her young friend’s concern, Carol nodded. “Yeah,” she paused. “You up for dinner tonight? I’d love to see you,” the officer asked the question sheepishly, her pale eyes bouncing from the small woman to the buildings across the street.

Erin smiled warmly, reaching out to tangle her fingers with Carol’s and squeeze gently. “Same here. Can I come to your house about six?”

“Sure. How do you get around anyway?”

“I’ve got feet,” the blonde said with mock indignation.

Carol raised one dark eyebrow until it was hidden in her bangs.

“And a bus pass,” Erin relented with a grin.

They took a few steps apart as Carol started towards the front door. Then she stopped suddenly and turned around. “Erin?”

The blonde stopped and turned as well. “Yeah?”

“If … if you wanted to stay … tonight … that would be great.”

The small woman smiled, the grin nearly swallowing her face. “Okay.”

Carol returned the smile and started back towards the station. She took a deep breath and steeled herself for the worst.

XXXXX

Top of her class at the academy, medals of valor since she’d come on duty, and here she was filing papers. Carol growled darkly into the small archive room, shuffling through the manila folders she held and placing the appropriate ones on top of the ‘A-E’ filing cabinet. The rest she set aside for later perusal.

It had taken only a minute for the desk sergeant to lead her back here and gruffly explain filing and archiving. Being a ‘good ole boy’s’ shop and filing being a job for a woman, there were literally years of it backlogged, sitting in stacks throughout the small room. First she’d gone through the filing cabinet and pulled out all the files over ten years old to put them in boxes labeled to go to records. Now she was just starting on the piles of work. She’d decided to do the alphabet a section at a time because the entire thing was just too daunting otherwise.

Frustrated, the officer ran a hand through her bangs, grateful at least that the station had air conditioning or this small room would be unbearable. Check that, more unbearable. She looked at her watch with some relief, realizing that in about twenty minutes she could head home and start dinner for Erin. She was planning to spend the night with the small woman and forget about work and its draining drudgery. Suddenly, life didn’t seem so bad after all and she caught herself actually grinning and she filed away the folder on Daniels.

She stopped at the grocery store on the way and let herself into the small house while juggling two brown paper bags. She’d never thought to ask what her young friend liked or didn’t like but knew a couple of safe items from their few meals together. So she’d planned on grilling chicken and having a pasta salad. With that thought in mind, she went right through the house, placing the bags on the kitchen counter, out the back door to start up the grill. Once the flames were licking at black coals, she went back to her room to change out of her uniform and into jean shorts and a T-shirt. She still had about thirty minutes until Erin was due so she went to work boiling pasta and cutting up fresh vegetables to go into it.

The doorbell rang not too much later and Carol set down her knife, wiping her hands on a convenient dishtowel, before walking down the short hallway. She opened the door to reveal Erin standing on the stoop. The blonde grinned and held up a bag, which Carol took as she motioned her inside.

“Hey,” the officer said softly, bending to place a very gentle kiss on the woman’s fair cheek.

“Hi,” green eyes flashed a smile as Erin placed her palm on Carol’s taut stomach. “Smell’s great.”

“We’ll see. Come in, come in. There’s iced tea in the refrigerator, help yourself.” Walking behind the woman back to the kitchen, Carol opened the bag slightly and peeked inside. “What did you bring?”

“Dessert. Better put it in the freezer.”

Carol grinned as she placed the four individually wrapped ice cream sandwiches next to the ice cube trays. “Great idea.”

“Hot today,” the blonde said lamely, grimacing slightly at her awkwardness as she poured herself a tall glass of ice tea and topped off Carol’s.

“Sure was. Did you have class this afternoon?”

“Yeah. Professor let us sit on the lawn for it, though. So that was cool. Those stupid old class rooms don’t even have working fans,” Erin said with distaste.

“Yuck,” Carol agreed, resuming her position at the counter chopping vegetables. “Chicken’s about ready to go on the grill,” she motioned with her knife to the breasts which were in a shallow bowl soaking in dark brown teriyaki sauce.

Erin nodded silently, taking a seat at the small table and running her fingers through the condensation on her glass.

Suddenly Carol realized that the blonde had only been carrying the bag of ice cream sandwiches. She couldn’t help the feeling of disappointment and it must have shown on her face because Erin’s brow wrinkled slightly.

“What’s wrong?” the girl asked slowly.

Carol tried to shrug it off. It wasn’t a big deal if Erin didn’t want to stay. “Nothing.”

“Unh unh,” the hippie shook her head. “Tell me.”

The officer grinned sheepishly, pausing in her slicing lest she lose a fingertip due to her distracted state. “I thought you were staying the night. But you didn’t bring anything.”

Erin chuckled dryly, taking a drink of tea. “I didn’t realize it was a slumber party. I brought me and a toothbrush,” she patted a large checkered pocket on her dress. “Should I have brought more?”

The dark woman blushed imperceptibly, feeling foolish. “No, of course not. I thought you might have changed your mind.”

“Nope,” Erin paused a minute while she looked around the clean room, taking in again the decorations she’d seen over the weekend. “Have you?” she asked suddenly, turning her attention back to Carol’s long form where the woman had resumed slicing a cucumber.

“Nope,” Carol chuckled. “We’re pretty pathetic, aren’t we?”

Erin laughed, nodding. “I’ve never really … cared before … if someone liked me or not,” she admitted hesitantly.

“Well, relax. Because I like you.”

“You relax, too,” the blonde responded, finishing her tea quickly and standing for more. She paused by the chicken. “Should I put this on?”

Carol glanced over her shoulder at the boiling pasta. “Few more minutes,” she decided after some thought.

With a nod, Erin continued to the refrigerator to refill her glass. After she was seated again, she decided to broach the touchy subject that had been eating at her. “How was your afternoon?”

Carol paused a moment in her slicing before she continued. She finished the cucumber and moved the pasta to a cold burner before she responded. “Coulda been worse.”

“Coulda been better?”

She shrugged. “Sure. Randell went out on our beat with some rookie. I got to spend the afternoon in the filing room.”

“Doing what?” Erin asked, fearing her friend had sat in the corner like a punished child.

“Umm … filing,” Carol responded with a grin. “Filing … room … you put files in there.” She drained the pasta in a colander and ran cold water over it, tossing the tight curls and letting the water run all through it.

Erin let out a sigh of relief. “Were they nice to you?”

Carol just cast her an awed look.

“Okay … were they not mean to you?” the blonde grinned.

“You’re good at that.”

“At what?”

“Word nuances,” Carol replied, tossing the pasta with the freshly cut vegetables and then a light Italian dressing.

“Thanks … I think,” Erin looked at her in puzzlement.

“No, they weren’t mean. Just not friendly. Not that they ever were, but now it’s cold. I imagine they’re trying to figure out how to get me transferred out of the station.”

“Will they fire you?”

“If I don’t keep my nose clean. I’m sure they’re looking for any excuse. I have an appointment at the shooting range tomorrow for recertification. Hmmm … what a coincidence.”

“When did you find out about that?”

“After lunch,” Carol knelt in front of the refrigerator to clear a spot for the salad, then she slid the large glass bowl inside. Then she moved across the kitchen to the back door, leaving it open when she went to toss the chicken on the grill. “Come out here and sit,” she called.

Erin obliged, finding the grill situated on a small wooden deck. Two nylon chairs sat with their backs to the house and Erin took one of them, cradling her glass of ice tea in her palms. Silence reigned for several long minutes.

“What are you thinking?” Carol asked at last, taking the chair next to Erin’s and leaning back in it.

Erin quirked a grin and looked at her companion’s profile before looking across the small backyard. “I’m thinking I should come up with something really supportive to say but the truth is I can’t. I know that you’re one of the few officers who cares about all of us but I also know it’s an establishment of closed minds and brutal training.”

“You think it’s a good thing this all happened?” Carol asked softly, her eyes closed as her head tilted back to welcome the sun’s rays.

“No … I mean … it’s not a bad thing. It’s an opportunity for change and growth. You’ve stood up for yourself and your beliefs.”

“And where did it get me?” Carol groaned.

“Don’t give me that self-pitying bullshit, Carol,” Erin said crossly. “You know you made the right decision. I’m only sorry the Force wasn’t what you wanted it to be. If it were, I may not be who I am.”

“Whaddya mean?”

“I wouldn’t be anti-establishment. I wouldn’t be participating in demonstrations and sit-ins and doing my best to hamper your colleagues,” she grinned recklessly. “I’m not an idiot. I’m not one of those potheads looking for a cause. I’m educated and down to earth and I believe in a cause worth fighting for.”

“The greater good,” the dark-haired woman murmured.

“Ah. You have been listening,” she paused, attempting to lighten the mood. “Of course a good toke has its benefits.”

Carol laughed, eyes still closed. “I know you’re not an idiot, Erin. You’re intelligent and creative, you have a great depth of understanding and acceptance. But what I can’t figure out is how you ended up here, with Minos and the others.”

“It’s where I want to be,” Erin shrugged, puzzled. “I like Minos and the house and the classes I take. What I do, I do for me, not because I don’t have a choice. I’ve chosen this, all of it: the drugs, the rallies, the lifestyle. I’m happy where I am.”

“What about your parents?” Carol asked carefully.

“Fuck ’em,” the blonde replied flippantly. “Is that chicken done yet?”

Taking the not-so-subtle hint, Carol let the subject drop again. She felt rather like an open book to the young blonde, whereas she still knew very little about the hippie. “Lemme check,” the officer said, rising to her feet and moving towards the grill. On her way past Erin’s chair, she felt a feather light touch near her elbow. She glanced down into vibrant green eyes that flashed apology. Carol simply smiled and ran her fingers gently through the woman’s bangs before resuming her trip to the grill.

“I’m just not ready … to talk about them …” Erin said slowly.

The dark woman waved her off with one hand while poking the meat with a fork in the other. “No sweat, Erin. You don’t owe me anything. We’re here for dinner and some company, right?”

“Yeah. Thanks.”

After dinner, they sat on the couch in the downstairs TV room where the cement basement walls kept the room pleasantly chilly. Carol had scrounged up a notebook and pencil for Erin and watched the young woman intently as she sketched everything from daisies to skyscrapers. It turned into a game of sorts, Carol calling out items and Erin drawing them in sure gentle strokes. The officer was completely astounded by the young woman’s talent.

Erin was tucked solidly into Carol, the taller woman having one arm across her midsection and the other in her lap. Carol’s mouth was only inches from Erin’s ear, the soft breath when she spoke all but distracting the young artist.

“Horse.”

“Easy,” Erin chastised, sketching the lines quickly and fluidly, giving her horse a diamond on his forehead and some spots over his haunches. “Challenge me,” she said, putting some final wisps into his tail.

“Umm … a field in the winter,” the dark-haired woman replied smugly, quite proud of herself. How did one draw a field of snow with a pencil and nothing else?

Erin nodded slowly, flipping the page and setting to work. Carol watched the pencil tip dance across the paper, tilting her head when the image didn’t make sense and she couldn’t follow the young woman’s train of thought. Then, slowly, she saw it: a field with a tree dripping icicles, patches of snow mingled with dead grass, an overturned wooden wheelbarrow blanketed in a carpet of snow. The young artist even sketched in the grain of the wheelbarrow and footprints from it. She penciled the bark of the tree, added her short signature across the bottom corner.

Carol gasped softly, causing the blonde to grin. “You are amazing.”

“Thanks.”

“This is what you should do for a living.”

The hippie shrugged. “Nah. This is what I do for my heart. Give me another one.” She was enjoying the challenge and the camaraderie.

Taking the hint that harder subjects were better, Carol pondered a moment. “Here we go. A soccer team of young boys who’ve just lost their first game.”

“Good one,” Erin nodded approvingly and dove into the request.

They passed the evening like that, wrapped in each other and listening to the television drone on while they merely absorbed the sense of belonging they’d both been missing so terribly.

Later, they made their way to Carol’s bedroom, changing into nightclothes and crawling into bed. Hesitantly, they snuggled next to each other.

“Thank you for coming over,” Carol murmured, tightening her hold on the blonde, relishing the feeling of her body touching along the length of the smaller woman.

Erin grinned, rolled her head slightly so she could kiss Carol’s shoulder. “Thank you for asking me.”

“I didn’t sleep well last night,” the officer admitted sheepishly.

“You were worried about your meeting today, that’s understandable,” Erin acknowledged.

“And I missed you,” Carol whispered, having trouble confessing the feelings.

