January Thaw by CJ Wells

JANUARY THAW

By CJ Wells

CJWells_2000@yahoo.com
© 2003

Disclaimers: Xena and Gabrielle belong to those rather fortunate individuals‚ whoever they may be‚ that happen to own the rights to Xena: Warrior Princess. The only thing I’m gaining from them here is the personal satisfaction of toying with the characters in my own image. All other fictional characters named are mine.

Series Credit: The characters of this story originate from my Embrace/Freedom Conqueror Series https://thestoreelounge.wordpress.com/2013/08/21/the-embrace-series-by-cj-wells/ However‚ this story takes place in the present time. So‚ although technically it’s an uber‚ it’s not an uber in the same vein as most stories out there in the Fanfic world. The “Xena” and “Gabrielle” characters of this story are not simply modern-day likenesses of the TV characters‚ but rather‚ they have a direct connection with the Conqueror and Bard of my series. The mode of that connection will be duly explained within this tale‚ thus a thorough understanding of this story will be achieved only if the stories of the Series are read. If you haven’t read the Series before‚ I do hope that you enjoy it.

Story and Character Warning: This story will be presented in chapters. Unlike the preceding Series‚ the story will be told in narrative form. Also‚ because this story does take place in the millennium‚ the modernized versions of the characters have contemporary indulgences‚ both positive and negative.

Sex Warning: Lesbian. ‘Nuff said?

Profanity Warning: Some swearing‚ but nothing that rises to the level of an Eminem CD.

To all of my beta readers: Once again‚ thank you! You’re angels!

Comments and Feedback: As I have been on a rather long writing hiatus‚ and being that this is my first venture into uber territory‚ any and all are welcome and appreciated.

CHAPTER ONE

THE BANKS OF THE LETHE

I dream about Gabrielle and me. We are in a strange bed in a very unusual looking bedchamber. The bed is small and the chamber has dozens of lit candles and other strangely illuminated objects throughout it. Strange looking tapestries hang from the walls and somewhere from inside of the room‚ strange music can be heard‚ although there are no musicians present. It is as if she and I are in a different place and time‚ but it is definitely Gabrielle with me in that bed. She is lying on top of me and begins suckling my nipples before bringing her lips to mine. We begin making love. My entire body quivers at the feel of her pulsating sex upon mine. I grab the creamy backs of her upper thighs and let out a deeply throaty moan as I feel heat‚ moisture‚ passion. As we make love‚ the bed mysteriously creaks to the rhythmic movement of our bodies. Gabrielle then breaks the kiss‚ runs her luscious tongue across my lips and then looks at me with those sea-green eyes. “I’m coming‚ Warrior Princess‚” she says. “I’m coming.” At that moment‚ climax hits her in the dream and me in my reality….

“What the hell was that about?” Lindsay whispered as she jarred awake from the strange dream. Turning on her side and tightening her thighs together‚ she allowed herself to ride out the wondrous orgasm. Once released‚ she relaxed her body and cocked her head over to make sure that she didn’t awaken her husband‚ Martin. Letting out a breath‚ she lay dazed‚ wondering about the dream. Why was I dreaming about having sex with a woman‚ she thought‚ and who is she?

Who is she?

* * * *

Rejeanne Piscard poured her coffee and wandered over to her living room window to raise the blinds.

“Aw shit‚ another frickin’ six inches‚” she groused as she noticed the fresh layer of snow on the ground outside. “I am so over this‚” she said as she turned on her TV to hear Al Roker’s confirmation.

Here in the east‚ look for temperatures that hover in the 20s. Parts of the Midwest‚ Minnesota‚ Wisconsin‚ and around the Great Lakes should expect four to six inches of new powder. High winds in the mountains and moderate temperatures are expected out west. San Diego will hit 74 today. That’s what’s going on around the country. Here’s what’s happening in your neck of the woods.

As the Today Show cut to the local meteorologist to deliver the bad news in detail‚ Rejeanne sipped her scalding coffee and contemplated her day. After five years with the Dell Valley Gazette‚ she was finally going to get her big break‚ covering the Alasdair Family Foundation’s annual fundraiser. It wasn’t just that the Alasdairs were the wealthiest and most philanthropic family in Dell Valley. Their fundraisers had been known to attract some of the most influential people in the state; people that Rejeanne could meet and interview. Coverage of the fundraiser would most certainly land a full-color front-page article. That would have the potential of being picked up by larger dailies‚ greatly increasing the circulation of the story. All this‚ and Rejeanne’s name is under the byline. As a smile crept across her lovely face‚ clearing snow off her car was no longer a burdensome prospect.

“Good morning‚ everybody‚” Rejeanne announced as she stepped into the main newsroom of the Gazette.

“Yo‚ Jeannie-P‚” replied Tyler Brunswick‚ the assistant sports editor‚ as he raised his hand for a high-five. “It’s caviar and cham-fuckin’-pagne tonight for you.”

“You know that’s right‚ dog‚” she said as she slapped Tyler’s hand and brought her shoulder to his chest for a hip-hop embrace.

“You nervous?” he asked.

“No…uh‚ yeah… what do you think?” At that point‚ other staff members began grouping around.

“I think that you’re shittin’ your pants‚ Jeannie‚” chimed in Becky Schaff‚ the courthouse beat reporter. “If not now‚ you will be.”

“Thanks for your vote of confidence‚ Beck‚” Jeannie remarked. “It’s very much appreciated.”

“Hey‚ I’d be shittin’ bricks too‚ Jeannie-P‚” Becky said. “I mean‚ have you fully thought about who all’s gonna be there? Practically everybody who’s anybody in the state.”

“I realize that‚” Jeannie replied.

“This is one of the biggest stories of the year‚” added Dennis Ruhl‚ another beat reporter. “Once you score with this‚ Jeannie‚ you can write your own ticket with the editing staff.”

“Provided your story doesn’t flop to the point that they have to juggle tons of rewrites‚” Becky adds.

“Again‚ thanks for the vote of confidence‚” Jeannie sneered at Becky.

“Don’t sweat it‚ Jeannie-P‚” Tyler spoke up. “Just make sure you hobnob with Lindsay Alasdair-MacMahon.”

“Why?” Jeannie asked as her eyes raised and her heart mysteriously pounded harder.

“Cuz she’s the finest white chick in this motherfuckin’ county… well‚ next to you‚ JP‚” he responded.

“You have such a way with words‚ my dear Tyler‚” Jeannie said as she wondered why the name of Lindsay Alasdair-MacMahon caused such a strange reaction in her.

In preparation for this very special event‚ Rejeanne spent most of her day attending briefings with the managing staff and the editorial staff. She also met with Douglas Linton‚ who would accompany her as the article’s photographer. But it was what she had to do before leaving the newsroom for the day that made her beam with excitement. Walking up to Doris Marks‚ the elderly newsroom receptionist‚ Rejeanne extended her right hand. In it‚ Doris placed the coveted Dell Valley Gazette Press Pass‚ her ticket into the fundraiser.

Gripping the laminated pass‚ she looked over at Doris. “This is really going to happen tonight.”

“Yes‚ dear‚” Doris replied. “It is.”

* * * *

Rejeanne stood in front of her closet dumbfounded‚ staring hopelessly at its contents. What to wear? What to wear? she repeated in her head as she grabbed an outfit only to return it seconds later. After almost an hour of that futility‚ Rejeanne decided on the deep turquoise dress that she had worn to the newspaper’s Christmas party two years ago. It was probably the fanciest article of clothing in her closet and she rationalized that the color would perfectly accentuate her jade-colored eyes.

Before putting on the dress‚ Rejeanne was concerned that it no longer fit. She was convinced that‚ with what she’d had to deal in the last twelve months‚ she had put on weight. That last year had been really trying for her. Work had become increasingly stressful; her father‚ never a stranger to drama‚ had remarried and divorced for the fourth time; and she had learned through the grapevine that her ex of almost four years married a man. However‚ as the dress slid down her torso almost gracefully‚ she was instantly relieved that a crash diet would not be on her agenda for the immediate future.

Stepping over to her full-length mirror‚ she twisted her body so that she could get a thorough look at her backside. “Nice ass‚” she said jokingly to herself before sitting on the edge of the bed to slip on her hose. It was only moments after applying her makeup and jewelry that the doorbell rang. After running down the stairs of her townhouse‚ she peered out of the front door window and saw the smiling face of Doug Linton.

“Right on time‚” she said to the photographer as she opened the door. “Take off your boots.”

“Sure thing‚” he responded as he bent over to unlace them.

“You want a beer before we head out?”

“Nah‚” he said as he wandered over to her kitchen table and sat. “How are you feeling?”

“Dude‚ I am wired for sound‚” Rejeanne announced.

“Maybe you should have a beer‚” Doug commented.

“Actually‚ I was hoping that you had something better?” Rejeanne asked as she sat at the table as well.

“As a matter of fact‚ I do‚” Doug said as he unzipped the chest pocket on his coat and pulled out a thick phillies blunt. “Already rolled and ready to go.”

“I only need one hit‚ Doug‚” Rejeanne said. “I don’t need to go to this important function totally fucked up.”

“I hear you‚” Doug replied as he lit the blunt‚ took a drag and then passed it to Rejeanne.

She took her smoke. “That’s good‚” she said as she stood up from the table. “I don’t want to jinx this thing.”

Doug burst out in laughter. “What’s to jinx‚ Jeannie?” he asked. “Those rich assholes won’t even be looking at you tonight… not that you ain’t nothin’ to look at.” Doug eyed Rejeanne provocatively in her eveningwear before taking a second long drag on his joint.

“You need to watch your double negatives‚ Doug‚” Jeannie said jokingly before putting on her dress shoes and the one full-length coat that she possessed. “Let’s go.”

* * * *

The words on the page were not taking on any meaning.

“Lin.”

She read the same paragraph for the third time and still‚ nothing. In fact‚ nothing from the last three pages actually registered. She wasn’t sure how much time had lapsed either.

“Lin.”

What clouded her mind was the image of that woman from the dream that she had had several weeks before. The woman’s name was now a forgotten memory‚ as were her distinctive facial features‚ but the seductive voice‚ shoulder-length strawberry-blonde hair and beautifully tanned skin were still very vivid.

“Lin.”

The orgasms that they both experienced… vivid was an understatement.

“LIN!!”

Lindsay looked up at the irritated expression on her husband’s face.

“By golly‚ woman‚” Martin exclaimed. “You were really daydreaming there.”

Lindsay looked back down at the documents before her on her desk. “Yes‚ I guess I was.”

“Have you reviewed the entire minutes from the meeting and the itinerary for the presentations tonight?” he asked.

“Sort of‚” she responded.

“What do you mean‚ ‘sort of’?”

“My eyes are tired‚” Lindsay said as she handed to Martin the documents that she had been trying to read.

Grabbing the documents from her‚ Martin sat down on one of the chairs that faced Lindsay’s desk. “What’s troubling you‚ Lin?”

“Nothing‚ really‚” she replied. “Perhaps I’m not really looking forward to tonight.”

Martin chuckled. “Why not?” he asked teasingly. “This is your yearly family gig‚ Lin. I thought that you loved looking drop-dead gorgeous while all of the local snoots rub their noses up your fine Alasdair ass.”

Lindsay’s shoulders tensed. “You needn’t complain‚ Marty‚” she fired back. “My yearly ‘gig’ also affords you the opportunity to check out your latest jailbait conquests. I hope that this year’s choice has her driver’s license at least.”

Martin crossed his arms and smirked. “Who says I’m complaining‚” he said before rising and exiting the office.

* * * *

As Doug’s vehicle approached the valets standing outside of the main entrance to the Dell Valley Pavilion‚ Rejeanne regretted not taking her Subaru Outback. Although not a luxury vehicle by any stretch of the imagination‚ it would have still been a better representation than Doug’s rusty ’92 Chevy S-10‚ which stood out like a sore thumb amongst the Benzes‚ Beamers‚ Hummers‚ Rovers and limos that lined the arched driveway of the conference center.

Two young men stepped up to the truck. One opened the passenger door and helped Rejeanne exit the vehicle after she hastily grabbed her notepad and pen. The other opened the driver’s door. Doug handed the valet his keys after grabbing his camera bag from the exposed bed of the truck. “Let’s do this‚” he said to Rejeanne after extending his arm for her to take.

Walking into the massive pavilion after checking her coat‚ Rejeanne was almost overwhelmed by the sights and sounds before her. To her right‚ a string quartet performed. To her left‚ a full service bar provided beverages of every sort to event guests. Positioned in front of her was a gauntlet of people greeting the newest arrivals. Amongst the greeters were the mayor of Dell Valley‚ all of the town’s council members‚ four county commissioners‚ two state representatives‚ a state senator and all of their spouses. Rejeanne made it a point to introduce herself to each greeter and announce herself as the reporter covering the fundraiser for the Gazette‚ although the press pass was prominently featured hanging from a string around her neck. She didn’t specifically ask for any quotable comments from any of the politicians‚ but rather made mental notes of the more interesting quips from them. As Rejeanne spoke‚ Doug snapped away at everything and anything around him that was remotely worthy.

When she reached the end of the gauntlet‚ Rejeanne initially looked out at the massive congregation of guests talking‚ dancing or eating hor d’oeurves. But then she looked to her right and her eyes fell upon the person of Lindsay Alasdair-MacMahon. After moments of stunned gawking‚ Rejeanne looked briefly at the man standing next to Lindsay before returning her attention to the brunette beauty.

“Hello‚” Lindsay said to Rejeanne as she extended her hand. “I’m Lindsay Alasdair-MacMahon and this is my husband‚ Martin Stuart MacMahon. Welcome.”

God Almighty must be cruel‚ because she is truly the most beautiful woman I have ever seen‚ was all Rejeanne could think as she shook the hand of the married woman before her. Tall and lean‚ perfectly attired and adorned‚ with bright blue eyes‚ a boldly beautiful face and an intoxicating smile‚ Rejeanne felt as if she could collapse right there.

“I’m Rejeanne Piscard‚” she croaked before discretely clearing her throat‚ “from the Gazette. I’ll be covering this fundraiser. It’s an honor to be here and a pleasure to meet you‚ Mrs. MacMahon.”

Doug cleared his throat. “Oh‚ and this is Douglas Linton‚ our staff photographer‚” Rejeanne added.

“The pleasure is all mine‚ and it’s Lindsay to you‚” she responded as Rejeanne noticed that they were still clasping hands.

At that moment‚ Martin extended his hand. “And mine‚” he stated. Rejeanne took his hand‚ but her gaze had only left Lindsay momentarily.

“After you’ve made your rounds with the guests‚ come back to me‚” Lindsay said to Rejeanne. “I’ll provide you the full itinerary for tonight’s presentations and give some workable quotes for your story.”

“Thank you very much‚ Mrs. Mac… Lindsay.”

* * * *

Lindsay was almost paralyzed with boredom as milquetoast after milquetoast lined up to shake her hand and kiss her ass. Martin was right about one thing. Most of the people shelling out the $500 to attend the fundraiser weren’t doing so to benefit the charities to which the money would ultimately go. Most were there to see and be seen. Lindsay herself was only as important as the press photographers and TV video camera operators standing near her.

Thus‚ when the shapely‚ diminutive‚ green-eyed beauty announced that she was a newspaper reporter‚ Lindsay should have had utter contempt for her. Instead‚ she found herself strangely feeling as lightheaded as a schoolgirl on prom night. Something intangible drew her to this blonde-haired woman. She didn’t know what it was‚ but she needed to be near her‚ needed to talk to her‚ and soon.

For many brief moments in the first hour that Rejeanne was “working” the guests at the fundraiser‚ Lindsay found herself eyeing the young woman. Much to her surprise‚ on a few of those occasions‚ Rejeanne looked back. When that happened‚ Lindsey smiled at her and felt a childlike delight when she smiled back. Unfortunately‚ by the time Rejeanne returned to Lindsay for her comments‚ she was scheduled to start the presentations.

“Please stay right here‚” Lindsay asked of Rejeanne before dashing off to address the guests. “I still want to talk to you.”

“As you wish‚” Rejeanne said with a smile.

Lindsay stepped up to a podium and announced the names of the most charitable supporters and the amounts of their gifts. She then presented the representatives of the three charities benefiting from the fundraiser. After each representative spoke‚ Lindsay made some additional remarks about her family’s foundation and her hopes for its future. She then invited her honored guests to enjoy the rest of the evening’s food and festivities.

Stepping away from the podium‚ she was confronted by Martin. “That was rather rushed‚ don’t you think?” he whispered as he grasped her upper arms.

“No‚ I don’t‚” she replied.

“Well‚ I think that you could have said more about the foundation’s future‚” he said. “You hardly even mentioned anything that was covered in the meeting minutes.”

Lindsay pulled her arms away from Martin’s grasp. “Who died and made you my father?” she said as she brushed past him and approached the eagerly awaiting Rejeanne.

“I fear that we’re not going to have much time to talk‚ Rejeanne‚” Lindsay said to Rejeanne as she handed the young reporter a copy of the minutes and itinerary. “But use these for your story.”

“Thank you‚” Rejeanne said as she took the documents. “You know‚ I was thinking‚” she continued. “Perhaps I’m going out on a limb here‚ but would you consider meeting me for an exclusive interview?”

“You want me to give you an exclusive interview about the fundraiser or my family’s foundation?”

“Actually‚ neither‚” Rejeanne replied. “Between you‚ me and the wall‚ my paper pretty much regurgitates the same report about the Alasdair Family Foundation’s fundraiser year after year. I’d like to get an exclusive interview from Lindsey Alasdair-MacMahon about Lindsey Alasdair-MacMahon.”

Try as she might‚ Lindsay could not suppress the smile that swept across her face. “I’d love to meet with you… for an interview‚” she said. “I can’t promise that I won’t totally bore you to death‚ however.”

“Let me be the judge of that‚ Lindsay.”

“Very well‚” Lindsay said. “When and where?”

“You tell me the ‘when’ and I’ll pick the ‘where‚’” was Rejeanne’s reply.

“Tomorrow at 11:00 a.m.‚” Lindsay stated.

“At the Karmic Java Coffeehouse on Madison‚” Rejeanne added.

“I’ll be there‚ Rejeanne‚” Lindsay remarked as she extended her hand.

“Great! It’s a date‚” Rejeanne announced as she shook Lindsay’s hand before returning to Doug.

As Lindsay watched Rejeanne walk away‚ two words escaped her lips‚ “A date.”

CHAPTER TWO

FRESCOES OF THE NYMPHS

Lindsay stood inside of her massive walk-in closet. Situated ever so neatly there hung an organized assortment of blouses‚ skirts‚ dress suits‚ dress slacks‚ casual dresses‚ evening dresses and elegant evening gowns. Below the clothing were shoe racks lined with footwear of almost every type. Staring at her clothing‚ Lindsay heaved a heavy sigh. My closet is the size of a warehouse and I have absolutely nothing to wear‚ she thought. She had the perfect apparel for her work‚ business meetings‚ business travel‚ fine dining and important social functions‚ but for brunch at a popular cappuccino hangout‚ with a beautiful girl‚ she believed that she was sorely lacking.

Frustrated‚ she stormed out of the closet and grabbed her car keys off her dresser before realizing that she was still only in her underwear. Laughing at herself‚ she plopped down on the edge of her bed and stared at her keys.

Lindsay Alasdair’s life had been perfectly mapped out for her. Born into extreme wealth‚ it was her destiny to step into her father’s shoes as the head of the Alasdair family fortune. As an only child‚ Lindsay was spared the quagmire of sibling rivalry‚ but she was also therein denied the joy of having a sibling. She did have friends here and there; daughters of her parents’ college friends or business associates. However‚ those relationships were often contingent on the continued association of Lindsay’s parents with the others. Richard Alasdair‚ Lindsay’s father‚ was never one to maintain close personal ties with anyone over any extended period of time‚ thus Lindsay never experienced slumber parties‚ summer camp or Saturday morning soccer matches. Sadly‚ as she grew into her teens‚ any need for friendship was replaced by a determined focus on her studies and that destiny.

Lindsay was sent away to a top boarding school on the East Coast. As an adolescent‚ her extracurricular activities were stereotypically blue-blooded: equestrian sports‚ semesters overseas‚ ski trips to Vail‚ debutante balls‚ summer vacations at Martha’s Vineyard and arranged dates with future Ivy Leaguers. As for her predetermined entry into the Ivy League‚ she chose the smaller Dartmouth for her undergraduate education.

However‚ it was during Lindsay’s first year at Harvard Business School that she met Martin MacMahon. He was completing his second year at Harvard Law. Lindsay was attracted to his keen intellect and sharp wit. They hit it off so well that they became engaged after only a six-month courtship. Although Lindsay’s mother‚ Evelyn Summerfield-Alasdair‚ was initially concerned that the two young adults were rushing into marriage‚ Richard was immediately excited about the union. Martin hailed from a prominent New England family and was a sixth generation Harvard Law graduate. Richard saw the union as the picture perfect family and business collaboration.

Despite Lindsay’s vacuumed existence‚ she did manage to keep one well-maintained secret during her formative years. When she was a young girl‚ she began pen palling with her cousin‚ Keith Newburgh. Keith was the son of one of Lindsay’s maternal aunts. Evelyn Summerfield’s family was prosperous‚ but unlike the silver spoon Alasdairs‚ who could trace their banking and real estate fortune back to before the American Revolution‚ the Summerfields were “new money” upstarts. In Richard Alasdair’s mind‚ his father-in-law was not a successful businessman‚ but rather a high-school dropout who started a commercial lumber equipment company and married a Catholic. To him‚ his wife’s siblings were equally troublesome. Evelyn’s brother Danny drank and bet on the horses. Her brother Frank protested the Vietnam War and did time for civil disobedience. Her sister Francis was twice divorced and “refused to marry” her current longtime live-in boyfriend. Evelyn’s other sister‚ Shelley Newburgh‚ also divorced‚ once danced topless at a Las Vegas nightclub. And they all voted for Bill Clinton… twice.

Because Richard considered the Summerfields to be bad influences on his precocious daughter‚ he manipulated an increasingly restrictive interaction between Lindsay and her mother’s family. It was when she was eight that Lindsay first noticed that her aunts‚ uncles and cousins were not appearing at the Alasdair estate for the annual holiday gatherings. When her favorite cousin Keith and his mom were absent from the annual fundraiser that following January‚ Lindsay sneaked her mother’s phonebook and‚ stealing one of her father’s stamps and an envelope‚ wrote Keith a letter on her notebook paper. Keith‚ who was a year older‚ wrote back and explained the reason behind his absence at the Alasdairs. Although this greatly angered the child Lindsay‚ she dared not confront her menacing father. Thus began her clandestine correspondence and friendship with her cousin Keith.

Cell phones and emailing had long ago replaced years of stealing stamps and envelopes‚ and Lindsay found herself seriously needing the advice of her dear cousin. Throwing her keys back up on the dresser‚ she grabbed her cordless and dialed Keith’s cell phone number.

“Hey sexy-mamma‚” said the voice on Lindsay’s receiver.

“Keith‚ I’m having a crisis‚” Lindsay exclaimed to her cousin.

“Calm down‚ girlfriend‚” he replied. “What’s the matter?”

“I’m having brunch in less than an hour and I don’t have a thing to wear!”

Lindsay had to take the phone receiver away from her ear to avoid the noise of the laughter that followed.

“Okay‚ here’s what you do‚” Keith said in his thick New York City accent after calming down to chuckling. “Walk into your closet‚ close your eyes and point. When you open your eyes‚ put on whatever you’re pointing at.”

“I’m serious‚ you asshole!” Lindsay cried out. “I can’t wear what’s in my closet to THIS.”

“Well‚ help me here‚ Lin‚” Keith replied. “What exactly is THIS?”

“I’m giving a newspaper interview‚” she declared.

“Yeah‚ and?”

“I’m meeting her at eleven.”

“Okay‚ so?”

“It’s at a coffeehouse.”

“Hello? I’m still not seeing the problem‚ Lin.”

At that moment‚ Lindsay’s heart started pounding in her chest. “I don’t want to look stuffy‚” she said. “I want her… to know that I’m not stuffy.”

“Why do you give a shit what some newspaper hack thinks‚ Lin?” Keith asked. “Hell‚ if she works for that local rag‚ she probably already thinks that you’ve got a rod up your ass.”

“I don’t think she does‚” Lin said. “And if she does‚ I want to change her mind.”

“Why?”

Lindsay couldn’t answer.

“Why?” Keith repeated.

“I just fucking do‚ okay?”

“Calm down‚ cuz‚” Keith stated. “Tell me what you expect from this interview and perhaps I can help you.”

“I want it to be casual‚” Lindsay said after a few deep breaths to slow her heart rate. “I want to talk to her‚ not just answer questions. I want her to be comfortable with me.”

Keith was at a loss as to why it was so crucial for this very important woman to impress a newspaper reporter‚ until something that he had long time suspected struck him.

“Lin‚” he started‚ “do you know this gal?”

“Not really‚” came Lindsay’s reply.

“Do you like her?”

“How can I like her if I don’t really know her?”

“Okay‚” he said after a deep sigh. “Do you want to KNOW her?”

“What do you mean by that?”

“You tell me‚ dear‚” Keith flamboyantly quipped.

“Are you going to help me here or not!?!” Lindsay exclaimed‚ obviously avoiding Keith’s line of questioning.

“I’ll help you‚ cuz‚” Keith said. “I just have one more question.”

“What?” came Lindsay’s curt query.

“Does this reporter have short fingernails or play softball‚ by chance?”

“EXCUSE ME!?!”

Lindsay and Keith went back and forth for several more minutes before he was able to persuade her to wear one of her more casual blue cotton blouses with the one pair of beige low cut‚ flare-legged stretch khaki pants that she possessed. Topping the ensemble off with a wide studded belt and a pair of high-top hiking boots that she had purchased over two years ago but had not worn‚ Lindsay stood in front of her mirror and eyed her attire. A mysterious smile invaded her face. This is perfect‚ she thought before picking up and speaking to the patiently awaiting Keith.

“How are things looking on your end‚ cuz?” he asked.

“Just fine‚ Keith‚” she replied. “Thank you.”

“Not a problem. Just be sure to tell me how this interview goes‚” he remarked before chuckling and hanging up.

* * * *

Rejeanne arrived at the Karmic Java Coffeehouse fifteen minutes early. She wanted to be on time and anticipated midmorning-parking problems‚ especially since piles of plowed snow on the street would have invariably sacrificed a spot or two.

Once seated‚ Rejeanne debated whether or not she should order her first double mocha latte before Lindsay’s arrival. When the waitress approached to take her order‚ she decided to wait. Fortunately‚ the wait wasn’t long.

It was only moments later when Lindsay walked into Karmic Java. Rejeanne spotted her immediately and flagged her over to the booth where she sat. As Lindsay approached‚ Rejeanne’s jaw nearly dropped. Lindsay was removing her long‚ sleek black leather coat as she walked‚ which revealed a beautifully contoured‚ casually dressed body. Hanging the coat on an adjacent hook‚ Lindsay gracefully slid into the booth. It was at that point that Rejeanne noticed that she was hopelessly staring.

“Hi‚” Rejeanne said shyly.

“Hi‚” Lindsay replied as she too realized that she was staring at the blonde beauty sitting before her. “Sorry I’m late.”

“You’re not‚” Rejeanne remarked. “Actually‚ you’re a whole two minutes early.”

“Groovy.”

Rejeanne chuckled. “Are your parents ex-hippies too?”

“Uh‚ no. Why?”

Before Rejeanne could respond‚ the waitress reappeared.

“You first‚ Lindsay‚” Rejeanne said.

“Raspberry herbal tea‚” was Lindsay’s order.

She’s in a caffeine addict’s paradise and she orders that? Rejeanne thought. “Double mocha latte for me‚ please.”

“Will either of you be ordering lunch?” the waitress asked.

Lindsay and Rejeanne looked at each other. “Perhaps in a little while‚” came Rejeanne’s response as she looked into Lindsay’s dazzling blue eyes for her approval.

“Yes‚ in a little while‚” Lindsay confirmed as she smiled at Rejeanne.

* * * *

Rejeanne’s interview began as most of her interviews begin‚ with a superficial history of her subject’s life. Lindsay told her all of the basics; her birth in New York City‚ her schooling‚ her parents’ backgrounds‚ their schooling‚ their work‚ her work and her husband’s work. She provided a general outline of the Alasdairs’ financial holdings in domestic and international banking and real estate‚ their corporate stockholdings and the rich history and valuable work of the charitable foundation. As Lindsay spoke‚ Rejeanne typed away on her laptop‚ which was positioned at an angle on the table so that it didn’t obstruct her view of Lindsay. As she typed‚ she also looked away from it occasionally to nod‚ smile or somehow affirm her interest in what Lindsay was saying. It was Rejeanne’s intent to capture the woman behind the words.

After about her third double mocha latte‚ however‚ Rejeanne was ready to alter the subject somewhat. Saving her document and closing her laptop‚ she rubbed her hands together‚ took a gulp of her latte and turned her full attention to the beauty sitting across from her.

“Okay‚ Lindsay‚” she stated. “Let’s talk about some real stuff.”

“Pardon me?”

“Well‚ I know everything I need to know about ‘Lindsay Alasdair-MacMahon‚’” Rejeanne said as she cupped her fingers‚ quotation-style. “Now I want to know about home-girl Lindsay.”

Lindsay couldn’t comprehend why‚ but all of a sudden‚ she was feeling nervous. “What have I not told you?”

“Well‚ for starters‚ what was your favorite TV program as a kid?”

Lindsay looked down at her mug. “I don’t think I had one.”

“Okay‚ well‚ how old are you?” Rejeanne asked.

“Almost thirty-three‚” was Lindsay’s reply.

Nice age‚ Rejeanne thought. “So you mean to tell me that ‘The Facts of Life’ wasn’t totally your fave TV show?”

“Why should it have been?”

“Rich girls‚ boarding school‚ Nancy McKeon… need I say more?” Rejeanne said with a smile that made Lindsay even more nervous.

“I loved ‘The Cosby Show‚’” Lindsay finally admitted.

“I loved that show too!” Rejeanne announced. “I totally dug Mrs. Huxtable. What a classy lady. Why did you love it?”

“Because my father hated it‚” was Lindsay’s response.

“Why would your dad hate a show about a doctor married to a lawyer?”

“Because they were black.”

“Oh.”

“It’s my dad‚ Rejeanne‚” Lindsay added.  “It’s not me.”

Rejeanne fell silent for a few moments‚ finally allowing herself to absorb all that she had learned about this magnificently beautiful but somewhat sad woman who sat across from her.

“Tell me about you‚ Rejeanne‚” Lindsay spoke up.

“Me?”

“Yeah‚” Lindsay said.  “Are you from Dell Valley?”

Rejeanne smirked.  “Honestly‚ Lindsay‚ is anyone really from Dell Valley?”

“True‚” Lindsay conceded‚ considering that her parents‚ like most of the people of affluent Dell Valley‚ relocated there from other parts of the country.

“I was born in Milwaukee‚” Rejeanne started.  “Mom joint-majored in biochemistry and allied health at Marquette when Dad the grease monkey knocked her up.  They had to do the right thing then‚ so they got married.”

“Are your folks from Milwaukee?”

“No‚” Rejeanne replied.  “Mom’s from Madison and Dad was raised on a farm about fifty miles south of Eau Claire.  Dad lives in Milwaukee now‚ but my grandparents still live on that farm.  He grates my last nerve‚ but I do try to get up to the farm at least a couple of times in the summer to see the grandfolks.  They’re a riot. You’d love them.”

A strange sensation traveled through Lindsay’s body after that last comment. “So your parents married after you were conceived‚” she remarked after relaxing somewhat. “Are they still together?”

Rejeanne started laughing uncontrollably.  “Oh‚ no‚ Mom dumped his ass before she got her degree.  Being a single mom slowed her down‚ but she eventually graduated when I was five.  Then she went to med school.”

“Really?  Where?” Lindsay queried.

“Wayne State University Medical School in Detroit‚” Rejeanne answered.  “Mom and I lived in a townhouse on the massive campus of the Detroit Medical Center‚” she continued. “Detroit is eighty-eight percent African-American‚ you know. It was a real education being a part of that twelve percent.”

“Was it terribly difficult?” Lindsay asked‚ finding herself thoroughly fascinated with Rejeanne.

“Naw‚ black people are much more receptive about the token white than the other way around.   But if anyone did give me any shit‚ my core group of friends had my back. I learned how to break dance and do the “smurf.” I listened to early rap… you know‚ Run DMC‚ Ghetto Boys‚ NWA. I played in abandoned houses in the Cass Corridor.  Spent hours at the video arcades with my posse.  It was way cool.”

Rejeanne had Lindsay’s full attention.

“Wayne State is right alongside Detroit’s cultural haven. Mom and I spent many a weekend going to the various museums there; the Institute of Arts‚ the Science Center‚ and the African-American Cultural Center to name a few. There were also street fairs and art fairs aplenty. It was really important to her for me to embrace other cultures and heritages.”

As Rejeanne spoke‚ Lindsay found herself noticing her coffee companion’s hands.

“Sometimes bad shit happened. Our place got broken into once. One year‚ someone stole the cassette player out of Mom’s car. I’ve seen a few drug busts go down. But I never saw all those stereotypically horrible things one hears about Detroit. Our neighbors were really tight-knit and looked after one another. The dude that ‘B-and-E’d’ our house was caught by one of our neighbors who was a burly off-duty firefighter. So‚ overall‚ I really loved living there.”

Lindsay was specifically observing the elaborate ring on Rejeanne’s left thumb.

“My best friend as a kid was this girl named Shanita Weams.  I called her ‘Neeta’ and she called me ‘Jeannie P.’ She loved to braid my hair and play jacks.  She lived with her grandma‚ Mrs. Turner because her mom had a nasty drug habit.  I loved Mrs. Turner’s sweet potato pie.  I loved Mrs. Turner.  What a genuine woman.  She was always telling me to hold my head high.  ‘Don’t let nobody cut you down‚ child‚’ she’d say.  She commanded respect and told me to always do the same.”

“It sounds like you had a very adventurous childhood‚ Rejeanne.” Lindsay said. “Did you stay in Detroit through high school or college?”

“No‚” Rejeanne replied. “After med school‚ which Mom managed to do in four years I might add‚ and her residency in Detroit‚ she was really missing Wisconsin. So we came back when I was twelve. She returned to Madison and is practicing internal medicine now. That’s where I went to junior high and high school.”

“Did you go to the University of Wisconsin there?” Lindsay asked‚ impressed with just how proud Rejeanne was of her mother’s accomplishments.

“No‚” Rejeanne replied. “I was totally bored with Madison. Too hippy white‚ I suppose. I did a year at Mom’s alma mater and then transferred to DePaul in Chicago. How I ended up here in Dell Valley is still beyond me.” Rejeanne looked at her hands.

Lindsay was looking at them again as well. “Rejeanne‚ do you play any sports?” For reasons unknown to her‚ Lindsay needed to ask that question.

Rejeanne’s eyebrows rose. “A couple. Why?”

“I dunno‚” Lindsay replied honestly. “Just asking.”

A tense silence fell upon both women that was quickly broken by the waitress. “Have you two decided on lunch yet?”

Lindsay found the waitress’ tone rather rude until she looked at her watch. “Wow‚ we’ve been here for over two hours‚” she announced to Rejeanne.

“I guess that time really does fly when you’re having fun‚” Rejeanne said to Lindsay before turning her attention to the waitress. “Well‚ shoot‚ I guess we should dilute all of this tea and latte in our respective bellies.”

Both women decided on bagel sandwiches and salads for their lunch. While they ate‚ the conversation was reduced to small talk about the weather and current events. However‚ after wiping the last remnants of mayonnaise off her mouth‚ Lindsay was eager to return to the topic of Rejeanne. She wanted to learn more about this young reporter who was captivating her.

“Tell me‚ Rejeanne‚ are you an only child?” she asked.

“Not really‚” Rejeanne answered.  “Mom eventually remarried but never had any more kids. Dad‚ on the other hand‚ remarried three times after he and Mom divorced.  I have two half brothers from the second marriage‚ Devin and Haley‚ and a half sister from the third‚ Chelsea.  Dad wasn’t married long enough to wife number four to knock her up‚ but he has another son‚ Chase‚ by this chick that he was seeing on the side from wife number three.”

“Your dad sounds like a busy man.”

“Yeah‚ busy avoiding child support payments.”

Both women laughed together for the first time. Lindsay was instantly struck with an inexplicable urge to hold Rejeanne’s pretty little hands that were busy crumpling a napkin.

“Are you close to any of your half siblings?” she asked in a desperate attempt to take her mind away from Rejeanne’s tempting hands.

“I’m actually closer to my step-dad’s daughter‚ Kira‚ from his first marriage. But I get along well with Devin and Haley.”

Rejeanne found herself eyeing Lindsay’s lips and thinking how soft they must be. “How about you‚ Lindsay‚” she said‚ breaking her private reverie‚ “are you close to anyone?”

Lindsay leaned in closer to Rejeanne. “To be honest‚ I’ve never really had any close ‘girlfriends.’”

Rejeanne had to quickly define in her mind Lindsay’s interpretation of that word.

“No one to braid my hair or play jacks with‚” she continued. “I do have this cousin‚ however. His name is Keith. He lives in a loft in So-Ho. He’s my closest friend. He’s gay.”

Lindsay thought about why she had to reveal that last bit of information until Rejeanne’s next comment nearly floored her.

“What a coincidence. I’m gay too.”

When Lindsay didn’t react‚ Rejeanne became nervous but for only a moment. That old investigative reporter in her resurfaced. “I have a question for you‚ Lindsay.”

Lindsay’s eyebrows rose and her stomach tightened. “Shouldn’t your husband Martin be your closest friend rather than your cousin Keith?” Rejeanne asked.

Lindsay didn’t respond‚ causing Rejeanne to feel as if her long interview-cum-brunch was going south really fast. “I guess that I’ve taken up enough of your time‚” she said as she flagged the waitress for the bill. “I didn’t mean to pry.”

When the waitress approached‚ Lindsay reached over to grab the check. Rejeanne grabbed Lindsay’s hand. “I’ll get this‚” she said to Lindsay.

Her hand is so soft‚ Lindsay thought. “No‚ I should get it. I’m the filthy rich one‚ remember?” she said.

“Like this bill’s gonna break me‚” Rejeanne said with a smile. “I inconvenienced you. I should pay.”

“It wasn’t an inconvenience. I… I really enjoyed this.”

“I’m pleased‚ Lindsay‚” Rejeanne said. “The article that I write will do this interview justice‚ I promise.”

When the waitress returned with Rejeanne’s change‚ both women stood and were able to get a full close up view of the other. While both timidly smiled‚ Rejeanne and Lindsay helped each other with their coats. “Thank you for the interview‚ Lindsay‚” Rejeanne said as she put on her gloves. “And sorry about rambling on so long.”

“No‚ I thoroughly enjoyed talking with you. And please call me Lin.”

“Groovy‚ Lin‚” Rejeanne said as she boldly chuckled. “My close friends call me Jeannie. You can call me Jeannie‚” she added as she lightheartedly nudged Lindsay’s shoulder.

Lindsay smiled from ear to ear. “Thank you for a most invigorating brunch‚ Jeannie.”

As Rejeanne turned to exit the coffeehouse‚ Lindsay gently grabbed her arm. “Can I‚ uh‚ can I maybe call you… to see how the article is coming along?” she asked.

“I’d like that‚ Lin.”

CHAPTER THREE

SILENCING HESTIA

It was 9:30 in the morning and Lindsay was finishing up a conference call in her massive corporate office located in the Alasdair Bank Building. She had already presided over two separate staff meetings and had taken two earlier overseas conference calls. This was all part of the business for Lindsay Alasdair-MacMahon. Work began promptly at eight‚ if not earlier‚ and the day didn’t end until every task established in the A.M. was completed. It was not uncommon for her to work twelve to fourteen to eighteen-hour days. It was not uncommon for her to work weekends and holidays. This‚ after all‚ was her destiny.

The Alasdair family fortune had grown steadily with the times for over two centuries. Lindsay’s earliest American ancestors were Welsh-born colonists who purchased land from the British government and resold it‚ in lots‚ to the newer colonial arrivals. By the dawn of the American Revolution‚ the Alasdairs had made a sizable profit from government purchases‚ as well as land grabbing‚ which was somewhat hindered‚ however‚ by King George III’s taxation. Thus‚ when the new sovereign government looked inevitable‚ the Alasdairs keenly embraced the change; quickly establishing banks and brokering deals with some of the Founding Fathers and their contemporaries. From the very beginning‚ the Alasdairs knew how to take advantage of governing bodies and turn a profit from it.

Lindsay had taken the lessons she learned from her family history almost to perfection. Buying land globally from areas most thought to be too risky to invest‚ she researched the needs and resources of the areas and built based on those needs and resources‚ be it commercial or residential. Each new acquisition was economically advantageous to the area and to her corporate stronghold.

Lindsay’s office door cracked open as she was removing the phone piece from her ear.

“Are you free‚ Ms. MacMahon?” It was Leigh Duquesne‚ Lindsay’s head administrative assistant.

“I am now‚” Lindsay replied. “Come on in.”

Leigh approached carrying a stack of newspapers. “Your morning editions‚ Ma’am‚” she said‚ as she gently placed the papers on Lindsay’s desk.

Lindsay thumbed past the New York Times‚ the Wall Street Journal‚ the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Chicago Tribune to the Dell Valley Gazette.

“I should have placed that one on top‚ Ms. MacMahon‚” Leigh said‚ “anticipating that you’d be interested in reading your interview.”

Lindsay immediately began reading Rejeanne’s article as Leigh quietly backed away from the desk before turning to leave the office. Just before shutting the door behind her‚ Leigh offered‚ “I read it. It’s very good.”

She raised the newspaper higher in front of her so as to prevent Leigh from glimpsing at her smile as she read. Rejeanne had done the interview “justice” as she had promised. Lindsay was almost in awe at just how well the article flowed. Rejeanne neither sugarcoated Lindsay’s persona nor did she present her as a cold corporate diva.

She was particularly struck by Rejeanne’s candor.

I must confess that I anticipated a brief self-serving interview from an almost unapproachable‚ powerful woman. I was very pleasantly surprised. In between sips of her herbal tea‚ which admittedly made me slightly self-conscious about the caffeine‚ sugar and cream I was putting in my body‚ Lindsay presented a charming and inquisitive woman who appeared more interested in my taste in late 80s prime-time TV shows than she was in revealing what manner she uses to invest her spare change or exfoliate the skin on that beautiful face of hers.

After reading the complete article twice‚ Lindsay put on her telephone headpiece and called her assistant.

“Hold all of my calls for the next half hour‚” she said to Leigh. She then literally watched her right index finger as it slowly pressed the “out” button on her phone‚ allowing her to place a call outside of the company’s communications network.

* * * *

After the exclusive interview with Lindsay‚ Rejeanne wasted no time in composing her article. Feverishly typing‚ she refused to leave her computer until she had finished her masterpiece‚ read it‚ spell-checked it‚ read it again‚ spell-checked it again and read it again. As she submitted her work to the copy editor‚ her heart pounded in her chest. She was not able to relax until she had received word that the final editing of the article had been done. To her delight‚ very few editing changes were necessary.

At eight o’clock in the morning the following day‚ she was in the office of Christopher Dutton‚ the newspaper’s managing editor‚ receiving the praise that she had waited five long years to hear.

“Your coverage of the fundraiser was very good‚ Jeannie‚” Dutton said. “But that interview with Lindsay Alasdair was a stroke of genius‚ literally and figuratively.”

“Thank you‚ sir‚” Rejeanne replied.

“I’m still in awe that she allowed the interview in the first place‚” he continued. “Do you know how many times we’ve tried to get her say something more than a ten-syllable quote?”

“No sir.”

“Let’s just say that there are a few of us here who would have given our left nut to get what you got.”

Rejeanne smiled at the chief editor. “Well‚ sir‚ maybe it’s for the best that I did it‚” she said. “Taking my left ovary would have been far more complicated and invasive.”

Dutton laughed as he stood up. Rejeanne stood as well. “Well‚ I hope that you didn’t promise her your first born‚” he said as he took the hand of the young reporter and shook it. “Good job‚ Jeannie-P.”

“Thanks‚ Mr. Dutton.”

For the next hour‚ Rejeanne sat at her desk as coworkers approached and friends called to laud her article. Although very appreciative of the multitude of praise that she was receiving‚ the one person from whom she wished to hear the most had not telephoned. She said that she would call me to check up‚ Rejeanne said in her mind over and over again that morning as her level of disappointment increased. Thus‚ by ten o’clock‚ she was ready to be as far away from her phone as possible. Looking over at the cubicle of the courthouse beat reporter‚ she stood and approached the woman in it typing on her computer.

“Say‚ Beck‚” Rejeanne said. “Want to take a break and get some coffee?”

“Sure‚” Becky Schaff replied.

Just then‚ a voice from behind the women spoke up.

“Jeannie‚ you got a call.” It was Doris the receptionist.

“You might want to take that‚” Becky stated.

“Naw‚” Rejeanne said to Becky before responding to Doris. “Put it on my voicemail‚ Dor.”

“I don’t think so‚ dear‚” Doris responded. “It’s Lindsay Alasdair-MacMahon.”

“Holy shit!” Becky exclaimed. “Yeah‚ you better get that‚ JP.”

Rejeanne sprinted back to her desk‚ but hesitated in picking up the phone.” What if she hated it… Oh my God‚ she hated it… Shit shit shit shit shit…

“She’s holding‚ Jeannie!” Doris announced.

“For the love of Christ‚ pick it up!” Becky cried out as others started grouping around Rejeanne’s cubicle.

“Can I get some fucking privacy here‚ guys!?!”

As bodies turned away‚ Rejeanne sat down and finally lifted her receiver. “Hello… Rejeanne Piscard here.”

“Hi‚ Jeannie. It’s Lin.”

She doesn’t sound pissed. This is good so far. “Hi Lin. How’s your morning?”

“Pretty awesome‚” Lindsay replied. “I loved the article. Thank you.”

Rejeanne heaved a sigh and leaned back in her chair. Thank you‚ Jesus. “I’m glad you did. I worked very hard to get it right. I wanted to capture you as I saw you.”

“Like a painter capturing his subject on canvas‚ but your brush is your pen… or your laptop‚ so to speak‚” Lindsay said.

“Exactly‚” Rejeanne replied. “I’m so very glad that you enjoyed reading it. I was worried that you were going to think that it sucked.”

Lindsay laughed. “It didn’t suck.”

* * * *

The two women talked on the phone for well over an hour that day. After dispensing the pleasantries of their experience from the day before‚ the two began to share more intimate details of each other’s lives. Lindsay learned in that first phone conversation that Rejeanne majored in journalism and minored in philosophy at DePaul. She also learned that Rejeanne studied dance‚ kick boxing and Tae-Bo on her free time‚ broke her leg water-skiing when she was 14‚ made a wicked chicken-broccoli-cheese casserole and hated Britney Spears. Rejeanne learned that Lindsay competed in gymnastics and swimming in high school‚ lettered in fencing at Dartmouth‚ was an accomplished equestrian‚ hated Andy Rooney and ripped her side open jumping a fence when she 16.

“OUCH!” Rejeanne shouted. “That sounds like it really hurt.”

“It did.”

“What the hell were you doing jumping a fence in the first place?”

“It’s kind of silly‚ Jeannie‚” Lindsay said. “I’m too embarrassed to tell.”

“Oh‚ come on‚” Rejeanne pleaded. “I want to hear it.”

“Well‚ okay‚” Lindsay said‚ sighing. “As you know‚ I did gymnastics. And I’m‚ like‚ five-feet-eleven.”

“Yeah‚ I’ve noticed.” Rejeanne remarked‚ picturing in her mind that tall‚ sleek body.

“Okay‚ so there was this five-foot fence near the school’s faculty parking lot and I‚ uh‚ I wanted to dive over it.”

“Like pole vaulting?”

“Yeah‚ but face forward and without a vaulting pole.”

“That’s insane‚ Lin! What compelled you to try that?”

“I don’t know‚” Lindsay replied. “I was sixteen and not in touch with my own mortality.”

“Well‚ I bet that you and your mortality became intimately acquainted after that day‚” Rejeanne commented.

“Not really‚” Lindsay stated. “After I healed somewhat‚ I did it again.”

“You are insane!”

“Perhaps‚ but second time’s a charm. I cleared it with room to spare‚” Lindsay boasted.

“Whoa!” was all Rejeanne could say.

Lindsay and Rejeanne enjoyed that first phone conversation so much that several more followed over the subsequent days. Lindsay was very mindful of the fact that she was calling Rejeanne at work‚ so the two would talk during her lunch hour. Lindsay enjoyed talking with her new friend far too much to allow the occasional sound of chewing bother her. After the first few days‚ Lindsay‚ who rarely took a lunch‚ started utilizing the time to eat as well. This‚ of course‚ led the conversations in the direction of food.

“So‚ do you have a most favorite FAVORITE food?” Rejeanne asked.

“Calamari‚” Lindsay replied. “Call me weird‚ but I just love calamari. I dig almost all seafood‚ though. Calamari’s just my favorite. How about you?”

“I love to eat‚ period‚ so I can’t pin down a single food‚” Rejeanne stated. “But Chicago-style deep-dish pizza‚ Chicago-style all-beef hot dogs‚ “Ben & Jerry’s” chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream and a good dive burger rank up there.”

“Dive burger?” Lindsay inquired.

“You know‚ one of those juicy grilled burgers that you can only get at a run down corner pub… a dive.”

“Oh.”

The conversations about food eventually led into conversations about movies.

“Is there a specific genre you prefer?” Lindsay asked.

“Not really‚” Rejeanne responded. “The only genre that I totally cannot stand is Jackie Chan kung fu action stuff.”

“I would think that you’d like that‚ being that you’re into kick boxing and all.” Lindsay remarked.

“Oh‚ ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’ was awesome‚” Rejeanne said. “I just don’t like that silly b-movie drivel. How about you?”

“Lifetime Original Movies.”

“But those are made-for-TV movies‚ Lin.”

“Hey‚ I didn’t specify TV versus theatrical release when I posed the question‚” Lindsay replied. “I just asked about genres.”

“Yeah‚ but do ‘Lifetime Original Movies’ count as an entire genre?”

“In my book they do‚” Lindsay replied. “I call ‘em the ‘Lifetime‚ Television for Victims’ genre.”

The conversations about movies eventually led into conversations about actors.

“I think that Gregory Peck and Cary Grant were class acts‚” Rejeanne said.

“From Hollywood’s golden era‚ I’m partial to Humphrey Bogart‚” Lindsay remarked. “How about today?”

“Let’s see‚” Rejeanne started. “I totally love Susan Sarandon‚ Halle Berry‚ Jodie Foster‚ Russell Crowe‚ Denzel Washington and Tom Hanks. They have such range and depth in their performances. Call me crazy‚ but I’ve dug pretty much everything Winona Ryder’s been in too.”

“Hmmm…”

“Yeah‚ she’s a convicted felon‚ but I don’t care. ‘Heathers’ rules.”

