3am. The paramedic call had come in, man down, smoke inhalation in a burning warehouse. Now in full arrest. Paramedics unable to intubate. CPR in progress.
Damn, this is getting to be a long night, thought the doctor to herself, glancing up to the wall clock while opening the intubation tray. Selecting a tube, she inserted the stilet, lubed the end with KY jelly and put the straight blade on the laryngoscope and snapped it open to check the light. Typical, she thought bitterly as the bulb stubbornly remained dark. Tightening the bulb did the trick and she relaxed slightly and surveyed the room. Two nurses and the EMT were ready and waiting.
The respiratory therapist arrived just as the ambulance burst in. A huge soot covered black man lay on the gurney, his arm dangling limply off the side. A paramedic at his head held the mask on his face and was bagging him as they rolled. A second paramedic ran beside the gurney as one firefighter steered the feet and one stood on the bottom rails, riding and doing CPR. All reeked of smoke and had lines of soot covered sweat running down their faces and necks.
“Sorry we couldn’t intubate, too much smoke. We scooped and ran. Got the line en route.” They swung him onto the ER gurney. “He’s had two rounds of epi and two of atropine.”
“Vitals on scene?” Dr. Rene Covington grabbed her tube and laryngoscope as the respiratory therapist took the Ambu and the EMT took over CPR. The firefighters quickly melted out of the room.
“Bradycardic, with a faint pulse. He became asystolic on the way in.”
She nodded to the respiratory therapist, who grabbed the Ambu and moved out of the way while the nurses attached the cardiac monitor. Pushing some wayward blond bangs behind her ear, she slid the laryngoscope into his mouth. She couldn’t see anything. No, the light was working. His mouth was filled with soot. Where were the damn cords? There. She pushed the tube through and inflated the balloon on the end of it. “OK, bag.”
The respiratory therapist attached the bag to the ET tube and she listened as he forced oxygen into the man’s lungs. “Good breath sounds”.
Glancing at the monitor, “Hold CPR, what’s his rhythm?” A flat line rode across the screen. “Continue CPR, one epi, one atropine.” A nurse hurried to give the meds while the other charted drugs and time.
She felt for the pulse at his groin. OK, good pulses with CPR.
She looked for the paramedic. “Down time?”
He consulted his clipboard. “We found him about 2:45, he became asystolic about 3:00.”
Dr. Covington glanced again at the clock, 3:20am. She checked his pupils – fixed and dilated. “Hold CPR. Rhythm?”
“Still asystole, Doc,” answered the nurse.
“Keep pumping, one more round, one epi and one atropine.”
Ten minutes later, nothing had changed. “OK everyone, lets stop here. Time of death 3:30am. Thank you all for trying.”
Everyone stepped back and stopped. The respiratory therapist unhooked the Ambu bag, turned off the oxygen and left the room without a word. The EMT went to find a shroud bag and the two nurses grabbed the chart to finish filling in times, meds and vitals.
Dr. Covington stood looking quietly at the man they’d tried so hard to save. The man’s work shirt had been cut off but he still had on the gray work pants with the thin stripe down the legs. She guessed he was in his mid fifties. Probably the night watchman, caught and disoriented in the smoke. He couldn’t get out and collapsed.
Suddenly, the hairs and her arms and the back of her neck stood up, like a chill breeze wafting by. She felt eyes on her back. Spinning around, she fell into the palest pair of blue eyes she’d ever seen.
The firefighter was standing at the back wall of the room. It was the same one who’d been doing CPR on the way in. Rene hadn’t realized the firefighter was a woman.
Her tall frame leaned tiredly against the wall, her muscular arms crossed loosely over her LAFD navy tee shirt. Her yellow turnout coat, which dangled from one hand, and pants were grayed with ash and soot and her de riguer red suspenders were twisted where they rode over her shoulders. Her black hair was tied in a pony tail which was caught up against the back of her head in a small clip.
She’d obviously just washed her face. A few shining drops still sparkled around the edges of her bangs and neck. Her eyes stared at Rene out of dark, tired sockets.
“Didn’t make it?” she asked.
“No,” Rene shook her head, as much to break the connection with those eyes as to answer. She rubbed the back of her neck, which still tingled.
“Pretty much dead when he got here?”
“Yeah. But we gotta try. Sometime those asphyxial arrests will come back quick with oxygen, if we can get them fast enough. We gotta try, for his wife and kids, too.” She waved at his palid hand with it’s gold ring on the fourth finger.
“OK.” She stood up to leave.
“Good fire?” Rene didn’t know what made her ask, except that firefighters usually didn’t hang around, especially at this hour. They wanted to go back to their fire, or back to bed. This woman was delaying the engine company. Why? And those eyes.
The woman grinned, displaying a dazzling array of fine white teeth. “It was great fun. We were inside doing knockdown and cleanup. The fire was pretty much out.” Well, that explained why she could take this time. “Then I stumbled across him, and you know the rest.”
“Well, you guys gave it a good try.”
A head peeked around the corner into the room. “Hey, let’s go!”
She nodded at the other firefighter. “Gotta go,” she smiled at the doctor. “See ya ’round.”
“Uh, yeah, see you.”
The woman turned and walked out, throwing on her turnout jacket as she went. Rene got a glimpsed of “Pakadios” stenciled on the back under “LAFD” as she left.
Dr. Covington shoved one of her hands into the pocket of her lab coat while the other rubbed her neck again. Funny, that tingling was gone now. Chalking it up to stress and late night, she strolled back to the nurses station and grabbed the four charts of the patients waiting to be seen. Let’s see, belly pain, belly pain, febrile kiddie, and ankle pain for six months. She noted the time. At 4am. OK. Goody. “Let me know if we get any family of the burn victim, OK?” she asked the charge nurse. “Sure Doc,” trailed behind her as she went to evaluate the next patient.
Dina Pakadios rubbed her forearm as she sat in the jumpseat of the engine now making its way casually back to the station. Nope, no burn. That tingling she’d felt back at the hospital had been a strange thing. Probably too much smoke and not enough sleep. Funny, it was gone now.
Back at the station, she wandered into the kitchen, searched for some ice tea, and debated whether it was worth trying to catch two hours of sleep before her AM relief came in. Sitting down on the bench of the picnic table that served as their dinner table, she pulled over yesterday’s Times and proceeded to stare at the metro section.
“Hey Pakadios.” A tall blond, crew cutted surfer boy of a firefighter, Ray Bowen, strutted into the kitchen. Not her favorite person, he had a penchant for harassing most of the guys smaller than him and all of the women. His opinion of himself as hero and all around stud hovered somewhere between astronomical and ridiculous.
Without lifting her head, she raised an eyebrow in his general direction.
“Trying to make time with the Doc?” He grabbed a coke out of the refrigerator. “She is really cute but I don’t know if she’s your type. She was looking pretty interested last time I was there.”
“Oh, get over yourself,” chimed in the engineer, Jose Saavedra, as he joined them. “She’s just really friendly, like. She talks to everyone, makes you feel special. But I ain’t seen her give no special attention to no one.”
Dina stood up. “Maybe I will get a few hours sleep.” She pushed past the smirking Ray.
The next day, at the crack of 4pm, Dr. Rene Covington blearily dragged her carcass out of bed and into the bathroom. She splashed water on her face and stared into the mirror. A wild tangle of long strawberry blond hair attested to a restless day’s sleep, despite ear plugs and blackout shades. Sea green eyes stared back at her, red rimmed. She poked at the skin next to her eye, grimacing. Wrinkles already. These nights will age you quickly. Four in a row. Yuck.
She wandered back into her bedroom and rummaged in a drawer, finally pulling out a well worn tank top on the back of which was printed “Detroit, where the weak are killed and eaten”, and a pair of obnoxiously multicolored cotton shorts. Tank top in October, humph, she thought with a sneer.
Rene Covington had been living in LA for only six months. At 28 years old, she’d already been out of her residency for over two years. Through much luck and more charm, she’s gotten into a special program that gave her both BA and MD in six years instead of eight. She’d done her residency in Detroit, and then stayed on as staff to teach students and residents. After 1 1/2 years, she’d gotten fried on the systemic abuse of those she was trying to teach and had quit to work as a “doctor in the pits” in a community hospital.
Coming from a suburb of Cincinnati, she was ready to try something a little warmer and a lot different than the Midwest. LA sounded perfect – warm winter, nonhumid summers, the ocean and all kinds of different people.
So here she was, working nights in an inner city ER. Her medical Spanish was improving rapidly and she could distinguish between three or four Asian dialects. She enjoyed the nurses and the other doctors and was getting to know the cops, paramedics and firefighters that would come by the department.
She’d lucked into sharing a three bedroom house in Torrance, that almost had an ocean view (it was just over the hill, up the block). Erin, her roommate, was working her way through USC film school as a bartender. They’d turned into great friends, aided especially by their weird work hours.
By and large, life was good. But days like today, after a string of nights, tended to find her less than cheery.
She shuffled into the kitchen. Coffee? Shower? Coffee? Shower? She stared at the coffee pot, which stubbornly refused to make itself. Coffee first or shower first? Too many choices. Coffee. She pulled the coffee out of the freezer, ground it and poured enough for a full pot into the coffee maker and filled it with water. As it started dripping, she opened the cabinet door. Shit, no clean mugs. Is the dishwasher clean or dirty?
The kitchen was of modest size but was fairly new. It had a functioning, if loud, refrigerator, a microwave and dishwasher. Large cabinets, stained a dark oak color, lined two walls with a large window over the sink occupying the third wall. It stared directly out to their neighbor’s house, 15 feet away. So it stayed permanently covered with an unbleached cotton curtain they’d bought at Home Depot. The counters were tiled in gray and white with a black border, and were well occupied with a toaster oven , a radio, multiple cutting boards and a rack with a few bottles of wine resting hopefully in it.
Rene bent over to look at the sign on the dishwasher. It was simply a piece of lined paper with “clean” on one side and “dirty” on the other, held in place by two refrigerator magnets which advertised an antipsychotic and a pain killer, respectively. Thankfully, today, it said “clean”. Erin must have run it before she left.
She emptied it, leaving out one mug with KCRW Public Radio LA imprinted in bold, happy letters on it. A cup and a half later, the doctor was feeling more human and it seemed that both eyes were definitely pointing in the same direction for the first time. “OK, shower, then breakfast. Grabbing the cup, she ambled back into the bathroom.
Over her breakfast of microwaved leftovers and the last of the pot of coffee, Rene contemplated the remains of her day. 5:30 already. Great day. Well, at least I’m off for two more. Wednesday night, not much on TV. She glanced at the calendar which was hung by a nail on one of the cabinets. It was covered with a complicated mishmash of Erin’s class and work schedule and Rene’s schedule. Erin’s working till midnight, could drop by, or read, or clean the house. She shook her head. Not housecleaning. News, then go visit Erin. Decision made, she plopped full length onto the couch with her head on the armrest.
OK , news. She clicked the remote. Channel 4, newswoman with bad hair and permatanned weatherman, or channel 8 – white guy with bad hair and obnoxious sportscaster, or channel 11 – one black newsman, a latina newswoman and an oriental sportscaster? She settled on the multicultural news.
His name was James Stokes. He’d been 56. Night security for the warehouse. The fire had started in a corner on the far side from the security booth. The place had filled with smoke so quickly that he’d become disoriented and was overcome before he could find his way out. It was the third warehouse fire this month. Police were looking for a serial arsonist, now a murderer.
So, now she knew. He’d still been John Doe when Rene’s shift had ended. The police hadn’t even come into the ER yet.
She lay there through the national news and was finally forced off the couch when, about halfway through Wheel of Fortune, she began to feel that her brain was falling out of her ears and pooling on the floor
The place where Erin bartended was in downtown LA, in the business district, surrounded by high rise banks, hotels and offices. The clientele tended toward after work suits and traveling businessmen with a few tourists and post theater folk thrown in. People watching was around a B+ level. Rene was an inveterate people watcher, and hanging out where she knew the employees kept her safe from unwanted advances.
Finally dressed in a pale denim shirt, black jeans and sockless Sperry topsiders, a legacy of her Midwestern past, she hopped into her venerable Honda Accord and headed off for the 405 freeway. A small fender bender on the Harbor freeway delayed her slightly, but soon she was negotiating the ever changing streets of downtown. Miraculously, a parking space opened up about a block from the bar, and she was in shortly after nine.
The place was packed tonight. Rene made her way down the length of the long bar, through the masses of sitting, standing and schmoozing humanity. She pulled up a stool at the very end of the bar, near the long dark hallway that lead first to the bathrooms, then to a small alcove with a phone, and finally to a fire exit into the back alley.
“Some convention in town,” Erin leaned over and yelled into Rene’s ear.
Rene grinned at her. “Good for people watching. Check out the guy in the gray suit with the purple tie. I give him an 8.5 for effort.” Erin studied the unfolding drama carefully. “But he only gets a 6 for approach. Scoring potential, I’d say, about a 3.” They giggled.
Rene was content to sit, sipping a beer, as Erin got busy again. Luckily, no one was hitting on her. It seemed she’d effectively seated herself outside of the shark pool.
“Erin, hold my seat, gotta pee.” Her roommate nodded, concentrating on pouring a beer.
She got off of her stool, made a right into the hallway, and went past the men’s room to the ladies. As she pushed the door to go in, the feeling of a cool breeze blew across the back of her neck, raising the hair on her neck and arms. Strange feeling again, she noted.
“Look honey, don’t you want to spend some time with us?” a man’s voice rumbled from the phone alcove as Rene emerged from the bathroom.
“Just back off buster, I just want to make a phone call,” an annoyed female voice answered.
“Just one kiss, baby,” slurred a second male voice.
“I said back off.”
Oh, this doesn’t sound good. Rene stopped and peeked around the corner. Two large men, both well over six feet, looking like ex football players, had blockaded a woman into the phone alcove. She was tall, herself, and stood, surprisingly, with her arms crossed over her chest. Aggravation, not fear, showed on her features. Blue eyes glared narrowly at the men.
She seemed familiar. Rene couldn’t place her, but she knew that she didn’t like the situation, even if the woman looked calm and in control.
One of the men stepped closer. He was only a few inches now from her face. “Oh yeah, you gonna stop us?” He started to reach for her.
“Melinda, there you are. We’ve been looking for you.” Rene stepped between the men, who spun to stare at her in surprise. “Come on and join us.” The doctor reached in and grabbed the woman by the wrist, pulling her out past the two men. “How did you get in past us?” She hauled her out of the hallway back to the bar. “There, I think that’s done.” She dropped the wrist and stared up into the pale blue eyes which looked down at her with some amusement. “You’re the firefighter in the ER last night. Pakadios wasn’t it?”
The dark haired woman shook her head and laughed, “You’re Doctor Covington. It took me a minute. I could’ve handled those guys.”
“Well, this way was painless and bloodless. Besides, how was I to know? It looked like a bad situation.”
“True. Thanks for rescuing me. By the way, why did you call me Melinda?”
“It’s the first thing that came to mind. I don’t know your first name. I’m Rene, by the way.” She stuck out her hand and found it engulfed in a firm grasp.
“Dina. It’s just that I had a great aunt named Melinda. I’m supposed to look a lot like her and that’s not a common name.” She shrugged. “No big deal.”
“Rats, lost my seat.” Rene looked over at Erin, who saw her, shrugged and held up her hands. “Oh well, no biggie, we’ll stand. How’d you get yourself in that predicament anyway?”
Dina was dressed in jeans and a white polo shirt with sneakers. Her long hair hung down in a single braid. Not the usual hunting attire in this bar. Although, Rene noted, the white shirt beautifully highlighted the bronze of her skin.
“A friend was supposed to meet me here but apparently he flaked. I was going to call him when those goons trapped me.”
“Boyfriend?” Now what made me ask that? “Sorry, none of my business.”
“No, no. A friend who wanted to cry about problems with his boyfriend. I suspect they’ve reconciled.” They both grinned. “So, where’s your group?”
“Huh?” Rene was clueless.
“The group, the “we” who’ve been waiting for me to join you?”
“Nope, just me. I’m hanging out with my roommate. She’s tending bar. I had a night off and I was bored.”
“Well, then, let me buy you a drink for saving me.”
“Sure, I’ll take a dark, whatever they have on tap.”
“Yeah, my favorite, too. Back in a minute.” She eyed the crowd between her and the bar, “maybe two.”
As she made her way through the masses, Rene reached her hands over her head and waved. Erin caught her movement, then her glance. Rene waved two fingers with one hand and pointed at Dina. Erin grinned, nodded and winked.
The doctor studied the firefighter as she fought her way to the bar. Underdressed for this place as she was, she still stood out. Rene estimated her at nearly six feet tall. While slim, her close fitting jeans revealed a musculature at least equal to her well defined arms. Nice butt, she mused to herself, then mentally slapped herself on the hand. None of that now.
Dina was back sooner than expected. The throng had simply parted to let her through. One look from her had done the trick.
“Here you go.” She handed Rene her drink with a small lopsided smile. “I guess I still owe you one. Your roommate wouldn’t let me pay.”
“Well, you got through a lot faster that I would’ve. I seem to become invisible to people in a crowd. And, I always get carded at any other bar,” she added wistfully. “How’d you get them to move?”
Dina shrugged. “I guess I have many skills.” She took a quick sip of her beer as a sudden electric thrill ran up her back. Rene, she noted, had a strange puzzled look on her face.
“Yeah, just had a strange feeling. It’s gone now.”
Dina raised an eyebrow but decided not to pursue it. “You do look pretty young. How long have you been a doctor?”
“Oh god, everyone asks that.” She pushed a lock of hair out of her face and tucked it behind her ear. “I’ve been out of my residency for a little over two years.” Dina looked at her blankly. “I’ve been out of med school six years. I’m not a kid.” She added with an edge creeping into her voice.
She stared down into her beer and took a deep breath. “Sorry about that. I’m just a little fried on “You’re too young to be a doctor, dearie”, and people looking past me for the real doctor.” Shaking her head, she looked up again and met Dina’s eyes with a smile. “So, how about you? How long have you been with the fire department?”
“Three years,” came the terse reply.
Rene looked expectantly into her face, but nothing more came. OK, I’m gonna have to carry this conversation. “That’s not very long. What’d you do before that?”
It had seemed an innocuous question, but Rene was dismayed when Dina’s face suddenly shut down. Her eyes became cold.
“Sorry.” Rene held up her hands. “Bad question. I’m just nosy. You don’t have to answer.”
Dina looked down momentarily, then stared back into Rene’s eyes, a lopsided grin growing slowly. “No, that’s OK. I had a studio. A kick boxing and martial arts studio. It, uh, didn’t work out. So, I decided to go into a line of work that was still very physical.”
Realization dawned on the doctor. She blushed. “I see what you mean about handling those guys earlier. I feel pretty silly.”
“Don’t. Not many people know that.” She drained her beer, found an empty corner of a table and set down the glass. “Well, I’ve got to get up early tomorrow. I better go. Tommy’s obviously a no show.” She turned to leave.
“I hope I didn’t upset you.” Rene stood, holding her glass with both hands. Green eyes searched out Dina’s face.
The firefighter turned back. Something in the voice had rung with a sincerity she hadn’t heard in a very long time. The doctor, she realized, was actually concerned that she’d disturbed her. She met and fell into the green depth of those eyes. Ancient eyes. The thought flashed by. And something very familiar and warm. She wanted to lean in and stay there. No. She tore herself away.
“No. I just don’t like to think about it. It’s OK. But, I do have some stuff to do early.” She paused but couldn’t think of anything else to say. “See ya round.”
“Yeah.” Rene stared at the parting crowd as Dina made her way out. What happened there? A door had opened into time. For just a second she’d felt the weight of centuries reaching through to her in a shade of glacial blue. She’d wanted to reach in and pull it back, to keep it close. Always. Then it was gone, and so was the woman.
Rene wove her way back to the bar and put down her glass. “I’m heading home. See ya.”
Erin was busy cleaning and racking glasses between pulling out bottles and mixing drinks. “She’s a looker. Watcha think?” she found the time to say, looking inquiringly at Rene.
“Yeah,” she said thoughtfully, “But I don’t know; There’s something different in there. Catch you later.”
She fought her way to the door, fending off a few groping hands, and stepped out into the cool night air. Funny, she thought as she walked quickly to her car, that strange tingling is gone again. She pulled out, aiming for the freeways home.
With both hands in a white knuckled death grip on the steering wheel, Dina leaned forward and tried to negotiate surface streets home. “Goddamn changing street construction”, she muttered as she tried again to make a left, only to be met with another concrete barrier and an arrow labeled “detour” pointing back the way she’d come. Finally, she gave up and made three rights, over a series of blocks which wrapped her under and over two freeways – she didn’t know or care which – and ended up south on Figueroa. She relaxed a little, leaning back in her seat, but still mentally cursing the vagaries of city council construction financing and the idiocy of putting a subway under a city that regularly shakes at its roots. As she made her right onto Olympic Blvd., a straight shot to her apartment, she ran her hand over her forearm and was surprised to find that the electrical feeling she’d had since walking into the bar was completely gone.
Finally home, she lay in bed, hands behind her head, and stared at the ceiling waiting for sleep. Dr. Covington’s look of concern kept intruding into her thoughts. Well, that was pretty brave of her to step between those guys. How many people would do that for a stranger? I should thank her better. Yeah, next time I see her. I can always stop be the ER. She is cute, really cute. She grinned to herself, turned on her side and finally fell asleep.
The dream started as they all did: She was in her gi, in her studio, practicing alone. A door opened to a lush land of tall, leafy trees and wide, grassy meadows. As she stepped through, her clothes changed. This time, though, she wasn’t in the leathers that she’d become familiar with, she was in a simple linen shift. She vaguely remembered that she’d buried her weapons near here. Shouting near by made her duck into the bushes. Slavers had rounded up a group of the local women and were getting ready to take them away. ‘Not my concern.’ She turned to leave, but her attention was caught by the small blond who stepped out in front of the others.
“Take me, let the others go.”
The slaver grinned evilly at her. “Nice try. We’ll take you and anybody else we want.” He reached for his whip. “It’s never too early to start training a slave girl.”
She grabbed the whip, she couldn’t help herself. The girl reminded her so much of her younger self. Before the darkness fell over her soul.
Of course the fight didn’t last long. That group of ruffians couldn’t stand up to the Warrior Princess. After, the girl was so excited. But wanting to come with her? Ridiculous.
Of course, she followed. Xena knew she would. And she managed to save her from the mob in her mother’s inn, without lifting a hand. That’s when Xena felt the change start to stir. The girl, Gabrielle, wanted nothing from her but friendship, and to learn about the world. Maybe she could learn from her, too. So, she let her stay.
“You know, where I’m headed there’ll be trouble.” She tried to warn her.
“Then why would you want to go into that place?”
She gave the only possible answer. “That’s what friends do. They stand by each other when there’s trouble.” Gabrielle knew she had the warrior there.
“All right, friend.”
The dream ended, as they always did: she stepped through the door, into the crowded ER. Once again in her scrubs, lab coat in place, Dr. Covington reached over to get the next chart.
Rene bounced out of bed at ten am the next morning, feeling great. Erin’s door, she noticed as she passed by on the way to the kitchen, was still closed. Her first class today was at one, so she wouldn’t be up for another hour.
The doctor stared out of the window as the coffee brewed. Perfect, blue sky. She clicked on the radio and turned to the news station. Great, low 70’s, mild breeze, clear all day. I’m going for a bike ride.
Still in debt to her eyeballs from her student loans, her road bike had been her one great splurge since coming to LA. It was cheaper than therapy, she thought to herself as she checked the tire pressure and lovingly lubed the chain.