“I missed you, too,” Erin responded. “We’ll both sleep better tonight.”

Chapter 13

“Are you sure about this?” Carol asked, looking over her shoulder on several occasions.

Carol and Erin hadn’t seen each other since the morning following their dinner and had agreed over the phone last night on lunch today. Erin had claimed the food at the cafeteria was the best in town. The place was packed as they stood in line, waiting to pay for their sandwiches and sodas. The officer could feel all eyes upon her. She could honestly say she had never felt more uncomfortable in her life. Even the third day of her boring filing assignment was fun compared to the eyes of the students boring into her back now.

“Relax,” Erin soothed. “They don’t bite. Honest.”

Carol smiled. Erin had a way of calming her like no one else ever did. The cop had heard just this morning that Jimmy had died in the night of his wounds and needed, more than she wanted to admit, Erin’s soothing presence to assuage her rattled nerves. It turned out Erin had also heard the unpleasant news and was equally drawn to the dark woman, needing to offer her silent support. Though Jimmy’s name hadn’t yet come up, and wasn’t likely to, it was in the back of both women’s minds as they absorbed each other’s presence.

When they reached the cashier, Carol started to dig into her pocket.

“No,” Erin insisted. “You made dinner the other night.” She handed over the bills to the cashier who now had a raised eyebrow. “Is there a problem?” Erin asked the cashier bluntly.

“No. No problem.”

“Good then you can keep the change,” Erin smiled. “Come on. Follow me,” she told Carol.

Carol obeyed. They were on Erin’s turf now and it was best if she let the honey-haired woman lead. They walked down a long corridor, paper-sacked lunches in hand.

“Here,” Erin said as she came to a lazy stop. She pointed to a framed picture on the wall. The colors were brilliant and the contrasts had no distinguishable features.

“What’s this?” Carol asked.

“It’s one of my other works.”

Carol didn’t know what to make of it and she cocked her head from one side to the other – wondering just what the hell it was. One thing was certain, it wasn’t like the other paintings she’d already seen or the sketches they’d played with just a few nights before. Finally, she decided to ask.

“What the hell is that?” Carol chuckled dryly, shaking her head.

Erin joined her laughter, not offended in the least. She’d expected such a reaction after Carol had seen her other work.

Erin chuckled again. “It’s modern abstract art … Kind of like Warhol’s work … that bastard,” she swore under her breath.

Carol laughed. She’d never heard Erin swear outside of topics concerning her parents. It was kind of endearing and humanizing. “I take it you don’t like Andy’s work then,” Carol responded with a grin.

“Oh I loved his work at one time. Minos met him at a party on campus when he was up here a few years back. They talked about art. She shared some sketches. Son-of-a-bitch, he stole her soup can idea!”

“You mean the Campbell thing with the-

“Yeah! Dirty prick. Makes me wonder how many other works of his are original. Maybe he just goes campus to campus and steals ideas.”

“Why didn’t she say anything?” Carol asked.

“Who’s gonna listen to a college freshman. Honestly?”

“Ya got a point,” Carol said going back to examining the work. After a few moments Carol turned back to Erin, “I like it,” she announced.

“Oh really?” Erin asked skeptically.

Carol paused a moment. “No, I’m just trying not to offend you,” Carol laughed nervously. “Look I’m sure it’s a wonderful abstract painting. I’m just …”

“Not into abstract art?” Erin offered.

“Exactly!” Carol sighed.

“Good, cuz neither am I,” the hippie grinned. “I did this piece sophomore year and my instructor just loved it. Many famous painters line the walls here,” Erin added with a wave down the corridor. “Since he loved it who was I to say no, I gave it to the University. Maybe someday the fact my name is on this it will mean something.”

“You said before you didn’t want to do this as a living?” Carol asked, indicating the painting with one large hand.

“I’m majoring in political science and communications. I have dreams of my art being something some day, but I’m not a dummy,” she grinned.

Carol reached out and stroked the length of Erin’s arm. “Dreams are wonderful, I think if we stop dreaming we stop living.”

“Honestly?” Erin questioned with a raised eyebrow.

“Oh, absolutely.” Carol replied quickly. “Why do you ask?”

“You didn’t strike me as a dreamer, Carol. You seem so deep in reality is all.”

“Perhaps, but everyone should have dreams,” Carol answered.

Erin came within inches of Carol looking up into the deep blue of the officer’s eyes. “And what about you Carol? What are your dreams?”

Carol let out a ragged sigh. “To be the best cop I can be. To be a leader of men and women. But with all the things that are happening … well, it feels like my dreams are dying before my very eyes.”

The reality of Carol’s predicament almost knocked Erin off her feet. She knew the situation looked grim but it was more than just Carol’s occupation – Carol’s dreams were fading too. And Carol was right. Dreams are what keep us going. But in the same light, dreams can change. The dark woman had remained somewhat stoic about the change in assignments and the treatment from her co-workers but Erin could tell how much it bothered her.

“But you know what, Carol?” Erin said trying her damnedest to sound optimistic. “We can always re-invent our dreams, adapt them to fit our life.”

“Yeah,” Carol grinned trying to put up a good front. “You know what I’m dreaming right now?”

“What’s that?” Erin asked playfully, trying to keep the course Carol was setting.

“I’m dreaming of a ham on rye,” she said, waving her bag. “Let’s eat!”

Erin laughed lightly and took Carol by the hand, leading her to the exit. “I know a perfect place by the student union. Let’s go.”

Moments later they were under a huge weeping willow, eating their lunch – sharing their sandwiches. Carol had to commend Erin’s assessment of the cafeteria quality. It was pretty damn good for school food. Heck it was even better than the deli she and Randell often frequented during lunch. They sat finishing up the last of the meal when they noticed Stan making his way over. Erin tensed at first but pushed it down. Carol was the woman she was falling for, uniform or not, and she refused to let the officer’s exterior be a problem for her in front of her friends. She certainly didn’t want the dark woman to think that she was embarrassed to be seen with her.

“You okay?” he asked suspiciously as he walked up, his eyes shifting between the officer and his friend.

“I’m fine, Stan,” Erin replied with a smile. Suddenly her expression shifted to questioning. “Hold on. Aren’t you supposed to be in World Geography now?” Erin realized, looking at her watch.

“Yeah, but Minos sent me to find you. I’ve been looking all morning,” he replied. He did a double take on his next glance to Carol. Realization washed over his face: it was the same woman that was in his kitchen. “Oh my God, you’re a cop?!” he exclaimed.

Carol and Erin looked at each other and burst out laughing. “No Stan, she’s just got a thing for police apparel,” Erin said sarcastically between chuckles.

“But don’t worry,” Carol added calmly, taking a drink of her soda. “It’s not contagious.”

Erin and Carol looked back at each other and started to laugh again.

“Whoa, man, that’s heavy. A cop huh?” he sighed, shaking his head. He looked up to see two sets of eyes burning into him. “I mean it’s not bad or anything. I think … nah, it’s kinda groovy,” he said nodding his head repeatedly. “So are you two kinda …” He let the sentence hang, not sure where he wanted to go with it or what he really wanted to say.

“Yeah …” Erin answered with a bashful grin. “Kinda,” she added in after thought. “Anyway, you said you had a message or something.”

“Oh yeah! Minos said your mom called about your dad. Or was it your dad called about your mom? Shit, I don’t remember. I was half toked when she told me to find you.” Stan froze, realized what he just said and in what company he had said it. Erin didn’t notice. She was too deep in thought. “Anyway, you’re supposed to call home. Gotta run. See ya.”

Stan made his way from the pair as Carol grinned and shook her head at the now paranoid message boy. She might have been in the uniform but she wasn’t always a cop. Carol was going to make some joking comment to her young companion but the expression on Erin’s face altered her words.

“What’s wrong Erin?” she found herself saying instead. The girl had grown as white as a sheet in the course of the thirty seconds it had taken Stan to deliver his message.

Erin came back from her thoughts at the sound of Carol’s voice. “Do you think you can find your way back without me?”

“Sure,” Carol answered, rising up along with Erin. “Is everything all right, sweetheart?” Carol could see Erin was shaken by the message and not just emotionally. Her young love interest was physically vibrating.

“I don’t think so,” Erin said, a sob teetering on the edge of her voice. “I can’t explain now. Can I call you at home later tonight?” The question sounded like a plea.

Carol smoothed large hands over Erin’s arms, hoping to calm the young woman’s jumping nerves. She’d never seen Erin this unsettled before and it frightened her. She wanted to demand that the blonde tell her everything right then but she kept her voice flat and even.

“You can call me any time you like,” she answered instead.

Erin nodded and started to make her way home but Carol couldn’t let her leave like that. She stopped Erin and brought her into a tight embrace, nearly crushing the young woman against her.

“I love you,” Carol whispered into the honey-hair.

She wasn’t sure how it slipped out but it felt so natural and she hoped the confession didn’t cause Erin more distress. She was relieved when she felt the woman’s tension ease just a bit and her returning grip get firmer. But soon after, the blonde pulled back a few inches, her hands gently tugging Carol’s head down.

“I love you, too,” Erin returned the whisper. She reaffirmed her words with a light, affectionate kiss to Carol’s lips. “I’ll call tonight. I promise.”

With that Carol let Erin leave her embrace. Only after the girl was out of sight did she make her way back to the station house.

XXXXX

Carol was further frustrated by her treatment in the afternoon. Once she’d successfully completed rearranging the files and boxing up the archives, the desk sergeant had given her another assignment.

“You’ve got to be kidding me?” she groaned, looking at the slip of paper she held in her right hand. She glanced from the script on the page to the sergeant.

He smiled gleefully, his grizzled appearance actually seeming to soften with the smile. “All yours, Johnson. Do us proud.”

“C’mon, now,” she complained. “This is rookie stuff.”

The sergeant raised one bushy eyebrow. “Are you refusing an assignment, Johnson?”

“Of course not,” she replied softly, promising herself she wouldn’t complain again, no matter how hard they made it on her.

She checked a black and white out of car pool and made her way to the address on the page. Pulling up in front of the corner store, she shook her head ruefully before sliding out from behind the wheel and closing and locking her door.

“Mr. Barnes?” she called as she opened the door to the small grocery store. “It’s Officer Johnson. Hello?” The tall woman closed the door behind her, the jangling of bells disturbing the silence of the store. “Mr. Barnes?”

“In here,” he called from the back room and Carol made her way through the main aisle and around the cash register to the storage room beyond. A gentle breeze floated in from the back door which opened out onto an alley. It was in this open doorway that she found Mr. Barnes and his latest unfortunate victim.

Mr. Barnes was an elderly man who gave every appearance of being fragile but he had a hot temper that immediately flared any time he thought someone might be insulting him. Apparently the milk delivery man had offended him today and had found himself in an unpleasant position. Wiry Mr. Barnes had the tall white uniformed man backed against the wall just inside the door, a broad mop held across the taller man’s throat.

“What’s the story, Mr. Barnes,” Carol said cooly, trying not to sound as bored as she was. They got a call about once a week from the cagey old man and it was always something painfully inane.

“Young lady,” he began, glancing away from his prey long enough to run a discerning gaze up Carol’s lanky form. “This thief tried to trick me out of two quarts of milk! I run an honest business here and I won’t be taken advantage of!”

Carol ignored the slimy feeling of being leered at by a seventy year old man and instead turned her attention to the guy in the uniform. “What’s your name?” she asked shortly.

“Ben. Ben Casings,” the man responded. He sounded more annoyed than frightened and that humored Carol slightly.

“Okay, Ben. I’m Carol Johnson. Station sent me down to see if I could help you guys work this out peacefully.” She turned her attention back to the elderly man still wielding the mop. “Put down your weapon, Mr. Barnes. Ben isn’t going anywhere. Are ya?”

“Not much point to it,” the man agreed affably. Carol guessed him to be in his early thirties. He was calm and collected in his white uniform with his short hair and clean-shaven face. He didn’t look like a thief. Of course, none of Mr. Barnes’s victims had been proven a thief yet.

“Officer Johnson, I won’t be made a mockery of,” Mr. Barnes declared.

Too late, Carol thought to herself, biting back the sigh at the edge of her lips. “Of course not, sir. Put down the mop and we’ll get to the bottom of this.”

Slowly, Barnes lowered his weapon and let the fabric end thunk on the floor and echo in the small concrete room. “Where’s your partner? Can they send a lady out on her own? Doesn’t seem proper,” he gruffed, beady eyes traveling from the relaxing milkman to the tall officer.