“I love Sigourney Weaver‚” Lindsay said. “I suppose it’s a tall chick thing.”

“Then you had to have seen ‘Alien Resurrection‚’” Rejeanne remarked.

“Eight times‚” Lindsay replied. “And I’m sure that you’ve seen it as well.”

“Oh yeah‚” Rejeanne said. “So‚ what do you make of the ‘Ripley-Call’ relationship in that film‚ Lin?”

“I’d say that it was sexually subtextual.”

The conversations about actors eventually led into conversations about drugs.

“So you mean to tell me that you’ve NEVER tried any narcotic?” Rejeanne asked astonished.

“Only once‚ but rather by accident‚” Lindsay replied. “During my sophomore year at Dartmouth‚ I was doing a lot of dorm parties and pub crawling. I was becoming quite the alcoholic‚ actually. It was a difficult year for me‚ Jeannie‚ but I digress. Anyway‚ I was at this party at Streeter Hall one night‚ drunk‚ and this guy persuaded me to chew on what looked like a sheet of stamps. It was LSD.

“Oh‚ God‚” Rejeanne interjected. “Trippin’ while drunk. That’s scary.”

“You aren’t kidding‚ Jeannie‚” Lindsay stated. “After an entire night of watching big purple roaches climbing a florescent wall and then two subsequent days of praying to the porcelain goddess‚ I swore off all liquor and drugs.”

“So you’re an herbal tea-totaler now?”

“I’ll have a glass of wine with dinner‚” Lindsay replied. “But I don’t touch hard liquor.”

After a few seconds of strained silence between the two women‚ Lindsay’s monumental curiosity broke it.

“So‚ uh‚ do you‚ uh… what is your experience with drugs‚” she asked Rejeanne‚ almost afraid of the answer.

“Unfortunately‚ I’ve sampled nearly everything‚” Rejeanne replied. “No heroin‚ meth or crack‚ but I’ve tried acid‚ shrooms‚ special k‚ ‘e’‚ and snorted powdered blow. Didn’t particularly like any of them‚ so don’t worry. I never developed any nasty habits.”

“I’m relieved to hear‚” Lindsay said with a light sigh. “How about alcohol?”

“Never got into drinking. I keep beer stocked at the crib for friends during football season. Like you‚ I do enjoy wine on occasion‚ but I can honestly say that I’ve never been three sheets to the wind.”

“That’s good.”

“Uh‚ I do smoke weed on occasion…” Rejeanne added hesitatingly. “…but not a lot. Does that bother you?”

Lindsay felt an oddly immediate surge of both flattery and concern. “Um‚ I guess not‚” she said. “As long as you know that you aren’t smoking it for the wrong reasons.”

The conversations about drugs eventually led into arguments about politics.

“I hate the Republican Party for a boatload of reasons‚” Rejeanne said‚ “but you know what I most hate about you Republicans?”

“What?”

“Your inability to keep your fucking noses out of my fucking bedroom.”

“Not all Republicans are preoccupied with the issues expressed by the religious right‚ Jeannie‚” Lindsay countered.

“Oh yeah‚” Rejeanne said. “Well‚ the biggest mouths with the deepest pockets in that party seem to be.”

“That’s a tad bit stereotypical‚ Rejeanne‚” Lindsay stated angrily.

A harshly edgy silence seeped over the telephone conversation‚ but only for a minute.

“You know what I hate most about you Democrats?” Lindsay asked.

“What‚ our penchant for oral sex?”

“No‚” Lindsay replied. “Your penchant for taking the hard-earned tax dollars of working stiff Joe Normal and giving it to welfare mamma so that she can buy her kids their $100 Adidas shoes and keep up her $200 a week hairdo.”

“Well‚ shit‚” Rejeanne said. “That’s a tad bit stereotypical‚ Lindsay Alasdair-MacMahon.”

And of course‚ the arguments about politics eventually led into conversations about sex.

“Okay‚ Lindsay‚ how old were you when you got your cherry busted… and I want details.”

“I don’t know about this‚ Jeannie‚” Lindsay replied. “I’m talking to a reporter. You’re not going to sell this info to the National Enquirer‚ are you?”

“Now there’s an idea‚” Rejeanne said‚ jokingly. “I can take it to them‚ and then I’m sure that you’ll pay double the fee to buy my silence. I can then pay off my student loans and my car and have money left over to do that weekend at Six Flags that I’ve been dreaming about. Su-weet! So start talking.”

“Well‚ since my money’s going to go to such good use‚ I’ll oblige‚” Lindsay quipped. “I was sixteen.”

“Sixteen was a banner year for you.”

“I suppose‚” Lindsay said‚ continuing. “Anyway‚ it was one time and then I didn’t experience sex again until I was a junior at Dartmouth.”

“That bad‚ huh?”

“Neither one of us knew what we were doing.”

“And the Dartmouth experience?”

Lindsay sighed. “He was my first real boyfriend. His name was Nadir Balaji and he was from New Delhi. We had a really intense love affair.”

“What happened?” Rejeanne asked.

“My father happened‚” Lindsay declared.

“But you were a junior in college‚ Lin‚” Rejeanne said. “What were you‚ like‚ 21?”

“Oh‚ Dad didn’t get to me‚ Jeannie‚” Lindsay stated. “I would have told him to go get fucked. He scared Nadir away.”

“How?”

“Threatened to go to the INS and have Nadir’s student visa revoked.”

“He couldn’t do that‚” Rejeanne asked‚ “could he?”

“My father has connections in the Justice Department‚ so yeah‚ he could.”

“I’m sorry‚ Lin.”

“Don’t be‚” Lindsay said in a matter-of-fact tone that Rejeanne could sense over the phone. “So how about you? When was your first encounter?”

“Do you want to know about my first time with a man or with a woman?” Rejeanne asked.

Lindsay had never been confronted with that question before. “I‚ uh‚ don’t know‚” she said.

“With a dude‚ I was a senior in high school‚” Rejeanne started. “His name was Ronnie Deichmann and we were best buds. We both hung with the alternative grunge crowd. You know‚ the skateboarding‚ clove cigarette smoking‚ ripped cargo pants wearing dweebs. Anyway‚ Ronnie and I were hanging out in his basement one night‚ smoking pot and listening to Nirvana when we started making out. Next thing you know‚ we were naked on the moldy couch he had down there.”

“Did you enjoy it?” Lindsay asked.

“Hell no‚” Rejeanne replied. “When he was done… after about four minutes… I got up and told him that I was never doing that again. Blew his ego pretty bad.”

“But Jeannie‚ sexual intercourse usually hurts women for the first time. It can get better.”

“It wasn’t that‚ Lin‚” Rejeanne remarked. “I experienced a void. It was as if I had just drunk a glass of sand. It felt wrong for me.”

There was a lengthy silence in the conversation while Lindsay contemplated what she had just been told and how she would ask the question that torched her curiosity. “So‚ uh‚ with a woman… when did you…”

“…Munch on the Stainmaster?” Rejeanne chimed in.

“Excuse me?”

“Be with a woman. Go down on a woman. MUFF DIVE.”

Lindsay cleared her very dry throat. “Uh‚ yes‚ I suppose.”

“This is totally freaking you out‚ isn’t it‚ Lin?”

“N… no‚ um‚ I’m okay.”

“Nada when I was at Marquette freshman year‚” Rejeanne started. “But when I got to DePaul… su-whee… I was a dyke in heat.”

Lindsay cleared her throat again.

“Sophomore year‚ I played on the college softball and women’s rugby teams. My first experience was with a girl name Kirsten VanderPloeg. Her nickname was ‘Tank’ and she drove like one‚ if you know what I mean. My first real girlfriend was a criminal justice major. Her name was Josephine Clark‚ but everyone called her Jo.”

“How long were you together?”

“Almost two years‚” Rejeanne said. “We decided that we were better off as friends… and we still are. She’s a Chicago cop now.”

At that moment‚ Rejeanne noticed that her lunch hour was about to end. She had enjoyed her lunchtime chats with Lindsay. She even enjoyed their sometimes-heated political debates. But she longed for more. They had not actually seen each other since the interview. So‚ summoning up courage that she hoped she had‚ Rejeanne decided to throw caution to the wind as she put forward a proposal that she had been contemplating for days.

“Lin‚” she started‚ “would you‚ uh‚ might you be interested in maybe getting together to‚ uh‚ I don’t know‚ hang out‚ watch a flick on DVD or something… or am I being too forward?

Lindsay was grateful that Rejeanne couldn’t see her level of excitement at the proposal. “Sure‚ Jeannie. I mean‚ no‚ you’re not being too forward and‚ yes‚ I’d love to get together and hang out with you sometime.”

“What are you doing Thursday evening?” Rejeanne asked. “Must-see TV will be reruns all that night.”

“Let me check my calendar‚” Lindsay said before retrieving her pocket PC and calling up her calendar. Why am I bothering with this? she asked herself. I’ll make myself free. “I don’t seem to have any commitments that evening‚” she lied‚ totally disregarding a business dinner that she had scheduled with Martin and two of her major corporate shareholders.

“Great!” Rejeanne said. “Come to my place. I don’t have servants up the yin-yang‚ a tennis court or an indoor swimming pool‚ but I have beer and wine in the fridge‚ a comfy couch‚ and a wide screen TV. And since you like fish‚ I’ll conjure up something… uh‚ fishy… for you to eat.”

“Where do you live‚ Jeannie?”

“Valley Grove Condominiums.”

Once she secured directions to Rejeanne’s home and agreed on a time‚ Lindsay said her farewell to her friend. After disconnecting‚ she leaned back and stared up at the ceiling for the longest time‚ thinking about everything that had transpired in the last few days. She had a friend‚ a genuine adult female friend. Rejeanne was someone who wasn’t concerned about sucking up to Lindsay‚ manipulating her or cashing in on her wealth. But Lindsay knew that there was something more. She was attracted to this spirited young woman; attracted to her independence‚ her determination‚ and her spunk. She was also attracted to Rejeanne’s honesty and her conviction in her beliefs. And yes‚ Lindsay was attracted to Rejeanne’s body: her curves‚ her lovely face‚ her melodic voice and her pretty hands. She dared not allow herself to think about sex. She was married‚ she respected Rejeanne entirely too much and she was not really like that.

Am I?

After her long moments of quiet reflection‚ Lindsay dialed her husband. “Martin‚” she said. “I’m canceling dinner with Tachman and Rosen Thursday night.”

CHAPTER FOUR

CONCERT OF THE SIRENS

Lindsay spent the entire afternoon of that distinctive Thursday at various specialty-clothing stores along the main fashion strip in downtown Dell Valley. She had not allowed herself the joy of wearing denim for over five years‚ mainly because an occasion had not presented itself where jeans would have been appropriate. Now‚ however‚ she was anticipating the evening with her new friend‚ Rejeanne‚ and it was important for her to look as casual and comfortable as possible. Thus‚ after having tried on several pairs of high-end designer jeans‚ she decided on three styles of Levis. Purchasing some casual blouses and sweaters and even a couple of t-shirts would follow. Amazed at just how little she ended up spending‚ Lindsay smiled at the prospect of what awaited her.

She arrived at Rejeanne’s condo complex several minutes early. For reasons unknown to her‚ she was quite nervous about simply parking her vehicle and approaching Rejeanne’s front door. Thus‚ she spent those minutes slowly driving around the complex‚ playing around in her mind with what she would say and do once that door opened.

“Hey‚ Lin‚” Rejeanne said after answering her doorbell. “Right on time.”

“Hi‚” Lindsay replied as she entered and handed Rejeanne a lovely bouquet of flowers. “For you.”

“Thank you‚ Lin‚” Rejeanne cheerily said as she took the bouquet. “You’re so sweet. Here‚ let me take your coat‚” she added.

“Thanks‚” Lindsay replied as she bent down to remove her boots. “It smells wonderful in here. What scent is that?”

“It’s the scent of warm vanilla coming from my burning candles‚” Rejeanne answered. “I needed to drown out the fish smell from the dinner that I cooked for you.”

“You didn’t have to cook me dinner‚ Jeannie.”

“I know.”

Lindsay followed Rejeanne into her small but cozy kitchen and immediately began eyeing the various magnets and photos on Rejeanne’s refrigerator.

“Pretty busy fridge door‚ huh?” Rejeanne remarked‚ embarrassed.

“No‚ I think that it’s quite interesting‚” Lindsay replied as she closed in on one photo in particular. “When was this picture of you taken?” she asked as she noticed the differences in Rejeanne’s hairstyle and clothing.

“That was taken in college‚” Rejeanne replied. “About six or seven years ago. I sported a mullet back then‚ but only for about a year.”

“Who’s the woman in the picture with you?”

“That’s my buddy‚ Jo.”

“Didn’t you date her?”

“She’s an old ex‚ yeah.”

“You didn’t tell me that your ex‚ uh‚ friend was a black lady.”

“One‚ you didn’t ask‚” Rejeanne replied defensively‚ “and two‚ does it matter?”

“No‚” Lindsay said‚ immediately realizing how her statement must have resonated with Rejeanne. “I didn’t mean to sound… she’s very pretty. I can see why you would‚ you know‚ go out with her.”

“Well‚ Jo wasn’t my last girlfriend‚” Rejeanne said. “The last one‚ who is very white I might add‚ is a long story that you wouldn’t want to hear and I don’t particularly want to tell.”

“That bad?”

“That bad.”

Rejeanne thought that‚ at that moment‚ presenting her main course to Lindsay was in order. Bending over to open her stove‚ she pulled out two large perfectly baked and seasoned lake perch and offered them to a wide-eyed Lindsay.

“They look absolutely delicious!” Lindsay said‚ trying to maintain composure.

“I hope that they taste absolutely delicious to you as well.”

Dinner for the two women went almost flawlessly. Along with the meal of perch‚ baked potatoes‚ vegetables‚ French bread dinner rolls and Chardonnay‚ the two women enjoyed stimulating conversation that included more detailed information about Rejeanne’s past dating life. As Lindsay was asking questions‚ she began feeling a strange sensation… jealousy.

“You’ve gone out with a lot of women‚ Jeannie‚” she commented.

“I wouldn’t call six since the age of eighteen a lot‚ Lin‚” Rejeanne replied. “Hell‚ some straight girls that I knew in college dated that many men and more each semester.”

“Perhaps‚ but did they‚ you know… did they‚ did you…”

“…Sleep with all of them?”

Lindsay could only nod.

“No‚ Lin‚” Rejeanne said. “I’m not a ‘ho.’ Just like straight girls‚ lesbians go out on casual dates. We don’t just fuck everything and anything that shows us a little attention.”

Lindsay was instantly relieved. “I certainly didn’t mean to imply promiscuity‚” she said. “I just find it hard to believe that someone as… as energetic and‚ um‚ attractive as you wouldn’t have found that special person eons ago.”

Rejeanne smiled. “Who’s to say that I still won’t?”

Lindsay felt butterflies in her stomach.

* * * *

After dinner‚ the women wandered into Rejeanne’s living room. Having both polished off the first bottle of wine between them‚ Rejeanne opened up the second while Lindsay looked over the collection of DVDs.

“Anything interest you?” Rejeanne asked.

Lindsay pulled out two. “I’ve never seen this movie‚” she lifted up one DVD‚ “or this one.”

“‘Monster’s Ball’ is excellent‚” Rejeanne remarked‚ “and Halle Berry is awesome in it‚ but the movie’s a downer.” She grabbed the other DVD from Lindsay. “‘Girl‚ Interrupted‚’ on the other hand‚ has some pretty dramatic highs and lows. Much more upbeat overall though.”

“Well‚ this isn’t fair‚” Lindsay said. “We should watch a movie that neither of us has seen. Won’t watching one of these movies again bore you?”

“Hell‚ no‚” Rejeanne replied. “I can watch a good movie over and over. I have absolutely no problem with sitting through either film again. I’ve already seen them both at least twice already. I’m surprised at you‚ Miss I’ve-Seen-‘Alien-Resurrection’-Eight-Times.”

Lindsay smiled. “So‚ which one?” she asked.

“You decide.”

“‘Girl‚ Interrupted.’”

As Rejeanne poured more wine‚ Lindsay made herself comfortable on Rejeanne’s couch and looked around the living room of the condo. She thought to herself just how comfortable and well-decorated Rejeanne’s home appeared and how relaxed she was in her surroundings. As Lindsay pondered‚ she also came to the realization that she had not revealed much about herself to Rejeanne. Lindsay wondered both if Rejeanne wanted to ask questions but was too afraid of sounding reporter-like or if she was simply not interested at all in knowing anything about Lindsay.

As Rejeanne sat down beside Lindsay and handed her the glass of wine‚ she gently grabbed Rejeanne’s hand. “Is there anything else about me that you’d like to know?”

Rejeanne’s eyes widened at the question. “Sure‚” she replied. “I know that it’s been at least five years‚ since I don’t ever recall reading about any announcement in the paper.” She took a deep breath. “Okay‚ so just how long have you been married?”

“It’ll be nine years this spring‚” Lindsay replied.

“That’s a pretty long time‚” Rejeanne remarked. “Why don’t you have any kids?”

“I don’t have time for children.” Lindsay’s comment came out too quickly.

Rejeanne turned her body toward Lindsay. “Help me here‚” she began. “How can you not have time for kids? You’re a multi multi-millionaire. Hell‚ you could probably live your lifetime over and over twenty times and not have to earn an extra dollar and you’d still be living good.”

“What’s your point?”

“What exactly do you do that you couldn’t find time to raise a family?”

“You know what I do‚” Lindsay said as a smoldering anger began to surface. “You interviewed me‚ remember?”

“You buy and sell major commercial real estate and own big companies…blah blah blah‚” Rejeanne said. “So‚ couldn’t that be a basic nine-to-five operation if you allowed it?”

“No‚ it can’t‚” Lindsay pronounced. “I’ve built my corporate stronghold in ten years to four times the size that it was when my father ran things and twenty times the size it was at the end of World War II. This didn’t happen because I ‘allowed’ a basic nine-to-five operation. Is that help enough?”

Rejeanne was somewhat stunned by Lindsay’s heated tone‚ but persisted. “But Lin‚ just how huge does the Alasdair fortune need to be before it’s big enough?”

Lindsay had never been directly challenged with that question. Of course‚ her family fortune was large enough for her‚ her husband‚ and any children they might have to live out in fulfilling wealth. Of course‚ she could quit working tomorrow and her lifestyle would not be compromised one bit. But in Lindsay’s mind‚ Rejeanne was missing the point. Building the corporate stronghold was never about money to Lindsay. It was and had always been about gaining more power.

“I had an important meeting this evening that I canceled to be here with you‚” Lindsay remarked‚ dodging Rejeanne’s question.

“I certainly didn’t mean to take you away from an important function‚” Rejeanne said‚ “but if my memory serves me correctly‚ you told me that you would be free this evening.”

Lindsay took a deep breath‚ realizing that she had allowed herself to speak before thinking. “So I did‚” she said as she relaxed her shoulders. “Perhaps it wasn’t all that important after all.”

Rejeanne smiled‚ relieved that the tension of the last few minutes was quickly fading. “Yeah‚” she said. “What can be more important than Winona and Angelina in the nuthouse together?”

Both women laughed. “Of course‚ adding Whoopi to the mix can only make it more palatable‚” Lindsay added‚ noticing on the back of the DVD cover that Whoopi Goldberg also appeared in the film.

“Damned important‚ I’d say‚” Rejeanne remarked before taking a hearty gulp of her wine and hitting “play” on her DVD player remote.

During the movie‚ Lindsay found herself fighting tears during the more somber scenes. This surprised her‚ since she was not one to cry easily. Oftentimes as well‚ she found herself looking out of the corner of her left eye at Rejeanne‚ who displayed a range of emotions during the course of the film. Rejeanne would openly cry or laugh appropriately‚ which further stunned Lindsay‚ given the number of times Rejeanne had already seen the movie. During the last scene‚ when Winona Ryder’s character‚ Susanna Kaysen‚ was saying her goodbyes to first her friends at the psychiatric hospital and then to Whoopi Goldberg’s character‚ Nurse Valerie‚ Lindsay was no longer able to suppress the tears that began slowing draining from her eyes. Rejeanne looked over at her new friend‚ happy that the oh-so-stoic Lindsay Alasdair-MacMahon did‚ in fact‚ have both a heart and a soul. I was beginning to doubt the existence of either‚ she thought as she slowly‚ shyly reached over and grabbed her friend’s slightly trembling hand. Embarrassed for only a moment‚ Lindsay squeezed the hand that held hers. They remained that way for the entire rolling of the credits.

Not really wanting to release Lindsay’s hand‚ but feeling awkward for still holding it‚ Rejeanne stood while gently freeing her grip and wandered over to the refrigerator to open a third bottle of Chardonnay.

“Ready for more?” she announced as she popped the cork.

“Sure‚” Lindsay replied‚ not remotely concerned that she had already consumed more wine than she ever had before. “This is excellent wine.”

“Thank you‚ Lin‚” Rejeanne said. “I’m more of a fruitier‚ sweeter wine taster myself. Give me a bottle of Riunite D’Oro and I’m good. But the first time that I saw you‚ I said to myself‚ ‘self‚ this woman is a California Chardonnay sipper.’ So I went over to Marty’s Wine and Spirits on First Avenue and the dude there told me that the ’99 Clos Du Bois Alexander Valley Reserve was a favorite in the Alasdair home. Looked at the price and almost fainted. I hope that this slightly less expensive swill‚ care-of Ernest and Julio Gallo‚ suffices.”

Lindsay chuckled. “I’m drinking it up just fine‚ aren’t I?”

“Yep‚ you are.”

As Rejeanne returned to her place on the couch‚ the two women discussed the movie for a while before returning to the issue of Lindsay. “So‚ anything else about me you need to know?” Lindsay asked.

Rejeanne looked skyward and rubbed her chin dramatically. “Let’s see‚ married nine years‚” she said‚ recapping‚ “no time for kids‚ and has this Donald Trump the-bigger-the-better thing going.”

Lindsay smirked.

“Tell me about your husband‚ Lin.”

“What do you want to know about him?”

“Is he a nice guy?” Rejeanne queried. “Does he make you laugh?” She leaned closer to Lindsay. “Is he a stallion?” she added lightheartedly.

Lindsay leaned back‚ flabbergasted. “I don’t see where that’s any of your business.”

“You’re right‚ it isn’t‚” Rejeanne said. “I didn’t mean to offend‚ but you did open the door‚ Lin. And we’ve shared so much in such a short period of time that I didn’t think you’d mind. Is that what I get for thinking?”

Lindsay looked down at her hands that rested tensely on her lap. “No‚ but I really don’t feel comfortable with discussing certain aspects of my marriage. I’m sorry for snapping at you.”

“Fair enough‚ Lin‚” Rejeanne stated as she gently caressed Lindsay’s left shoulder. “I apologize too.”

Lindsay looked up and into Rejeanne’s eyes. They held each other’s gaze for what seemed an eternity to both. There was a part of Lindsay that wanted to share her marriage with Rejeanne. She trusted that this woman would listen attentively‚ remark aptly and not pass any judgment. She eagerly wanted Rejeanne to know her‚ but she also had major reservations about exposing herself. In Lindsay’s mind‚ parts of her marriage to Martin were too vulnerable.

And‚ Rejeanne was still a newspaper reporter.

As Lindsay gazed into Rejeanne’s eyes‚ she began to feel something else. Rejeanne’s eyes were so bright and beautiful to her. Her face was so lovely. Her lips were so full and rosy. Startled by those feelings‚ Lindsay broke the glance by looking away.

“I hope that he makes you happy‚ Lin‚” Rejeanne commented. “You deserve to be happy.”

Lindsay diffidently returned her glare at Rejeanne. “Are you happy‚ Jeannie?”

“Most times‚” Rejeanne replied. “I have some pretty cool friends‚ I dig my job and I like my place. Living in snooty‚ uptight Dell Valley can be a drag sometimes‚ but when I need to getaway‚ I hook up with friends and cruise down to Milwaukee or even Chicago.”

“What about a girlfriend?” Lindsay asked.

“Why‚ you got someone in mind?” Rejeanne joked‚ causing Lindsay to squirm in her place on the couch.

She’s so uncomfortable right now‚ Rejeanne thought as she pondered where she could go with the conversation. “So‚ you were born in the Big Apple‚ yes?” she asked‚ deciding on a topic that had a sure-fire safety mechanism.

“Yup.”

“You don’t have an East Coast accent‚ so I suspect you weren’t raised there‚” Rejeanne noted. “Am I right?”

“Mom‚ Dad‚ and I lived in New York City until I was about six‚” Lindsay stated. “I remember the place. It was a large townhouse-style mansion off Central Park East‚ near the Guggenheim. Dad loved the primo location‚ but Mom hated living in Manhattan. Too busy and dirty for her. She’s from upstate New York and really wanted me to be raised there. They fought about it for a long time‚ until Dad got a tip about some prime real estate here in Wisconsin. After purchasing about eighty percent of the commercial property of Dell Valley‚ which was then just a small and trendy summer getaway for the Chicago‚ Milwaukee‚ and Twin City wealthy‚ he talked Mom into relocating us here. She was okay with that because it beat staying in Manhattan.”

“So you were raised here.”

“Only until age eleven and then after that‚ only during the summers and holidays‚” Lindsay said. “I attended a boarding school in Connecticut starting in the sixth grade.”

“Bummer.”

“It wasn’t too bad‚ Jeannie‚” Lindsay stated. “At least I wasn’t around much to watch my parents’ marriage fall apart.”

“I know that they’re divorced‚” Rejeanne commented. “The Alasdairs’ personal lives are basic Dell Valley 101 requirement of the newspaper staff. How old were you when they split?”

“Fourteen.”

“Did you take it pretty hard?”

“Not really‚” Lindsay responded. “Dad was never really in the picture to begin with‚ so there was nothing to miss.”

“I get the distinct impression that you really don’t get along well with your father‚ Lin‚” Rejeanne observed.

“He’s an condescending‚ bigoted‚ narcissistic prick‚” Lindsay heatedly pronounced.

“Whoa!” Rejeanne exclaimed.

“Didn’t mean to dump that on you‚ Jeannie‚” Lindsay said. “It’s just that he was never really a father to me except to remind me constantly of my position in this world as an ‘Alasdair.’”

“I would think that that’d be a good thing‚ being an Alasdair‚” Rejeanne remarked. “He’s proud of the family‚ sounds like.”

“It’s not just pride‚ Jeannie. It’s power and control. As an Alasdair‚ I had to receive the best education‚ continue in the family business‚ marry a fellow Ivy League WASP and hopefully bear children to carry on the legacy. There was no other path in life for me.”

“And you’ve almost fulfilled your obligation‚ Lin.”

“Exactly‚” Lindsay said. “My obligation.”

Rejeanne soothingly placed her hand back on Lindsay’s shoulder. “If you hadn’t been stifled with the expectations of your heritage‚ would you have done something different with your life?”

Lindsay nearly choked on her wine. No one had ever asked this of her before; not Martin‚ not even Keith. “Don’t get me wrong‚” Lindsay finally said. “I love what I do. I’m good at it. But if I could have… would have chosen a different path‚ I would’ve wanted it to involve philanthropy.”

“But you are a philanthropist‚” Rejeanne said. “Your family foundation donates tons of money to worthy causes every year.”

“Yes‚ but I do that work mostly from either here in Dell Valley or our other corporate offices in New York and Bethesda‚ Maryland‚” Lindsay responded. “I’ve traveled extensively on business‚ but I would find it much more rewarding to travel to troubled areas‚ both here and abroad‚ doing something‚ anything to make the peoples of those areas have better lives.”

In that moment‚ Rejeanne really wanted to hug Lindsay‚ partly as a comfort but also because she was feeling very close to her. Suppressing that urge‚ she instead looked apprehensively at her watch. Lindsay noticed her doing that. “It’s late‚” Lindsay announced. “I should go.”

“No‚ I wasn’t trying to imply anything‚” Rejeanne stated. “I… I just didn’t know how to respond to your wonderful last statement. I… I was speechless‚ if you can believe that‚” she chuckled nervously. “I think it’s great that you are so compassionate.”

Lindsay smiled. “I really should get going‚” she said. “It’s late and I’m sure that you have to be at work early tomorrow.” She rose and padded over to the door to put on her boots. “Thank you very much for a most wonderful evening.”

Rejeanne jumped up and sprinted to the closet to retrieve Lindsay’s coat. After helping her put it on‚ Rejeanne opened her door and both woman looked on in horror at the heavy snowstorm outside.

“I don’t think that you should drive home in this‚ Lin‚” Rejeanne announced.

“My vehicle has four-wheel drive‚” Lindsay replied. “I’ll be okay.”

“It’s not that‚ Lin. You’ve been drinking. I’m sure that that sweet-looking Hummer H2 out there has a kick-ass navigational system‚ but it still can’t drive you home.”

“I’m not drunk‚ Jeannie.”

“I’m not saying that you are‚” Rejeanne said. “But I do believe that you’d be driving impaired after sharing almost three whole bottles of wine with me.”

As Lindsay opened her mouth to speak‚ Rejeanne placed her hands on Lindsay’s upper arms. “Please…” she said. “Stay here.”

Lindsay again looked deeply into Rejeanne’s eyes as a whirlwind of thoughts coursed through her foggy mind. “Perhaps you’re right‚” she stated‚ trying desperately to repress the more sexual notions.

Rejeanne was also dealing with her own demons. She desperately wanted to lie down with Lindsay. They didn’t necessarily have to have sex‚ but Rejeanne had fantasized several times over the course of the evening the idea of curling up with Lindsay in an intimate embrace. She wondered what Lindsay looked like under her blouse and jeans and imagined that it was quite sultry.

Down‚ girl‚ she thought. “You can have my bed‚ Lin‚” she said‚ blaming her wicked thoughts on the wine. “It’s a queen size. The one in my spare bedroom is only a daybed. I suspect that you and those long legs of yours would be much more comfortable in the bigger bed.”

“I don’t want to put you out‚ Jeannie.”

“No big thing‚” Rejeanne assured. “I’m cool.”

* * * *

Being the perfect hostess‚ Rejeanne gave Lindsay a fresh towel and washcloth‚ a new toothbrush still in the packaging‚ and the largest nightshirt she had. After Lindsay undressed‚ Rejeanne also insisted on washing her friend’s clothes so that she would have clean and fresh attire to wear home the next morning. Rejeanne even gave Lindsay some magazines to read while she did the small load of laundry.

Lindsay‚ not wanting to feel like a burden‚ eventually padded downstairs to the kitchen and loaded the dirty dishes into Rejeanne’s dishwasher and wiped down the kitchen counter and dining room table. Then‚ finding her way into Rejeanne’s utility room‚ she waited with her friend for the dryer to finish.

For the most part‚ the two women waited in silence. Rejeanne was trying dreadfully hard not to look too provocatively at Lindsay‚ who wore a “Dilbert” nightshirt and nothing else. Likewise‚ Lindsay couldn’t help but notice Rejeanne’s WNBA tank top and Hard Rock Café boxers‚ as well as her well-toned biceps‚ the left one sporting a purple barbed-wire tattoo‚ and her shapely legs. God‚ she’s so hot. Lindsay finally allowed the thought to escape her inner conscience before leaning on the dryer and uneasily crossing her legs.

Rejeanne seriously needed to break the sexually edgy silence. “So‚ what do you make of the ‘Susanna-Lisa’ relationship in ‘Girl‚ Interrupted’‚ Lin?”

“I’d say that it too was sexually subtextual.”

“You should watch the bonus stuff on the DVD sometime. In an interview‚ Winona Ryder admitted that her character practically fell in love with Angelina’s character‚” Rejeanne replied as she realized that she wasn’t helping the tense situation one bit.

Thankfully‚ the dryer buzzer took both women out of their wine-enhanced‚ lust-filled reverie.

* * * *

Lindsay lay on Rejeanne’s bed for several moments before admitting to herself that she was not going to sleep. Shyly‚ she padded over to the spare bedroom and lightly knocked on the door. “Yeah‚” the voice from inside whispered.

“I can’t sleep‚ Jeannie‚” Lindsay announced.

There was a long moment of silence before the door finally opened and Rejeanne emerged. “I understand‚” she offered. “I’ll come and keep you company for awhile. I have a hard time sleeping in strange beds too sometimes.”

Rejeanne followed Lindsay back into her own bedroom and both women lay down on the extreme opposite ends of the bed.

You could fit a football field between us‚ Rejeanne thought as she cocked her head to the side and eyed her friend. “Shall I bore you to sleep with the more mundane tales of my college days?” she asked. “Perhaps you’d like to hear in mind-numbing detail about the summer that I spent driving a cab in Madison. Much easier to get a hack license there than in‚ say‚ Chicago. Or I could tell you about the night that I spent in the ER with this rugby buddy of mine who got part of her finger amputated in one of those automatic doors at Wal-Mart. The law suit is still pending…”

A thickly tense silence invaded the room for several seconds while Rejeanne pondered what her friend was thinking. Lindsay was staring at the ceiling‚ causing Rejeanne to turn her gaze to the ceiling as well. Finally Rejeanne felt a stir as Lindsay turned her body over on her side‚ facing Rejeanne.

“Jeannie‚” she said‚ “I… I… may I kiss you?”

CHAPTER FIVE

CONFRONTING THE MINOTAUR

From the first time that she laid eyes on Lindsay Alasdair-MacMahon at that fundraiser‚ Rejeanne Piscard had often imagined what it would be like to share an intimate kiss with her. Never in her deepest musings‚ however‚ did she ever imagine that it could become a possibility. Thus‚ when she heard those words come from Lindsay’s sensuous lips‚ she was not merely taken by surprise. She actually thought for a moment that she was hearing things…

… until Lindsay asked the question again.

“I really want to kiss you‚ Jeannie‚” she said. “Please‚ let me kiss you.”

Rejeanne turned and looked into the sparkling blue eyes of her friend. There were so many thoughts swirling through her mind about herself and her reaction and about Lindsay and Lindsay’s motives. What’s her deal? Is she bi-curious or just curious? Is it the wine? Finally succumbing to her own yearning demons‚ she warily nodded.

Lindsay slowly closed in on Rejeanne and gingerly caressed the side of her face. She looked into Rejeanne’s eyes and nervously smiled. “You’re so beautiful‚” she whispered‚ before gradually lowering her face down to meet her lips with Rejeanne’s. At the moment that their lips touched‚ a sharply intense sensation rushed through Lindsay’s body. Her skin tingled and the hairs on her arms rose. Initially‚ the kiss was very light‚ but as Lindsay felt Rejeanne’s hands first connect with her sides and then wrap around her lower waist over the nightshirt‚ the kiss became deeper and more passionate. Rejeanne’s lips were lush and velvety to Lindsay‚ and the new sensation thrilled her deeply. Lindsay gently wrapped one forearm around Rejeanne’s neck and the other around her waist to draw her closer as she opened her mouth to make contact with Rejeanne’s eagerly awaiting tongue. As the two tongues joined and caressed‚ that sensation in Lindsay’s body settled down in her groin area where it began to throb and saturate intensely.

Rejeanne’s heart pounded in her chest as her lips met Lindsay’s. She was petrified and excited at the same time. She wanted to soak up everything‚ remember everything because she believed this to be the only time that she would ever do this with Lindsay. Thus‚ she committed to memory the suppleness of Lindsay’s lips‚ the softness of her skin‚ the firmness of her backside‚ and the sexiness of the quiet moans coming from her throat. She soaked up the image of Lindsay’s silky dark brown hair as it acted as an umbrella over both of their faces. She absorbed Lindsay’s scent‚ her heat‚ and her beauty. I’m in heaven‚ Rejeanne thought.

However‚ in addition to all of the wonderful thoughts that filtered through Rejeanne’s mind‚ there was a troubling one that she could not escape. Martin. In that instant‚ she sharply cocked her head away from Lindsay and released her from the embrace.

“I can’t do this‚” she said.

Lindsay did not want to ask why‚ terrified of the answer. “I’m sorry‚” she said as she backed away from Rejeanne and returned to the safety of her edge of the bed. “I didn’t mean to horrify you.”

“Horrify me‚” Rejeanne exclaimed. “Are you kidding? I’m wet beyond belief right now.”

Lindsay looked at her. “Then‚ what’s wrong?” she asked‚ totally oblivious to the apparent.

“Hello?” Rejeanne retorted dramatically. “Look at that rock on your left ring finger‚ Lindsay.”

Lindsay looked away. “I can’t do this‚” Rejeanne repeated. “You’re married… to a man… and you’re straight. Even if you weren’t married‚ you’re still straight and even if you’re not entirely straight‚ you’re still in a committed relationship with a man. I won’t go down that road‚ Lindsay.”

Lindsay looked over at Rejeanne and‚ seeing the tears falling down her lovely face‚ she sighed. “I’m so sorry‚” she said. “I wasn’t trying to test your boundaries. Honestly‚ I wasn’t even considering the consequences of my actions. I know that was wrong of me‚ but I have these feelings. I don’t really understand them. I just wanted to be close to you.”

Try as she might‚ Lindsay could not stop her tears from falling either.

Rejeanne turned her body to face Lindsay. “I want to be close to you too‚ Lin‚” she said. “But I’m afraid… afraid of possibly falling for a woman who is unattainable.”

At that moment‚ their overwhelming need to comfort each other outweighed their fears. Closing the space between them‚ Rejeanne and Lindsay took each other in a bittersweet embrace. They both cried for a while‚ but said nothing more to each other. As they held each other‚ however‚ a calm and comfort passed through and between them. Eventually‚ sleep claimed them both.

* * * *

Lindsay was jarred awake by the sound of her cell phone ringing. Only a second or two passed before she realized that she was spooning Rejeanne. She’s so soft and sexy and beautiful‚ she thought. Seriously not wanted to disrupt the embrace or awaken Rejeanne‚ Lindsay contemplated not answering the phone. Unfortunately‚ rationality ruled out.

Carefully‚ Lindsay reached over to Rejeanne’s nightstand where the phone rested. Flipping it open‚ she looked at the screen before slowly bringing the device to her ear.

“Yeah‚ Marty‚” she whispered.

“Where the hell are you?” said the loud and irate voice over the phone.

“Still at Jeannie’s‚” she quietly responded.

“You could have fuckin’ called‚” he exclaimed. “Do you realize what time it is? I’ve been worried sick here.”

“You don’t need to shout‚ Marty‚” Lindsay whispered. “I can hear you just fine.”

“When are you coming home?” he asked.

“In the morning‚” she responded.

“Okay‚” he said. “What time?”

“When I feel like it.”

“Well‚ I hope that you feel like it in time for that ten o’clock rescheduled meeting with Tachman and Rosen that I finagled.”

“Right‚” Lindsay quietly said before closing her cell phone‚ relieved that Rejeanne had only briefly squirmed during the exchange with Martin. Placing the phone back on the nightstand‚ Lindsay eagerly returned to the task at hand‚ affectionately spooning Rejeanne.

* * * *

When Rejeanne opened her eyes‚ the first thing that she saw was the frost on her bedroom window. The snowstorm had passed‚ leaving a clear and bright dawn that was almost whitened by the new blanket of Wisconsin snow. Rejeanne then looked down under her covers to see an arm wrapped around her waist. “This is interesting‚” she whispered to herself before turning her head to eye the sleeping beauty directly behind her.

“So this is what Lindsay Alasdair-MacMahon looks like when she sleeps‚” Rejeanne quipped to the sleeping form next to her. “I like it.”

At that moment‚ a blue eye exposed itself. “What time is it?” asked a groggy Lindsay.

“Unfortunately‚ time for me to get up‚” Rejeanne replied.

At that moment‚ Lindsay abruptly removed her arm from around Rejeanne’s waist and pulled herself back away from her. “I’m sorry. I sometimes have boundary issues when I sleep‚” she said half-jokingly.

“Ah‚ you’re a snuggler‚ huh?” Rejeanne responded. “Martin must be a very happy man.”

Lindsay looked away from Rejeanne. “I don’t snuggle with him‚” she confessed after a deep sigh. “He doesn’t like it. I have one of those four-foot long pillows that gets my nocturnal attention.”

Rejeanne looked at Lindsay and smiled. “Lucky fuckin’ pillow‚” she quipped before climbing out of bed. Lindsay eyed her as she padded toward the bedroom door.

“I’m sorry about last night‚ Jeannie‚” Lindsay said. “About what I asked and what I did.”

“Is my kissing that bad?” Rejeanne asked.

“Oh‚ NO!” Lindsay responded. “I’m… I’m not actually sorry that we‚ um‚ kissed. I’m just sorry that‚ I don’t know‚ I put you in an uncomfortable situation. Like I said‚ boundary issues.”

Rejeanne glared at Lindsay. “Was I the first girl that you ever kissed?”

“I’ve kissed girls before‚” Lindsay replied. “When I was competing…”

“Lip and tongue action‚ Lindsay‚” Rejeanne interrupted. “I mean French kissing.”

“Oh‚” Lindsay said after a couple of coughs. “Well‚ once before.”

“Uh-huh‚ and?”

“And what?”

“And where‚ when‚ and did you like it?”

“College‚ 1990… no ‘91‚ and it was nice‚ but it doesn’t remotely compare to what we did last night.”

“Oh‚ I’m flattered‚” Rejeanne remarked with raised eyebrows. “Who was the girl?”

“Her name was Heather Courtney‚” Lindsay answered. “She was on the fencing squad with me and was my ‘sparring’ partner. Neither one of us were‚ you know‚ gay or anything. Although in hindsight‚ I probably did have a little crush on her.” Lindsay briefly reflected‚ continuing‚ “Anyway‚ one night we were at a party and had been drinking. We were celebrating our victory over both the Yale and Cornell squads when she turned to me and said‚ ‘fuck it‚ let’s kiss.’ So we did.”

“I assume that the kiss didn’t lead to any quail hunting‚ huh?”

“Pardon me?”

“You two didn’t do the nasty — have sex‚ right?”

“No‚” Lindsay said. “We made out for awhile. But sadly‚ I haven’t experienced‚ you know‚ that — sex with a woman.”

“Why sadly?” Rejeanne asked to a perplexed Lindsay‚ who could only shrug her shoulders in response.

“I need coffee‚” Rejeanne announced. “You want a cup?”

* * * *

Rejeanne resumed being the perfect hostess by preparing a heaty breakfast of eggs‚ toast‚ fruit‚ and tea for Lindsay. She joined Lindsay‚ eating her routine bagel and orange‚ along with her daily dose of coffee. As she ate‚ Rejeanne replayed in her mind everything that had transpired from the moment that her lips met Lindsay’s the night before to the sensation of Lindsay’s arm around her waist that morning. Her private thoughts brought a impish smile to her face.

For Lindsay‚ what had happened was far more jumbled and complex. She had kissed a woman passionately and liked it… a lot. She also felt a raw sexual yearning for Rejeanne that frightened her. She didn’t know whether she was more upset that the lust that she felt was directed toward a woman or that it was supposed to be directed toward Martin. Lindsay had acknowledged to herself a long time ago that her attraction to her husband had never really included a sexual desire. To her‚ their marriage from the start was intellectually stimulating: a joining of compatible minds. Of course‚ he was sexually attracted to her and early on‚ she allowed his attraction to motivate her response to his sexual advances.

A few years into the marriage‚ however‚ her ever-increasing desire for power over the Alasdair family fortune caused Lindsay to be less and less needy of Martin’s attention and affection. Likewise‚ she traveled extensively on business. And although Martin was corporate counsel for all of the Alasdair business holdings‚ he was also a partner and principal shareholder in his father’s Boston-based law firm. His position required frequent extended trips to that city each year. Thus‚ their individual business responsibilities caused them to be separated from each other much more frequently. But while Lindsay poured most of her surplus energy into her work‚ Martin turned his enthusiasm toward other women. It wasn’t long before Lindsay discovered her husband’s infidelities‚ and her immediate impulse was to divorce him. However‚ her father intervened‚ and employing a rationale that corresponded with Lindsay’s personal and professional code‚ convinced her to stay in the marriage. Lindsay had wanted to reveal the intimate details of her current “living situation” to Rejeanne the moment that she had asked to kiss her. So now‚ as they ate in an uneasy silence‚ Lindsay decided to break one of her own cardinal rules.

“There’s something that I want to reveal to you‚ Rejeanne‚” Lindsay said. “Something that very few people know.”

Rejeanne looked up at her friend from the bagel that was getting way too much attention. “There’s a reason why I’m so snippy about questions concerning my husband‚” Lindsay continued. “Martin and I don’t have what might be considered a conventional marriage.”

“What do you mean?” Rejeanne asked.

“First‚ I need an assurance from you that I’m talking to a… talking to my friend in confidence and not to a reporter.”

“You’ve been talking to your friend from the moment I closed my lap top at that coffeehouse‚” Rejeanne assured her as she took Lindsay’s hand into hers. “You should know that by now.”

Lindsay sighed as she squeezed Rejeanne’s hand. “Almost four years ago‚ I hired a lawyer to file divorce papers against Martin‚” she started. “Somehow‚ my father found out and contacted me. After talking with him for about an hour‚ I changed my mind.”

“What could your dad have said to you to be so persuasive‚ given the way you feel about him?”

“Oh‚ he knew what to say to me to push my buttons‚” she said. “It was what I subsequently planned to do to Martin that convinced me to stick with it.”

“Why were you filing for divorce‚ Lin?”

“Martin was being unfaithful‚ and not just having an affair with his secretary or something‚” Lindsay revealed. “He was screwing around with call girls.”

“So‚ what did you do to Martin?” Rejeanne asked as resentment toward her friend’s husband budded. “Cut off his dick?”

“Nope‚” Lindsay said. “I made Martin sell to my dad all of his shares in his family’s law firm.”

“How did you do that?”

“Threatened to expose Martin to his clients as a whore chaser‚” Lindsay admitted‚ “and to disclose to them his penchant for overbilling hours. Either revelation would have been the kiss of death to Martin’s legal career. Martin’s family firm is the third largest in New England. It represents some of the biggest‚ most conservative companies along the eastern seaboard from Maine to North Carolina. Martin couldn’t afford the scandal‚ and he wasn’t about to put himself or his family in a position where he would be responsible for the loss of 150 years of MacMahon reputation and millions of dollars in corporate legal revenues. So he coughed up the shares.”

Rejeanne cocked her head. “I’m afraid that I don’t fully understand the inner workings of the big-business mentality‚” she confessed. “How is Martin selling his shares to your father helping you to the point where you’re willing to stay in a marriage with an asshole who fucks around on you?”

Lindsay chucked as she looked at her friend‚ flattered by the obvious concern that Rejeanne had toward her situation. “Once Dad was in possession of Martin’s shares‚ he was also in the position to buy out the shares of some of the other stockholders in the firm. Once Dad owned a little over one-third of Martin’s family’s firm through stock acquisition‚ he designated a living trust of his ownership over to me. Although the shares are still in his name‚ I’m the beneficiary of them. So in essence‚ I own a-third of Martin’s firm.”

“You frickin’ own your husband!” Rejeanne exclaimed teasingly.

Lindsay pointed at Rejeanne and winked.

“So at what point did you cut off your hubby’s dick?”

“Oh‚ he still has it‚ literally if not figuratively‚” Lindsay said. “And he’s free to do whatever he wants with it‚ as long as it’s not with me. He’s not entirely happy with that arrangement‚ since he really enjoyed being intimate with me. But oh well. Keeping up the appearance of a marriage benefits his firm‚ which ultimately benefits me. So we keep the charade going.”

Rejeanne’s eyebrows furrowed as she contemplated what she had been told. “And that‚ my dear‚ is the main reason why we don’t have kids‚” Lindsay added.

“So‚ you’re richer… if that’s possible‚ and he still gets to ‘ho’ chase‚” Rejeanne recapped. “What about your physical needs?”

“To answer your earlier question‚ Martin isn’t exactly a stallion‚” Lindsay declared. “I’m managing without his family jewels just fine.”

“Okay‚ but what about your needs?” Rejeanne repeated. “Four years is a long time. Please tell me that you’ve gotten some here or there in that stretch.”

Lindsay’s mood immediately changed from relaxed arrogance to subtle insecurity as she looked down at her plate. “No one’s piqued my interest in that… until now.”

Rejeanne’s eyes widened. “So‚ I wasn’t the only one who was mad-horny last night?”

“You weren’t the only one.”

* * * *

As Lindsay walked into her office at a quarter to ten that morning‚ her mind was a million miles from the pending meeting with the two stockholders. She was thinking about the woman whose condo she had left an hour before. She thought about their conversation and how it had ended at that kitchen table. She thought about the chaste kiss she give Rejeanne on her cheek before departing her home. And she thought about just how much she had missed her friend only seconds after leaving her.

Although Rejeanne had laundered Lindsay’s clothing‚ Lindsay still needed to go home and change before the meeting. What she had worn to Rejeanne’s the night before was far from appropriate for an important business meeting. Lindsay did not look forward to the possibility of a confrontation with Martin and was relieved to see that he had already left for the office when she arrived at her estate.

However‚ Martin was in Lindsay’s office ready to pounce when she entered the room. With his hands firmly planted on his sides‚ he paced back and forth like a drill sergeant for several seconds before stopping and facing his wife.

“Glad you’re here‚” he said. “I wasn’t sure that you’d make it.”

“I told you that I’d be here‚” Lindsay replied.

“Well‚ I wasn’t so sure‚” Martin stated. “I begin to wonder when you prioritize whatever you needed to do with that reporter over something as important as this.”

“I’m here‚ Marty‚” Lindsay said. “Why don’t you just drop it?”

Lindsay walked past Martin and over to her desk where she picked up a stack of papers. “I reviewed these yesterday‚ Marty‚” she said. “Did you?”

“Yes‚” he said as he sat down on one of the two chairs facing her desk. “I’m still curious about this situation with the reporter.”

“Curious about what?”

“Well‚ I checked her out‚” he started. “Did you know that she’s openly homosexual?”

“So?”

“So‚ aren’t you the least bit concerned that associating with a known homosexual could compromise your status in our business community‚ Lin?”

“I’ve been associating with Keith for years‚” Lindsay remarked. “Hasn’t hurt my ‘status’ one bit.”

“Keith’s a man and your cousin‚ Lin‚” Marty remarked. “He has no interest in packing your fudge. But if you continue to associate with this lesbian‚ people might start to wonder.”

“I don’t know‚ Marty. You’ve been fucking Park Avenue hookers for years and no one suspects a thing.”

“What’s your point?”

“Our marital charade can work for me too.”

Martin’s eyes widened and he opened his mouth to speak but was interrupted by a page from Leigh‚ notifying Lindsay that the two businessmen had arrived.

* * * *

For the first time that anyone could remember‚ Rejeanne was silent at work. Arriving a half-hour late‚ she quietly made her way over to her cubicle where she remained most of the day‚ finishing up a couple of stories on which she had been working. When she politely refused an offer from her friends Tyler and Becky to join them for lunch‚ no one raised an eyebrow. But when she indicated that she would not be joining her coworkers for their ritualistic Friday after-work cocktail at the Colby-n-Jack Tavern‚ her friends were concerned that something was indeed wrong with Rejeanne.