She was dressed in padded bike tights. Even though she hated lycra, she like being able to feel her parts after the ride. A faded white tee shirt, padded fingerless gloves, a bright green helmet with blue and red highlights (it’d been the most sedate she could find) and scream-in-the-streets yellow bike shoes completed the outfit.
Still don’t know why they call them “clipless pedals“. She fitted the plate screwed onto the bottom of the right shoe over the small spring loaded pedal and snapped it in with some difficulty. Now, what is the problem? She twisted it out with even more trouble. The other side clipped in and out with no problem. I’ll bring it in tomorrow and get it checked. I just want to ride now.
She managed to get the right clipped in again and took off, puffing up the hill. As she crested it, Rene came upon her ocean view. It was the kind of fall day that made it all worthwhile. A wondrously clear sky met the ocean at a horizon that stretched from Palos Verdes all the way to Malibu. She could even see the buildings of Santa Monica. Catalina Island, frequently not visible in the haze, seemed to have sailed over and put down anchor just off the coast.
Yay! She coasted down through the quiet neighborhood aiming for the Strand. I’m gonna do the whole thing today. The doctor rode down the final hill and turned onto the Strand, a sidewalk/ bike path that ran along the edge of the beach all the way from Torrance to Santa Monica – 25 miles one way.
Boy, it’s really empty today. There were only a few joggers and rollerbladers on the path. The beach was occupied by a very few surfers and the occasional hand holding couple. Three small boys were playing fort on the empty life guard stand.
Yippee! She crouched down into the handlebar drops and pedaled. Not like the old ten speed. With that thought, she shot north wondering if Baywatch would be filming today at the far end of the ride.
Dina steered her pickup into a space in the beachside parking lot in Manhattan Beach. It’d seemed that she’d been all over the planet, running errands, all day. Why isn’t anything within walking distance of any other thing? She’d finally ended up here after picking up a retirement gift, that she’d been volunteered to get, for one of the chiefs.
Her running clothes lay stacked on the passenger seat. She’d thrown them in thinking that since she was going to be all the way down here, she might as well run near the water. She changed in the public bathrooms on the pier, threw her clothes back in the truck, and stood momentarily deciding which way to go. A mental coin toss came down heads. OK, north. She took off, jogging on the Strand.
Rene was getting pretty tired, her odometer read 38 miles. Let’s see, about 15 to go. They hadn’t been filming and she’d only stopped for a minute to get some water. In the off season, Venice Beach had been more unsavory than usual, and she’d really pushed to get past there. Less than halfway back, she was feeling the strain. I’m past Dockweiler, next the energy plant, then Manhattan, Hermosa, Redondo and home. Not so bad. Right?
The bike path ran about 20 feet above the beach in front of the energy plant. A rock retaining wall rose from the sand to the edge of the roadbed. A few small boulders lined the edge of the road, more as a reminder than as a barrier.
Rene reached up to wipe the sweat out of her eyes and didn’t see the small, jagged pothole just ahead of her. Sharp rocks tore a gaping hole, as her front tire slammed down into it, then sent the bike careening directly into a small boulder.
“OH shit!”, she yelled as the back of the bike flew up sending her over the handlebars and head first into the rocks below. Her head and right shoulder smashed against a rock. Momentarily stunned, she slid limply into a space between two rocks. It was the pain in her right knee that brought her back.
She opened her eyes, seeing only the rock immediately in front of her face. She was lying tightly wedged, right side down, between two boulders. Her left arm and leg were free but her right foot hadn’t released from the pedal and was still attached to the bike, which was caught, somehow up above her. The right knee was being very painfully torqued over a rock.
Well, at least my neck doesn’t hurt. Thank god for the helmet. She reached with her left hand and felt the shattered remnants of the helmet, which was still strapped to her head. God, my knee hurts. She tried to unclick the foot, but couldn’t twist it. No good. Can I get out of here? She flailed with the left hand but couldn’t reach anything to pull up on. Her right arm was trapped and any movement made it feel like her leg was being torn off. OK, I need help. Wonderful. I haven’t seen another soul since Venice. She thought of the various homeless folk and gang members who’d been hanging out. They seemed reasonable about now.
“Help! Is anyone up there? Help!” Oh, super, now there’s that damn tingling feeling again. “Help!”
The rhythmic build and crash of the water captured Dina hypnotically as she ran along the beach. A trio of pelicans skimmed the waves, daring the breakers. Seagulls stood in flocks watching the ocean as if awaiting some message from the deeps.
She moved swiftly up the beach, past the empty lifeguard stands and waiting volleyball nets. To the marina and back, that’ll be about 12 miles, OK. Decision made, she rounded the turn and came up the slight incline toward the power plant. A, now familiar, electrical sensation sprang from the base of her neck down both arms. Her stride faltered momentarily. Whoa, what is this?
It was faint and seemed to come from somewhere ahead of her. Squinting, she saw what looked like a bike thrown awkwardly onto the rocks.
“Help!” Now she was sure. Picking up speed, Dina ran over to the bike and, leaning against a boulder, peered down the rock wall.
“Help!” Rene was becoming desperate. Her right side ached and she was ready to chew off her leg just to stop the pain in her knee. She flailed again with her left hand and felt it caught in a sure, strong grip. “What the, who?”
“I got you”, came a familiar voice.
“Dina?” Gingerly, she turned her head to the left and looked up, catching a glimpse of crystal blue. “How’d you where? Nevermind. I’m so glad to see you. Help, please.”
Dina let go of Rene’s hand and surveyed her predicament. The bike was jammed up against two rocks and Rene’s attached leg was bent between the two, then over another. She dangled down to the point where she was wedged.
“Get my foot out of the shoe first. I gotta get the pressure off my knee.
“You’ll slide down further.”
“I don’t care. I can’t get up until I’m out of the pedal.”
Dina reached under and found the Velcro straps to the shoe. She undid them and eased the doctor’s foot out.
“Yow!” Her leg free, she slid down, wedging herself tightly. “Urk.” Having her face up against the rocks made breathing difficult.
“I’m going to pull you up. It may hurt.”
“OK here goes. Dina scrambled over and down the rocks to Rene. Grabbing her left arm with both hands, she pulled Rene up.
With a terrible scraping sound and a muffled scream, her head and shoulder popped free. The taller woman reached down again and placed the doctor’s left arm around her neck. She tucked one arm under Rene’s shoulders and one under her knees and lifted the helpless woman up off of the rocks. Carrying her carefully, she picked her way up over the wall and set Rene down, sitting, on the pavement.
Rene hugged her right leg and rocked back and forth crying softly. It had already swollen to double its normal size. “Thank you, thank you. How did you know? How did you find me? Thank you.”
“It was purely accidental. I’m never down here. Coincidence.” She added somewhat wistfully, “I knew I’d see you again. This just wasn’t what I’d expected.”
Her tone made Rene hold still and look up into her face in puzzlement. Bright red scratches marked her right side of her face.
“I mean, I was going to thank you better about last night and those two guys. But I thought it would be in the ER.”
“Well, I think you more than paid me back for that and the drink. I was afraid I’d never be found.” She paused, considering. “How am I going to get home? My bike is wrecked.”
“I’ll help you to your car. Where is it?”
“Back at my house. I rode out here.”
“I’ll drive you. I’m parked in Manhattan. We’ll get you to the first street and I’ll get the truck and pick you up there. It’s only about half a mile.”
Too battered to protest, Rene curled up around her knee again and mumbled, “Thanks. It’s going to be a long walk.” She pushed herself up, all of her weight on her good leg. Gingerly, she put her right leg down. “Yow!” She fell back down as the leg crumpled out from under her. “I think my knee’s really screwed up.” She looked up. “You don’t have to do this. Just go and call 911. The paramedics can come and get me.”
“No. I’m not going to do that. I’ll get you back. Put your arm over my shoulder. I’ll help you up.” She crouched down in front of the doctor. Rene sighed and reached up, putting both arms around Dina’s neck. The firefighter put her hands under Rene’s arms.
“Now push up.” She stood up smoothly, pulling the shorter woman easily to her feet, and then onto her toes. Rene lost her balance and fell forward against Dina.
They stood for a long second, staring into each other’s eyes, as an unfamiliar feeling of the rightness of this enfolded them. It was a single arrow, shot from a great distance, but pierced both hearts. Then it was gone. Both blushing, Dina bent slightly and settled Rene onto her foot.
“Uh, thanks.” The doctor dropped her arms. “I guess we should head back.” Her head swam slightly from the impact of the sudden emotion and the feel of Dina’s warmth against her. She tried putting her weight on the right foot again and quickly bent it back up. “I’m going to have to hold you and hop. You still sure about this?”
Dina’d never been so sure of anything. Don’t know what hit me. But I want to find it again. “Yeah, sure.”
“OK then.” Rene wrapped her right arm around Dina’s waist. The taller woman grabbed her under the arm. “My bike.”
The firefighter let go and scrambled onto the rocks and lifted the bike back over. “Looks like you taco’d the front tire. The rest looks pretty good.” She placed it over her shoulder.
Hopping and half carrying, they slowly made their way back. At the first street, Dina left Rene and ran the last mile to get her truck. Rene sat, exhausted, wrapped around her hurt knee. Her whole body ached and she could feel her right eye swelling shut where she’d slammed it. But her mind was spinning. What was that. God it felt It felt like the last piece of the puzzle fitting in. It felt like hot cocoa on a cold day. It felt like finding something so important that you couldn’t possibly search for it. I wonder if she felt it too? Besides, she looked pretty good in those little running shorts. Nice legs.
Lungs burning, Dina ran, pushing herself to get back as fast as possible. She could still feel Rene’s body against hers. Wonder if she felt it too?
Rene came out of her reverie to find Dina standing over her. She smiled. “Sure.”
Dina helped her up and hopped her over to the truck. “Hang on.” She lifted the smaller woman into the front seat.
“You just picked me up.”
“Uh huh.” Dina threw the bike into the back of the pickup and closed the shell.
“You carried me over the rocks.”
“Wow. You’re pretty strong.” She grabbed the firefighter’s arm as she slid onto the seat and started the engine. Leaning over, she looked straight into her eyes. “Thanks again. I really mean it. Not many people would do that for an almost-stranger. I ruined your run. I’ve screwed up your day; Thanks.” She sat back.
*Not a stranger.* Where did that come from? “Stop thanking me.” She gave a lopsided grin. “Besides, I owed you, remember?” Backing the truck into a driveway, she pulled out, going up away from the ocean. “Give me directions.” Dina glanced over and saw Rene tentatively poking at her knee. “Maybe we should take you to the ER.”
“Oh, no. Well, maybe. I suppose I should get this checked. Drop me off at home. I’ll get over there.”
“You can’t drive.”
“My roommate. No, she’s at school. It can wait. What are you doing?”
Dina had turned the car toward the hospital. “What’s it look like?”
“I’m being kidnapped.” A pause. “OK, at least I’ll know the people. Maybe it won’t take all night.”
They pulled up at the ambulance entrance and buzzed for admittance.
“Don’t you know this is the ambulance entrance? Go around to the front.” The nurse took a second look. “Oh my God, it’s Dr. Covington. Get in here. What happened?”
The doctor hopped into the ER and collapsed into a wheelchair. “I went two rounds with some rocks and lost. My knee is a mess.”
She grabbed the firefighter’s arm as Dina moved toward the waiting room mumbling something about waiting for her there. “No, stay with me. I’ll need the moral support. You’ll see.”
The nurse rolled her to the only empty bed and helped her onto the gurney.
“Dr. Chaney’s really swamped this afternoon. I’ll order your xray and get him to you as soon as he can.” She left and closed the curtain.
Rene turned to Dina. “Now you’ll see what I meant.”
News of her arrival spread quickly throughout the department. One by one, everybody from the nurses to the registration clerks felt obligated to stop by, say hello, check out just how bad she looked, and to offer an opinion. These ranged from sympathy to lewd speculation on the true cause of the injuries. The doctor handled them all with equal politeness and dignity, even the most obnoxious. She smiled down at the firefighter. “See?
Dina was amazed. “These are your coworkers? I would’ve told them to go to hell.”
“They’re actually doing it because they like me. If they didn’t, I’d be sitting in the waiting room instead of in a bed, believe me. Besides, they’re going easy on me with you here. One more thanks to you.” She squeezed Dina’s shoulder and smiled.
The firefighter smiled in return.
The xray tech came to get her. Dr. Chaney came in shortly after she’d returned.
“Hey Keith. What’d I do to myself?”
“Well, you didn’t break your leg. Let me look at the rest of you.” He quickly examined her battered face and right side. “These feel OK?” He poked gently at her ribs.
“Now I’m going to stress your knee. Nice shoe, by the way. Ready?” He held her knee and slowly pushed it back and forth and rocked it side to side.
“Yeow. Uh, lateral stress really hurts.”
Dina resisted the urge to grab her hand only with an effort of will.
“Well, it seems stable. You know the drill – knee immobilizer, crutches, no weight bearing, follow up if not improved, and so on. Need a “script?”
“No thanks. I’ve got from last time.”
“I’ll send in the EMT. Oops, sorry, it’s Jerry. So, take it easy, please, and I’ll see you, I guess, next week.” He patted her hand and walked out.
“Thanks, Keith,” she called after him.
Jerry, the EMT walked in with the immobilizer, a foam and Velcro affair that strapped onto the leg like a soft cast, and the crutches. He was in his mid thirties, but looked much older, with a pockmarked face and greasy black hair. A faintly rancid odor seemed to follow him and to linger slightly after he’d gone.
“Hey Doc, lost a fight with the boyfriend?” He started to put the immobilizer on her leg. “I would never leave any marks on you like that.” He tightened one strap and slid his hands up to the next one.
“Jerry, just leave. I can do that and adjust my crutches.”
He tightened the second strap. “But Doc, I was told to do this.” He reached for the top one.
She sat up and grabbed his wrists. “Jerry, I said to leave now. Just remember, I’m a doctor. I know many wonderful ways to cause great pain. And, my friend here, she’s trained to kill.”
Dina took her cue and stood up from her stool. Crossing her arms, she glared down at him.
Rene smiled sweetly and released his wrists. “Get out of here.”
He gulped up at Dina and scurried out.
Rene finished the last strap and adjusted the crutches. “I feel like I need a shower now. He gives me the creeps. I owe you another one.”
Dina helped her off of the gurney. “No prob, my pleasure. I was getting ready to hit him anyway.” She realized that she had been, too. Something made her want to protect the doctor. She wanted to carry her out and hold her close, to take away all the pain. The emotion fit her like a new style of clothing – it was very strange but it was something she thought she’d get to like very much. Given the chance, she thought dourly.
“Thanks everyone.” Dr. Covington leaned on her crutches and gave a wave as they walked out.
It was well past dark by the time they made it back to Rene’s house. Rene hobbled in and directed Dina, with the bike, to their “storage room”, actually, the third bedroom. It was piled high with boxes and all manner of sports and camping paraphernalia and was almost unnegotiable.
“Just dump it anywhere,” she sighed. “Come on into the kitchen. You’ve met Erin.”
Her roommate was standing at the sink, stuffing a sandwich into her mouth. She gave a wave. “Gotta run to work.”
“Erin?” Dina raised an eyebrow.
Erin put down her sandwich, turned and put her hands on her hips. Drawing herself put to her full five foot two, she stared fiercely into the taller woman’s face.
“Erin Aidan Caitlin Ramirez. Got a problem with that?”
The firefighter eyed the dark haired, dark eyed, brown skinned, red freckled woman. She smiled down at her, “Nope, no problem.”
“Good.” Erin turned back to her dinner. “I may look like my dad, but, I get my temper from both sides of my family, Kilkenny and Ramirez. Got it?”
Rene stepped forward. “Oh, by the way, Erin, this is Dina.”
Erin looked up again. “What the hell happened to you?”
“I met with some rocks. Dina found me and pulled me out. Really, I’m fine.”
“Chingaderas bicycle. You should away from wheeled sports, girl. Your face is a mess. Break your nose again?”
The blond blushed. “No, actually, it’s my knee this time.” She caught Dina’s puzzled expression. “I tried rollerblading when I first moved here. I fell and broke my nose. I had to work with two black eyes. You think I took some grief today, you should’ve heard my so called friends then.”
The firefighter chuckled slightly and looked around. The living room, next to the kitchen, was done in early starving student. There was a beat up futon couch and a not even close to matching recliner. A TV set and VCR sat on a wooden crate at one end of the room. A few framed posters graced the walls. A large window formed most of the wall near the front door. It’s curtain matched the kitchen’s. The back wall was entirely occupied by two huge bookcases.
One had a few knickknacks, pictures of Erin’s family, a few school and film books and lots of videos. The other was crammed tight with medical books and books on mythology. A few historical novels lay sideways on top of the others.
Dina walked over to the bookcases. “Nice collection. I have a few of these, too.” She pointed to the mythologies.
“I’ve been reading them since I was little,” Rene replied.
She crutched her way into the kitchen and came out holding a half dozen take out menus. “Hey, I’ve ruined your day. At least let me buy dinner.” Sore and tired as she was, she didn’t want Dina to leave. The was something undefinably comforting about her presence.
“Sure, I’d like that.” Very much. I don’t really want to go.
They surveyed the menus. “Italian, Thai, Mexican, Chinese, Greek, or burgers. They all deliver. Pick one.”
“How about Chinese?”
“Fine. Just don’t pick anything with squid. I can eat almost anything. For some reason, though, I can’t abide squid.”
Dinner came quickly. They demolished it, mostly in silence. Rene eating, to Dina’s amusement, almost double the amount of her larger companion.
Where does she put it? She surreptitiously eyed the blond. The smaller woman was compact but sturdy. Round muscles, especially in her legs, were barely hidden under a layer of softness.
Rene felt herself being studied. She put down her chopsticks. “I used to do a lot of backpacking and camping. I’m a kind of hedonist and I refuse to scrimp on my creature comforts. My pack was always the heaviest. It makes for some strong legs.” She resumed eating.
Busted. “I, uh, oh, OK.” The firefighter blushed. That was smooth. At least she didn’t seem to mind.
Dina cleared the table, with Rene directing. The doctor sighed as they moved into the living room. “Someday, I’ll be out of debt and I can have real furniture. So much for the rich doctor myth.” She sat down and winced. “I’m gonna have to take something for the pain. I’m really hurting.”
“I’ll get them for you, then I’ll head home. They in the bathroom?” She didn’t really want to leave. But, she couldn’t think up a good excuse to stay.
Rene nodded. She took two of the pills that Dina brought for her and leaned back into the couch. “Thanks for everything today. I’m sorry I ruined your run and everything else.” She didn’t want her rescuer to leave, but she couldn’t think up a good excuse for her to stay.
“Well, it certainly wasn’t what I’d planned. I’m just glad you’re all right. Rest, and, hey Doc, ice your knee, remember?” She let herself out and drove back to her dark apartment.
Rene picked up a chart and turned to go to bed 8. The door opening caught her attention. Setting the chart aside, she walked out into a dark, cobblestoned street.
Her ragged clothing was no protection against the cold. Shivering, she huddled against a wall. Across the way, the gasman was climbing his ladder to light the streetlamps. If she was going to eat today, she’d have to sell some more flowers. She glanced at the pitiful blooms. Small chance. It would be a doorway to sleep in and an empty stomach for her this night.
“Lady Catherine, let me call you a hansom cab. You shouldna be walking through this section.”
“There are no cabs here. The driver will be hours fixing the carriage. I would rather walk.”
Highbrow accents drifted toward her. Pushing some wayward blond wisps behind her ear, Margaret stepped away from the wall and looked down the street. ‘Small chance is some chance’. She hurried toward the voices.
“Buy a flower, lady?” She held up the flowers to the tall, raven haired woman in a fine, pale blue gown that perfectly matched her eyes.
“Get away, ruffian.” She was shoved to the ground by a large man wearing livery. “Stay out of the lady’s way.”
“Robert, she’s but a child. No need to hurt her.” The lady bent over. “Are you all right child?”, she asked. Then gasped as crystal blue eyes met green. “You”
Margaret scrambled to her knees. “You’re the one from the dreams. Oh, Mum, I’ve seen you before. Please help this poor beggar.”
Lady Catherine stood, staring vaguely into space. “The dreams. What is your name child?”
“Margaret, Mum, lady. I could serve you. I could help. I’m not so mean or so young as I look” She grabbed at the hem of the fine dress. “Please, Mum.”
“Get away, beggar. How dare you touch the lady?” Robert drew back his foot to kick her.
“Robert, stop.” The lady stepped between them. She crouched, eye level with Margaret. “The dreams. Yes, I have seen them as well. So you want to serve. What can you do?”
Margaret jumped to her feet, gesturing wildly with her hands, in her excitement. “Oh, thank you, Mum! I can clean, I can cook.” She looked at her filthy rags. “At least I can when I’m cleaner. For you, lady. I can tell tales, entertain children. I’m very honest. I work hard. “
“Stop please.” The lady laughed. “I will take you in. If you prove other than hard working and completely honest, I will have you whipped and sent back to the streets. Do you understand?”, she asked the young woman, who nodded vigorously. “Robert, when we get back, I want her taken to be bathed and dressed and then introduced to Cook. She shall be her assistant.”
Robert could only nod, open mouthed. Lady Catherine was not known to be one who took in strays.
“Let’s continue home then. So, Margaret, let’s hear one of your tales, one to entertain the children.” The Lady turned and walked through a door which had opened in the wall. Dina reentered her studio, empty as usual and started to unknot her belt.
Rolling over, in sleep, she unconsciously wrapped her arm around her pillow, hugging it tightly.
Rene woke up thinking that the rocks had fallen on her and not vice versa. Many of them. The face in the mirror was a ghastly purple with scratches streaked across the whole right side. Her right arm and ribs ached today, too. Even thinking about the knee made her queasy, but it did seem a little less swollen.
OK. Breakfast, ice, drugs, call off sick, and back to bed. Which she did, in that order.
She emerged only long enough to have dinner in the late afternoon and to watch the news. There’d been another two arson fires, but no more deaths or injuries. Political posturing in Washington was status quo. Good, the world’s still there. She went back to bed.
Wonder if Dina’s at any good fires today? She sent a fleeting wish for safety winging toward the firefighter. Sure did feel good, remembering the press of her body. Too sore to delve any deeper into that, she fell asleep.
Dina finally forced her way into the shower after threatening bodily harm to the last two guys if they didn’t let her in. Another spectacular warehouse fire. Her company had been assigned to the roof. Dragging hose all over the roof, while watching for fire breakthrough and for weak spots or holes, in the dark, for hours, had left her physically and mentally exhausted. Hate the roof. Don’t like the thought of falling through, she thought as she rinsed off the ash and sweat.
She sucked down some reheated chili that they’d cooked hours earlier, but had never gotten the chance to eat, and crawled into her bunk in the station house dorm. Wonder how Rene’s doing? Hope she’s not too sore. Here’s to her feeling better. She mentally sent a get well wish and smiled to herself in the dark. Actually, she felt pretty good. Better not go there. I don’t even know if she’s interested. A sense of loss fell over her like a veil. Maybe we could be friends. I could use a friend. The veil lifted slightly.
Rene rolled over in bed, with a groan, not quite awakening.
“Dr. Covington, come to Room 10, stat.”
“Excuse me, I’ll be right back.” The blonde doctor said to the gentleman she’s been examining. Pushing open the curtain, she stepped out into the desert of Mesopotamia.
They watched Jack drive off, leaving them alone.
“You were right.” Janice looked at her tall friend.
Melinda seemed confused. “I was, about what?”
“We were both living in our fathers’ shadows.” She hated to admit it.
“Well maybe it’s time we both step out into the world and show them what we can do.”
“Together?” Somehow, the question was more important to her than one simple word could convey.
Suddenly unsure, the dark haired woman answered slowly. “Well, not if you don’t want to.” ‘Please want to. I want to.’