Carol shrugged. “On my own today. Now, let’s start at the beginning.”

It took nearly two hours to go through the inventory on the truck, in the store, and the delivery orders to determine that the elderly storeowner had not, in fact, been cheated out of anything. Luckily, once the man saw all the proof and paperwork in front of him he had the good sense to back down and apologize to the unfortunate delivery man who was now well behind schedule. After bidding Mr. Barnes goodbye, Carol walked out into the alley with Ben.

“Sorry about that,” she said with a slight grin. “Happens about once a week. Didn’t your company tell you?”

“Nah. Started new just yesterday. I think they were trying to initiate me.”

Carol laughed, shaking her head. “We do the same to rookies … send them to Mr. Barnes here for a day of counting stock. You can press charges if you’re so inclined. He did hold you at mop point. If you want to, you’ll have to come down to the station and fill out a formal report.”

Ben shook his head, opening the door to his truck and climbing up inside. “I’ll just pay more attention next time I work with the old man,” he sighed.

“Most do,” the dark woman agreed, her thoughts already wandering back to her house and how empty it would be. She’d hoped Erin might be able to come over tonight but the mystery phone call could very well prevent that. She checked her watch.

“Get off soon?” the man asked, leaning an elbow on the steering wheel.

“Huh?” Carol looked up. “Oh … yeah.” It wasn’t until just this moment that she noticed how the man was looking at her. His expression was gentle and hopeful and while Carol certainly didn’t find him unpleasant he didn’t do a thing for her either.

“Interested in maybe a cup of coffee when you get off? I have to deliver quite a bit more but I could meet you around, what, six?”

She found herself blushing at his attention as she smoothed a wayward wisp behind her ear where it had escaped from the French braid. “No thanks,” she smiled.

“No really, just a cup of coffee. I find you really intriguing.” He made an obvious glance at her finger. “You’re not married.”

“No, I’m not,” she agreed. “But I’m involved with someone. I do appreciate the thought,” she assured him, trying to let him down easy, flattered by his gentle attention. “If you change your mind about the charges, c’mon down to the station.” Not waiting for his response, she waved at him slightly and then made her way down the alley around the corner of the building towards her parked patrol car. Involved with someone, she mused. And she told me she loves me. She realized the grin on her face probably made her look plain goofy but she didn’t care.

XXXXX

Hours later, Carol moved quietly around the house. She’d put on a TV dinner, not wanting to make a meal for just herself, and was now walking through her father’s office, tilting her head to read the spines of the books in shelves. She wanted something to curl up with, to distract her from the fact that she was lonely. She’d been alone a large part of her life, never making close friends or lasting relationships, but this was the first time she remembered feeling lonely.

Part of her was also concerned for her young friend’s well being. When Erin had left, the hippie was obviously nervous or upset about something. Carol realized she knew very little about the spunky blonde aside from her arrest record and her big heart and zeal for life. She couldn’t even begin to imagine what had caused her friend such concern.

Finally, the dark woman settled on an old favorite of her father’s, one she had read many times herself, and carried her selection back with her to the kitchen. She tossed the paperback on the table and cracked the oven to peek at her dinner. The ringing phone startled her.

“Hello?”

“Hey,” the soft voice was immediately recognizable.

Carol sat down, relieved to hear Erin but also immediately concerned by the defeat she heard in the now familiar tones. “What is it, honey?”

“I … uh …” the young woman sounded like she had either been crying or was about to soon. “I need to leave town for a few days, I wanted you to know.”

“What’s wrong?” Carol inquired gently, wishing the blonde were here so she could hold her tight and comfort her.

“Something at home,” she sighed, obviously struggling with how much to share.

“Erin,” the dark woman said softly, her husky voice lilting warmly into the phone. “You don’t have to tell me anything you’re not ready to. Nothing could change how I feel about you.”

The blonde laughed dryly, little humor actually in the sound. “God, I wish I were there right now.”

Carol hopped up. “I’ll come get you, Erin. We can talk for awhile, or let me just hold you,” she wondered if she sounded as desperate as she felt. “Are you at the house, sweetheart?”

“No … no,” the blonde stammered. “I mean, yes I am. No, you don’t need to come here. I’m packing some stuff and then Minos is going to take me to the bus station. My bus leaves at eight.”

“Can I come by and pick you up? I’ll sit with you until you need to leave.”

Her request was answered by ragged-breathed silence.

“Erin, I know I’m pleading … and maybe I sound too desperate. But I can tell how much you’re hurting. I love you. I want to help you,” the dark woman’s voice was no more than a whisper when she finished and she could hear across the line that Erin was crying now.

“I don’t feel right dragging you into this mess,” the blonde said at last. “It’s something I started a long time ago and it’s not right for you to have to be involved.”

“I want to help you, Erin. Let me do that.” Had it always been so hard for this small woman to accept someone’s assistance? How had Minos ever gotten in?

Erin was quiet for a long moment before she took a deep breath. “I’ll be ready to go in twenty minutes. That would give us time for a coffee while we wait.”

“I’ll be right there,” Carol promised. “Bye.” She barely waited for Erin’s response before she hung up and turned off the oven. She dragged the aluminum dish out and set it on the cold burners before finding her keys and coat and heading out the front door.

Chapter 14

Erin and Minos sat side by side on the top step of the dilapidated porch. Carol parked the Mustang right in front of the house and made her way cautiously up the walk. The two women sat very close to each other, the older one’s arm around the slight blonde’s shoulders, her head tilted as she spoke to Erin in muffled tones.

The night was clear and warm, the breeze doing little more than ruffling Carol’s bangs, giving no relief from the humid day. The dark-haired woman walked up silently, kneeling in front of the two on the step. Minos looked up first and for the first time since they’d met, Carol saw gentle acceptance in her gaze.

Minos grinned meekly, murmured something to Erin, then kissed her cheek warmly and went inside, leaving the two lovers on their own. Carol took up the recently vacated seat.

“Hey,” the officer said softly, reaching out a large hand and stroking her young friend’s hunched back.

“Hi,” Erin looked up and smiled weakly, wiping her sleeve across watery green eyes.

“I … I want to ask you some questions, Erin,” Carol said slowly. She’d thought about this the entire drive across town. “If you don’t want to answer, that’s okay.”

The blonde nodded.

“Are you walking into a dangerous situation going home? Will they hurt you?” the officer asked carefully.

“No,” Erin sniffed, wiping her eyes again. “They won’t hurt me. Probably tell me how worthless I am and what an embarrassment,” she let out a watery laugh. “They’ll try to make me stay … but they won’t lay a hand on me.” Though she spoke the words with a certain amount of conviction, she couldn’t help but wonder if it were the truth. Her mother had never physically hurt her and never would, of that she had no doubt. Of course, the state of her stepfather’s health would be the determining factor in his own ability to hurt her. She decided to leave that out, easily sensing her dark companion’s concern.

“Are you afraid to go back?”

“A little. I never planned to. I kinda burned some bridges, ya know?” Or the bridges were burnt for me, she thought. But I never tried to stop the flames.

“Yeah,” Carol agreed, using her large hand to rub up and down the small woman’s back.

“If I stay too long, I might not be able to graduate.”

“How long do you think you’ll be gone?” Carol asked moving her hand up to smooth away long strawberry blonde hair. The smaller woman’s cheeks were wet and glistening in the porch light.

She shrugged, tilting her head to meet concerned blue. “What do you see in me?”

It was such a sad, insecure question from this young woman who had an uncanny ability to exude confidence. It nearly broke Carol’s heart. “I love you,” the dark woman said gently. “You’re warm and funny, brilliant, witty. What’s not to like, huh?”

Erin grinned slightly before looking away, letting her emerald gaze travel across the darkened front yard to the street beyond.

“No matter how they make you feel, Erin, or what they say … they can’t take away what you are inside. You know that.”

“Yeah,” the blonde chuckled softly. “Yeah. It took me a long time to realize that … what I could be without them, in spite of them. The skin’s still a little soft sometimes.”

Carol slid closer and wrapped her arms around the small woman, relieved when Erin relaxed in her embrace. “A couple days, you think?”

“Prob’ly,” Erin’s response was muffled by the dark woman’s shoulder. She sighed. “My father, stepfather, is really sick. My mom asked me to come back.”

“So it could be awhile?”

“Maybe. But I have to graduate, Carol. I didn’t come this far not to.”

The officer nodded, pulling the smaller woman around so the blonde straddled her lap. The new position allowed Carol to embrace her companion more tightly. “How far away is home?” Carol questioned, tilting her head into blonde tresses.

“This is home,” Erin responded without hesitation.

Carol chuckled softly, kissing the head tucked beneath her chin. “How far away is your mom?”

“Ten hours by bus.”

“If you need to come home for exams, I’ll come get you. Okay? And then take you back to your mom’s.”

“You would do that?”

“Of course, Erin. You have to graduate. You’ve worked too hard.”

“I love you,” Erin murmured, snuggling deeper into the strong arms.

“C’mon,” Carol began to disentangle herself. “Let’s go get that coffee?”

“Yeah,” the blonde wiped at her tears one last time, using Carol’s broad shoulders to push herself to a standing position. “Thank you for coming over,” she smiled shyly.

The officer returned the smile and gently ruffled her companion’s hair. “This your bag?”

Erin nodded silently and followed Carol down the walk and towards the waiting car.

XXXXX

Erin crept silently into the room, looking left and right. She spotted her mother on the far left side of her father’s hospital bed. Tubes, wires, and machines were littered around his area.

No one had met her at the bus stop, not that it had surprised her necessarily, but the inconvenience of hitching a ride across town had slowed her down considerably. When she’d arrived at the house, there was only a housekeeper there. It wasn’t the large Hispanic woman, Maria, she remembered from her youth but instead was a svelte young blonde. She imagined her stepfather had had something to do with that change. Maria had been a wonderful woman with a huge heart, raising Erin and caring for her as if they were blood. In fact, it was Maria that Erin had cried for on the nights after she had left. Never once had she shed a tear for either of her parents.

The blonde housekeeper had been rude and disdainful, her brown eyes looking down an aquiline nose at the young hippie before her. Had Erin not been so out of sorts from the long bus ride and the hassle to get here, she would have launched a few choice words in this woman’s direction. Instead she simply asked which hospital they were at and then began the mundane duty of hitching another ride across town.

She’d ended up walking for about five miles, weary from her lack of sleep and emotional turmoil. But all of that seemed to leave her now as she peered at the two people in front of her.

God. How long had it been since she saw them last? Five years, perhaps? The gray in her mother’s hair had shocked Erin for a moment. Breathing hard, heart pounding, she crept closer.

“Mother?” she approached cautiously. She didn’t add more, instead waiting to see what move, if any, her mother would make.

“I didn’t think you’d come. Busy with your own life ‘n all,” her mother replied.

Erin let the comment go. She could argue the point that her mother was just looking for a fight like always but instead of provoking it she simply let it slide off her back. “What’s wrong with him?”

The tone of the word ‘him’ didn’t go unnoticed by mother or daughter. Erin didn’t mean to let her disdain out but it just tumbled forward before she could stop it. She wanted to chalk it up to how tired she was, how drained, how much she longed for Carol’s comforting presence. But the reality was that she could never think of or speak of this man fondly.

“I know how you feel about David. You never-“

“If you say the words, ‘got a chance to know him’ I swear I will walk right out of this room,” Erin barked, any pretenses at being friendly jumping out the window into the sunlight beyond. “And I will never look back. I’m tired of the rhetoric mother. It’s trite, cliched and not worth listening to anymore – as you pointed out …I have my own life and all.”

“Why do you hate him so?” her mother pled. She was an older version of Erin with darker hair. She still had the same green eyes and fair skin. Her light brown hair was streaked with gray and pulled back into a tight bun, so fitting of the woman herself. Erin tried, but she couldn’t remember a time when she’d looked at her mother and felt anything but distaste. Distaste for a woman who couldn’t stand on her own two feet and say enough is enough. A woman who wouldn’t defend her daughter to a man’s brutality because she was afraid he’d leave her and she’d had nothing to fall back on: no schooling, no skills. She was raised to be a wife and a mother, knew no other tasks and gave up her maternal instincts to support the man who put bread on her table.

Erin took a moment to consider the words, tilting her head in thought, trying to rein in the overflowing emotions that threatened to break the dams of her restraint and come pouring forth in vicious outlashing. “He always thought he was someone he’s not, like my father. That man is not my father.” She spoke the words neutrally, stepping closer so she was close enough to touch her mother but not daring to do so.