Her solemn state was accentuated by the fact that she had not received her daily lunchtime call from Lindsay. She was convinced that Lindsay was so freaked out by what happened between the two of them that she would never call again. She probably went straight home and broke that dry spell with Martin‚ just to reassure herself of her status as a staunch heterosexual‚ Rejeanne reflected as she was burdened with both jealousy and resentment. By 9:00 that evening‚ as she pined away in her bedroom‚ she began contemplating jumping in her car and driving to Milwaukee. She didn’t care that it would be a good hour-and-a-half drive on dark‚ ice-slick roads. She could spend the weekend getting high and clubbing. And when she wasn’t partying‚ she could crash at her dad’s. He wouldn’t mind too much as long as it wasn’t his weekend with the kids. Surely‚ the combination of trance music‚ women and marijuana would get her mind off of Lindsay.

However‚ as she pulled out her overnight bag and flopped it on her bed‚ the phone rang. The caller ID said‚ “Alasdair Invstmts.”

“Hello‚” Rejeanne said in a voice that was unmistakably aggravated.

“Hi‚ Jeannie‚” Lindsay said hesitantly. “What’s wrong?”

“Oh‚ nothing.”

Lindsay could tell that Rejeanne was distressed and was alarmed by her tone. “What are you doing?”

“Packing.”

“Packing?” Lindsay asked. “Why?”

“I thought that I’d head down to the beer capital for the weekend‚” came Rejeanne’s curt reply.

“With whom?”

“By myself.”

“Why?” Lindsay asked.

“Beats staying here listening to my head pound‚” Rejeanne stated.

“Have I done something wrong?” Lindsay asked. “You sound really upset.”

Rejeanne sighed. “No‚ it’s not you‚” she said. “I’m just feeling sorry for myself.”

“There’s no reason for you to feel sorry for yourself‚” Lindsay said. “You’re a confident‚ determined and stunning young woman. You’re also a damn good kisser and you make the best baked perch this side of Lake Michigan.”

Rejeanne was grateful that Lindsay couldn’t see her blushing. “Thank you‚” was all she could say.

“Please don’t drive to Milwaukee tonight‚” Lindsay implored. “I wouldn’t want any harm to come to you.”

There was a long silence before Rejeanne could speak again. “I… I…do you miss me?”

“Terribly‚” Lindsay responded. “I’m still at work because I don’t want to go home.”

“Bad day?”

“Marty and I got into it this morning before the meeting‚” Lindsay stated.

“About?”

“Nothing worth repeating‚” Lindsay said as she contemplated stating what was really on her mind. “Jeannie‚ what’s in Milwaukee?”

“A dyke bar‚” Rejeanne said.

“Why do you want to go to a bar tonight?” Lindsay asked.

“To take my mind off of you‚” Rejeanne confessed.

Lindsay took in a deep breath. “I like it that you have your mind on me.”

“I’m sure you do.” Rejeanne replied.

“Jeannie‚ would you like to come over to my home?” Lindsay asked.

“Tonight?”

“No‚ not tonight‚” Lindsay said. “It’s late and I really don’t want you driving anywhere in this sub-zero weather. I was thinking that maybe you could come by the estate tomorrow. We could‚ I don’t know…”

That throbbing sensation returned to Lindsay’s groin area.

“You want to go to a bar with me?” Rejeanne chimed in.

“Tonight?” Lindsay asked.

“No‚ silly‚” Rejeanne replied. “Tomorrow‚ we could drive down to Milwaukee… no‚ what the hell… Chicago. We could hang out for the day and check out the bar at night.”

“I‚ uh‚ I…”

“Never mind‚” Rejeanne interjected. “Too much too soon‚ I’m sure. I was just thinking how nice it could be to dance with you‚ that’s all.”

Lindsay smiled as she began to imagine the prospect as well. “It’s not too much‚ but all of this is very new to me‚” she said. “I still would like for you to come over tomorrow.”

“And do what?”

“I dunno‚” Lindsay said. “Your suggestion about Chicago is worth considering.”

CHAPTER SIX

CHASING AMBROSIA

As Rejeanne drove down tree-lined Stone Hills Drive eyeing the exclusive mansions that lined the majestic cobblestone road‚ she gasped at the sheer size and beauty of the homes. The directions that Lindsay gave her over the phone indicated that the road dead-ended where the Alasdair estate began. Before her at that dead-end was a vaulted gate and archway with the words “Stone Hills” scrolled across the top. Pulling up to an intercom‚ she rolled down her window and identified herself on the speakerphone. Seconds later‚ the gate slowly opened‚ allowing her to drive past a deeply wooded area to a clearing that revealed the Alasdair Estate.

“Ho-ly shit‚” Rejeanne whispered as her eyes fell upon the dwelling before her. She continued driving until she was in front of the home’s main entrance. Turning off her engine‚ she looked around wondering if a valet or someone would pop out to take her car keys. She chucked at the thought before exiting her Subaru and walking up to the front door.

“Here goes‚” she whispered as she pressed the doorbell. A tall‚ heavyset woman answered. “Hi‚” Rejeanne said. “Um‚ I’m Rejeanne Piscard here to see Ms. MacMahon.”

“Step in‚” the woman responded‚ as Rejeanne noticed that she was not wearing stereotypical maid attire. “I’m Betty Shively‚ the estate staff manager. Let me take your coat.”

As the woman took Rejeanne’s coat‚ she blocked her from passing from the large vestibule into the main foyer. “Remove your boots here‚” she said as she turned to grab a pair of suede moccasins for Rejeanne to wear. “Put these on‚” she said‚ adding‚ “I’m guessing that you’re a size six-and-a-half.”

“Seven‚ actually‚” Rejeanne responded.

“Good‚” Betty said. “These are a size eight.” Stepping aside‚ she finally allowed Rejeanne to leave the vestibule and enter the foyer. “Wait here‚” she added. “Ms. Alasdair will be down shortly.”

“Sure‚” Rejeanne said‚ as she gave a friendly nod to Betty before the older woman departed. Immediately looking in the direction of the double spiral staircase before her‚ her eyes fell first upon a larger than life chandelier above her‚ then upon the sleek figure walking down the staircase to her left.

“Hi‚ Jeannie‚” Lindsay said.

“Hey there‚” Rejeanne replied.

When Lindsay reached the bottom of the staircase‚ Rejeanne walked over to greet her. She extended her hand for a shake‚ but was met instead with the long arms of Lindsay wrapping around her shoulder blades. She returned the embrace in kind. As they held each other‚ Rejeanne took in a deep breath of Lindsay’s scent‚ lightly heightened with perfume. Lindsay ran her hand down Rejeanne’s back and planted a light kiss in her hair before reluctantly releasing her.

“You found it okay‚” Lindsay remarked as she awkwardly put her hands in the pockets of her slacks realizing the forwardness of what she had just done.

“I’ve never been to this part of town before‚” Rejeanne said. “Beautiful area. I should ride my bike over here this spring.”

“You should‚” Lindsay agreed. “There are some hilly hiking and riding trails about a quarter-mile west of here. It’s very scenic‚ especially in spring and autumn.”

“I’ll bet‚” Rejeanne said as she gave her friend a thorough look. “You look lovely‚ as usual.”

“As do you‚” Lindsay said‚ “but I’m afraid those moccasins don’t really go with the rest of your attire.”

“Well‚ ha ha funny‚” Rejeanne quipped. “Blame your ‘estate staff manager’ for that.”

“I will.”

“What the hell is an estate staff manager anyway?” Rejeanne asked. “Is it a P.C. way of saying butler or is she your personal house frau?”

Lindsay chuckled. “She’s in charge of the estate staff‚” she said. “She manages the personnel who work here.”

“I see.”

The women eyed each other uneasily‚ contemplating what to say next. “So‚” Rejeanne started‚ breaking the silence‚ “just how many rooms are in this crib?”

Lindsay had to think for a moment. “Thirty.”

“Well‚ it’s huge… and very beautiful‚” Rejeanne commented.

“Thank you‚” Lindsay said. “It’s a Georgian style home‚ built about eighty years ago by the grandson of a southern plantation owner. It has almost ten thousand square feet of living space and it’s solid‚ Jeannie. The entire house has a brick exterior‚ and was made of poured concrete and steel re-rods. The estate also sits on over forty acres of land. I simply love it.”

“When did you acquire it?”

“My parents purchased it when we moved here in ’76‚ so I grew up here‚” Lindsay said. “When my folks divorced‚ they occupied separate sides of the house. Mom lived on the north side‚ Dad the south… when he was here. Most times he stayed in his Manhattan penthouse or at the family beach-house on Martha’s Vineyard.”

“Is it yours now?” Rejeanne asked.

“It was Mom’s wedding gift to me.”

“Sweet!” Rejeanne exclaimed. “Where is she now‚ your mom?”

“At her estate just outside of Fort Myers‚ Florida‚” Lindsay answered. “She hates winter.”

At that moment‚ Betty approached the two women. She was carrying a silver tray with an assortment of beverages. “I have coffee‚ tea and juices for you ladies‚” she announced.

“Take it into the study‚ please‚” Lindsay told Betty before returning her attention to Rejeanne. “Would you join me?”

“Sure.” Much to Rejeanne’s surprise and surreptitious delight‚ Lindsay took her hand and actually laced their fingers as she escorted Rejeanne into the study. Rejeanne didn’t know what to make of the rather affectionate gesture‚ but she wasn’t about to complain.

The two women sat‚ drank tea and made small talk about the house and Lindsay’s history of living there. Rejeanne learned that the estate‚ Stone Hills‚ included a four-car heated garage‚ an indoor swimming pool with an accompanying steam room‚ sauna and hot tub‚ a tennis court‚ a formal garden with a small pool and fountain‚ riding stables‚ separate servants’ quarters and a creek that flowed near the rear of the property line. Lindsay also filled Rejeanne’s ears with tales of her experience growing up in such a large home as an only child. As she listened‚ Rejeanne reflected on the woman before her. In a way‚ Lindsay was still that lonely little rich girl‚ eager for companionship without restrictions. Her father had denied her the opportunity for true friendship when she was a child‚ and she denied herself close friendships as an adult. Thus‚ Rejeanne observed that‚ as Lindsay spoke‚ surrounded by the comforts and familiarity of her home‚ her eyes were as animated and inquisitive as a child’s.

“I bet if we played hide-and-go-seek here‚ it’d be weeks before I’d find you‚” Rejeanne joked.

“Oh‚ you’d find me‚” Lindsay replied.

“You think?”

“Yes‚” Lindsay said. “Because I’d want you to find me.”

“Are you flirting with me‚ Lindsay Alasdair-MacMahon?” Rejeanne queried with a grin.

“Only if you want me to‚” came Lindsay’s clever reply.

Rejeanne leaned further back and relaxed on the couch where both women sat. She gazed into Lindsay’s sky-blue eyes. “So‚ have you given any thought about what you’d like to do today?” she asked.

Lindsay wasn’t about to reveal what she had been fantasizing about doing with Rejeanne. “Well‚ do you know how long it would take for us to drive to Chicago?” Lindsay responded‚ curbing those infernal thoughts.

“You’ve never driven there from here?” Rejeanne asked‚ astounded.

“Actually‚ no‚ I haven’t‚” Lindsay responded. “I’ve only ever gone there on business‚ so I head over to the Dell Valley Airstrip and fly into the private plane terminal at Midway.”

“Oh my God‚ you keep a pilot on staff too?”

Lindsay grimaced. “No‚” she said. “I don’t need a pilot. I fly the plane myself.”

Rejeanne’s mouth dropped. “You can pilot a plane!?!”

“Sure‚” Lindsay boasted with a wicked grin. “I have many skills.”

Rejeanne let out a deep breath. “Why do I feel like I’ve heard you say that before?”

“I dunno‚” Lindsay said. “Maybe because I have.”

“Maybe‚” Rejeanne reflected before returning to the issue at hand. “So‚ why do you want to know how long the drive would be?”

“I wasn’t planning on flying there to sightsee or bar-hop‚” Lindsay remarked. “I’d much rather do the drive with you. It’ll give us time to‚ uh‚ get to know one another better.”

“Ah‚” Rejeanne said dramatically. “Hit the cruise control‚ get comfy in those slick Hummer leather seats‚ put on some tunes and do the road trip thang‚ huh?”

“Something like that.”

“Well‚ Chicago’s about 185 miles from here‚ so three to three-and-a-half hours‚ depending on how fast you drive.”

* * * *

The two women headed over to the attached garage. Rejeanne got a partial tour of the mansion on the way. As they entered the garage‚ her mouth dropped open again. Spacious and heated‚ it had a full-service mechanic’s workstation and a spiral staircase in a corner that led up to an upstairs living space. There was an area reserved for two-wheeled vehicles and Rejeanne noticed a covered motorcycle. Three of the four spaces for cars were occupied. “Are all three of these yours?”

“Technically‚” Lindsay responded. “The H2 and the Lexus are mine. Dad still has title to the ’66 Mustang‚ although he’s never here to drive it.”

“Do you?”

“In the summer‚ sometimes.”

Rejeanne wandered over to the sleek copper-colored Mustang‚ “This is nice‚” she said.

“Thanks‚” Lindsay replied.

“What does dear sweet hubby drive?” Rejeanne asked sarcastically.

“He has two Mercedes-Benz SLK 320 Roadster coupes‚” Lindsay replied. “One here and one in Boston.”

“Dude has two of the same car?”

“Different colors‚ but yes‚ two of the same model vehicle.”

Rejeanne rolled her eyes and shook her head. “Where is dear sweet hubby this morning?” she asked.

“He left for Green Bay with his buddy Fred Keller this morning‚” Lindsay responded.

“But the Packers are done for the season‚” Rejeanne stated.

“Oh‚ his trip has nothing to do with the Packers‚” Lindsay commented. “They’re up there attending a boat show.”

“Lovely‚” Rejeanne oozed before approaching Lindsay’s deep indigo Lexus. “This is nice too‚” she said.

“It’s the new ‘03 RX 330‚” Lindsay announced. “It has lots of bells and whistles‚ but I won’t drive it in the winter. I much prefer the H2.”

Rejeanne cocked her head as she read aloud the customized license plates on Lindsay’s vehicles. “C-O-N-Q-R-R and C-O-N-Q-R-R-2. Con-Q…Conq… Conq-r… Conqueror. Conqueror? What’s that supposed to mean?”

“My crazy-assed father‚” Lindsay said. “Dad’s a real ancient Greco-Roman history buff‚ so when I started generating tons of money for this family‚ he started swearing up and down to everyone that I was the reincarnation of Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar or Xena the Conqueror or Emperor Augustus or some such shit. He’s a loon‚ but I kinda saw the humor in it‚ so when I got my plates renewed last time‚ well there you have it.”

“Eww…” Rejeanne frowned. “I hope that you aren’t the reincarnation of one of those monsters. They were all genocidal maniacs.”

“Don’t worry‚” Lindsay assured. “Personally‚ I’m convinced that I’m the reincarnation of Amelia Earhart. How about you?”

“Janis Joplin AND Jimi Hendrix.”

* * * *

Lindsay offered to do the drive to Chicago. While Rejeanne accompanied Lindsay to her master bedroom‚ an estate staff employee pulled the H2 out of the garage and parked Rejeanne’s vehicle in the emptied spot to spare it from the winter elements. In the bedroom‚ Lindsay gathered up belongings for their overnight trip. As Lindsay packed‚ Rejeanne took in the atmosphere of the room. She particularly liked the large fireplace but forced herself not to look too closely at the bed. She sleeps with him there‚ Rejeanne thought‚ battling her envy. Somewhere from within‚ Lindsay could sense Rejeanne’s jealousy. “Martin rarely sleeps in here‚” she announced.

Rejeanne’s face went beet-red. How could she possibly know what I was thinking? she thought.

After packing‚ Lindsay spoke with Betty for a few minutes before leaving with Rejeanne. They then stopped at Rejeanne’s house so that she could also prepare an overnight bag. Before hitting the highway‚ Lindsay stopped at a gas station to fill up and load up on road trip snacks. Set to task‚ Rejeanne selected a large bag of Chex Mix‚ four candy bars and two Diet colas. After getting back in the vehicle‚ Rejeanne noticed that Lindsay had placed her cell phone on a holder attached to her console.

“I’m surprised that that thing doesn’t ring off the hook‚” Rejeanne stated. “Being that you’re very important and all.”

“Only four people call me on my cell phone‚” Lindsay said. “When I’m not at the office or at home‚ Betty‚ whom you’ve just met today‚ and my administrative assistant Leigh‚ handle all of my calls and only call me on the cell if it’s a dire emergency.”

“Who are the other two?”

“Martin and Keith.”

“Oh‚ of course‚” Rejeanne said.

Lindsay looked at her cell phone. “Do you have a cell phone?” she asked.

“Yeah‚” Rejeanne responded.

“I’d like to give you my number and get yours‚” Lindsay requested. “If that’s okay?”

“Sure.”

Once they were on the road‚ Rejeanne began curiously thumbing through Lindsay’s CD collection case. “Let’s see‚” she began. “The Eagles‚ Volumes One and Two; Steely Dan’s Greatest Hits‚ Earth Wind and Fire‚ Volumes One and Two; Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors‚ Aerosmith‚ Boston‚ Pink Floyd. You’re a real product of the ‘70s‚ Lin.”

“And that’s a bad thing?” Lindsay asked.

“No.”

“Keep looking‚” Lindsay said. “I’ve got some newer stuff in there.”

“I see‚” Rejeanne noticed. “Coldplay‚ Verve Pipe‚ Vertical Horizon‚ Norah Jones‚ Alicia Keys… Mary J. Blige’s ‘What’s the 411’… damn‚ girlfriend‚ you can be hip.”

“So‚ what’s your favorite type of music?” Lindsay asked.

“I’m not particular‚” Rejeanne replied. “I can tolerate almost anything as long as it’s not polka. I even dig some country.”

“Interesting‚” Lindsay said. “Given your unique growing-up situation‚ I would have pegged you for a hip-hop and rap music fan.”

“Funny you should say that‚” Rejeanne remarked as she pulled out a CD from her purse and handed it to Lindsay.

Lindsay looked at the CD with a cute black baby on the cover.

“Notorious B.I.G.’s ‘Ready to Die‚’” Rejeanne announced. “Best gangsta rap CD of all time.”

Lindsay looked at Rejeanne and gasped. “What‚ you wanna listen to this?”

“No‚” Rejeanne said. “I want you to listen to it.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s a long drive and you could use the education‚” Rejeanne remarked.

“Education in what?” Lindsay said. “Violent lyrics?”

“Sure‚” Rejeanne replied.

“An abundance of profanity.”

“Absolutely.”

“Liberal use of the ‘n’ word.”

“Of course.”

“Frequent references to ‘bitches-n-hos.’”

“That too.”

“Where’s the education part‚ Jeannie?” Lindsay asked.

“You have to go past the obscenity and listen to the pain‚ struggle and sacrifice of this young man‚ Lin‚” Rejeanne said. “This isn’t Will Smith’s G-rated rap or Eminem’s whiney white boy drivel. It’s raw street poetry… sad‚ bitter‚ angry and at times‚ hopeful. There are also a couple of funny tracks about fucking.”

“I dunno‚” Lindsay said.

“Oh‚ come on‚ Lin‚” Rejeanne pleaded. “Listen to this‚ and you’ll never have to listen to another rap CD ever again. This one speaks for the entire genre.”

Hesitantly‚ Lindsay slid the CD into her player.

After struggling through the entire CD‚ Lindsay was silent for several moments. As the last track was very intense‚ Rejeanne didn’t want to break the silence until Lindsay was ready to do so.

“So‚ was that a baby picture of B.I.G. on the cover?” Lindsay asked‚ finally breaking the silence.

“I don’t know‚” Rejeanne answered. “I think it was his daughter‚ actually.”

“Oh.”

“Well‚ what did you think‚ Lin?”

“You’re right‚” Lindsay said. “It was an education.”

“You hated it‚” Rejeanne concluded.

“Actually‚ no‚ I didn’t‚” Lindsay conceded. “It was hard to absorb at times‚ but I can now understand why this genre is so important to the disenfranchised urban youths of our nation.”

Rejeanne smiled at Lindsay.

“And I have to admit‚” Lindsay added with as straight a face as she could muster‚ “the ‘Pickle-Juice-Drinkin’-Chicken-Gristle-Eatin’-Motherfucker’ line during the sex track was pretty humorous.”

Both women laughed hysterically.

* * * *

As the women neared the outskirts of Chicago‚ Lindsay began to seriously anticipate the weekend that awaited her and Rejeanne. Never before‚ since she had been married‚ had she ever done a girls-only weekend. She looked forward to sightseeing‚ window-shopping‚ and visiting a museum or two with Rejeanne. She also looked forward to dancing with Rejeanne at a club. However‚ the prospect of another night in the same bedroom with Rejeanne troubled her. Should we get two rooms? Make sure that a one-room situation has two beds? she thought. On the one hand‚ she desperately wanted to snuggle with Rejeanne again. On the other hand‚ the raw desire that she felt toward her made that closeness almost unbearable. In her private musings‚ Lindsay acknowledged to herself that she wasn’t merely curious about sex with another woman. What she desired was to explore a loving sexual intimacy with Rejeanne. Lindsay wanted to share her spirit and soul‚ as well as her body‚ with the beautiful young woman who sat beside her.

“So‚ is there anything specific that you’d like to do here?” Rejeanne asked‚ breaking Lindsay’s thoughts.

“It’s a big town‚ Jeannie‚” Lindsay remarked. “Is there anything specifically that draws you?”

“Well‚ I’m not a Bulls fan‚ so they’re out‚” Rejeanne quipped. “But there is a part of town that I like to frequent when I’m here.”

“Yeah? What part?”

“Belmont-Halsted‚” Rejeanne replied. “Better known as Boystown.”

They made their way to the famed gay mecca of Chicago at midday. After Lindsay parked the vehicle at a garage on Clark Street‚ the women spent the remainder of the afternoon visiting the shops that made Boystown unique. Rejeanne got a particularly sinister thrill out of observing Lindsay’s various facial expressions as they broused the S&M and sex-toy shops. On a couple of occasions‚ she watched as Lindsay picked up a toy‚ gadget or gag gift and inspected it. However‚ Rejeanne most enjoyed visiting the gay-themed book and clothing stores‚ as well as the community and outreach centers‚ with Lindsay. It allowed her the opportunity to educate Lindsay about the meanings and histories behind such concepts as “pride‚” “equality‚” “pink triangle‚” and “rainbow.” Lindsay absorbed the information with a discernible enthusiasm. It warmed Rejeanne’s heart when Lindsay pulled out her checkbook and wrote donations to a lesbian-gay youth outreach program‚ a local theater guild and an AIDS awareness center. In one of the shops‚ Lindsay even purchased two items with rainbow logos: a leather jacket and a pair of pajama bottoms.

Gay-themed stores were not the only establishments that the women visited. There were jewelry and candy stores‚ bakeries‚ shoe shops‚ antique shops and a specialty pet supply shop that sparked their interests. While in the pet shop‚ Lindsay turned to Rejeanne. “Why don’t you have any pets?” she asked.

“I’m allergic to cats and the condo association doesn’t allow the ownership of dogs over thirty pounds‚” Rejeanne answered.

“So‚ why don’t you get yourself a pug or lhasa apso or something?”

“Look‚” Rejeanne said as she dramatically pointed a chew toy at Lindsay‚ “if I’m going to have a dog‚ I’m going to have a real dog… a boxer or lab or husky. I’m not about owning some yippy little rat dog.”

Lindsay chuckled. “Yes‚ ma’am‚” she said.

After several hours of browsing and shopping‚ the twosome developed vigorous appetites. Rejeanne suggested to Lindsay a restaurant with ambiance. Retrieving the SUV and taking Rejeanne’s direction‚ Lindsay drove closer downtown to a trendy bistro where a jazz pianist performed live music. The women ate hearty meals as they soaked up a stimulating atmosphere. After eating‚ as Rejeanne relaxed in her chair digesting her meal and listening to the music‚ Lindsay reached inside of her purse and pulled out a rectangular box. She set the box down on the dinner table in front of Rejeanne.

“For you‚” Lindsay said.

“What is this?” Rejeanne asked.

“Open it and see‚” Lindsay responded.

Rejeanne opened the box to reveal a sparkling gem choker. “Lin‚” she exclaimed after a surprised gasp. “What are you doing?”

“I noticed you eyeing that necklace earlier‚” Lindsay said. “I thought it would make you happy and I bet it’ll look great on you.”

“I can’t accept this‚ Lin‚” Rejeanne declared.

“Why not?”

“I just can’t‚” Rejeanne said. “You don’t need to spend money on me.”

“But I want you to have it‚ Jeannie.”

“But Lin…”

“Do you like it‚ Jeannie?”

“Well‚ yes‚” Rejeanne admitted. “Of course. It’s beautiful.”

“Then I don’t see a problem‚” Lindsay concluded.

“Look‚ I just don’t want you to feel that you have to spend money on me‚ Lin‚” Rejeanne said. “I really like you despite all that.”

“Then accept it for what it really is‚” Lindsay said. “I’m not just spending money on you. I really like you too and I want you to have this and wear it… not because of me‚ but because you like it.” She ran the backs of her fingers down Rejeanne’s cheek. “Please‚” she added.

Rejeanne looked down at the necklace for a few moments before taking it out of the box. Looking up at Lindsay‚ she gestured for Lindsay to place it on her neck. Lindsay gladly obliged. “I knew that it would look spectacular on you‚ Jeannie‚” she commented as she delicately ran her fingers under the necklace as it rested on Rejeanne’s neck.

“Thank you‚ Lin‚” Rejeanne softly said. “And thank you for the gift.”

“You’re welcome‚” Lindsay said‚ smiling. “So‚ are you excited about doing some dancing tonight?”

A smile streamed across Rejeanne’s face. “Oh‚ yeah!”

CHAPTER SEVEN

DIONYSUS’ LYRE

It was nearly 11:00 p.m. when Lindsay and Rejeanne sat in Lindsay’s vehicle as it idled‚ discussing the remaining course of their evening together. They had had a lovely dinner at a piano bistro and then strolled to another nearby establishment to listen to live Chicago-style blues. After awhile‚ however‚ both women were thoroughly ready to work their happy feet.

“Okay‚ here are our options‚” Rejeanne began as Lindsay warmed the interior of the SUV. “We can go to any one of the dozen or so gay guy bars here in town. Some of them are mixed men and women; some are mixed gay and straight‚ while others are all guys. The disadvantage of going to a boys’ bar is that they never play any slow music. Boys love their music techno‚ fast‚ and constant. But the advantage is anonymity.”

“What do you mean?” Lindsay asked.

“Well‚ to put it bluntly‚” Rejeanne replied‚ “I lived here for three years when I was in college. I did the bar scene on occasion then. I know people. Specifically‚ I know women. If we go to a dyke bar‚ I’ll likely be spotted by one of my old running buddies or former teammates. If I’m spotted‚ you’ll be spotted. Get my drift?”

“Do you know just how beautiful you look right now?” Lindsay asked as she gazed at Rejeanne dreamy-eyed.

“Um‚ I… thank you‚ but…”

“My point being‚” Lindsay interrupted‚ “I would be honored to be spotted with you anywhere.”

“Are you sure‚ Lindsay?” Rejeanne asked. “Because we could easily go to one of the mixed boys’ bars with all of their hetero comforts.”

“Will we be running into any of your old girlfriends at the women’s bar?”

Rejeanne chuckled. “Probably not‚” she said. “My only true ex still living in Chicago is Jo and she doesn’t do the bars‚ especially since making sergeant last year.”

“And they play slow music that we could dance to at the women’s bar?” Lindsay inquired.

“Oh yeah.”

“Then there’s no debate‚ Jeannie‚” Lindsay announced. “I came here to dip you tonight and that is what I’m gonna do.”

The two women smiled at each other just before Lindsay put the H2 in reverse to pull it out of the parking spot. As they headed for the bar‚ both women felt uneasy about what awaited them. Lindsay contemplated an evening of unbearable sexual tension‚ while Rejeanne was concerned about Lindsay’s ability to adapt to the unique surroundings of a lesbian space. She was concerned that the intensity of it all‚ specifically the unassuming displays of affection between women‚ would freak Lindsay out. Desperate not to allow her musings to give her a headache‚ she decided once again that small talk was in order.

“So‚ Lin‚” she said‚ “why don’t you own a Ferrari or a Porsche or some ridiculously expensive vehicle like that?”

“Do you think that this SUV we’re sitting in came cheap?” Lindsay retorted.

“No‚ but I’m sure it didn’t cost you a hundred thou or something‚” Rejeanne said. “I mean‚ it’s expensive‚ sure‚ but it’s also practical.”

“Ah‚” Lindsay said quite dramatically. “And therein lies the answer to your question‚ sweetheart.”

“You choose practicality over style‚ Lin?”

“With cars‚ yes.”

“So when do you ever choose style over practicality?”

Lindsay looked at Rejeanne and smiled sinisterly.

* * * *

Rejeanne directed Lindsay to a popular women’s bar located on the outskirts of town. Lindsay immediately noticed the security guard planted firmly near the entrance. Rejeanne immediately noticed Lindsay. “Gay bars need them‚” she said to Lindsay‚ referencing the guard. “Protection from queer-bashers.”

As soon as she entered‚ Lindsay was almost overcome by the pounding of music and the cigarette smoke. After presenting her ID‚ she paid her way and insisted on paying Rejeanne’s as well. Once they checked their coats‚ the two gingerly wandered into the bar.

“Smoky in here!” Lindsay said to Rejeanne loud enough so that the smaller woman could hear her over the noise.

Rejeanne grabbed Lindsay’s arm and leaned her down so that she talk into the taller woman’s ear. “Yeah‚” she said. “The one male that’s firmly planted in the hearts of the average bar dyke is the Marlboro Man.”

Lindsay looked at her friend. “Come on‚ Lin‚” Rejeanne said. “Let me buy you a drink.”

Rejeanne escorted Lindsay over to the main bar. The music was not quite as loud there‚ and Lindsay was relieved that she would be able to actually talk to her companion in a normal tone of voice.

“What do you want‚ Lin?” Rejeanne asked as she prompted Lindsay to sit on the last available bar stool.

“No‚ you sit‚” Lindsay said. “I’ll stand.”

As Rejeanne propped herself up on the rather lofty bar stool‚ she realized that it brought her almost face-to-face with her tall companion. “So‚ what are you having‚ Lin?” she asked.

“What are you going to get‚ Jeannie?”

“A beer.”

“I’ll have the same.”

After the bartender approached with the beers‚ Rejeanne looked into the eyes of her friend and extended her glass. “To us‚” she toasted.

“To us‚” Lindsay agreed before both women took healthy gulps of the amber liquid.

“So tell me‚ Lin‚” Rejeanne asked as he put her glass down. “is this your first time in a lesbian bar?”

“I’ve been to a couple of bars in Manhattan with Keith‚” Lindsay said. “They were predominantly male‚ but there were some women in the bars as well.”

“Yeah‚ but were they actually lesbians or were they fag-hags?”

“I don’t know‚ Jeannie‚” Lindsay said. “I didn’t bother to ask any of them.”

Rejeanne laughed. “So‚ uh‚ are you okay with being here… with me?”

“Yes‚” Lindsay said as she slowly moved even closer to Rejeanne. “I admit that I’m a little nervous. I don’t know what to expect.” Lindsay looked around the bar. “Have you spotted any of those old friends of yours yet?”

Rejeanne turned and looked around. “See that woman way over there sitting on the couch?” she asked.

“Which one?”

“The one that looks like Cameron Diaz with a bad mullet‚” Rejeanne replied. “She’s wearing the striped rugby shirt and Tommy jeans.”

“Yeah‚ I see her.”

“That’s Mindy Areskiewicz‚” Rejeanne announced. “We played softball together at De Paul.”

“Is she a friend?” Lindsay asked‚ curious about the nature of the relationship.

“Just an acquaintance‚ Lin‚” Rejeanne reassured her. “Since leaving Chicago‚ I come here probably no more than two or three times a year. Every time that I come here‚ regardless of the time of year‚ she’s here. Every time.”

“She must really like this bar‚ Jeannie‚” Lindsay said.

“Oh‚ about a third of the women here really like it‚” Rejeanne opined. “It’s a cycle for them. They come‚ looking for a girlfriend. When they find her‚ they disappear… until the break-up… and then they’re both back again‚ each looking for a new girlfriend. Mindy has probably dated and/or fucked a good quarter of the population in this bar. Think six degrees of separation‚ Lin. It’s what we in the dyke world refer to as ‘lesbian incest.’”

“What about you‚ Jeannie?” Lindsay asked. “Why do you come here those two or three times a year?”

“Cuz I loves to dance‚ girlfriend‚” Rejeanne proclaimed as she snapped her fingers‚ diva-style.

At that moment‚ Lindsay took Rejeanne’s hand. “Dance with me now‚” she said.

* * * *

The two women danced to several tunes before taking a break. Lindsay was in awe of just how well Rejeanne danced. She also enjoyed Rejeanne’s playfulness as she danced‚ as well as her tendency to get very close to Lindsay and‚ in spurts‚ dance sensuously with her. The sensations of Rejeanne dancing so close and the rhythmic music greatly aroused Lindsay. At one point‚ she wanted to throw her arms around Rejeanne and grab her rear‚ but she restrained herself.

As Rejeanne danced with Lindsay‚ she decided that she wanted to have some fun with it. At one moment‚ she would be at arms length from Lindsay‚ with her arms raised and hips shaking. The next moment‚ she would close the distance‚ grinding her torso and groin into Lindsay’s thigh as she ran her hands down Lindsay’s sides. Of course‚ this turned Rejeanne on to the point of pain‚ but the thrill of connecting with Lindsay so provocatively was worth it.

When they were ready to take a breather‚ Rejeanne and Lindsay returned to the bar to find all of the stools taken. Rejeanne guided Lindsay to the edge of the bar where they could each get another glass of beer. As Lindsay was ordering two more beers‚ a short‚ stocky woman came up to Rejeanne and gave her a big hug.

“Hey Jeannie-P!” the woman enthusiastically said as Lindsay turned to notice.

“Hi Nick‚” Rejeanne said to the woman. “How the hell are ya?”

“I’m good‚” Nick responded jovially. “I’m working at the TV station now. Been there almost a year.”

“That’s great!” Rejeanne said as she turned to Lindsay. “This is my friend‚ uh‚ Lin.”

“Hello‚” Lindsay said warily.

“Hi‚ I’m Nicole. Nick to my home-girls.” Nick returned her attention to Rejeanne. “Are you still up in B.F.E. Wisconsin?”

“Yup‚” Rejeanne replied.

“Still at that newspaper up there?”

“Yup.”

“How’s that going?” Nick asked.

“Actually‚ not bad‚” Rejeanne answered as she looked at Lindsay. “Things have been pretty damn good… at the paper.”

“Kewl!” Nick exclaimed excitedly. “Well‚ I’m over there with my euchre friends. I had better get back to them before they send out an APB.”

“It was good seeing you‚ Nick‚” Rejeanne said.

“You too‚ Jeannie-P‚” Nick replied. “If you should happen to see Stockholm‚ tell her that I said hi.” Nick turned to Lindsay. “Nice meeting you!” she said before dashing off.

Lindsay looked at Rejeanne. “Nick is perky‚” she said.

“Yeah‚” said Rejeanne. “We had a nickname for her at De Paul. We called her Katie-Couric-on-Speed.”

Lindsay took a sip of her beer. “Who is Stockholm?” she asked.

Rejeanne was afraid that question would surface. “She’s my‚ uh‚ ex-girlfriend.”

Lindsay looked down at her beer glass. “Oh‚” she said. “Am I to assume that you two still associate?”

“No‚ we don’t‚” Rejeanne replied bluntly.

“Why would Nick assume so?”

“Because she’s a social retard‚” Rejeanne stated flatly before regretting her response. “I didn’t mean that. She didn’t really know that we were together. Most folks didn’t officially know.”

“Pardon me?” Lindsay asked.

“It’s complicated‚ Lin‚” Rejeanne said. “I’d rather not talk about it.”

Lindsay gently rubbed her friend’s shoulder. “Okay‚” she said.

Rejeanne reflected‚ but only for a moment. “Look‚ most of my friends were outwardly clueless about Stockholm because that was the way she wanted it‚” she said. “She was very closeted and insisted that I behave that way as well‚ even to my gay friends.”

“That must have been difficult for you both‚” Lindsay stated.

“It was totally oppressive for me‚” Rejeanne commented‚ “but she was fine with the situation.”

“Why do you say that your friends were outwardly clueless?” Lindsay asked.

“Because they weren’t stupid‚” Rejeanne replied. “They knew the score. They just played along with my ex’s neuroses.”

“Is her name really Stockholm?” Lindsay asked.

“No‚” Rejeanne replied. “Ingrid Dahlstrom. Dykes just love nicknaming everyone.”

“Ah‚” Lindsay said. “Thus the ‘Jeannie P’ moniker‚ although you’ve had that since childhood.”

“You remembered‚” Rejeanne remarked. “I’m impressed.”

Lindsay smiled. “So‚ what nickname would suit me?” she inquired.

Rejeanne stepped back and gave her friend a thorough visual inspection. “Tall‚ blue-eyed goddess‚” she said.

“Aren’t nicknames supposed to be short?”

“Okay‚” Rejeanne said. “How about Conq? Short for Conqueror?”

“I don’t think so‚” Lindsay disagreed.

“Okay‚ how about The Lindsay?”

“The Lindsay?”

“You know‚ like ‘The Donald.’”

“Try again‚” Lindsay indicated.

Rejeanne rubbed her chin. “Fine‚ T-Beg.”

“T-Beg?”

“Tall-blue-eyed-goddess abbreviated‚” Rejeanne said.

“Geez‚ for someone so literarily astute‚ you aren’t one for coming up with innovative nicknames‚” Lindsay declared.

“Heh‚ that’s your opinion‚” Rejeanne retorted‚ folding her arms.

The two women smiled at each other after their light jibing before returning to the dance floor.

After three ear jarring fast tunes‚ the DJ finally selected a soulful slow song. Lindsay stopped dead in her tracks suddenly‚ not knowing how to proceed. Rejeanne took Lindsay’s hand. “Oh‚ I love this song‚” she announced. “Dance this with me.”

The space that separated the two women disappeared almost instantly as Rejeanne wrapped her arms around Lindsay’s waist and planted her head on the taller woman’s chest. Lindsay stood dumbfounded‚ but only for a few seconds before wrapping her long left arm around Rejeanne’s upper back and placing her right hand on the back of Rejeanne’s head. As she began stroking Rejeanne’s hair‚ Lindsay began to sway back and forth to the rhythm of the music. Rejeanne responded by swaying harmoniously with Lindsay. This went on for a few seconds before Rejeanne lifted her head to look into the eyes of her dance partner. Lindsay looked into Rejeanne’s eyes and then lightly placed her fingers on the smaller woman’s chin. Their faces then inched closer together‚ with Rejeanne stretching her neck as Lindsay lowered her head. Just before their lips met‚ the two women looked at each other‚ seemingly for approval. Lindsay‚ sensing an okay‚ slightly opened her mouth before connecting her lips to Rejeanne’s. A moment after feeling Lindsay’s lips touch hers‚ Rejeanne opened her mouth and tenderly ran her tongue across Lindsay’s lips before inserting it into her mouth. Lindsay slightly bit down on Rejeanne’s tongue before warmly circling it with her own.

Lindsay and Rejeanne passionately kissed on the dance floor as they continued slow dancing. In their minds‚ they were suspended in a different zone‚ totally oblivious to the people surrounding them. When their lips finally disconnected‚ a second slow song had just ended and people were grooving to yet another loud and fast techno tune. Rejeanne’s face went red. “I need a drink‚” she announced.

“So do I‚” Lindsay responded.

The two women practically sprinted back to the bar. “What’ll you two have?” the bartender asked.

“A shot of Absolut‚” Rejeanne replied.

“A shot of J.D.‚” Lindsay said.

After downing her shot‚ Rejeanne looked down at her shoes. “I didn’t mean for that to happen‚” she said. “You know‚ the kissing.”

Lindsay downed hers. “Are you sorry that it did?” She asked.

“Why‚ are you?” Rejeanne responded with a question as she looked up at Lindsay.

“Hardly‚” Lindsay replied. “So‚ are you?”

“To be honest‚ yeah‚” Rejeanne confessed. “At least a part of me is sorry.” She breathed a heavy sigh. “This is such a mess. You’re rich‚ powerful‚ and married. And I’m not sure what this weekend is to you. I mean‚ is this some bi-curious fantasy for you? Is this revenge on Marty? Are you writing your autobiography and need juicy material? What is it?”

“None of those things‚ Jeannie‚” Lindsay said. “This is simply me wanting to spend time with you and hoping that the feeling is mutual.”

“The feeling is mutual‚ Lin‚” Rejeanne revealed. “That’s what’s scaring me.”

* * * *

Lindsay and Rejeanne stepped into their hotel room. Lindsay had wanted to book a suite‚ but Rejeanne insisted that the two stay “in an ordinary hotel room at an ordinary hotel‚” adding‚ “It’s not like we’re going to get around to swimming in the heated pool or getting a full body wrap or something.”

Rejeanne plopped her overnight bag down on one of the two queen-sized beds‚ opened it‚ and pulled out a bathrobe. She then turned on the TV. “I wanna take a shower to get the smoke out of my hair‚” she announced.

“Okay‚” Lindsay replied.

“Are you hungry?” Rejeanne asked. “Wanna order room service‚ or we could order out for a pizza?”

“A pizza sounds good‚” Lindsay said.

“Okay‚ but it has to be either Giordano’s or Pizzeria Uno’s‚” Rejeanne said. “One doesn’t come to Chicago and not eat pizza at one of those two places.”

“Yes‚ ma’am‚” Lindsay said.

After calling in their pizza order‚ Lindsay listened to the sound of the shower coming from behind the bathroom door and pondered the course of her evening with Rejeanne. They had left the bar shortly after their fateful dance‚ but barely spoke to each other during the drive to the hotel. There was so much that Lindsay wanted to tell Rejeanne‚ but she found herself unable to articulate those thoughts. At that moment‚ she looked over at the television. A commercial for eyeliner was airing. Thinking about an earlier conversation that she had had with Rejeanne‚ a mischievous smile crept across Lindsay’s face as she grabbed the bathroom door handle and opened the door.

Rejeanne was washing her hair and humming the theme song to “Friends” when she felt a burst of cold water. “What the fuck!” she yelled as she turned to see Lindsay’s hand on the shower knob and her eyes on Rejeanne.

“You still need to give me a proper nickname‚ little girl‚” Lindsay announced with a wicked grin.

“You bee-och‚” Rejeanne smirked as she half-heartedly covered her nether regions. “Wait ‘til I get out of this shower‚ chickie.”

“Why‚ should I be afraid?” Lindsay asked‚ still grinning.

“Yeah‚ be afraid.”

Lindsay backed away‚ but grabbed one of the towels off the rack before heading out of the bathroom. Sometime later‚ when Rejeanne emerged wearing only her robe‚ she was started to see Lindsay‚ also wearing a robe‚ twirling that towel. Rejeanne immediately grabbed her wet towel. “Oh‚ you think that you’re gonna give me a whoopin’?”

“Maybe‚” Lindsay said seductively.

She is so fucking hot right now‚ Rejeanne thought as she began twirling her towel. “Well‚ my towel’s a little wet so the sting may be more harsh.”

“Oh‚ you think so?” Lindsay asked.

“Yes‚ I do‚” Rejeanne replied. At that moment‚ she whipped her towel at Lindsay and was startled to see the taller woman grab it and yank it from her hand. Now armed with two towels‚ Lindsay began twirling both‚ one in each hand‚ as she gracefully inched toward Rejeanne.

Rejeanne raised her hands in front of her and began backing up. “Hey‚ let’s talk about this‚” she said dramatically.

Lindsay’s grin grew bigger and more sinister as she snapped the right towel at Rejeanne‚ purposely missing her. At that moment‚ Rejeanne leapt on one of the beds and then off and onto the other bed. Lindsay gave chase as the two women ran around the room as if they were a couple of third graders.

Rejeanne began taunting Lindsay. “Conqueror‚ Conqueror‚ Conqueror can’t catch me!” At that moment‚ Lindsay dived and‚ grabbing Rejeanne’s waist‚ forced her supine on one of the beds. Lindsay then straddled her and pinned her hands above her head.

“Okay‚ you’ve got me‚” Rejeanne conceded.

“Yes‚ I do‚” Lindsay replied as she gripped both of Rejeanne’s wrists with her left hand and began tickling her with her right.

Rejeanne began laughing and flailing her legs. “Stop… please‚ stop!” she exclaimed between fits of laugher. As she squirmed defensively‚ her robe opened‚ revealing her left breast. At the mere sight of it‚ Lindsay’s already tingling groin began to throb. She stopped tickling Rejeanne and released her grip of her wrists. Lindsay then gently opened Rejeanne’s robe wider‚ revealing first her naval piercing‚ then the top edge of her pubic hair and finally her right breast as Rejeanne stared at Lindsay‚ stunned. Lindsay then opened up her own robe and closed the gap between the two women. Tenderly resting her body on Rejeanne’s‚ Lindsay intentionally touched her right nipple to Rejeanne’s left and watched as both became hard. She then looked at the beauty beneath her.

“You are so amazing‚” Lindsay said as she brought her lips to Rejeanne’s. As they kissed‚ a whirlwind of thoughts flew across her mind. Her lips are so succulent… I want to touch her clit… I want to kiss her clit… I want to rub our clits together… I could kiss her all night… I want to love her all night… I love her…

Lindsay opened her eyes. Is she that woman from my dream?

At that moment‚ hands cupped her face and the kissing stopped. “Lin‚” Rejeanne whispered. “We have to stop this.”

“Why?”

“For one‚ someone’s knocking at the door‚” Rejeanne replied. “I think that our pizza’s here.”

Lindsay climbed up off Rejeanne and closed her robe before opening the door. The pizza delivery boy gasped at the sight of the slightly disheveled but beautiful woman standing before him. “Twenty-one eighteen‚” he croaked.

“Here’s thirty‚” Lindsay replied as she grabbed the pizza box and liter of soda. “Keep the change.”

After setting their order down on a dresser‚ Lindsay turned to see Rejeanne sitting at the edge of the bed‚ a single tear streaming down her face. “Come sit here‚” she said to Lindsay as she patted the space next to her.

Lindsay sat. “I’ve upset you‚” she said.

Rejeanne took Lindsay’s hands in hers. “Before the pizza gets cold‚ let me explain something to you‚” she started. “Ingrid and I broke up because I couldn’t handle being closeted anymore. We were together almost four years and let me tell you‚ Lin‚ the situation was repulsive. She refused to take me to any of her family functions and wouldn’t attend any of mine. I only met her parents once and she refused to meet my folks‚ because she knew that they knew I was a lesbian and would assume that she was one too. We lived together‚ but I was just a roommate to anyone who asked. When I suggested going on a gay-themed vacation‚ like to Provincetown or Key West‚ she wouldn’t hear it. She wouldn’t accompany me on my softball tournaments and wouldn’t be caught dead at the Chicago Pride Parade or any gay festivity for that matter. In her outside world‚ I didn’t exist beyond being the chick that paid half of the rent.

“After awhile‚ the lie was causing me chronic anxiety. So‚ I began confronting her about it. We fought and fought‚ but she never compromised. Not an inch. Finally‚ I threatened to bail. Of course‚ she had a tantrum. Out of the bedroom‚ she was this perfect Swedish-American‚ dick-lovin’ hetero-chick. In our bedroom‚ she was one hundred percent dyke. She could go all night with her head between my legs and love every minute of it. But I didn’t want a fuck buddy. I wanted a partner. I wanted someone who would dance with me in a room full of people‚ who would walk with me hand-in-hand at the June dyke march‚ who wasn’t afraid to be seen reading ‘Girlfriends’ magazine‚ who wasn’t afraid to be seen with me… and I vowed after I left Ingrid that I would never subject myself to that personal cruelty again.”

“But I would never insist that you act like someone that you aren’t‚” Lindsay said.

“I’m not saying you would‚” Rejeanne retorted. “But let’s say that we go all the way tonight… fuck each other’s brains out… and then tomorrow comes. You drive me back to your place‚ I get my Subaru and go home and you’re still married to Martin.”

“But I don’t…”

“…what‚ sleep with him?” Rejeanne interrupted.

Lindsay nodded.

“Yeah‚ but who knows that besides you and him… and me now? And what will change tomorrow in the lie that you two have created for yourselves?”

Lindsay sighed. “I see what you’re saying‚” she whispered.

“Is it fair to me‚ Lin?” Rejeanne asked. “Do I deserve what little I ask for?”

“You deserve more‚ much more‚” Lindsay responded. “I never meant to hurt you‚ Jeannie.”

“I know‚ Lin‚” Rejeanne said as she took her right thumb and gently wiped away a tear on Lindsay’s cheek. “C’mon‚ let’s eat this pizza.”

CHAPTER EIGHT

THE RAGE OF CHARYBDIS

Rejeanne stared blankly at the television set as she slowly chewed on the last piece of pizza that she would have for the evening. After finishing it‚ she rose to take the remaining pieces out of the box‚ place them in Ziploc Baggies that she retrieved from her overnight bag‚ and put the slices in the small hotel room refrigerator. Lindsay peered out of the bathroom as Rejeanne shut the refrigerator door.

“How was your shower?” Rejeanne asked.

“Fine‚” Lindsay replied. “What are you doing?”

“I don’t believe in letting food go to waste‚” Rejeanne responded. “I always keep a box of Baggies handy for leftovers.”

Lindsay smiled as she emerged from the bathroom. “My mother’s gonna love you‚” she said. “She still has peaches that she canned in 1982. She blames her ‘condition’ on her Depression-era parents and their old quips about starving children in China.”

Rejeanne eyed her friend as she absorbed that last comment. Hmm‚ so I could be meeting the mom someday? “Those rainbow pajama pants that you bought earlier look good on you‚” she said.

“Thanks‚” Lindsay replied. “They fit perfectly‚ surprising since they’re meant for guys to wear.”

“Well‚ most everything that you can buy to wear at a queer store is meant to be non gender-specific‚” Rejeanne advised as she took possession of the bed closest to the door. After nestling herself in‚ she grabbed the TV remote. “Is it alright if I turn it off?” she asked. “I’m whipped.”

“Sure‚” Lindsay replied as she pulled the covers back on the other bed and climbed in. Resting her head on the pillow‚ she looked up at the ceiling and felt a barrenness. She did not want to lie there alone. Just as strong as her desire for sexual intimacy with Rejeanne was her desire for physical closeness. She wanted to proffer the idea of an embrace‚ but was afraid that she had already crossed too many boundaries with her friend. The combination of Lindsay’s deep thoughts‚ the pizza churning in her belly and that drink from the bar was causing her stomach to feel queasy‚ so she turned to her side and eyed Rejeanne in the darkness.

“Can’t sleep?” Rejeanne asked‚ as she too was doing her share of eyeing.

“My stomach hurts a little.”

“You’re not going to be sick‚ are you‚ Lin?”

“I don’t think so.”