The blonde smiled. Melinda’s tone had more than made up for the tentative reply. “C’mon.” She clicked her tongue. “You can give me a hand.” They began to heave their meager gear onto the battered truck.
Janice was content. Being with Melinda somehow made up for being a descendent of that irritating Gabrielle. If she and Xena had been so close, maybe she and Mel “How can I feel this way already? I’ve only known her for a day. One day? Yeah”. Seemed like an eternity. Would Mel be interested? She’d have to charm her and see. “I can be charming when I want to be.” Grinning to herself, she clapped the fedora back onto her head. “C’mon Toots, better turn in. We’ve got a long drive to catch that plane tomorrow.”
“Coming, Janice.” Melinda turned and caught a flash of the blonde’s grin before she turned toward the tent. “Wonder what that’s for? What’s she thinking?” The dark haired beauty following her friend decided she wanted to know more than just what she was thinking. She wanted to know everything.
Xena had left her with just enough to understand exactly what Gabrielle had meant to her, been to her. Now Janice She could feel that way about Janice. Would the archeologist be interested? She could be very persuasive. “Southern wiles.” This would be fun. Smirking, herself, she followed the smaller woman through the tent flap and into the darkened studio.
Dina awoke with a start. Dreaming that deeply was unusual here at the station, in a dorm among 30 plus snoring, mumbling, twitching guys. It was still pitch black out. She peered at her watch, 4:30 am. Why would I dream about Aunt Melinda? Who’s Janice? She let her thoughts drift back to the only time she’d met her great aunt.
It was the summer she was ten. She and her brothers had been farmed out to Great-Aunt Melinda’s antebellum plantation for the summer while their parents tried to find yet another place for them to live.
Aunt Melinda had picked them up at the Greyhound station. Three children traveling alone, they hadn’t been hard to pick out. The minute she’d seen Dina, though, she’d stopped, put her hand to her mouth and whispered, “Oh, my.” Even at that age, the resemblance had been uncanny.
Dina and her two brothers were obviously related. All three were tall and had dark hair with similar features. But, the boys had their father’s dark eyes and olive skin. The girl knew she had her mom’s coloring, but, Mom’s eyes were hazel. No one else’s were blue. Except Great-Aunt Melinda. Dina loved her immediately.
The plantation had been child heaven – a huge house, that Melinda lived in alone, where they played endless hide and seek, an orchard where they could run and climb, and horses they could ride. They’d never each had a room of their own before. In the evenings, they’d all sit on the porch and watch the night fall as Melinda would tell them stories of the strange places she’d been and tales of ancient gods and heroes.
To the children, their aunt had seemed an old and venerable sage. Dina realized, now, that she had probably only been about 60.
“How come you’re not married, Aunt Melinda?” Dina’d asked one evening as they sat rocking on the porch swing, while the boys chased fireflies on the lawn. Weren’t all grown ups married?
Melinda’s hand went to the locket she always wore around her neck. She hesitated, gaze unfocused, then answered softly, “Child, some people were only meant to love once in their lives. Sometimes two fit together so perfectly there’s no room for anyone else, even after one is gone.”
“Is that what happened with you?”, the girl had asked solemnly.
Melinda nodded. “Killed in a cave in at a dig. Many years ago.” She shook her head to clear the air. “But I have my niece and nephews to visit me.” She gave Dina a hug. “So why do I need a husband?”
The older woman smiled. Holding the child to her, she rested her cheek on the girl’s head. Softly, almost so low that Dina couldn’t hear, she said, “Oh, but looking at you I think you’ll know this for yourself someday.”
The girl sat up. “Do you have any pictures of your love?”
Melinda had looked a little flustered. “I think I do somewhere. I’ll show you some other time, OK?”
The boys had come running up then to show off the fireflies they’d caught in their jars and the conversation had been forgotten.
Somehow, Melinda had never gotten around to showing her the pictures. Their wonderful summer had ended two weeks later when their parents had sent for them. They’d found a trailer park in Arizona that would rent to them.
Dina had clung, sobbing to Great-aunt Melinda.
“Hush, child”, the woman had said gently, hugging her. “You’ll come back. We can write to each other. We’ll see each other again. Don’t you worry now.”
Dina’d written faithfully, and Melinda had answered. Her letters sometimes chasing them through two or three moves, but always catching up. She’d even called on Dina’s birthdays.
Then, one day, a letter had come back to the child marked “undeliverable, addressee deceased”.
Dina had gone berserk when her mother explained to her that her beloved aunt had died in a car accident a month before. They thought she was too young to tell.
So, twelve year old Dina had stormed out of the house and beaten up three older boys, just to make herself feel better. But it didn’t. Not then, and not later.
Lying in the dorm, the sky now turning a fine pink with the approaching dawn, the firefighter still missed her aunt. Realization crept slowly across the lightening room and attached itself to Dina. She never did use a pronoun that night, or ever. God, I wish I’d seen a picture. I’m sure that’s why I never did.
Janice? The dream had seemed so real. Related to Gabrielle, from the other dreams. They all looked like Rene. She shied away from that one.
I think I have more in common with Aunt Melinda than just looks. She smiled into her pillow, feeling the warmth of their connection over these empty 20 years.
“BRRRAAAAPPP!”, came the alarm. Dorm lights came on suddenly, rudely jerking everyone from sleep. “Engine 145, ambulance 145, respond to difficulty breathing call. Address 732 south La Costa St.”, blared over the loudspeaker.
Back to work, she thought slipping on her turnouts and climbing into the engine. She put on her headphones as the siren came on and the engine and ambulance raced out into the new day.
Better, thought Rene as she lay in bed and tentatively tried out all moving parts. Glad I called off sick today. She could almost recognize her face in the mirror, even though it was still an assortment of colors. The knee was much better. One more day on crutches, I think.
“Oh, it lives,” Erin called out cheerfully as the doctor weebled into the kitchen. “You look much better. Coffee’s made.”
“Thanks, I feel much better.” She grabbed a cup of coffee and threw some bread into the toaster.
Ring. “I got it.” Erin dove for the phone. “Hey, Stuart,” her face lit up. She covered the mouth piece with her hand. “It’s him,” she mouthed at Rene.
The blonde grinned and raised her coffee cup in salute.
“Sure, I’d love to come to the screening. When? Day after tomorrow, well ” She looked pleadingly at Rene, who waved her on. “Yeah, I can come. See you then.” She hung up and hugged Rene. “I’ll make it up to you.”
“Have a good time, you’ve been waiting long enough for him to ask you out. I’ll still go.”
“Ask your big firefighter friend. She seemed interested.”
“You think so? I don’t know.” She nonchalantly spread jam on her toast.
“Oh, Mija, you are so clueless! Of course. Who could resist you? Even if you are damaged goods right now.”
“Fine, just fine. Girl, you are so good for my ego,” she said facetiously. “I’ll think about it. Right now, I’m going to take my beautiful self into the shower.” She finished her toast and, getting up with as much dignity as possible on crutches, made her way to the bathroom.
Poor bike, she thought later as she surveyed the wreckage. It’ll have to wait a few more days. Can’t negotiate crutches and carry the bike. TV? Yuk. She passionately hated daytime TV. Can I drive? Gingerly, she put some weight onto her injured leg. It held. Yeah. I’ll go and stare at the ocean for a while.
She sat in the sand, leaning back on her hands and watched the sandpipers run back and forth, playing tag with the surf. Funny dream, felt so real. Generally, she couldn’t remember her dreams. Lately, they’d been very vivid. Not like dreams at all, more like memories. Janice, Janice. Why is that familiar? Then she remembered.
An uncle, Hubert Covington, from England, had come to visit them on his way to some business in Cincinnati. He’d taken one look at he six year old girl sitting and telling stories to her dolly on the floor and his mouth had gaped open.
“My god, James, she’s the spitting image of Janice.”
“We don’t mention her name around here,” her father had growled. “Unnatural woman ”
“Well, every family does have someone who’s a little different. But she was your cousin and she’s been dead a long time. Such a terrible way to die, trapped in a cave in. No need to hold onto the bitterness anymore, say?”
He’d gotten down on one knee and looked directly into Rene’s eyes. “She’s got her green eyes.” He said to her father, who frowned seriously.
Rene looked back, marveling at his fine mustache.
“What are you doing, love?” he asked her.
“Telling a story to my baby doll.”
“And what would that story be?”
“It’s about a girl a long, long time ago who travels around and does good things and tells stories and never hurts no one.”
“Hubert stood, “Well, she does have an imagination, that one.”
“She’s in her own world half the time, not like her sister ” The conversation had moved on then to other things.
So long ago, twenty-some years. Why remember now? Obviously, her subconscious was up to something. Didn’t Dina mention an Aunt Melinda? Why should she put those two together? She stared at the endless blue of the sky.
Time to go home. I need a couple of aspirin.
The phone rang as she was walking in the door.
“Hi, it’s Dina. I wanted to see how you were doing.”
“I’m much better. I can put some weight on my leg. I think I’ll be OK. Hey, how did you get my number?”
“Uh, Erin slipped it to me before she left the other night. Is that OK?”
Sneak, I’m going to kill her, or.. or.. kiss her. “Yeah, it’s fine. I would’ve if I’d been capable of thinking the other night. How are you? I’ve been seeing the fires on the news.”
“I’m fine. We were at a big one the other night.”
“Um, Dina? Look, I’ve got two tickets to the new exhibit at the art museum the day after tomorrow. It’s ancient Greek art, you know, urns and friezes and so on. I was gonna go with Erin. But she got a date, so she’s flaking. And I owe you for the other day. I thought you might be interested in this stuff. I’d really like it if you came,” Rene blurted out in a rush of words.
Rene didn’t even hear. “You can say no, it’s OK. I’m still going. I just thought maybe” The answer caught up with her. “What?”
“I said sure. Love to go. You need tickets to go to the art museum?”
“In LA you do if it’s a popular exhibit. Look, where do you live?” Dina told her. “It’s on the way, I’ll pick you up. What time?”
“I work tomorrow, so I’ll need some sleep. How about 2?”
“I’m working tomorrow night, too. See you at 2.”
“Glad you’re feeling better. See you the day after tomorrow. Bye”
Rene drifted back into the kitchen, aspirin forgotten, realizing she was excited totally out of proportion to what had just happened. Don’t even know what sheAlthough she had a determined inkling. But it’s so hard to say, “Hey, I’m into women, what about you?” It just doesn’t work that way, at least for me. She sighed. In Detroit it was so easy. You just asked, “Where do you go to dance?” There were only two “girl’s” bars. Here in LA You want leather, lipstick, biker, whatever. Too many.
She rested her head in her hands, elbows on the table and stared at the wall. Gotta think. She sat up suddenly. I wonder if she’s into music? It’s worth a try. A huge smile plastered itself across her face. It might work.
Dina hung up the phone, dazed. He heart was leaping ecstatically around in her chest. Her mind grabbed it and wrestled it back into place, along with the almost uncontrollable urge to dance around the apartment. But it lost the war with the grin.
Um, think I’ll work out, run, make that a long run, and shower. Cold shower. What am I going to do until the day after tomorrow? Stop that. Real long run, real cold shower.
She walked into her workout room. The second bedroom had been set up with a mat and a few free weights. A full size punching bag hung from the ceiling. Pulling on some light gloves, she went through a routine of weights, then punching and kicking the bag until she was dripping.
Her mind had disconnected itself into a world of blonde hair, green eyes and smooth skin. Gotta be. Gotta be? How can I find out? Something will come to me. Great smile, so gentle with people, nice legs. Stop that!
It was a really long run and a very cold shower.
The shift the next night was the longest in Rene’s life.
She was launched out of bed at noon by her alarm clock, and set a new indoor land speed record for showering, eating and dressing. Erin had left a note taped to the refrigerator, ‘Good luck’, with a big, obnoxious, winking smiley face on it.
To you too, babe, she thought back.
OK, now She surveyed her rack of cassettes back in her bedroom. This one and this and this. She grabbed about ten, brought them out to her car, and started cramming them into the glove compartment.This is laying it on a little thick. Oh well, subtle is not the point here. Lastly, she put in the museum tickets, and holding in the tapes with one hand, slammed the glove compartment closed with the other.OK, north on the 405, get off on La Cienega
Melting happens fastest where there is friction. Dina lived at a crossroads of neighborhoods. Black met Korean met white met Hispanic. There was tension, but there were also many children with names like Jose Pak and N’Kwenge Feldstein. Oriental children called to their friends in Spanish and black kids looked out of startlingly green eyes.
Rene pulled up in front of one of a series of stuccoed duplexes, houses built in the 40s and lovingly maintained as the area went through it’s changes. She rang the bell, admiring the small stained glass inset in the door.
“Hey, hi,” she blurted out as the door opened almost instantaneously. Wow.
Dina had dressed in jeans and a very soft looking pale blue shirt. Her hair was free except for a small braid, into which she’d woven a thin blue matching ribbon.
“Hey, yourself.” She stepped out, closing the door. “You look pretty good. The green of your face really brings out the color of your eyes. Does it still hurt?” She smiled and gently touched Rene’s waning bruise, almost making her breathing stop.
“No, it’s fine. I took a lot of grief about it last night. But, it feels fine. You know, when the doctor looks this bad, the patients don’t complain about the wait. Maybe I’ll cultivate a permanent bruise.” She turned and limped to the car, Dina chuckling behind her.
They parked in the museum lot. Here goes nothing, thought the blonde, mentally crossing her fingers.
“Dina, could you get the tickets out of the glove compartment while I put on the knee imobilizer? I took it off to drive, but I still need it to walk.” She got out and started fastening it over her pant leg.
“Sure.” The firefighter reached in front of her and opened the glove compartment. Tickets and tapes cascaded out, over her knees and onto the floor.
“Sorry,” Rene said, sheepishly. “I’m kind of a slob.”
Dina bent over and started picking up the cassettes. A title caught her eye – Ferron, Driver. She started looking at the others in her hands. Chris Williamson, The Changer and the Changed, Meg and Chris at Carnegie Hall, Holly Near, Teresa Trull, Disappear Fear, Indigo Girls… There were others, but her eyes were blurring.
She looked up at Rene, standing quietly next to the car, with a slightly panicked look on her face. Dina smiled at the doctor. “Yeah, I have a few of these myself.” She held up the Meg and Chris Anniversary tape. “My personal favorite.”
“Cool.” Rene felt her heart restart. Yippee! Question answered.
With trembling hands, they corralled and stored the wayward tapes.
The exhibit was divided by themes over a series of rooms – vases and urns, friezes, and statuary. They wandered through, looking at everything and reading the small identifying cards, walking close enough to occasionally brush arms.
“I always pictured Ares differently,” remarked Rene, pointing to an urn. “I always saw him with longer hair and a beard.”
“And leather rather than a toga,” finished Dina.
Rene looked at her strangely. “Yeah.”
They stopped at a plate. “Sacrifice to Aphrodite” read the blonde.
“No, she needs a lower cut dress.”
“And frilly hair.”
“She’d be kind of a space cadet.” Rene faced Dina.
“She’d talk in Valley-speak,” Dina filled in.
They continued on, examining and comparing, (Hercules? No beard, taller. Hades? Oh, no, he was definitely more handsome than that.) agreeing and laughing until, finally, they’d covered the entire exhibit. Still giggling, they headed back to the car, into the pinks and oranges of dusk, and the reds and whites of rush hour car lights.
“Dinner?” asked the doctor, not wanting the day to end yet.
“Sure, I know a nice little place on Sunset, not far from here.” I can’t believe I’ve spent the whole day with her and still want some more, mused Dina as they drove. It just feels so comfortable, like we’ve known each other forever. A touch on her hand made her jump, then smile happily as Rene’s hand slid over and grasped hers, staying there until they reached the restaurant, and reclaiming it after.
Rene pulled the car up in front of Dina’s apartment and turned off the engine. They’d reached that most awkward part of a first date, saying goodnight. A twitchy silence filled the car. Rene held the steering wheel in both hands and stared straight ahead. A heartbeat passed, then two
The firefighter reached over and gently turned Rene’s face toward her. “I had a wonderful time. Thanks for inviting me. If I didn’t have to get up at 5am, we could talk all night.” Leaning over, she kissed the doctor. Soft lips touching, hands caressing faces, communicating so much more than simple attraction, completing a connection grounded through all time. A third heartbeat, a fourth. They pulled apart.
“I’ll call you soon. I, uh, want to see you again. And here’s my number.” Dina hastily pressed folded piece of paper into the blonde’s hand, amazed at her own forwardness. “Goodnight.” She started to open the door.
“Wait.” Rene placed a warm hand on Dina’s arm, freezing her in place. “I had a great time with you, too. Thanks for coming. Let’s find some time together soon.” She kissed the taller woman’s cheek. “Goodnight.” Grateful for Dina’s first move, she released the firefighter into the night.
Driving back down the freeway toward home, she rubbed the back of her neck and felt a sense of loss as the familiar tingling receded.
Dina flipped and flopped in bed like a landed fish, for what seemed like hours. She finally got up, making a circuit of the apartment, checking all window and door locks, then went back to bed, mysteriously calmed.
She was sitting waiting for someone to come. “Must be students.” She was in her gi, holding a ceremonial sword. “Forget it, they’re late.” She rose and stepped through the door.
Her broadsword was filthy with gore. Worn out as she was, it had to be cleaned. Settling herself on a rock, she started polishing it with a rag.
After a few minutes, Gabrielle lifted her quill and looked up from her scroll. “I bet that sword is pretty clean now.” She touched Xena’s knee. “After beating 12 of those thugs, I think you could probably use a back rub.” The bard knew that suggesting that the warrior was tired or sore would only make her stubborn. But she seemed to like the back rubs. “But, gods know, it’s an excuse for me to touch her.”
A thankful light lit the blue eyes. “I’d like that.”
Gabrielle came behind her friend and started kneading the powerful neck and shoulders. “Gods, you’re tight. Why don’t you take off your leathers and lie down and let me do this properly?” There was a hitch in the warrior’s breathing and, under her hands, the bard could feel her pounding heart.
Xena hesitated, then nodded. She pulled off her leathers, and wearing only her breeches, lay on the blanket, by the fire, head pillowed in her arms.
The bard sat straddling the taller woman, and started gently working out the knots in her neck and shoulders, moving slowly down her back. She ran a thumb lightly up her spine and massaged the base of her skull. Light, fluttery touches traced the length of her sides and ran back up to her shoulders. Xena’s breathing quickened, but the prone woman didn’t move.
“Your arms are so strong.” Gabrielle used both hands to massage one shoulder, moving out onto Xena’s arm and forearm, and ran a finger, like a breath, over her hand, before replacing it under the ebony tresses. “I’m envious.” She started up the other one. “I really enjoy touching them.” “There, I said it.” She kissed Xena on the cheek and moved to sit next to her on the blanket.
One blue eye peered up, as if seeing her for the first time. An eyebrow rose and lowered. The warrior lifted her head. “Thanks, Gabrielle, that felt so good, I’d like to do the same for you.”
Gabrielle gulped, her body suddenly leaden. An unrecognizable look lit Xena’s face. It wasn’t threatening or predatory. It was gentle, but hungry. The bard trembled slightly. “Be careful what you wish for “
The warrior propped herself up on one elbow, as Gabrielle tried not to stare, and patted the blanket. “Take off your top and lie down.” Wordlessly, the blonde complied.
Xena sat on her heels, kneeling next to her bard, and spread her large hands over her back. They rested there momentarily, then began to roll and push, loosening and relaxing the muscles. “”She’s gotten so much stronger in the past two years, Xena thought, admiring the smaller woman under her hands.
She worked her way from her back to Gabrielle’s shoulders and neck, then stopped and placed a small kiss between her shoulder blades. The bard twitched.
“Don’t move, not done yet.” Xena turned around and moved lower. She gently started massaging one of Gabrielle’s muscular calves, kneading down toward her feet. Using her thumbs, she lovingly explored her arch.
“Like this?” She started on the other one.
“This OK?” She lightly caressed a thigh.
“Feels very good.” Gabrielle mumbled, amazed that the blanket hadn’t caught fire with her heat.
Xena tickled the other thigh.
Too late to turn back. She’d wanted so long, waited so long. “Might as well jump into the deep end of the lake”. “Xena, it always feels so good when you touch me.”
It took two tries, she was trembling so hard.
Xena placed her hands by Gabrielle’s shoulders, and lowering herself, kissed the bard on the lips. Softness, gentleness, protection and love. The bard’s body jerked when she felt the timidly questing tongue run over her lips, but, holding the warrior tightly, she answered in kind.
Xena’s hands started to move again. Gabrielle would’ve sworn that she couldn’t get any hotter. But she did. The flames built higher and higher until they exploded in a cry she didn’t know was her own.
After, they held each other. “I love you,” they said in unison.
“My turn,” whispered Gabrielle into her love’s ear, and gently rolled Xena onto her back. Momentarily distracted by a frightened young doe crashing through their camp, she turned to pull a blanket over them
Dr. Covington pulled the sheet up over the woman’s abdomen.
“We’re going to need some xrays,” she told the patient. “Wait here, the tech will come to get you.” She turned and stepped through the curtain, out of the room.
Rene wasn’t exactly sure what had awakened her, but, after staring around the room, decided it was nothing. Snuggling the blanket up around her neck, she fell back asleep.
They watched Channel 4 that night before Rene went to work because Erin thought the permatanned weatherman was cute. Footage of the latest fire filled the local news. Eight engines and four hook-and-ladder trucks showered water down on the fully engulfed building. Firefighters pulling hoses seemed to be everywhere. Police strained to hold back the crowd of onlookers.
“What engine is your friend on?” Erin asked as they slouched on the couch.
“Dina, 145,” replied Rene, searching for the numbers on the engines. “Can’t tell if she’s there. If I see her tonight I’ll ask.”
“Tonight? Didn’t she work today?”
“They work 24 hour shifts.”
“Oh.” Erin frowned in distaste.
“Police still have no suspects,” droned the poorly coifed newsman. “The accelerant has been identified as a simple fuel known as white gas, easily available from any sporting goods store. Next up, cat rescues owner from drowning.”
“On that happy note, I’m going to work. I’ve got three nights in a row. See you in a few days.” She threw on a black sweatshirt, ominously silk screened with “Detroit Receiving Hospital, the Bullet Stops Here” in red, and grabbing her lab coat and stethoscope, ran out.
It was a busy shift, six people from two car accidents, a heart attack, multiple sick babies, a kidney stone, a miscarriage, pneumonia, Rene didn’t have time to realize she hadn’t seen Dina until 5am. Over a quick sandwich, eaten while filling out charts at the doctors’ desk, she had a fleeting flashback of their goodnight kiss. Something besides the sandwich fluttered in her stomach, and escalated into a full gut clench as she suddenly remembered last night’s dream.
Subconscious on overtime, humph. Her face felt warm. Wonder when she’s working again? Ah ha, she’d know. The doctor’s gaze had fallen on a nurse who was famous for her appreciation of the men of the fire department. She got up.
“Mary Lou, got a minute?” The nurse nodded and came over. “Can you explain how the fire department schedule works to me?”
May Lou smiled a prettily dimpled smile at her. “Oh, Dr. Covington, who you got your eyes on?” she asked, in her slight southern drawl. “I haven’t seen you paying no one no particular mind. Anyone I know?”
Rene crossed her arms and tried to look like an authority figure. “Now that would be telling, wouldn’t it? Actually, it was just a thought. I was curious.”
Mary Lou looked dubious, but proceeded to explain how to read the LAFD calendar to Rene.
Dina would be off tomorrow, then work the next 24 hours. She’d be off for four days after that.
“Thanks.” Hmm. She sat back down to her charts.
“Anytime, Doc, good luck.”
The blonde looked up at the nurse and gave an uninterpretable, closed-lipped smirk.