“He was the closest thing you’ve had to a father for years, Erin. People lose parents but you have to move on. You can’t blame us for everything in your life.” Her mother sounded weary and her words appeared rehearsed. Had she stayed up nights having imaginary conversations with her missing daughter? Had they looked for her? Had they cared? Obviously her mother hadn’t had too much trouble finding Erin this time. Did that mean she’d never even tried to before?

Erin started to chuckle cynically, not believing for a moment that either had done anything but celebrate her disappearance. “Who’s blaming anyone here? Do you have a guilty conscience, Mother? Do you finally see that the years that man spent drinking have caught up to him?” Erin crept closer to get a better look at his face. “I’m surprised he’s lasted this long,” she smirked defiantly, hating the cold side of her that was coming forth but unable to control it. The hatred she felt for the man was thick and heavy in her stomach, the bile that rose scratching her throat and coming out in heartless words.

“That happens to be my husband you’re talking about,” her mother argued, still not raising her voice, still appearing weary and defeated.

“And I happen to be your daughter,” Erin spat harshly, taking a step back, shaking her head. “But that didn’t seem to matter to you did it? You did every single thing that drunk told you to do because you had no backbone, no spirit to stand up for what was right. You never stood up for me, not once. In all the drunken battles I had with that man, and I use the term loosely, you never stood up for me. You were never there for me. Now the SOB is on his way to the other side and you need me to prop you up? Well, sorry, Mother, it just doesn’t work that way.” She willed herself not to cry, not wanting her mother to see how much she hurt. She felt the salty prickle of tears against the corners of her eyes and she pinched the bridge of her nose in an effort to hold them off.

“I asked you here because I thought it would be your last chance to make amends,” her mother answered beginning to tear up herself, letting go of her husband’s hand to reach towards her daughter. The irony of that gesture was not lost on Erin but it simply wasn’t enough. Not after all this time and all the heartache.

Erin’s face was dark. Cold. Unreadable. “I love you, Mother, but I don’t like you. And if a peace with him is what you’re looking for, well, let’s just say that any hope of that dashed with this scar,” she said revealing her arm.

She didn’t have to explain. Her mother remembered quite well how Erin had gotten it and she could no longer meet her eyes. All Erin could do was sigh in defeat, dropping her arm to dangle by her side – nothing had changed after all these years, she thought glumly.

“Look, Mom,” Erin began, her anger deflated when she realized how pointless it was. She couldn’t change things, never had been able to. “For what it’s worth, I hope he pulls through for your sake. But don’t ask me to do the ‘Leave it to Beaver’ scene. That just isn’t gonna happen.” With those final words, Erin turned her back to her mother and began to make her way to the door until her the other woman’s plea stopped her.

“Wait!” she exclaimed softly. Erin slowly turned to face her mother, wondering what would come next. She watched as the older woman struggled for something to add, some reason to keep her there a bit longer. But instead of words, she heard her mother sigh in defeat. “Take care of yourself, Erin,” she replied softly.

Erin tried her damnedest to grin through the pain. It was the end of a chapter in her life and she could almost hear the book slam with harsh finality. I have no family. “Always.”

With that she walked out without a backward glance.

XXXXX

Carol had spent another tedious two days at the station filing more reports and aggravating her dust allergies in the precinct basement. Today had been especially long due to harassment by her fellow officers and chiding remarks about her floating through the halls and to her ears. To make matters worse, she’d worried about Erin’s predicament since the blonde had left. The young woman was certainly shaken about the news she had received. Given the beatnik’s reluctance to questions regarding her family, Carol knew things in Erin’s world weren’t so rosy either.

They had shared coffee at the bus station in relative silence that night, Carol reaching out constantly to stroke the other woman’s arm in quiet support. Though she had never been a woman to show physical affection, her need to touch and reassure Erin was palpable and Carol found herself responding to that need without questioning how it would appear in public. She hadn’t cared. Erin’s slight shoulders had been hunched in agony and though the tears had stopped flowing, her green eyes had remained haunted. They’d hugged as Erin climbed on the bus, Carol murmuring gentle endearments that were returned in kind. Then the tall officer had stood silently aside and watched the bus pull out into the dark night, making a right turn and disappearing in its journey towards the highway.

That haunted look had stayed with Carol constantly during her menial tasks and she hoped her young friend was coping with whatever horrors being home had brought.

As the officer changed out of her uniform she heard a knock at the door, glancing at the clock, she realized it was just past six and she hadn’t been expecting anyone. In her oversized shirt she went into the hallway and looked out the peephole. She was more than a little surprised to see her petite flower child standing outside.

“Erin?” she asked as she opened the door. The shock was evident in her voice.

“Is this a bad time?” the hippie asked softly. “I can come-“

“No! No!” Carol said gently pulling her inside. “I wasn’t expecting to see you so soon. I’ve been so worried. Come on in, sweetheart.”

Erin was edgy, fidgety. But she soon sported a devilish grin when she saw Carol’s state of half-dress.

“Didn’t mean to catch you with your pants down,” she teased.

Carol quickly realized just what Erin was referring to and promptly blushed. “Yeah well, maybe I was in the middle of something when you knocked,” she teased with a suggestive tone, heading back to the bedroom again.

“Fantasy is healthy,” Erin retorted, following behind the officer. “At least that’s what a beautiful woman told me once.”

Carol turned to see Erin beaming at her – full and bright. But even though she carried a smile Carol could tell the young woman carried something greater underneath it. Perhaps not sorrow so much as … frustration? Carol’s curiosity got the better of her and she had to ask.

“So what brings you home so soon?” Carol tried to pose it conversationally, as she pulled on a pair of bell-bottomed jeans and snapped the waist. Erin shrugged at first and took a seat on the bed. Carol removed her uniform shirt next revealing the T-shirt underneath. Erin still hadn’t spoken and Carol proceeded to her closet to find something more comfortable to wear.

“You have a wonderful back,” Erin replied. “Great definition in your shoulders – very firm, very strong.”

“Very evasive,” Carol teased gently, smiling softly to take away any sting the words may have carried.

Erin knew she’d been busted and had to grin in response. “Okay, I’ll give you a point for that one … I am being evasive.”

Carol wasn’t sure how to approach her growing sense of despair. She decided honesty was best.

“It worries me that you won’t tell me,” Carol confessed.

“Why?” Erin asked, leaning forward a bit, giving Carol a little more attention.

Carol quickly took off the T-shirt, replacing it with a fresh one. She took a seat on the bed.

“I’m not sure,” she answered. “It just feels like you don’t trust me. Like you can’t open up to me. I wish you could see that there isn’t anything you can’t tell me or do that would make me love you any less. It just feels like … you won’t let me in sometimes.”

Erin considered the comment. It was the last thing in the world she wanted. She valued Carol’s trust in her and she thought she had been doing well to convey her feelings in return. But apparently not, and the longer she considered it the more misty eyed she got. Carol noticed Erin’s discomfort.

“Hey!” Carol exclaimed tenderly. “Please don’t cry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

Carol’s concern was Erin’s undoing and the tears began to flow freely. Carol gathered the young woman in her arms, pulling her tight against her, beginning to rock her gently.

“Shhh, it’s okay,” Carol reassured. “I’m not putting any pressure on you here, Erin. I just want you to know you have a place to go. Somewhere safe, that’s all … You’re safe with me.”

Erin knew Carol was right. She had finally found a home. A real home. Someplace where she could just be herself. Something she was never permitted to do before – not even in Minos’s house – because even there she had a role she was expected to play.

Erin took a few gulps of air and wiped her eyes. “I’m sorry,” she said, managing a grin. “I need to stop crying on you. Looks like I got your new shirt all wet,” she added pointing to the tear spots by Carol’s breast.

“Yeah, but it will all come out in the wash,” the officer teased back, trying to relieve the young woman’s tension a bit. “So how ’bout it? Think you can tell me?”

Erin smiled but soon felt her lip quivering. She loved Carol so much. And Carol obviously loved her too. It was a unique situation – one that brought a caldron of emotions forth. Emotions Erin didn’t even know she had. But instead of giving in to the tears again, she took a deep breath.

If Carol wanted to know all, she would tell all.

“My … stepfather is in the hospital,” Erin began. “We never got along. He liked to drink. I liked to wear flower child clothes. We clashed, quite a bit. He knocked me around sometimes, was very physical. But the worst of it was how often he told me I was nothing. That if I were worth something, they would love me. He said my drawing was wasteful scribbles …” she trailed off, looking up to meet gentle blue eyes. “I believed him, ya know? I was young and stupid and I thought that I was a bad person and that I deserved his words and his abuse. It went on for years, I was young when my father died and my mother remarried shortly after. I started hanging out with a kinda rough crowd at school, came home less and less. Maybe did some things I shouldn’t have done, which made me believe that he was right all along: I was worthless.”

Carol didn’t dare fill the silence but instead waited for Erin to continue. She could sense the sadness in the other woman and imagined the horror of her upbringing. Carol’s father had been warm and supportive, always encouraging her and loving her despite mistakes. It was obvious Erin had never had that. Not only had the man abused her physically, but he’d belittled the girl, crushed her spirit. Minos must have done a lot to bring back the vibrancy that Carol witnessed now day-to-day. Only occasionally did the cop get any insight into the insecure girl hiding behind the brash woman. Despite her obvious differences with Minos, Carol was grateful to the other woman for what she had done for Erin.

Finally, after some calming breaths, Erin bared her arm to Carol. “I got this from a broken beer bottle – Miller by the way, in case you’re curious,” she added, trying as always to keep things light. “I got in late one night, senior year in high school, and he started in with his patented tramp speech. I was slutting around with the boys, so on and so forth,” she waved a hand as if the whole thing were negligible. “Truth be known I was with Minos helping her move out of her house so she could come here to where we’re at now. He hit me some, yelled at me a lot,” she realized she was downplaying it. She remembered vividly cowering on the front porch of her childhood home, tucked into the corner. She’d covered herself with her arms, feeling the toe of his boot connecting with her ribs. She’d wondered vaguely why she’d even come home. “He broke the bottle over the porch railing and tried to slice off part of my anatomy,” Erin chuckled nervously, no humor in the rasping sound.

Carol didn’t buy into it; she just listened intently and sorrowfully to Erin’s tale.

That had been the final straw. In all of his abuse, he’d never done anything so violent and the reality of the sharp glass glistening in the moonlight had been too much for her. She’d leapt to her feet, shoving at him but not completely escaping his attack. “Well, I moved and he got my arm instead. I ran into the house. Packed a quick bag. Got my schoolbooks and left. I never went back. I went to Minos and she took me in. I think she’d been waiting for me to make that decision. She knew what he was doing to me but I was so stubborn, even then, that she knew she couldn’t tell me to walk away. I had to make that decision myself.” She sighed, shrugged her shoulders, bringing the story to the present. “Seems all his drinking has caught up to him. The nurse said he had a heart attack. His liver is shot to hell. I’m not sure why my mom called, really. Maybe she thought he and I could make amends …”

Carol didn’t speak as Erin paused. She felt her anger for a man she never met brewing deep inside her but she didn’t dare let it show. She didn’t want to frighten Erin back into her reclusion since she had made such a stride in stepping forward and opening herself up. When Erin didn’t continue, Carol knew she would have to speak so she tried to pick her words carefully.

“I don’t know what to say,” the dark woman answered honestly. “I’d say I’m sorry but you’re not a woman who takes pity, that much I know. I guess all I can say is that it’s in the past. You’ve moved on and you’re a very bright, talented woman who’s got a cop who’s crazy about you in every way.”

Erin began to cry again and Carol immediately apologized, shaking her head at her own apparent insensitivity. Her apologies, however, were soon stifled as Erin put her hands up to stop her.

“I’m not crying now because I’m sad,” Erin said swallowing tears. “I’m happy for the first time in my life. I’m happy. I feel like I found what I’ve been looking for.” Carol wasn’t sure where Erin was going so she held her tongue. “It’s you,” Erin chuckled. “All my life,” she whispered as she met Carol’s eyes. “It’s you.”

Carol’s fingertips found Erin’s tear-stained cheek and wiped it dry, the digits cool on the blonde’s flushed skin. Erin tilted her head slightly as her lips captured the officer’s flesh lightly and lovingly. The kissing of the fingers soon lead to the palm and then the wrist. Carol could feel where Erin was going, the heat was radiating off of her in huge suffocating waves, leaving no doubt as to the young woman’s intentions.