At that moment‚ Rejeanne rose up‚ crawled out of her bed and leaned over to crawl in next to Lindsay. “Look‚ I’m not trying to be a clit tease or anything‚ but I so enjoyed our embrace in my bed the other night.”

“I liked that too‚” Lindsay affirmed.

“Can we maybe do that again?”

“Absolutely.” Lindsay was beginning to suspect that Rejeanne was a mind reader.

She gathered Rejeanne up in her arms and caressed the back of her neck. Rejeanne relaxed her head on Lindsay’s left shoulder.

“So‚ Lin‚” Rejeanne started‚ “Classic pick-up line time. What’s your sign?”

“I’m an Aries.”

“Figures.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Lindsay asked.

“Aries are arrogant and pig-headed.”

“Oh‚ really?” Lindsay quipped. “So what sign are you?”

“I’m an Aquarius‚” Rejeanne replied.

“Huh‚” said Lindsay. “I understand that they can’t make a decision.”

“Screw you‚” Rejeanne smirked.

“I’d love that‚” Lindsay quipped.

Both women chuckled. “So‚ you have a birthday coming up soon‚ then‚” Lindsay said.

“Next month.”

“How old will you be‚ Jeannie?”

“Twenty-six.”

“So‚ like‚ you were born in ’77‚” Lindsay calculated.

“Yeah‚” Rejeanne remarked. “What year were you born? Nineteen-seventy?”

“Yup.”

“You probably remember 1977 pretty well‚ huh‚ Lin?”

“Absolutely‚” Lindsay said. “That was the year that ‘Star Wars’ came out.”

“Big fan‚ I take it?”

“Oh‚ hell yes‚” Lindsay said. “I saw ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ six times in the theater when it originally came out in ’80 and ‘Return of the Jedi’ four times in the theater. And mind you‚ I was still a young kid traipsing off to the theater all those times.”

“That’s cute‚” Rejeanne looked deeply into Lindsay’s eyes. “Were you a ‘Saturday Night Fever’ fan too? That came out in ’77.”

“No‚” Lindsay smiled. “But I think that was R-rated anyway. I couldn’t have seen it even if I wanted to back then.”

Rejeanne grinned as well. “So‚ the name Alasdair‚ is that‚ like‚ totally WASP?

“Pretty much‚” Lindsay responded. “The Alasdairs originated in Wales‚ and most of my blue-blooded forefathers were careful to take spouses of prosperous Welsh‚ Scottish or English lineage. Although‚ there were a couple in guys in the line that broke rank and married Irish.”

“Ah‚ but it seems that you followed protocol‚ huh?” Rejeanne asked.

“Yeah‚ the MacMahons are old nobility from the Scottish highlands‚” Lindsay stated as she began playing with a lock of Rejeanne’s hair. “How about you?”

“Oh‚ classic Euro-mutt here‚” Rejeanne said. “Mom’s German-Irish with a dash of Polish and Ukrainian. Dad is Cajun‚ Dutch and Austrian.”

“Wow‚ you have half the continent covered in your DNA‚” Lindsay remarked.

“Yeah‚ well‚ fuck you‚” Rejeanne smirked.

“I’d love that‚” Lindsay quipped.

Both women chuckled again. “You know‚ my dad’s dad’s family hails from southern Louisiana. There’s an old rumor that one of my forefathers down there took a mulatto for a wife.”

“What’s a mulatto?”

“A biracial person‚” Rejeanne said. “Half black and half white. So‚ you never know. I may have a splash of color in me.”

“Well‚ that might explain why you have such great rhythm.”

Rejeanne’s eyes glazed over as she lowered her voice. “You haven’t seen a thing… yet.”

Lindsay slightly squirmed as she tightened her thighs together. “Please‚ this is painful enough as it is.”

Rejeanne let out a sigh. “Sorry ‘bout that‚” she said as she shifted her body a little so she could caress Lindsay’s right arm. “A change of subject is in order. So‚ what’s your favorite pastime?”

“What’s yours?”

“Sex‚” Rejeanne jibed. “Kidding‚ although it’s up there on the list. I would have to honestly say that my favorite pastime is writing.”

“You must really love going to work everyday‚” Lindsay remarked.

“No‚ not that kind of writing‚ silly‚” Rejeanne said. “I write poetry.”

“Really?”

“Yup.”

“I’d love to read it sometime‚” Lindsay requested.

“Perhaps‚” Rejeanne said. “So‚ you didn’t answer me. What’s your favorite pastime?”

“Riding.”

“Riding?” Rejeanne asked. “Like a bike or that motorcycle that I saw in your garage?”

“No‚ silly. Riding horses.”

“Oh‚” Rejeanne said‚ slightly embarrassed. “Did you have a pony when you were a little girl?” she asked.

“No‚” Lindsay replied smugly. “Ponies are for wimps. From the time I was four‚ I’ve ridden horses.”

“Ooh‚ well‚ excuse me‚” Rejeanne lightly pinched Lindsay’s forearm. “What was the name of your first horse?”

“I didn’t name the first one‚ so don’t laugh‚” Lindsay warned. “Buttercup.”

Rejeanne laughed. “Sorry‚” she chortled. “Why Buttercup?”

“Because of her golden color‚” Lindsay said. “Mother named her. I named my second horse that I acquired when I was eleven.”

“What was her name?”

His name was Aragorn‚” Lindsay replied.

“Son of Arathorn?” Rejeanne quipped. “Tolkien fan are you?”

“Big time‚” Lindsay remarked. “I obtained a second horse a couple of years later that I named Arwen. The two became an item.”

“You are too adorable‚ Lin‚” Rejeanne said.

* * * *

Lindsay awakened to the pitch-blackness of the hotel room. The only sounds that she heard were the humming of the room’s heater and the gentle breathing of the woman who lay next to her. In the darkness‚ Lindsay could only see the outline of Rejeanne’s face. She began to lightly caress that face with the tips of her fingers as she began to contemplate her predicament.

Lindsay was in hopelessly in love. Although she had been in love in the past‚ she was now encountering feelings more intense and profound than any she had ever experienced. Despite that‚ she was quite surprised that she was not particularly fazed by the fact that she had fallen so deeply for another woman. Her father had worked very hard to instill in her a sense of ethnic‚ racial and class superiority. Lindsay smiled in the darkness as she reflected on so many of the hateful and narrow-minded things she was fed by him during her formative years‚ and how she refused to succumb to most of those views. Yes‚ she was a card-carrying Republican‚ a member of the NRA‚ and an avid reader of The Weekly Standard. But she also prided herself on not agreeing with everything that came from the conservative right‚ particularly with regards to social issues. Her early fascination with the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King and her studies of some of the greatest American women in history‚ including Eleanor Roosevelt‚ Helen Keller‚ Elizabeth Cady Stanton and of course‚ Amelia Earhart combined to challenge her father’s notion of the importance of the white male power structure. And it was her cousin Keith who had‚ years ago‚ exposed to her that gays were not the sick perverts that her father had professed them to be.

Thus‚ thoughts of loving another woman or of being lesbian were not earth shattering to Lindsay. Perhaps‚ deep down‚ she always knew that she was never particularly hot for men. Her college affair with Nadir was sexually satisfying for the most part‚ but their relationship was borne more of their combined passion for global awareness. At Dartmouth‚ she majored in economics and minored in Asian and Middle-Eastern studies. Initially‚ her plan was to develop a keen understanding of corporate Japan‚ Korea‚ Hong Kong and the oil-rich Arab nations for her future role as head of the Alasdair family dynasty. But as she was exposed more and more to the cultural richness of those areas‚ and especially after meeting Nadir‚ her interests shifted from exclusively economic to both a social and cultural understanding. Together‚ Lindsay and Nadir joined a student group affiliated with Amnesty International. She was particularly passionate about confronting the oppressive Caste system in India‚ the then growing tensions in the former Czech Republic and ongoing political strife occurring in Central Africa. It was their social passion‚ not a sexual one that fueled the relationship between Lindsay and Nadir.

Lindsay’s father was troubled as much by her amnesty work as he was over the fact that she was dating an Indian. He had hoped that‚ once Nadir was scared off‚ Lindsay would channel her interests back to learning how to make money. Even though she was the consummate capitalist‚ her social interests didn’t end with the relationship with Nadir. After taking over the family business‚ Lindsay expanded her global understanding through travel and investments‚ which included parts of Sub-Saharan Africa‚ Eastern Europe‚ Central and South America as well as Asia and the Middle East.

However‚ as she lay there with Rejeanne‚ her arm wrapped around the smaller woman’s torso‚ her lips delicately touching Rejeanne’s forehead‚ she thought neither of her work nor her destiny. The only thoughts that consumed her were Rejeanne and her future with the small blonde beauty. What do I do now?

Leaving Martin was a very appealing thought. So was sharing a life with Rejeanne. Her problems centered on how she could accomplish either. Divorcing her husband of nearly ten years and then living in an openly lesbian relationship would not resonate at all with her parents‚ her shareholders‚ or the various individuals who contributed to her enormous wealth. She considered her options. She could remain married and take Rejeanne as her secret lover. Or she and Martin could agree to live separately but not get divorced. Rejeanne could then move into Stone Hills under the guise of an employee of some capacity. She could be my personal press secretary‚ Lindsay thought.

As Lindsay pondered her choices‚ she could not escape one factor. Rejeanne had already been down the road of a covert relationship. Lindsay believed that she would not be willing to do it again‚ nor‚ in the end‚ would Lindsay ask such a thing of her. Her profound love for Rejeanne‚ ironically‚ would not allow her to even suggest that Rejeanne return to an oppressive situation. The question thus became whether Lindsay’s love for Rejeanne was strong enough to be with her openly and honestly.

All of her contemplation was giving Lindsay a headache. When she lifted her hand to rub her eyes‚ the body next to her stirred and yawned.

“Hey‚ are you awake?” Rejeanne whispered.

“Yeah‚” Lindsay replied.

“Can’t sleep?”

“I haven’t been awake long‚” Lindsay said. “Didn’t mean to wake you.”

“You didn’t‚” Rejeanne remarked. “Are you feeling okay?”

“I feel fine‚ dear. Go back to sleep.”

* * * *

The long ride back became increasingly tense as the two women neared Dell Valley. Neither one was ready to face returning to their so-called normalcy. Neither was ready to be without the other. For Rejeanne‚ the thought of parting from Lindsay was particularly distressing. She had revealed to Lindsay the perils of her previous relationship. She had not wanted to do that‚ fearful that the revelation would make Lindsay feel pressured into doing something she was not ready to do or‚ at the very worse‚ frighten Lindsay away. As they drew nearer to Stone Hills‚ Rejeanne’s worst fear seemed to be coming to fruition. Lindsay’s already reserved demeanor became even more distant. With only ten more miles to go‚ Lindsay decided then to pick up one of her cell phones and call Leigh to check the status on several real estate projects that she had going and meetings that she had scheduled.

For the first time since they got together the day before‚ Rejeanne felt completely alone.

* * * *

The Hummer rolled up to the Lindsay’s garage as one of its doors opened‚ exposing Rejeanne’s Subaru. At the angle that Lindsay’s vehicle was parked‚ both women could not help but notice a Mercedes parked next to the Subaru.

“Marty must be back from his boat show‚” Rejeanne said.

“Apparently.”

Rejeanne reached behind Lindsay’s seat and grabbed her overnight bag. “So‚ what happens now?” she asked.

Lindsay gripped the steering wheel with both hands and looked ahead. “Honestly‚ I don’t know‚” she said. “There’s nothing more that I want than to be with you.” She looked at Rejeanne. “But you so deserve someone who’ll be committed to you fully‚ without any restrictions… without any baggage. My situation is‚ as you know‚ very complicated. And I’m not sure that I can give that to you right now.”

Rejeanne opened the car door. “Right‚” she said angrily as she began to step out.

Lindsay grabbed her arm. “Don’t leave like this‚ Jeannie‚” she pleaded. “You’re… you’re… I consider you my very best friend. I’ve enjoyed every minute we’ve spent together. I just don’t want to hurt you. Can’t you see that?”

“I understand‚” Rejeanne said sardonically. “You have an image to uphold. Family tradition and all. Can’t be rocking any boats.”

Hearing it that way‚ Lindsay realized just how shallow and repressive her existence had been. “Look‚ I just have to think about things‚ okay?”

“Sure‚” Rejeanne hissed. “Sorry that I didn’t give you what you really wanted from me this weekend.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Think about it.”

“Hey‚ you’re wrong‚” Lindsay implored. “This isn’t about sex in the least. There are many things for me to consider here.”

“Yeah‚ sure. You consider things‚ Lindsay.” Rejeanne tore her arm from Lindsay’s grip and exited the vehicle. Jumping into her own vehicle‚ she peeled out of the garage and sped off‚ eyes straight ahead.

Lindsay continued to sit in her H2‚ eyes staring blankly ahead‚ for several minutes before putting the truck in drive and pulling into the spot that Rejeanne had vacated. As she walked into her home‚ profound anger began to build up inside of her as well. She didn’t have to tear off like that‚ Lindsay thought. Have her little temper tantrum. Can’t she see what I’m going through because of her? To hell with it. Fuck her. Lindsay’s strides quickened as she walked down her main corridor to the front staircases‚ overnight bag in hand. Barreling up the stairs and to her bedroom‚ she entered and saw Martin sitting on the sofa facing the room’s small fireplace. She unbuttoned her coat as she battled a flurry of emotions.

“Have a nice weekend‚ dear?” Martin asked.

“What do you fucking care what kind of weekend I had?” Lindsay replied irately as she took the coat off and placed it next to her bag on the bed.

“Why should I not care what my wife’s been doing?”

“Because you never gave a shit before‚ Marty‚ that’s why.”

“Before‚ your weekends were filled with productive business ventures‚ important social functions‚ visits with your parents‚ et cetera‚” Martin stated. “Heading down to the Windy City with a white-trash dyke‚ now that’s something I care about.”

Lindsay approached Martin and stood over him. “Don’t you ever fucking call her that‚” she warned as she clenched her fists.

Martin stood up. “A little sensitive‚ my dear?” he asked cynically. “Tell me something‚ how does it feel to be the first Alasdair‚ male or female‚ who has ever eaten pussy?”

Lindsay felt a boding heat course through her body. “You rat bastard!” she exclaimed as she cold-cocked Martin‚ sending him to the floor. Wincing in pain‚ he looked up at her‚ totally stunned at what just happened‚ before gripping his throbbing jaw. He saw a rage in the eyes of his wife that he had never seen before.

“Holy shit‚ I think you cracked my jaw‚” Martin declared. “What the hell’s gotten into you?” He looked down on the carpet at several fresh drops of blood.

Lindsay sat on the couch and took a deep breath before peering down at Martin. “For years you’ve been fucking around on me with common street hookers‚ Marty. So where do you get off coming into my bedroom‚ insulting my best friend and accusing me of infidelity?”

Martin leaned up as he wiped the blood trickling from his mouth. “This is our bedroom‚” he proclaimed.

“No‚ this is my bedroom‚ Marty. My bedroom‚ my house. Your existence here has not been a right but a privilege. And as you well know‚ lawyer husband of mine‚ privileges can be waived‚ modified or terminated.”

“What are you saying to me‚ Lindsay?” Martin asked with what Lindsay detected was genuine trepidation in his tone.

“Nothing happened‚” Lindsay admitted. “Not that I didn’t want something to happen. For the first time since I don’t know when‚ I felt truly alive and complete.” She stood up and leaned down so that they were eye-to-eye. “I look at you now‚ you pathetic pile of shit‚ and I can’t believe that I told myself that I even had to consider my options.”

Despite her level of anger‚ Lindsay helped Martin to his feet. “Well‚ that girl’s had some sort of effect on you‚ Lin‚” he conceded. “You wouldn’t have done this to me last Friday.”

“If you’re expecting an apology‚ you won’t get one‚ Marty. I should have decked you years ago.”

Although Martin was actually fearful of Lindsay’s state of being‚ at that moment‚ the excruciating pain of his jaw took priority. “I really need to put something on this at the very least‚” Martin said. “It’s swelling‚” he added as he left the room feeling crushed and discomfited.

Lindsay sat back down on the couch and looked over at her overnight bag resting on her bed. She then walked over to her bed‚ dug into her coat pocket and pulled out her truck keys.

In an instant‚ a decision was made.

CHAPTER NINE

EROS

Rejeanne sat at her kitchen table staring at a nickel bag of weed that she had purchased sometime ago but had never gotten around to smoking. Smoking a joint was never an escape for Rejeanne. She had always considered it a simple pleasure. Like indulging in a whole pint of Ben & Jerry’s in one sitting‚ it was something that she did once in a great while. But that evening‚ as she reflected on the events that had transpired only a short time before‚ her need for a marijuana-induced diversion was glaring.

However‚ just as she reached over into a kitchen drawer to grab some rolling papers‚ the phone rang. She got up to check the caller ID before deciding whether to answer it.

The caller ID read “BRUNSWICK‚ TYLER.”

Rejeanne took a deep sigh‚ but decided to answer the phone.

“Yo‚ shorty‚” a chipper Tyler said on the other line. “What-up!”

“Hey‚ dude‚” Rejeanne responded despondently.

“Damn‚ girl‚ you sound depressed‚” Tyler said. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing really‚” Rejeanne replied.

“Bullshit‚ Jeannie‚” Tyler said‚ concerned. “Talk to me. You know you can talk to me.” He paused‚ hearing the shakiness in her breathing. “Is this about Lindsay Alasdair? What happened? Did that ‘ho’ dog you out?”

Rejeanne began crying. “Everything’s so fucked up‚ Ty‚” she said. “I… I let myself… fall… And she probably doesn’t even give a shit about me.”

“Aw‚ baby‚” Tyler said in a comforting tone. “I know it hurts. Love can be a bitch sometimes. But you know‚ I think you’re wrong about her not giving a shit about you. Do you know that the morning after that Alasdair fundraising gig‚ Doug came to me and told me that long-legged Lindsay was majorly checking you out?”

Rejeanne’s eyes widened as she held the phone receiver to her ear.

“I was like‚ ‘Negro please‚’ to the white boy‚” Tyler continued. “But he was like‚ ‘dude‚ I’m totally serious.’ At the time‚ I figured that blunt y’all smoked was giving him lesbo fantasies or something. But then “long legs” starts taking you away from us at lunchtime.” All that talking on the phone got me to wondering that maybe there was something more than just you and the rich girl conversatin’ about pantyhose or some shit.”

Rejeanne chuckled. “So what happened?” Tyler asked again.

“We had an incredible weekend in Chicago together‚ Ty‚” Rejeanne said. “We shopped in Boystown and ate a wonderful dinner. She even slow-danced with me at the bar. She was so warm and funny and beautiful. I felt such a connection with her.”

“Did you squoze on that kootchie‚ P?”

“No‚ Ty‚ we didn’t do it‚ although it was on my mind most of the weekend. I just didn’t want to set myself up to be hurt. But‚ wouldn’t you know it‚ I set myself up and I got hurt big-time. She acted like she cared about me‚ but in the end‚ she went back to her hubby and her world.”

“Listen to me‚ Jeannie‚” Ty said. “You are warm and funny and beautiful‚ and if Lindsay Alasdair can’t see that… if she would rather stay with that pencil-dick motherfucking husband of hers‚ fuck them both. You feel me?”

“I feel you‚ Ty‚” Rejeanne responded. “Do you know her husband?”

“I’ve met him at a couple of functions. He’s a racist prick.”

Rejeanne sighed again.

“Look‚ baby‚” Ty said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that Lindsay feels something for you. Hell‚ she’s probably madly in love with you or something. Call it a hunch on my part. That and you’re pretty easy to fall for. But Jeannie‚ Lindsay has all this shit she has to deal with. Her family‚ her money‚ the media‚ pencil-dick… not to mention the whole gay identity thang.”

“I know.”

“But if she truly loves you‚ she’ll be willing to deal with all that and more. And if she’s not willing‚ well then it’s her fucking loss.”

“Thanks‚ Ty.”

“And P‚ never feel like you can’t talk to somebody about things‚” Tyler added. “You have friends‚ and I’m one of them. Hey‚ I may be a straight brother from Benton Harbor‚ but I know a few things about life and loving.”

“I know‚ Ty. Thanks.”

“You hang in there‚ now‚ okay?”

“I will.”

“And call me if you need anything.”

“Sure thing‚ bro.”

“And one more thing.”

“Yeah?”

“Put that shit away‚” Tyler said‚ referencing the weed. “You don’t need to be smoking that shit.”

“How did you…” Rejeanne exclaimed. “Am I that predictable?”

“Naw‚ I have ESP.”

“Yeah‚ right.” The two friends laughed before saying their goodbyes and hanging up. Rejeanne returned the weed to its place in the far corner of her refrigerator before exiting the room. Just as she was dimming the dining room light‚ her doorbell rang. She padded over to the door and peeked through the peephole to see a familiar face. She opened the door.

“Hi‚ Jeannie‚” Lindsay said.

“Hi.”

“May I come in?”

“Sure.”

Lindsay stepped into Rejeanne’s condo and looked down at her boots. “I’ll take these off‚” she announced. Afterwards‚ she inched closer to Rejeanne.

“Rejeanne‚ I’m sorry for hurting you‚” she started.

“I’ll live‚” Rejeanne responded.

“I didn’t mean for things to turn out this way‚” Lindsay said.

“I understand‚ Lin‚” Rejeanne said. “It was all too much for you.”

“No‚ you don’t understand.”

“Sure I do‚” Rejeanne replied. “The whole queer thing freaked you out. You were curious but…”

“…No‚” Lindsay interrupted. “I’m not apologizing for… for… I’m apologizing for letting you leave before I could tell you how I feel… about you. I love you‚ Jeannie.”

“What?” Rejeanne gasped.

“I love you‚” Lindsay repeated. “And I don’t give a shit who knows or what happens from here.”

“But… but‚ at your place‚ you said…”

“I know what I said‚” Lindsay continued. “Forget what I said. Believe me when I tell you now that it was never about loving you as a woman or‚ as you call it‚ the queer thing. Not for me anyway. I was mainly concerned with how others would take this along with the breakdown of my marriage. But now I say‚ screw them. I’m not going to be another what’s-her-name… Stockholm… I’ve hidden behind a lie about my marriage‚ but I’m not going to hide behind a lie about this. I’m done hiding.”

“Lin…”

“My being madly in love with you… me even being a lesbian… hey‚ if folks have a problem with that‚ it’s their problem.” Lindsay gently grabbed Rejeanne’s shoulders and smiled. “This is all new to me‚ I admit. And I don’t fully understand these changes that I’m experiencing. But my dear‚ for me‚ there’s no problem‚” she added softly.

“Oh‚ Lin.”

“Look‚ I’m no poet by any stretch of the imagination. But I want you to know this‚ Jeannie. These last few weeks with you… You’ve… you’ve… you’re my light‚ my hope‚ my purpose‚ Jeannie. From the moment that I laid eyes on you‚ I felt a rush‚ a euphoria. I can’t stop thinking about you… or wanting to be with you. I feel alive in ways that I’ve never felt before‚ and I’m blessed for every day that I’ve known you. I love you so very much.”

Rejeanne threw her arms around Lindsay. “I love you so much too‚ Lin‚” she said.

The two women held each other for many moments before Rejeanne slowly pulled away from the embrace and took Lindsay’s hand in hers. “I want you to stay with me tonight‚” she said.

“Jeannie‚ I didn’t come here to‚ you know… I just wanted to let you know how I feel.”

“I know Lin‚” Rejeanne responded. “I still want you here with me tonight.” She then escorted her new love up her staircase. Once the two reached the top‚ Lindsay looked down at Rejeanne‚ smiled and then lifted the smaller woman off her feet.

“Oh‚ are you carrying me across the threshold?” Rejeanne asked.

“Maybe‚” Lindsay replied.

“Do you remember which bedroom is mine?”

“Of course.”

Lindsay carried Rejeanne into her bedroom and gently lowered her onto the bed. Rejeanne quickly removed the tank top that she was wearing‚ which revealed her firm breasts to Lindsay. In response‚ Lindsay grabbed Rejeanne under her arms and moved her to the center of the bed. “I like it that you’re wearing the necklace I gave you‚” Lindsay said.

“Well‚ it’s important to flaunt my bling-bling‚” Rejeanne joked. “Seriously‚ I haven’t wanted to take it off‚ Lindsay. It reminds me of you.”

“You are so beautiful‚ Jeannie‚” Lindsay declared.

“So are you‚” Rejeanne replied. “Absolutely breathtaking.”

Now straddling Rejeanne‚ Lindsay unbuttoned her own blouse and slowly began reaching around to unsnap her bra. “Let me do that‚” Rejeanne demanded as she unhinged the bra strap in one swift motion. As Lindsay leaned forward onto Rejeanne to plant her first kiss‚ Rejeanne cupped both of Lindsay’s breasts for a moment before wrapping her arms around the taller woman’s torso.

“Are you sure that you’re ready to do this?” Lindsay asked. “You know… this.”

“Quite sure‚” Rejeanne responded. “Are you?”

Lindsay smiled. “Yes‚” she said.

The two women kissed passionately as their hands roamed each other’s upper bodies. Although Rejeanne was enjoying the kiss immensely‚ the hard feel of Lindsay’s belt buckle grinding into her lower pelvis began to bother her. She broke the kiss. “You need to lose the pants‚ Lin‚” she said. “Or your belt buckle’s gonna leave a nasty bruise.”

Lindsay hoisted herself up. “Darn‚ I thought that maybe you were just eager to advance to second base‚” she jibed.

“Oh‚ I’m hopin’ for a couple of homers‚ baby‚” Rejeanne quipped as she took it upon herself to loosen Lindsay’s belt.

As Lindsay stood to remove her pants‚ she looked down at Rejeanne who was likewise removing her boxers to expose her beautiful naked body. An intense waive of desire hit Lindsay. “God‚ you are downright gorgeous‚” she said as she crawled back on the bed and positioned herself on top of Rejeanne. “Is this okay?” she asked‚ tentatively.

“Absolutely‚” Rejeanne replied before renewing their kiss‚ which grew more powerful as the heat from both women’s bodies intensified. They periodically broke the kiss to whisper endearments to each other. “Your lips are so soft‚ Lin.” “I love the feel of your hard nipples‚ Jeannie.” And as they kissed‚ each woman explored the other’s body. Lindsay ran her hands up and down Rejeanne’s sides and then massaged her thighs and rear before moving her hands north and settling them on the sides of Rejeanne’s head. Rejeanne tenderly caressed Lindsay’s back after running her fingers through Lindsay’s lush dark hair. Both women ground their torsos rhythmically with each other‚ sending vigorous shocks of yearning through them.

As sheens of sweat moistened their bodies‚ Rejeanne again softly broke the kiss. “Are you all right with this… with me?” she asked.

“Yes‚” Lindsay whispered. “I’m nervous‚ though.”

“Why?” Rejeanne asked. “First time jitters?”

“Perhaps‚ but I’m more worried about you‚” Lindsay conveyed. “I want you to enjoy this. I want to please you.”

Rejeanne soothingly ran her fingers down Lindsay’s cheek. “Don’t be nervous‚ my love‚” she said. “You are totally pleasing me.”

Lindsay smiled. “Is there anything special that you’d like to do?” Rejeanne asked her.

“I want to kiss you there‚” she replied as she looked down at Rejeanne’s groin area.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes‚” Lindsay said as she again brought her lips to Rejeanne’s before beginning her journey down Rejeanne’s body. As she moved‚ she gave soft kisses to Rejeanne’s neck‚ necklace‚ chest‚ nipples‚ belly and pelvis before positioning herself between Rejeanne’s thighs. Eyeing the lovely sight before her‚ she gently ran her fingers around Rejeanne’s eagerly awaiting vulva and clit before bringing her tongue to them.

Rejeanne let out a fervent moan upon feeling the contact. “Ohmygawd‚” she sighed before looking down at Lindsay. “This feels incredible. Are you sure you’ve never done this to a woman before?” she asked.

“Quite sure‚” Lindsay responded before she continued making love to Rejeanne with both her tongue and her fingers.

Some moments later‚ as Rejeanne felt an orgasm on the horizon‚ she released the bed sheets she had been clutching and cupped her hands on the top of Lindsay’s head. When Lindsay let out a deep moan‚ Rejeanne climaxed. Her body went limp‚ but for only a moment before she reached down and grabbed Lindsay’s forearms. “Come here‚” she demanded as Lindsay moved up and brought her lips to Rejeanne’s once again.

“You taste great‚” Lindsay said as she noticed that Rejeanne’s eyes were glazed with longing. “That was wonderful.”

“I want to taste you‚ Lin‚” Rejeanne announced. “I want to make you come.”

Obliging‚ Lindsay rolled over onto her back while Rejeanne ran her hands all over the taller woman’s upper body. “Your body is so long and sleek and beautiful‚” Rejeanne commented.

“I love your body‚” Lindsay said. “So perfectly toned and defined. Softball‚ kickboxing‚ rugby… whatever… all has been good to you.”

Rejeanne chuckled as she situated herself comfortably below Lindsay’s pelvis. At the moment that Lindsay felt Rejeanne’s tongue on her‚ an electrifying shiver coursed through her body. Then Rejeanne inserted two fingers inside of Lindsay that sent a second sharp tingle up her back to the top of her head. She threw it back‚ closed her eyes and let out a deep sigh. “Yes‚” she whispered repeatedly as a whirlwind of thoughts cycloned through her mind. This is how true love feels… was the last one before climax hit her.

As Lindsay let out her cry of satisfaction‚ Rejeanne rose up and smiled at her accomplishment. Lindsay threw her arms around Rejeanne‚ pulling her up and into a strong embrace. “I love you‚” she said to Rejeanne before kissing her again.

The two women quietly kissed and caressed each other for awhile. During that time‚ Lindsay brought up something that had been on her mind. “Do you like winter?” she asked Rejeanne.

“Not when it gets too cold‚” Rejeanne replied as she lightly ran her fingers around Lindsay’s nipples. “It can be pretty at times‚ like after a fresh snowfall. Why do you ask?”

“When I was Hopkins Prep School‚ I fell in love with New England‚” Lindsay explained. “Although I didn’t participate in any winter sports there‚ I did develop this passion for cross-country skiing. Over the years‚ I’ve down-hilled at some of the top resorts here and abroad‚ but I much prefer the quiet serenity of the New England countryside.”

“That’s nice‚ my dear‚” Rejeanne said.

Lindsay ran her fingers through Rejeanne’s hair. “I have a point to this‚ Jeannie‚” she said. “About six years ago‚ I purchased about 150 acres of land in the White Mountains of Maine‚ about ten miles northeast of Gorham‚ New Hampshire. I had a 2‚300-square-foot log cabin built on the land. It’s a beautiful chalet in an angelic location. I simply love it there. What I’m saying is that I’d love to take you to my cabin‚ Jeannie. We can ski or ice fish or‚ hell‚ build snowmen. I really think you’d fall in love with the place too. And if you don’t really want to do winter there‚ we can go in the summer and hike or bike or whatever. And the really cool thing is you’ll likely run into a family of moose lounging in the woods.”

“I’d love to go to Maine with you‚ Lin‚ winter or summer‚” Rejeanne said. “I’ll even cook up some Maine lobster for you.”

Both women chuckled. Lindsay was also interested in Rejeanne’s tattoos. “I’ve noticed three so far‚” Lindsay remarked as she caressed Rejeanne’s forearm bearing one of them. “This one‚ the one on your upper arm and the one on your shoulder. Do they symbolize anything?”

“They do‚” Rejeanne said. “The Irish Gaelic symbol on my right shoulder blade and the name Maighréad under it represent my mother‚ Margaret. She’s very proud of that part of her heritage that is Irish‚ and I’m very proud of her. The cross in the rainbow colors on my forearm represents diversity in faith. The barbed wire on my upper arm represents the confinement of hatred and intolerance.”

“Do you have any more that I haven’t seen?”

“There’s an Old English “D” on my lower back just above my left butt cheek.” Rejeanne shifted her body so that Lindsay could see it.

“And what does it symbolize?”

“It’s the icon for the Detroit Tigers‚ but for me it represents my childhood roots in Detroit.”

“That is so cool‚” Lindsay said.

Moments later‚ the surge of passion began to surface between the two women once again. Sensing Lindsay’s longing‚ Rejeanne‚ who was still on top‚ took her right thigh and slid it between Lindsay’s thighs. She began slowly and sensuously thrusting it against Lindsay’s groin as she leaned down and took Lindsay’s left nipple into her mouth. After letting out a series of quiet moans‚ Rejeanne intensified her thrusts as she gripped the cheeks of Lindsay’s rear. Her mouth had settled onto Lindsay’s neck‚ where she bit and sucked a prominent hickey.

Lindsay was thrusting as well‚ her long arms wrapped around Rejeanne. Both women were panting heavily as the thrusts became stronger‚ quicker‚ and feverish. Lindsay felt not only her clit throbbing‚ she also felt the throbbing saturated sex of her lover. “This feels so inconceivably good‚” she whispered to Rejeanne‚ who was still sucking her neck.

Rejeanne looked into Lindsay’s eyes. “I don’t want this to end‚” she confessed. “I want to make love to you all night.”

“So do I‚ Jeannie.”

Some moments later‚ they looked into each other’s eyes as climax hit both simultaneously. They let out screams of pleasure before Rejeanne collapsed in Lindsay’s arms. “I could hold you like this forever‚” Lindsay professed‚ looking deeply into Rejeanne’s eyes once again. “There’s something that I want you to know‚ Jeannie‚” she continued. “These past few years of my life‚ I haven’t lived. I’ve merely existed. I existed on lies and the will to power. I sacrificed my own happiness for that power and relinquished any chance at real love to the lie that was my marriage. But now here you are‚ Jeannie. And try as I might‚ I couldn’t prevent myself from falling so hopelessly‚ wonderfully in love with you. Thanks to you‚ I feel alive again.”

“I feel so alive too‚ Lin‚” Rejeanne announced. “You are my best friend‚ my lover‚ my soul mate.”

“You are my Conqueror‚ Rejeanne.”

“I love you‚ Lin.”

“I love you‚ Jeannie‚ so much.”

Within minutes‚ both women drifted contentedly off to sleep.

* * * *

Lindsay opened her eyes and looked around in utter bewilderment. She was in a massive room with a high vaulted ceiling. All of the room’s furnishings were strangely ancient looking. She noticed two distinct marble tables‚ clay vases filled with flowers‚ large pitharis‚ sculptures‚ white terra cotta pots‚ finely crafted wooden chairs and lit candles. Several olive oil lamps positioned on tall bronze posts also lit the room. Frescos and tapestries decorated the walls. A beautiful brazier provided heat‚ and behind her was a giant rounded bed twice the size of a standard king-size bed. Covering it were silk sheets and at least a half dozen silk-covered pillows. Next to the bed was a small wooden end-table with a single clay bowl filled with pomegranates. The room had the aroma of eucalyptus. “Where in the hell am I?” she whispered before noticing a tall‚ handsome man standing by the room’s large double door. His attire made Lindsay think of Russell Crowe’s general’s outfit in “Gladiator.”

The man smiled at her. “Pleasure to see you again‚ my Liege‚” he said.

CHAPTER TEN

SAMSARA

“Who are you?” Lindsay asked of the man standing before her. “And where the hell am I?”

“I’m almost offended that you don’t remember me‚ Majesty‚” the man replied in a self-aggrandizing tone. “I know that it’s been awhile‚ but I’d like to think that I have a face that’s not easy to forget.”

“Well‚ I don’t know you‚” Lindsay shot‚ “and stop calling me ‘majesty.’”

“By your will‚ my Liege.”

“Knock it off‚” Lindsay demanded. “I’m dreaming‚” she concluded. “This has to be a dream‚ right?”

“Well‚ not exactly‚” the man replied. “Yes‚ your physical form is presently sleeping‚ but your inner being is in a different level of consciousness.”

“My inner being?” Lindsay folded her arms in disbelief. “What a crock of shit you’re spewing.”

“I’m sure that you’re finding this hard to believe‚ but trust me‚ you are not dreaming.”

“Okay‚ what is this then‚” Lindsay asked‚ “if it’s not a dream?”

The man slowly approached her. “Look around the room‚ Lindsay‚” he said. “As you look around‚ look within. The answer to your question is right here with me.”

Although dubious‚ Lindsay complied. As she looked‚ she did not find anything recognizable until her eyes fell upon a small desk with an open scroll. At that moment‚ feeling as though she had been pinched‚ she returned her attention to the man. “Do you remember me now‚ my Liege?” he asked.

Lindsay looked deeply into his indigo eyes as a word broke through her throat. “Palaemon‚” she said. “Your name is Palaemon.”

“That’s right.”

“How do I know that?”

“Because you know me‚” Palaemon said.

Stunned‚ Lindsay sat down on the bed behind her and then noticed the strange attire that she too was wearing. She extended her arms to feel the fabric of the robe‚ looked down to observe the sandals on her feet and then reached up to remove the dressing from her head.

She looked at the laurel wreath and sighed deeply as a flood of emotions overtook her. “My God‚ Dad was right. I am Xena the Conqueror.”

“No‚ you’re not‚” said Palaemon. “You’re Lindsay Alasdair. But a couple of thousand years or so ago‚ yes‚ you were her.”

“And you were somebody important in her life‚” Lindsay said. “It’s strange‚ but for some reason I remember you as her right-hand man or something.”

“That’s correct‚” Palaemon responded. “I commanded her elite Imperial troops. That’s why I threw in the honorifics‚ to help jar your ‘memory‚’ for lack of a better word.”

“So‚ are you someone different now too?”

“Nope‚ I’m still ol’ Palaemon.”

“I don’t get this‚” Lindsay said.

“I haven’t fully been briefed on the situation either‚ Lindsay‚ but this is what I do know. I’m here to congratulate you‚ so to speak.”

“Congratulate me on what?”

“Reconnecting with your soul mate‚ of course‚” Palaemon announced.

“Excuse me?”

“Look‚ I’ve been dead since before Jesus Christ was potty trained‚ and yet here I am‚ speaking to you in good old Americanized English‚ even though your language didn’t exist when I was around. Couldn’t very well speak to you in ancient Hellenistic Greek. You wouldn’t understand me.”

Lindsay continued to give Palaemon a look of confusion. “Soul mate?” she asked.

“Yup‚” Palaemon said as he walked over and sat down next to Lindsay. “I don’t know if you recall that I wasn’t the most religious or scholarly of your commanders. I was just good at killing people. But if you were to ask me‚ I’d suspect that your situation is about transmigration. Perhaps you were in Elysium and drank from the banks of the Lethe to return again to the world above. Perhaps Plato’s or Pythagoras’ theories on transmigration are at work here. You do seem to have retained some characteristics of your former lives.”

“Former lives?”

“Personally‚ I believe that what you’ve been experiencing is Samsara‚” Palaemon continued. “Since the time that you were Xena‚ your soul has returned periodically‚ searching. The bottom line is you kept coming back in order to reestablish that special bond that you had with your soul mate…but restore it correctly.”

Lindsay returned her attention to that desk and scroll. “Rejeanne… Gabrielle‚” she whispered. “She’s my soul mate.”

“Congratulations.”

Lindsay smirked at the smug grin on Palaemon’s face. “I still don’t get this‚” she said. “What do you mean by former lives? Are you saying that this reincarnation thing is real?”

“I don’t know if it’s real for everyone‚” Palaemon said. “I would totally dig being reincarnated into Russell Crowe. But I’m certainly not sailing on a yacht in Monte Carlo with some young hottie right now. Before you two‚ however‚ the souls of Xena and Gabrielle have interacted on three occasions since their deaths almost two millennia ago. The problem was that‚ in those past lives‚ those two souls never made the level of a connection that Xena and Gabrielle had… until now.”

Lindsay anxiously ran her hands through her hair‚ trying to make sense of what she was absorbing. “So‚ when did these other meetings occur?” she asked.

“Well‚ let’s see‚” Palaemon began as he dramatically rubbed his stubbly chin. “The first time was about five hundred or so years after Xena and Gabrielle’s deaths. Thanks to Xena’s assistance in the battle between the Germans and the Persians as led by that whack-job Shaikheti‚ the Germanic tribes became a formidable confederation over the next few hundred years. They sacked both the Romans and the Celts before they began to implode around A.D. 500. You were Valentina Xerxes‚ the daughter of a powerful Avar warrior from east of the Black Sea‚ who led his army to invade the dismantled tribes of Germany and the Balkans. Of course‚ Valentina was a warrior as well‚ and it was during one of her battles that she met the returned soul of Gabrielle‚ one Gisela of Naissus‚ who was the daughter of an Ostrogothan farmer.”

“What happened between them?”

“Nothing really‚” Palaemon said. “They met and the attraction was obvious. They did manage one heavy-duty make-out session in Valentina’s tent one evening‚ but she was too focused on defeating Germans and Gisela was too focused on staying alive. She fled to the Carpathian Mountains before the two could go on their second date. They never met again.”

Lindsay looked down at her hands. “The second meeting?” she asked.

“Your souls were dormant for a long time after that. Over a thousand years. They didn’t return until the era currently known as the Italian Renaissance. Did you know that the word renaissance literally means rebirth?”

“Spare me the commentary‚ Palaemon‚” Lindsay retorted.

“Right‚” he said. “But you have to admit that it is kind of symbiotic‚ given the fascination that the Europeans of the era had toward Ancient Greece and Rome.”

Lindsay impatiently folded her arms. “Okay‚ okay‚” Palaemon said. “For the second reunion‚ the two souls met in 16th-century Florence. Xena’s was Marcella Erasmus‚ the daughter of a Florentine banker of Greek descent. He was very powerful and she was very smart‚ so it was a great combination.

“The soul of Gabrielle returned as a Venetian philosopher and humanist by the name of Angela Delia‚” he continued. “Her writing reflected her beliefs that people were rational beings‚ possessing within themselves the capacity for truth and goodness. She was an oddity because she was a woman in a male-dominated vocation. But here’s something interesting. Angela was particularly interested in ancient Greek manuscripts and likely studied the unearthed scrolls of Gabrielle of Poteidaia. When Marcella heard about the woman philosopher‚ the two met through her interest in Angela’s writing. Afterwards‚ your soul seemed to have developed a passion for the arts‚ because Marcella began contributing generously toward showcasing Angela and other up-and-coming Italian artists and literary figures. Marcella promoted Angela’s work for years.”

“Years?” Lindsay asked.

“Yes‚” Palaemon replied. “It’s quite interesting the durations of your crossed paths from existence to existence. Xena and Gabrielle bonded in union and remained together for several years afterwards‚ until Xena’s rather untimely death on the battlefield. The returned souls in Germany knew each other for less than a week. But the friendship during the Italian Renaissance lasted for almost fifteen years‚ until Marcella’s death from peritonitis.”

“That’s a nasty way to go‚” Lindsay commented.

“No worse than the way Xena checked out‚” Palaemon responded.

“Good point‚” Lindsay said‚ reflecting. “But seriously‚ I still don’t get this. Our souls found each other then. They were friends until death. Why didn’t that count?”

“I’m assuming that your true path as soul mates involves a profession and consummation of romantic love‚” Palaemon replied. “Marcella and Angela were both married… to guys… and again‚ although the feelings were strong and the physical desires intense‚ neither one acted on them. They never even conveyed to each other how they really felt.”

“That sounds tragic‚” Lindsay said. “Even Xena didn’t even allow herself to suffer indeterminately.”

“Yeah‚ it was a bummer. But hey‚ it’s cool that you remember that little tidbit about the mighty Conqueror.”

Lindsay allowed herself to crack a smile. “So‚ my loyal commander and soul historian‚ what were the circumstances of my third chance meeting with my soul mate?”

“Ah‚ the third time should have been a charm‚” Palaemon began‚ “but alas‚ it was during a dark period in history. Your souls reunited in 1860 at a cessation rally in South Carolina. Yours was Margaret Needham‚ and she was there to support her father‚ who was a very prosperous plantation and slave owner. Rejeanne’s soul was Bronwyn Forbes‚ a Boston Quaker on an anti-slavery mission. She was there with a group of abolitionists to protest the rally.”

“Yeah‚ that sounds like her‚” Lindsay said with a smile.

“Well‚ Maggie wanted to shoot little Bronny right then and there‚ but of course that cursed animal magnetism got in the way and the two became fast friends. Bronny educated Maggie on the sins of slavery and‚ once she trusted Maggie‚ introduced her to the folks who ran the Underground Railroad. Not only was Maggie transformed into an advocate for emancipation; by 1863‚ she was working as a spy for the Union Army. Both women risked their lives time and time again to free slaves and capture Confederates. Needless to say‚ their lives were quite adventurous during that time‚ Lindsay.”

“So what happened?” Lindsay asked. “Were they captured by Stonewall Jackson and hung or something?”

“No‚ worse‚” Palaemon said. “Over the course of their friendship‚ the two often held hands‚ caressed each other and even slept in the same bed. They would use the lamest excuses to be together and pined for each other when they were apart. I guess what they had could be categorized as one of those 19th-century romantic friendships. However‚ after the war and in the dawn of Reconstruction in the American South‚ the two shared a long and passionate kiss in a carriage in Charleston. It was 1866‚ Lindsay‚ the height of the Victorian Era. The exchange freaked both women out so much that Bronny returned to Boston the next day. Not only did those two never see each other again‚ they both died bitter and alone.”

Lindsay gasped. “Oh my God‚” she said. “That is worse.”

“Yeah‚ it totally blows. And you know‚ it’s ironic that in the end‚ it wasn’t the evils of war or slavery that tore the two apart‚” Palaemon lamented. “It was the fear of homosexuality in a repressive era.”

Lindsay sat for several moments quietly reflecting what she had been told. “Have Rejeanne and I always looked the same during these returns?” she asked‚ breaking the silence.

“Pretty much‚” Palaemon said. “Same faces‚ hair and eye colors‚ body structures and height differences. You’re both taller than in your earlier lives… better diets and health care and all. Perhaps your souls needed the familiarity of resemblance. I’m totally speculating here‚ but I suspect that if you were to get a hold of Val’s or Marcy’s or Maggie’s DNA‚ there’d be a match to yours.”

Lindsay’s eyebrows raised.

Also‚” Palaemon continued‚ “you might find it interesting to know that in each life‚ you were six-years-eleven-months apart in age with you always being the elder. However‚ your souls have never been the same age at the introductions. Xena was twenty-seven when she purchased twenty-year-old Gabrielle. Valentina and Gisela were even younger; twenty-three and sixteen respectively‚ while Marcella was approaching forty when she met Angela. Maggie and Bronny were the closest in age to you and Rejeanne at meeting. They were twenty-nine and twenty-three respectively. And you’ll be happy to know that their ages at death won’t predetermine yours. Xena and Marcella died relatively young‚ but Valentina‚ despite her violent youth‚ and Maggie far exceeded the life expectancies of their eras.”

“Fascinating‚” Lindsay said.

“Individual life experiences and circumstances have produced whatever scars or illnesses they may have suffered. For instance‚ neither Rejeanne‚ nor the subsequent souls after Gabrielle had the whip marks that she had.”

Lindsay shot up. “Ohmygawd!” she exclaimed. “Okay‚ I am so not this Xena!” she exclaimed. “There’s no way in hell that I would ever… EVER… whip Rejeanne or anyone for that matter!”

“Of course not‚ because you aren’t Xena as the person she was. Your soul has evolved‚ but you still possess many of her basic nature and instincts. And it’s notable that you recall that Xena whipped Gabrielle. Karma is what brought you two together‚ I believe.”

Lindsay sat back down. “So what happens now?”

“I dunno‚” Palaemon said. “I guess you’ll just go back into a regular sleep‚ wake up in the morning and live happily ever after with Rejeanne.”

“Right‚ Palaemon‚” Lindsay smirked. “It’s that simple‚ huh?”

“Well‚ I’ll give you a little piece of advice‚” he responded as he casually draped his arm around Lindsay’s shoulder. “That yacht that you have docked at your mom’s place in Florida…”

“Yeah?”

“I wouldn’t rush in taking Jeannie on that thing. The reincarnated soul of Gabrielle still gets mighty seasick.”

Lindsay laughed as she threw her arm around his shoulder. “Dramamine‚ Palaemon‚ my dear friend‚” she replied. “Works much better than cucumbers and cherries.”

* * * *

Rejeanne opened her eyes and saw flowers of almost every species finely landscaped in a tremendous garden. She sat with her legs crossed and in front of her was a rolled parchment. Stunned‚ she stood up and looked around the garden until her gaze fell upon a slight‚ somewhat older woman wearing a simple tunic.

“Hey‚ where did these flowers come from?” she asked the woman. “It’s‚ like‚ the middle of winter now.”

“It’s not the middle of winter here‚ my Lady‚” the woman responded.

“My what?”

“Oh‚ I forgot‚” the woman responded. “You’re not one to care for honorifics.”

Rejeanne approached her. “Excuse me‚ but do I know you?” she asked.

“In a manner of speaking‚ yes‚” the woman replied.

Rejeanne looked around the garden again. “Everything feels strangely familiar‚” she said. “But I must be dreaming or something‚ because when I went to sleep… after having the best damn sex ever… it was snowing outside. Here‚ it’s frickin’ hot. And why are we both dressed like Socrates or something?”

“Well‚ you’re not exactly dreaming‚” the woman said.

“Perhaps‚ but I’m also not in Kansas anymore either‚ Toto‚” Rejeanne responded.

“You were never in Kansas‚” the woman said. “My understanding is that you reside in Wisconsin.”

“It’s a figure of speech‚ lady‚” Rejeanne said before extending her hand in greeting. “I’m Rejeanne Piscard. What’s your name?”

“Mia.”

“Mia what?”

“Just Mia.”

“So‚ where am I?”

“That depends.”

“On what?” Rejeanne asked.

“Well‚ although your body gives the appearance of sleeping soundly in your bed‚” Mia responded‚ “your inner spirit is standing here talking to me.”

“What have you been smoking?” Rejeanne sneered.

“Nothing‚” Mia replied.

“Okay‚ so what is this ‘inner spirit’ crap‚ then?”

“I know that you may find this preposterous‚ but there’s more to your reality than just being awake or asleep‚” Mia started. “Your inner spirit is composed of several plains of reality that are united by the mind. One reality is what you experience when you’re awake‚ while another is what goes on as you dream. The thing that these realities have in common is your awareness of them.”

“Okay‚ so…”

“You are on a different level of reality right now‚” Mia continued. “Not awake‚ but not asleep either. If you need to categorize it‚ think of it as a conscious sedation in a spiritual realm.”

Rejeanne folded her arms and chuckled in disbelief. “Yeah‚ right‚” she grimaced. “And why is my ‘inner spirit’ here hanging out with you‚ Just Mia?”

“I think that you know the answer to that question‚ Rejeanne‚” Mia responded. “Just allow the deepest recesses of your soul to surface.”

“Say what?”

“Look at me‚ Rejeanne. Look into my eyes and remember.”

“Oh‚ I don’t think so‚” Rejeanne turned away from Mia‚ purposefully avoiding the other woman’s gaze. This is the weirdest fucking dream‚ she mused as she wandered around the garden. Hmm‚ pretty flowers. She picked one. Smells good too. Golly‚ it’s hot here. Yo‚ someone turn down the thermostat. She returned to the rolled parchment. Okay‚ whoever is in charge‚ I can wake up anytime now.