Ring. Ring. “Hello, you’ve reached the home of Rene and Erin, please leave a message.”
“Hi Rene, this is Dina, just saying hi. I guess you’re still asleep. Hope I didn’t wake you. Bye.”
Ring. Ring. “Hello, you’ve reached the Pakadios residence, please leave a message.”
“Hi Dina, this is Rene. I got your message. I was asleep. No, you didn’t wake me up. I sleep with earplugs. I guess you’re out. Call me if you get a chance. I’ll be at work tonight and tomorrow. Hope you’re doing something fun. Bye.”
Bzzz, bzzz. “Rats, it’s busy. Well, gotta go to work. I’ll try tomorrow.”
Bzzz, bzzz. “Oh well, it’s busy. Too late to call again. She has to go to work. I’ll try tomorrow.”
Dina was not having a good day. Here it was, midnight, and they were getting back from their eighth call of the day. No fires, just EMS calls: engine dispatched with the ambulance for manpower. She didn’t mind those calls like a lot of firefighters. It was kind of interesting watching the paramedics sort out some of the medical situations, and trauma was always a kick, but it made for a long, tiring day.
To make matters worse, the phone had been tied up all day. One guy was having simultaneous wife and girlfriend problems that seemed to require multiple phone calls to each. A few others were working on big plans for the weekend. Hence, no open phones. When one would become free, invariably, they’d get another call.
She took off her headphones, stepped down, out of the engine, and walked over to the long line of hooks on the wall. Her coat hung, she stepped out of her turnout pants and rubber boots into some pull on sneakers. More comfortable now, in shorts and her work tee, she came around the engine, deep in thought, wondering when she would see Rene again.
Ray Bowen was hopping around, lewdly re-enacting his last date to an appreciative audience of a few of the guys. Dina’s sudden appearance caught him by surprise. Whirling around, he caught one foot on the other and lost his balance.
He crumbled to the ground, screaming and clutching his ankle. The others stood, momentarily unsure as to whether or not this was a joke. When he continued to scream, they rushed over and pulled off his boot, evoking another howl.
Dina came over and looked. The ankle was obviously deformed, either dislocated or broken. Pointing to one firefighter, she commanded, “You go get the captain,” and to another “Get an ice pack. “We’ll have to get you to the hospital”, she told Ray, who’d finally quieted.
“Now what? Oh, just great.” The captain stood, hands on hips, staring down at the whimpering man. He looked over the apparatus floor. “The ambulance is out on a call, we’ll have to call one from another station.”
Going to the hospital. Ah. An idea hit Dina. “Captain, we have to go out of service anyway, since we’re one man down now. Why don’t we ride him over? It’ll probably be faster. Ray, think you can ride in the engine if it’ll get you there faster?”
“Sure, anything, just fix it.”
The captain nodded. “OK let’s go. I’ll call Dispatch and put us out of service.”
Six of them boosted Ray up into the engine. The engineer, captain and Dina climbed in. The truck company guys went back to bed as the engine left for the ER.
Wheee!, thought Dina, hiding a grin as she fidgeted with her turnout suspenders, better than the telephone. She was really looking forward to seeing Rene. While she didn’t like to see even Ray in pain, her day had suddenly improved immensely. Yep, she’s here, she thought when the electric sensation crept up her neck, as they pulled into the hospital.
Dr. Rene Covington was sitting, explaining very carefully to an elderly gentleman why it was so important to take his blood pressure and heart medicines every day and not just when he felt bad. He was pretending to listen. They both knew that the minute he left, he was going back to his old habits.
The tingling started at the base of her neck. She unconsciously reached back and rubbed, then realized the source of the feeling. She’s here.
Rene had been semi-grouchy all day. She’d really wanted to talk to Dina yesterday, but they’d played phone tag. Today, the fire station telephone had been interminably busy. But, she was here now.
“Well, Mr. Anayo, you didn’t have a heart attack tonight. But please start taking your medicine. We’ll get you signed out in a minute.” She turned and barely resisted the urge to run instead of walk, out of the room.
The firefighters and the nurses were grouped around Ray’s gurney, except for Dina, who leaned against the wall of the room, arms crossed.
The doctor walked over, hands in lab coat pockets. She spared a quick grin for Dina, who smirked and nodded. “What happened here?”
“He hurt his ankle stepping off of the engine,” answered the captain, code words for “this is a work comp injury”.
“Gotcha.” She walked up to Ray and started to examine the ankle as a nurse took vital signs. “Does this hurt? Wiggle your toes. Feel this?” I think it’s probably dislocated, but we’ll get an xray. Any allergies?”
He shook his head.
“Good.” To the nurse she said, “Please start an IV and give him 10 mg of morphine.” In full “doctor mode” now, she surveyed the room. The brass were starting to show up for the injured firefighter. Already, an assistant chief had arrived.
“I need to know the exact mechanism of injury. Ms. Pakadios, could you show me exactly what happened?”
“Doctor, he stepped off the running board and twisted his ankle.” Dina tried to appear serious, although she had a suspicion of where this was going.
“Is the engine outside?”
“Why don’t we go out and you show me?”
They went out through the ambulance doors and around to the side of the engine that was shielded from view. Rene reached up and grabbed Dina’s shoulder, pulled her down and solidly kissed her on the lips. The firefighter enfolded the blonde in her arms and kissed back.
They broke apart, but didn’t completely let go.
“Great demo, I understand totally now.”
“My pleasure, Doctor.” They beamed at each other. “Uh, Rene, want to have dinner tomorrow? Have you been to Alice’s in Malibu?”
“I haven’t been there. I’d like that. What time should I pick you up? No reason for you to drive all the way down and back.”
“Good. We better head back in.”
“Rene? Maybe you should let go of my hand.”
“Right.” She sheepishly shoved her hands back into the coat pockets.
Ray was almost asleep from the pain medication and was being wheeled to xray. The crowd in the room laughed and pointed at Dina as they came back in.
She raised an eyebrow. “What?”
Jose Saavedra came over and patted her arm. “I was telling them about getting Ray out of the engine.” He looked at Rene. “He couldn’t climb down. He was moaning and being a wus. So Dina, she just climbed up into his seat, braced herself and lifted him down. He was so surprised, he forgot to moan.”
As the doctor turned to stare at her, the firefighter shrugged. “I wanted to get him in here.”
I bet you did, Rene thought, remembering her excitement at the prospect of seeing her friend.
The xray revealed only a dislocation. It was quickly put back in place and splinted. Still groggy, but awake, Ray was rolled into a chief’s car for return to the station.
“He’ll be out of work for a few weeks. Here’s the specialist he needs to follow up with and some instructions.” Rene handed everything to the chief.
“Tomorrow”, she mouthed at Dina, as they all left.
Back to work. What a great night this has turned out to be. The doctor picked up the next chart.
Legs stretched out, arms crossed, head back, Dina let Rene’s warmth carry her back to the station.
With a commanding view of the perfectly breaking waves, surfers and coastline, Alice’s Restaurant sits on the pier at Malibu. Never one of “the places” to go in LA, it was a place where the locals could still bring out of town visitors so that they could brag that they’d eaten in Malibu, or go to have good food, and a great view, on their own, and not be overwhelmed by stargazing tourists.
The parking lot was full, so they had to park the Honda on the street, about a block down. A cool breeze blew over the sunset beach as they made their way in and were shown to a prime table overlooking the water.
Shortly after they were seated, Rene shyly took Dina’s hand. Rubbing her thumb over the callused knuckles, she said, “I don’t know how you got the engine to the ER, but I’m really glad you did. I had tried to call that day and the day before and couldn’t get through.”
Very distracted by what the feelings in her hand were doing to the rest of her body, Dina managed to say, “I’d been trying to get to the phone all day. I finally had to kidnap the engine. No”, she held up her free hand, “I didn’t assault Ray. He did that on his own. I owe him one, but he’ll never know that.”
“Menus?” came a voice above them.
Startled, they quickly pulled their hands apart and blushed.
“Uh, yeah, sure, menus,” stammered Rene.
“Look, girls, far be it from me to disturb you,” smiled the waitress. “Give me a wave when you’re ready for drinks or a menu.”
The firefighter looked at the waitress, with her short, black, spiky hair, multiple ear piercings, and labrys necklace, and relaxed. “We’ll take the menus now and a wine list, please.”
“Gotcha, sister, carry on.” She winked and handed them the menus, eliciting a relieved laugh from the pair.
“I just keep getting reminded that this is LA, not Ohio.” Rene resumed her grip on Dina’s hand. She checked out the room. “Food looks great.”
“They have a really good fried calamar Never mind, I remember, no squid. The fish is nice, too.”
“Have you been here a lot?”
The taller woman’s expression chilled. Even though she hadn’t moved, Rene could feel her withdrawal. “I came a few times with my younger brother.” With an effort, she returned and smiled at her companion. “Sorry, tough memory. I always had a good meal here and you can’t beat the view.”
“You’re sure?” Rene touched Dina’s arm. “We can leave if you’re uncomfortable.”
“No, I’m fine. I suggested this place, remember? It reminds me of the good times.”
They ordered the food and a bottle of chardonnay and relaxed into the evening. Chatting and gossiping about people they had in common, laughing about the idiosyncrasies of their jobs, dinner passed too quickly.
“You going to finish that?” Rene eyed the last two bites of Dina’s dessert.
“God, no, I’m going to explode. How do you do it?”
“Pure willpower,” the doctor intoned, demolishing the wayward leftovers.
“Thanks, girls.” The waitress gave them a wave as they walked out, arm in arm. “Have a GOOD night.” She winked again.
“Now what could she possibly mean by that?” The blonde looked up innocently at her taller companion.
Dina placed her arm around Rene’s shoulders. “I’m have no idea,” she answered as they walked toward the car.
“Hey, that’s my car!” Rene took off at a run.
Three young men, with shaved heads, dressed in white tee shirts and very baggy pants, were working at her car.
“Get away from my car!” She ran up and tackled the closest one.
“Rene, NO! Oh, crap!” Dina started running.
A second thug came around the car to help his buddy, who was wrestling with the furious doctor. He reached into the waistband of his pants.
“No!” The firefighter launched herself through the air, landing feet first on his back before he could pull the gun.
The wind was knocked out of him as he hit the pavement. She kicked him in the head, rendering him unconscious. Pulling the first one off Rene, who had started to lose the battle, she gave him two quick punches to the face, rocking his head back, and heaved him over the car into the third car thief. Both fell to the ground in a tangle of limbs.
Grabbing the gun from the unconscious one, she pointed it at the other two. “Get lost, and take your homey with you,” she growled. They looked at her and the gun, came around, grabbed their friend and took off running.
The two women watched them go.
“Are you OK?” Dina touched Rene’s face. It was dirty and abraded again.
“I’m fine, but I think I’m well on my way to having that permanent bruise.” She sat on the hood of the car and started to tremble as the magnitude of what might have happened struck her. “Can you drive?” She held out her shaking hands. “I’m a little too shook up, I think.”
Dina wrapped her arms around the smaller woman and pulled her close. “That was the bravest and stupidest thing I’ve seen in a while. You could’ve been shot.”
“I didn’t think. I just didn’t want to lose my car.” She clung to Dina. “Thanks for saving me again.” Despite her state of shock, this moment, holding, protecting, felt perfect. Always one to stand on her own, relying on someone else was so awkward. Not now, not this. I could turn it over to her and be happy. She snuggled into Dina’s chest and gave a small sigh.
Dina rested her cheek on the blonde’s head. I never wanted to care for someone. Didn’t think I was capable. Too late. How could I feel this way so quickly? She knew she should be nervous, terrified even. Instead she was happy. “Complete” came a thought, as if from elsewhere.
She lifted her head, “Let’s go.” A pause, “Just a minute.” She grabbed the gun from where she’d placed it on the car hood. Jumping the small retaining wall down to the beach, she made her way to the water’s edge. She leaned back, then flung the gun as far as she could into the inky, black waters of the night ocean.
“OK, I’ll drive.” They got into the car, Dina adjusting the seat as her knees hit the dash.
“Dina, where are we going? We only have one car. If we go to my place, you’re stuck. If we go to yours, I have to drive home and I really would rather not.”
“Is Erin home?”
“I think she had great plans for a night at Stuart’s.”
“Look, let’s go to your place. You’ll be more comfortable in your own bed. I I can sleep on the couch. In the morning you can drive me home, OK?”
“Sure, OK.” Rene made an effort to lighten up. “You know, I think I have a new toothbrush I bought but haven’t used yet. It’s yours.”
“Such an offer, how can I refuse?” She pulled the car onto the road, taking Rene’s hand as soon as she could.
The doctor sat, quietly drawing strength from the contact. Slowly her trembling subsided. She began to feel normal again. Dina, sensing this, relaxed as well.
“Where did you learn to fight like that?” Rene asked.
The hand on hers moved to her arm. “Wait,” answered her companion, the odd coldness back in her voice. “I’ll tell you, but I want to wait until we’re at your place.”
Rene nodded, feeling acutely the emptiness and loss in her tone, wanting to make it better, to help. But what could she offer this self-sufficient woman? Somehow she knew, there was something in her that fit Dina’s emptiness and more. They were the pieces of a two part puzzle, meant only for each other. How could I know that? It’s too soon. That’s silly. Subconscious on OT again. It’s been a long evening, and it’s not even late yet.
As expected, the house was empty. They settled next to each other on the couch, Rene sitting on one leg, facing the firefighter, Dina, hands in her lap, feet on the floor, unfocused eyes pointing straight ahead.
“I have to go back to my parents for this. Mom fell in love with Dad back in college. He was charming and handsome, he was Greek. That’s our family background. He swept her off her feet. They married after a whirlwind romance.
What he wasn’t was a good provider. He did “economic investment counseling”. She raised two fingers in quotation marks. “He was always shooting for the million dollar deal, wouldn’t settle for less. Well, those are few and far between. There was very little money, and there were three kids.
Mom worked odd jobs, she hadn’t finished college. But it wasn’t enough. So we moved a lot, in the middle of the night, to avoid bill collectors.
When you move so much, you’re always an outsider. Outsiders are the enemy. Kids are so cruel. So, you grow up fighting.” Even now, after so long, she still had to tell it in the third person, had to separate herself from the raw edges. “If you do anything enough, you get good at it, whether you like it or not. After a while, you learn to just come in and start the fight and get it over with. If you have to fight anyway, you might as well be top dog from the start. So you learn to win.”
So it had become a pattern: move in, fight, move again, fight, move again with no expectation of anything different, except for that one summer with Aunt Melinda.
“A lot of things you learn. Don’t get attached to any person or place because you’re going to leave ” She drifted into silence. You learn not to trust, or love or rely on anyone. Expect to leave any friends you may have. No one stays with you after you go, even if they say they will.
Rene took her hand, feeling the loneliness, the disappointment of those years, the insecurity of such an unstable foundation.
“Sorry, got off track. Anyhow, as we got older, my younger brother and I saw our older brother drift off into gangs and drugs and jail. We knew that wasn’t for us, but what could we do?
Things changed for us one summer. It was a whole summer that we actually lived in one place. Mom had put my younger brother, Larry, and I into a YMCA day camp to try to keep us out of trouble. We tried all sorts of things, you know, sports and crafts, that stuff. Among them, we got to try karate.
I guess we both showed an aptitude for it. We were both certainly used to pain. Anyhow, the teacher loved us and talked Mom into enrolling us in his regular classes.
We were so excited about it that we were regular angels at home, did our chores, cleaned our rooms. We even did odd jobs to help pay for the lessons.
Mom and Dad saw us keeping ourselves on the straight and narrow, and realized that this was the reason. So, after that, no matter where we lived or how much it cost, they managed to find the money to keep us in lessons.
We kept getting better, winning competitions, and learning all we could. Finally, we had a plan for our lives.
Eventually, we opened our own studio.” She remembered the joy that she and Larry had shared, the hope that maybe they’d salvaged something positive from the wreckage of their childhood. This was the promise of a change. They could create their own lives, their own stability.
“What happened?” Rene knew there was something more, something important that Dina hadn’t said yet.
“It went well for four years,” Dina continued, as if she hadn’t heard. “We lived above the studio, paid our bills, made some money. It was a normal life.
Then one night, we heard noise downstairs after we’d locked up. We were being burglarized. When we went down, we found four of them. Larry was ahead of me. I heard a shot and he screamed.
I, I don’t know exactly what happened next. It was like something took over my body. When I came around, I was sitting, holding my brother’s body. Three of them were dead. The other will never walk again.
The police questioned me for hours. They couldn’t believe that I killed them. I couldn’t give any details. Eventually they decided it was self defense.
I closed the studio the next day.”
Rene wiped off the tear that rolled down Dina’s cheek. Dina looked in surprise. She would’ve sworn that there were no more tears left.
“I kind of existed in a fog for a few years, living off of the small amount we’d saved. Then I saw an ad, I don’t remember where, looking for women to join the fire department. That was a little over three years ago. You know the rest.”
She sighed. “I’ve never told anyone the story before. But, tonight, it was just too close. This’ll probably sound stupid to you, it’s so soon, but I realized that I care what happens to you. Really care. I didn’t think I was capable of caring So many years teaching myself not to But I do. I wanted you to know, to understand.” She closed her eyes. Everyone I’ve ever truly cared about has died. “I’ll take a cab home if you want.”
The doctor lifted Dina’s hand and gently kissed the tip of each finger. “Thank you for telling me. I’m glad you told me.” Where were the words she needed? “Too soon? No, not too soon. Me, too. Listen to me, I’m not making much sense, and I’m usually the talker.” She stood, still holding the firefighter’s hand. “Let me show you how I feel.” She bent over and kissed the other woman lightly over both eyes, then pulled her to her feet and led her, without another word, to her room.
Closing the door behind them, she sat the taller woman down on the bed and stood in front of her. Rene took Dina’s face gently in her hands and, tipping it up, kissed her softly on the lips.
“Take a cab home? I don’t think so.” She ran her fingers lightly down Dina’s neck, stopping at the first closed button on her shirt. “How do I feel? Like I’ve known you forever.” She kissed her briefly again, starting to worry the button with one hand, finally opening it. “Like I’ve found a missing part of me.” Her fingers trailed down to the next button. “Like I’ve been waiting just for you, and now I’ve found you. And I’m not letting go.” The next button came open. Using two hands, now, she undid the last three buttons. “Silly, huh?” she whispered into the stunned woman’s ear.
Clear blue eyes slowly focused. I’m not being thrown out, not being rejected for what I was, and who I’m not. What did she say? Comprehension crept slowly into her awareness. A tear rolled down her face, its’ path interrupted by the timid smile that had quietly appeared.
“Silly? No, not silly. Beyond my wildest dreams, maybe. Silly, never,” she answered soberly.
Lips met again, tongues communicating unsaid volumes.
“You,” the doctor spoke quietly into Dina’s ear, sucking gently on its’ delicate lobe, “have on,” she nuzzled her way down Dina’s neck, stopping to kiss the hollow at base, “too many,” running her fingers ever so lightly along one exquisite collar bone, “clothes.” She slid the woman’s shirt back off her shoulders and onto the bed.
“Me, too.” She stepped back, undid her top button, then peeled her blouse off over her head. Her bra quickly followed, landing in a heap on the floor.
Dina reached back to take off her bra as well.
“Here, let me.” Rene rubbed her thumb over the silky material, feeling Dina’s nipple stiffen at her touch, a small moan escaping from her mouth. She undid the clasp and let the bra join the shirt.
Dina pulled Rene down so that she was sitting, straddling her lap and reclaimed her lips, hugging her close. Both gasped as bare breasts and bellies met for the first time.
“Let me see you.” The firefighter leaned back. Holding Rene around the waist, her eyes feasted on her pale, creamy skin, with its’ soft blonde downy hair, the firm, round breasts, with their rosy-pink nipples and the softly outlined muscles of her abdomen. “Perfect.”
She cupped a breast in her hand, then brought her lips back to Rene’s. Cupping became stroking. Two fingers played over her nipple.
The blonde moaned deep in her throat and pulled closer, arms around Dina’s neck, crushing her chest against Dina’s. She slid her hips tighter up against the firefighter’s. Her kiss deepening with the igniting flames inside her, losing herself in the feeling.
Dina’s hands moved down Rene’s sides to buttocks, pulling them even tighter together. Giving a small growl, she stood, lifting the smaller woman with her. She turned and slowly, gently lowered them to the bed.
Pants quickly joined the growing pile of clothing on the floor.
For a long time after that, all coherent speech was gone, lost in the intensity of a desire and a bond that transcended just this one night.
Afterward, they slept, cuddled up together, Rene with one arm and leg draped across Dina. Her head lay on the taller woman’s shoulder, while the firefighter’s arm was curled protectively around the blonde’s side. It was the best that either had slept in a long time. They’d come home.
The firefighter awoke at dawn to the realization that she couldn’t feel her right arm. Rene’s head lay on the arm, a peaceful smile gracing her features. She was still on her side, limbs sprawled lazily over the taller woman’s body.
Feeling your arm is overrated, anyway, she thought and went back to sleep without moving.
A few hours later, she was awakened again by the tickly-tingly feeling of a finger drawing curly cues around her bare navel, the covers having been pushed down to their hips. She slowly opened her eyes and turned to Rene, who was lying on her side, facing Dina, head propped up on her hand. Sea green eyes studied her intensely.
” ‘Morning.” Dina smiled at Rene and stretched luxuriously, giving the blonde a wonderful view and an electric jolt through her body. “That’s a very nice way to wake up, much better than a blaring alarm.”
A grin lit the blonde’s face. “Hi. I couldn’t keep my hands off you anymore. I’ve been up for a little while.” Her fingers still moved, tracing delicate patterns on the dark haired woman’s taut abdomen.
“Mmm. This may be great for waking up, but I don’t think it’s very good for getting out of bed.”
“No?” Rene put on her most innocent look. “I can’t see why not.” The fingers swept up, circling one breast, then the other before running back down to lightly stroke her inner thigh, just brushing the verge of the curly, dark hair at the base of her belly.
“Maybe I can show you why not.” Wrapping her arms around the smaller woman, Dina rolled them both over, ending up on top of Rene, while simultaneously knocking the covers completely off the bed.
“This is nice.” The doctor placed her arms around her lover’s neck. Bringing their mouths together, soft lips touched. Tongues met and danced, no longer shy with each other, leaving them out of breath and very warm.
“So’s that,” sighed Rene, arching involuntarily as Dina slid down and nibbled and sucked unhurriedly at one breast. Turning to the other, she lightly ran her teeth over the very sensitive nipple. Rene moaned.
Dina grinned wickedly up, “Do you see, now?”
“See what? Oh. Yes, this is not good for getting out of bed. Oh, no it’s not .mmm.” Words gave out as Dina blew a small breath across her nipple, then ran a warm, wet tongue around the ever so delicious breast.
She stopped again. “I could try to convince you some more.” She kissed her way down the doc’s body, stopping above her small thatch of blonde. Planting another kiss, she looked up.
Rene ran her hands through the firefighter’s hair. “Oh, definitely,” she arched again as Dina lowered her mouth again and reached out with her soft tongue, “conVINCE ME!”.
It was a while later before they did emerge, Rene’s stomach finally managing to demand their attention.
Erin literally ran into Dina as the firefighter came out of the bathroom after her shower. The much shorter woman looked up at the taller one, dressed in an extra large Ohio State tank top and a pair of Rene’s sweat pants that were much too short, her hair wrapped in a towel. Putting her hands on her hips she proclaimed, “Well, now.”
Dina crossed her arms, leaned on the door frame and smirked down, saying nothing.
“I told her you were interested.”
“Erin!,” Rene shrieked at her roommate from her bedroom door.
Erin spun around, both she and Dina breaking into immediate laughter at the sight of the blonde.