“Erin,” Carol sighed reluctantly, meeting emerald eyes. “You’re very emotional right now and I think-“

“Make love to me, Carol,” Erin whispered, cutting the dark woman off. She didn’t want excuses or pity or to be protected from her own heart. She wanted to be loved. She needed the physical manifestation of the emotions she felt thick and heavy in the room.

Carol didn’t respond for a very long time, torn between listening to the thrumming in her body and the nagging voice in her head. She wanted this, knew Erin did too. They hadn’t actually been subtle about where this relationship was going but she’d wanted the first time to be perfect and she wasn’t sure this qualified. Erin’s gentle features were streaked with drying tears, the dark circles under her eyes told of great tension and little sleep. She looked weary and frazzled, as if she might shatter at any moment. But Carol knew that wasn’t true. Erin had more strength than she did, certainly, and had spent years building walls to protect herself. This latest development would not be her undoing.

The passion in the jade eyes was unmistakable, however. The pupils had dilated, leaving the surrounding irises to darken and sport flecks of gold. Carol looked deep into Erin’s eyes, realizing what she was being offered, and rationalized with herself that their first time would be perfect regardless of the events leading up to it. With that conviction, she leaned forward and captured coral lips that parted easily for her, inviting her in.

“I love you,” Carol whispered sincerely as their lips parted. “But remember, if you want to stop at any point-

Carol never finished her sentence. Erin snared her lips once more with intent, making sure to show Carol that stopping was not an option. The kiss Erin stole made Carol’s heart skip a beat and the result was a great wetness between her legs and an overwhelming need for pressure there. Some kind of pressure. Any kind of pressure.

The urgency of her arousal was intense as Carol, gently yet swiftly, led Erin back to the bed. She settled herself softly on top of the smaller woman so their legs intertwined. When Erin began to ready herself for the next series of kisses her leg shifted accidentally, drawing a deep moan from the woman above her.

‘She likes that,’ Erin considered silently. ‘Let’s see if …’

Once more she moved her leg, getting a similar response. The look on Carol’s face told Erin she was doing all the right things. And the sounds she was making only fueled Erin’s growing desire even more. With that desire came a movement of her own, reaching and searching for a similar contact from Carol. Carol was more than happy to oblige, forcing her hips downward to meet Erin’s thrusts which were starting to come more and more frequently.

But soon that wasn’t enough. Both women needed more flesh to touch, more skin to kiss. In response to that gnawing need, Carol worked the buttons free on Erin’s dress. She was delighted to see that Erin was naked underneath. The sight of Erin half-dressed and waiting to be taken made Carol’s heart melt and her passion swell. Both had ragged breaths as Carol’s eyes examined and admired Erin’s body.

Carol’s hand tentatively reached out to stroke the blonde’s breasts. She’d touched Erin before but it was never this intense, never a skin upon skin contact. She was unsure of many things: would Erin allow such a pleasure and would she be able to give the young hippie pleasure properly?

Erin sensed Carol’s sudden uneasiness but instead of talking or giving instructions, she took hold of Carol’s wrists gently, giving permission to explore, showing her how to touch and what she liked. The gesture and the tutelage of tender fingers and burning friction put Carol at ease once more, allowing her arousal to be the leader in her movements again.

Seeing and feeling Carol’s confidence gave Erin the power to seize a little bit of control. She pulled Carol close and rolled the larger woman over as their lips locked together for the hundredth time that evening. Carol whimpered a protest when Erin rose but soon smiled as she watched Erin working the buttons on her fly. Moments later Carol’s jeans lay in a heap on the floor at the foot of the bed. Erin took the opportunity to rise to her full height and pull her dress from her shoulders, watching it puddle next to Carol’s bellbottoms.

“God, you’re so beautiful.”

Carol wasn’t sure if she’d spoken the words aloud or if they were just screaming in her head. Erin’s sudden sly grin gave her the answer. Hypnotically, she watched the hippie straddle her lap and pull her into a sitting position by the hands. Once upright, Carol felt Erin’s hands travel over her breasts and down her stomach, stopping at the edge of her t-shirt. After a quick tug, the shirt joined the other articles on the floor. Without delay, Erin went to work on the satin white bra.

However, Erin found that kissing Carol while trying to achieve this task just wasn’t working. She couldn’t help it and started to laugh, not wanting to break the mood but unable to refrain from chuckling at her own ineptness.

“Having trouble?” Carol teased, relieved at the release of tension. “Here,” she said, reaching behind her to unclasp the offending article and finally sending it clear across the room.

“Thank you,” Erin chuckled.

“Anytime,” Carol answered in a smoky voice. The seductive tone was all Erin needed to get things back on track, rebuilding the passion that had taken a short intermission to the comical side of the situation of first time blunders.

Erin gently pushed Carol back to the bed with her body as they kissed, her long hair tickling and exciting Carol all at once. After a few quick kisses, the blonde pulled back, placing her fallen hair behind her ear. She looked deeply into Carol’s eyes.

“Do you trust me?” she asked sincerely, needing an answer before proceeding.

“Absolutely,” Carol answered without hesitation, nodding for emphasis.

That was all Erin needed. She could see the sincerity in the depths of the taller woman’s eyes. The sparkling sapphire was diluted by passion and trust.

The young hippie worked her way down Carol’s body with tender kisses, growing more and more firm as she went. Her hands stroked delicately across her lover’s skin in the process, building the want between them. And, oh, how she wanted Carol. She could feel the azure-eyed beauty study her movements, soaking up everything around them. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the tastes – all of them were more than either woman had expected or experienced in their young lives. This was heaven, Erin decided as she started to suckle Carol’s breasts for the first time. This was what living was all about – not the physical sensations (although that was a wonderful factor), but the need to belong to someone, to give yourself to someone, to love and need someone as much as you were loved and needed.

Carol’s hand immediately shot up to cradle Erin’s head. The officer’s back arched off the bed the instant Erin’s lips made contact with her nipple. Carol didn’t think she’d ever want the sensation to end but soon she found she had needs lower, pulsing in time to the blonde’s gentle lips and tongue. Her hips began to buck and Erin read her easily, giving up the prize she’d discovered minutes before, moving farther south on the raven-haired beauty.

In one swift pull, Carol’s panties met the same fate as her other clothes revealing to Erin the glistening skin between the other woman’s legs. She couldn’t contain her moan at the sight and as a result Carol couldn’t contain her chuckle.

She wasn’t quite sure why she laughed. Perhaps it was just her fear of the unknown. She had a pretty good idea of where Erin was heading and what her intentions might be. Soon she realized that Erin had either ignored the giggle or had missed it entirely – too focused on the body before her.

Carol felt a flush wash over her body as Erin settled herself between long legs. And when Erin’s hair and lips brushed her inner thighs, her need for nervous laughter passed, being replaced by the wanting ache for attention at her center. Carol closed her eyes and simply enjoyed Erin’s teasing touches. They didn’t stay closed long, however, as she felt the tip of Erin’s warm, moist tongue stroking her intimately.

“Oh, God!” Carol exclaimed, her legs opening reflexively.

“That’s it,” Erin answered, stroking her lover’s inner thighs with her fingertips, moving to her center to gently part her lips. “Open up, Carol. Give yourself to me.”

With that, Erin’s tongue began alternating between long and quick strokes across Carol’s sex. The tall woman had never had a lover before, but she wasn’t exactly an angel, either. She’d spent time pleasing herself though none of those times compared to this moment. Nothing she’d ever experienced had felt this way as her body begged for release.

Erin was wonderfully surprised as she felt Carol grow wetter under her tongue. She had tasted her own juices over the years of her sexual experience, but it didn’t hold a candle to how Carol delighted her palate.

A few more moments were all it took. Carol’s orgasm ripped through her body at lightening speed, coming around and around again as her body convulsed in pleasure. When Erin heard her name on Carol’s lips, a mangled sound of pain and pleasure it seemed, Erin knew she’d finally found her destiny. Her home.

Carol didn’t rest. She had to give this gift to Erin. She had to make the petite woman feel the same thing. She was determined. Erin was once more surprised as she felt herself being lifted to Carol’s side, her back quickly coming to rest on the bed.

Carol straddled Erin’s leg, her arousal from before still evident between her thighs. The officer’s time for issuing affectionate kisses had passed. She wanted this woman before her. She wanted her now.

Carol’s hand shot down to Erin’s center as her lips claimed her nipples; tugging and pulling them into even more erect points. Erin loved the contact; needed it. Her body strained and bucked and thrust against her lover. Carol took her hand away to start her decent just as Erin had done moments before. But Erin stopped her.

“Please,” the young woman begged. “Don’t take your hand away. Keep stroking me, Carol. Please, just keep stroking me.”

Carol would do anything for Erin and if stroking was what she needed now, that’s just what she would do. When she returned her hand, Erin gave a grateful moan and resumed her movements. Carol pushed herself to one elbow so she could watch her young lover. The erotic movements Erin was making fueled her desire all over again, once more bringing a new wetness to her center. Erin arched and groaned what seemed like seconds later. Her body vibrated the bed and Carol felt suddenly consumed with the need to wrap herself around the quivering young woman.

Maybe it was the newness of it or their shared arousal, but it was over all too quickly. They lay afterwards, naked and sweating, each trembling, clutching tightly to the other, almost as if a promise to never let go of each other.

Erin leaned back to see her lover’s cheeks were wet with silent tears. “What is it?” she murmured, concern beginning to rise. “I don’t want you to think I didn’t want you to taste me. I just needed release quickly, Carol. I didn’t-“

“No,” Carol interrupted, pressing her lips to the blonde’s sweaty forehead. “It’s not that,” she assured. “I’m very satisfied,” the dark woman grinned rakishly. “It’s just … like you said before … I’m happy,” she said, using the blonde’s earlier explanation of her tears. “It was perfect. I feel part of you.”

“Perfect?” Erin chuckled. “Hell, I couldn’t get your bra off for at least five minutes.”

Carol laughed, too. “Maybe that’s because you’re out of practice … you burned yours years ago,” the cop teased. That remark earned her a chuck to the ribcage courtesy of Erin’s elbow. The officer replied with mock-pain. “And yes, despite the fact that we had … undergarment problems,” she paused with a huge grin, “it was perfect. Not the dime store novel kind of love scene, mind you. But perfect just the same.”

Carol couldn’t help but grin as she thought back to the moments before, wrought with hesitant exploration and adjusting strength with tenderness that was firm enough to provide reaction. Love had guided them, however, to understanding and soon the movements had become more practiced and confident, more about pleasuring and less about doing things right.

Already, Carol found her fingers trailing across moist skin to dance along the blonde’s spine to the small of her back. Erin lurched her hips in response, aroused again, her heartbeat quickening.

“Well you know what they say? Practice makes perfect,” Carol murmured, nipping a pale earlobe and then sucking it in to lave with her tongue.

“Ugh,” Erin moaned. “They teach you that at the firing range?”

Carol chuckled. “They most certainly did not teach me this at the firing range. This is more of a ‘hands-on’ learning experience. Situational training they call it. Placing you in a scenario and seeing how you react. So far I think we’ve both passed with flying colors.”

Later that evening, they left the bed only to find some sustenance in the old white Frigidaire. Even then they couldn’t keep their hands off of each other, sharing morsels of food and kisses with equal abandon.

“Have you been to Minos’s yet?” Carol murmured, kissing Erin deeply before popping the last tidbit of food into the smaller woman’s mouth.

“No. Came straight here.”

“Does she know you’re back?” Another kiss.

“No.”

“Should you tell her?”

Erin grinned devilishly. “She can wait. Touch me again.”

It was all the invitation Carol had needed. Tossing her dishes into the sink, she swept a giddy Erin off her feet and carried her back to the dark, musty bedroom.

Chapter 15

The week had been stressful for Erin. Not only did the visit with her mother leave her feeling drained; her last week of school with finals wasn’t much better. She imagined she had done well but it had been hard for her to focus. Of course, not all of her thoughts were jaded reminders of recent events. She had some very pleasant erotic thoughts of the past week, which also provided a delightful distraction from her studies. She’d spent most evenings at Carol’s house trying to study but usually ending up entwined in the taller woman’s long arms and legs with books tossed aside.

Now as she skipped down the stairs of Minos’ house she felt a bit of relief and relaxation settle over her spirit: aside from waiting for grades and graduation, school was done, she’d confronted her mother, and things were going well with Carol. As she rounded the corner into the kitchen, she saw the house engaged in the usual Friday night toke-fest, which actually started more Friday afternoon than Friday night. She caught only half the argument between Stan and Bill as she watched Minos’ lighting up.