Eventually overcome by curiosity‚ Rejeanne also returned her attention to Mia. She approached and looked into Mia’s deep brown eyes‚ and seeing her own reflection‚ a name came to her lips. “Gabrielle‚” she whispered.

Mia smiled. “May I offer you congratulations on your great achievement?”

“Congratulations for what?” Rejeanne asked as she stood dumbfounded. “And what does all of this mean?”

“The soul of Gabrielle‚ your soul‚ has searched far and wide for over two millennia to find your mate and consummate your love‚ and now you have done it. You and Lindsay.”

“So‚ let me get this straight‚” Rejeanne said. “I was Gabrielle of Poteideia in an earlier life. Lindsay Alasdair really is the reincarnation of that maniacal Xena the Conqueror… oh‚ and she’s gonna love that… and I’m the reincarnation of her little love slave.”

“That sums it up so far.”

“Those two fell in love‚ although if you consider the history books‚ I don’t know what Gabrielle ever saw in that evil twat.”

“Forget the history books‚ Rejeanne‚” Mia said. “What does your inner spirit tell you?”

There she goes with that ‘inner spirit’ crap again. Rejeanne closed her eyes‚ and feeling her heart beat faster‚ she reflected for several minutes. “Xena was damaged and lonely‚” she finally said. “Gabrielle offered her a world outside war and bloodlust. She also taught Xena to listen to her heart‚ and once she started doing that‚ Gabrielle chronicled her good deeds in a series of scrolls.” Rejeanne opened her eyes.

“Exactly‚” Mia said.

“Most historians claim that Emperor Augustus defeated Xena‚ but that’s not how it actually went down‚” Rejeanne continued. “The scrolls told the true story‚ but they were stolen and eventually destroyed‚ I believe.”

“They were stolen‚” Mia said. “But not destroyed. They have been in the possession‚ either physically or by inspiration‚ of each of your subsequent souls.”

“Lin and I have been down this road before?”

“Oh‚ several times together‚” Mia replied. “But not to the degree of love and intimacy that Xena and Gabrielle‚ and now you and Lindsay‚ have experienced.”

Rejeanne sat back down on the ground‚ taking in all she had been told. Mia sat beside her. “You look troubled‚ Rejeanne‚” she said. “Why?”

“Okay‚ like this is so totally freaky‚” Rejeanne said. “I mean‚ why is it that‚ all of sudden‚ I have all these fragmented memories of pre-Christ Corinth‚ of this garden‚ this palace‚ and of Xena and our lives together‚ but I don’t have a single memory of those so-called subsequent lives?”

“I’m not really sure‚” Mia responded. “Maybe because your destinies together were unfulfilled in those later lives. Maybe because you and Lindsay have evolved into individuals somewhat removed from those past lives. Regardless‚ even if neither you nor Lindsay possesses any distinct memories from your prior beings‚ you have taken things from them.”

“What things?”

“Well for example‚ Lindsay’s earliest life after Xena was a warrior as well. But unlike Xena‚ that second warrior walked away from fighting at a young age and lived to be very old. Her following life wasn’t a warrior at all. She was an aristocrat who became a philanthropist. And the following life after that was originally a slave owner who later fought feverishly against slavery. Lindsay herself has given millions of her own fortune to women and children’s causes in America and to impoverished families living in developing nations.

“As for Gabrielle‚ her influence on Xena and the influences of her subsequent lives on Xena’s have been profound. Gabrielle managed to turn Xena’s violence into crusades for good. In her next life‚ although she only knew Xena’s next life very briefly‚ Gabrielle’s soul managed to pierce the heart of a warrior and turn that warrior away from fighting altogether. It was Gabrielle’s soul that truly brought out the giving nature of Xena’s next life‚ and in the life after that‚ it was Gabrielle’s soul who turned Xena’s soul from that slave owner to a leader in the abolitionist movement. Gabrielle was always the consummate prophet‚ and her influence on Xena was immeasurable.”

“How do you figure?” Rejeanne asked.

“Well‚ Lindsay has been a philanthropist for years‚” Mia said. “You just met her a few weeks ago.”

“So‚ your point being that I as me‚ not the reincarnation of Gabrielle‚ have had no influence over that‚” Rejeanne said.

“Right‚ but in her evolution as the soul of Xena‚ your evolution as the soul of Gabrielle‚ her teacher and bard‚ has had a profound influence on who the person of Lindsay is now.”

“If that’s the case‚ what I can offer Lindsay?” asked Rejeanne. “Other than her being a Republican‚ Lindsay seems pretty damned perfect now. It appears as if Gabrielle’s work is done.”

“Not exactly. Perhaps now you can offer her the one thing that has eluded you two in your earlier lives after Xena and Gabrielle‚” Mia said. “That being the ability to accept the level of love that you have for each other on your own terms rather than society’s.”

“Oh‚ I get it‚” Rejeanne said. “I’m supposed to teach her how to be a better lesbian.”

“Something like that.”

“Cool.”

Rejeanne stood up‚ feeling strangely rejuvenated. She dramatically stretched out her arms before looking down at a smiling Mia.

“Have I relayed to you all that you need to know for now‚ Rejeanne?” Mia asked.

“Actually‚ I have one more question‚” Rejeanne said.

“Yes?”

“Where in the world are MY scrolls?”

CHAPTER ELEVEN

THE PRIDE OF ARTEMIS

Lindsay opened her eyes and took a deep breath. Was that a dream? she thought to herself before turning her attention to the still sleeping Rejeanne nestled next to her. Taking her lover’s hand in hers‚ Lindsay waited quietly for Rejeanne to awaken.

Minutes later‚ Rejeanne stirred. “Good morning‚” she said tentatively to Lindsay.

“Morning to you‚” Lindsay responded.

“Okay‚ you have this weird look on your face‚” Rejeanne said. “Are you regretting what happened last night?”

Lindsay’s eyes widened. “Oh‚ hell no‚” she replied. “You’re not‚ are you?”

“Shit no‚” Rejeanne responded before planting a gentle kiss on Lindsay’s lips. “I’m hopin’ for a repeat.”

Lindsay blushed. Rejeanne responded with a chuckle. “So why the weird look?” she asked.

Lindsay hesitated. “I‚ uh‚ I had this strange dream last night.”

Rejeanne rose. “So did I‚” she said. “What did you dream about?”

Lindsay rose. “Look‚ it was totally freaky‚ but it seemed real‚” she stated. “I dreamt that I was Xena the Conqueror.”

Rejeanne’s jaw dropped.

“Well‚ not that I was her‚” Lindsay continued‚ “but I was being told that I was her in a previous life.”

“No fucking way!” Rejeanne exclaimed.

“I know‚ it’s scary that I’m‚ like‚ the reincarnation of her‚ but…”

“No‚ no‚ no‚” Rejeanne interrupted. “You don’t understand. I dreamt that I was the reincarnated Gabrielle of Poteidaia.”

Lindsay gasped. “No way!” she cried out. “Was there this guy named Palaemon in your dream feeding you information?”

“Palaemon?”

“Yeah.”

“Wasn’t he Xena’s imperial commander or something?” Rejeanne asked.

“Yes‚ he was.”

“No‚ he wasn’t there‚” Rejeanne replied. “The person that spoke with me was this woman named Mia.”

“Mia?” Lindsay asked. “Xena’s chambermaid?”

“Yeah‚ but how would you know that?” Rejeanne queried.

“And how would you know that Palaemon was Xena’s commander?”

Both women jumped to their knees. “Jesus H. Christ!” Rejeanne shouted.

“Holy-Mary-Mother-of-God!” Lindsay exclaimed.

Both women began looking each other up and down. “No way‚” Rejeanne said.

“Way‚” Lindsay replied as huge smiles overtook both women. Overcome with emotion‚ both women gripped each other in an intense embrace as tears came to both sets of eyes.

“I can’t believe it‚” Rejeanne whispered. “This is real.”

“I know‚ baby‚ I know.”

After several moments‚ Rejeanne released Lindsay. “Let me look at you‚” she said.

The twosome grabbed hands and lifted their arms in order to “inspect” each other. “Look at you‚” Lindsay said. “Your body is as hot as ever… without those nasty scars.”

“Yeah‚ those scars‚” Rejeanne responded.

“Hey‚ I didn’t do it‚” Lindsay protested.

“I know‚ silly‚” Rejeanne said. “I see that Xena’s nasty scars aren’t anywhere to be found on you either.”

“Nope‚ no pillaging and murdering on my end‚” Lindsay replied. “Only this one nasty scar from when I jumped that fence.”

Both women chuckled. “Wow‚ this is still so very bizarre‚” Rejeanne said.

“Yes‚ it is‚” Lindsay said before turning her attention to Rejeanne’s hair. “Gabrielle’s hair was much longer for a time‚ I think.”

“Xena’s was longer too‚ and darker.” Rejeanne replied. “And her skin was darker too.”

“Well‚ Xena was a beautiful Greek goddess‚ not the pasty WASP that I happened to be.”

“Perhaps‚ but I bet you tan good in the summer‚” Rejeanne smirked.

The two lovers spent the next several minutes caressing‚ touching and reacquainting‚ before Rejeanne broke away and looked over at her wall clock for a moment. Returning her attention to Lindsay‚ she cocked her head to the side. “What all did Palaemon tell you?”

For the next hour‚ the women talked about the inner spirit and transmigration‚ about unfulfilled lives and combined destinies‚ about profound influences and the evolutions of their souls. The talked about Valentina and Gisela‚ Marcella and Angela‚ Margaret and Bronwyn‚ and of course‚ of the Conqueror and the Bard.

“Did Mia say anything else?” Lindsay asked.

“She told me that the one thing that ties us together with all of those long-gone women‚ besides our souls‚ are Gabrielle’s scrolls.”

“Did she tell you where they are?” Lindsay asked. “Do they still even exist?”

“She said that they do and gave me clues‚” Rejeanne replied. “I think that she wants us to find them together. The former lives are the key. Did Palaemon mention the scrolls?”

“Briefly‚” Lindsay said. “He didn’t elaborate too much on the scrolls‚ but he did suggest that others in our current lives are likewise reincarnations of folks who interacted with Xena and Gabrielle. I got the impression that he wanted me to figure out who they are as well.”

“Perhaps there’s a connection. Perhaps both are the keys to finding those scrolls and learning the truth about what ultimately happened to Xena‚” Rejeanne said. “That final betrayal that cut her life short and took her away from her beloved Gabrielle.

“Yeah‚ they both have to be tied together somehow‚” Lindsay reflected.

Rejeanne stroked her chin. “So‚ who have we met in our lifetimes that are possible reincarnations of those from Xena and Gabrielle’s lives?”

Both women considered. “Well‚ I don’t have any brothers‚ so that’s out‚” Lindsay said.

“Yeah‚ and my sister is way too young to be a reincarnated Lilla‚” Rejeanne said. “Hey‚ maybe its my step sister.”

“Keith may be Toris or Lyceus.”

“Could be.”

“No‚ wait!” Lindsay exclaimed. “Heather!”

“Heather who?”

“Heather Courtney from college‚” Lindsay said. “You know‚ my first female make-out partner. She was a year younger than me‚ she had blond hair and brown eyes‚ she was skinny‚ a fearsome fencer and she was a major smart-ass. She has to be the reincarnated Callisto!”

“Oh‚ come on Lin‚” Rejeanne smirked in disbelief. “You told me that you and Heather were good buds. Callisto was a psycho-bitch who hated your… I mean Xena’s… guts.”

“Yeah‚ but Xena was no prize either‚” Lindsay replied. “Even Callisto’s soul could have evolved too‚ ya know.”

“Hmm‚ good point‚” Rejeanne replied. “So‚ have you kept in contact with Heather?”

“We drifted apart after college‚” Lindsay advised. “She was an anthropology major. She minored in photography and landed an internship at National Geographic after she graduated. Did that for awhile. The last I heard‚ she was doing some lost civilization digging in East Africa or the Middle East somewhere.”

“Dude‚ you’re right!” Rejeanne exclaimed. “She’s gotta be the key. Between Heather and our past… I dunno… lives… there’s gotta be the answer to where those scrolls are hidden.”

“So‚ where do we start‚ Jeannie?” Lindsay asked. “I have private investigators on retainer that I can place on the job.”

“Hmm…” Rejeanne thought for a moment. “Man‚ it would help if Palaemon had told you the last names of those past-lives women.”

“I do know their last names‚” Lindsay chimed. “Palaemon did tell me.”

“Great!” Rejeanne replied. “Let’s hold off on the private investigators for now. Why don’t we start by ‘Googling’ those women?”

“Googling?”

“Yeah‚ you know‚ Google‚ Yahoo‚ M-S-N‚ whatever‚ do a search engine on the internet. You can find pretty much anything on the internet.”

“Hell‚ it can’t hurt‚” Lindsay agreed. “And it is cheaper.”

Both women chuckled.

* * * *

Lindsay and Rejeanne stepped into the running shower together. “The water feels great‚” Lindsay said as she wrapped her arms around Rejeanne’s midsection and drew the smaller woman closer to her. “God‚ I cannot get over how so very sexy you are‚” she said.

“Imagine what Xena and Gabrielle could have done to each other had they had access to hot showers then‚” Rejeanne replied.

“I don’t need to imagine‚” Lindsay said. “I have you now and we can make our own history.” Lindsay began kneading Rejeanne’s rear as she ran her tongue around Rejeanne’s left ear. Excited‚ Rejeanne began sucking Lindsay’s breast while Lindsay moved her hand in between Rejeanne’s legs and began sensuously stroking her clit. Rejeanne backed Lindsay up against the shower wall and pinned Lindsay’s right leg in between her thighs as her thrusts responded to Lindsay’s stroking. Rejeanne began stroking Lindsay’s clit as their lips met in feverish kisses.

“I am going to come so hard on you‚ Lin‚” Rejeanne whispered.

Lindsay moaned dramatically. “Give it to me‚” she said. “I want it. I want you.”

Within minutes‚ both women screamed their climaxes simultaneously before nearly collapsing on the shower floor.

* * * *

After their sensuous shower together‚ Lindsay and Rejeanne strolled arm-and-arm downstairs where Rejeanne plopped her laptop on her living room coffee table and turned on her television set. The latter caused Lindsay to shoot her a perturbed glance.

“Call me weird‚ but watching ‘Meet The Press’ gets my juices flowing.”

“Ah‚ the liberal media‚” Lindsay joked.

“Fuck you.”

“Anytime.”

Both women looked at each other with lust-filled eyes for moments before returning their attention to the laptop.

After a search engine web page booted up‚ Rejeanne typed in her first search request. It was nearly an hour before something of substance was found.

Valentina Xerxes and Gisela of Naissus

From a Hungarian university website:

It is widely believed that Xerxes of the Tian Shan‚ a fierce Euro-Avar warrior‚ was singularly responsible for the successful campaigns that the Caucasian Avars led against the Slavs‚ who had previously battled the various Germanic clans north of the Balkans around 500 A.D. Rarely chronicled‚ unfortunately‚ were the campaigns of his two children‚ a son‚ Csokas‚ and a daughter‚ Valentina.

Xerxes’ army pillaged almost every Slavic-controlled Germanic territory along the central Lombard principalities. After the last territory along the Frankish Gaul border was defeated‚ Xerxes established a khanate and sent his 28-year-old son‚ Csokas south toward the Balkans to expand their stronghold. Valentina‚ who was an adolescent girl of approximately 17 years of age at the time‚ accompanied her older brother.

As the siblings neared the Balkans‚ they were attacked by both Slavic armies and Visigoth raiders. Csokas and Valentina defeated every foe in their path as they pressed southward. Two years into their various campaigns‚ differences in their individual fighting styles began to emerge. While Csokas used sheer brutality to win battles (for example‚ disemboweling his enemies in front of their families and kinsmen in order to weaken their morale)‚ Valentina proved to be a more effective fighter. She actively recruited disenfranchised Slavs‚ Germans and various nomads into her ever-growing army and displayed efficient control rather than violent bloodlust during her raids.

At the end of the third year of their campaign in the Balkans‚ Csokas was taken prisoner and executed by the Visigoth chieftain Satala. When Xerxes learned of his son’s death‚ he ordered Valentina to return the armies that both she and her brother had assembled to the khanate. Valentina refused‚ vowing vengeance on the man who murdered her brother. For the next three years‚ Valentina’s exploits rang terror throughout the Balkans.

However‚ for reasons still unsubstantiated‚ the Avar army that Valentina successfully assembled disbanded in almost a whimper. Xerxes himself was soon after betrayed by members of his own khanate. Why Valentina literally walked away from battle has been the subject of rumor and innuendo‚ but most historians have accepted that she ended up settling in the area that is part of modern-day Austria‚ where she lived quietly until she died in her nineties.

From an Austrian Blogger:

There’s this old story that’s been handed down my family on my mother’s side about this 6th Century woman who unearthed the legendary Xena scrolls. The woman’s name was Valentina. Her last name was either Xerxes or Naissus. I’m not sure. Anyway‚ Valentina was this fierce Avar warrior in her youth‚ easily comparable to Boadicea‚ Joan of Arc or Xena the Conqueror. Originally an enemy of the Germans‚ she gave up fighting sometime after her brother was killed by one of her enemies. It’s been speculated that she quit because she was unable to avenge the brother’s death. However‚ it’s been equally speculated that she was a probably a lesbian‚ fell in love with a German woman and simply lost the taste for blood.

In any event‚ she was nearly sixty when she met an Axumite trader who told her about a sarcophagus that had the mummified body of an Egyptian who was a soldier in Xena’s Greek Guard. Also contained in the sarcophagus was a bunch of scrolls written by Xena’s female consort‚ a woman named Gabrielle.

The sarcophagus was originally buried in the guard’s homeland in southern Egypt‚ but it had been unearthed and stolen by a Syrian shortly after Gabrielle’s death and moved to somewhere in Pontus near the Black Sea. Valentina was able to convince the trader to tell her the whereabouts of that sarcophagus. The story goes that once she was in possession of the scrolls‚ she had them translated before reburying them somewhere in either Greece or Italy. What happened to the scrolls after that is anybody’s guess.

“Very interesting‚” Lindsay said.

“That’s an understatement‚” Rejeanne replied.

“Okay‚ but it was also a total bust‚” Lindsay smirked.

“Maybe not‚” Rejeanne said. “We’ve tied Valentina to the scrolls and narrowed locations where the scrolls could have ended up. Syria then is still Syria now‚ and your pal Heather is digging somewhere in the Middle East. Maybe she’s in Syria.”

“But the scrolls were never in Syria‚ according to this blogger.”

“Well then‚ I say we move on to researching Angela and Marcella‚” Rejeanne said. “They were the Renaissance women‚ so there’s the Greek influence‚ and they were Italian. Let’s see what we find.”

Marcella Erasmus and Angela Delia

From an Italian historical website:

Cosmo Erasmus (1423-1492)‚ a Florentine banker and ally to the Medici clan‚ was rumored to have exhumed the long lost “Xena Scrolls” close to his birthplace in the Po Valley near Venice around 1455. Erasmus chronicled that the scrolls were contained within a coffin with the mummified remains of a Greek soldier. The coffin‚ with the remains‚ was reburied in the Po Valley. Erasmus allegedly took the scrolls back to his estate in Florence where it is believe they were placed in a secret vault somewhere on the estate grounds.

* * * *

Andreas Erasmus‚ VI (1446-1527)‚ was a Florentine architect and banker of the Italian Renaissance era. The son of the wealthy power-broker Cosmo Erasmus (1423-1492)‚ Andreas inherited a vast fortune that rivaled the Medici.

* * * *

In 1470‚ Andreas married Padua Cavalieri‚ who bore him three children‚ Cosmo II‚ Andreas VII and Marcella.

From a women’s history website:

Marcella Erasmus (1479-1533) was a well-known woman philanthropist of the Italian Renaissance era. The daughter of the very wealthy Florentine banker‚ Andreas Erasmus the VI‚ Marcella used her father’s vast resources to finance fledgling writers‚ artists‚ musicians and philosophers. She was particularly interested in those who espoused the Humanist philosophy‚ a more secular social consciousness‚ despite the fact that her father and her husband‚ Giancarlo San Marco were staunch Roman Catholics.

* * * *

The artist that Marcella most often promoted was a poet and philosopher named Angela Delia (1486-1562). Female artists during the Renaissance were rare‚ so this pairing is of particular note. It should also be mentioned that it is widely speculated that the Erasmus family of this era was in possession of the legendary Xena Scrolls‚ which were the voluminous writings of Gabrielle‚ Bard of Poteidaia (by today’s standards‚ she would be considered Xena the Conqueror’s domestic partner). If the Erasmus family were in possession of the scrolls‚ there should no doubt that Marcella shared the information in them with Angela Delia.

From a closed college forum site:

Tatutoo82: A Renaissance era female philosopher by the name of Angela Delia wrote a poem in 1522 about a warrior woman who falls in love with a farmer’s daughter. Although the poem was entitled “Gisela of Naissus‚” I believe that the poem was really about the notorious Xena the Conqueror‚ the Greek despot who fell deeply in love with her concubine about five years after conquering Greece and Rome. Before being taken into slavery‚ the concubine was a farmer’s daughter. In any event‚ why a 16th century‚ thirty-something‚ married mother of two would write a poem about lesbian love is anyone’s guess.

DaxLenara4Evah: I don’t think that the poem was about Xena the Conqueror. The woman warrior of the poem was from the Balkans and she only knew the farm girl for six days. If the poem was about Xena‚ it would have said it was about Xena.

Tatutoo82: Sure it was. Angela Delia‚ who lived from 1486 to 1562‚ was born and raised in Venice‚ near the Po Valley‚ where Cosmo Erasmus was born and raised and where it is widely believed he found the scrolls in the mid 1400s. Cosmo was the grandfather of Marcella Erasmus‚ who funded Angela’s work for years. Marcella had to have shared the scrolls with Angela.

DaxLenara4Evah: So what. The Erasmus family was filthy rich. Marcella had access to tons of historical literature. Maybe Angela was inspired by the stuff written in the Xena scrolls‚ but I still don’t believe that “Gisela of Naissus” was a poem about Xena the Conqueror. Other than the warrior factor‚ the verses in the poem don’t remotely jive with the life of Xena.

Tatutoo82: Well‚ it still doesn’t explain why a thirty-something‚ married mother of two would write a poem about lesbian love.

DaxLenara4Evah: Maybe Angela Delia was a closeted dyke herself.

“Now that’s an understatement‚” Rejeanne said as both women chuckled. “Do you notice how some of the facts change as we read more‚” she continued.

“What do you mean?”

“Well‚ one historical resource claimed that the body in the sarcophagus was an Egyptian‚ the other stated Greek.”

“What do you think?” asked Lindsay.

“What do I think?” Rejeanne started. “Well‚ the soul of Gabrielle ain’t providing me with any important flashbacks right now‚ but I think that she buried her scrolls with the body of her friend‚ Bahri of Napata‚ after Bahri died in order to throw people off. Someone who was an enemy of Xena’s was after those scrolls. Gabrielle must have known that and figured that burying them with Xena or having them buried with her own body after she died would have been the kiss of death to the existence of the scrolls.”

“But the scrolls were still stolen after Gabrielle died‚” Lindsay remarked.

“So‚ maybe the person who stole them wasn’t an enemy‚ well at least not an enemy of Gabrielle. That’s why the scrolls weren’t destroyed. He…or she… wanted Gabrielle’s story to live on. Maybe the thief was an Amazon‚ since the coffin was concealed in Pontus.”

“The believed birthplace of the Amazons‚” Lindsay chimed in.

“Correct‚” Rejeanne continued. “The thief was a Syrian‚ and most historians accept as true that Xena died in Syria. I believe that Gabrielle took Xena’s remains back to Amphipolis. The thief must have followed Gabrielle in order to know where Gabrielle took both Bahri and Xena’s remains.

“We’ll probably never know why the Axumite of five hundred years later would divulge the location of the coffin to a sixty-year-old Valentina of all people. Maybe he was pissed off that Bahri’s body and the scrolls were stolen from the Kingdom of Axum‚ which‚ in the 6th Century‚ had gained control over the area where the city of Napata was once situated. Perhaps he had hoped that Valentina would return the coffin and the scrolls to Axum. But it is interesting that she would rebury Bahri’s body and the scrolls in the Po Valley as opposed to‚ say Amphipolis. The Po Valley was closer to where Valentina lived and having had the scrolls translated‚ she had to have learned that Xena and Gabrielle both loved that area of Italy.

“As for Angela‚ if Cosmo did find the scrolls‚ he found them in her home valley 30 years before she was born. Here’s a girl who probably grew up being told about the rich Erasmus from her hometown who unearth the scrolls of the most famous woman warrior in history. She probably had a life-long fascination with Xena. And I bet that before reburying the scrolls‚ Valentina added her own life in writing. That’s where Angela learned about Gisela of Naissus. I think that Valentina may have also taken the name of Naissus as her own. The poem was about Valentina and Gisela‚ the reincarnated Xena and Gabrielle. So‚ both of those college students were right.”

Lindsay nodded in agreement.

“Dude‚ that’s some wild and freaky karma‚” Rejeanne added.

Lindsay laughed. “I’m impressed with your knowledge of history and geography‚” she said.

“I read a lot.” Rejeanne responded. “Anyway‚ my love‚ that is what I think‚” she concluded.

“That’s what I think as well‚” Lindsay agreed. “So‚ the accuracy of these sites is irrelevant if we know the truth.”

“Good point‚ Lin‚” Rejeanne remarked. “I do know one thing.”

“What’s that?” Lindsay asked.

“Girl‚ we need to read that poem.”

CHAPTER TWELVE

FROM ASTERIA TO AETHERIA

Note: The 3rd Battalion‚ 1st Massachusetts Regimental Calvary was a real Union Army infantry unit. Frances Clalin‚ Jennie Hodgers and Sarah Edmonds were all real women who fought and/or spied for the Union Army during the Civil War. Harriet “Moses” Tubman (1820-1913) was an African-American historical icon who was a famous “conductor” in the Underground Railroad and was credited with personally aiding in the harsh passage to freedom of approximately 300 slaves. All other characters named are mine.

Gisela of Naissus (1522)
By Angela Delia

From across the Steppes the warrior came;
A raven haired beauty bearing an Avar’s name.
With her female wiles and her fury oh so stark‚
For her German foes‚ her wrath would leave its mark.

Village after village were destined to fall at her hands.
Determined farmers fought to keep their unembellished lands.
But‚ sadly for them‚ they did not possess her battle skill.
To conquer the Balkans‚ be it her definitive will.

Yet‚ on the eve of her third year as fate would have;
Upon the village that Attila himself once broke and beat‚
The warrior rode in with her army of Avars and Slavs.
Tired Gothic farmers‚ parched from the summer heat‚
Chose to run rather than face a certain defeat.
“Round up the lot of them‚” the warrior hath cried.
The men and boys marshaled‚ the women and elders tied.

There Gisela of Naissus stood among the older girls‚
The most beautiful young woman in the warrior’s entire world.
Her golden hair like sunshine‚ her eyes gleam clear and bright;
Gisela destined to change the warrior’s heart from dimness to light.

Gisela and the warrior fueled their bond for six whole days;
To laugh‚ to embrace‚ to share‚ to learn each other’s foreign ways.
A passionate kiss to share before Gisela will flee the fight‚
The warrior will cry‚ her love gone in an unbounded night.

* * * *

It was almost 11:00 a.m. Monday morning before Rejeanne realized that she had forgotten to contact her place of employment as to why she had not yet shown up for work. Grabbing her cell phone‚ she speed-dialed the newspaper. The receptionist‚ Doris Marks‚ answered the phone. “Hey Doris‚” Rejeanne said. “Uh‚ I won’t be in today.”

“Are you okay?” the voice on the other end of the receiver asked.

“I have a hangover. See you tomorrow‚” Rejeanne replied just before hanging up.

Lindsay gave her a perturbed look. “Why tell your job that you have a hangover?” she asked.

“What other reason could I give when I’m calling in so late?”

“But you told me that you’ve never even been drunk enough to experience a hangover.”

“Yeah‚ but Doris the receptionist doesn’t know that.”

Bobby’s Pancake House was a literal hub for downtown Dell Valley at mid-morning and one of Rejeanne’s favorite establishments. Upon entering the popular restaurant‚ she and Lindsay were the immediate attention of most of the patrons.

“Hey Ruthie‚ how long is the wait?” Rejeanne asked the waitress who approached them.

“Only about five minutes‚ Jeannie‚” the waitress replied before casting her eyes upon the daunting Lindsay.

“That’s cool‚” Rejeanne said before turning her attention to her lover. “Have you ever eaten here before?”

“No.”

Lindsay’s haughty tone was not lost on Rejeanne. “Are you okay with being seen with me in public?” she whispered to Lindsay after the waitress departed.

“That’s not it‚ sweetheart‚” Lindsay replied. “I just don’t like being stared at like some freak of nature.”

“Well‚ you are the richest chick in town‚ Lin‚” Rejeanne said‚ “you’re here‚ and not with Martin or some Dell Valley big-shot‚ and this place isn’t exactly Wolfgang Puck’s.”

Lindsay looked down at her love and smiled. “Well‚ as long as the food here is edible.”

“It is‚” Rejeanne replied as another waitress approached them to take them to their seats.

After settling in their booth‚ Lindsay perused the menu before her. “Any suggestions?” she asked Rejeanne.

“You just have to order ‘Bobby’s Big Breakfast‚’” Rejeanne replied. “Three eggs‚ made to order‚ your choice of four slices of bacon or a slab of ham‚ and four of the best pancakes in Wisconsin.”

“I won’t eat all of that.”

“That’s why God invented the doggie bag‚ Lin‚” Rejeanne said.

After giving their food orders‚ the two women regarded each other. “Can I ask you something‚ Lin?”

“Sure.”

“Can you remember any specific instances of Xena’s life?”

Lindsay considered. “No‚ not really‚” she replied. “It’s strange‚ but I seem to know things‚ like certain names‚ certain places‚ certain things about both Xena and Gabrielle‚ but I don’t have any visual recollection of Xena’s battles‚ her day-to-day life or her childhood. I know that she had some significant injuries‚ but I don’t know how she got them. And I only know how she died because I read about it in my tenth-grade history class. How about you?”

“Same thing‚ Lin‚” Rejeanne said. “It’s so weird. I can tell you Gabrielle’s sister’s name‚ but I couldn’t tell you what her favorite food was or if she had a favorite‚ I dunno‚ toga or something. Thankfully‚ I don’t have any images or recollection of Xena beating her either.”

“Oh‚ thank God for that‚” Lindsay exclaimed as she took Rejeanne’s hand in hers. “I don’t either. Just the knowledge that it happened makes me sick to my stomach.”

“What about the other lives?” Rejeanne asked. “Any memories or images?”

“Nothing‚” Lindsay answered. “You?”

“Nothing‚” Rejeanne said. “Do you think that they knew about their prior lives?”

“How could they?” Lindsay asked. “Do you think Palaemon and Mia came to them in dreams as well?”

“Probably not‚” Rejeanne said. “Nothing to congratulate them for. But Angela did write that poem about Gisela. She was essentially writing about herself‚ or at least‚ her soul.”

“But the poem was written more from Valentina’s point of view‚ Jeannie‚” Lindsay remarked. “At least that’s how I read it.”

“Perhaps‚” Rejeanne said. “And speaking of Valentina‚ she probably jumped through some major hoops to get those scrolls. Coincidences or part of this fate and reincarnation thing?”

“I don’t know‚” Lindsay said. “You told me when we first met that you wrote poetry. Are their any poems about Renaissance or Civil War era women among your work?”

“Nope‚” Rejeanne said. “I did write this one poem that was published in my college newspaper‚ however.”

“Really?” inquired Lindsay.

“Yeah‚” replied Rejeanne. “It was called ‘Love Junkie.’”

Lindsay chucked. “What‚ were you chronicling your penchant for pot smoking?”

“Ha-ha‚ very funny‚ but no‚” Rejeanne responded sardonically. “It was a poem about a sex addict.”

“Who do you know that is a sex addict?”

“My dad‚” Rejeanne said. “But the character in the poem was a woman.”

“Is there anything about that poem that has any bearing on our conversation?” Lindsay asked.

“Maybe.”

“What would that be?”

“The name of the character in my poem was Bronwyn.”

* * * *

As Rejeanne stared blankly at her laptop monitor‚ Lindsay stood at the living room window‚ looking out at the license plate on her vehicle.

“Conqueror‚” she whispered to herself as she shook her head in disbelief. Turning toward Rejeanne‚ she approached the smaller woman and sat beside her.

“Having any luck?” she asked Rejeanne as she placed her hands on her lover’s shoulders and began gently massaging them.

“No‚” Rejeanne replied. “I’m getting sick of looking at this fucking monitor. I haven’t found squat on a Margaret Needham or a Bronwyn Forbes that lived in the 1860s.”

“Have you tried searching one of those family ancestry sites?” Lindsay asked.

“You have to buy a membership to utilize those sites‚” Rejeanne remarked.

“I’ll grab a credit card‚” Lindsay said as she stood and padded over to her coat to retrieve her wallet. Returning to her place next to Rejeanne‚ she placed the credit card down on the coffee table and took Rejeanne’s hands in hers.

“Jeannie‚” she started‚ “I want to tell you something. I don’t love you just because someone or something pre-determined it. I don’t love you just because Xena loved Gabrielle. I love you because you’re you. You’re funny‚ you’re smart‚ you’re sexy‚ you’re talented‚ you have a heart of gold‚ you’re caring‚ compassionate and you possess such inner strength. When I first laid eyes on you at the fundraiser‚ I felt something euphoric. I… I feel so wonderful when I’m around you. I enjoy every bit of you. No one else could have ever forced me to face the lie of my marriage. No one else could have gotten me to listen to forty minutes of rap music. Hell‚ I’m tempted to go out and vote for a Democrat because of you. The bottom line is‚ I‚ uh‚ you‚ uh‚ oh‚ hell‚ this is so ‘Jerry Maguire’ cliché‚ but you do complete me.”

“You had me at hello‚” Rejeanne responded‚ sending both women into a fit of laughter.

* * * *

“Any luck now?’ Lindsay asked Rejeanne as she brought her a hot mug of cocoa.

“Well‚ there are several Needham families in South Carolina‚” Rejeanne responded‚ “but I think that I may have found something.”

Lindsay began caressing Rejeanne’s neck. “Great‚” she replied. “What did you find?”

“Well‚ there’s this guy from Asheville‚ North Carolina‚” Rejeanne started‚ “Carl Hillman is his name and he was able to trace his family roots to a Richard Carl Needham‚ his great-great-great grandfather. This Richard fellow was the youngest son of a rich Charleston-based land developer and slave owner named Cleave Whitt Needham.” Both women closed in on the laptop monitor as Rejeanne pointed at the writing. According to this tree‚ Cleave had four children. Richard was born in 1824. His only sister‚ Margaret‚ was born in 1831.”

“Palaemon said that Maggie was 29 when she met Bronny‚” Lindsay said. “That was in 1860. Doing the math‚ I’d say that this is probably the same Margaret.”

“Then I’m going to do a search engine on Cleave‚” Rejeanne said. “If he was rich‚ there has to be something published about him somewhere.”

“Okay‚” Lindsay responded.

Rejeanne turned to her lover and regarded her. “I just realized something‚” she said.

“What?”

“Well‚ I don’t know about Xena’s dad‚ but Valentina’s dad was a Khan‚ Marcella’s dad was a wealthy Florentine‚ Maggie’s dad was a rich land developer‚ and your dad’s loaded.”

“Do you think that they hated their fathers as well?” Lindsay smirked.

“I don’t know‚ but they all defied them.”

“How do you figure?”

“Well‚” Rejeanne started‚ “Valentina refused to return her army to Xerxes when he ordered her to do so‚ Marcella turned her back on her daddy’s Catholic church and Maggie spied on the rebs and freed slaves. Pappy Cleave probably wasn’t too thrilled. And you‚ my dear‚ are in love with a Motown-reared‚ Bill-and-Hillary-loving dyke. If that ain’t defiance‚ I don’t know what is.”

“God‚ I love you‚” Lindsay said as she took Rejeanne in an embrace.

“On the other hand‚” Rejeanne continued‚ “Me and my entire reincarnated lineage were sired by shit-rakin’ farmers.”

“You said that you’re dad’s a mechanic‚” Lindsay stated.

“My dad was born on a farm‚ raised on a farm‚ and learned to fix farm equipment on a farm‚” Rejeanne replied. “He may live in Milwaukee now‚ but he’s not an auto mechanic. He does engine repairs on Kubota M-Series farm tractors.”

“Oh‚” Lindsay replied. “But we really don’t know if Angela Delia’s father was a farmer.”

“I bet he was.”

“And Bronwyn Forbes?”

“I’m hoping that we’re about to find out‚ Lin.”

Margaret Needham and Bronwyn Forbes

From a Massachusetts historical museum website:

Although Frances Clalin‚ Jennie Hodgers and Sarah Edmonds were all heroic women who fought as men the Union Army‚ they were also natives of Northern states‚ and thus‚ their loyalties were unbridled. On the other hand‚ Maggie “Stretch” Needham‚ who likewise donned the uniform and directed her bayonet against many a Confederate soldier‚ was the daughter of a prominent Charleston‚ South Carolina land and slave owner. Born in 1831‚ Margaret Lucille Needham’s childhood was typical of any daughter of a southern slave owner. Reared more by her slave “mammy” than her own mother‚ young Maggie often witnessed the brutality that her father and three older brothers inflicted upon the slaves on their plantation. As a youngster‚ she accepted this cruelty as a normal course of her father’s interpretation of God’s will‚ that being the superiority of the white race and the need to subjugate the people of African origin.

Often described as a breathtakingly beautiful woman‚ the tall‚ sky-blue-eyed Maggie could have had her pick of blue-blooded southern gentlemen. Unlike most women of her era‚ however‚ Maggie chose education over marriage and children. In 1858‚ she was one of the earliest graduates of the newly founded Columbia College‚ a women’s liberal arts institution located in Columbia‚ South Carolina. Returning to Charleston‚ it was her goal to assist her brothers in the family’s lumber business. However‚ two things would change the course of her life forever. In April of 1860‚ she witnessed her older brother Maxwell stab to death the only daughter of the black nanny who raised her. The young woman was murdered simply because she recoiled at Maxwell’s sexual advances.

Approximately a month after this incident‚ Maggie met a group of abolitionist Quakers from Boston. After years of seeing firsthand the viciousness of slavery‚ finally having the sin of that brutality articulated to her by the Quakers was the last straw for Maggie. Befriending the Quakers‚ she made the first of several trips north to Philadelphia‚ Providence and eventually to Boston‚ where‚ after the war began‚ she was recruited to serve as a spy for the 3rdBattalion‚ 1st Massachusetts Regimental Calvary. For a time‚ she even donned the uniform and fought alongside her Battalion brothers. At 5’ 10″ in height‚ she was taller than the majority of the men in her unit‚ thus making it plausible for her to tie her brunette tresses in a ponytail and pass as a man. It was with the 1st Massachusetts where she was given the nickname‚ “Stretch.”

In addition to her many exploits as a Union spy‚ some historians credit Needham with working alongside the irreverent Harriet Tubman for the Underground Railroad. Although this claim cannot be substantiated‚ in 1993‚ British Quaker historian Jonathan Taylor Lunt‚ in the publication Quaker Faith and Practice claimed‚ “Among the American Friends who assisted in the efforts of the Underground Railroad was the Methodist Maggie Needham‚ who may have never become a Convinced Friend‚ but whose dedication to her Quaker comrades in the eradication of slavery was unconditional.” Needham left the United States after the war and spent most of the latter years of her life in Europe. She died in Birmingham‚ England in 1918.

From a British Religious Society of Friends website:

Friend Historian Jonathan Taylor Lunt has written extensively on the exploits of the 19th Century American Quakers who aided in bringing hundreds of slaves to freedom in that country. Most notable of this group of Friends were two families‚ the Littleton brothers and the Forbes family.

***Wilmer Henry Forbes (1781-1853) was a Weighty Friend in the Society. He was a dedicated member of the western Philadelphia Quakers and traveled to Meetings from his 30-acre Haverford farm. *** He married Bernice (nee Carter) in 1807. They had three sons‚ Henry George in 1809‚ Carter Wilmer in 1812 and Geoff Earlham in 1813. Bernice died in 1817.

*** Much to the surprise of the western Philadelphia Friends‚ Wilmer married the former Rosemary Gibbons in 1837‚ twenty years after the death of his first wife. He was 56. She was 24‚ the same age as his youngest son‚ Geoff. Rosemary became a Convinced Friend shortly before the marriage and gave birth to a daughter‚ Bronwyn Renell in 1838.

*** When Wilmer died in 1853‚ Rosemary returned to her native Boston with the then 15-year-old Bronwyn. A year later‚ Geoff and his wife and children joined his step-mother and half-sister in Boston. By 1958‚ the Forbes family was actively involved with the Boston abolitionist movement.

***Throughout most of the years of the Civil War in America‚ Geoff Forbes‚ his half-sister Bronwyn‚ and his sons‚ Wilmer and James were devoted allies of the legendary Harriet Tubman‚ and worked extensively in her efforts to keep the Underground Railroad going throughout the war years.

***It was Bronwyn’s power of persuasion that influenced South Carolina-born Methodist Maggie “Stretch” Needham to abandon her pro-slavery existence and adopt the philosophy of the abolitionists. The two women became inseparable friends. *** Although everyone in her inner circle referred to Maggie as “Stretch” Needham‚ to Bronwyn‚ she was simply Maggie. In turn‚ Maggie dubbed Bronwyn “Bronny.”

***Sometime after the war‚ Maggie returned to her Charleston home. Bronwyn accompanied her‚ but for only about six months. When Bronwyn returned to Boston‚ she announced that her friendship with Maggie Needham had dissolved. When she offered no explanation as to why their intense friendship had ended‚ the Boston Friends were concerned that Needham was perhaps returning to her prior way of life and was embracing the growing racist movement in the southern states brought about by the notorious Ku Klux Klan‚ but their concerns were eventually tempered when it was discovered that Needham left South Carolina for good in 1867. She lived for a time with a small band of Friends in northern Pennsylvania before sailing to Europe. She died here in England in 1918 during the ravishing Spanish influenza outbreak. She was 87.

***In 1868‚ Bronwyn married Union Army veteran Mitchell Morrison of Providence‚ Rhode Island after a brief courtship. Relocating to Providence‚ she was well received by the Providence Friends. However‚ Bronwyn’s marriage to Morrison was volatile‚ short-lived and produced no children. They divorced in 1870. The dissolution of her friendship with Maggie Needham and her failed marriage to Mitchell Morrison had a catastrophic effect on Bronwyn. For the next several years‚ she wandered in an out of doomed relationships and spent the last year of her life in a consumption sanitarium in upstate New York. Although she had contracted tuberculosis during her marriage to Morrison‚ it did not kill her. In 1879‚ at the age of 41‚ Bronwyn died from syphilis.

Lindsay turned to Rejeanne‚ who was clenching her stomach. “God‚ Jeannie‚” she said. “I didn’t know. Palaemon only told me how Marcella died. Regarding Maggie and Bronny‚ he only told me that they died bitter and alone.”

Rejeanne began crying. Lindsay took her lover in her arms. “Ah‚ honey‚” she continued. “I know it’s sad‚ but their lives were theirs. When and how they died will have no bearing on our mortality.”

“That’s not why I’m crying‚” Rejeanne said as she lifted her head and looked into Lindsay’s eyes. “My poem…”

“The one about the sex addict?”

“Yeah.”

“Oh my God‚ did the character in your poem die of syphilis too?”

“No‚ she contracted the AIDS virus.”

“Man‚ I think you’re right‚” Lindsay said as she tenderly caressed Rejeanne’s back. “This reincarnation thing is mighty strong. Is that what’s bothering you?”

“Not exactly‚ Lin‚” Rejeanne replied. “I guess I just feel sad for these women and how they were denied so much. They each had a story to tell‚ yet they were unable to do so. It’s almost as if the earlier souls were reaching out to the later souls‚ you know?”

“Yeah‚ I know.”

“The Bronwyn of my college poem was contemporary‚” Rejeanne remarked. “The poem takes place in 1999 when I wrote it‚ but there are some distinct parallels. My character doesn’t die or contract tuberculosis‚ but her sex addiction was the result of being tormented by unrequited love.”

“All of the women were tormented by unrequited love to one extent or another‚ Jeannie‚” Lindsay stated. “It begs the question of what really killed them. Their various ailments or their broken hearts?”

“I don’t know.”

“I don’t either‚” said Lindsay. “But I’m determined not to end up the same way.”

* * * *

Nightfall appeared over the Wisconsin landscape. Rejeanne and Lindsay had been searching for their past souls online off and on for twelve solid hours when the combination of fatigue and frustration began to take its toll on them both. After learning the fate of Bronwyn Forbes‚ the two lovers were unsuccessful in obtaining anymore information pertaining to either the past lives or the location of the scrolls. In addition‚ both women were in great anticipation of what their Tuesday morning was going to bring them. For Rejeanne‚ her main concern was how her relationship with Lindsay was going to shape her status at the newspaper. Would her supervisor expect her to use the relationship to gain deeper access to the skeletons in the Alasdair family’s closet?

For Lindsay‚ her declaration of love to Rejeanne was bound to have more profound consequences on her status in the family business and her personal relationships. As she began to ponder all that awaited her‚ she looked over at her beloved‚ who was shutting down her laptop.

“I’m fried‚” Rejeanne announced to Lindsay as she stood up to stretch. “I need a beer.”

Rejeanne headed for the kitchen. “Hey‚ Lin‚ you want something?”

“I’ll drink whatever you’re having.”

“Sure thing‚” Rejeanne replied. As she turned to head toward the kitchen‚ Lindsay’s voice stopped her.

“Jeannie‚” Lindsay called out‚ “Is it alright if we go to my place tonight? I need some fresh clothes and I have some pressing matters to deal with concerning Martin.”

“Yeah‚ sure‚” Rejeanne replied. “I’ll pack an overnight bag.”

Rejeanne padded into the kitchen and stepped up to her refrigerator. She grabbed the door handle to open it when something gripped her attention.

“Oh‚ hell no‚” she said. “Hell no!”

Lindsay heard her from the living room‚ and concerned‚ immediately dashed into the kitchen. “What’s the matter?” she asked as she observed Rejeanne stare wide-eyed at the refrigerator door.

“Look‚ Lindsay‚” Rejeanne said‚ pointing to the picture of her and her ex-girlfriend Jo Clark.

Lindsay looked carefully at the photo for only a moment when it struck her as well. “Rejeanne‚” she said. “Your ex-girlfriend is Bahri.”

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

ORPHEUS ENCHANTS

Lindsay and Rejeanne stepped out of Lindsay’s Hummer and into her dimly lit garage.After grabbing her overnight bag‚ Rejeanne followed Lindsay into the house.The two women walked through the utility room and past the kitchen to a spiral staircase that took them upstairs and eventually to Lindsay’s bedroom.As she walked into the bedroom for only the second time‚ Rejeanne began to feel butterflies in her stomach.

“Are you sure that Martin won’t be making an appearance tonight?” she asked Lindsay.

“Rest assured‚ Jeannie‚” Lindsay replied.”He is not coming back here.”

At that moment‚ Betty Shively approached the room and lightly knocked on the open bedroom door.”Good evening‚ Lindsay‚” she said‚ “all of the changes have been made and your attorney will be expecting your call by 9 a.m. tomorrow morning.”

“Thank you‚ Betty‚” Lindsay said before the older lady departed.

“What changes?” Rejeanne asked.

“I had every single lock changed‚ as well as the security codes‚” Lindsay replied.

“I guess you are really going to file for divorce this time‚” Rejeanne stated.

“Absolutely‚” Lindsay said.

Rejeanne walked over to the bed and gingerly placed her duffel bag on it before looking over at Lindsay who had begun undressing.

“Did I ever show you my bathroom?” Lindsay asked Rejeanne.

“No‚ is there something special about it?”

“Well‚ I’ll let you be the judge of that.”

After the two women stepped over to the master bathroom door‚ Lindsay grabbed the door handle and opened the door slowly and dramatically.”Ta-da!” she enthusiastically announced as Rejeanne stepped in and took in a deep breath.

“Holy shit!” Rejeanne exclaimed as she first looked up at the vaulted ceiling with a heavy arch and a small chandelier in the middle of the room. Rejeanne then looked around with jaw dropped at all of the amenities in the massive bathroom.On one side of the room was a pair of matching furniture-style vanities‚ with mirrored medicine cabinets on both ends of the vanities. Along another wall was a series of closets with mirrored doors. An elegant glass shower enclosure was situated next to a bathtub the size of an eight-person sauna.A 42″ high-definition flat-screen television set was positioned on another wall.All of the cabinetry was done in rich solid antique oak‚ which contrasted beautifully with the slate tile flooring‚ marble sinks‚ bronze fixtures‚ and beveled mirrors and windows in the room.

“I thought that you’d like it‚” Lindsay said.

“Dude‚ I bet Buckingham Palace doesn’t have a latrine this nice.All I would need is a cot‚ a stove and a fridge and I could live in here.”

Lindsay chuckled.”I had it remodeled about four years ago‚” she said.”I figured that I deserved to pamper myself somehow since my married life as I knew was going to be forever changed.”

“So you had this done right after you found out about hubby’s infidelities?”

“Actually‚ right after I decided to stick it out in the marriage.”

Rejeanne wandered over to the enormous hot-tub.”Look at all the jets and gizmos in this thing!” she exclaimed.”Who needs a husband?Just sit the right way and you can cop yourself your own multiple orgasms in this baby.”

“Would you like to experience my bathtub‚ Jeannie?”

“Only if you experience it with me.”

“Well‚ of course.”

The two women sat next to each other with hands clasped under the water‚ relaxed and enjoying the massaging jets of the sauna.The combinations of the steaming and rippling water‚ a soft hand holding hers‚ and the soothing hum from the bathtub’s jets were beginning to put Lindsay to sleep when she was jarred awake by Rejeanne’s voice.

“Lin?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Were you dozing off?”

“Kinda.”

“I’m sorry‚” Rejeanne said.

“That’s okay‚” Lindsay replied.”It’s really unhealthy to spend more than a half-hour sitting in this thing anyway.”

“Do you like football?” Rejeanne asked.

“Not really‚” Lindsay replied.”Why?”

“I think that you and I should go to Jo’s Super Bowl party next Sunday.”

Lindsay sat up and looked over at Rejeanne.”Why?”

“Because I think that Jo can help us in our search for the scrolls.”

“Other than her being the reincarnated Bahri‚ how do you figure?”

“Because I believe that there is significance to her being the reincarnated Bahri‚” Rejeanne said.”Also‚ there’s something that I didn’t mention to you about Jo.”

“What’s that?”