“What?” The doctor looked down and realized that her hastily donned tee shirt was not only inside out but backwards as well. “Just a minute.” She ducked back into the room and came out again, shirt righted.
“Erin,” she placed an arm around her shoulders, leading her toward the kitchen. “How about making a pot of coffee and throwing in some toast for us, hmm?”
“Breakfast, dear?” An evil gleam shone from her eyes. “Rene, it’s 2pm. She must’ve been very interested.”
“Go.” The doctor gave her roommate a friendly shove in the direction of the kitchen. “Forget the toast.”
“My turn in the shower.” Indignantly, Rene shouldered Dina out of the way and went onto the bathroom, as the taller woman laughed again.
Over the coffee, the two women decided to have their breakfast/lunch/dinner meal at another place Dina knew, close to her apartment, after they dropped off Rene’s bike at the shop.
Halfway out of the door, Dina stopped, touching Rene on the arm stopping her as well. “Do you have to work tonight?” she asked hesitantly. Inside her, alarms were ringing. Too much, too fast, what am I doing? Slow down. She ignored them, listening instead to the silent voice that spoke through all time, that said, “This is the one, the only one. Before, now, always.”
“No. Tomorrow night I do.” The doctor looked at her questioningly.
“Uh, mmm, well What do you think about bringing a change of clothes and a toothbrush?” She looked away, expecting rejection, some excuse about things to do or just “it’s too much too soon.”
“Good idea. I was hoping you’d ask.” Kissing the stunned firefighter on the cheek, she zipped back onto the house.
“Should I wait up for you?” called Erin as Rene streaked by, carrying a small backpack filled with her clothes.
“No, Mom,” the blonde called from the door, giving a small wave as it closed.
“Kids these days, they grow up so fast,” Erin mumbled to herself with a smile as she took the TV remote and searched for her favorite weatherman.
Rene had never realized how enjoyable getting caught in traffic could be. There was only one problem.
“I like where your hand is. It feels very nice, but it’s making it really hard to concentrate on driving.”
“OK. Later then.” She withdrew the distracting limb.
“Oh, definitely later.”
Dinner was an affair of food, lots of food, especially on the doctor’s part, “Hey, a girl has to keep up her strength doesn’t she?” Laughter and stolen touches complimented the meal. They lingered, deciding to have dessert, and having nothing more important in the entire world to do than just to be together.
Dina’s apartment, the downstairs of the duplex, was a model of Spartan existence. A few Navajo pattern rugs were scattered over the highly polished hardwood floors. There was a spotless kitchen, whose empty counters were done in 1940’s tiles and linoleum. A small oak table, with two chairs, sat in a nook off the kitchen. There were two bedrooms, one set up as the workout room, the other had one dresser, one small bedside table and the bed on which lay a plain, pale blue blanket. One picture, of Dina and her brother, Larry, dressed in gis, smiling and holding a trophy between them hung on the wall. A bookcase, half filled with books stood against another wall.
In the living room was the only sign of excess. A large multicolored couch faced an entertainment center holding a huge TV with a VCR and a state of the art stereo. A floor to ceiling bookcase crammed with CDs and cassettes sat kitty corner to it. Videos lay stacked in a second, equally large case on the third wall.
“Wow.” Rene walked over and started examining the musical selection.
Dina shrugged, embarrassed. “I, uh, spend a lot of time alone. It keeps me from going crazy.”
“You’re not alone anymore.” Rene crossed the room and hugged Dina tightly as a door opened into the past, drawing through centuries of seeking and finding and becoming one. Home, thought Rene as their lips sought and found each other.
How can she know the exact words, exactly what I’ve dreamed, what I want, no, what I need? The answer was unimportant. The fact that she did know, that was the important part.
Neither could say later how they got to the bedroom. It was another night of discovery and closeness, talking and heat, ecstasy and blissful sleep.
Dr. Covington looked up wearily from her charts as the paramedics ran the gurney into the ER. “Doc, she’s 15 and appears to be full term. No prenatal care. Her water hasn’t broken yet, but she’s pushing.”
“Room 3, now,” directed Kay, the charge nurse, a severe, white haired woman, known to all as “Sarge”. But only behind her back.
Rene stood up and sighed. Grabbing a pair of sterile gloves, she stepped through the curtain into Lady Catherine’s bedroom.
“I found the brush, Kate, it was in the drawing room.” Margaret came up behind the Lady, as she sat at her mirrored vanity, and started to brush her soft, midnight hued hair.
Glancing up, she marveled at her own reflection. “Amazing change.” The past year and a half had been very good to her. She had cleaned up remarkably well, and to the surprise and delight of both, had discovered that she was only three years younger than the Lady.
Although starting out as a scullery maid, she’d endeared herself to everyone, even Robert, with her cheery disposition, quick smile and endless imaginative tales. Quickly, she had gone from the kitchen, to housemaid, to her mistress” personal servant.
Now, she was less Catherine’s servant than constant companion, confidant, and best friend. On nice days, they could be found strolling arm in arm through the park, or window shopping at the finest establishments. They would brush and braid each others’ hair for hours or just sit, talking and laughing. Most meals she ate at the main table, retiring to the servants’ only when Sir James, Catherine’s brother came to dinner.
“Can’t believe it’s me.” Shiny strawberry blonde hair framed a face whose hollows had filled out with a few healthy pounds gained from regular meals. Meals of a size that were famous among the staff. Green eyes shone with the promise of a happy future. The ivory hued gown she wore was of a quality equal to any peers.
“What, Kate?” She caught a smile in the reflection of her friend’s face on the mirror. Piercing blue eyes, squinting slightly with the grin, twinkled at her.
“I have something for you.” The taller woman stood and, taking Margaret by the hand, pulled her across the room. Snatching a small box from her dresser, she seated them both on the side of he bed. “Open it, please.”
The blonde turned the small, carefully wrapped present over in her hands. “What, why ” She’d never gotten a surprise gift before.
Catherine touched Margaret’s arm and looked into her eyes. “Open it, please,” she asked gently.
Margaret peeled off the colorful paper and opened a small jewelry case. Inside sat a gold locket, on a finely wrought gold chain. She opened it. Inscribed inside was “To M, with love, C”.
“Happy birthday, Margaret Covington.” Lady Catherine took the locket from her friend’s numb hands and clasped it around her neck. “Wear it always in good health and happiness.” She kissed her cheek.
The younger woman jumped up and stared, again, at her reflection in the mirror. She whirled back to the bed and, grabbing Catherine’s hands, sat. Tears flowed freely down her face.
“Oh Lady, Catherine, Kate, how did you know? I’ve never, ever had such a gift. Oh Thank you I love you.” She threw her arms around the woman and held her close.
The Lady laughed. “You mentioned it to Sally, the maid a few months ago. She knows how fond I am of you and told me.” She hugged back.
A heartbeat. Two. Blue eyes met green. Three, four.
Catherine let go first. Turning away, she arose and started to pace the room, hugging her arms across her chest.
Margaret, perplexed at the sudden change, stared in silence.
She started to speak as she walked, not looking at her still seated companion. “James is coming to dinner tonight.”
Margaret nodded. “Of course, I shall eat with the servants.”
“It’s not just that, he’s bringing Francis Hutchinson with him. He plans to propose.”
The blonde felt her stomach drop, all earlier gaiety forgotten. “He seems nice enough,” she stated neutrally.
Her distraught friend stopped pacing and sat back down, taking Margaret’s hands, again, in her own. “Yes, he would like to see me wed, his strong willed, independent, spinster sister. Such a disgrace.” Her eyes burned into Margaret’s.
The smaller woman was rocked by their intensity. “I thought it was just me. Now I see.”
Catherine continued. “But, I’m not interested in Francis. I’m not interested in any man. Do you understand?” She dropped the other woman’s hands and covered her face. “You must think me awful and perverted.”
It was Margaret’s turn to pace. She stopped and fell to her knees in front of the Lady. “No. No, I don’t. I love you. I understand. Completely.”
She put her hands on Catherine’s knees. “Listen, when my family split up, when my parents died, my brothers and I were thrown out onto the street. I don’t know what happened to them. But, I begged and slept out in the cold a lot. Sometimes I was taken in by people. Sometimes out of kindness, sometimes in exchange for work or favors. You know what I mean. But, it was better than starving or freezing to death.
For a time, I stayed with two prostitutes. They had sex with men for money, but they saved their love for each other.
It was a tiny flat, with only one mattress, which I shared with them. Do you understand? I learned I learned that that is my way of loving, too.” She stood, looking down at the seated woman. “And I love you.”
“I love you, too,” came the reply, without hesitation, “Since even before we met, I think. Since the dreams When I saw you on the street, ragged as you were, I knew you were the one.”
Margaret touched Catherine’s cheek and, bending slowly, lowered her face down to her love’s. “Forever.” She kissed her lips.
The Lady drew in a sharp breath, sure she was going to faint. But, she managed to rally, and holding Margaret close, kissed back with her entire being.
They finally separated, gasping for air, both faces flushed.
“Warm in this room, eh, Mum?” asked the former street urchin with a grin. “There’s much more where that came from, if the Lady wants.” She sobered. “I would never hurt you or do other than what makes you happy or force myself on you.”
At that thought, the taller woman laughed. “I doubt that would be possible.” She pushed some wayward hair out of Margaret’s face. “Ah, well, I do believe I am resigned to a happy spinsterhood.” She winked. “With your help, a very happy spinsterhood.”
The kiss that followed was interrupted by a knock on the bedroom door.
“Lady Catherine? Sir James and Mr. Hutchinson have arrived,” came the call through the door.
“Tell them I’ll be right there,” she called back. “Well, my love, I shall have a talk with my brother. This is the last night you will ever have to eat at the servants’ table.”
She rose, hugged the blonde again, and walked to the door.
Dina closed the studio door as the last of the students left. Turning off the lights, she stepped out into the hallway that lead to the stairs up to her apartment.
“Dr. Covington, oh, Dr. Covington. The labs are back on Bed 6.” Mary Lou set the chart down in front of the doctor, who was sitting, staring into the middle distance.
“Uh huh, thanks.” I just can’t get my mind off of her. I gotta start thinking here and paying attention. But, it just felt so so right. We fit. More than just our bodies. How could it be? So fast?
“Oh, Doc, the xrays are done on Bed 2.”
“Uh huh, thanks.” She didn’t move. A flashback from the night before raced across her thoughts, leaving some of its’ warmth in its’ wake. We should slow down. It’s got to be only lust. Who am I kidding? It’s not just lust. But, the lust is nice Don’t go there. I don’t want to slow down. Does she?
The nurse put her hands on her hips, grinning broadly. “Oh Doc, the patient in Bed 3’s head just turned completely around and now she’s spitting fire and calling on the devil in voices.” Two other nurses had come up behind Mary Lou on hearing this. Dr. Rene Covington’s distraction had been quite the topic of conversation in the lounge tonight. Always very attentive to the patients and nurses, the doctor’s attention had definitely been elsewhere tonight.
“Uh huh, thanks what?!” Rene jumped to her feet. “What did you say?” She felt her face grow red as the three nurses burst into laughter.
Mary Lou’s dimples threatened to overwhelm her face. She patted the doctor’s arm fondly. “Dearie, I see y’all had a good couple of days off, but tonight you’ve gotta be with us. Just a few more hours, hmm? Then you can go back where you’ve been. OK?”
Rene stared down at her shoes, hands thrust deep into her lab coat pockets, her deepening blush inciting further laughter. Busted, big time. “Yeah, I suppose you’re right. What did you say about Bed 3?” She looked back at the nurses.
“Nothing, Hon, but the labs are back on 6 and the xrays are done on 2. Was my explanation of the fire department calendar helpful?”
Oh no you don’t. May Lou was far and away the biggest gossip in the ER. Rene grinned evilly at the nurse, green eyes glinting, “Why I don’t know, it might’ve been. I haven’t thought about it.” She gathered the charts and walked away, leaving the frustrated woman standing in her place.
Rene had left Dina’s early that afternoon, having spent the morning cuddling, talking, touching, laughing and loving. She’d finally torn herself away when she remembered that she didn’t have any clean lab coats to wear tonight.
Wrapped around each other, they had stood in the entryway to the apartment, loathe to let go.
“I guess I don’t have to tell you I had a wonderful time being with you. Right?” Rene asked.
“Right.” Dina held her close, resting her cheek on the blonde’s head. Don’t want you to go now. Can something feel too good?
She was safe and at peace, her ubiquitous inner turbulence stilled. The subterranean rage that was a constant part of her daily existence had calmed, leaving only an unfamiliar contentment.
“Feels so good,” the firefighter murmured quietly, closing her eyes and absorbing the softness and warmth around her, hoping to hold enough that it would last until next time.
“You, too.” Rene leaning her head against the taller woman’s chest. She felt protected, like a ship that’s finally found harbor after being lost alone at sea. Too long alone.
But, they’d somehow managed to tear themselves apart, and here she was now, at work. Sort of.
I really don’t want to slow down. Forget want, it’s too late, can’t stop a runaway train. I wonder if it’s too late to call her tonight?
“Hey, Covington, snap out of it. There are patients to see,” Kay barked at her.
Rene realized that she’d been phasing out again. I gotta get a grip. You’d think I was a lovesick teenager or something.
Dina lay on the couch, staring at whatever late night talk show her channel surfing had landed on. The comforting thought of blonde hair and green eyes stole into her consciousness, accompanied by a much more stimulating feeling slightly lower in her body, as it had during her workout, run, dinner and the TV shows after. Can’t get her out of my mind. A transient visceral recall of soft lips nibbling down her ribs trickled by. How am I going to sleep tonight? Solitary pleasure just didn’t seem inviting. What’s wrong with me?
She rolled onto her back and stared at the ceiling. Lust I understand. Dina knew the effect she had on both men and women. At times she had taken advantage of both. It was like scratching an itch. But then the itch goes away. This just gets deeper. But so fast Can it be more than just lust so fast?
In the pit of her stomach, doubt and disbelief were running a skirmish with hope, and love. The to-and-fro of the battle was tying her in knots.
She flipped onto her side, eyes pointed, unseeing at the TV. It feels like more. How can it be? I want it to be. I never wanted anyone to get close. It hurts too much when they leave. But it feels so right. Can she feel it too? She must, I can see it when she looks at me. A shudder ran through her at the thought of those deep emerald eyes. I’m not imagining it. No one has ever affected me like this.Another flip followed a flop.
How can I know? Why is this so different? How can I tell?
Closing her eyes, she reached inside and touched the place where her anger lived. It was quiet. It is right.
Doubt threw down its’ arms and surrendered. Disbelief left the building. Wrapped in a blanketing peace, she fell asleep.
Awakening late in the afternoon, Rene crawled out from under the blankets and pulled the earplugs out of her ears. Throwing on a tee shirt and shorts, she crept out of her room in search of a large pot of coffee.
On the couch, in the living room, Erin was lying, watching TV in a very friendly lump with a young man that Rene had never seen before.
“Hi Rene.” She waved up as Rene stopped and pushed some hair out of her face. “This is Stuart.”
Disengaging himself from Erin, he walked over and shook Rene’s hand. He was about the doctor’s height, slim and muscular and definitely Oriental. Distractingly, the hair on the left side of his head had been dyed green.
“I’m Stuart Matsuhana, glad to meet you.” He pumped her hand. “What’s up Doc?” He erupted into giggles. “Sorry, I’ve always wanted to say that.”
Arrgh, thought Rene. “Nice to meet you Stuart. What’s up? Not me. I need coffee first. Excuse me.” She made her way into the kitchen.
“We’re watching the news,” Erin shouted out to her. “There’s another big fire.”
Rene wandered out, coffee in hand, and joined the couple on the couch.
” another big warehouse fire in downtown LA. This is the ninth fire apparently set by the same person. The security guard was badly burned and has been air lifted to the Sherman Oaks burn center. He was able to give police a description of the possible arsonist. He’s a white man, mid twenties, about 5’9″, 200 pounds, short light hair and tattoos down both arms. He was wearing a white shirt and light colored pants.”
On the screen, firefighters were busy dousing the burning building. Six engines and two truck companies could be seen in the streets surrounding the area.
The picture flashed back to the newsroom. “Next up, woman sees angel in her back yard,” the anchor woman intoned seriously.
Rene took a sip of her coffee. “Jeez, her hair just keeps getting bigger, doesn’t it?”
Erin grabbed the phone. “Hello? She’s right here. Hang on.” She handed the phone to the blonde. “It’s your firefighter buddy.”
“Dina,” Rene told her, taking the telephone. “Hey. Hi. We were just watching the fire on TV. How are you?”
“I’m OK. Hanging out. When do you have to go to work tonight?”
“I have to be there at 8. I leave here at 7:30.” She glanced at the clock on the stove, 5:15.
“Would you like some company? We can get some dinner, take a walk, whatever. I, uh, I’d really like to see you.”
Rene’s heart rolled over once in her chest. “Yeah, I’d like that.”
“I can be there in half an hour. See you. Bye.”
“Bye,” she said as the phone clicked in her hand. “Well.” A pause. “Half an hour? I’ve gotta shower and dress.”
She was halfway through dressing when she got the familiar tingling heralding Dina’s arrival. She threw on the first shirt she could lay hands on, a faded green polo shirt, over her dark tan pants, and ran out to meet the firefighter.
Dina was wearing jeans and a denim shirt. A dark brown bomber jacket, with brass buttons lay over her shoulders.
A slow smile broke over her face as the doctor walked up and wrapped her in a hug. She stepped back and looked at the smaller woman. “There’s something really familiar about you in those colors. I can’t place it though.”
“I was going to say the same about you and the jacket. Oh well, let’s go eat. I think these two want to be alone.” She nodded her head toward Erin and Stuart.
“We’re watching the news,” came Erin’s indignant voice.
“Right. You’re watching and he’s reading the translation off your body in Braille. Got it. See you later.” She ducked a couch pillow that came flying in her direction. Chuckling, the two women left. “I know this great Mexican place by the pier. Good food, big portions, cheap.”
“You’re right. Those were tremendous portions.” Dina leaned back in her chair. “Do we have time for a walk?”
Rene looked at her watch and nodded.
They kicked off their shoes and walked hand in hand in the cool sand of the dark beach. Invisible in the dark, the waves boomed and hissed with their ebb and flow. A chilly onshore breeze caressed their faces. Beyond the pier, they could hear the chime of the buoy bells and the faint barking of the harbor seals resting on the buoys and channel markers.
In the shadow of a lifeguard stand, they stopped to kiss and then continued to make their way toward the water.
“Oh, I like this.” At the point where the dry sand met the wet, the beach dropped away more steeply, leaving them standing eye to eye. Rene wrapped her arms around Dina’s neck and kissed her once, softly on the lips. “I don’t have to stand on my toes.”
Lips met and parted, letting tongues meet and explore. Dina pulled the shorter woman to her, feeling her warmth and softness down the length of her body. Hearts pounding, they pressed closer, their kisses becoming more urgent with need.
Dina slipped her hand under Rene’s shirt and felt her gasp as she stroked her overheated skin. Her lips ran a slow path down Rene’s neck stopping only when Rene grabbed her head in both hands.
“Dina, we’ve got to stop.” She kissed the firefighter quickly. “One, we’re in a really public place. Two, I’ve got to go to work. And three, if you keep doing this, I’m not going to be able to keep standing.” She tucked her head against Dina’s shoulder. “Sometimes I really hate being a responsible adult.”
The firefighter ran her hands through the doctor’s silky blonde hair and sighed. “You’re right. It’s just so easy to get carried away. With you it just feels so right. Let’s head back.”
Once again, hand in hand, they made their way back to the car.
The house was deserted when they returned.
“Erin’s gone to work,” Rene remarked, glancing at the scribbled-over calendar hanging on the cabinet. “We both work tomorrow right?” She put her arms around Dina.
The taller woman nodded.
“What are you doing the next day?”
“Umm.” She put her arms around the blonde’s shoulders. “Conquering the known world? Probably not. Rescuing maidens in distress?” She looked hopefully at Rene, who gave her a mock frown. “Looks like no. OK, I’m open. How about we spend some time together?”
“Good choice”. She rewarded the firefighter with a peck on the nose.
“What would you like to do?”
“Well, I’ve done the major tourist stuff, you know, Disneyland, Universal Studios, Rodeo Drive, Hollywood, that stuff.”
“We’re going to be starting a little late, we’ve both got to sleep. I have to work the next day, hmm. Have you been to Melrose?”
“Like the show?” She looked quizzically at the taller woman.
“No, like the street. It’s a fun area to walk around, shop, eat and people watch.”
“Sold. I’ll be there. Now, I really have to leave for work”. They held each other, swaying slightly, for a few seconds. “Really, I gotta go.” The kissed and reluctantly separated.
A few minutes late. One last kiss is a fair trade for the grief I’ll take, thought the ever punctual doctor as she drove up into the hospital parking lot, still feeling Dina’s touch on her lips.
Dina sat at the station table reading the Times Metro section and hoping the two guys who’d volunteered to cook dinner would get inspired soon. She nursed a luke warm iced tea. How can it be 85 degrees the week before Halloween?
“Pakadios, business phone,” blared over the loudspeaker.
Who could that be?
“It’s some doctor, wants to talk to you,” the captain informed her, handing her the phone as she walked into the office. He turned back to his desk full of paperwork.
“Hey, it’s me, Rene. I just woke up and wanted to hear your voice.” Dina could feel the warm smile reaching her through the telephone. Her day suddenly brightened immensely. “How’s your day been?”, the voice continued.
“OK. We haven’t been too busy. In fact, I was just reading the paper.”
“I wish you were here with me. I don’t know what it is, but I’m happier with you around.”
“Really? So what would you do if I was there?”
“We could watch TV or listen to music or Since you asked, I do have some more personal suggestions ”
The captain swiveled back around in his chair as he heard the strange noise from Dina’s direction, his mouth dropping open in amazement as the blush crawled up her face.
Her crimson deepened as she caught his eye. “Uh, I’ve got to go now,” she stammered, “The captain wants the phone.”
“He’s in the room? Oops.” Rene snickered to herself. “So, I’ll see you tomorrow if you don’t make it to the hospital tonight. Bye.”
In a daze, she hung up the phone, walked into the dorm room, and threw herself on a bed. Jose, the engineer, lying on a bed nearby looked up.
“Hey, Dina, you OK?”
Hand over her face, she mumbled something incoherent.
He moved to sit at her side and put a hand on her arm. “You OK?”
She took her arm down. “I’m fine, really. I just, uh,” the blush crept up over her face, “Had a, uh, strange phone call.”
He smiled broadly and patted her shoulder. “You go girl. I hope she’s nice.” He paused, and in a moment of uncanny perception, snapped his fingers and blurted, “It’s the Doc, Dr. Covington, isn’t it?”
She was up and had him in a strong grip by the shoulders before it registered that she had moved.
“Good guess,” she growled, towering over him, “This doesn’t need to become common knowledge, right?”
“Look, sister,” he said with a wink, “It takes one to know one, right? No one’s gonna hear it from me.”
“Thanks.” Dina gave a relieved laugh and sat down again. “Neither of us needs any grief. I don’t think she’d appreciate the rumors at work.”
“Don’t I understand that.”
She nodded. His predicament was much worse than hers. Gay men were hounded unmercifully in the macho bastion of the fire department. Being small and Hispanic only made it that much more difficult.
“Don’t take this wrong,” he continued, “But, I think she’s had a good effect on you already. You’ve been pretty mellow today. You didn’t rip in half the guy who changed the TV station you were watching and you didn’t go on a search and destroy mission for whoever ate your cookies. Whoa!”
Smiling uncomfortably, she answered, “Yeah, I don’t know how she does that to me. My anger just leaves. But, I will get back at whoever ate my Oreos.”