“I can’t believe Joy was dry,” Bill argued.

“I told you not to worry. Joy assured me this weed was just as good as hers,” Stan countered. “So just relax and light up would ya?”

“Well, I’ve got that rally meeting tonight and shit …” he said looking at his watch, “I’m already gonna be late.”

“Come on,” Stan insisted. “Just mellow out and hang with us awhile.”

Erin offered little to the conversation. She just strolled over to Minos who offered the petite blonde a hit off the doobie. Erin inhaled deeply, pausing to let the drugs work into her lungs, soothing her mind. Two joints later she found it harder to stay upright, her eyes glossing over at a startling rate. She reached for her bottle of Pepsi and watched it literally melt before her eyes. Something was wrong. Very wrong. She couldn’t remember how long she had sat there. She tried her damnedest to focus on the things around her but it was of no use – everything was melting.

A sudden thud and the resulting laughter around her made her turn to her right. Minos had passed out on the table and the room, filled with roommates and their lovers of the night, chuckled at the sight.

Erin looked over and watched Bill start to make his way out the door. She must have called his name because he walked back to the table, apparently frustrated that he couldn’t leave yet.

“What is it, Skylon?” he asked impatiently.

The words were quick and to the point but he sounded like a stretched 8-track tape – the tones long and deep. Erin couldn’t reply. She felt herself begin to twitch and jerk. Bill’s impatience began to slip from his face and concern took over.

Erin could hear the gagging noise but she didn’t know it was coming from her. Bill managed to catch her as she began to tumble out of the chair. He felt Erin lightly grab his shirt and stutter something.

“What?” He asked in panic. “What did you say, sweetheart?”

Erin struggled with the two syllables but finally she spit them out. “Ca – rol.”

“Carol?” Bill asked and watched the slightest nod. “You want me to get Carol?” Again another slight nod.

“Woooo! What happened to her?” Stan asked in laughter as he saw Erin on the floor. He looked over and watched as Bill searched frantically through sheets and scraps of paper by the phone. Finally he found the name and two numbers.

“What are you doing, man?” Stan asked as he watched Bill.

Bill simply ignored him and dialed the first number on the slip of paper. Unable to wait, he let it ring three times before hanging up and trying the second number. This time it rang only once before a gruff voice answered, “Police Station.” Quickly Bill hung up and looked to Stan with bewilderment written across his thin features.

“You got Carol’s number?” Bill asked quickly, thinking the second number might have been written incorrectly.

“Yeah, it’s in your hand, man,” the drugged-out roomie answered, shaking his head, not sure he understood the worry in his friend’s features.

“No,” Bill retorted hotly. “This number is to the goddamn police station.” He was exasperated, eyes glancing quickly to the writhing blonde on the floor and Minos passed out at the table.

“Yeah,” Stan answered without concern. “She’s a cop.”

Bill ran his fingers through his long hair. “She’s what?!” he yelled loud enough to get the room’s attention. “Carol’s a fuckin’ cop?! Just great!” And Skylon had asked for her. Bringing a cop here would be like walking right into the sheriff’s office and turning himself in.

“What’s the problem?” Stan asked again, still completely confused, not sensing the urgency of the situation.

“Jesus Christ! Look at her! She’s trippin’ bad, man!” the first man responded, pointing to Erin. “Where the hell did you get that shit?” he accused, indicating the bag of reefers on the table. Bill tore the bag open and ripped the cigarettes apart with trembling fingers. Taking a small weed he sniffed and licked it. “Oh fuck,” he nearly cried. “This shit is fuckin’ laced, man. Oh shit! We’re fucked. We are seriously fucked here, man.” He ran his hands through his hair again, tugging it lightly as if willing his brain to kick into motion.

“What are we gonna do?” Stan asked, finally, paranoia beginning to creep inside him as he realized the extent of Bill’s words. He looked back to the small blonde on the floor and could nearly feel her agony as she trembled and moaned. “If she dies …”

“She’s not gonna fuckin’ die okay?” Bill growled as he returned to her side. “Look, I’m gonna go down to the station house and get Carol. She’ll know what to do.”

“You can’t do that man. She’s a fucking cop!” Stan argued. “You can’t bring her here … let her see this.”

“I’m not gonna sit here and fight with you! So get your stupid ass over her and help me take her to her bedroom. Skylon needs help and she asked for Carol. Carol will take care of her and figure out how to handle this. She won’t want Skylon arrested.”

Apparently Bill’s words had little impact on Stan who still stood stupidly watching his friend bent over the small woman. With a grunt of dissatisfaction, Bill lifted Erin in his arms and balanced her slight weight before starting towards the steps that would take him to the bedrooms. With his head bent in tender concern, he listened to the young woman beg for Carol. “Just relax,” he coaxed as they walked along. “I’ll find her, sweetie. I’ll bring her to ya,” He promised softly. The words seemed to calm her and she appeared less restless when he finally settled her on the mattress in her room. Bill took great care to roll her on her stomach, tilting her head in hopes that she wouldn’t choke should she vomit.

Stan had followed them and now stood swaying in the doorway, appearing as if he was going to pass out at any second. Bill turned around and shook his head in disgust, gaining his feet and pushing past his useless friend. “Keep an eye on her,” he ordered. “I’ll be right back,” and with that, he left the house.

XXXXX

“Can I help you, kid?” the desk sergeant asked, barely even looking up from the forms in front of him. He sounded disinterested at best.

“Yeah. Carol please,” Bill requested nervously, glancing around him, shifting his weight from foot to foot.

“What do you want with Officer Johnson?” the other man asked, looking up for a moment to scrutinize the lanky kid in front of him. Figures Johnson would keep company like this, he mused.

“There’s an emergency. I have to speak to her.” Even though he was angered by the other man’s obvious disdain, Bill spoke softly and politely. He didn’t want to cause any trouble at this point. He had to find his target and get her to the destination as fast as possible.

Luckily, just then Carol walked up the steps from the filing room and she spotted the young man at the counter. Though he looked familiar, she couldn’t remember his name, so she slowly walked over and cocked her head at him, wondering why he was at the station. He wasn’t cuffed so he obviously came in of his own accord, which seemed slightly unusual. Suddenly, inexplicable concern took hold of Carol and she picked up her pace toward the young man.

Bill was getting frustrated with the desk sergeant’s lack of motivation to find Carol when he spotted her out of the corner of his eye. Quickly he raced over, taking her by the elbow to a semi-secluded area.

“What’s wrong?” Carol asked. She could see the worry lines deep in his young forehead and she tried to stay calm even as her body hummed with the need for action.

“It’s Skylon – Erin,” he corrected himself quickly. “She’s … in trouble.”

“She hurt?” Carol asked, cold with fear.

“She’s really sick. We were … smoking … and she got sick. She’s calling for you,” Bill explained meekly. He knew that he was doing a poor job of delivering the story, he just hoped it was enough to get the dark woman to come with him. “Please come back to the house. I’m not sure what else to do.” Begging might help, too, he reasoned with himself.

Without a word, Carol nodded and followed Bill toward the door, lightly shoving him in front of her to hurry him along. As she was leaving, she shouted to the desk sergeant she was done for the day.

“Oh no you’re not,” he replied, finally showing some action and coming around the desk to confront her. “You’ve got reports to finish. If you want time off, ya gotta request it from the boss just like the rest of us.”

“The reports can wait,” Carol replied angrily as her body shook. “I have a personal emergency to tend to,” she added, turning to face him and hoping to resolve this reasonably. She was already in enough trouble here, but there was no way in hell she wouldn’t go to Erin’s aid.

“You’re on the clock till five, Johnson. It’s only 3 right now. If you wanna keep serving and protecting, I suggest you get your ass back in that cellar,” the beefy man said smugly, enjoying this power game. They had done everything they could to make Carol’s life miserable. He was secretly pleased to have yet another opportunity to jerk her around.

It only took a moment to make the decision of a lifetime. Some choices were hard to make and were debated privately and publicly, the pros and cons weighed meticulously before an answer was reached. This was one of those choices that was made instantly and on instinct. ” Well, I suggest you take this badge,” the dark woman responded, ripping the silver emblem from her uniform and tossing it at him. It clanked on the linoleum before sliding to a stop at his well-polished toe. “And shove it up your ass.”

Without a backward glance, Carol grabbed Bill’s elbow and propelled him out the door. The young man had to drag his chin off the floor and start jogging to keep up with the dark woman’s pace.

“Oh God, please be okay, Erin,” Carol murmured under her breath as they hit the sidewalk in the mid-afternoon sun.

Chapter 16

Carol took the porch steps two at a time, not even bothering to knock and kicking the door open instead. She walked into the house, which was eerily quiet except for the sound of Jefferson Airplane in the background. There were scattering of people in different levels of drug-induced highs spread throughout the lower level of the rambling home and though they appeared relaxed, it was obvious the house was wrought with anxiety. Some of them spotted Carol’s uniform and tensed immediately. Without giving the others a second thought, the tall woman looked frantically around for Erin and instead spotted Minos lying face down on the table.

Bill charged inside, having taken a few extra moments to park the car, and watched as Carol pulled Minos from her chair and laid the woman on her back on the kitchen floor, beginning to check for a pulse. He realized that she hadn’t found one when Carol began CPR. Stan looked on behind her in shock.

“Call a goddamn ambulance!” Carol barked to him. He paused a moment, more in surprise than defiance before rushing to the phone. Carol looked up and saw Bill watching her. “Come here!” she ordered. “Watch me.”

Carol went through the steps just once. “Think you can handle that?” she asked, looking into his eyes, determining if he was sober enough to be of any help. He seemed to be keeping a level head throughout and had watched her movements intently.

“Yeah,” he replied, coming to his knees next to Carol to take over, gently nudging the taller woman out of the way.

“Where’s Erin?” Carol demanded.

“Upstairs. Her room,” he answered quickly.

“Keep that up until she’s breathing and have someone down here open a damn window,” she ordered over her shoulder as she once more took the stairs two at a time, making her way through the smoke filled room.

Carol slid to a halt upon seeing Erin through the open doorway. She was a shaking mess, lying on the mattress in a fetal position. The dark woman shoved aside her initial reaction and raced to the edge of the bed, falling to her knees. “Erin honey?” she whispered, hesitantly touching the girl’s face. Her skin was flushed and warm, eyes dancing beneath the thin closed lids. Carol brushed aside damp bangs with trembling fingers.

Suddenly, the dark woman could feel a presence behind her and looked back to see Stan standing in the doorway.

“Yes?” Carol asked sharply, furious at the ineptness of the man.

“Uh … ambulance is coming.”

Carol didn’t have a chance to reply because just then Erin heaved sharply, not giving Carol enough notice to move. Vomit covered nearly everything: Erin, the bed, Carol’s uniform. Quickly the officer rolled Erin forward to ensure that her young lover wouldn’t choke to death. She used deft fingers to clear Erin’s mouth since the girl had little control over her own muscles at this point.

“What was she doing today?” Carol asked Stan.

“What do you mean?” he mumbled, not sure how a recital of the blonde’s day could help the situation.

“Drugs,” the tall woman growled. “What did she take? We have to tell the doctors what they’re dealing with,” she lashed out, angrily, her voice dripping with dark sarcasm. Her patience was wearing well beyond thin with this man.

“I thought it was pot but maybe it had something extra. I had a few hits but Minos and Skylon had the most. I feel pretty groovy so I’m not sure why they’re trippin’.”

Carol didn’t give a damn about how Stan was feeling and was about to say just that when Erin groaned and began to cry.

“Shhhh,” Carol coaxed, her manner suddenly becoming tender as she wiped the young woman’s forehead. She turned her attention to Stan briefly, not wanting to take her eyes from the blonde. “Get me some towels. A cold damp hand towel and some dry ones.”

Without question Stan did as asked, seemingly relieved to be away from the woman’s wrath if even for a few moments. He stumbled down the hallway towards the community bathroom at the end.

Meanwhile, Carol stripped out of her soaked clothing, leaving only her T-shirt and underwear. As Stan returned with the items, Carol cleaned up the young hippie as best she could with the large cotton bath towels and tossed them aside. She also stripped the bed and tugged off the blonde’s gingham dress. Then she placed the cool rag on Erin’s forehead.

“Get these out of here and get me some clean ones,” she demanded, pointing to the stack of soiled towels. “A larger one; damp like this one. I’ve got to cool her body down.”