“Jo’s adopted.”Rejeanne started.”I never brought this up before because there was no relevance to it until now.Her adopted dad‚ Mr. Clark‚ worked for the State Department during the Johnston administration‚ but then got embassy duty when Nixon became president.He was working at the embassy in Addis Ababa when he met Jo’s biological parents‚ both of whom were high-ranking officials in the Haile Selassie monarchy.They became good friends with Mr. Clark.When the Communist Derg took over Ethiopia in ’74‚ the US started pulling out all of the embassy employees.The Derg began imprisoning and killing Selassie loyalists.They executed Jo’s biological dad‚ but her mom was able to get out with the foreign diplomats and Ethiopian exiles.Jo was born in Stuttgart‚ then West Germany.Her mom died in childbirth‚ and it was her dying wish that Mr. Clark take baby Jo.He brought her back to the States and he and his wife legally adopted her here.”

“So‚ Jo is Ethiopian‚” Lindsay stated.

“Yes‚ she is‚” Rejeanne said.

There was a long silence between the two women.

“Yeah‚” Lindsay finally spoke as she nodded her head.”We need to go to that Super Bowl party.”

* * * *

Lindsay’s Hummer pulled up to the headquarters of the Dell Valley Gazette.”Would you like for me to swing by here at lunch time?” she asked Rejeanne.

“Sure‚ if you’re comfortable with that.”

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

Rejeanne leaned in and kissed her lover on the lips.Lindsay placed her hand on Rejeanne’s cheek as the kiss grew deeper.Moments later‚ as their lips slowly and reluctantly separated‚ Lindsay looked deeply into Rejeanne’s sea-green eyes.”Thank you‚” she whispered.

“What for?” Rejeanne asked.

“For making me the happiest woman on Earth‚” Lindsay replied.

As Rejeanne approached her desk at the newspaper‚ each coworker that she passed eyed her‚ but not one of them spoke other than a perfunctory “good morning.”Moments after sitting at her desk and reviewing her assignments for the day‚ a familiar voice greeted her from behind.

“What’s up‚ Jeannie.”It was Tyler.

Rejeanne turned to face her friend.”Hey‚ Ty‚” she responded.”What’s up with you?”

“Nothin’ much‚” he responded.”How was your weekend?”

“Very nice.”

“Things work themselves out?” he asked‚ cryptically.

“Yes‚ they did‚ very nicely‚”Rejeanne responded with a sinister smile that spoke volumes.

“That’s what I wanna hear‚” he said as he extended his hand for her to slap.

* * * *

For the remainder of their first full work week as lovers‚ Lindsay and Rejeanne decided to place thoughts of the souls and scrolls aside and focus on enjoying the newness of their relationship.Their ritualistic lunchtime phone calls had become a thing of the past.Now‚ the couple met in person for lunch.Most days they ate‚ but on one occasion‚ they were so overcome with passion that they crawled into the back of Lindsay’s vehicle and behaved as if they were a couple of horny teenagers at a make out point.After work found them at either Stone Hills‚ having dinner‚ then playing pool‚ table tennis or darts in Lindsay’s game room‚ or relaxing in the bathtub‚ or at Rejeanne’s condo‚ having dinner‚ watching TV or playing a board game.Each evening ended the same way‚ with the two women in full honeymoon mode‚ eagerly undressing each other and making vigorous love until sheer exhaustion claimed them both.

By Saturday‚ Lindsay and Rejeanne were contemplating their second trip to Chicago.Rejeanne was trying to figure out a way to approach her friend Jo about reincarnation.She believed that‚ in addition to Jo’s biological roots‚ her role in uncovering the scrolls was tied to her dreams as well‚ as Rejeanne recalled that her old friend tended to have vivid dreams.

Lindsay was far more anxious about the trip.She was going to meet a former lover of Rejeanne‚ and the thought was causing a burning surge of jealousy in her.She did not want to make a bad first impression‚ but a part of her‚ a part that she was rapidly beginning to tie to that Xena within her‚ wanted to make it clear to Jo that Rejeanne was hers now.

“So‚ are we doing another road trip in the Hummer?” Rejeanne asked.

“No‚ this time‚ I want to fly down.”

“Commercially?” Rejeanne asked‚ “Or do I get to experience that skill of you piloting a plane.”

“I’ll fly us down.”

The two women arrived at the Alastair family’s private hangar located at the Dell Valley airstrip.There was one helicopter and three airplanes in the hangar; two single-engine planes‚ a late model Cessna 182 and a vintage 1966 Beechcraft Musketeer‚ and a Bombardier Global Express business aircraft.

“This is too cool‚” Rejeanne said under her breath as she looked at the airplanes.”Okay‚ that plane is almost the size of a 747‚” she said as she pointed at the Bombardier.

“Not even close‚ Jeannie‚” Lindsay replied.”But it’s still pretty fast for a small business plane.”

“Are we taking that?”

“No dear‚” Lindsay said.”I’m trained to fly it‚ but FAA regs require at least two crew members for a plane that size.We’re taking the Cessna.”

Lindsay escorted Rejeanne over to the small plane where they were met by two aircraft mechanics who Lindsay had contacted earlier to prepare the plane for flight.After the plane was wheeled out of the hangar and onto the runway‚ the two women boarded and buckled in.Just before receiving clearance from the air traffic control tower‚ Lindsay turned to Rejeanne‚ who was sitting behind her‚ and handed her a bottled water and a pill.”What’s this for?”Rejeanne asked over the noise of the plane’s engine.

“Dramamine‚” Lindsay said.”This thing may bob and weave somewhat under the stress of January air turbulence.”

“How did you that I suffer from motion sickness?”

Lindsay cocked her head‚ raised her eyebrow and smiled.”Oh yeah‚” Rejeanne smirked.”Duh.”

* * * *

Rejeanne slowly opened her eyes and looked out of window of the small airplane and saw a sea of lights in the darkness of night and a cascade of light snow falling.Seated in front of her was Lindsay‚ who was talking into a microphone attached to her headphones.The plane was on the ground and Lindsay was slowly taxiing it down a runway.Rejeanne looked down and saw the airport ground crew directing Lindsay toward a private plane concourse.

Moments later‚ Lindsay removed her headphones.”Welcome to Midway‚” she said cheerily to Rejeanne as she unlatched her safety harness. “We hope that you enjoyed your flight with us this evening and please fly with us again.”

“Hardy-har-har‚” Rejeanne replied.”I fuckin’ slept through the entire flight.Are you sure that wasn’t valium you gave me?”

“Nope‚ just Dramamine‚” Lindsay replied.”I didn’t think that it would completely knock you out.”

Rejeanne leaned up and stretched as best as she could in the confining cabin of the airplane.”Where to now‚ Lin?”

“My driver is waiting for us‚” Lindsay replied.”Tonight‚ we spend the evening at a hotel of my choosing.”

The two women stepped out into the cold night air for only seconds before a sleek black Lincoln Town Car pulled up in front of them.A burly man with a goatee stepped out of the driver’s seat to open the rear door for the two women.”Evening‚ Ms. Alastair‚” he said.

“Evening‚ Gian-Carlo‚” Lindsay replied.”This is Rejeanne Piscard‚ my… my partner.”

“Welcome to Chicago‚ Ms. Piscard‚” Gian-Carlo said as he took Rejeanne’s hand and helped her into the back seat of the vehicle.

Lindsay got in next to her and immediately took Rejeanne’s hand in hers.Rejeanne looked at her lover and smiled.”Your driver’s an imposing-looking dude‚” she whispered. “Is he on loan from the ‘five families?’”

“Well‚ this is Chicago‚” Lindsay said jokingly.

“So‚ where are we going?” Rejeanne asked as the driver began cruising out of the airport.

“The Fairmont Chicago‚” Lindsay replied.”They have a fabulous lakeside suite with a…”

“Oh‚ no‚ Lin‚” Rejeanne interrupted.”I don’t want you to spend unnecessary money at some swanky hotel downtown.Let’s just go to a Holiday Inn or something.”

“Look‚ this is what I want to do‚ Jeannie‚” Lindsay replied.”Please‚ let me give you this special night… please.I so want to do this.”

Rejeanne relented.”Okay‚ but I’m drawing the line at room service.You don’t need to spend six dollars on a glass of orange juice.”

“Fine‚ but I’m hungry now‚” Lindsay said.”I’d like to eat right after check-in. We can go to the hotel’s restaurant.”

“No thanks‚” Rejeanne said.”There’s this karaoke bar about a mile from the Fairmont.When I was in college‚ my buddies and I used to go there‚ eat pounds of buffalo wings and sing ABBA tunes very badly.”

“Okay‚ karaoke and buffalo wings it is.”

* * * *

As the two lovers walked into the massive hotel suite‚ Lindsay guided Rejeanne over to one of the large windows.”Just look at this view‚” she said.

Rejeanne was impressed‚ but still uneasy about Lindsay’s insistence that they stay in one of the most expensive hotels in Chicago.In Rejeanne’s mind‚ spending hundreds of dollars for the privilege of sleeping in a bed was abominable.As much as she wanted to voice her opinion on the matter‚ when she looked over at the bright and excited smile of her love‚ she just could not bring herself to voice her disdain.”It is a beautiful view‚” she finally said.

“I’ve wanted to bring you here‚” Lindsay said.”Winter is one of the best seasons to experience this view‚ and I can’t wait for you to see it in the morning when it’s light.Hopefully‚ the clouds will pass and the sun will shine over Lake Michigan for us.”

“That’ll be nice.”

“But in the meantime Jeannie‚ let’s get something to eat.”

The karaoke restaurant was in sharp contrast to the hotel.Although it was dark and somewhat rundown‚ Rejeanne felt far more comfortable in the blue-collar surroundings of the restaurant as she eagerly guided Lindsay to an open table.Minutes after taking their seats‚ Rejeanne and Lindsay were greeted by a young waiter wearing a Chicago Bears sweatshirt.After the young man took their food orders‚ Lindsay grimaced at the bad singing that she was hearing from the patrons doing karaoke.

“They sound almost as bad as my friends and I used to sound‚” Rejeanne joked.

“Perhaps I could do better‚” Lindsay said as she stood and walked over to the woman operating the karaoke machine.Moments later‚ Rejeanne watched in utter disbelief as Lindsay stood up on the small raised platform and took the karaoke mike from the previous participants.Looking over at the karaoke operator‚ she nodded her readiness.

“Next up‚ Lindsay from Dell Valley‚ Wisconsin‚” the operator announced.”She’ll be singing Steve Winwood’s ‘Valerie.’”

As the music from the hit 1980s tune began playing‚ Lindsay looked at Rejeanne and gave her a huge smile before she began singing.

“So wild‚ standing there‚ with her hands in her hair‚
I can’t help remember just where she touched me‚
There’s still no face here in her place‚
So cool‚ she was like jazz on a summer day‚
Music high and sweet‚ then she just blew away‚
Now she can’t be that warm‚ with the wind in her arms.”

Rejeanne placed her hand over her mouth in awe as Lindsay improvised the chorus.

“Jeannie P‚ call on me-call on me‚ Jeannie P‚
Come and see me-I’m the same girl I used to be.”

As Lindsay continued singing‚ some of the patrons looked over at Rejeanne‚ who began sobbing with jubilation.After finishing the song‚ everyone clapped as Lindsay‚ gleaming with accomplishment‚ returned to her table and her lover.

“I can’t believe you did that‚” Rejeanne said after she wrapped her arms around Lindsay.

“I can’t either‚” Lindsay said.”I’ve never sung in public before.But watching your face light with joy was worth every minute of it.”

Rejeanne grabbed her lover’s hands.”That was the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for me‚ Lin‚” she said.”Thank you.”

“You’re very welcome‚ sweetheart‚” Lindsay replied.”Did you like my singing?

“Of course‚” Rejeanne answered.”I knew that you could carry a tune.”

“How did you know that I have a singing voice?”

Rejeanne cocked her head‚ raised her eyebrow and smiled.”Oh yeah‚” Lindsay smirked.”Duh.”

* * * *

It was just before midnight when the two women returned to the hotel suite.Lindsay’s singing was still playing melodiously in Rejeanne’s mind as the two entered the room.She turned to Lindsay and grabbed to her hands.”Thank you for a most wonderful evening‚” she said.

“It isn’t over yet‚” Lindsay replied as she began slowly and sensuously removing Rejeanne’s coat and then unbuttoning her blouse.Rejeanne then removed the blouse as Lindsay took off her own coat.She then threw her arms around Rejeanne’s bare waist and scooped her in for an embrace.Rejeanne cupped Lindsay’s cheeks and the two began kissing.The kissing continued while Lindsay strategically removed her blouse‚ and then unbuckled both hers and Rejeanne’s belts.Rejeanne reached down and unbuttoned Lindsay’s button-fly pants before sliding her hand under Lindsay’s underwear.She began rubbing Lindsay’s clit and labia‚ at first slowly‚ but then with increased feverish strokes.Lindsay likewise positioned her hand down in between Rejeanne’s legs and was stroking her as well.Through all this‚ they never broke their kiss.

Eventually‚ both women had removed what was left of their attire and had collapsed on to the king-sized bed.Lindsay scooped up Rejeanne and positioned her on to the center of the bed‚ still over the comforter‚ as they resumed kissing.She then straddled Rejeanne‚ placing her knees on the sides of Rejeanne’s hips and lowering her body so that four hardened nipples could connect.Rejeanne ran her hands down Lindsay’s long back to her rear where she kneaded and massaged for a few moments before returning her hand to Lindsay’s saturated vulva.She then entered Lindsay with her index and middle fingers‚ and while inside‚ bent the fingers to apply sensuous pressure to Lindsay’s g-spot.Lindsay let out a deep moan at the sensation and then immediately returned her hand to Rejeanne’s sex.

“I can’t get enough of you‚” Lindsay swooned as the pace of her thrusts inside of Rejeanne increased.

“I want more… more… more…” Rejeanne repeated as both women were enslaved by their passion.

Within minutes‚ Rejeanne cocked her head up as she was hit with a powerful orgasm.Lindsay’s came only seconds later‚ after which she relaxed her body next to Rejeanne’s and began gently caressing her face.”I love you so very much‚ Jeannie‚” she whispered.

“I love you‚ Lin.”

The two women lay quietly in each other’s arms for several minutes‚ enjoying the tranquility of their adoration and intimacy‚ until Lindsay broke the silence.

“So‚ who will be at this Super Bowl party tomorrow?” she asked.

“You mean besides Jo?”

“Yeah.”

“Her girlfriend Shawn‚” Rejeanne responded.”Some of their mutual friends‚ some old friends from college‚ and a couple of women on the force‚ I’m sure”

“So Jo has a girlfriend?”

“Yup.”

“Do you think that there’s any chance that she‚ you know‚ that she still might have feelings for you?” Lindsay humbly asked.

Rejeanne chuckled.”No‚ my Warrior Princess‚” she said.”Jo and I are good pals‚ as it was meant to be.”

“And your ex‚ Stockholm‚” Lindsay continued‚ “is there any chance that she might be there?”

“Oh‚ hell no‚” Rejeanne replied.”Jo hates Ingrid’s guts because of the way she treated me.Besides‚ Ingrid got married a couple of months ago.So she’s totally embracing the hetero lifestyle these days.”

Lindsay rolled her eyes.”Goody for her‚” she said low and sarcastically.

Rejeanne laughed as she began curling up even closer in Lindsay’s arms.”You are so fucking adorable.How is that you are so fucking adorable?”

“I have many skills.”

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

NEO‚ MORPHEUS AND TRINITY

Rejeanne and Lindsay climbed the steps up and onto the small porch of Jo Clark’s brick north side Chicago bungalow. Lindsay could hear the faint sound of laughter coming from inside the home. “I guess the party’s already started‚” she remarked as Rejeanne rang the doorbell.

“Hey‚ Jeannie!” Jo exclaimed as she opened her screen door to let in the couple. Rejeanne stepped in and gave her old friend a warm hug before pulling back and giving Jo a concentrated look. Bahri‚ she thought. Lindsay was likewise staring in amazement.

Jo looked up at Lindsay. “Hi‚ you must be Lindsay Alastair‚” she said.

“Yes… yes‚ I’m Lindsay.”

“Jeannie P’s told me a lot about you‚” Jo said. “I’m glad to finally meet you. Please‚ come in and join the party.”

The twosome followed Jo into the living room where eighteen women were lounging in front of a widescreen television set‚ most of them eating various snacks and drinking beer out of plastic cups. “Hey everyone‚ look who’s here!” Jo announced.

“Jeannie P!” some of the women said in unison as eyes fell upon the stunningly beautiful couple. “Hey everyone‚” Rejeanne replied. “This is my boo‚ Lin.”

Lindsay handed over to Jo two shopping bags full of snack food and liters of soda as she nodded in greeting to the women. “Thanks‚” Jo said to the twosome. “There’s plenty of food in the dining room‚ and the keg’s on the sun porch. Plenty of pop‚ wine and coolers in the fridge.”

Rejeanne and Lindsay followed Jo into the kitchen where she placed the two bags on the counter. Rejeanne placed her hand on her friend’s shoulder. “Can we talk for a moment?” she asked.

“Sure‚ what’s up?” Jo queried.

“Could we maybe go into your guest room?”

Jo was perturbed. “Okay‚” she said tentatively.

After entering Jo’s guest bedroom‚ Lindsay shut the door and she and Rejeanne sat in wicker chairs that faced a futon couch where Jo sat. “Okay Jo‚” Rejeanne said. “I need to ask you something important.”

“Okay.”

“Okay‚” Rejeanne stated‚ “first off‚ do I look somehow different to you now?” she asked.

“You haven’t changed your hair since the last time that I saw you‚ so no‚” Jo replied.

“Well‚ do you recognize something about Lindsay?”

“I just met her five minutes ago‚ Jeannie.”

“Alright‚ alright‚” Rejeanne remarked. “So‚ um‚ have you ever had a really strange dream?”

“Uh‚ yeah‚” Jo replied. “Dreams by their very nature are strange.”

“Right‚ but have you ever had a dream where you felt like you were in ‘The Matrix‚’ but instead of‚ like‚ Neo‚ Morpheus and Trinity‚ you were in this ancient Roman coliseum and you were‚ like‚ a gladiator or an ancient Greek army guy or something?”

Jo smirked. “Have you been smoking your dad’s blueberry blunts again?”

Lindsay shot Rejeanne a look‚ which didn’t go unnoticed by Jo. “Oh‚ you didn’t know that Jeannie gets her pot from her father?”

“Thanks‚ Jo‚” Rejeanne slithered.

“Your father supplies you marijuana?” Lindsay asked crossly.

“Hey‚ I told you that he was a farmer‚” Rejeanne replied.

“He grows it?”

“In his basement‚” Jo injected. “Jeannie P’s a real tight-wad‚ Lindsay. Why spend twenty-five bucks on a quarter bag off the street when pops will supply her unlimited weed free of charge.”

Lindsay folded her arms in disapproval as she continued to eye Rejeanne contemptuously.

“That’s not entirely true‚ Jo‚” Rejeanne retorted. “It so happens that the last bag that I got I bought from the stepson of the managing editor at my job. Anyway‚ I’m not high‚ Jo. I haven’t smoked a joint since…” She stopped herself.

“Since when?” Lindsay inquired.

Rejeanne looked down at her shoes while Jo’s eyebrow rose. “Since when?” Lindsay repeated.

Rejeanne sighed. “Were you stoned when I met you at the fundraiser?” Lindsay shot.

“No‚” Rejeanne replied. “I mean‚ not really. Look‚ I took one hit off Doug Linton’s phillies blunt. His weak-assed shit wasn’t enough to get me that buzzed‚ okay?”

“Weak as compared to the potent stuff your dad grows?” Lindsay asked cynically.

“Yes‚ actually‚” Rejeanne replied with equal cynicism.

“Maybe I should leave the room so that you two can sort things out‚” Jo stated.

“No‚ no‚” both women said to Jo. “Please‚” Lindsay continued‚ “let me try.”

Rejeanne threw up her arms in defeat as Lindsay addressed Jo. “What Jeannie was trying to ask is have you ever had a dream that felt as though it was more than just a dream? Did you ever have a dream that took you to a different place and time‚ or made you feel like you were not you? I know that this doesn’t make much sense but… ”

Jo’s eyebrows rose. “Actually‚ yes‚ I did have a couple of dreams that felt different‚ weird‚ even epic‚” she responded.

“Was it recently?” Lindsay asked.

“No‚” Jo replied. “I had these dreams right after I met Jeannie.”

“What all do you remember about them that made them stand out?” Lindsay asked.

“Well‚ first off‚ I wasn’t me in the dreams‚” Jo started. “I was‚ like‚ an older version of myself‚ if that makes any sense. And I was in a different time. I think it was‚ like‚ the 1880s or something. The dream started out in this military compound controlled by the Italians. I was speaking Italian a lot in the dream‚ and I could actually understand what I was saying‚ which is weird because the only Italian I know is the mob-talk that I hear on ‘The Sopranos.’”

Lindsay chuckled.

“Anyway‚ there were two women with me in these dreams.”

“Do you remember what they looked like?” Rejeanne spoke up.

“Kinda‚” Jo replied. “One of them was tall‚ like you‚” she said‚ referencing Lindsay. “Same intense blue eyes‚ but she was much older‚ like about sixty. She wore men’s clothes and she was really intimidating. Oh‚ and she spoke with a southern accent.”

“Maggie‚” Lindsay whispered to Rejeanne.

“What about the other woman?” Rejeanne asked.

“The other woman was very sophisticated and cultured‚” Jo replied “She wore one of those poofy late 19th Century dresses and spoke with a British accent. She was really refined and charming and I remember that she reminded me of Princess Di‚ since I had the two dreams when Diana was still alive and in the media a lot.”

“Do you remember what she looked like?” Lindsay asked.

“She was somewhat tall‚ but not as tall as the butchy southern woman. She was older as well‚ with white hair that she wore in a tight bun. That’s about all I could remember.”

Lindsay leaned in closer to Jo. “Did she smile a lot‚ even when there wasn’t anything to smile about? A wicked smile?”

Jo’s eyebrows rose again. “Interesting way of describing her‚ but yeah‚ she did have this sexy sinister little smile.”

Lindsay looked at Rejeanne. “Callisto‚” she whispered.

“What else do you remember about these dreams?” Lindsay asked.

“Like I said‚ they were very detailed and epic‚” Jo replied. “I had the first dream one night and the second dream picked up where the first one left off the next night‚ and then that was that. I hadn’t dreamt anything like them before or since.”

“It would really help if you could tell us all that you remember‚” Lindsay said.

“Why?” Jo asked. “What’s this about?”

“It’s kind of a long story‚” Lindsay said‚ “and it would take some time to explain and a lot of openness on your part to understand but…”

“Jo‚” Rejeanne interrupted‚ “We’re looking for something and we think that you can help us find it.”

Jo could not fathom what her old friend was asking of her‚ but she saw the sincerity in Rejeanne’s eyes. “Okay‚” she said. “The one thing that stood out was that the person that I was in the dream was helping the two white women find some transcripts.”

“Transcripts?” Lindsay and Rejeanne asked in unison.

“Yeah‚ transcripts‚” Jo replied. “Apparently‚ I was a mediator between the two women and the Italian militiamen. I was trying to get the Italians to reveal where these transcripts were.”

Excitedly‚ Lindsay and Rejeanne began talking over each other as they fielded questions to Jo. After a few seconds of this‚ Jo waved her hands‚ silencing the couple. “Time out‚” she implored. “Look‚ I had these dreams at the time that I was taking a course in analytical psychology at DePaul. My prof was having us write dream journals. I can go dig them up and find the entries for those two dreams if that’ll help.”

Both Lindsay and Rejeanne clasped Jo’s hands. “That would be great!” Rejeanne exclaimed.

“Not a problem‚ but would you guys mind if I look for that journal after the coin toss and kick off?”

“Oh‚ sure‚” “Rejeanne said as Jo stood and left the guest room‚ not sure of exactly what had just transpired between her‚ Rejeanne and Lindsay.

Lindsay turned to Rejeanne. “We are not done with this marijuana discussion‚ Rejeanne‚” she said.

“I’m sure that we’re not‚ my Liege‚” Rejeanne retorted.

* * * *

Lindsay and Rejeanne stepped out onto Jo’s sun porch and poured themselves beer out of the keg before joining the other women to watch the beginning of the game. Rejeanne sat down on the couch next to Jo’s partner Shawn. Lindsay sat down next to Rejeanne and immediately wrapped her arm around Rejeanne’s shoulder.

“Hey Shawnie‚” Rejeanne said as she took notice of her partner’s possessive gesture. “This is Lindsay.”

“Hi there‚” Shawn said to Lindsay.

“Hi.”

“So‚ Jeannie P‚ who do you want to win?” Shawn asked.

“I’m not a fan of either Tampa Bay or the Raiders‚” Rejeanne said‚ “but since Tampa Bay’s never won a Super Bowl before‚ it’d be kind of nice to see them win.”

“I think they will‚” Shawn said. “They had a better record than Oakland overall this season and they have the better offensive line.”

“Yeah‚” Jo added‚ “and Johnson and McCardell have been on fire all year.”

“We shall see‚” Rejeanne said.

“What about you‚ Lindsay?” Shawn asked. “Who are you rooting for?”

“Which ever company has the most entertaining two-point-one million-dollar-thirty-second commercial‚ of course‚” Lindsay replied‚ sending everyone in the room into a fit of laughter.

Despite her cynicism‚ Lindsay found herself getting into the game. It was not until the half-time special that Jo excused herself and went to look for her old dream journals. Once she located the one that she needed‚ she motioned for Rejeanne and Lindsay to rejoin her in the guest bedroom.

“This is it‚” Jo said as she handed the marked pages of the journal to Rejeanne. “I hope that it helps with whatever you two are doing.”

“Thanks‚” Rejeanne replied as Jo left the twosome alone with the journal.

Dream Journal of Josephine Clark

Monday‚ October 14‚ 1996:

Last night‚ I had one long‚ strange and vivid dream. What’s even more remarkable is that I remember so much of it. This dream was like no other that I had ever had before because it seemed so real‚ as though I was a part of an epic narrative taking place.

I am not me in this dream. I am much older‚ perhaps an ancestor‚ because I go by the name of Alemnesh‚ which is clearly to me an Ethiopian name. It is also not the present time in the dream. It seems to be somewhere around 1890‚ because of the way Alemnesh and the other people in the dream are dressed‚ the absence of automobiles and how everything looks like vintage late 1800s. /P>

The dream starts out with Alemnesh inside of an Italian military compound in the Eritrean province of Ethiopia. I know this because of my knowledge of Ethiopian history. The Italians were there because King Menelik II allowed it for a time. Alemnesh is in a bunker speaking Italian with this army colonel. I don’t speak Italian‚ but as Alemnesh‚ I speak it and understand it. Alemnesh is telling this colonel that she has been hired by Lady Harry‚ wife of the Earl of Addington‚ to find the lost transcripts of Cella Erasmus. I have no idea what that is‚ but Alemnesh apparently does‚ and she tells this colonel that her employer‚ Lady Harry‚ will pay top British pound sterling for the location of these transcripts. The colonel insists on meeting Lady Harry personally‚ so Alemnesh leaves his bunker and returns with her and another woman who appears to be Lady Harry’s bodyguard and friend.

Lady Harry is really charming and personable. She’s an older lady‚ about 55 or 60. She’s about 5’7″ in height and is rather thin‚ only about 110 pounds. She has big brown eyes and pure white hair tied in a bun and she speaks with an aristocratic British accent. She’s a lot like Princess Di‚ only older and far more confident in her demeanor. She smiles a lot and her voice is both perky and seductive at the same time. She cannot speak Italian‚ however‚ thus her need for Alemnesh as a translator.

The other woman goes by the name of Stretch. It’s a fitting name for her. Also approximately 60 years of age‚ Stretch is about 6 feet tall‚ is dressed like Rudyard Kipling and is packing a piece the size of a small cannon. Unlike Lady Harry‚ Stretch has zero charm. She’s all business. Also‚ Stretch is obviously an American because she speaks with a thick southern drawl. Although she should be‚ Alemnesh isn’t the least bit intimidated by Stretch‚ probably because Alemnesh is very comfortable with Lady Harry. Despite her menacing appearance‚ however‚ Stretch is a strikingly beautiful older woman with gem-like bright blue eyes. She reminds me of that actress who played Wonder Woman‚ only older and meaner.

So‚ Alemnesh is negotiating finding these lost transcripts with the Italian colonel. He is telling her to tell Lady Harry that for 500‚000 British pounds‚ he will guarantee the location where these transcripts are buried. I don’t know why‚ but Alemnesh knows that the colonel is full of shit and she tells Lady Harry that he’s trying to rip her off. This dream goes on with Lady Harry‚ through Alemnesh‚ trying diplomacy with this colonel. Lady Harry believes that‚ even if he doesn’t know where the transcripts are buried‚ he can point her in the direction of someone who does.

Diplomacy is not working with this guy‚ as he continues to demand an outrageous amount of money for his help. At one point‚ Stretch stands up‚ and in her Scarlett O’Hara accent tells Alemnesh and Lady Harry to leave the bunker. The two women wait outside until they hear the sound of Stretch’s gigantic revolver go off. They‚ along with a dozen or so Italian soldiers‚ run back into the bunker to see what happened. What everyone sees is the colonel standing in the middle of the room‚ as white as a ghost and with wet trousers from where he had obviously pissed his pants. He hands Alemnesh a piece of paper with the name of an Ethiopian Orthodox priest written on it. Stretch puts her gun back in her holster and casually walks out of the bunker. The bullet from that revolver leaves a crater in the wall behind the colonel’s head.

Alemnesh‚ Lady Harry and Stretch mount three horses near the bunker. Lady Harry asks Stretch what happened between her and the colonel. Stretch tells Lady Harry that she was basically tired of his bullshit and conveys to the colonel that she wants the name of whoever on the African continent can get her to those transcripts. In broken English‚ he calls her a hedge-on-the-tart‚ which I guess is a 19th Century epithet for lesbian‚ and then tells her to go to hell. She pulls her gun‚ shoots at his head‚ purposefully missing him‚ and advises him that the next shot is going to separate the air under his skull from his body if he doesn’t tell her what she wants to know. He pees his pants and tells her. She tells him to write it down‚ so he does.

The three women ride out of the military compound. I wake up.

Tuesday‚ October 15‚ 1996.

Last night‚ I had another long dream. This dream seems to have picked up where the dream from yesterday left off. This is truly incredible.

I‚ as Alemnesh‚ am on horseback riding with Lady Harry‚ Stretch and an entourage of armed Tigrayan mercenaries. The mercenaries are guiding them over the border from colonized Eritrea into Ethiopia. They are riding toward Gondar‚ where it is believed the Orthodox priest can be found. Alemnesh has some knowledge about the origin of the transcripts‚ but desires to know more. Curious‚ she begins asking questions about them. Lady Harry is eager to tell Alemnesh everything‚ but Stretch interrupts Lady Harry‚ saying in her thick southern accent‚ “Let’s just find the things first.”

It is obvious that although Lady Harry is providing all of the capital and manpower for this operation‚ Stretch is actually running the show.

The ride through the mountainous terrain of northern Ethiopia is hard on the group and their horses‚ but they finally reach Gondar. As I am dreaming this‚ I can actually physically feel the taxation that the ride is having on Alemnesh’s older body. So very weird.

Alemnesh begins asking villagers they encounter if anyone knows where to find this particular priest. She is now speaking both Amharic and Tigrinya‚ two more languages that I cannot speak. But once again‚ as Alemnesh‚ I can both speak and understand each language.

Anyway‚ the group is finally able to track down the priest‚ one Abba Yordanos‚ who is the clergyman for a small Ethiopian Orthodox church on the west end of Gondar. Telling the mercenary bodyguards to remain outside‚ the three women enter the church and are met by two adolescent boys. The boys direct the women to a small room behind the sanctuary. The priest is sitting in a chair with his back to the women. He has his face in his hands‚ as if he’s in deep thought or prayer. He then muffles the words in Amharic‚ “I’ve been waiting for you.”

Abba Yordanos stands‚ turns and faces the three women. He only looks at Alemnesh and Lady Harry momentarily. It is Stretch who has his complete attention. He approaches the threatening old white woman wearing men’s clothes and carrying a loaded revolver‚ gently cups his hands on her cheeks and speaks to her.

“The priest said‚ ‘you are the one‚’” Alemnesh translates to Stretch. She continues. “He says that many years ago‚ when he was just a boy‚ a guardian angel named Delia came to him in a dream and told him about the scrolls‚ what they are and where they are hidden. The angel told him that one day‚ the spirit of Cella Erasmus‚ the protector of the scrolls‚ would return to reclaim them.” The priest tells Stretch that it is she. /P>

Again‚ I have no idea what any of this means. Neither do Alemnesh and Lady Harry apparently‚ because they begin to snicker at what they believe are the ranting of a nut job priest‚ until something totally unexpected happens. The usually stoic and hardened Stretch begins crying like a baby as she wraps her arms around the priest. They hug for a very long time. Stretch eventually releases Abba Yordanos‚ turns to Alemnesh and Lady Harry and simply says‚ “Finally.”

Abba Yordanos leads the three women down a secret darkened passageway behind the chapel to an underground cavern. Once there‚ he points to a spot marked by a round painted symbol on the clay wall.

Alemnesh translates. “He says that they are there‚ behind the painted chakram.” Whatever that is.

I wake up. Was this really a dream or was this something more?

Lindsay and Rejeanne looked at each other and began crying as the guest bedroom door opened and an excited Jo entered. “The Bucks just scored another touchdown‚ you guys!” she exclaimed before noticing the tears in the eyes of couple. “Are you two okay?” she asked.

Somewhat embarrassed‚ Lindsay wiped her eyes. “We’re fine‚” she replied.

“Jo‚ can we use your scanner to copy these pages in your journal?” Rejeanne asked as she too wiped her eyes.

“Oh‚ hell‚ take the damn thing‚” Jo replied. “My fucking prof that year almost flunked me because he believed that I was making this shit up. Thankfully‚ he didn’t flunk me. Just get it back to me whenever you’re done with it. I know you’re good for it.”

“Thank you so very much‚ Jo‚” Lindsay said.

“Yeah‚ thanks‚ buddy‚” Rejeanne added. “Totally.”

“Not a problem.” Jo replied.

Rejeanne approached her old friend. “You know‚ I know that this seems really weird to you‚” she said. “But I want you to know something. What you had those two nights were not dreams. You were right when you wrote that they made you feel like you ‘were part of an epic narrative taking place.’ That’s exactly what you were experiencing‚ Jo. They were a piece of your soul‚ giving you a key to your past.”

“When we find what we’re looking for‚” Lindsay chimed in‚ “we’ll return and share everything with you. You’re a part of this epic‚ so you’re entitled.”

“These transcripts‚ are you two saying that they really exist?” Jo asked.

“Yes‚ they do‚” Rejeanne replied.

“Holy shit‚” Jo stated‚ “Well then‚ I hope that you find them.”

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

LINES IN THE MEHNDI

As they rode in the back of the Lincoln Town Car on their return to the hotel after Jo’s Super Bowl party, Lindsay and Rejeanne both stared blankly out of their respective passenger windows, deep in thought of what they had learned from Jo’s dream journal.

“So, you’re okay with staying in Chicago again tonight?” Lindsay asked, breaking the silence.

“Yeah,” Rejeanne replied. “I always take the Monday after Super Bowl off work anyway.”

Lindsay didn’t respond, but rather allowed a few more moments of silence pass before starting her long-awaited argument with Rejeanne.

“Jo’s a thing of beauty,” Lindsay stated.

“Yeah, she’s pretty hot,” Rejeanne agreed.

“So, why did you two break up?”

“I told you,” Rejeanne replied. “We decided that we were better off as friends.”

“That’s it?” Lindsay asked in disbelief. “You two just decided one day, ‘let’s stop having sex and just be pals.’”

“Basically.”

“I’m not buying it, Jeannie,” Lindsay said.

“What are you not buying?” Rejeanne asked contemptuously.

“Women like you two don’t just decide out of the blue to call an intimate relationship quits after two years,” Lindsay said. “Something had to have happened.”

“How do you know what kind of women we are?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Lindsay snarked. “Maybe because we all seem to have known each other for over two thousand years.”

“Okay, smart-ass,” Rejeanne retorted, “so what are you asking me?”

“I want to know what happened,” Lindsay responded.

“And you are so sure that something happened?” Rejeanne asked.

“Yes,” Lindsay replied. “So, what happened?”

“I think you already suspect, but okay, if you must know the details,” Rejeanne started, “there was an incident at a party in K-zoo.”

“ Kalamazoo , Michigan ?”

“Yeah.”

“What kind of incident?”

Rejeanne folded her arms as she continued, fully aware of the path Lindsay was taking the conversation. “We had a mutual friend, Tammy, who was in a grad program at Western Michigan U. She invited a bunch of us up to K-zoo to celebrate her birthday. At one point in the evening, Tammy invited me and a couple of other girls into her bedroom to do some lines with her.”

“What do you mean, ‘do some lines?’” Lindsay asked.

“You know what I mean,” Rejeanne barked.

“No, I don’t.” Lindsay replied sincerely.

“Snort coke, okay?”

Lindsay did not respond. Rejeanne continued. “Jo was out on the back porch talking politics and someone went and ‘narked’ on me. Jo caught me in the act and blew up. She called me a fucking junkie and said that she was totally done with me. I called her a controlling bitch and told her to go fuck herself. She was my best friend in the world. We had never before raised our voices to one another, let alone called each other names, but that night, it got downright ugly. Jo was so hurt and disappointed in me that she got into her car and drove back to Chicago that night without me. I crashed on Tammy’s couch and took the Amtrak back the next day. Between Jo ditching me and coming down from a bad cocaine high, I practically cried the whole trip home.”

“Were you proud of yourself?” Lindsay asked with utter derision in her tone.

“No, I wasn’t,” Rejeanne responded. “I was devastated, but I broached the situation the only way that I knew how. I wrote a poem and placed it on Jo’s windshield wiper a couple of days later. When she called me to acknowledge getting it, we agreed to have lunch and talk. It was then that we decided that our friendship would not survive being in a continuing romantic relationship.”

“Jo had too much disdain for your recreational drug use?” Lindsay asked scornfully.

“I’m not a recreational drug user, Lin,” Rejeanne snapped. “I had only done coke a couple of times prior to that night, and after what happened between Jo and me, I never touched the stuff again.”

“That’s reassuring,” Lindsay said sarcastically.

“What is your damage, Lin?”

“Frankly, I don’t know how you can say you’re not a drug user when you’re practically beaming with pride over smoking your dad’s potent pot.”

“I’m not a stoner,” Rejeanne exclaimed. “It ain’t like I smoke it everyday. I don’t do illicit drugs and, anyway, weed isn’t even a narcotic.”

“Oh, it’s not?”

“No, it’s not,” Rejeanne fired. “Weed isn’t in the same category of drugs as cocaine or heroin or crystal meth. It’s not addictive. There’s really no such thing as marijuana detox. You don’t hear about people going off and robbing banks, writing bad checks or prostituting themselves to get money for their next pot fix. No one’s ever died of a marijuana overdose. You can’t get AIDS from passing a joint. And unlike drinking booze, guys don’t get high and then decide to drive recklessly or beat their wives.”

“That may all be fine and dandy, Jeannie, but the stuff is still an illicit drug and it’s still very illegal.”

“Well, it shouldn’t be illegal.”

“Yeah, well it is illegal.”

“It shouldn’t be.”

“But it is.”

“But it shouldn’t be.”

“But it is.”

“But it shouldn’t be.”

“But it is.”

“Excuse me, ladies,” the driver, Gian Carlo, interrupted, “We’ve arrived back at the hotel.”

Rejeanne opened her door and got out of the vehicle before Gian Carlo could get to her. Lindsay did wait for her driver to open her door and, after stepping out, whispered to him something before handing him a one-hundred dollar bill and wishing him good night. She then joined Rejeanne, who was standing in front of the hotel entrance.

“Are you happy that Jo and I broke up because I’m a so-called pot-head?” Rejeanne asked as her eyes began welling up. “Are you going to break up with me because you think I’m a pot-head too?”

Lindsay sighed. “I don’t think that you’re a pot-head, and no, I could never leave you,” she professed. “I love you too damned much.” She wiped away Rejeanne’s tears with her thumbs. “It’s because I love you so that I’m bothered by the marijuana use. I don’t ever want to give you an excuse to ‘escape’ whatever lay ahead for us as a couple.”

“I understand your concern, and I’m flattered,” Rejeanne replied. “But you have to believe me when I tell you that I don’t smoke pot that often, and when I do, it’s not to ‘escape’ anything. I smoke it because, honestly, I enjoy the high. But if it bothers you that much, I won’t ever smoke it again. My relationship with you is far more important to me than smoking a joint.”

“Honey, I would never tell you not to do something, even if I don’t necessarily approve. You’re an adult, and I have to respect your decisions. So, no, don’t stop smoking pot on my account. If this is something that you like to do on occasion, I’ll just have to learn to deal with it.”

“Just like I’m still dealing with the fact that you voted for Dubya?”

Lindsay smiled. “And his dad in ’88 and again in ’92.”

“Eww! I would say we’re even, then,” Rejeanne jibed as she wrapped her arms around Lindsay’s waist.

“We’re even,” Lindsay agreed. “Now, let’s get inside. It’s cold out here.”

* * * *

After entering the hotel room, Lindsay walked up behind Rejeanne and gently peeled off the smaller woman’s coat. After she tossed the coat over to a chair in the room, Lindsay began massaging Rejeanne’s shoulder blades with her thumbs. Rejeanne raised her head and closed her eyes as Lindsay began kissing Rejeanne’s neck under her left ear.

“That’s nice,” Rejeanne swooned.

Lindsay then circled Rejeanne’s neck with kisses from ear to ear as her hands moved from Rejeanne’s shoulders to her breasts. Lindsay lightly circled the nipples, over the clothing, with her index fingers for a few seconds before pausing to unbutton Rejeanne’s blouse and remove both it and the sports bra underneath it. She was still behind Rejeanne.

“Your nipples are so hard,” Lindsay whispered.

“Of course they are,” Rejeanne responded.

Rejeanne raised her arms and wrapped them behind Lindsay’s neck as she pressed her back up against Lindsay’s still clothed upper body. “Lose the coat,” Rejeanne murmured just as Lindsay took off both her coat and the button-down blouse that was underneath it. She then reached back and unclasped her own bra and allowed it to drop to the floor with other garments. Both women were now standing in the middle of the hotel room completely topless. Rejeanne’s arms were still raised and wrapped behind Lindsay’s neck. Lindsay was feverishly kneading Rejeanne’s breasts as she suckled her neck. Lindsay then began licking behind Rejeanne’s ears, first the left, then the right, before grabbing Rejeanne’s forearms and removing them from around her neck. She turned Rejeanne around to face her and, tenderly cupping her cheeks, brought Rejeanne’s face to her own where the twosome’s lips met in a long-anticipated kiss.

As their tongues fought for dominance in each other’s mouths, Rejeanne brought her arms around to Lindsay’s back, where she began both massaging and passionately stroking. The sensations caused Lindsay to let out a prominent moan that vibrated into Rejeanne’s mouth. Exciting Rejeanne even more, she grabbed Lindsay’s belt and began eagerly unbuckling it. Lindsay unbuttoned Rejeanne’s pants and both women unzipped simultaneously without breaking the kiss.

Moments later, their lips did separate, but only long enough for both women to remove their pants, shoes, socks and panties. Rejeanne then climbed onto the bed and lay supine. Lindsay crawled behind her and straddled Rejeanne at her torso. “You are so very beautiful,” Lindsay said as she lowered her body onto Rejeanne’s to resume kissing.

The two women continued to kiss as Rejeanne raised her right leg and positioned it between Lindsay’s legs, where she began rhythmically rubbing her hip bone on Lindsay’s saturated sex. Lindsay let out a second deep moan as she thrust her right hip bone up against Rejeanne’s clit. The two women’s thrusts became harder and faster.

“I can’t get enough of you,” Rejeanne declared.

“This is bliss,” Lindsay professed.

Sweat beaded up on Lindsay’s back as perspiration from both women poured down the sides of Rejeanne’s torso. Rejeanne held tightly onto Lindsay’s buttocks as they reveled in their sexually charged propulsion. Lindsay’s fingers were tangled in Rejeanne’s damp hair. Both women panted and moaned in their primal delight. Sensing her climax was on the horizon, Rejeanne constricted the muscles inside of her sex in order to hold off her impending orgasm until the right moment. When she felt Lindsay’s body begin to quiver from her own climax, Rejeanne relaxed her muscles and her entire body flushed from a powerfully perfect orgasm.

Lindsay was still shivering as her orgasm pulsated throughout her body. She rested her weight on Rejeanne and brought her lips to Rejeanne’s ear. “I love you so much,” she whispered.

“I love you too, Lin, “Rejeanne replied. “And you know what?”

“What?”

“Nothing beats post-argument make-up sex.”

* * * *

Lindsay was awakened by the bright sunlight coming in through the large hotel windows. She looked first at the small alarm clock on the end table to note the time, 10:24 a.m., before turning her attention to a still sleeping Rejeanne. Not wanting to awaken her exhausted lover, Lindsay peeled herself from their intertwined bodies and padded over to bathroom to take a shower.

Rejeanne finally began stirring as Lindsay was finishing her shower. “Lin!” Rejeanne called out.

“I’m almost done in the shower, dear,” replied the voice from the bathroom.

Rejeanne rose up and wiped the sleep out of her eyes before looking over at the clock. At that moment, the bathroom door opened. “When is check-out?” Rejeanne asked.

“Eleven, I think,” Lindsay responded. “Go look on the door.”

“Well, it’s 10:40 now,” Rejeanne said. “I’d better get my ass in the shower.”

“Don’t worry about it, sweetheart,” Lindsay said. “I think I can afford the late checkout charge.”

“Typical Alastair,” Rejeanne joked. “Always be flauntin’ that somethin’ somethin’.”

Lindsay sat down beside Rejeanne on the bed. “Where do you think we should go from here in our search for the scrolls?” she asked.

Rejeanne thought for a moment. “If Jo’s dream chronicled events that really happened, then there really was a Lady Harry.”

“I’m sure,” Lindsay replied, “But I doubt that ‘Harry’ was her real name.”

“Sure it was,” Rejeanne said. “She was the wife of some Earl of Addington dude. ‘Harry’ was probably her nickname for Harriet or something. All we have to do is an internet search on this Earl of Addington from back in the late 1800s. We find him, we find the wife.”

“Sounds simple enough,” Lindsay said. “How about heading to an internet café after checkout? I’m eager to get on this right away.”

“Works for me.”

It was passed the noon hour before the two women entered an internet café a few blocks from the hotel. Sitting down in front of an unused monitor, Rejeanne logged on to the computer and clicked on the internet explorer icon. “I’ll call up a search engine site and type in Earl of Addington,” she said.

Lindsay sat back in her chair and casually sipped a hot cup of tea while Rejeanne poured through volumes of text on the five-hundred-year-old history of the Earl of Addington peerage. “God, I totally don’t understand this British royalty shit,” she said.

Lindsay chuckled as Rejeanne read the text in a faux English accent. “ When the fifth Earl died, the titles passed to his grandson, the sixth Earl, son of Lord Edmond Hastings, who was also Lord-Lieutenant of Brookshire and Gaunt. He was succeeded by his eldest son, the seventh Earl, who sat as a member of parliament for Brookshire. His son, the eighth Earl, was a courtier and notably served as Master of the Hounds. He had no legitimate male issue and on his death in 1744 the earldom became dormant, blah, blah, pig shit, and blah.”

Lindsay laughed. “It all sounds truly fascinating,” she joked. “Gotta love the English.”

“Whatever,” Rejeanne remarked. “Anyway, the ‘Earl’ that might be the one we need to research further is the fourteenth Earl of the seventh creation, whatever the hell that means, a guy named Sidney Holkeham Hastings. He lived from 1822 to 1871. He’d be about the right age to be married to Lady Harry, if she was about the same age as Maggie. The next Earl in the line was born in 1856. I think he would have been too young. So, I’m going to do a further search on Sidney .”

“Okay,” Lindsay said.

Moments later, Rejeanne clapped her hands in delight. “I found her,” she announced.

“You did?”

“Yup,” Rejeanne began reading, “Dowager Countess Harriet Canton Hastings, 1832 to 1890, widow of Sidney Holkeham Hastings, the fourteenth Earl of Addington, was a philanthropist, essayist and free-spirited adventuress… blah, blah, blah… was affectionately known as ‘Lady Harry’ in her inner circle of friends… blah, blah, blah…”

“Cool,” Lindsay remarked.

“Awesome,” Rejeanne agreed as she continued reading. “Blah, blah… oh, no!”

“What’s wrong?”

“It says that Lady Harry was murdered in Ethiopia in 1890 while in pursuit of the legendary Xena scrolls.”

“Does the site claim that she never found the scrolls?” Lindsay asked.

“It doesn’t say one way or the other, but that’s the implication, it seems,” Rejeanne responded.

“Well, that can’t be right, if Jo’s dream is accurate.”

“But Jo’s dream ended just as the women were about to dig,” Rejeanne said. “Maybe something or someone intercepted them.”

Lindsay sighed. “Well, we know that Maggie lived almost another thirty years after that,” she said. “I have to believe that she managed to get those scrolls somehow.”

“You don’t think that Maggie killed her, do you?” Rejeanne asked.

“My gut tells me no,” Lindsay replied. “If Maggie was anything like Xena, she had her flaws, but she was loyal. Maggie and Harry were working together, and although Maggie was not the charmer, I do believe her heart was in the right place.”

“Well, I don’t think that the Ethiopian woman, Jo’s previous soul, had anything to do with it either,” Rejeanne remarked. “Like Bahri, loyalty is in Jo’s DNA. I have to believe that Alemnesh was very loyal to Harry as well. Someone else had to have betrayed them.” She continued reading. “According to this site, some English guy wrote a book about Lady Harry’s adventures. It was published in 1973.”

“Please tell me that he’s still alive,” Lindsay remarked.

“I’m looking,” Rejeanne replied as she feverishly plowed through the information being provided by the search engine. “Here we go,” she said. “Sir Robert Timothy Malcolm, born in 1931, is a great-great nephew of Lady Harry. He is still alive, and coincidentally, he lives in Birmingham , England …”

“… Where Maggie lived,” Lindsay injected.

“Finally, a person who knows about these people and is still breathing,” Rejeanne remarked. “Do you think that he’ll talk to us?”

“It can’t hurt us to ask.”

* * * *

For Rejeanne, the flight back to Dell Valley was as eventless as the flight to Chicago . Taking a Dramamine with water just before take-off, she quickly drifted into a deep sleep. Lindsay snickered after giving Rejeanne a couple of quick glances while she flew the plane. She is so God-awful adorable , Lindsay thought. She was also grateful that the weather was, for the most part, cooperating with her. She only hit a couple of small pockets of turbulence, not even enough to stir Rejeanne from her slumber.

It was nearing the dinner hour when Lindsay drove her vehicle into her garage at Stone Hills. Rejeanne was looking forward to another relaxing bath in Lindsay’s hot tub, but Lindsay was already anticipating how she would get in contact with Sir Robert. As the two women entered the kitchen, they were immediately approached by Betty Shively.