BRAAAP “Engine 145 report to car fire at the corner of ” The loudspeaker droned on giving the location and time of incident.
Jose gave the surprised woman a quick hug. “Time to work, Mija, let’s go.” They ran for their turnouts.
The next afternoon, Rene arrived to pick Dina up about four. The heat wave had continued, making it almost impossible to sleep during the day. The Santa Ana winds, hot and dry, the night before, had as usual made people crazy, giving her a very busy night. She’d overslept, and not heard the alarm, once she finally did drop off. Skipping coffee and breakfast had been the only way to get here on time, but had left her in a general state of grouch that she was trying, but failing, to kill.
She glanced at her plaid short sleeve shirt, chino shorts and sockless Topsiders with a frown. I look like a refugee from the Midwest. Heat wave in October. It’s unnatural. She wiped the sweat from her forehead.
The grouch took a powder the minute Dina opened the door and swept her into an engulfing hug.
Dina had dressed in a pair of black, button fly jeans and black sneakers. A form fitting black tank top showed off her perfect breasts and muscular shoulders to full advantage. The addition of a small green ribbon woven into the single thick braid she wore trailing down her back, along with all of the black, only served to enhance the startling blue of her eyes.
“You look great. Almost good enough for me to forget how hungry I am,” the shorter woman sighed, snuggling into Dina’s warm chest.
The firefighter chuckled, a warm rumbling in Rene’s ear. “I guess that’s a compliment. Let’s go, then. I wouldn’t want you to go hungry.”
They found a parking space on a side street after circling for only fifteen minutes and walked back down to Melrose Street. The area had originally been an artists’ escape, but as more people had come, funky shops had moved in. Now, with a Gap and Starbucks, it was well on its’ way to being trendoid. But, it still had enough Bohemian to be fun.
“Tell you what, let’s get you some coffee and a small bite, walk around and then get dinner. It’s still pretty early, OK?”
“Fine.” Rene’s stomach obediently growled in agreement.
Dina steered her shorter friend into a small café nearby. The doctor’s eyes roamed over the snake mosaic inlaid in the center of the floor, the mural of a single giant snake wrapped around the walls of the room, and small delicate snakes which made up the filigreed backs of the wrought iron chairs that sat scattered about tiny tables. SNAKE EYES CAFÉ was stenciled above the doorway.
“Good name,” Rene commented as they stepped up to the counter and she scanned the menu board.
“What’ll you have?”, a woman asked from behind the counter. “Dina! Long time no see, girl.” She came around the counter and hugged the firefighter. “You look great.”
Dina gave her a quick hug back. “Hi, Sybil. This is my friend Rene.”
The doctor was losing her fight not to gawk at the other woman. Sybil was Rene’s height, but weighed close to three times as much. Long, kinky blonde hair cascaded freely down her back, hitting behind her knees. A snake tattoo, its’ tail at her right ankle, curled up her body in beautiful reds, blues and purples, finally ending with its’ head on the left side of her neck. Rene could see most of the snake because the woman wore only a bright yellow tube top, cutoff shorts and sandals.
She turned and gave Rene a warm smile and held out her hand. “Good to meet you.”
Rene smiled back, realizing as she shook the woman’s hand that Sybil was wearing pale blue contact lenses that had elongated, diamond shaped pupils.
“Sybil was in one of my self defense courses a few years back,” Dina explained.
“It saved my life one night. I’ll always be grateful. What’ll it be girls? On the house, I insist. Rosy Boa, by the way.” She looked at Rene, who was still staring.
“Sorry, excuse me?”
“Rosy Boa, the snake. Isn’t that what you were trying to figure out?”
The doctor realized that she’d completely missed seeing the small, pale pink snake that was calmly draped around Sybil’s neck.
“Oh, yes, thanks.” She blushed.
“I’ll have an espresso and I think Rene will have a latte and one of you fruit pastries.” The firefighter jumped in, covering her friend’s embarrassment.
“Coming up, have a seat.”
They took a table by the open window facing the sidewalk.
“I am so not in Ohio.” Rene shook her head.
Dina laughed openly and patted her arm. “Sybil is exceptional.”
“Here you are, enjoy.”
“Wow, great pastry.” Rene greedily inhaled her breakfast. “You didn’t want some did you?”, she asked, scooping up the last of the crumbs.
“No, that’s fine. I like watching you.” Blue eyes sparkled with affection.
The blonde looked at her friend and smiled. Through their eyes an eternal door opened, strengthening and confirming the bond of their connection. For a few seconds, the world fell away.
“More coffee?” They both turned in surprise at Sybil standing above them with a pot.
“No thanks. But, thanks again for the coffee and pastry.” Dina stood, the moment gone. “Shall we walk?”
Still early, the sidewalk was filled with families. Children skipped down the crowded sidewalk and twirled around parking meters. Small dogs tangled their leashes in the legs of passersby.
Rene and Dina strolled, brushing arms occasionally, looking into the windows of tiny, chic clothing stores, laughing at the prices and wondering who could possibly wear or afford such clothes.
“Isn’t she some actress or other?” Rene nodded toward an impossibly skinny woman who was checking out a tiny silver lame number in the mirror in a shop.
“I think so, can’t place her though. Now we know who can wear those.” They moved on.
A Harley Davidson leather shop on the corner caught their attention.
“I like the leather, I just can’t wear it,” bemoaned the blonde wistfully.
“I look like a wannabe in it. You know – a biker wannabe, a dyke wannabe. I just look silly.”
“I want to see.” Dina grabbed Rene’s hand and pulled her into the shop. The bearded man in the stereotypical Harley insignia vest behind the counter gave them a quick eye, decided they were harmless and ignored them.
“Here.” Rene pulled out a short, trim cut black jacket and put it on. Despite being her size, suddenly she appeared to be a small child who was playing in her older brother’s clothing.
“See? I can’t carry it off. You try one.”
The dark haired woman shrugged. “OK. I’ve never been much for black leather, just the brown.” She tried on a jacket.
The doctor stepped back. “Uh, wow, you seem really menacing in that. How’d you do that?”
Without moving, or changing expression, Dina had become grim and malevolent. Her shadow filled the room with a darkness, startling even the large, tough clerk.
“Dunno,” she shrugged it off, “Happens every time, though. I’ll stick to brown.” Everything returned quietly to normal.
Near the middle of the shopping blocks sat a Jewish retirement home that had been there seemingly forever and had waited, unchanged as the neighborhood evolved around it.
They walked by it now, noticing with amusement that quite a few ancient faces sat lined up against the plate glass windows, eagerly awaiting the nightly parade. The TV, off to the side, was on but forgotten.
“Look, wind up toys.” The doctor scooted into a toy store. Wind up toys of every size, color and permutation filled the shelves. A large table, like a smooth billiard table occupied the center of the shop, inviting play.
“Look.” Rene had found a pair of chattering teeth and set them to dancing on the table.
“How’s this?” Dina sent a Godzilla, complete with waving arms and shooting sparks lumbering toward the teeth.
“OK for you.” The blonde sped a wind up firetruck toward Godzilla. “Wreck my teeth will you?”
A small, fuzzy fluorescent blue ball came rolling toward her firetruck.
“Now what is that?”, the blonde asked.
“I don’t know. It was the first thing I could get my hands on to counterattack.”
“Check this out.” A small boy at the far end of the table was playing with a tiny, pink rubber penis that was cheerfully hopping up and down. “I know a few doctors that would be perfect for,” laughed Rene.
“Yeah, a few firefighters, too,” agreed Dina, as they continued their tour.
A few more stores of more outrageously unwearable clothing later found them at the end of the blocks of shops and into the restaurants.
“Dinner time?” Rene looked hopefully up at Dina.
“Sure, there’s a nice little Cuban place a few blocks up.” Placing her arm around the blonde’s shoulders, she pointed her up the block.
It was too comfortable to move. I hope she doesn’t mind this. I know it’s possessive and public, but I like people to think she’s mine. I want her to be mine. Becoming uncomfortable with this line of thought, she started to remove her arm, but was stopped by Rene grabbing her hand and holding it in place.
The smaller woman smiled up at her nervous companion. “Don’t move it, I like it there.” She tucked an her free arm around the taller woman’s waist. “I guess a little PDA never hurt anyone.” This is a little different than kissing out in public.
Actually, I more than like it, Rene admitted to herself. My shoulder has been waiting for her arm there, not just tonight, always. I just never knew it before. She leaned against the firefighter, basking in the protection of the encircling limb.
The restaurant was cozy, intimate, and smelled wonderful. Diners sat in small groups, quietly eating and conversing.
Dina was unclear later how they’d managed to eat the entire dinner holding hands. But, the warm, tingling radiating up from there to her entire body left her sure they had.
The sidewalks were still filled with people as they exited onto the street, but the population had changed. Groups of adolescents, dressed in black and pierced with silver wandered or smoked on the corners. In the alcove of a group of storefronts, three women in short, tight, brightly colored skirts, fishnet stockings and spiked heels lounged and talked.
“Guys,” Dina whispered into Rene’s ear, distracting her so that she almost didn’t catch what had been said.
“Really?” she turned to look. The firefighter grabbed her and spun her back forward. “OK, I’ll be cool.” She gave her taller friend a swat on the butt.
A skater rolled by, swerving and dancing to an inaudible beat, weaving among the people and parking meters. Swathed in multicolored gauzy scarves, mimicking a ninja outfit, the person’s sex was unidentifiable.
“He believes that if he keeps dancing he’ll never die of his HIV.”
“Come in for a few minutes?”, the firefighter asked expectantly when they’d finally negotiated traffic back to her apartment. “I want you to stay all night, but I’ve got to get up early. It wouldn’t work.”
I want you to stay all night, every night. She craved Rene’s company. Don’t understand it, but I don’t want to fight it. I can’t fight it. Together they were complete. How could she fight that? It was like being two sides of a single coin. Together, they made one.
“Sure, I won’t stay long. I know you have to get up.”
They lay entwined on the couch, bodies pressed close, hearts beating in unison.
“Have I told you how much I like kissing you and holding you?”, murmured the doctor into her companion’s ear, giving the lobe a gentle nibble. She ran her hand up Dina’s thigh and played with the back pocket of her jeans. “Actually, just being with you is enough. I don’t have to even touch you and I’m happy. Thinking about you makes me feel like Jello.”
She ducked her head and blushed. That was more than I meant to say. She felt Dina’s hand lifting her chin to look into her eyes.
“Me, too. It just feels so ” She groped for the right word, one that said what she meant, but wouldn’t be so overwhelming that it would frighten Rene. “It just fits.” Wimp, she chided herself.
They lay wrapped in each other, surrounded by an envelope of comfort and connection, letting that be enough. Those simple, insufficient words were a promise, unsaid, but understood, of more. More time, more closeness, more (a thought not yet dared by either) love.
Rene drove home, the 405 freeway a blur of red and white lights, waging a war with herself that she was bound to lose.
Too soon, too soon. What the hell am I doing? How long have I known her? There’s no such thing as love at first sight.
But it doesn’t feel like first sight, argued the other half of her mind, it feels like forever. What about those dreams?
Just dreams of a sex deprived mind. My unconscious going overboard. I am setting myself up to get so hurt. She swerved around a piece of metal in the road.
But it feels so right. She feels like a missing part of me. She seems to feel the same.
I can’t do this to myself. How can I not?
She tried to picture not seeing Dina again. The ache that hit her heart was a squeezing iron fist. Her gut clenched and she was afraid she was going to vomit. Sweat broke out in beads across her face. The car veered wildly.
Fighting for breath, she concentrated on getting the car under control.
I guess that answers that. Why fight what’s not a choice? Part of her was relieved. I don’t have to fight it. She relaxed, reliving the warmth and security of Dina’s arm over her shoulder. Well, good. Very good. Her thoughts took a slightly different turn, to their nights together. The warmth moved a little lower. Great, in fact.
She came home to the sounds of Erin and Stuart obviously making love behind the closed door of her bedroom. She stopped outside the door and briefly considered pounding on it and yelling “Police” or “Fire Department”, but decided she was in too good a mood. Let them enjoy.
“Fire station 145.”
“This is Dr. Covington, is Firefighter Pakadios there?”
“No, ma’am, the engine is out on a call, can I help you?”
“Please tell her I called, thanks.”
“Hi, Erin, this is Dina ”
“Hey, Dina, Rene’s left for work. The day shift Doc asked her to come in an hour early, sorry. You have the number?”
“Yeah, I’ll try to get her there.”
“Emergency, can I help you?”
“Is Dr. Covington available? This is Firefighter Pakadios.”
“She’s in a code right now. Can I take a message?”
“Could you tell her I called? Thanks.”
“Dina, this is Rene, it’s 4:30pm. I just woke up. I didn’t get the message you called until almost 5am. The clerk spaced telling me about it. I guess you’re out. Call me. I’ll be at work tonight.”
“ER. Can I help you?”
“Is Dr. Covington there? This is Firefighter Pakadios.”
“She’s with a critical patient. Can I take a message?”
“Please tell her I called, thanks. I’m home.
“Fire station 145.”
“Is Firefighter Pakadios there?”
“No, the engine is on a run.”
“Please ask her to call Dr. Covington at home. Tell her I didn’t get her message until 3am. Thanks. I’ll be at work after 8pm.”
“Huh? Is Dr. Covington available?”
“This is Dr. Covington.”
“Hey, it’s Dina.”
“Oh, thank God. After three days of phone tag, I was going to badly hurt the next one who didn’t give me my message.” She looked and checked that no one was nearby. “I missed you,” she mumbled into the phone.
Dumbstruck, the firefighter managed to squeak out a quiet, “Me, too. Do you work tomorrow?”
“No, I’m off for three.”
“Let’s do something.”
“Sorry, I can’t. I promised one of the docs, ages ago, that I’d help her study for her boards.”
“Oh.” Disappointment slammed the dark haired woman bodily. She stared at the floor.
“The next day? If we don’t, I can’t be responsible for my actions. Say yes and save LA from a rampaging, frustrated doctor.”
“Sounds great to me.” She smiled, amazed at how quickly Rene could make her do that. “I wouldn’t want to be responsible for you committing mayhem or anything like that. What should we do?” BRAAAP. “Gotta go, there’s a structure fire. You think of something. See ya, bye.”
She barely heard Rene’s, “OK, I’ll think of something, bye,” as she hung up and dashed for the engine.
Erin was sitting on the couch, leaning against one arm rest, her feet propped up on the cushions, eating Chinese food from a white takeout box with chopsticks, and simultaneously chatting on the telephone tucked under her chin, when Rene got home from her tutoring.
She turned down the blaring TV and walked over to the munching woman.
“Gonna be long?”
She pushed back a few wayward blonde strands. It’d been a long evening. Deborah was just not catching on. Every time Rene had tried to leave, hoping to call Dina, she’d come up with some new question.
Erin put down the chopsticks and held up one hand, fingers spread wide.
“Five minutes, thanks, I only need it for a few minutes, myself. Hi, Stuart.” She leaned over and yelled into the phone.
Half an hour later, Erin was showing no signs of giving up the telephone. Rene was fuming.
Finally, she stood in front of the smaller woman, hands on her hips and shouted, “Give me the telephone for five minutes, Goddammit, or I’ll.. I’ll “, clenching her fists in impotent rage.
Erin looked up innocently. “Why didn’t you say so? Of course you can have it. Stuart, Mijo, let me call you back in a few. My dear roomie is about to go postal on me. OK? Bye.” She hung up and handed it to the blonde. “Here you go, dear.” She batted her eyelashes and walked into the kitchen.
Sitting down, Rene rolled her eyes and dialed the firefighter’s number. A groggy voice answered the line.
“Hey, it’s me. Sorry to wake you up. I just pried the phone out of Erin’s ear.”
“It’s OK. I tried to call earlier. It’s been busy for over an hour.” She sounded more awake.
“Well, I’ve got to give it back to her. That was the deal for getting her off. Anyway, how about Catalina tomorrow? We can take the 12:30 boat out of Long Beach and come back on an evening boat.”
“Great, I haven’t been there in years. I’ll pick you up at 10. See you in the morning. Tell Erin thanks for giving up the phone. Sleep well, sorry I can’t be there with you.”
“Me, too. I guess I should let you get back to sleep. Bye.”
“Erin,” she bellowed into the kitchen, “Phone’s yours. Dina says if you hog the phone again, she’s going to come over and rip you limb from limb.” She handed her roommate the telephone and stomped off to bed.
Dina awoke to the view through her open shades of the coral of dawn being chased from the sky by the perfect blue of a day filled with unlimited promise. Giving a long, catlike stretch, she glanced at her clock, 6:45.
Anticipation was making her heart pound like a child awakening on Christmas morning. The urge to jump out of bed and race over to Rene’s was almost overwhelming. Now I want to see her now. The thought sent a shiver coursing through her body. Better find something to do, or I will be running over there. Maybe I’ll work out for a while.
Hmm, neither of us works tonight or tomorrow. Her heart rate picked up even more as she contemplated the possibilities that implied. Work out and run. Work out and long run, she thought as she looked at the clock again, 6:47. Tossing back the covers, she hopped out of bed, threw on an ancient gray T shirt, shorts, and a beat up pair of sneakers, and made her way into her workout room.
She arrived at 10 on the dot. Rene met her just outside the door.
They had dressed almost identically, in jeans, and polo shirts. Dina had chosen red, and Rene, blue. Both had tied their hair back simply with a plain band.
“Nice choice of outfit,” the doctor grinned at her companion.
“Yeah, you too. Did you throw in a jacket or sweatshirt? The ride back will be cool.”
“Nope, forgot. I’ll get one.” She dashed back into the house, and came out, shortly, with a small day pack.
“Let’s go.” Rene started toward Dina’s truck.
“Hey, Dina,” Erin yelled out to them from inside. “So, you’re going to rip me limb from limb?”
“What?” asked Dina, cluelessly.
“Nevermind, we’ll be late,” The blonde called from the truck. “Let’s go.”
“OK.” She turned away, perplexed and got into the truck.
The Catalina Express, out of Long Beach Harbor was a large, triple decked ship designed to hold 200 people. The bottom deck, fully enclosed and surrounded by windows, held the head and a snack bar. The second was partially enclosed, with an open back deck. The top deck was simply open, with a sheet metal fence surrounding the deck and metal benches bolted to the deck for the hardy sun worshippers.
Rene and Dina took a quick tour of the uncrowded ship, stopping to buy soft pretzels and pop (according to Rene) and settled themselves on the open top deck.
The heatwave had broken and the temperature hovered in the mid seventies. A mild onshore breeze skipped across the deck. To the east, the mountains disappeared into a brown pall. But to the west, stretched the magnificent, calmly blue ocean. Catalina Island, 24 miles away, was still only a ghost in the white morning haze.
They sat, drinking in the warmth of the sun and each other, watching the double hump of the island swim slowly closer. A lemon yellow biplane looped and rolled, practicing stunts above them as sea gulls flew by, jeering.
“Look!” The doctor ran to the railing. “Dolphins.” As Dina joined her, Rene grabbed her arm and pointed. “There.”
A small group of dolphins gamboled just off the side of the boat, their sleek, silvery backs appearing and disappearing as they raced alongside. At some unheard signal, they vanished, to emerge far off to the starboard, heading away.
“Wow.” Rene turned and held the taller woman around the waist, hugging her close. “I always wanted to see that.” She smiled hugely at Dina. “Thanks.”
The firefighter wrapped the doctor in her arms and returned the smile. “Just for you.”
Their eyes met. There, on the sundrenched deck, the acceptance that each had reached in themselves, of the truth of their bond, became silently known to the other.
Rene leaned her head against Dina’s chest and sighed. Home, finally home, came the thought, simultaneously to them both, tolling with the clarity of a temple bell.
Four small children came screeching up the stairs from the deck below and charged by, followed by their weary mothers. Shocked out of their reverie, the two women jumped apart, blushed, then grinned at each other in quick embarrassment. They resumed their seats, holding hands for the remainder of the trip.
They disembarked with the other tourists at the Port of Avalon, a small c-shaped east facing bay. Reluctantly relinquishing each other’s hands, they wandered among the touristy shops of the waterfront, happily pointing out sea shell creations and laughing at clever T-shirts. Soon, though, they made their way to the nearly abandoned beach.
About a dozen sailboats sat moored in the bay. A rusty fishing boat chugged out to sea, trailing a stream of raucous sea gulls. A dive boat was loading equipment and divers in uncomfortable looking wet suits, at the pier at the north end of the bay.
Rene bent down, picking up a small, dark pebble and tossed it into the waves.
“Do you sail?”, she asked Dina, admiring a particularly fine boat bobbing nearby.
“No. There weren’t any lakes near us in Ohio that I wanted to be on. Once I was in school, I didn’t have the time. As a resident, well, I think I may have had one day in those four years for myself. I think I slept in, ate, had a beer and went back to bed.
I always wanted to try it, though.”
“You could do it now. You could take lessons.”
“I could,” the doctor replied slowly. “Would you do it with me?” Say yes, say yes.
Dina raised an eyebrow, studying her smaller friend. It was a foreign concept, making plans, any plans, alone, much less with someone else. She was a creature of the moment, not trusting in any other than a completely random future.
This wasn’t just a simple request for two friends to take a few lessons together, she recognized. Agreeing to this was an acceptance of a certain future. Theirs, together. The thought sent a thrill through her soul.
“Sure,” Smiling, she nodded. “Love to.” Fate sealed, line crossed.
Rene felt all of her muscles relax. When did I tense up? I needed her to say yes.
“Great.” Beaming, she wound her arm around Dina’s as they continued along the sand.
Having no destination, just enjoying their time together, they progressed up the beach in a slow staccato fashion, stopping to examine washed up kelp and to show each other pretty rocks and shells and to watch the waves.
The afternoon revolved slowly around them. The sun was setting as they turned past the end of the bay onto a completely deserted section of beach.
“Oh, we’re facing the mainland, we won’t see the sunset will we?”, Rene asked, disappointed.
“No, but we can still sit and watch the water for a while,” answered Dina. With one foot, she dug a shallow depression. Taking their day packs, she placed them behind the hole, then sat down in it, leaning her back against the packs.
She motioned to Rene, “Sit down and lean against me.”
The doctor settled herself between the firefighter’s legs, leaning back against her chest, resting her arms on Dina’s bent knees. As they watched, the sky slowly merged from blue into pale yellow and pink, tinting the brown of the mainland umber and orange. Reflecting the sky, the ocean ran in silvers and golds. Starkly white sails dotted the horizon.
As Rene let her head fall back onto Dina’s shoulder, the firefighter draped her arms around her stomach and pulled her close.
“Who needs a sunset?”, she rumbled softly into the doctor’s ear, kissing it. Then she gently sucked and teased her earlobe with her tongue, before continuing on to the smooth skin of her throat.
Rene turned her head and met Dina’s warm lips. She raised a hand to caress her cheek. Tongues played and explored, learning each other’s secrets.
Her shirt tail was tugged out of her pants and Dina’s hand slid lightly up the skin of her belly. She gasped, her body moving involuntarily as she felt the electric thrill of Dina’s fingers teasing her nipple through the material of her bra.
Breaking off the kiss, the firefighter whispered in the blonde’s ear, “Let me touch you.” She slipped her hand inside the bra and lovingly stroked her breast.
Rene gave a quick glance up the beach. No one. Not that it mattered. She was too far gone to stop now. She could feel Dina breathing heavily against her. The pressure of the dark haired woman’s breasts against her back only inflaming her more.
“Uhh,” as the other breast received the same attention, “Oh, yes.”
Fingers slowly trailed their way down her abdomen and, meeting the other hand, undid the front of her jeans. She wrapped her arms around Dina’s thighs, thrusting her body upward as she felt the touch slip under her waistband and move against her yearning flesh.