Once he left to get more, Carol climbed behind Erin into the now sheetless bed. She lifted the young woman up and placed her head in her lap. Erin flailed for a moment at the change of position. She was obviously disoriented but Carol’s soothing reassurances seemed to calm her a bit.

Stan returned once more with the requested cloth and Carol used it to rub down Erin’s feverish body. “What happened?” he asked.

Carol could feel her anger burning deep within her. At whom, or what, she wasn’t sure. Perhaps it was just the uncontrolled situation. Carol liked having a say in her destiny and as she sat there rocking a mostly nude Erin gently in her arms she realized Erin’s fate, as well as her own, was now in God’s hands. She very well could lose the young hippie and that hadn’t been something she’d planned for.

She wondered just where the hell that ambulance was and why it was taking so damned long. Carol had never been on the other side of an emergency situation. She was always called into the scene as a professional – never had she been part of a tragedy. Never had her heart ached as it did now. Suddenly, she understood the hysteria of victims and family members. For the first time, she also understood the public’s frustration with emergency personnel reaction time. No matter how fast she responded to a call she’d never get there quick enough to stop this kind of pain and uncertainty. She realized in the same instant that she’d never have that problem again since she’d walked away from serving and protecting in order to be here now with the woman she loved. The woman she was going to grow old with. The woman who could die at any moment.

“No,” Carol whispered aloud to herself and Erin, her husky voice reduced to a strangled plea. “You fight. Don’t you give up on me.”

Stan realized the dark woman had either not heard his question or had chosen to ignore it but he sure wasn’t going to ask again. Instead he decided to wait downstairs for the paramedics. Moments later, Bill appeared in the doorway.

“They’re here,” he sighed, pushing his fingers through his long hair. He was frazzled and sweaty, the slump of his shoulders concrete evidence of his strained emotions.

Carol simply nodded. “Did she respond?” The man knew what she was asking and he looked at his feet, quietly shuffling without saying a word. “You’ve done the best you could. Remember that,” Carol said honestly, hoping to relieve some of his guilt.

She watched Bill move quickly from the doorway, taking a spot farther down the hall as the two paramedics worked their way inside. Reluctantly, Carol backed away to give them control and they placed Erin on a flat back stretcher to carry her downstairs.

“Both women were smoking marijuana,” she told them as they tied down her lover. “My guess is it was laced with PCP – judging by the symptoms of both of them.” She was trying to remain focused on the job, wanting to tell them whatever might help them save the young blonde’s life.

“Such as?” the paramedic said skeptically, barely affording the tall woman in underwear a once-over.

Carol didn’t quite understand this bozo’s attitude. Then she realized what it was when she recognized the disdainful look in his eyes. Without the uniform, he assumed she was just another member of the house. She was angered for not being taken seriously and the discussions she and Erin had had about the establishment came into real focus for her for the first time, the young woman’s lilting voice echoing in her ears.

“I happen to be an officer of the law,” Carol informed him, lowering her voice an octave to let him know she was displeased with his attitude. “And this woman is a dear friend of mine so cut the superior bullshit and listen to me if you want to save some lives today.”

The man’s eyes widened and he quickly apologized but Carol brushed it off impatiently. She didn’t need his platitudes; she needed his medical expertise. “She’s been convulsing, vomiting, and sweating. And both have been unconscious.”

“We’ll check it out, ma’am,” said the paramedic responded, respect returning to his voice.

“You do that,” she warned in a growl.

“Okay,” the chagrined man turned to his partner. “On three. One, two … three.” With that they hoisted Erin up and out of the room. Carol followed them down the stairs and watched from the front doorway as the ambulance doors closed. She released a long sigh as it started its way down the street. Before, in the station house when she’d first been told Erin was in trouble, she’d felt the fear of the unknown. Now, watching the red and white vehicle make its way down the street in its own symphony of sirens, her fear was based on reality. She could lose her lover today as they had lost Minos.

“Come on,” Bill said, moving forward to rest a hand on Carol’s shoulder. The touch startled her and she flinched slightly under his gentle fingers. “Let’s get you some clothes and then I’ll drive you to the hospital.”

XXXXX

Given Carol’s height and size, she fit somewhat comfortably in a pair of Bill’s jeans and a bright red T-shirt. They’d arrived at the hospital nearly twenty minutes after the speeding ambulance and had spent the better part of an hour pacing the waiting room. Carol was barely able to control her temper, the desire to see the young woman overriding all reason. Bill spoke calmly to nurses and doctors, allowing his dark companion the distance she needed. Finally, they were told that the hippie had been admitted and was in a room on the second floor.

Carol stopped mid-stride, having heard the words even across the room, and spun on her heels to run down the hall and up the stairs at the end.

Erin was lying asleep in the hospital bed as the dark woman took a chair directly across from her. For several long moments, Carol merely sat and watched the small blonde. She still looked dangerously unhealthy: her skin nearly stark white and clammy. But her breathing was even and the machines continued to beep reassuringly around them.

Slowly, Bill walked in with a cup of coffee. “I didn’t know how you take it. Is black okay?” he asked, handing the cup over hesitantly, not sure if the woman wanted companionship. He glanced to the prone figure in the bed, his heart lurching at the state of his gentle friend.

Carol gave him a genuine smile. “That’s fine. Thank you very much.”

A silence passed between them until Bill asked, “Has she woken up yet?”

Carol shook her head and examined Erin a few more moments, sipping her brew. She cringed as the liquid touched her palette. “Is it just me or does this taste like motor oil?” she teased.

“Hospital coffee is just as bad as the food it seems,” he countered good-naturedly, relieved to find the woman in good spirits. A lot of the worry and tension had drained from her broad shoulders once she’d found her young lover.

They both grinned at each other and Carol offered her cup over in a toast, which Bill accepted by clinking his Styrofoam container against hers. “I’ll drink to that,” she replied.

This lighter moment was a much-needed relief from a day filled with so much tension.

“Well despite the taste,” Carol said with a grin, “the sentiment is appreciated.”

Bill simply returned the smile and Carol watched as it slowly slipped away, his thoughts traveling to the earlier events.

“Thank you,” Carol whispered sincerely. She could feel her eyes growing moist.

“For what?” he asked, truly uncertain of Carol’s appreciation. “The coffee?”

“For getting me,” she replied. “It took a lot of guts for you to walk into that station house. You did your best back at the house by taking care of Minos.” Bill was going to pose an argument but Carol silenced him with a finger. “It may not seem like it but you were a real hero today. I hope someday you see it for yourself. I think Erin has a wonderful friend in you, Bill.”

He tried not to smile or blush, given the severity of the situations but he couldn’t help himself. “Thank you,” he replied with heartfelt gratitude. The compliment meant a lot coming from Carol. “I hope someday I can too, but it’s hard.”

Carol was going to reply but Erin uttered a light groan and slowly opened her eyes.

“Erin?” Carol called softly, returning her attention to the blonde and setting aside her coffee.

Erin recognized the voice and willed her eyes to focus, wanting very much to see the familiar face. Finally, the tall brunette’s concerned features became clear. “Carol? Is it really you? Where am I? What happened? Are you real?”

Carol had expected this reaction and wouldn’t have been surprised if it had been more dramatic. Time was lost for the young woman and her surroundings would be unfamiliar. All of that would pass, the bigger concern was damage to the small woman’s vital organs and nervous system. Hopefully such would be minimal if at all.

“I’m real, sweetheart. I’m real,” she whispered taking Erin’s hand. “Here. Feel.” With that Carol guided Erin’s hand over her cheek, letting the young woman feel her skin to see she was in fact the genuine article and not some hallucination in her mind.

For several long minutes, the blonde’s cool fingers danced on Carol’s skin, reassuring her that the dark woman was real. It also gave her an opportunity to awaken more and run green eyes around the stark white room.

“Where am I?” the young woman asked as she began to attempt to sit up. Carol helped with her assent from the mattress by supporting her slight weight and tucking pillows behind her.

“They brought you and Minos here to the hospital. Seems whatever you were smoking had PCP … angel dust,” Carol said to clarify, watching Erin closely for her reaction.

“Angel dust?” Erin asked, surprised. Slowly her mind went back to the conversation in the kitchen about Joy and how this week’s weed was from another seller, not their usual contact. “I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck,” she said groggily as she rubbed her face with a trembling hand. Her whole body ached and her head throbbed as she tried to search her memory for more details. It was then she noticed Carol was wearing Bill’s university T-shirt. “Why are you wearing Bill’s clothes?”

Carol grinned, trying to keep things as comfortable as possible for Erin. “We kind of had an accident. You lost your lunch all over me,” she teased as she used long fingers to smooth back Erin’s unruly hair.

Erin winced at the image though she couldn’t actually recall the incident. Her mind still felt fuzzy. “I’m so sorry,” she apologized.

“Hey, what’s a little vomit between friends huh?” Carol brushed off with a wry smirk, capturing Erin’s chin between her thumb and her index finger. She traced the smaller woman’s jaw gently, focusing on the cloudy emerald eyes.

“How’s Minos?” Erin asked next, ducking her head from the intense gaze. Because of her movement, she missed the flash of regret in blue eyes.

Carol knew the question was going to come sooner or later and she tried to figure out how to best relate the bad news. She decided the truth, without unnecessary padding, would be the best. “She’s … she’s gone, Erin. She didn’t make it.”

Erin didn’t say anything. No reaction whatsoever. Carol thought for a second that perhaps Erin had blacked out again or maybe hadn’t heard what Carol had said. But the hippie’s voice soon echoed Carol’s statement; “She’s gone? What do you mean she’s gone?” The young woman’s voice strained with the question, quavering slightly.

“She was already gone when I got to the house, Erin,” Carol explained gently. She still stroked Erin’s chin and cheek, moving upwards to push back long blonde tendrils at the woman’s temple. “Bill and I tried CPR but … the doctor thinks she had a brain hemorrhage. She died almost instantly. I’m so sorry, sweetheart. I know how much she means to you.”

“No,” Erin thought aloud. She was shaking her head, pushing away Carol’s tender touches. It was all too much for her. “That can’t be,” she replied. “It was only weed. Weed doesn’t kill you.” Erin’s voice had begun to rise with the resistance that was building in her mind.

“It’s called ‘superweed’ or ‘killerweed’ on the street,” Carol told her patiently, dropping her hand to rest on Erin’s blanket clad knee. She was glad when the young woman didn’t resist that touch as well. “It was a very potent formula, honey.”

Erin wanted to say something, but she didn’t know where to begin, her mind was spinning with sorrow and grief. She was confused by the severity of the situation, since she’d been smoking weed with Minos for years. She’d heard all the stories, read the establishment’s propaganda, but had never believed any of it. The reality of the situation was physically painful where it rested in her heart. Soon she gave up trying to speak, trying to come up with excuses or rationalizations, and she simply started to cry, repeating that it couldn’t be possible. She just saw her that day. She couldn’t be dead – not Minos. It simply could not be so. But she had learned a long time ago that wishing something to be true, didn’t make it true. Her friend was gone and she was lucky to have survived.

Bill watched silently from across the room as the two women clung to each other. He was saddened by their loss, yet saw the peace in them from still having each other to hold. Quietly and without comment he made his way from the room, out into the sickly white hallway and towards the stairway that would eventually lead him to the bright sun beyond. Another day, but so much had changed.

Chapter 17

Minos was laid to rest in the morning three days later. Erin didn’t shed a tear at the service. She just couldn’t cry any more. She spent most of her evenings prior to the funeral, sporadically weeping in Carol’s strong arms. Her older lover would reassure her that things were going to be okay, that Minos would want her to move on and let go of her grief. So at the service Erin kept her head high and even smiled from time to time. Many wondered just what had changed in Erin since Minos’ death. She looked the same, dressed the same but the way she carried herself, the way she acted, was somehow different. She suddenly seemed … grown up.

At the funeral, Carol stood silently by her young lover’s side, surrounded by an odd mixture of people from scholars to hippies to store owners. Minos had touched countless lives and their gratitude showed in grief-stricken faces. And the young hippie she had in cuffs weeks before, the one in which she sensed an air of leadership and promise, oversaw the ceremony with that very same confidence but on a much grander scale.

Erin was relieved to have Carol near her and she leaned against the dark woman who was clad in a simple sundress. Erin had grinned when she’d first seen Carol this morning, thinking the tall woman in the floral print dress possibly the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. Carol had blushed and brushed off the compliments with a shake of her head and the wave of her hand. She so rarely wore dresses that she’d actually had to go purchase this one the night before.