“Excuse me, Ms. Alasdair, but…”

“Hi, Betty,” Lindsay interrupted. “I’m sorry for not calling to let you know that we were back, but I do have some pressing matters to go over with you…”

Betty injected, “But, ma’am, I think you should know that…”

“Take this,” Lindsay said, cutting off Betty, “I want you to find the best way to contact this individual directly. I don’t want to speak with an attaché or a press secretary. I need to talk with this gentleman, Sir Robert Malcolm personally.”

“I’ll get on it right away, but you really should know…”

At that moment, another interruption came from the library. “LINDSAY!” the powerful male voice shouted.

Lindsay stopped in her tracks. “Who’s that?” Rejeanne asked.

“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you, Lindsay,” Betty spoke up as Lindsay opened the French doors leading into the library. At that moment, she saw something that she hadn’t seen in over twenty years; her parents standing next to each other in the same room.

“What is all of this nonsense about you turning into a raging homosexual?”

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

CASTING OUT ARGUS

Lindsay stood stunned at the sight of her mother and father standing side-by-side in her library.

“What in the hell is going on with you‚ Lindsay‚” Richard Alastair began. “I get this frenetic call from Marty last week. He was hysterical‚ claiming that you broke his jaw…”

Rejeanne looked up at Lindsay astonished.

“… and that you were having some illicit‚ and dare I say‚ unnatural affair with a woman reporter.”

“You broke Martin’s jaw?” Rejeanne asked.

“I was going to tell you about that‚” Lindsay whispered before returning her attention to her parents.

“What on earth are you wearing?” Richard asked‚ referencing Lindsay’s casual attire.

“Good to see you too‚ Dad‚” Lindsay responded sarcastically.

“In the face of this assault on your husband‚ I also hear that you’ve been neglecting your work‚” he continued condescendingly. “You’ve postponed important meetings with investors‚ and I called your secretary. I had to prod‚ but she reluctantly told me that you haven’t remained at the office beyond six-o’clock any day for the past week. So‚ I must assume that you’ve been wasting valuable time that could be spent at the office lounging around here doing God only knows what.”

Lindsay stood emotionless as Richard waived his finger at her as if she were a ten-year-old. “Why do you feel the need to continually disappoint me‚ young lady?”

Lindsay rolled her eyes and shook her head.

“Are you not where you are today because of my guidance and leadership?”

Lindsay folded her arms.

“My every decision since your birth was made so that you could carry on the Alastair name ethically‚ admirably‚ morally and judiciously.”

Lindsay let out a dismissive sigh as she stood quietly and allowed her father to continue in his tirade.

“Oh‚ you think that this is trivial‚ don’t you?” he continued. “Well‚ why you stand there nonchalantly dismissing me‚ with your actions‚ you are likely sending this family‚ our family‚ down a black hole that I doubt we will ever be able to escape. You have desecrated this family and…”

Rejeanne had had enough. “Yo‚ hold it right there!” she exclaimed.

“Who are you?” Richard asked.

“I’m the woman reporter‚” Rejeanne replied.

“I’m not addressing you‚” Richard said.

“Too bad‚ cuz I’m addressing you‚” Rejeanne announced.

Richard attempted to ignore Rejeanne‚ turning his attention back to Lindsay. “How dare you let this‚ this degenerate disrespect…”

“Whoa‚ wait a fucking minute‚” Lindsay’s arms came down‚ ready to pounce her father‚ but Rejeanne grabbed Lindsay’s forearm‚ stopping her.

“How dare you‚” Rejeanne snapped at Richard. “What kind of a father are you? Everything Lindsay has done‚ every degree that she’s earned‚ every million that she’s made‚ she has done in her family name. She sacrificed her own personal happiness for years in order to fulfill her destiny as an Alasdair. Yet‚ instead of recognizing her brilliance‚ her commitment and her sacrifice‚ you stand here in HER house and call her disrespectful.”

“Look‚ you…” Richard attempted to interrupt.

“…No‚ you look‚” Lindsay snapped. “You know‚ my dad… my dad may only have a GED‚ and he has a conviction for drunk driving‚ and he has his share of baby-mamma drama. But you know what? When I was a kid‚ he was at every softball game‚ screaming his lungs out when I hit a double. When I graduated from college‚ he was the proudest guy at my commencement ceremony. And when I came out to him‚ he supported me‚ he encouraged me and he told me that he was proud of my strength and my conviction. That’s the definition of a father‚ far more so than some rich asshole that claims to give everything to his kid‚ but makes that kid pay the price of her so-called good fortune with her own happiness‚ dignity and self-identity.”

“You…” Richard tried again to interject.

“So don’t give us this bullshit about how she is where she is today because of you‚” Rejeanne asserted. “Lindsay is where she is today because of her.”

“Are you done?” Richard asked.

“Almost‚” Rejeanne replied. “You were right about one thing. Lindsay IS the reincarnated Xena the Conqueror.”

Lindsay smiled that “Xena” smile.

“I’m leaving this insane asylum‚ Evelyn‚” Richard addresses his ex-wife. “Call me if you’re able to make any headway with your daughter.”

“Don’t let the door slam your ass on the way out‚” Rejeanne exclaimed to the abruptly departing Richard.

It was only after Richard had exited that Rejeanne fully realized just what had transpired between her and her lover’s father. She warily looked over at Lindsay‚ not knowing what to expect. “I’m sorry about that‚ Lin‚” she said. “He’s your dad and I shouldn’t have…”

Lindsay turned to Rejeanne and placed her hand on Rejeanne’s shoulder. “Do you know how much I truly love you right this minute?” Lindsay responded before returning her attention to her silently stunned mother. “Mom‚ how have you been?” she asked as she closed the space between herself and her mother.

Evelyn threw her arms around her daughter. “I’m good‚ dear‚” she said.

“I know what brought Dad here‚” Lindsay said. “What brings you here?”

“You know your father‚ sweetie‚” Evelyn replied. “He called me after getting the call from Marty. He wanted to fly here that day‚ but I convinced him to wait until I could join him. We both arrived only about two hours ago.” She looked around Lindsay and over at Rejeanne. “Aren’t you going to introduce us?”

“I’m sorry‚ Mom‚” Lindsay said modestly. “Mom‚ this is Rejeanne Piscard. Jeannie‚ this is my Mom‚ Evelyn Summerfield.”

“Nice to meet you‚” Rejeanne said as she extended her hand to Evelyn.

“The pleasure is mine‚” Evelyn replied.

“So‚ Mom‚ what do you have to say about all of this?” Lindsay asked tentatively.

Evelyn glanced at Rejeanne for only a few moments before returning her attention to her daughter. “She’s quite lovely‚” she said‚ “And as you know‚ I never really cared for Marty.”

Lindsay could no longer contain her tears. Evelyn embraced her daughter again and motioned for Rejeanne to join them. “The only thing that I’ve ever wanted was for you to be happy‚” Evelyn said to Lindsay as she hugged both women. “And there’s no doubt in my mind that you’re happy now.”

“Thank you‚ Mom‚” Lindsay said.

Evelyn withdrew from the embrace in order to look into the eyes of her daughter. “I know of your sacrifices‚ darling‚” she said. “Don’t let anyone or anything make you have to sacrifice anymore.” She turned her attention to Rejeanne. “And you‚ young lady‚” she said‚ “I like your spunk.”

“So do I‚ Mom‚” Lindsay agreed.

“Well‚ if it’s all the same to you girls‚ I’d like to call it an evening.”

“Sure‚ Mom‚” Lindsay said. “Will you join us for breakfast in the morning?”

“Absolutely‚” Evelyn replied as she retreated from the library to retire to what was still her old bedroom in the mansion.

* * * *

Lindsay and Rejeanne lay embracing in bed when Lindsay began nibbling on Rejeanne’s neck. After impishly giggling to the tickling feeling of Lindsay’s romantic gestures for a few moments‚ Rejeanne released Lindsay from the embrace. “Do you feel comfortable with doin’ the nasty while your mom is under your roof?” she asked.

“Sure‚” Lindsay replied enthusiastically.

Rejeanne chuckled. “You know‚ I have this picture of Xena’s mom Cyrene in my mind‚ and your mom looks nothing like her‚” she said. “You mom is too tall and blonde.”

“Well‚ that’s interesting‚” Lindsay responded‚ “Because I don’t have any image of Xena’s mother in my mind.”

“Really?” Rejeanne posed astonished. “That’s weird.”

Lindsay reflected. “Yeah‚ it is.”

“What about Gabrielle’s parents?” Rejeanne inquired. “Do you have any image of them‚ because I don’t?”

“Wow!” Lindsay exclaimed as she leaned up. “You don’t? Because I do have this image of Gabrielle’s parents. Her mom‚ I believe that her name was Hecuba‚ was short like Gabrielle‚ but somewhat heavier‚ and she too had blond hair and green eyes. Gabrielle’s father‚ Herodotus‚ was of average height and weight. His hair was brown‚ but graying. That’s the extent of my image of him.”

Rejeanne leaned up. “This is truly strange‚” she said‚ “because I have no doubt that you’re correct. But my parents don’t remotely fit that description.”

“Really‚” Lindsay rose. “What do your folks look like?”

“My mother is actually taller than me‚” Rejeanne said. “She’s five-feet-seven-inches tall‚ thin‚ and has ash blonde hair and blue eyes. My dad is a short‚ stocky‚ freckle-face‚ bearded flaming redhead. He looks like a leprechaun.”

Lindsay chuckled. “And what did Xena’s mom look like?”

“She was a shorter and older version of Xena‚” Rejeanne answered. “Brunette hair‚ blue eyes and quite buxom.”

“I guess you wouldn’t know what Xena’s father looked like.”

“I don’t think that Gabrielle ever met the man.”

Lindsay sighed. “So‚ do you have any other images of people from Xena and Gabrielle’s life?”

“Other than Bahri and Callisto?” Rejeanne asked.

“Yeah.”

Rejeanne thought. “Not right now‚” she said. “But I suspect that could change. How about you?”

“I can’t even remember what Palaemon looks like anymore‚” Lindsay responded. “But like you‚ I’m not convinced that Bahri and Callisto are the only two souls that are intertwined with ours.”

* * * *

Rejeanne thoroughly enjoyed breakfast with Lindsay and her mother. Sitting quietly through most of it‚ she was able to observe their mother-daughter dynamic. It was obvious to her that Lindsay had a great deal of love and admiration for her mother. Always in the back of Rejeanne’s mind‚ however‚ was the reality that Evelyn bore no resemblance to the mother of Xena the Conqueror. She began to wonder if so many of the questions that have been filling her mind would ever be answered.

“So‚” Rejeanne finally spoke up‚ “just how did you break Marty’s jaw?”

Lindsay folded her arms and smiled smugly at Rejeanne. “A good pivot jab did the trick‚” she replied.

“That’s kind of scary‚” Rejeanne remarked with genuine trepidation‚ which caused Lindsay to immediately unfold her arms and sigh humbly.

“I’m so sorry‚” Lindsay said to both Rejeanne and Evelyn. “I didn’t mean to gloat. Marty was saying some pretty mean things about Rejeanne that angered me greatly. I guess the combination of that and all of the years of putting up with the deception of our marriage came to a boiling point. I had had enough.”

“I don’t condone violence‚ Lindsay‚” Evelyn remarked‚ “but Marty had it coming.”

Lindsay returned her attention to Rejeanne. “What are you thinking?” she asked with reticence‚ concerned that Rejeanne would begin to fear the chi of Xena within her.

“I’m thinking it’s a good thing I have backup‚” she responded with a puckish smile.

Evelyn smiled as well. “I told you‚ dear‚” she said to Lindsay‚ “this girl has spunk.”

Lindsay dropped Rejeanne off at the newspaper headquarters before heading to her office. Her secretary Leigh immediately apologized for whatever ammunition Richard gleaned from her that he may have tried to use against Lindsay. Lindsay reassured her secretary that she was not upset. As far as Lindsay was concerned‚ the episode with her father was history. Her parents knew about her love for Rejeanne. It was not the way she would have staged her coming out‚ but she was greatly relieved that it was done and behind her. Sitting at her desk‚ she began to listen to and note the backlog of voicemail messages on her office phone. She then turned her attention to her cell phone and noticed that there was a missed message on it as well. Calling her voicemail‚ she listened to the message from her cousin Keith;

Hey girlfriend. I just got off the phone with my mom who just got off the phone with your mom. Heads up‚ cuz. Big Dickster is on the warpath apparently. He’s screaming bloody murder about you being a let’s-be-friend. So‚ is it true? Are you a member of the choir? Of course‚ I’m not surprised. I suspected since your fencing days at Dartmouth. You took way too much pleasure in poking and prodding those other girls in their slick little white fencing tights. And let’s face it‚ Sister. Marty’s enough to make me wanna consider fishing for oysters. Anyhoo… you call me and give me the full dish. And try not to deck your daddy. Oh‚ and I cannot wait to meet your reporter. I bet she’s a real pearl. Love you lots! Bye.

Lindsay chuckled briefly at the message before contemplating the day before her. She had several projects that needed her attention and two important meetings scheduled for that day. But before embarking on any of it‚ she called Betty at the house to inquire about her efforts to get the contact information on Sir Malcolm. She preferred to have Betty make the inquiries as opposed to Leigh or someone connected with any of the Alasdair businesses because she never believed in forcing her corporate subordinates to do her personal bidding. One of Betty’s many roles was to manage Lindsay’s personal affairs‚ from overseeing the keeping of the grounds surrounding Stone Hills to stocking the kitchen shelves with Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes‚ Lindsay’s favorite breakfast cereal.

“Did you make any headway in connecting with this Sir Malcolm?” Lindsay asked Betty.

“Not yet‚” Betty replied. “I’ve talked to about fifteen people so far‚ but I did learn that he doesn’t live in Birmingham anymore. He retired to his family estate just outside of the village of Leominster in Herefordshire County. He also owns a small apple cider mill adjacent to the estate. This last individual I spoke with advised that I could possibly connect with him through one of the fellows on the county council. That was my next call.”

“Thanks‚ Betty‚” Lindsay said. “Let me know when you’ve successfully obtained Sir Malcolm’s contact information.”

Moments after ending her conversation with Betty‚ Lindsay’s cell phone rang. The caller ID indicated that it was Rejeanne.

“Hey‚” Lindsay said.

“Can you talk for a minute?” Rejeanne whispered into her phone receiver.

“Sure‚” Lindsay responded. “What’s wrong?”

“I just left my managing editor’s office‚” Rejeanne began. “Martin’s apparently been flapping his gums to the press‚ because my boss just spent the last half hour grilling me about my relationship with you.”

Lindsay immediately felt a burning sensation in her stomach. “What did your editor want?”

“He said that he had received voicemail messages and emails from some news sources inquiring about the quote‚ ‘million-heiress Lindsay Alasdair and her alleged lesbian dalliance with a beat reporter at the Gazette.’ He said that an unnamed source had tipped off at least three regional dailies‚ including the Sun Times that‚ in their words‚ ‘the two were spotted at an upscale Chicago hotel lobby engaging in some titillating PDA‚’ which is bullshit because I don’t recall us doing any PDAing in the Fairmont lobby.”

Lindsay thought for a moment. “Martin blabbed to my dad‚ yes‚” she said. “But I doubt it was him who went to the press. It’s not his style. Anyway‚ he had no way of knowing where or what we did in Chicago.”

“Well‚ it wasn’t any of my friends‚” Rejeanne assured. “I don’t think that I told anyone where we were staying anyway. Do you think that your Bobby Bakala-looking driver sold a story to the press?”

“Who is Bobby Bakala?” Lindsay asked.

“He’s a character on The Sopranos‚” Rejeanne replied. “Don’t you watch The Sopranos?”

“No‚ not really‚” Lindsay said‚ “And no‚ my driver’s not the source.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“Trust me‚” Lindsay said. “It wasn’t him.”

“But really‚ how can you be so sure?” Rejeanne repeated. “I saw you whisper to him and give him that hundred. Were you buying his silence?”

Lindsay took in a deep breath. “I know it wasn’t him because he’s Keith’s ex-boyfriend‚ Jeannie.” Lindsay said. “I’ve known GC since I was in undergrad. He used to bounce at a mob-run gambling house in Brooklyn. Keith introduced us over coffee twelve or so years ago. About a month later‚ the Feds raided the gambling house. Keith begged me to help GC. I had one of our criminal lawyers on retainer take his case. The lawyer got him a deal and then I got him his job with the security detail in our corporate office in Chicago. He’s totally ecstatic about our relationship and the prospect of me being gay. He only drives for me as a side gig. The money was payment for his time.”

“What did you whisper to him?”

Lindsay was grateful that Rejeanne could not see her face blush. “If you must know‚ after that argument you and I were having‚ I told him that I was looking forward to our make-up sex.”

Rejeanne laughed. “Like I said‚ nothing beats good make-up sex.”

Lindsay laughed as well. “I miss you‚” she said.

“I miss you too‚” Rejeanne replied before returning to the issue at hand. “But what about this press thing?”

“How much detail did these emails and voicemails give your editor?” Lindsay asked.

“Not much‚ from what I gathered‚ because he was grilling me for confirmation and details. I told him that we had befriended each other after my interview of you‚ and that you had asked me to accompany you on a research project. That was all. I haven’t discussed my relationship to you with anyone at the paper except my friend Tyler‚ and he only knows because he figured it out on his own. If he was going to blab‚ he would have done so weeks ago. I haven’t given him any details of our love life and he doesn’t even know about our second Chicago trip‚ although I have to admit that he knows about the first one.”

“Are you under pressure from your paper to confirm our relationship?” Lindsay asked.

“I’m totally out at work‚” Rejeanne replied. “And everyone’s totally cool about it. My managing editor’s only beef is that if there’s going to be a news story about one of his staff‚ he wants his paper to be the first to print it. He doesn’t want our paper to become a cheesy headline for competitors. Does that make sense?”

“Total sense.”

“What do you want me to do‚ Lindsay?” Rejeanne asked.

“What do you want to do?”

“I want to tell our story‚” Rejeanne replied. “But on our own terms‚ and not mention anything about our search for the scrolls. If we find them… then THAT will be a story.”

“Well‚ you’re the reporter‚” Lindsay said. “What’s the best way to tell our story on our own terms?”

Rejeanne thought‚ but for only a moment. “I could write an op-ed piece that would diffuse the rumors. And then‚ we could both give an interview for a widely circulated legitimate gay publication like The Advocate. If you’re on board with that‚ I’ll go tell my editor right now.”

“You’re the journalist‚” Lindsay said. “I will defer to your expertise.”

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

SEIZING THE BARD

It was nearly five o’clock in the evening before Lindsay received a much-anticipated phone call from Betty Shively.

“Please tell me that you’ve located him,” Lindsay said to her loyal employee.

“I spoke with his assistant for quite some time,” Betty replied.

“And?”

“He refused to let me speak directly with Sir Malcolm,” Betty continued, “But indicated that you were free to contact him. His name is Paul.”

Betty provided Lindsay with Paul’s contact information. Before placing the call, Lindsay called Rejeanne. “Hey Jeannie,” she started. “I have the contact info for Sir Malcolm’s assistant. Do you want me to wait until we’re together before I call him?”

“Naw, go ahead, babe,” Rejeanne replied. “ Tyler ‘s willing to give me a ride to my place after work if you can pick me up there.”

“Will do,” Lindsay said. She was curious to learn how Rejeanne decided to deal with her employer and the situation regarding the rumor of their affair, but decided that she could address Rejeanne about that when they reunited. Right after ending her call with Rejeanne, Lindsay dialed the number provided by Betty. There were only two rings before a voice appeared on the other line.

“Greetings, this is Paul,” said the voice with an aristocratic British accent.

“Hello, sir,” Lindsay responded. “This is Lindsay Alastair. I believe that you’ve spoken with my estate manager, Betty Shively.”

“I have,” Paul said.

“I apologize in advance for calling you so late in the evening,” Lindsay stated. “I appreciate the fact that it’s nearly ten o’clock in the evening your time.”

“I won’t be retiring for at least another hour,” Paul said. “But even after my conversation with Mrs. Shively, I still do not understand the nature of your call.”

“I’m very interested in speaking with your employer, Sir Robert Timothy Malcolm,” Lindsay replied.

“My employer is very familiar with the diversified Alastair Group,” Paul began. “He has acquaintances who have invested in your family’s infrastructure commodities as well as your real estate ventures. But I’m sorry to say that Sir Malcolm has no interest in investing with your firm at this time.”

“Sir, I’m not trying to reach Sir Malcolm for business reasons,” Lindsay said. “This is personal.”

“I beg your pardon?” Paul inquired.

“Sir Malcolm wrote a book thirty years ago about his great-aunt, Lady Harriet Hastings,” Lindsay said. “I’m interested in talking to him about that.”

“What is your interest in Sir Malcolm’s book?” Paul asked.

“If you don’t mind,” Lindsay said. “I’d really like to speak directly to him.”

“I will relay the message, Miss Alastair,” Paul stated rather curtly.

“Please,” Lindsay said. “Thank you.”

* * * *

Rejeanne opened her front door to see a smiling Lindsay holding a bouquet of red roses and a bottle of ’99 Clos Du Bois Alexander Valley Reserve.

“Lindsay!” Rejeanne exclaimed. “You look like you’ve won the lotto.”

“I have, my love, I have.”

Rejeanne invited Lindsay in and helped her remove her coat. The two women then strolled over to the kitchen where Rejeanne opened the bottle of wine and poured two glasses. “What happened?” she asked Lindsay.

Both women sat at the kitchen table and Rejeanne began sipping the very expensive wine while Lindsay chronicled her day.

“So,” she began, “I get a call from this Paul guy, Sir Malcolm’s assistant or secretary or whatever.”

“Uh-huh,” Rejeanne chimed in.

“And he was rather rude saying that he’d relay my message to Malcolm,” Lindsay continued. “I was totally expecting not to ever hear from Malcolm or this nimrod assistant again, but then ten minutes later, Betty calls me and tells me that Sir Malcolm himself is on the house phone. He provides Betty with his direct line and she gives it to me to call him.”

“So you do,” Rejeanne assumes.

“You betcha I do,” Lindsay says, “and the very first thing out of his mouth is… and I quote… ‘Is that a recent photograph of you on your company’s website?’ I tell him, ‘yeah,’ and then there was this pause.”

“Pause?” Rejeanne asked.

“Yes,” Lindsay responded. “This long silent pause on the other end of the line, so I finally said, ‘I look just like her, don’t I?’”

Rejeanne beamed. “You were talking about Maggie Needham!” She exclaimed.

“Yes,” Lindsay said. “And so he asked me if there was any relation, and I told him that as far as I knew, there was not family relation, but that my connection goes much deeper than mere ancestry or biology.”

“Wow,” Rejeanne said.

“And the craziest thing, Jeannie,” Lindsay continued, “neither one of us ever mentioned Maggie’s name.”

“No way!” Rejeanne exclaimed as she took another swig of the wine.

“Way,” Lindsay said. “But,” she continued as she raised her right index finger, “I then asked him if he had a picture of Bronwyn Forbes in his possession.”

“What did he say?”

“He asked me, ‘why?’ and I responded that I’ll answer that when we meet.”

Lindsay smiled at Rejeanne and took her hand. “Do you have a passport, by chance?”

“Are we going to England , my love?” Rejeanne responded.

“Only if you have a passport.”

“I have a passport.”

“Well, then, we’re going to England .”

* * * *

Rejeanne was frantically looking through her bedroom file cabinet for her passport as Lindsay called her travel agent to secure round-trip tickets and hotel reservations.

“I can’t find my fucking passport,” Rejeanne blurted.

“Don’t panic, Jeannie,” said Lindsay. “When was the last time you needed it?”

“Last year,” Jeannie replied. “When I went to visit my brother Devin at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany .”

“Okay, and what was the first thing you did when you got home from your trip?” Lindsay asked.

“Smoked some weed with my dad and my other brother Haley.”

Lindsay smirked.

“Oh that’s right!” Rejeanne exclaimed.  “I left it at my dad’s.  After that last oversees
trip, I decided to leave it there since I figured that for any future trips, I would probably be flying out of Milwaukee anyway.”

“So, we’ll have to stop at your dad’s to get it.”

“Yeah, but then you can meet him, Lin.”

“I thought that he drives you crazy,” Lindsay remarked.

“He does at times,” Rejeanne responded.  “But he can be a real sweetheart when he wants to be, and his girlfriend Taz makes the best banana bread.”

Lindsay’s travel agent was able to book a flight out of Milwaukee ‘s Mitchell airport to JFK, where they would then board a connecting flight to Heathrow .  However, the flight out of Mitchell was at 6:20 in the morning.  With the newly heightened security at airports since 9/11, the women would need to check in two hours before flight.  Lindsay had no desire to drive from Dell Valley at three in the morning.  In addition, Rejeanne needed to retrieve her passport from her father.  Thus, both women decided to pack and drive down to Milwaukee that evening.  Rejeanne called her editor at his home to tell him that she needed to be away from the office for a few days.  He was initially upset with Rejeanne for her hastened announcement.  But when she told him the reason, describing it as embarking on an investigation with Lindsay Alastair to locate an important ancient artifact, the sheer delight in his voice was not lost on Rejeanne.  To further pacify him, she also indicated that she would email him a rough draft of her op-ed piece on her relationship with Lindsay for him to review.

The drive from Dell Valley to Rejeanne’s father’s home in suburban Milwaukee would take one hour and 45 minutes.  Once on the road, the women began debating about their sleeping arrangement for the evening.

“So, I had my travel agent booked a room at one of the hotels at the airport for tonight,” Lindsay started.

“Why?” Rejeanne asked.

“Why not?”  Lindsay retorted.  “What would you have us do?”

“Crash at my dad’s,” Rejeanne responded.  “That would be far more convenient than staying at a hotel.”

“How do you figure?” inquired Lindsay.  “When we’re in a room at the hotel airport, we’re right there.  We can have the airport concierge give us a wake-up call, drive to long-term parking and catch a shuttle to the terminal.”

“Why spend all that money and be bothered with the hassles of checkout, parking and shuttles?” Rejeanne asked.  “Dad lives ten minutes from the airport.  He can drive us right up to the terminal in his car.  He’ll gladly let you park the Hummer in his garage for free while we’re gone and he can pick us up from the airport when we get back.”

“Do you think that your father will be willing to get up at zero-dark-thirty to take us to the airport?”

“Sure, why not?”

“I don’t know, Jeannie,” Lindsay said.

“What don’t you know,” Rejeanne responded, feeling somewhat offended.  “Is my dad’s place not good enough for you?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Lindsay responded.  “That never entered my mind.”

“Then, what’s the problem?”

“He’s your father, Jeannie,” Lindsay said.  “I mean, what is he going to think about you showing up at his place to crash for a few short hours with me, this uptight thirty-something member of the bourgeoisie ?”

“Trust me, Lin,” Rejeanne responded.  “He’d be more offended if we just showed up long enough for me to get my passport.”

Lindsay sighed.  “Don’t worry, Lin,” Rejeanne continued.  “Dad is a neat-nick and keeps a very tidy home.  If it weren’t for the parade of women he’s had in his life, I’d swear he was gay.”

“I’m not concerned about that,” Lindsay said.  “Do you think he’ll like me?”

“Dad likes everyone.  That’s part of his problem.  He’s actually too non-confrontational.  Combine that with the high-maintenance women in his life and you have a recipe for d-r-a-m-a.”

Lindsay chuckled.  “Sounds like he’s the antithesis of my dad.”

“Having met you dad, I’d have to agree.”

As the evening drive went on, it began to have a southing effect on Rejeanne. She began drifting in and out of sleep until slumber finally claimed her at about an hour into the drive. Lindsay was cocking her head back and forth to the beat of classic Fleetwood Mac when she casually looked over and noticed her snoozing lover. Lindsay could do nothing but smile. The events that had transpired in the last few weeks continued to amaze her. Never in her wildest dreams did she ever picture her destiny being tied to both a beautiful young newspaper reporter and a long dead tyrannical despot. Yet here she was, driving down a dark highway, watching speeding snowflakes fly toward and then dodge her windshield as she prepared to embark on a course that could potentially answer the centuries-long question of what really happened to the both infamous and mesmerizing Xena the Conqueror.

Lindsay allowed for Rejeanne to sleep until reaching the northern outer edge of suburban Milwaukee . Having been convinced that staying at Rejeanne’s father’s home was the better option, Lindsay now needed her lover to navigate her to the home Augustin Piscard.

“Honey, wake up,” Lindsay whispered as she lightly nudged Rejeanne’s shoulder. Rejeanne did not budge. “Wakey-wakey,” Lindsay said a little louder. There was still no movement from the slumbering reporter. Lindsay grinned devilishly. “Get up!” she shouted.

Rejeanne jolted up. “What the fuck!” she exclaimed.

“We’re coming into Milwaukee , sweetheart,” Lindsay said. “And I don’t know where to go.”

“Well, you didn’t have to yell, Lin,” Rejeanne said as she rubbed her eyes.

“I tried to gently wake you, dear, but you wouldn’t move.”

Rejeanne looked over at her lover who was still sporting the devilish grin. “Yeah, right,” she smirked before returning her attention to the road. “When you reach the I-43, hit the westbound ramp.” Rejeanne directed.

“Okay.”

“And then get off at the first exit on the 43.”

“Okay.”

“That’s Highway 45. You’re going to head south on 108 th street toward Hales Corners. I’ll tell you when to turn.”

A few minutes later, the sleek Hummer was rolling down a snow-blanketed village neighborhood. “That’s my dad’s place over there on the right,” Rejeanne said as Lindsay prepared to pull up into the driveway of the lovely red brick cottage home. “This looks really nice, Jeannie,” Lindsay said.

“Uh huh,” Rejeanne replied. “You were expecting some broken-down white-trash double-wide trailer with a couch on the porch, weren’t you?”

“No, I wasn’t,” Lindsay said defiantly, “But I have to admit, because your dad is a mechanic, I was expecting something a little more modest.”

“It’s modest, Lin,” Rejeanne remarked. “But it’s tastefully modest.”

Rejeanne directed Lindsay to pull her vehicle in front of one of the garage doors of the two-stall garage. She then exited the vehicle and went into the garage from its side door to open the garage door from the inside. “Pull in,” she instructed to Lindsay, who drove in and parked alongside a blue 2002 Subaru Forester. Both women then pulled their luggage out of the Hummer and exited the garage. Lindsay followed Rejeanne as she walked up to the side door of the home and put a key in the lock. “Dad, I’m here!” she announced as she walked in. The two made their way to Augustin’s family room, where he was lounging on a coffee-colored leather recliner.

“Hey Dad,” Rejeanne said as her father stood up to greet the two women before him.

“Hey Pea,” Augustin replied. “How was the drive?”

“Fine for me,” Rejeanne said. “I slept through most of it; Lin did all of the driving.” Rejeanne then turned to her lover. “Dad, this is my girlfriend Lindsay Alastair. Lindsay, this is my dad, Augustin Piscard.”

“Pleasure to finally meet you, Mr. Piscard,” Lindsay said as she extended her hand.

The shorter, somewhat stocky redhead extended his arms and wrapped them around Lindsay, momentarily startling her. “What’s this ‘Mr. Piscard’ crap,” he said as he released Lindsay from the embrace. “Call me Gus.”

Lindsay smiled. “Pleasure to meet you, Gus,” she said.

“Likewise,” Augustin replied. “Pea’s told me a lot about you. Are you girls hungry?”

“Please tell me that Taz baked some banana bread,” Rejeanne chimed in.

“Only for you, dear, would she bake anything on short notice,” Augustin said. “It’s in the fridge.”

Rejeanne pumped her fists with glee. “Hell-to-the-yeah!” she exclaimed as she dropped her bags and headed for the kitchen.

Lindsay chucked at her lover before returning her attention to Augustin. “Rejeanne loves to eat,” she remarked.

“Oh yes she does,” Augustin replied. “If she didn’t have all that energy she seems to pack, she’d weigh 300 pounds.” Both chuckled. “Please, have a seat. You must be tired from the long drive.”

Lindsay placed her bags on the floor and took a seat on the matching recliner next to where Augustin had been sitting. He then returned to his chair as Rejeanne emerged with two cans of diet cola and a plate of sliced banana bread that she was carrying on an ottoman tray. She set the plate down on the large rectangular leather ottoman in front of the two recliners and then handed to Lindsay one of the two sodas. Lindsay took a swig and set the can on a coaster that rested on a beautiful walnut end table that was positioned between the two recliners.

Rejeanne passed a slice of banana bread to Lindsay. “You’ve got to have a piece, Lin,” she said. “I spread a little bit of butter on it and then popped in the nuker for 10 seconds. It’s to die for.”

Lindsay took a bite. “This is good,” she proclaimed before turning her attention to Augustin. “So Mr. Piscard… I mean Gus… you don’t mind taking us to the airport so early in the morning?”

“Not at all,” Augustin replied. “I’m an early riser, and besides, by the time I get back from the airport, Taz should be pretty close to strolling in from work. You two just missed her, actually. She left about a half-hour ago.”

“Taz works the split shift at Rockwell Automation,” Rejeanne chimed in. “Dad and Taz have known each other for, what, twenty years or so?”

“That’s right,” Augustin said. “I’m sure that Pea has told you about my rather quirky marital history.”

“Not really,” Lindsay said. “She’s only told me that you’ve been married multiple times.”

“Yes, I’m embarrassed to admit,” Augustin said. “I met Taz when my marriage to my second wife Sokanon was breaking down. I wanted to marry Taz then, but she was in a relationship and, besides, there was the race factor. It was the early ‘80s after all.”

Lindsay cocked her head slightly, bemused. “Taz is African-American,” Rejeanne explained. “Actually, my mom is, technically, the first and last white woman that Dad married. Sokanon Lenoir, Devin and Haley’s mom, is three-quarters Menominee. Chelsea ‘s mom, Rosa Sanchez, is Dominican and his last wife, Lu Nguyen is Vietnamese. Chase’s mom is white, though. Right Dad?”

Augustin nodded. “Rosa and I had been married for ten years when I met my youngest son’s mother,” he said. “I never meant for things to culminate between her and me, but, you know, I was pushing forty and Glynn was 22 and I guess that I needed to feel, you know, like that young buck that Rejeanne’s mom married. Rosa divorced me when she found out that Glynn was pregnant. I wanted to do the right thing, but Glynn’s family wouldn’t have it, and, well, I started dating Lu instead.”

“Glynn is only two years older than me,” Rejeanne remarked. “Her folks were not happy when she got knocked up by my old fart dad.”

“Thanks, Pea,” Augustin slithered sarcastically.

“You’re very welcome,” Rejeanne returned. “And Lu, by the way, is only in her mid thirties. You and Lu were only married for a year, right Dad?”

“No, two years,” Augustin corrected. “But we had dated for almost three years before I popped the question.”

“When did you divorce your last wife?” Lindsay chimed in.

Rejeanne smirked while Augustin lowered his head embarrassingly. “Dad’s divorce was finalized just before I met you, Lin,” Rejeanne responded. “But hey,” she continued, “Taz has two grown kids, is Dad’s age, very grounded, and won’t stand for any drama. She’s exactly what he needs in his life.”

“Taz is an unusual name,” Lindsay remarked.

“It’s a nickname,” Rejeanne said. “It’s short for Tasmanian Devil, because you do not want to piss her off.”

Lindsay chuckled. Rejeanne continued, “Her real name is Barbara Hines.”

* * * *

Lindsay and Rejeanne were walking down the short hallway to Rejeanne’s bedroom to retire for the four or so hours that they would have to sleep, when Lindsay thought of something.

“Hey Jeannie,” she started as she paused in the middle of the hallway. “Does the name Claudius Aulus Tacitus mean anything to you?”

Rejeanne looked down, pondering. “Wait a minute,” she mused. “Wasn’t he that friend of Xena’s who had the seven or so wives?”

Lindsay giggled. “Yeah,” she said. “I’m picturing a short, plump, happy-go-lucky guy with a bad comb-over and a dirty toga.”

Rejeanne looked up at Lindsay. “Ah, come on, Lin,” she protested. “My dad has a full head of hair and is as neat as a freshly minted penny. Besides, didn’t Tacitus keep a bunch of ferrets as pets?”

Lindsay was still giggling. “He did,” she said.

“My dad doesn’t even own a hamster.”

“But you’ve got to admit, the multiple multicultural wives is spot-on.”

Rejeanne could not help but to join in on Lindsay’s laughter as the two women reach her bedroom door. Opening it, she announced, “Here it is.”

Lindsay stepped into the room and immediately felt like she was struck by lightning. She dropped her luggage.

“What’s the matter?” Rejeanne asked as she took the shaking hand of her lover.

Lindsay could only stare in disbelief. “I’ve been in this room before,” she whispered.

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

DISSECTING ANAMNESIS

Note:  Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) was a famed American painter. Paul Cézanne (1839 –1906) was a famed 19 th Century French Post-Impressionist painter. Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841 – 1919) was a French artist who led in the development of the Impressionist style. All other characters are mine.

Rejeanne was dumbfounded by what Lindsay had just revealed to her. “That’s impossible,” she said. “There’s no way that you could have been here before.”

Lindsay stood still as Rejeanne continued. “My dad is only the second owner of this house. He bought it back in ’87 after he and Rosa got married. The first owner’s wife used this room for sewing. Since Dad’s owned this house, this has always been my bedroom. When Mom and I moved back to Wisconsin from Detroit , I would come here and spend at least two weekends out of the month until I graduated from high school.”

Lindsay remained still by the door to the bedroom as Rejeanne began removing her clothing. “ Chelsea ‘s room is at the other end of the hallway.” Rejeanne continued. “She’s sixteen and comes here on weekends. Devin and Haley never lived here. When Sokanon dumped Dad, she took the boys back up north to Keshena so that they could grow up on the reservation. When he graduated from high school, Devin returned to Milwaukee . He used to crash in the basement here sometimes before joining the service. Haley’s back down here too. He also crashes here from time-to-time, but always in the basement. The house was built in 1954 or ’55 or sometime around then, but definitely much later than when any of our previous ‘lives’ were around.”

Lindsay chuckled as she sat down at the foot of the bed. “Yeah, you’re right,” she conceded. “But this room seems awful familiar to me.”

“Do you like it?” Rejeanne asked as she began putting on her pajamas.

“Yes, it’s nice,” Lindsay responded. “It’s you.” She dragged her suitcase over to her and opened it. She rummaged through it to retrieve her pajamas.

“When I was in high school, I was a big Kurt Cobain fan,” Rejeanne said. “I had this huge poster of him right here,” she indicated to a wall where a large painting hung. “But when I officially came out, I replaced Kurt with this Georgia O’Keeffe print. Fitting don’t you think? Displaying a work of art from a Wisconsin-born daughter of a dairy farmer who painted inanimate objects to look like a woman’s vagina.”

“It’s nice. It’s you,” Lindsay repeated.

Rejeanne began lighting candles. “I love this room,” she continued. “ Rosa had Dad paint it pink when they moved in, but when I started coming here, I protested. Dad repainted it this earthy slate green color. He found my dresser at an estate sale. It’s a walnut marble-top dresser that was built back in the 1910s. Isn’t it beautiful?”

“Very,” Lindsay agreed.

“This room has the perfect lighting in the late winter and spring,” Rejeanne continued. “I love to wake up in here to the feel of the sun caressing my face.”

Lindsay sighed. “You are so beautiful, Rejeanne,” she said.

“So are you, darling,” Rejeanne replied.

Lindsay grabbed her toiletries bag out of her suitcase and headed for the bathroom to brush her teeth. She was impressed with the layout and styling of Augustin’s home. Rejeanne was correct. For a middle-aged heterosexual mechanic, Augustin’s house was tastefully contemporary in its furnishings, carpeting, window dressing and accents. In every room that she saw, the walls were painted in soft earth tones. There were no gaudy velvet Elvis portraits or deer heads mounted on the walls. Instead, the walls were decorated with tastefully-framed reproductions, including a Cézanne and a Renoir, as well as darling portrait-sized photos of his children. Lindsay mused as she surmised that Augustin’s taste had to have been greatly influenced by the women in his life.

When she returned to Rejeanne’s room, the smaller woman had dimmed the lights and pulled the thick comforter down from the bed. “Hop in and get comfy,” she said to Lindsay before dashing off to the bathroom to brush her teeth. As Lindsay lay down on the queen-sized bed, she once again began feeling that sense of déjà vu. Rejeanne returned moments later and hit the play button on her portable CD player. “I put together this mix that includes R. Kelly, Aaliyah, Brian McKnight, Anita Baker, and of course, Barry White,” she said as she lay down next to Lindsay.

“Are you trying to get me in the mood?” Lindsay asked.

“Do I need to try?” Rejeanne asked. “Because I don’t know about you, but I’ve been in the mood since you showed up at my place with the wine and roses.”

“Yeah, I’m pretty horny right now,” Lindsay confessed. “R. Kelly isn’t helping any.”

“I don’t see nothin’ wrong with a little bump and grind,” Rejeanne sang along with the music as she turned over and pressed her body against the side of Lindsay. She wrapped her arm around Lindsay’s waist and started kissing her neck. “I wanna fuck you,” she whispered seductively.

Lindsay could feel the saturation on her labia. “What about your dad?” she whispered back. “He’s not going to hear us, is he?”

“No. His room’s upstairs, if he’s even up there. He’s probably crashed out in the family room.”

Lindsay began unbuttoning her pajama shirt. “Let me do that,” Rejeanne demanded as she playfully swatted Lindsay’s hands away. Lindsay, in turn, wasted no time in placing her right hand down under Rejeanne’s pajama pants and eagerly stroking her clit. With Lindsay’s top opened, Rejeanne began to suckle her lover’s erect nipples while running her left hand down Lindsay’s body to her enthusiastically awaiting clit. Both women began to sweat profusely at their determined lovemaking.

“You need to lose these pajamas,” Rejeanne insisted.

“So do you,” Lindsay returned as both women hurriedly removed their pajamas and resumed their passionate sex. Now on top of Lindsay, Rejeanne was both fervently fingering Lindsay as well as thrusting her with her thigh. Lindsay inserted two fingers into Rejeanne while she vigorously dug her teeth into Rejeanne’s neck, intermittently sucking and biting. When Rejeanne let out a low moan, Lindsay stopped. Rejeanne then resumed sucking Lindsay’s breasts. The powerful sexual thrusting between the two continued unabated. Lindsay noticed that their lovemaking was so forceful that it caused Rejeanne’s bed to creak to the rhythmic movement of their bodies. The combination of the sound of the creaking bed and their slapping bodies aroused Lindsay immensely. At one point she opened her eyes and looked around the room to notice that there were several lit tea-lites and candles, as well as a small lava lamp, illuminating the room. She looked over at the two most prominent hangings on the wall; the Georgia O’Keefe print and a framed poster of Melissa Etheridge. She then noticed the CD player. R Kelly’s “Your Body’s Callin’” was now playing. Just then, Rejeanne stopped suckling Lindsay’s nipples and then brought her lips to Lindsay’s. Her tongue bathed Lindsay’s for a few moments. She then began whispering the lyrics to the song in Lindsay’s ear as it was playing, “My body’s callin’ for you, Lin.”

Lindsay’s entire body began to quiver turbulently at the feel of Rejeanne’s lips on her ear and Rejeanne’s pulsating sex surrounding her fingers. Her eyes still open, Lindsay removed her fingers from inside of Rejeanne, licked them, and then she grabbed the creamy backs of Rejeanne’s upper thighs. A deeply throaty moan escaped Lindsay as she felt heat, moisture and passion. Rejeanne is so fucking incredible, she thought.

“Oh God, oh God,” Rejeanne moaned into Lindsay’s ear. “You feel so fucking incredible.”

Lindsay sighed at their simultaneous thought before remarking, “We’re not… going to get… any sleep… you know,” in between her pants of sensual delight.

“Who the fuck cares,” Rejeanne whispered. “We can sleep… on the fucking flight… to London .”

Rejeanne then resumed kissing Lindsay. After a few minutes, the two broke the kiss as Rejeanne ran her tongue across Lindsay’s before looking at her. “I can’t get enough of you,” Rejeanne softly said.

“Your eyes are so very beautiful,” Lindsay said as a shock wave began coursing up from her clit. “They’re the color of the sea.”

Rejeanne’s groin area began tingling ferociously. “Ooh… Ooh… I’m cumming, Warrior Princess,” she announced. “I’m cumming.”

At that moment, powerful orgasms hit both women. The might and velocity of the propulsions lasted for many moments. Once the exuberant climax passed, Rejeanne collapsed next to Lindsay, turned to her and saw a single tear streaming down her face. “What’s wrong, baby?” Rejeanne asked, very concerned, as she turned to her lover and began stroking her face.

“I have been in this room before, Rejeanne,” Lindsay said. “I dreamt of this room, this night, just as it happened, months before I even met you.”

“Wow. Really?” Rejeanne asked.

“Yes, even down to the music and the candles,” Lindsay replied.

“Oh baby,” Rejeanne said as she gently brushed away a tear. “Is that a bad thing?”

“Not at all.”

“Then why the tears?” Rejeanne asked.

“It’s the intensity of it all, I guess,” Lindsay said. “When I dreamt this, I wasn’t me in the dream. It was like I was Xena, and she was dreaming about you and me making love.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I believe that Xena dreamt about us, Jeannie,” Lindsay explained. “She dreamt about this place, this time, you and me, over two thousand years ago.”

“How is that possible?” Rejeanne asked. “I’ve heard of déjà vu, but this is like déjà vu twice removed. Unless… unless… I know. Xena got a hold of Marty McFly’s ’85 De Lorean with its flux capacitor.”

Lindsay nudged her chuckling lover. “Joke all you want,” she said. “I’m telling you, I dreamt about this night and, I believe, Xena dreamt about this night too. When I was dreaming this, I was actually confused about all of the things that didn’t exist in Xena’s time, like the lava lamp, the music from the CD player and the Melissa Etheridge poster on the wall. And in my dream, I believed you to be a woman named Gabrielle. And mind you, this was before I met you.”

“When you did meet me, weren’t you reminded of the dream?”

“No, because I forgot the details shortly after waking up,” Lindsay said.

“That happens when we dream, doesn’t it?” Rejeanne queried rhetorically.

“Yeah,” Lindsay remarked. “But, honey, I was reminded in clear detail when we were both having our orgasms here.”

Rejeanne smiled. “So, both you and Xena had a wet dream about me.”

Lindsay smiled. “I guess so.”

Rejeanne kissed Lindsay’s nose. “Am I as good in real life as I was in that dream?”

Lindsay wrapped her arms around Rejeanne’s waist. “Oh, real life is much better.”

* * * *

Rising at 3:45 in the morning proved to be very difficult for the two exhausted women. Their exuberant lovemaking left little time for sleep, so when the alarm clock sounded, both women wanted to smash it with a hammer. Rejeanne was the first to sluggishly rise. She figured that since Lindsay did the drive from Dell Valley to Hales Corners, she should be the one to sacrifice a little extra sleep. Rejeanne was finishing up her shower when Lindsay wandered into the bathroom with disheveled hair and eyes half open. Despite their lethargic start, both women were showered, dressed and ready by ten-after-four.

Augustin’s home was only six miles from the airport. The short drive did not afford any sleep for Lindsay or Rejeanne, but both were eager to get checked in so that they could get to their designated concourse in order to snooze before boarding. Once at the airport, Augustin assisted in removing the women’s bags from the rear of his Subaru. “Do you have your passport, Pea,” he asked Rejeanne as he loaded a bag onto a luggage handler cart.

“Sure do, Dad,” Rejeanne responded. “Right here in my coat pocket.”

“Good,” Augustin remarked. After all of the bags were loaded, he reached into his vehicle and removed a small paper bag from the center space between the driver and front passenger seat. Lindsay opened her mouth to protest, assuming that there was marijuana in the bag, but stopped herself as Augustin continued, “Take the rest of Taz’s banana bread for the trip, Pea. I know how much you love it.”

“Thanks, Dad,” Rejeanne said enthusiastically. “I’ll put it in my carry-on bag.” She then hugged her father. “Thanks for dropping us off at the airport,” she said in his ear.

“Not a problem,” Augustin replied as he released his daughter and extended his arms for Lindsay.

“Yes, thank you,” Lindsay said as she released him from the embrace. “Would you like some money for gas?”

“Naw,” Augustin replied. “I barely burned a half gallon. Just bring back a souvenir back from England or something.”

“Will do, Pops,” Rejeanne chimed in.

After checking their bags and obtaining their itineraries, both women headed over to the TSA security checkpoint. “This is my second time flying since 9/11,” remarked Rejeanne as she removed her intricately-laced heeled boots and turned over her laptop to a TSA agent. “Thank you fucking much, Richard Reid,” she said under her breath, referencing the infamous shoe bomber. Her displeasure with the security procedure melted away as she and Lindsay boarded their flight. “I’ve never flown business class before,” she remarked.

Lindsay smiled. “You’re going to really appreciate it when we’re on that long flight to London ,” she remarked.

The women’s flight from Mitchell General Airport was on-time, but because of a layover at Detroit-Metro Airport and the hour lost in the time change from Central to Eastern Standard, over two-and-a-half hours appeared to be added to the two-and-a-half actual hours spent in the sky. Their flight arrived at JFK at 1:30 in the afternoon. Their flight from New York to London Heathrow would not depart until 6:05 in the evening. With over three hours of downtime on their hands, both women decided to spend it at the business-class VIP lounge. Nestling themselves at a table in a remote corner of the establishment, the hungry twosome ordered glasses of wine and their first full meal of the day.

“So, I’m curious, Jeannie,” Lindsay started after taking a sip of white zinfandel. “How many times have you been oversees?”

“This will be my forth trip oversees and my second trip to Great Britain ,” Rejeanne replied. “The first time I went was the summer between my sophomore and junior years in college. A group of us in the journalism program visited the UK to tour their infamous tabloids there. Creepy thing is that we were there, like, a month before Princess Diana was killed in that car crash. Most of the tabloids we visited were totally obsessed with her and her relationship with that Egyptian dude who later died with her.”

“Yeah, that was tragic,” Lindsay remarked.

“Totally,” Rejeanne replied. “My second oversees trip was to Ireland . My mom took me there as a college graduation gift.”

“That was very nice of her,” Lindsay said. “I bet you both had a wonderful time.”

“We did,” Rejeanne responded. “It was an amazing mother-daughter bonding experience for us.

Lindsay grabbed Rejeanne’s hand in hers. “You know about the last time,” Rejeanne continued. “I visited my bro in Germany .”

“What does he do for the military?” Lindsay asked.

“He does mechanical maintenance on the C-20Bs and C-21As there,” Rejeanne replied. “We had a nice visit, but now he’s worried.”

“About what?”

“Devin and I email,” Rejeanne said. “According to the scuttle-butt on the base, Dubya declaring war on Iraq is pretty much a done-deal.”

“Well, if Saddam Hussein is harboring weapons of mass destruction, we can’t sit idly by and let it continue unabated.”