Then they were groaning and moving together as the waves within rose and finally broke, leaving them both panting on the shadowed beach.
They lay there until Rene realized that she had started shivering, and it was almost dark.
“We better get moving, or at least move enough to give me my jacket. Between working up a sweat and getting dark, I’m a little chilly.”
Rene stood up first, zipping her jeans and brushing off the sand. She turned and, holding out her hand, pulled her companion to her feet and into a warm embrace.
“What can I do for you?” She planted a kiss at the base of the taller woman’s neck.
“Oh, I’ll think of something later,” she promised with a gleam in her eyes. “For now, let’s head back. I’ll bet you’re hungry and it’s almost dark.”
“Well, since you mentioned it ” She pulled a navy blue shelled jacket out of her pack and put it on. “I could use some dinner.”
Dina finished brushing the sand off her bottom and threw on a heavy, gray sweatshirt with a Dalmatian puppy wearing a fire hat and ‘LAFD’ embroidered over the left breast. Wrapping an arm over the shoulder of the smaller woman, who threw an arm around her waist, in return, together they set a more direct course back to town.
They found a small, uncrowded bar, done in beach decor – surfboards and sailing pictures, that served juicy burgers, wonderful , greasy fries and had beer on tap. They devoured the food, laughing and feeding each other fries and sampling each other’s burgers, oblivious to the other diners.
It was fully dark by the time they caught the boat home. Even less occupied than the outbound boat, only about 50 people sat scattered inside the enclosed decks.
Sitting inside was warmer, but it seemed too light and too populated.
“Want to go outside?” Rene inquired, hopefully.
“Yes.” The firefighter was on her feet immediately.
They made their way to the open top deck. Ahead of them, the multicolored lights of Los Angeles were strung out in an opalescent array. A fat, gibbous moon hung low over the mountains, gleaming white, hiding the stars in it’s brilliance.
Rene walked over and leaned on the railing, looking out at the lights of the city. Dina came over and stood behind her, absorbing the warmth of the blonde’s back, placing her hands over the smaller ones. She rested her chin on the soft shoulder in front of her.
I’m really getting to like this position, the doctor mused. Who am I kidding, ‘like’? Love. I love this. I love her. My mind finally accepts what my body already knew. How can I tell her?
“Penny for your thoughts,” came a breathless voice in her ear.
“You know, it gives me the shivers every time you do that,” she informed the taller woman. “What was I thinking? Uh ” She turned, facing the firefighter and took her hands. “This has been such a wonderful day. I really enjoyed it. Going there, being with you. Actually, going anywhere, being with you. Or, just being with you. It feels so perfect, so right ”
It was getting away from her. How to say this?
“Rene,” Dina interrupted.
“I think about you all the time. I want to be with you all the time. I ”
“Rene.” Dina stood, looking at the doctor quietly, a small lopsided grin on her face.
“What?” She stopped, puzzled at Dina’s expression. Oh, God, I’ve blown it. She’s laughing at me. She braced herself for the inevitable let down.
“I love you.”
For a second, the world stopped.
“What?,” Rene whispered through lips suddenly too stunned to say more.
“I love you,” Dina repeated quietly.
“Oh.” She collected herself slowly, and smiled. “How did you do that? There I was, blithering, trying to work up the nerve to tell you, and you just go right for it.”
Dina shrugged, still holding the blonde’s hands, eyes searching her face, trying to sort out what she’d just said, hoping.
Rene took a deep breath. “So, what I was trying to say was, I love you, too. You ”
Her next words were lost as she found herself crushed up against the firefighter, being kissed with a passion that threatened to buckle her knees, the echoes of similar kisses resounding through centuries, multiplying her bliss.
Time changes when two are caught up reclaiming and renewing an ancient promise. The clang and lurch as the boat docked took them both by surprise, still holding each other on the deck.
Erin had left Rene a note, held up by a large magnet proclaiming ‘USC #1’, on the refrigerator.
I’m staying at Stuart’s tonight. The number is 555-8960.
If my mom calls, I’m studying at the school library.
- PS. I’m sorry I was a jerk about the phone the other night.
PPS. I forgive Dina
“She forgives me for what?”, asked Dina, reading over the doctor’s shoulder.
“Nevermind. The important thing is, we have the house to ourselves tonight”. Capturing Dina’s hand, and giving her a kiss, she lead her toward the bedroom. “I believe you were going to think of a way for me to pay you back.”
And she did. And paybacks were definitely not a bitch.
Many sleepy “I love you’s” later, Rene threw an arm and a leg over Dina, and cuddled up closer. Feels like we’ve been doing this forever was the last thought as she was lulled to sleep by her lover’s soft snoring.
It was unusual for her to be in the studio this time of morning. What had made her get dressed and come down here? She wasn’t expecting any students this early.
The scent of cooking bacon triggered a deep rumbling in her stomach. Having no reason to stay where she was, Dina turned and headed out the door, in search of breakfast.
‘Smells like something’s cooking.’ The thought drifted lazily past Melinda’s sleepy mind. ‘Cooking?’ She sat up suddenly, realizing that Janice’s side of the bed was empty. ‘Janice, cooking?’
Nothing smelled burnt, and the house wasn’t filled with smoke. OK so far. Throwing on a dressing gown, she ran out of the bedroom and down the marble stairs of their antebellum mansion.
Janice, dressed in a pair of men’s flannel pajamas, was standing at the stove, happily tending eggs and bacon. Tea was steeping in a pot on the table, toast sat covered in a dish. She turned a disappointed face to Melinda as she charged into the kitchen.
“Oh, you’re up. I was going to serve you in bed.” She pointed to a small tray, already prepared with a glass of juice and a tiny, perfect red rose in a vase. “Since you’re here, why dontcha just sit down, then. It’s done.”
Totally shocked, Melinda slipped into a chair as Janice placed breakfast on the table.
“Janice, hon, are you feeling alright?”
“I don’t understand.” The dark haired woman gestured vaguely to the table. “I mean, I like it, but You’re up early cooking.”
“Well ,” the blonde grinned. Actually, it felt kind of good, getting a slight jump on her lover this way. “It’s the fifth anniversary of the day we met, and I just wanted to surprise you.”
“Oh, my.” Melinda’s hand covered her eyes in embarrassment. “I completely forgot. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it, toots. I wouldn’t have remembered if I hadn’t been digging in some old papers last week,” Janice admitted. “Eat up.” She dug into her food with great enthusiasm.
“It’s good.” Melinda smiled at the blonde stuffing her face across from her. “You should do this more often.”
“Don’t push it.”
There was something else, she could see it in Janice’s green eyes. The way she was peeking at her. The sly glint.
“What do you have up your sleeve, Janice Covington?”
“Oh, a small gift, for after breakfast.”
When they’d finished, the blonde took the taller woman by the hand and led her into the study. Seating her on the couch, she handed Melinda a small, wrapped box.
“There’s a kind of story to this,” she told her lover, as she stood, rocking slightly on her heels, hands clasped behind her back.
“It’s been in my family for a hundred and some years, handed down from mother to daughter,” her eyes gleamed emerald in the morning light filtering into the room.
Melinda pulled the small gold locket from the box and held it up to the light. “It’s beautiful.”
“My many greats aunt, Margaret Covington, was orphaned, along with her brother, and was put out on the streets of London. Story has it, she was rescued and taken in by someone, someone with money and a title. Eventually they became lovers. That’s who gave her the locket.
She never had children, but later, she located her brothers and that’s how it stayed in the family.”
“To M, with love, C,” the taller woman read aloud, as she opened the locket.
“No one knows exactly who ‘C’ was. But this has meant a promise, of caring, of family, of love, for us Covington’s all this time. A promise to stay through the bad times and the hurts.”
“I can’t go dragging you down to some Justice of the Peace to make it official, but, as far as I’m concerned, You’re my home and my family. Our friendship and our love bind us closer than any civil servant or blood ever could.”
She stopped, wondering where that speech had come from. It wasn’t what she’d intended to say, but it echoed familiarly as it came out of her mouth.
Melinda held up the locket to Janice. “Will you put it on me?”
As the smaller woman took it and came around behind, she inclined her head, pulling her hair away to the side.
“I’ll wear it always. I love you Janice.”
Unable to resist, as she fastened the clasp, Janice gently caressed the fine neck being offered to her. Lips followed fingers as she trailed kisses down onto Melinda’s shoulder, pushing down the dressing gown as she went.
“I do declare, Dr. Covington, you are incorrigible.”
Standing up, the blonde placed her hands on the back of the couch and vaulted over, landing sitting, beside her lover. With a cocky grin, she took Melinda’s hand and kissed her open palm.
“That’s why you keep me.” One by one, she placed each aristocratic finger in her mouth, drawing them out slowly. Giving a nip at her wrist, she nibbled her way up Melinda’s elegant arm to her waiting lips.
“You keep me because I’m the girl your daddy warned you about,” she murmured breathily into her ear, then nuzzled her way down the dark haired woman’s neck and onto her chest.
Cupping one breast in her hand, she flicked her tongue over the nipple, delighting in the quickening of her lover’s breathing and the heat rising from her skin.
“I just wish he’d warned me about you sooner,” she managed to pant as Janice moved to the other breast, ravishing it with her mouth.
She moved lower, and thought vanished as the world contracted to the pulsing fires of her arousal and Janice’s quenching tongue, finally exploding in a cry of “Janice” before coming back together with her cradled in the archeologist’s strong arms.
“Happy anniversary, Melinda. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of you calling my name like that,” she sighed as they snuggled on the couch. “In fact ” A wicked grin spread over her features.
“Oh, no you don’t. Now it’s my turn.”
Janice found herself scooped up and helplessly carried up the stairs in her dark haired lover’s grasp.
“Dammit, Melinda, why do you have to be so strong? This really ruins my dignity.” She clung to the woman’s neck.
“Hon, your dignity is not what I’m after right now,” she was informed as they turned into the hallway.
“Yeah?” Janice raised her eyebrows and kissed the neck to which she was clinging.
“Oh, no, that’s not what I want at all.”
“Good,” Janice agreed as Melinda pushed the bedroom door open with her hip and carried her lover in.
Dr. Covington walked through the curtain into the patient’s room, “Good evening Mr. Kai,” she said, consulting the chart in her hand, “Tell me why you’re her tonight.”
It was another very late morning, early afternoon before they emerged. Erin had come home, showered, changed, eaten and left for school, smiling to herself at the sounds from Rene’s room, without them ever knowing it.
It was much later than that when Dina finally wound her way up the freeway back to her very quiet and lonely apartment.
“Hey, Dina, it’s Rene. I miss you already. Yesterday was too long ago.”
“Me too. I’m just lying here, letting the TV rot my brains, thinking how much better it’d be with you here.”
“Yeah. Unfortunately, I’ve got to work.”
“Hey, the Discovery Channel is running a series on mythology for Halloween week. Tomorrow is about Greek mythology. How about if I record it, since we’ll both be working tomorrow, and you come over the next day to watch it?”
“Great. Well, gotta go. Maybe see you at work tomorrow, huh?”
“Yeah, it’d be nice, wouldn’t it?”
“I love you.”
“I love you, too. Goodnight.”
Dina lay on the couch, amazed at how three words could change everything. A protective warmth suffused the room, turning it into a comforting cocoon. How does she do that? she wondered as she turned back to the TV.
Rene arrived to the smell of something wonderful cooking at Dina’s. she’d answered the door wearing sweats and an apron, emblazoned with “Kiss the Cook” in bold letters. It was a command that she was happy to obey.
“Thought I’d cook for a change. Like stir fry?”
“Sure do. I’m impressed.” The doctor wandered into the kitchen only to be shooed out.
“Go, sit. It’s almost done. We’ll eat in the living room.”
As Rene settled herself on the couch, the firefighter brought out a bottle of chilled wine and two glasses.
“Can you open this while I get the plates?”, Dina asked, leaning over and giving her a kiss.
“Since you asked like that, sure.”
Dina left the apron in the kitchen and returned carrying two plates heaping with rice and stir fry, and set them on the coffee table.
“Here.” Rene handed her a glass of wine, and held her own up as a toast. “I love you,” she said, taking a sip.
Dina leaned forward and captured the doctor’s lips with her own. “And I love you.” Blue eyes misted as they met sparkling green. She took a sip of her own wine.
Over the rim of the glasses, their eyes held, even as the glasses were set down. And still held, as their mouths and bodies met, trading their hearts secrets, for which there were no words. Only the determined gurgle of Rene’s stomach finally separated them.
“I guess we should eat before it gets cold, huh?,” conceded the blonde, staring at her aggravatingly verbal belly.
“I don’t think we have a choice,” agreed Dina, picking up her plate with a laugh.
They both dove in.
“That was great,” sighed a contented Rene, patting her stomach, which had finally quieted.
Dina laughed. “Well, I hope you didn’t have three helpings just to be polite. How do you do it?” She grabbed the plates and put them in the kitchen sink. “Ready for the show?”
Without waiting for an answer, she put the tape in the VCR and sat back on the couch, her long legs stretched out, resting on the coffee table.
Unable to reach that far, Rene curled her legs to the side and rested her head on Dina’s shoulder, as the taller woman cued the tape with the remote.
“Well, they’ve covered most of the gods and heroes. I wonder what they have left to say in the last 15 minutes,” Rene commented during yet another set of commercials, her fingers running playfully up and down the sweatsuited leg.
“They’ve done a pretty good job Hey, that tickles.” Strong fingers captured the smaller ones. “But I still think Ares needs a beard.” She gave a small kiss to the blonde head still comfortably nestled on her shoulder.
“This is the classic retelling of the myths,” the show resumed, “But, since the mid 1940’s a controversy had erupted about the ancient sources and some of the actual myths, themselves.
A number of scrolls was discovered in Mesopotamia, only a handful of which were ever translated. Purported to be written by a young woman, they revolve around Xena, a warrior woman, and retell some of the classic myths.” Both women sat up and leaned forward. “In particular, the ones involving Hercules and the god, Ares have been greatly altered.
Most of the scrolls were lost during the war, so nothing definitive may be said, but all testing has proven the remaining ones to be authentic. Hopefully, some of the lost ones have not been destroyed, and may yet reappear to help solve this mystery.
Mythology week continues on Discovery. Tomorrow, Hindu mythology.”
They thumped back against the couch.
“Xena ,” Dina whispered to herself, staring at the happily dancing cereal box on the commercial.
“Must’ve read about it somewhere,” ventured the doctor.
Dina shrugged. “Yeah, I guess,” she answered dubiously. “all I know is, I’ve got to pee. Be right back.” She disentangled herself from Rene, who continued to stare at the screen, as the credits rolled.
Something caught Rene’s eye as it scrolled past. What? She grabbed the remote and replayed it. Oh, shit, no. She replayed it again. Her mouth went dry and her throat constricted as she read.
“Dina,” she croaked, “What was your Aunt Melinda’s last name?”
“Pappas, why?,” came the muffled reply.
“Come here.” She rewound again, as Dina came into the room and stood, leaning over the back of the couch, one hand on Rene’s shoulder. “Watch.”
The credits rolled slowly by acknowledging the sources used in the production.
tablets, courtesy of Columbia University, New York.
Scrolls, courtesy of the University of South Carolina, on
permanent loan from the estate of Melinda Pappas,
in loving memory of Janice Covington
“Oh, God,” her hand tightened convulsively on Rene’s shoulder. “Janice Do you, are you?”
“A cousin, 2nd or 3rd cousin. She was an archeologist, died in a cave in. My father wouldn’t talk about her. There was something about her he didn’t like. I don’t know ”
Dina’s mouth worked soundlessly a few times. “It wasn’t a dream. I saw them,” she whispered to herself.
Rene whipped around and grabbed Dina’s hand. “Dream? You too? I thought it was my sexually frustrated subconscious working overtime.” She stood and, pushing a few strands of hair out of her face and behind her ear, started pacing the room.
“We know for a fact that Melinda and Janice were real. We didn’t know they were together,” stopping, she looked at Dina, still standing behind the couch, “Until now. We do know that, don’t we?”
“We didn’t read about Xena and Gabrielle, did we?”
Dina shook her head no.
“I guess I can assume you’ve dreamt about ”
“Catherine and Margaret. Yes.”
Rene continued pacing, gesturing distractedly. “It’s all been real. I don’t understand. But, I’ve always had these dreams. No wonder it seems like I’ve known you forever. Maybe we have How could we ?”
“Rene.” The firefighter came around and intercepted the doctor on her path and lay her hands on her shoulders. “It doesn’t matter how.”
Dina’s crystal blue gaze captured the distraught green eyes.
“I love you. You love me, right?”
It was Rene’s turn to nod.
“It doesn’t matter if we’ve known each other for a month, or centuries. We have each other now. For me, it’s the same.” Wrapping herself around her lover, she pulled her in close, placing her chin on the silky blonde head.
Relaxing into the protecting arms, Rene took in a deep, ragged breath and let it out slowly.
“How do you do that? Just bring it down to the essential point. You’re right. I love you. It’s you and me now. I guess it always has been, huh?”
“I guess so.”
“What a great legacy. They really loved each other, Xena and Gabrielle, Catherine and Margaret ”
“Melinda and Janice,” Dina finished.
“In fact,” Rene broke out into a grin and pulled the taller woman onto the couch with her, “I had this dream the other night about Xena and Gabrielle. They were camped by this waterfall. And it was a warm night. And Gabrielle had found this big hawk’s feather, and ”
“Thursday night?,” interrupted the firefighter.
Rene nodded as Dina blushed a deep crimson.
“I had that dream, too. It was, uh, very, uh ” She had no words for the state in which she’d awakened. Those two were very inventive.
“Well?” The blonde cocked her head at her unusually flustered lover.
“I don’t have any feathers.” The firefighter found herself dragged to her feet by a very determined young woman. “But I’m sure we’ll think of something.”
The greeting card warehouse was fully engulfed in flames. The paper and inks burned with enough fiercely toxic smoke and dancing fire to delight any arsonist.
On the roof, the nozzle of the two inch hose tight in her grasp, Dina was desperately spraying water on a jet of flame arching skyward through a charred hole in the wood and tarpaper at her feet. Through the steam and smoke, she could barely see others dousing similar burning geysers across the expanse.
The flashing red of the lights atop the multitude of ladder trucks and engines surrounding the building, and the arcing plumes of water from the larger hoses created a perfect backdrop for this Halloween midnight.
She was sweating heavily in the full turnouts, Nomex hood, helmet, and heavy breather apparatus, despite the cool night air. Dragging the hose, she aimed for another hot spot near the box-like structure of the stairway that lead from the first floor to the roof. The firefighter on the back of the hose angled to follow.
A flash of white caught her. Instinctively, she braced herself as the man tackled her. She lost her grip on the nozzle as they fell through the open door of the stairwell. Together, they tumbled down the stairs into the smoke filled building.
Dina landed on her back, the wind knocked out of her from the pain of her full body weight coming down on the scuba-like breather tank. She was again stunned as the man landed on top of her.
“Let it burn! Let it burn! Leave my fire alone!,” he screamed as he sat on her and flailed with his fists.
Years of martial arts training took over as she grabbed both of his hands and, ignoring the pain, quickly arched her back, flipping him over her head.
Eyes and throat already burning from the smoke, she struggled to role over. Straightening slowly, fighting to maintain her balance under her heavy equipment and bulky clothes, she gained her feet. A hacking cough almost knocked her back to her knees.
Breather mask, gotta get my mask, she thought as the smoke and heat seared into her throat. She reached up to where she’d hung it around her neck. It was useless. The glass had been knocked out of it as she’d fallen down the stairs. A quick check of her pockets showed that her walkie talkie had also been smashed.
Fighting panic, she looked around her. The heat was overpowering. Flames were devouring the building to her left, but not immediately near her. Thick smoke filled the warehouse, making any exits invisible. Even the stairs, just a few steps away could barely be seen. There was no sign of any of the other firefighters on this side of the building.
Turning toward the stairs, she was suddenly tackled around the knees by the man in the white tee shirt. They slid across the concrete floor, away from the stairs and came to rest near a row of printing presses.
For moments, all either could do was gasp and choke. Dina recovered first, and kicking him away, started crawling as fast as possible to the staircase, trying to stay under the smoke.
She hit the floor hard as he launched himself onto her back. He tried to get a grip on her neck, but couldn’t find a way around the back of her helmet’s protective brim.
She rocked back and forth, dislodging him. He jumped at her again. Dina rolled out of the way and got up as far as her knees before a coughing fit stopped her.
As he came at her another time, she grabbed his arms and, from her kneeling position, flung him over her shoulder. Over the roar of the flames, she heard a sickening crunch as he hit the press behind them.
Not waiting to see whether he was still moving, she rapidly dropped to hands and knees and crawled about ten feet before she stopped again.
Tears streamed down her face. Trying to wipe her eyes with her filthy, gloved hands didn’t help.
It was getting hotter.
Where are the stairs? Can’t see them! She thought in mounting desperation. The fire was definitely closer.
I can’t breathe! It’s too hot! She tried pulling the neck protector up over her mouth, but the Nomex weave was too thick to breathe through.
Another paroxysm of coughing left her retching and wheezing. Gotta find the stairs. Gotta move.
She started crawling again, moving away from the heat of the approaching flames. Sweat mingled with smoke and tears in her eyes. Her breath was coming in great wracking gasps.
Maybe if I rested for just a minute, she thought, unable to go any further. Too exhausted to hold up her head any more, she let it rest on the floor. No, I have to find the stairs. Leaden limbs refused to respond. Gotta move. She moved one arm forward and fell, sprawling onto the ground. Can’t see, can’t breathe. Move! Arms and legs made vague movements. Move!
Rene really didn’t mind working Halloween night. Usually it was pretty quiet, as holidays went. It wasn’t a huge drinking holiday, like July 4th or New Year’s Eve. The kids, sick from candy, wouldn’t start showing up until the next day.
She wandered toward the nurses’ lounge hoping for a relatively fresh cup of coffee.
“Hey, Doc, come on in,” called Kay from her seat. “I’ve got a few more minutes on my break. Check it out, there’s a huge fire not far from here.” She pointed to the TV.
Rene decided against the muddy brown, burnt smelling coffee and eyed the TV. The huge warehouse was blazing despite the best efforts of the LAFD.
A strange, heavy feeling turned over in her stomach as she watched. She sank into a chair, searching, but was unable to read any of the engine numbers. Is Dina OK?, flashed through her thoughts.
“Hey Dr. Covington?” One of the EMT’s poked his head into the lounge. “You have a new patient.”
“Coming.” She got up with a last glance at the TV, and tucking some strands of hair behind her ear, went back to work.
“Dina? Dina?! Can you hear me?,” the firefighter yelled, voice muffled through his breather, as he came down the stairs, searching with his flashlight. He’d seen the hose go flying, then she disappeared. She had to be down here.
“Dina? Where are you?” His foot hit something soft. “Oh, shit!”
She lay unmoving at his feet.
Grabbing his walkie talkie he called for help.
She never responded as gentle hands lifted and carried her out.
Something was pressing heavily on her face. She tried to breathe. She couldn’t. She was choking. Get it off. Her head thrashed back and forth.
Something was holding her down. Gotta get out of here. Can’t breathe, can’t move.
She strained against the restraining straps of the ambulance gurney.
“Dina, Dina, relax, you’re in an ambulance. It’s me, Eileen Barker, the paramedic. Relax, I’ll stop bagging.” The paramedic, seated on the bench seat next to the gurney lifted the Ambu bag off of Dina’s face, replacing it with on oxygen mask.
“What happened?” Blue eyes opened and focused from her soot blackened face. “Why am I strapped down?” She picked up her head and looked down her body.
Her helmet and turnout jacket had been removed. She was in her tee shirt and turnout pants. An IV ran into her left arm at the elbow. Three seatbelt straps were buckled across her at her chest, abdomen and legs, and her hands were tied with padded straps to the gurney side rails.