Erin would have gone shopping with her lover, however she had an appointment with an attorney who stopped by the house. Although Minos was anti-establishment she wasn’t stupid. She had made sure that a will was drawn up naming Erin sole heir to her estate – an estate which contained a bank account of roughly $2000 and the house in which everyone lived. When the other housemates learned of Erin’s position many questions began. The biggest being, did they have to move?

Erin assured Minos had named her as her beneficiary for a reason – and that reason being Minos knew Erin had the sensibility and responsibility to oversee the house. No one would be moving. No one would be cast to the streets because of a greedy home sale. Erin hadn’t quite decided what course her life would take but she did reassure everyone the situation would remain the same for them.

When the service was over, and all had spoken, the group of people moved to the big run down house and had a reception in Minos’ honor. There were sandwiches and salads, soda spilling from the cooler, but no drugs or smoking. In fact, it was that night while curled around each other in Carol’s bed that Erin swore she would never smoke again.

Carol was mildly surprised but greatly relieved. She stroked the smaller woman’s bare back warmly, placed a kiss on her forehead.

“You saved my life,” Erin murmured into the darkness.

Carol shook her head. “No. We were both lucky. The doctors saved your life. I’m not sure what I would have done if you’d died in my arms.”

“Let’s not think about it.”

Problem was there was little to think about that was actually good right now. Carol had walked away from her job and was unemployed. She’d gone back yesterday to clean out her locker, her shoulders heavy with the angry glares of people she had once called comrades. No one tried to talk her into reconsidering and she wouldn’t have entertained those thoughts anyway. She had made her decision and she’d make it again. She would always put Erin ahead of herself or her career. The certainty of that had shocked her since she’d spent a life without emotional attachment. But through the façade of bravado and political opinions, Carol had seen the young woman’s compassion and soul. She knew she wanted to stay with Erin at all costs and could only hope the hippie felt the same.

For Erin, she celebrated the life of her friend as she mourned her death. She graduated with honors and felt no pride as she walked down the aisle with the diploma clutched in a sweaty white hand. Until she’d glanced up to meet ice blue eyes watching her from the crowd. They’d shone with pride and made Erin grin. The only high point of the last few days was the certainty of her relationship with Carol. The tall ex-cop had sacrificed quite a bit for her and, in fact, had seen the young woman at her worst but didn’t turn away. She ran a hand along the dark woman’s well-muscled abdomen, nuzzling into her neck.

“I love you.”

Carol smiled. “I love you, too.”

“What are you gonna do about work?” the blonde ventured softly. It was something they hadn’t discussed and it seemed a much safer topic here in the darkness of the middle of the night. The tall body beside her moved slightly.

“Nothing.”

“What do you mean nothing? You’re the best cop they’ve ever had,” Erin whispered.

The dark woman shrugged. “They don’t agree with that. Besides, I don’t want to go back. Maybe something else will come up. I have some savings from my Dad, I’m okay for a bit.”

Erin nodded solemnly, turning her head to place a kiss on warm skin. Something would come up … or … perhaps …

“Carol?” the petite woman questioned, burrowing deeper into her lover’s shoulder. “Would you consider a move downstate … to New York?”

Carol wasn’t sure why but she could feel a certain tension in her young lover’s body as she asked the question.

“Why do ask?” Carol pondered.

Erin wasn’t quite sure how to express herself and made a humming noise as she considered things. “I was offered a job with a new magazine. Gloria Steinem is the editor. With my communications background they think I might make a good reporter, plus they said if they have space they could feature some of my artwork.”

“That’s wonderful!” Carol said quickly shifting to a sitting position. “But why didn’t you tell me?!”

“Well I wasn’t going to take it,” Erin said honestly. “It’s in the city. I’d have to move … and I didn’t want to let you go.”

“Oh, Erin,” Carol answered. “Don’t give up a promising career over me,” she said honestly.

“This from Miss Take Your Badge and Shove It,” Erin chuckled.

“That was different and you know it,” Carol threatened putting her forehead on Erin’s, doing her best to look menacing.

Erin simply grinned. “You’re not very intimidating when you’re naked,” Erin remarked. “Alluring? Yes but not intimidating. And sorry to say, it’s no different. My life wouldn’t feel complete without you in it.”

Carol smiled. She understood just what the blonde meant and settled back down with Erin wrapped in her arms once more. A thought occurred to Carol, “Well, why are you telling me now? Do you want me to move to New York with you?”

The amazement in Carol’s voice scared Erin. Perhaps she was asking too much too soon. It was a big step but one she was ready to take. She thought perhaps Carol was ready too but then again …

“I mean not if you don’t want to,” Erin quickly replied. “I’m sure I could find something locally. I’m not sure why I even brought up that silly job offer. Just forget it.”

“No. No,” Carol said, stroking her lover’s hair reassuringly. “I kinda like the idea actually. I mean there’s nothing here for me now.”

“You’ve got your family’s house, Carol.”

“Exactly,” Carol said, “My family’s house, not mine. There’s very little in this place that’s me, Erin. I could sell this place. That would be enough to get us started.”

“I couldn’t ask you to do that,” Erin said sincerely.

“You’re not asking. I’m offering,” Carol corrected. “There’s nothing here for me now. No real home. No job whatsoever,” she chuckled. “The only thing I have, truly have, is you … and I think we should start our life together.”

“Yeah,” Erin considered it and then nodded in agreement. “Yeah. I’ll go to work and you can use the money from the house sale to go to college. NYU is a pretty good school.”

“Hold on a second,” Carol said putting her hands in front of her. “We didn’t say anything about that. Besides, I have to earn my keep. I won’t be leeching off you.”

“How about this?” Erin offered. “Classes during the day and a few hours someplace in the evenings. Will that make you feel less like a freeloader?” Erin chuckled.

“Yes, it would,” Carol said with a grin. “I’m not gonna be a gold digger.”

“There’s one job that I could hire you for,” Erin said playfully as her fingertips traced Carol’s areola.

Carol stole Erin’s fingertips from her taunting skin and kissed them lovingly. “You forget. I used to be a cop and there are laws against that.”

“I won’t tell if you won’t tell,” Erin said quickly as she straddled Carol’s waist.

Carol simply gave a light-hearted chuckle before growing silent. She reached up and began to stroke her lover’s cheek with the back of her fingers. Erin closed her eyes in reaction and soaked up the feeling of Carol’s delicate touch.

“I love it when you do that,” Erin confessed softly.

“I love doing it,” Carol admitted freely. “We could do this every night if we lived together y’know.”

Erin opened her eyes to gaze down at her lover. “So … we have a deal then,” she grinned.

“Yes. Perhaps going back to school for me isn’t such a bad idea. I’m sure I could find something to study where I’d be making a difference – if not police work then some other field,” the dark woman’s mind wandered in thought. She’d wanted to be a cop to honor her father and to prove herself, surely there were other occupations where she could do the same.

As if reading her lover’s mind, Erin smiled warmly and traced one dark eyebrow. “I’m sure you’ll still make your father proud.” She’d known all along that was the biggest disappointment for Carol in her employment fiasco and departure.

Carol gave Erin a genuine grin. This woman could see into her very soul at times – and although frightening now and then, it was the best feeling in the world. “You know I think you’re right,” the tall dark woman answered. After a brief silence, she pulled the woman closer, tucking her in once more and asked, “Now tell me all about this magazine of yours.”

“Well …” Erin began taking a deep breath. The young woman explained the format, the audience, the political moments behind it. She talked about how Ms. Steinem had impressed her – very forceful but friendly in nature. She discussed ideas for future issues and her chances of her artwork being seen by possibly millions of people. She felt like a chatterbox by the end but Carol assured her that she was very interested.

“What’s it called?” Carol asked.

“Ms,” Erin answered. “It’s aimed for all women – not married women, not single women. It’s an expression used to show that a woman isn’t dependent on a man for her identity. It doesn’t constitute marital status. For me, personally, since I don’t need a man, I find that oh so appealing,” Erin laughed.

Carol joined in as they began to tumble and twist on the bed. Tumbling soon turned to caresses, caresses to kisses and so forth. By the end of the evening Erin lay sound asleep, exhausted in Carol’s arm. The former officer sighed in contentment. Despite all the recent tragedy, grand and small, they had survived. And they were rebuilding their lives, together, as one.

Epilogue

Carol sat silently on the park bench, overlooking the children laughing and playing in the field beyond. The trees were just beginning to change to fall colors: green interspersed with light yellows and oranges. She took a moment to glance down at the blonde nestled on the bench beside her.

Lost in thought, Erin concentrated on the notebook in front of her. She lay on her side, head on Carol’s right thigh, pad of paper tucked by her chest. Occasionally she scribbled on it. Carol ran her fingers through the blonde hair tenderly, smiling when emerald eyes glanced up.

So much had happened in the past year. The move had been simpler than it would have seemed: the house selling easily and much of the furniture selling just before closing. Erin had helped the ex-cop pack up her few remaining belongings, including many mementos of her father, and they’d loaded the Mustang and headed out of town.

Moving in together should have been awkward but was far from. Everything about it had seemed natural and easy, even when classes were hard and Erin was rattled by her work, their apartment had always been filled with laughter and love.

Next week, the blonde would be flying to Detroit to do an interview with Rosa Parks and she prepared for that meeting now, sprawled across the bench and her lover. She’d found her work very rewarding: a way to change the world by telling the stories of great civil rights leaders and educating the public on worthwhile causes. And Carol had pointed out immediately with a rueful grin that Erin also didn’t have to worry about being arrested in the process, which had its advantages

For her part, the ex-cop was enjoying her classes at NYU studying something she’d always had ties to: law. Locking up the bad guys was in Carol’s past but she knew she had to stay connected to the justice system so becoming an attorney seemed the way to go. There were many innocent people, many causes that needed a legal voice behind them. Carol felt that she could be that voice.

Many days were spent like this, both women silently following their own paths while comfortable in each other’s presence. Carol smiled again, glanced back to the open book on her left thigh. Her right hand moved from blonde locks to rest on her lover’s shoulder.

Not too long after they’d left, Randell was found not guilty by the police review board in the shooting. It was no big surprise to either woman though both were disappointed. The surprise had come later in the form of a phone call from the ACLU who was working with Jimmy’s parents. Their attorney did some research and had tracked Carol down to the women’s little apartment in the village. He’d asked if she’d be willing to testify as to what had happened that day. Her eyes lit up at the chance to bring her fallen comrades to justice. Though a criminal conviction would have been preferred, the civil suit would be better than nothing. And any monetary impact on the small station would leave quite an impression with quick-triggered cops in the future. The dark woman had easily jumped at the chance. Though the changes in her life had been more than welcome, the events of her leaving the force did still haunt the ex-cop. The feelings of failure plagued her waking thoughts from time to time, leaving her feeling as if there was something more she should have done. Finally, she’d had her chance.

Just last month, Carol had taken the stand, telling her story, the real story. Randell and the others had glared at her in the courtroom, had gone as far as harassing her outside of the legal proceedings. But she knew what she was doing was right and she let the hatred roll off of her, smiling inwardly at the pride Erin would feel. She’d thought of how they would celebrate when she got home, the blonde’s enthusiasm more than contagious. She hadn’t been disappointed.

It was weeks later that they’d heard the outcome and had reason to celebrate again. The department, as well as Randell, ended up owing $200,000 in a wrongful death suit. Of course, the money couldn’t bring Jimmy back. It would, however, make departments and officers more aware of the consequences. If it didn’t hit their conscience, they did have pocketbooks and sometimes hitting there hurt more than anywhere else.

Distracted by these thoughts, the words on the page in front of her a blur, Carol didn’t notice when Erin rolled to her back, gazing up into the angular face of her lover.

“Hey,” Erin murmured, stretching lazily in the warm morning sun.

“Hmm?” the dark woman’s blue eyes focused on the upturned face.

“Have I told you how much I love you?”

“I believe you have,” Carol grinned, rubbing the smaller woman’s stomach.

“How beautiful you are?”

“It’s been mentioned.”

“How proud I am of you?”

Carol laughed softly, nodding. She bent over to kiss Erin warmly, her lips lingering. “Have I told you that you are the best thing that’s ever happened to me? And that I love you more, find you more beautiful, and couldn’t be prouder?” she whispered.

Erin chuckled and they shared another kiss in the morning sunlight, listening to the rustle of leaves and the laughter of children.

The End.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s