The paramedic gave a short laugh. “Jose warned us that you’re very strong. I thought you might wake up a little disoriented and combative, and didn’t feel like having my rig trashed. So, you got restrained. I’ll let you loose now.” She reached over and undid the wrist straps. “The others stay on in case we take a fast curve.” She motioned toward the driver.
Dina realized at that point that they were moving. In fact, they were running ‘Code 3’ – lights and sirens.
“What happened?,” she repeated.
“You fell down a flight of stairs and ended up passing out from smoke inhalation.” The paramedic checked her IV fluids.
“I didn’t fall,” she replied, turning her head to look at Eileen, as her mind cleared. “I was attacked on the roof. Some white guy in a white shirt. We fell down the stairs together. He might still be in there.”
Eileen frowned. “That kind of sounds like the guy they’re looking for, the arsonist. I’ll relay that to the incident commander.” She keyed the mic on the ambulance radio and repeated Dina’s story.
“Lucky for you, you didn’t break anything,” she told Dina when she was done. “Tough chick, huh?” She smiled and winked at the firefighter.
Dina had to smile back. ” ‘Spose so.” She lay her head back on the gurney. “Still hard to breathe, though.”
“We’re here.” The ambulance slowed and stopped. The door opened as the driver came around to the back of the rig.
“Rene,” Dina whispered to herself. The electric tingle ran up her neck as she was wheeled through the emergency department doors.
2am. The ring of the paramedic radio blared through the ER. Rene had a sudden jolt of directionless dread as she heard it.
“Dr. Covington,” the nurse came straight to her after the call. “We’ve got an injured firefighter coming in. Bad smoke inhalation, was unconscious, now awake and oriented, but in some respiratory distress,” Rene was informed in the verbal shorthand of the ER.
The dread returned. “OK, thanks, call Respiratory to get here now and get the intubation equipment ready.” Dina? Please, no. She thrust her hands into the pockets of her lab coat to hide their trembling. Turning away, she walked into the room to await her patient and to cover her rising panic.
Two nurses and the respiratory therapist joined her as the ambulance siren was heard, approaching rapidly.
The familiar thrill ran up the back of her arms and into her neck as the ambulance pulled up. Oh, Dina, no!
Her worst fears realized, Rene fought hard to stay on her feet as the room swam before her eyes. Painfully aware of how bad it was to try to be the doctor for your own loved ones, she was also even more aware that she was the only doctor in the ER. She had no choice.
I can do this. Gotta maintain, can’t fall apart. I hope it’s just smoke. Please, don’t be burned.
The “doctor” took over as the ER doors opened and the paramedics wheeled Dina in.
“Doc, we don’t know how long she was down. She was unconscious when the firefighters pulled her out of the building,” the paramedic reported to the deceptively calm appearing Rene. “She woke up with oxygen and fluids in the ambulance. No other signs of injury.”
“Thanks, Eileen.” Rene reached over to help the paramedics move Dina to the ER gurney and found her and clasped in Dina’s strong grip.
“Hi, Hon. Sorry to come in this way. I’ll be OK. It’s just a little hard to breathe, that’s all.” She lifted her head to meet Rene’s eyes.
The doctor took in the soot and tear streaked face, the slight bluish tinge to the firefighter’s lips, despite the oxygen, and the deep, labored breathing. But, the lover caught the spark of fear underlying the bravado.
Oblivious to everyone else, she clung to Dina’s hand and stared into her eyes. Tears ran down her face.
“Oh, Dina ”
“Hey, Doc, can we talk to Firefighter Pakadios?,” came a voice behind her. A fire chief and an LAPD captain had walked, unnoticed, into the room.
With great effort, she pulled herself together, wiped her face with one hand, then turned to the men. “Give me just a minute to check her first,” she answered, pulling her stethoscope from her pocket.
“Vitals?,” she asked the nurse.
“BP 120/80, heart rate 120, respiratory rate 40, pulse ox 85% on 10 liters of oxygen,” she answered.
Rene gazed back at her lover. “Dina, I’ve got to look in your nose and mouth for soot and listen to your lungs. Ready?”
Using the otoscope light, Rene looked in. God, there’s soot everywhere. She listened, and heard both wheezing and the crackling of impending fluid build up in both lungs.
Ignoring both men, she took Dina’s hand again and looked directly into her eyes.
“Love, do you trust me?,” she asked softly.
A scared look crept over Dina’s face. She nodded again. “With my life,” she replied, eyes fixed on Rene.
“You’ve had a significant smoke inhalation. You’ve got soot in your mouth, you’re wheezing. You’re breathing too fast.
You see that clip on your finger? That measures the amount of oxygen in your blood. It should be 100% on room air. It’s only 85% with oxygen. It’s going to get worse as the tissues swell and fluid collects in your lungs.
I’m going to have to intubate you.” Tears flowed again.
Dina raised an eyebrow in question.
“I’m going to have to put a tube down your nose into your lungs and put you on a ventilator. It’s miserably uncomfortable. I don’t want to do this. But, it’s better than suffocating.”
“Do it,” Dina croaked.
“I’m giving you two minutes to talk to these guys, then I’m gonna sedate the hell out of you and do it.”
“You have two minutes,” she told the men. “I’ll be right back,” she said to Dina.
Releasing her hand, she walked out to the nurses station as the chief and captain stepped up to Dina.
“Kay,” called Rene, approaching the charge nurse. “Which doctor comes in at 7am?”
“Doctor Talvin,” she answered efficiently.
“Call him, see if he’ll come in now. If he won’t, please call everyone until you can get someone.”
Kay looked at Rene, who was standing there stiffly, hands in pockets, green eyes staring intensely. She opened her mouth but couldn’t get out a word before Rene bent down and whispered fiercely in her ear, “That is my lover in there.” She gestured toward Dina’s room. “I will be damned if I’m going to keep working once she goes to the ICU. So, please find someone if you want a doctor for the rest of the night.”
Kay shut her mouth abruptly, blinked twice, and picked up the phone. “Yes, Doctor. Of course. I wouldn’t expect you to keep working. I’ll find someone.”
Rene let out a long breath and relaxed. “Thanks, Kay. I’m going back to her now.”
The police captain was getting the last of the details of the fight from Dina as the doctor returned.
“Did you catch him?,” Dina was finally able to ask.
“That was our man. He was in the warehouse, dead, smashed his head against a press. Guess he fell. Right?” He looked at her appraisingly.
“Yes, Captain, he must’ve fallen. I couldn’t see in the smoke.”
“Good. I guess we’re done,” he concluded, looking at Rene. Placing his hand on the firefighter’s shoulder, he wished her good luck before he turned and left with the fire chief.
The doctor met the firefighter’s eyes, trying to send her strength and love.
“Yeah. It’s getting harder to breathe.” She was panting now.
“OK. 10 mg of Valium, IV,” she told the nurse.
“When she gets the Valium, I want you to bag her for a few seconds, then I’ll intubate,” she informed the respiratory therapist. She took a deep breath, “OK, let’s go.”
“I love you,” she whispered into Dina’s ear as she became sleepy from the medication.
“Love you, too,” she slurred back as the Ambu bag was lowered to her face.
Through a haze of tears, Rene pushed the tube into the unconscious woman’s nose, then down into her trachea.
She held herself together long enough to check for breath sounds, order the xray, give the ventilator settings, and order the labs.
Stepping out of the room, the gravity of the situation overwhelmed her. Trembling uncontrollably, she collapsed against a wall and slid down to the floor. Wrapping her arms around her knees, she gave herself over to sob stricken grief.
An arm wrapped itself comfortingly around her shoulder. Peeking through the tears, she saw Kay crouching beside her.
“Rene, let’s take a walk.” She helped the doctor to her feet. With her arm still draped over Rene’s shoulder, they walked out of the back of the ER and down a hallway in the main hospital.
Rene slouched, head hanging, against the wall, hiccuping from her crying.
Kay stood in front of her, arms crossed. “Look, Rene, you’ve got to pull it together. You’re still the doctor,” she informed her succinctly, but not unkindly. “Your friend needs you to be strong now, right?”
Rene nodded, not lifting her head.
“Dr. Talvin is coming in. he’ll be here in about 20 minutes. I told him you had a family emergency. You can deal with the details when he gets here.
When we go back in, I’m putting in a call to Dr. Mkembe, she’s our best intensivist. She’s not on call, but she owes me one.
You are going to get your shit together right now, got it?”
Rene picked up her head and met Kay’s eyes. The nurse was still standing with her arms crossed but she was smiling and her eyes were kind. Pushing herself off the wall, Rene stood straight and smiled back. “Thanks, Kay. You’re right.”
“Good.” Surprisingly, Kay stepped forward and enfolded Rene in a hug. “I wouldn’t want to have to do that to someone I care for and then have to come out to half the ER. That’s pretty brave.”
“Especially since the other half of the ER will know tomorrow and all of the hospital, LAFD and LAPD the day after,” added Rene with a short laugh, wiping her face with one hand.
“Yeah, it’s going to break the hearts of half the police and fire departments.” Kay turned her up the hall back toward the ER.
“Really?” The doctor was amazed.
“Sure, didn’t you realize that all of those guys were hanging around drooling after you? It’s just that none of them had the nerve to ask out THE DOCTOR,” Kay informed the clueless woman. “Of course,” she added as a second thought, “It’s going to inspire the other half.”
“Well, I’m taken,” Rene said with a laugh, returning to Dina’s room. “You’re calling Dr. Mkembe now?”
“Yes, Doctor.” All business once again, Kay took her seat.”
Dina was awakening as Rene arrived at her side. She thrashed confusedly for a minute, then unconsciously reached up toward her nose.
Rene grabbed her hands, stopping her. “Dina,” she called softly, “Don’t touch the tube, please.”
Hearing Rene, Dina opened her eyes. OK, she mouthed, then looked surprised.
“You can’t speak with that tube. I’ll get you a pad and pen.”
She found an empty clipboard and some scrap paper and brought them, with a pen back to Dina. Her lover looked miserably uncomfortable, but her pulse oximeter was reading much more oxygen in her blood.
“Breathing feel better?” she asked.
The firefighter pointed to her throat.
“OK,” the doctor responded, reaching into a cabinet for a small spray can. “I can help you with that. Open your mouth, I’m gonna spray some anesthetic. It tastes terrible, but swallow it. You’re throat will go numb.”
As she sprayed, she filled Dina in on what would happen next. “Dr. Vivian Mkembe is the intensivist, that’s the doctor that takes care of ICU patients, to take care of you. You know I can’t do that, right?”
“I would rather be holding your hand than looking at your numbers, anyway. So, then you’ll go up to the ICU. I’ll be with you as long as they’ll let me.”
Dina pointed to the tube and raised her eyebrows.
“Oh, it’ll probably be in 2 or 3 days, until the swelling in your lungs goes down.” Rene leaned over and kissed Dina’s soot covered forehead. “I love you. You’re going to be fine,” she said, hoping that Dina wouldn’t detect the falsity in her cheerfulness. There were, she knew, so many things that could still go wrong.
“Hello,” came a faintly accented voice from the door, “I am Dr. Mkembe.” She was a stunningly beautiful woman, with skin the color of dark chocolate and hair that was cut in close, tight curls, that leaned to the salt side of salt and pepper. Her eyes were a dark brown that seemed to radiate warmth and compassion. She wasn’t tall, but she had a presence that left no doubt that she was in charge the minute she arrived.
“Rene Covington.” Rene stepped forward and shook her hand. “This is Dina Pakadios.”
Dina held up her hand and the doctor shook it as well.
Rene gave the other doctor a short run down on what had been done and then, seeing her replacement walk in, excused herself.
Dr. Mkembe found her, a few minutes later, sitting and fidgeting at the nurses’ station, trying to keep herself from running back into the room.
“Thank you for giving me a few minutes alone with my patient.” The black woman smiled as she seated herself, acknowledging Rene’s concern. “She seems to be fairly stable now. But she’s had a serious smoke inhalation injury.”
“I know.” Rene could feel her eyes misting up again.
“She tells me you’re her lover,” the doctor stated without inflection.
“Yes.” Rene braced herself.
“OK. I’ll make you a deal.” Dr. Mkembe smiled again. “You let me do the doctoring and I’ll arrange it so that you can spend as much time as you want in the ICU. Visiting hours be damned.”
Barely suppressing the urge to leap up and hug this woman, Rene smiled broadly and agreed. “It’s a deal.”
“Good, she’s going up in a few moments. Give them a little time to get her settled, won’t you?” She pulled out a pen and started to write the admission orders.
45 minutes later, Rene joined Dina in the ICU. Her face had been cleaned and her clothes had been exchanged for a hospital gown. She’d obviously been sedated again.
Two red rimmed blue eyes rolled blearily open when the blonde walked in. The firefighter lazily patted the bed next to her and Rene obediently sat down and took her hand.
She ran her fingers through the dark hair and asked, “Think you can sleep?”
Dina gave a slight nod.
“OK. I’ll be here ’til they throw me out.”
At 7am the nurses doing change of shift rounds found both women asleep. Rene had pulled over a chair. Her feet were propped on the bed. They were still holding hands.
“Doc Dr. Covington.” One of the nurses shook Rene gently awake.
“Huh?” Rene tried to orient herself.
“Look, Doc, Dr. Mkembe arranged for you to be able to stay, but do us a favor? We have to get vitals, bathe her, check the lines, get xrays, etcetera. How about going home for a few hours. Then you can have all day and all night.”
Rene rubbed her face, still trying to wake up. “OK. I’ll be back about 10 or 11. If there’s any problem, please call me. She has no local family. I guess I’m her emergency contact.”
The nurse smiled. “We heard.”
“Oh, God,” groaned Rene, “I figured it would be tomorrow before the whole hospital knew. The only thing faster than the speed of light is the speed of gossip. All right. I’m leaving now.”
She kissed the hand she was holding and felt it tighten weakly in response. “See you in a few, Love.”
At home she caught a few hours sleep, then arranged to get the whole week off. It meant promising a lot of favors to people, but it was worth it.
Dina’s condition had visibly worsened in the few hours she was gone. Her breathing was more labored again, despite the ventilator and her pulse oximeter had dropped.
“This is to be expected,” Dr. Mkembe had informed her. “She should start improving in 24 to 48 hours.”
By mid afternoon, both women were exhausted; Dina from fighting to breathe, and fighting the ventilator, and from trying not to go crazy staring at the same four walls, despite Rene’s comforting presence.
I am terrible at being sick and helpless, she thought to herself while staring at the ceiling.
Rene was worn out from trying to keep Dina from fighting the ventilator, and from trying to keep from going crazy herself as the firefighter’s condition worsened and she fought to breathe, and from trying to find things to distract Dina from the situation.
By 3pm, the nurses took pity on them both and sedated Dina again so that both women could rest.
A few people from the fire department dropped by in the late afternoon, including the fire chief. Jose Saavedra brought a dozen roses. That distracted them both for a while, but by evening Dina was even more restless, and required another dose of sedation.
The 7am shift change again found both women asleep. This time, though, Rene had skipped the chair and had snuggled into the small bed with Dina.
It was the most comfortable the firefighter had been in 24 hours.
The next day was an unhappy repeat of the first day. Rene tried interesting Dina in TV and stories. She even tried cards. But, the firefighter was too agitated and uncomfortable to concentrate on anything.
Rene lay down with her early since it seemed to calm the dark haired woman.
She was in her gi, but couldn’t remember why. She felt so weak. “I’ll just go lie down on a mat. I don’t think I can make the stairs.”
Another bout of coughing rattled Lady Catherine’s bones. She could barely feel the cool, wet sheets and ice packs around her as she lay in the bed.
Margaret sat, exhausted and dark eyed next to her. “The fever will break, you’ll be OK. I promise,” she told her as she changed the compress on the Lady’s forehead.
She reached for more ice, but the bucket was empty. Jumping to her feet, she carried it to the door and handed it to a maid.
“More ice, hurry please. The Lady Catherine is burning up. We need more ice.”
Dr. Covington stepped out of the patient’s room and took off her lab coat. ‘Why is it so hot in here tonight?,’ she wondered as she draped it over a chair.
Hot. It was very hot. Rene awoke with a start. It was Dina that was hot. She felt the firefighter’s forehead. It was sticky with a feverish sweat. Her hair clung in damp strings to her face.
No! Rene bolted out of the room and grabbed Dina’s nurse.
“She’s running a fever, please come now.”
Her temperature was 103.
The nurse got on the phone immediately to Dr. Mkembe. “Doctor, this is Patti, the nurse from the ICU. Your patient has a temp of 103, her BP is dropping and she’s unresponsive. We’ve given Tylenol, yes. You’ll come in? Good. Yes, I’ll get the blood work and xray. Which antibiotic do you want?” She scribbled a note. “Fine, thank you, see you soon.”
Rene was pacing in front of the nurses’ station.
“Dr. Covington,” the nurse called, “Dr. Mkembe is coming in.”
“Great, thanks.” Rene was only somewhat relieved.
She sat back down on the bed. “Dina, Hon, please open your eyes.” She shook the strong shoulder, but it only rolled limply under the touch.
“Please.” Rene lowered her head to the firefighter’s. Tears flowed down her face, dripping onto the bed. “Please.”
The monitor over the bed showed a blood pressure of 60/40. Too low, she’s septic, she realized grimly.
Two nurses came into the room, adjusting the IV and starting the antibiotics. The xray tech showed up with the portable xray machine, followed shortly by Dr. Mkembe.
The doctor came and examined Dina, then pulled Rene out to show her the xray.
“Rene, she has pneumonia and she’s septic. I’m going to start a central line and we’ll start Dopamine.”
Rene nodded, fighting the urge to scream, ‘DON’T TALK, JUST HELP HER. SHE CAN’T DIE.’
As the nurses prepared the line and the medication, she kneeled next to the head of the bed, and placing her hand on Dina’s cheek, explained to her unconscious lover, “Hon, you’ve got pneumonia. Dr. Mkembe is going to put an IV in your neck so we can watch your blood pressure more closely and you’re going to get medication to keep your pressure up. It’s way too low.” She kissed her cheek. “You’re going to be OK.” She was crying again.
One of the nurses pulled Rene gently to her feet. “Doc, step out while she does this, please?”
Realizing that she was begging, Rene let herself be led out of the room.
“Want coffee?,” the nurse asked.
Rene slumped into a chair at the nurses’ station and, elbows on the table, put her head in her hands. “No thanks. Just tell me when I can be with her.”
Dr. Mkembe, herself came to get Rene. “You really like to see me at 3am, don’t you?,'” she asked, trying to lighten her mood. Seeing that it didn’t work, she added, “You can go back in. I’ll be here for the rest of the night if I’m needed.”
Raising her head, Rene smiled wanly at her. “Thank you,” she said and rose to rejoin Dina.
She stayed in the chair, afraid to disturb the central line, but refusing to relinquish the firefighter’s hand.
Patti came in every half hour to check Dina’s vitals and to adjust the medication.
Despite herself, Rene dosed fitfully, exhaustion and stress taking their toll.
She was asleep at 6am when Patti got Dr. Mkembe.
“Doctor, she’s not responding to fluids or Dopamine. Her pressure is still around 60/40 after three hours. We have finally gotten her temperature down, though.”
The doctor sighed and rubbed her neck. “There’s not much more we can do. We’ll keep supporting her as best we can. Is she still unconscious?”
It was the alarm on the monitor over the bed that rocketed the blonde to her feet, its’ screeching signaling a change in Dina’s heart rhythm. The heart tracing running across the screen showed a bizarre, irregular pattern. Her BP was 50/30.
Nurses came flying into the room, pushing the “crash cart”, followed by Dr. Mkembe. Two orderlies arrived right on their heels.
“NO!,” Rene screamed, shocking everyone to a halt. Miraculously, Dina’s rhythm improved. Her BP was now 65/40. The alarm silenced.
“No!,” the blonde repeated. “You are not going to die!”
As everyone watched, she bent over the prostrate form, grabbing Dina’s upper arms in a viselike grip.
“You can’t do that. You promised. Remember? You wouldn’t die on me again. You Xena promised .Gab me. Catherine, she came back. She you promised.” Blinded by the tears that were falling onto Dina’s chest, she continued, oblivious to the others. “Melinda, after she fell and hit her head, she kept her promise. Remember? You have always kept your promises. You can’t die on me again.”
Collapsing across her lover’s limp form, she whispered up to the pale face, “I’ve just found you again, after all this time. You can’t go.”
Utter silence. Broken only by Rene’s quiet sobs.
“Dr. Mkembe, look,” the day shift charge nurse grabbed the doctor’s arm and pointed at the monitor.
Her rhythm had completely normalized, and her BP read 80/65.
“Umm, well, looks like the emergency is over here. Everyone should go back to work.” The doctor shooed them all away.
As they melted out of the room and the “crash cart” was rolled back to its’ usual position, Dr. Mkembe squatted next to Rene. Putting her hand on the blonde’s back, she motioned for her to look at the monitor.
“Child, I don’t know how, but I think she heard you.”
Straightening up, she started to walk out. Giving a quick glance back, she saw Rene sitting by Dina’s side, a look of unmistakable love on her face. The BP read 95/70.
Rene had fallen asleep on the bed again, her head tucked onto Dina’s shoulder. The noise of clinking IV bottles awakened her.
“How long have I been asleep?,” she inquired drowsily.
“About two hours, it’s 11am,” answered the nurse, still rearranging the bottles.
“I’m taking down the Dopamine, she doesn’t need it anymore. Look.” She tucked the bottle under her arm and left.
115/75 read the monitor. Her heart rate was down to almost normal and her pulse oximeter had improved as well.
Rene pushed herself to a sitting position and tucked some unruly hair behind her ear. Dina’s breathing seemed to be easier. She was still on the ventilator, but the machine wasn’t registering as high a pressure to fill her lungs.
“Thank you.” Bringing Dina’s hand to her lips, she kissed it, and felt a small answering squeeze in return.
The tube was removed 24 hours later and she was discharged three days after that.
Dr. Mkembe came to the room as Rene was helping a weak, but recovering Dina dress and get into the wheelchair to leave.
Shaking their hands, she wished them good luck. She turned to leave, but then stopped. A funny look came over her face and she sat down on the bed.
“Can I ask you something?,” the woman asked Dina.
“Sure.” She shrugged.
“That night..,” she gestured vaguely. Both women nodded, understanding exactly which night. “What did you hear? What do you remember?”
“Well,” her voice was still hoarse from the tube, “It was getting darker and harder to breathe. There was a door. I was headed toward it. AS I was about to open it I heard Rene yell from behind me about a promise. I looked, but didn’t see her. When I turned back, Xena, Catherine and Melinda were between me and the door, reminding me about keeping promises.
I knew they were right. I, they, we had promised. So, I turned back.”
The firefighter looked at her physician. “Did that help?” A small, lopsided grin played across her features.
“No,” she shook her head. “I guess not.” She stood again. “Good luck to you both. You certainly have something special.
Dr. Covington, I am sure that I will see you again in the ER. Please try to make it before 3am if you can. Good bye.”
They rode the elevator in silence down to the first floor of the hospital. Rene wheeled Dina out to her car. They got in, but Dina took Rene’s hands before she could start the car.
Clear blue eyes held emerald green.
“Did I thank you?”
“For what?” Rene was confused.
“That night, calling me back, reminding me.”
Rene squeezed the firefighter’s hand. “I think so.”
A single tear trailed slowly down Dina’s face. “I wanted to remember to thank you. I love you. Always, and forever, that’s a promise. And I always keep my promises.”
They leaned together. Lips met, sealing the promise throughout time.
“Oh, and I love you,” sighed the blonde.
They both sat back.
“Now, let’s go home.”
Continued in The Slow Burn