“Oh, come on, Lin,” Rejeanne said annoyingly. “Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11. He’s no danger to us, certainly not as much as the ayatollahs in Iran , Kim Jun Il or, certainly, Bin Ladin. As far as I’m concerned, Saudi Arabia is more of a threat to us than Iraq . None of the 9/11 terrorist came from Iraq , and there’s no love lost between the moderate Muslim Hussein and the fanatical Bin Ladin, so they’re certainly not in cahoots. Anyway, if Bush does declare war, Devin’s been told by his CO that he and a lot of the maintenance techs will be transferring to the Ali Al Salem Air Base in Kuwait . He’s worried about being in a war zone, and so am I. ”

“If he’s worried about being in a war zone, Jeannie, he shouldn’t have enlisted in the military.”

“That’s why he joined the Air Force… three years ago… when Clinton was still president,” Rejeanne responded sardonically. “If he wanted to actually fight one of Bush’s silly wars, he would have enlisted in the Army or the Marines.”

Lindsay took a deep sigh. The last thing she wanted to do was argue with Rejeanne about war and politics. “Please, let’s change the subject,” she said. “I don’t want to argue.” She cracked a smile. “At least not until we’ve both had enough sleep.”

Rejeanne chuckled. “Fair enough,” she said. “Let’s make it a rule… no political debates while suffering sleep deprivation. Agreed?”

“Agreed,” Lindsay said as she released Rejeanne’s left hand she had been caressing to shake her right hand.

* * * *

As the time narrowed down to departure, Rejeanne and Lindsay began to discuss their plans.

“The railway service doesn’t go directly where we’re going,” Lindsay started. “So I’m renting a car. It’s going to be a 150-mile drive.”

“Driving on the left side of the road,” Rejeanne retorted. “That should be fun.”

“I’ve done it before.”

Upon boarding the jumbo jet, Rejeanne again beamed with joy. Flying in business class across-the-pond meant departure drinks, complete meals, full reclining and much-needed sleep. She and Lindsay were able to toast each other with wine before the plane began heading toward the runway. Her ultimate plan was to stay awake for dinner and then sleep for the remainder of the flight.

“My ticket says that we’ll be getting into London Heathrow at 6:20 tomorrow morning,” she said as she reviewed her flight itinerary while downing the wine. “We’ll be in the air all night.”

“Yes,” Lindsay agreed. “The flight will be about seven hours, but when you consider that we’re losing five hours from New York time and the one hour we’ve already lost from Wisconsin, we’re losing a quarter of our day.”

“It’s going to feel like midnight to us when we get there, Lin,” Rejeanne said. “Are we going to head to Leominster right away, or do you want to get a room to crash for a few hours?”

Lindsay took out her pocket PC and reviewed her schedule. “How do you feel about this?” she asked as she showed Rejeanne the schedule on the small monitor. “The appointment that I scheduled with Sir Malcolm isn’t until three in the afternoon. I scheduled the appointment that late because I thought that we would need some time to recover somewhat from jet lag. So, I thought that I’d rent the car right after baggage claim, do the two-and-a-half-hour or so drive, and then we can get a room at a local hotel or bed-and-breakfast in Leominster before heading over to Sir Malcolm’s.

“Are you sure?” Rejeanne asked.

“Or we could get a hotel room at Heathrow and drive up to Leominster at noon,” Lindsay continued.

“No, I like your first idea better,” Rejeanne said. “I think that we should get up there as soon as possible. What I meant is, do you feel that you need to do all of the driving?”

“Hey, if you feel comfortable driving on the wrong side of the road for 150 miles, have at it,” Lindsay remarked. “I’ll relax.”

“Or,” Rejeanne retorted. “We can share the drive.”

After eating a full-course dinner, both women reclined their seats back, threw on blankets, pulled up the canopies that came with the business class seats and joined hands. The darkness over the Atlantic did not allow for any quality viewing, so both women dimmed their lamps and anticipated a joyous four-hour sleep.

Lindsay leaned over and kissed Rejeanne on the lips. “Good night, my love,” she said.

“Good night, Lin. I love you.”

“I love you too, so much.”

I dream about Gabrielle and me. I am wandering through a deep forest. I don’t know from where I came or where I am going. I’m just wandering. After a few moments‚ Gabrielle appears out of nowhere. She’s dressed very strangely. The blue cloth trousers covering her legs seem almost painted on and the top that she wears has a tapestry-like painting on it. She looks very sexy. A fairly large dog also accompanies her. “Where are you going?” she asks me . “What are you doing here?” I ask her . “Looking for you‚” she says. “Where are we?” I ask. “What do you mean‚ ‘where are we?’ Why‚ we’re home‚ silly. On our estate‚” she says. “Now come on back to the house before the roast burns.”

Lindsay jarred awake at the sound of the loud voice booming over the airplane intercom. “Ladies and gentlemen,” said the voice with a British accent. “We’re just about to enter the airspace over Her Majesty’s United Kingdom . We’re maintaining our altitude and shall be close to landing in approximately one hour and thirty minutes. Good Morning.”

Lindsay turned to eye her lover, still asleep despite the ear-piercing announcement. She began softly caressing Rejeanne’s face and did so for several moments before the smaller woman slowly woke up.

“Are we there yet?” Rejeanne softly asked.

“We’re getting close, my love,” Lindsay responded. “How did you sleep?”

“Like a baby,” Rejeanne said. “How about you?”

“Likewise.”

“Glad to hear, boo,” Rejeanne said as she started stretching. “I’m starving.”

“Me too,” Lindsay said. “We’ll eat before the plane lands.”

“Good.”

“Rejeanne,” Lindsay started. “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure.”

“When we get back home, will you… will you move in with me?”

CHAPTER NINETEEN

THE ICENI, THE DUMNONII AND THE ATREBATES

For a split second, Rejeanne thought that, perhaps, she was still dreaming. That was until Lindsay spoke again. “What do you think? Live with me?”

Rejeanne was unable to answer, silenced by the proposal. That made Lindsay uneasy. “What’s the matter?” she asked with trepidation. “Too soon?”

“I don’t know… I mean… no… I mean.” A sigh. “I don’t know what to say, Lin.”

Lindsay drew in a breath and then released sorrowfully. “I’m sorry,” she said. “It’s just that I… I love you so much and I want us to be together, truly, as a couple should be.”

Rejeanne turned her body toward her lover. “I love you too, Lin,” she said. “And I want us to be together as a couple too, but…”

“But?” Lindsay asked, her voice shaking.

“No, honey, it’s not you,” Rejeanne said reassuringly. “It’s where I am in my life right now. I’ll be 26 in a couple of weeks, and for the first time, I feel like I’ve achieved this independence that I’ve never had before.”

“I’m not asking you to give up your independence,” Lindsay asserted.

“Yes, in a way, you are,” Rejeanne said. “You’re asking me to move in with you, in your mansion.”

“Would you rather that I move in with you?” Lindsay asked. “Because I will, if it means we’re together.”

“No, Lin,” Rejeanne asserted. “That’s not what I meant. What I’m trying to say is that I worked very hard to get where I am today. My mom helped with my college tuition, and Dad helped with the room-and-board, but I still had to get student loans. I started working at the Gazette as an unpaid intern when I was still in college. It took me five years of shit-pile climbing to get to where I was able to cover your family’s fundraiser for the paper. I’m finally getting the recognition and respect that I toiled for so long to obtain. Furthermore, I was forced to do a lot of growing up… dumping Ingrid, buying my place and finding my way… on my own. I’m very proud of who I’ve become in the first quarter-century of my life.”

“And that’s part of what’s so wonderful about you, Jeannie,” Lindsay said. “You have such kick-ass strength and determination. I sometimes wonder who or what I would be if I didn’t have my family wealth to back my endeavors.”

“You’re the reincarnation of Xena the Conqueror, Lin,” Rejeanne said. “You’d probably be the first woman four-star general in the Marine Corps, or a mafia queen-pin, or the prime minister of some exotic south pacific island. Greatness was always your destiny.”

“Well, you’re the reincarnation of Gabrielle of Potidaea, the one and only human being who was able to transform Xena the Conqueror from a murderous cunt into a reverent heroine.”

“But you’re not a murderous cunt, Lin,” Rejeanne affirmed. “You’re already that reverent heroine.”

Lindsay shook her head defiantly. “No I’m not. Not even close. And I don’t believe for a second that your role in my life now is to make me a better person. We’ve evolved from that. What I’m saying is, with you in my life, what we can do together is the sky’s-the-limit for both of us.” She took Rejeanne’s hands in hers. “I’m not dismissing what you’ve achieved on your own, my love,” Lindsay continued. “And I’m not asking you to give up anything that you worked so hard to earn; your reputation at your job or the equity in your condo. I’m simply madly in love with you. I want to wake up every morning with you in my arms. I want to eat with you, shower with you, vacation with you, and make mad passionate love with you until you grow tired of me. I’m being selfish, I know…”

“I could never grow tired of you,” Rejeanne declared.

“Well, I know that Xena pushed Gabrielle’s buttons a few times,” Lindsay stressed.

“Yeah, but you’re not in the habit of killing people for sport,” Rejeanne said. “I will not be pleased, however, if you help reelect Dubya next year.” Rejeanne grinned sinisterly.

Lindsay raised her eyebrow. “Okay, you consider moving in with me, and if the Democrats present a feasible opponent to go up against George Bush next year, I’ll consider voting for a Democrat for the first time in my life.”

Rejeanne reset her seat in the upright position and sat proudly up in it. Running her hands over her head and then smugly folding her arms, she turned to Lindsay. “I am Rejeanne Evelyn Piscard,” she announced. “The reincarnation of Gabrielle of Potidaea, and the one and only human being who will… hopefully… be able to transform Lindsay Francis Alastair, the reincarnation of Xena the Conqueror, from a tight-assed, derisive, snooty Republican to an awe-inspiring, philanthropic, and I might add, proudly openly gay Democrat.”

* * * *

Rejeanne and Lindsay disembarked from their flight at 6:30 a.m. London time. Both women were eager to secure a rental car and make their way to Leominster . An airport concierge was helpful in finding a lovely bed and breakfast in Leominster for the women to stay. Lindsay rented a minty-new 2003 M ercedes Benz C-Class 2600cc Silver Coupe. Having never driven a luxury car before, Rejeanne eagerly offered to do the first half of the drive.

Driving the wintry British countryside afforded the two women the opportunity to engage in much needed small talk. Driving such a sleek luxury vehicle led Rejeanne to commence a conversation on the topic of cars.

“This is a major stretch from my Subaru, boo,” Rejeanne started. “What was your first car? Let me guess. A Bentley?”

“Oh, heavens no, Jeannie,” Lindsay responded. “I didn’t buy my first car until I was a sophomore at Dartmouth . It was a used ’83 Ford Escort.”

Rejeanne’s eyes widened. “Your first vehicle was a fucking Escort?” she asked surprised.

“Yeppers,” Lindsay responded. “It had just under one hundred thousand miles on it when I bought it, but the body was in mint condition. I drove it throughout the remainder of my undergrad years and all through Harvard Business. The body eventually rusted to pieces, but the engine was still working when I donated it to charity.”

“My first car was a Ford as well,” Rejeanne declared. “Dad gave me his ’94 Mustang as a gift for graduation from college.”

“That was really nice of him,” Lindsay stated. “

Yeah, it was,” Rejeanne agreed. “He had taken really good care of it and did all of the maintenance on it himself, of course. The only problem that I had was that my Mustang, like all Mustangs, drove shitty in the winter. I was constantly sliding around in that thing and even ended up in a ditch a couple of times. That’s why I drive a four-wheel-drive Subaru now.”

“I totally know what you mean,” Lindsay agreed. “My Mustang never sees the light of day from November to mid-April.”

The automobile conversation lasted for the entire first half of the drive. Pulling into a petrol station, Lindsay re-fueled and both women used the facilities before grabbing drinks and munchies to sustain them for the remainder of the trip.

Eating junk food allowed for the conversation about cars to segue into a conversation about the males in their lives.

“Tell me a little bit more about Keith,” Rejeanne asked.

“Oh, he’s a trip,” Lindsay said. “I can’t wait for you to meet him. In many ways, he’s the quintessential gay man… flamboyant, neat and totally in love with Barbra Streisand.”

Rejeanne chuckled.

“But on the other hand, he’s the toughest and strongest man that I know,” Lindsay continued. “He’s gone up against many homophobes in his life and has never wavered in his resolve to champion for the gay community.”

“What does he do for a living?” Rejeanne asked.

“He heads a non-profit for at-risk gay teens,” Lindsay replied.

“That’s cool.”

“Tell me a little bit more about your brothers,” Lindsay asked.

“What would you like to know?”

“I don’t know? Things that they like to do? Your relationship with them? Whatever.”

“Well, Devin was kinda wild in his late teens,” Rejeanne started. “When he moved back to Milwaukee , he started messing around with drugs, but not because of my dad. He was getting into heavier stuff; snorting cocaine mostly. When he was 19, he got busted possessing coke, but the judge gave him a break and allowed for him to prove that he could clean up his act. That was Devin’s wake-up call. He totally changed his life around. Did a semester at community college and then joined the Air Force. He’s 23 now.”

“And your other brother Haley?”

“Haley’s a waste of space,” Rejeanne proclaimed angrily.

“That’s harsh.”

“Well, you don’t know him,” Rejeanne said. “I mean, don’t get me wrong. I love the guy. We get along great. But Haley has no qualms about throwing it in Dad’s face his shortcomings to get Dad to produce whatever Haley wants from Dad outta guilt.”

“What does Haley want?”

“Money, usually. He can’t keep a job to save his life. He’s worked as wait-staff to every franchise restaurant on the planet. I think that he’s at Applebee’s now.”

“Oh.”

“Haley’s totaled two cars, and both times Dad came to his rescue to replace them,” Rejeanne continued. “In addition to money, he’s always hitting Dad up for free weed, but then he turns around and sells it, which pisses my dad off to no end. And he’s always dropping his latest relationship woes on me, but Haley’s my queer-in-arms, so I can never stay mad at him too long.”

“Haley’s gay?”

“As an interior decorator,” Rejeanne announced comically.

“And what about Chase,” Lindsay asked.

“Chase is six,” Rejeanne responded. “I’ve seen him maybe four times since his birth.”

The conversation about Rejeanne’s brothers eventually led into a conversation about Augustin.

“I didn’t see any evidence of your dad’s place being a stoner pad,” Lindsay said. “His home is very nice.”

“Dad’s not one to use a bong to smoke his stuff, and he’d rather read ‘Car and Driver’ than ‘High Times,’” Rejeanne said. “But Dad knows how to grow the best mowie-wowie around. He’s almost artistic in his grow operation. He’ll infuse blueberry or blackberry extract in the seeds or soak them in fruit juice. He waters the plants with different types of organic extracts and juices to produce these really mellow tastes. The man is master gardener.”

“Where does he grow the stuff? In his basement?”

“He used to,” Rejeanne responded. He has a greenhouse in his backyard. He grows exotic tropical plants around them to hide them. When he did it in his basement, he had hellacious electric bills. He worried that it would draw attention to law enforcement.”

“Does he sell the stuff too?”

Rejeanne did not want to answer, knowing that doing so would implicate her father in felonious activity. “Can I trust you?” she eventually asked.

“Yes.”

“Once a year, and only once a year, he sells about thirty pounds of his best stuff to a head shop in Madison ,” Rejeanne responded. “The rest of it is free, for him, his friends and those of us in his family who so indulges. Maybe one day Wisconsin will legalize medicinal marijuana. Dad could make a mint in pharmaceutical pot.”

“I have to confess something, Jeannie,” Lindsay said. “When your dad reached into his car to get that banana bread for you, I almost said something.”

“Why?”

“I though that he was, I’m embarrassed to say, giving you a bag of marijuana,” Lindsay confessed. “I’m sorry for thinking that.”

“Dad would never, ever, give me a dime bag of his primo mary jane in front of you, Lin,” Rejeanne responded.

“I know. I feel terribly bad for… “

“But he did sneak a couple of joints for us in my carry-on while you were in the shower yesterday morning,” Rejeanne responded. Since she was no longer driving at this point, she reached into her carry-on bag and pulled out a one-pound bag of coffee while Lindsay gasped in exasperation. Rejeanne opened up the coffee bag and dug into the grounds until she was able to pull out a neatly rolled joint. “I purchased the coffee at the duty free and shoved the joints inside when you were in the bathroom.”

“Goddamit, Jeannie,” Lindsay was enraged. “What the fuck were you thinking?”

“I was thinking that I wanted us to get high together during our little adventure in the land of the Iceni, the Dumnonii and the Atrebates,” she said as she pushed in the car lighter. “Wanna join me?”

“I don’t fucking believe you. How could you do something so entirely stupid? Do you know what would have happened if someone in Customs had caught your little act of recklessness?”

“Yeah, I would have been in big trouble. Me.” Rejeanne pulled the lighter out, cracked the passenger window, lit her joint and took a deep drag. “Still want me to move in with you?”

Lindsay fell silent, which frightened Rejeanne. She’s going to dump me right now, Rejeanne thought. Resigned that the end was near, she felt the need to explain. “This is me, Lindsay,” she started. “I’ve got my great qualities, and I appreciate that you acknowledge them, but I’m not perfect.”

“I never insinuated that you were,” Lindsay said.

“Yeah, but you have to acknowledge that if you want me in your life, you’re going to have accept all of me, the things about me that you admire and the things that you disapprove. I don’t want to be on anyone’s pedestal.”

“I haven’t put you on any pedestal.”

“You haven’t?”

“No.”

“Okay, then why are you so angry?”

“Because you did this colossally stupid thing when I know that you’re way smarter than that,” Lindsay said. “Because you continue to feel the need to numb whatever issues you may still have with this shit and because…”

“Because I’m not living and acting up to your standards,” Rejeanne interrupted.

“No.”

“No?”

Lindsay opened her mouth to respond, but nothing would come out. Rejeanne was correct. Lindsay was angry over the fact that Rejeanne smuggled marijuana oversees. However, she was angrier over the fact that, in her mind, Rejeanne still needed to smoke marijuana when the perfection of their relationship provided no excuse for her to do so.

“We’ve had this argument before, Lin,” Rejeanne continued. “If you want me to live with you, then you going to have realize that it’ll be ‘me’ showing up with the U-Haul.” She took another drag of her joint.

Lindsay’s eyes began to well. “What am I doing wrong that you still need to smoke that crap?” she asked.

“Dammit, Lin, you’re not doing anything wrong,” Rejeanne replied. “Why can’t you get that through your thick skull? My smoking weed has nothing to do you with you or any ‘issues’ in my life. My childhood wasn’t traumatic. I was never molested by any perverted uncle or stepdad. I wasn’t raised in a Jesus-freaky Pentecostal church. And trust me; I don’t hate being a dyke. I love it actually.” She pointed at her joint. “This thing I do,” she continued, “is no better or worse than drinking a couple of beers or eating a caloric bowl of ice cream. It’s not that good for me, but I like it. The only difference between this and ice cream is that our silly government refuses to legalize this.”

“And therein lies the problem, Jeannie,” Lindsay said. “It’s illegal here too, and I don’t want to spend the better part of our lives visiting you in a British prison.”

“You’d do that for me?” Rejeanne asked.

“Yes, I would,” Lindsay said. “But I’d rather not. So get rid of it, please.”

Rejeanne looked around, rolled down her window some more and threw what was left of the joint out. Rolling up her window, she turned to Lindsay. “You know,” she said. “Gabrielle may have seemed perfect in Xena’s eyes, but Gabrielle allowed for Xena to treat her like shit for years before she was finally able to break through to the bitch. In contrast, there’s no way in hell that I would let you lay a finger on me. You could probably take me out, but the hell if I wouldn’t go down defending myself.”

“I would never raise my hand to you, Jeannie,” Lindsay protested.

“I’m not saying that you would,” Rejeanne responded. “I’m only saying that Gabrielle’s saintliness wasn’t all that saintly when you consider that she didn’t put a stop to Xena’s treachery, for years, when I believe that she could have. And that’s to say that she, nor I, are perfect.”

“I don’t agree.”

“What, that I’m not perfect?”

“No, that Gabrielle could have broken through to Xena before she actually did,” Lindsay said. “All I’ve read about Xena, and all that within me is telling me, is that there was so much darkness in her that it was a miracle that Gabrielle reached her at all.”

“What about you, Lin?” Rejeanne asked. “Do you have any of that darkness within you?”

“No, I don’t believe so,” Lindsay responded. “Gabrielle freed Xena of her darkness as Xena was freeing Gabrielle of her bondage.” Lindsay took her lover’s hand. “And you freed me,” she acknowledged.

Rejeanne smiled. “We both are free.”

* * * *

Upon reaching Leominster , the women proceeded directly to the bed and breakfast, which was situated on the outskirts of the village. The Georgian structure was over 200 years old and was surrounded by country gardens and a large sheep pasture.

“Welcome to Tostig Guest House, Madam,” greeted the inn’s proprietor. “Your name please?”

“Alastair, Lindsay. I have a reservation.”

“Ah yes, you’ve requested the Harold suite,” the innkeeper confirmed as he typed away at his desk computer. “Excellent choice, Madam. This suite has a lovely king-sized bed, an en-suite WC and a perfect view of Leominster ‘s sheep valley. I anticipate you’ll find the full accommodations to your utmost satisfaction.”

“I’m sure we will,” Lindsay said.

The innkeeper began to eye the smaller blonde next to the tall, beautiful patron before him. “Your reservation does indicate accommodations for two, Madam,” he said. “I was expecting…”

“That’s right,” Lindsay interrupted.

“You do realize, Madam, that our luxury suite has only one bed.”

“I know,” Lindsay said as both she and Rejeanne smiled at the man devilishly. The innkeeper insolently returning his attention to the computer as a young woman entered the main room. “G’day, ladies,” she greeted.

“My daughter, Gwyneth,” the innkeeper rudely announced.

“I’ll take your bags, ladies,” Gwyneth said.

“Thanks,” responded Lindsay as the young women escorted the twosome to their room. Upon entering the room, Lindsay and Rejeanne were overcome with the lovely scents of oak and pine needles. The room itself was flawless in its layout. The walls were painted in a soft off-white color, and the trim and moldings were blond oak. The room also had two 19 th Century armchairs, a 19 th Century oak butler desk and a deluxe king-sized bed with an antique headboard. The adjacent bathroom had a marble water basin and an antique cast iron tub.

“Here ya go, ladies,” Gwyneth said. “Just in case Dad didn’t mention, there’s internet service. It’s dial-up, but it’s better than nothin’. We just got it at the new year.”

“Awesome,” Rejeanne said enthusiastically.

“And don’t mind m’Dad,” Gwyneth continued. “He’s a bit of a wanker, y’know. Has a very blinkered view of life, he does. It could be because he’s always lived here. Never went to away to uni or anything. I have only one year left at Aberystwyth, m’self. ” She began giggling. “Or it could simply be because he and m’Mum haven’t shagged since 1982.”

“When were you born?” Rejeanne asked Gwyneth.

“1982.” All three women burst into laughter. “Enjoy the room,” Gwyneth said as she departed.

Rejeanne wandered over to the large multi-pane window to look out at the view. Lindsay approached her and, positioning herself behind the smaller woman, slowly wrapped her arms around Rejeanne’s waist and rested her chin on Rejeanne’s shoulder. “See anything?” she asked Rejeanne.

“Sheep and snow,” Rejeanne responded. “It is a pretty spectacular view, though.”

Lindsay began kissing Rejeanne’s neck. “You aren’t tired, are you?” she seductively asked.

“I’m still a little stoned.”

“Too stoned for…”

Rejeanne quickly turned her body to face Lindsay and wrapped her arms around the taller woman’s neck. “Never too stoned,” she responded. “When’s that appointment with Sir Malcolm?”

“Three p.m.,” Lindsay replied. “We have roughly four hours.”

Rejeanne kissed Lindsay’s neck. “Perfect,” she whispered.

CHAPTER TWENTY

POLARI

Note: Jean Clouet (1480–1541) was a French-born painter in France during the Renaissance period. Gerard David (1460–1523) was a Dutch painter during the Renaissance period.

Lindsay lay sprawled across the king-sized bed, naked and sweaty as her tongue dug into Rejeanne’s saturated vulva and her arms wrapped around the smaller woman’s midsection. Rejeanne, lying on top of Lindsay with her head firmly planted between Lindsay’s legs, was likewise giving her lover oral sex. As she stroked her lover’s clit and lapped up her lover’s vaginal secretions, Rejeanne was also vigorously fingering Lindsay’s vulva. Sweat from both women doused the down comforter beneath them. The moaning and panting from both were primal in its nature as the scent of the sex in the room battled for dominance with that of the oak and pine needles.

As the first quivers of orgasm were felt by Lindsay, she bent her legs up and grabbed the comforter with her toes. She wrapped her lips around Rejeanne’s clit and began sucking it like a straw, a sensation that caused Rejeanne to let out a loud moan of overwhelming passion. Lindsay’s orgasm came first as a torrent so strong that her whole body convulsed before collapsing in exhaustion. Rejeanne’s orgasm was only seconds later; a sensation that forced her to cry out as the wave of pleasure moved up from her clit to the back of her head. She too collapsed, but garnered enough strength to roll off her lover and flop on the bed beside her. After resuming her normal breathing and heart rate, Rejeanne looked over at her lover’s feet and began tickling her toes.

“Stop that,” Lindsay said jovially as she burst into uncontrolled laughter. Just then, there was a knock at the door.

“Oh, shit,” Rejeanne whispered. “Who’s there?” she asked.

“It’s Gwyneth,” the voice announced behind the door.

Rejeanne quickly threw on her overcoat to answer the door while Lindsay hid under the comforter.

Rejeanne cracked the door open. “Don’t mean to disturb,” Gwyneth said. “I have something for you.” She presented a bottle. “Sparkling apple cider from one of our best orchards in Leominster . Compliments.”

“Thanks,” Rejeanne said as she took the wine from the smiling young woman.

After closing the door and inspecting the bottle, Rejeanne turned her attention to Lindsay who was emerging from her hiding spot under the covers. “I think that our little friend Gwyneth is ‘family,’” Rejeanne announced.

“Family?” Lindsay asked.

“You know, ‘in-the-family,’ ‘friend-of-Dorothy,’ ‘member-of-the-choir,’” Rejeanne responded.

“Oh, you mean, she’s a lesbian,” Lindsay said.

“Right.”

“Member of the choir,” Lindsay said as she stood up and headed for the washroom. “That’s how Keith terms people in the gay community.”

Rejeanne threw off her scratchy wool coat. “Taking a shower?” she asked Lindsay who nodded in response. “Me too,” Rejeanne continued. “Certainly don’t want to meet this British noble-dude reeking of pussy.”

* * * *

As the time neared for their drive to Sir Malcolm’s, both women were becoming increasingly nervous. Neither knew what to expect, causing both to anticipate both a mountain of information and nothing at all at the same time. After dressing and placing on her coat, Rejeanne dug into her carry-on bag and pulled out that bag of coffee. “You know,” she started as she turned to Lindsay, who was putting on her coat. “There’s still that one joint left. We can share it before heading over to Sir Malcolm’s.”

“And where would you propose to smoke that thing, because you certainly can’t smoke it in the room?”

“We could go out to the sheep pasture,” Rejeanne replied. “I bet the herd would really appreciate the contact high.”

“No thanks,” Lindsay said disdainfully.

Rejeanne threw the coffee bag back into her carry-on. “Okay,” she said. “But don’t be surprised if, after we get back, I slip out tonight and go all lil’ bo peep on yo ass.”

Gwyneth was eager to provide the two women directions to Sir Malcolm’s estate, Hastings Manor. Their drive took only 10 minutes, where they arrived at a stately home built during the Queen Anne Revival period of the late 1800s. The road leading from the front gate to the house was over three hundred yards, but the house itself, though stately, was not extravagant or garish in its appearance. Apple trees consumed part of the land surrounding the estate, and a small cider mill could be seen from a hilltop a few hundred yards away.

After exiting the vehicle, Lindsay took Rejeanne’s hand as both women approached the front door of the home.

“Here we go,” Lindsay whispered to Rejeanne before knocking on the door. Merely a second passed before a middle-aged man wearing a charcoal colored cardigan sweater, a white dress shirt and a gray striped tie answered the door. “Hello,” Lindsay said to the man. “I’m Lindsay Alastair and this is Rejeanne Piscard. We’re here to see Sir Malcolm.”

“I’m Paul Pritchard,” the man replied. “We spoke on the phone.” He stepped aside so that the women could enter. After passing from the vestibule into the main hall of the home, both women turned to Paul, who was staring at Rejeanne. “Amazing,” he whispered.

“Excuse me?” Rejeanne said in her discomfort at Paul’s staring.

“Please, allow me to escort you to the parlour,” Paul said to both women. “And let me take your coats.”

After removing their coats, the women followed Paul past a stately staircase and down a hallway to a large sitting room. The room had three 19 th Century Australian cedar chairs, an antique glass-top carved coffee table with two matching end tables and a 19 th Century burgundy chaise lounge. As Paul relieved the women of their coats and exited the room, both women were drawn to a large mid-1800s painting portrait of a young blonde-haired woman attired in a luxurious blue silk gown with ribbon trim and lace. The painting portrayed her standing casually next to a chaise lounge that looked identical to the one in the sitting room.

Lindsay and Rejeanne look at one another. “That’s Callisto,” Rejeanne whispered.

“And Lady Harry,” Lindsay whispered in reply. “And Heather Courtney.”

“No shit,” Rejeanne propounded. “Her too, for real?”

“Yup.”

Both women sat down in one of the cedar chairs and gazed around at the room in silence for a few minutes before an elderly man wearing a navy blue cashmere sweater, a light blue dress shirt and a blue-and-maize-striped tie entered the room. The women immediately stood to address their host, whose eyes widened at the twosome before him. He looked upon Lindsay first and then Rejeanne with amazement before extending his hand.

“Good afternoon, ladies,” he greeted in his aristocratic British accent. “I am Sir Robert Malcolm. Welcome to Hastings Manor.”

Lindsay took Sir Robert’s hand and shook it. “I’m Lindsay Alastair,” she announced.

“I’m Rejeanne Piscard,” Rejeanne spoke up as she too shook Sir Robert’s hand.

Sir Robert could not keep his eyes off of Rejeanne, which did not go unnoticed by Lindsay. “So, is the likeness to Bronwyn Forbes that uncanny?” she asked him plainly.

“It’s not just her likeness to Bronwyn that gives me great pause,” Sir. Robert said cryptically. “Please ladies, be seated. Paul will return shortly with tea.”

Lindsay and Rejeanne returned to their respective chairs next to each other. Sir Robert sat down on the third chair next to Lindsay. The three chairs were positioned in a wide U-shape, thus Sir Robert was practically facing Rejeanne. He returned his attention, however, to Lindsay.

“So,” he began, “Tell me why it is, if you know, that you so greatly favor in appearance a one-time paramour of my Great Aunt Harriet?”

Lindsay and Rejeanne looked at each other. “Lady Harry and Maggie were lovers?” Lindsay asked.

“Did you not read my book?” Sir Robert asked.

“Uh, no,” Lindsay confessed. “We had been researching Maggie Needham and Bronwyn Forbes. In our online research, there weren’t any references to Lady Harry…”

Rejeanne chimed in. “You’re probably going to find this hard to believe,” she said. “But we learned about Lady Harry from a friend of mine. We were at her Super Bowl party and she told us about a couple of dreams that she had where she was in the body of someone else… an Ethiopian woman named Alemnesh… and this Alemnesh was in pursuit of the Xena scrolls with Lady Harry and Maggie.

“From there, we did an online research to track down the identity of a wife of an Earl known as Lady Harry,” Lindsay continued. “Our research led us to Lady Harriet Hastings, which ultimately led us to you and your book. I contacted you before attempting to procure a copy, I regret to say.”

“You probably wouldn’t have found one anyway,” Sir Robert said. “It’s been out of print for over twenty years and was not widely distributed in the States. Nonetheless, you are correct. I find it very difficult to believe that the information about Lady Harry and Maggie was gleaned from a dream about Woizero Alemnesh by someone that you met at an American football game.”

“Oh, no, we didn’t meet her at a football game,” Rejeanne responded. “Jo and I have been friends for many years. We were at a party at her house, you see, and, well, I suspected that she might be able to tie some things together because, well, she…”

Lindsay interrupted. “What can we do to gain your trust in the validity of our connection with Lady Harry, Alemnesh and Maggie?”

“Tell me something about any of those ladies that wasn’t mentioned in my book,” Sir Robert requested.

“Now, how in the hell are we supposed to do that if we’ve never read your book?” Rejeanne asked frustratingly.

Lindsay gently grabbed her partner’s forearm to calm her. “Okay,” she said to Sir Robert. “I can’t tell you much about Lady Harry, other than what we read about her online. I can tell you that that is a painting of her on your wall.” Lindsay said as she pointed to the painting. “Looking at her youthfulness, I want to guess that the painting was done in the early 1850s.”

“Good guess, but a guess nonetheless,” Sir Robert said.

“I know even less about Alemnesh, other than the fact that she spoke fluent Italian,” Lindsay continued. “But I can tell you that Maggie Needham was born in South Carolina in 1831 to a rich slave owner. She was pro-slavery and willing to watch her state secede from the Union until she met Bronwyn Forbes in 1860. She completely switched sides and spied for the Union .”

“All of which is well documented in my book and elsewhere,” Sir Robert said.

“Well, I can also tell you that she fell madly in love with Bronwyn,” Rejeanne spoke up. “Her love was true and real, but it was never consummated.”

Sir Robert’s eyebrows rose.

“And Bronwyn was madly in love with her,” Lindsay continued. “She was too afraid to admit it, even when the two of them shared an intimate kiss in a carriage in 1866… even when she left Maggie and never spoke to her again.”

Sir Robert placed his hand over his mouth in amazement. “Oh my God,” he said softly.

Rejeanne smugly folded her arms. “Uh-huh, convinced now?” she asked self-righteously.

“Who told you these things about Maggie and Bronwyn?” Sir Robert asked both women.

“We were both told… in a dreamscape,” Lindsay responded as she took Rejeanne’s hand in hers. “We were told things that made us realize that we have profound connections to Maggie and Bronwyn beyond our likenesses to them.”

At that moment, Paul returned with a tray of tea cups, a kettle of hot water, cream, sugar, several tea bags and a plate of freshly baked Eccles cakes. Rejeanne and Lindsay each grabbed a cake and a cup from the tray. “Please allow me,” Paul said, referencing pouring the hot water into the tea cups.

“Thank you,” Lindsay responded. Paul poured her water, and then Rejeanne’s water, and then Sir Robert’s water before leaving. Rejeanne immediately grabbed an Earl Grey tea bag and dipped it into her water. Lindsay looked over the selection as Rejeanne watched her in amusement.

“Lindsay loves her herbal teas, Sir Robert,” Rejeanne advised jovially, noticing that there was no herbal tea among the selection.

“Well then,” Sir Robert said as he grabbed a tea bag and handed it to Lindsay. “Try this. It’s called ‘Nurgül’ or ‘soulful light,’” he said. “It’s a Turkish yeşilçay.”

“Yeşilçay?” Lindsay asked.

“Green tea,” Sir Robert responded. “I recommend using a light bit of sweetener with it.”

Adding a half a teaspoon of sugar to her tea, Lindsay took a sip and nodded in approval. Sir Robert returned his attention to Rejeanne. “When you are finished with your tea and cake, I have something to show you.”

Some minutes later, the British nobleman escorted the two young women out of the sitting room and down another hallway to a reading room. As the three entered the room, Sir Robert directed the women to an illuminated painting on the wall. Upon seeing the painting, Lindsay’s mouth dropped, and tears began to fill Rejeanne’s eyes.

“It’s Bronny,” Lindsay whispered.

“No, it’s not,” Rejeanne said as Sir Robert grabbed her shoulder.

“Do you know who it is?” he asked her.

She looked at Sir Robert and then turned her attention to Lindsay. “Look at the clothing, Lin,” she said. “This is a Renaissance era painting. It’s Angela Delia. I’m looking in a mirror at a woman who died almost five hundred years ago.”

“The likeness is uncanny,” Sir Robert said. “I believe now that I have to acknowledge that you two are authentic. Please, sit down.”

He directed the two women to a table in the middle of the reading room, although Rejeanne had a hard time walking away from the painting. She did eventually join her lover, who sat across from Sir Robert at the table. “First, you should know that I never mentioned anything about the unconsummated love between Maggie and, as you called her, Bronny, in my book,” Sir Robert said. “Furthermore, I don’t believe that there exists any documented event involving an intimate exchange between the two women, although I do know that one took place.”

“How do you know?” Rejeanne asked.

“Let me tell you a story,” Sir Robert began. “When I was but a lad of eleven, my dearest Aunt Gracie began to tell me tales about a woman she called Auntie Stretch.”

“Stretch was Maggie’s nickname,” Lindsay said.

“Yes, it was,” Sir Robert agreed. “Well, this Auntie Stretch was not an aunt by blood, but Gracie loved her as such. Gracie was my mother’s eldest sister, you see. Lady Harry was my great-great-grand mother’s eldest sister, but alas, she died seven years before Gracie’s birth. However, Gracie grew up hearing all about the escapades of her dear great-aunt Harry, mostly from the crackling old southern American woman she knew as Auntie Stretch. Stretch told Gracie that when she moved to England back in the late 1860s, she sought to reunite with a cousin of hers on her father’s side of the family that she had met only once twenty years before. That cousin, one Charles Ephraim Needham, was the best friend of Sidney Holkeham Hastings, the Earl of Addington, and the husband of Lady Harriet Hastings.

“Well, when Stretch arrived in England , she learned that Charles was living in Coventry , thus she journey there and reunited with him. She met the Earl only days later, since both Charles and the Earl fancied the fox hunts. Lady Harry was not present at the Hastings residence, Holkeham Manor, when Stretch was introduced to the Earl. She was off gallivanting about in Paris at an art expo at the time. Anyway, Stretch was well received by the Earl and even accompanied the gentlemen on their fox hunts. The Earl was quite amazed at Stretch’s precision with the rifle, until she reminded him that she killed her first raccoon at age eight and her first man at age thirty.

“Lady Harry returned from Paris six days hence from Stretch’s arrival. She had in her possession three classic works that she had purchased. From the French Renaissance, she had an original Jean Clouet and a Gerard David. But it was the piece from an unknown artist of the Italian Renaissance that was her pride and joy. The painting, a portrait of the Italian woman poet, Angela Delia, was believed to have been commissioned by her benefactor…”

“Marcella Erasmus,” Lindsay interrupted.

Sir Robert’s eyes widened. “Yes,” he responded before continuing. “The painting remained in the Erasmus family vaults until the last of the line passed away in the mid 1700s. Lady Harry found the piece in a back corner of some obscure gallery on the rue de Saint Andres and immediately fell in love with it. When she arrived at Holkeham Manor, Lady Harry was introduced to Stretch by Charles. Now ladies, you need to visualize this meeting.”

Sir Robert put his hands together and brought them to his mouth. Lindsay and Rejeanne closed their eyes.

“Picture a refined English woman,” he continued, “tall and slender, dressed in regal attire of the time, with platinum blond hair and intense brown eyes, and picture this woman taking the hand of a taller, mannish, 37-year-old Civil War veteran with brilliant blue eyes and a exquisitely beautiful face… a face exactly like yours, Lindsay… and imagine the reaction that that English woman had to the vision before her.”

Rejeanne smiled with eyes still closed. “Oh, yeah,” she leered. “Smokin.”

“Ssh,” Lindsay whispered as she lightheartedly smacked Rejeanne’s upper arm.

“Needless to say,” Sir Robert continued as both women opened their eyes, “the attraction was immediate, well, at least on the part of Lady Harry. She insisted that Stretch stay at Holkeham Manor as their guest and spent the next several weeks wooing Stretch with picnic lunches, fox hunts and trips to Birmingham to view Pre-Raphaelite paintings and listen to droning poetry ad nauseam. Lady Harry longed to relocate to Birmingham . She considered it far more appropriate for her aristocratic lifestyle than the quaintness of Coventry .”

“What about the painting of Angela Delia that she purchased?” Rejeanne asked.

“Patience, dear,” Sir Robert responded. “Please allow me to continue. Anyway, whilst Lady Harry was spending so much time in the company of the American, she neglected to tell her maid staff where to hang her new acquisitions. Since the Earl didn’t know where she wanted them to be placed, he simply commanded the servants to store them in a walk-in pantry off the kitchen. It wasn’t until approximately a month after her arrival home that she finally got around to having the works hung. Stretch offered to help the young female servants to hang the paintings, but before Stretch could even lay eye on the works, Lady Harry insisted the she accompany her to a luncheon at Pickford Green. The women were gone for the better part of the day. When they returned, the two French paintings were in the parlour, while the Italian painting was hung in the very guest room where Stretch was lodging.”

Rejeanne and Lindsay sat up in their seats.

“When Stretch entered her room and saw that painting, she let out a gasp that could be heard throughout the entire home,” Sir Robert continued. “Lady Harry, Earl Sidney and the entire servant staff responded by dashing to Stretch’s room. Stretch turned to her hosts and said repeatedly, ‘that’s Bronny, that’s Bronny.’”

Tears began to well in Lindsay’s eyes. “She must have been so overwhelmed,” she said.

“She was,” Sir Robert professed. “And in that same evening, the two women sat together alone in front of the parlour fireplace and bared their souls of lost love. For Stretch, it was Bronwyn Forbes, a woman who stole her heart within the first minutes of their meeting at a secession rally in Charleston . She spoke of a love that was so deep, but so tragic, because Stretch believed it to be totally unrequited. Lady Harry confessed to Stretch that, she too, had been in love with a woman. Harriet was betrothed to the Earl of Addington in 1849, when she was still an adolescent. The portrait in my parlour was painted in 1853, the year that they were married. In 1855, Earl Sidney was part of a group of bureaucrats who ventured to Ethiopia to broker an alliance with Emperor Tewodros II. Lady Harry accompanied her husband on this mission, and while there, met the Ethiopian heiress Woizero Alemnesh Tesfaye. She too had been betrothed and was married to a man she didn’t love. The two young women went from inseparable companions to intense lovers.”

“I could totally picture Bahri and Callisto bumpin’ uglies,” Rejeanne whispered to Lindsay gleefully, who could only shake her head with a smile.

“When it came time for Earl Sidney to return to England , Lady Harry exposed the affair and demanded to remain in Ethiopia .” Sir Robert said. “It was Woizero Alemnesh who broke off the affair, not because she wanted to, but out of a necessity to help preserve diplomacy during the alliance negotiations and to salvage her place in the aristocracy of her deeply Coptic Orthodox Christian country. Broken hearted, Lady Harry did return to England with her husband, but the relationship with Alemnesh forever changed the dynamics of their marriage. Theirs became a marriage of convenience. When they were still living in London , it was not uncommon in the subsequent years to see Earl Sidney parading about town with a young vixen at his side whilst his wife mingled with the bobbed-hair immigrant Tommies of London ‘s East End .

“When they settled at Holkeham Manor in 1865, the couple’s lifestyle began to reflect the society around them there. Earl Sidney began engaging in the equestrian sports most associated with the noblemen of his ilk. Lady Harry took a fancy to the arts and literature. And they both made a commitment to presenting the façade of a devoted union. Well, until that evening in the parlour with Stretch, of course. It was then, after they both lay bare their attractions to the same gender, that they consummated that passion right there on the floor.”

“Damn, was that in your book?” Rejeanne asked excitedly. “If so, I gotta get me a copy!”

Lindsay shook her head in amusement while Sir Robert cracked a smile for the first time since meeting the women. “You are spirited young lass, my dear,” he said. “And no, although I mentioned the affairs of Lady Harry in my book, I kept the more provocative details of her sex life out of it.”

Lindsay patted the shoulder of the mildly disappointed Rejeanne. “I’m more interested in knowing what happened after Maggie realized the connection between herself and Marcella Erasmus.” Lindsay chimed in.

“Oh, but dear, that didn’t happen right away,” Sir Robert confessed. “When Maggie was told of the identity of the woman in the painting, she cast off the woman’s likeness to Bronwyn as mere coincidence. The story of Marcella and Angela didn’t unfold for Maggie until sometime after her bittersweet return to America in 1879.”

“Why bittersweet?” Rejeanne asked. “Because that was the year Bronny died.”

“Correct, but sweet nonetheless,” Sir Robert explained. “Sweet, because it was also that year that Maggie finally learned that Bronwyn had always been madly in love with her as well. Bronwyn had at long last admitted her love for Maggie in a series of journals that she had written in the last two years of her life. And yes bitter, because Maggie acquired the journals, along with other of Bronny’s personal effects, when she arrived back in the States two weeks after Bronny’s funeral.”

Sir Robert looked at Lindsay. “Do you have any thoughts as to what provoked Bronny to start frantically chronicling her life when she did?” he asked her.

“Perhaps she knew that her mind was deteriorating from disease, and she wanted to preserve her life story before she lost her memory of it,” Lindsay responded.

“Or perhaps it was in her DNA,” Rejeanne chimed in. “At her core, Bronwyn Forbes was a bard after all.”

“Would you ladies like to see photographs of Maggie and Bronny?” Sir Robert asked.

Lindsay and Rejeanne looked at each other momentarily before turning to Sir Robert and saying an in-unison resounding, “Yes!”

CHAPTER TWENTY ONE

STUDIA HUMANITATIS

Note: Renee Vivien (1877-1909) was an American poet, Natalie Barney (1976-1972) was an American playwright, and Romaine Brooks (1874-1970) was an American painter. All honed their craft in the Parisian art world and all were openly lesbian. Sarah Berhardt (1844-1923) was one of the most famous stage actresses of all time. All other characters are mine. I’d like to add that in the last chapter, I did a little play on words. Nurgül loosely means “soul filled with light” in Turkish. Yeşilçay is Turkish for green tea. “Nurgül” brand green tea is a fiction, but Nurgül Yeşilçay is a real person; a hot Turkish actress and model who portrayed the part of Ayten in the critically-acclaimed and award-winning German/Turkish film, “The Edge of Heaven (2007).” I highly recommend it.

Lindsay started to feel a tightness in her chest as her anxiousness grew. Neither she nor Rejeanne knew what to expect after being offered to see actual photos of Maggie Needham and Bronwyn Forbes. As the two followed Sir Robert out of the library and down the hall, Lindsay began taking deep breaths while nervously rubbing her hands together. Rejeanne quickly noticed her lover’s agitation and decided to break the tension with idle conversation.

“So I’m curious,” she queried to Sir Robert, “If Maggie never hooked up with Bronny, was Lady Harry her first?”

Sir Robert chuckled. “I know that it is fairly easy to assume that most women of that period waited until marriage to experience sexual intimacy, but alas, that is just a fallacy. It was during one of her many conversations with Aunt Gracie that Maggie disclosed she was seventeen when she lost her virginity to a good friend of her father. A rather dodgy sort, the man was in his early forties and married at the time. Maggie insisted that it was fully consensual on her part and that she was quite smitten with the man until he began making unreasonable demands on her. She was also troubled by the fact that, although he had no children with his wife, he had at least twenty offspring that he had fathered with the various slave women in his possession. Maggie concluded that the wife was either barren or wasn’t, one might say, putting out.”

Lindsay laughed nervously.

“Anyway,” Sir Robert continued, “Maggie ended it, much to the dismay of that beastly adulterous friend of her father, who had apparently fallen in love with the deliciously beautiful adolescent. And of course, once her father found out, the friendship between the two men dissolved as well.”

“Of course,” Rejeanne said under her breath.

“Maggie’s first experience with a woman occurred as a sophomore in college,” Sir Robert added.

“Ah yes, the classic collegiate lesbian encounter,” Rejeanne quipped.

Sir Robert chuckled. “Yes, well, the young lady was Maggie’s flat-mate, and the first encounter apparently occurred one rainy night as the two were studying for their end-of-term philosophy exams. Their very discreet affair lasted well into the following year.”

“Oh, I bet it ended badly,” Rejeanne remarked. “Those closeted dyke college dalliances always do. I bet someone caught them in the act or something.”

“Close,” Sir Robert said. “During a mid-term break, the girl’s mother discovered some very exotic prose written by Maggie hidden among the girl’s textbooks. The girl attempted to accuse Maggie of a one-sided fancy, but her parents weren’t convinced. She was summarily removed from the school by her family and subsequently married off to a son of a future Confederate colonel. Of course, Maggie remained and graduated with distinction.”

“Of course,” Rejeanne repeated.

“Maggie had only one other encounter of a sexual nature with a man,” Sir Robert continued. “It was sometime just before she met Bronny, although she never shared the details with Aunt Gracie. Maggie confessed that she remained celibate during her friendship with Bronny, thus Lady Harry was her first sexual encounter in nearly ten years.”

“How long were they together?” Lindsay asked.

“They were fully ensconced until the Earl died after being thrown from his horse,” Sir Robert responded. “That was in 1871. Lady Harry was somewhat overcome with grief and guilt for a time after, so Maggie turned her attentions elsewhere. Harry was finally free to move to Birmingham , however, and eventually she was ready to resume the liaison with Maggie. But Maggie was already in a full courtship with a widow of a watchmaker in Coventry . Harry and Maggie became rather estranged for a time, until Maggie’s relationship with the widow ended. She then moved to Birmingham as well, and their relationship was, shall we say, rather intermittent until Maggie got the word of Bronny’s death.”

During the conversation, Sir Robert had led the women down a hall to the main staircase and up to the second floor of the manor. From there, the threesome went down an upstairs corridor to a large guest bedroom. The room, like much of the rest of the home, contained antique furnishings. Each wall had hangings, both classic paintings and antique-framed photographs. It was quickly apparent to both Lindsay and Rejeanne that all of the photos were decades old. Sir Robert guided them to a distinctively framed 24-by-36 portrait of a tall Civil War Era Union Army sergeant wearing the signature single-breasted, dark blue infantry frock coat and kepis cap, and holding a long-bore musket. There was a large curtain made of a heavy cloth material taking up the entire background, suggesting that the portrait was taken in a studio. To the right of the soldier was a Union flag. As the two women closed in on the face of the soldier in the portrait, they saw elegantly beautiful features with prominent cheekbones and void of any facial hair common for that time. The lips were smooth and there was a hint of a smile. The eyes appeared almost colorless in the gray-and-white tintype portrait and the left eyebrow was arched slightly higher than the other.

“Xe-na,” Rejeanne whispered.

“I beg your pardon?” Sir Robert asked.

“Nothing,” Rejeanne responded as she looked at Lindsay, whose face flushed at the sight of Sergeant Margaret “Stretch” Needham.

“Pretty fucking freaky, huh,” Rejeanne asked, momentarily forgetting that she was in the presence of a British knight. “Sorry ‘bout that,” she said to Sir Robert.

“No worries,” he responded as he guided Rejeanne over to another, slightly smaller portrait near a window. “This photo of Bronwyn Forbes was among her possessions given to Maggie by Bronny’s brother after her death.”

Rejeanne looked at the sepia-toned daguerreotype photograph before her. The girl in the photo appeared to be in her early teens. Her strawberry blonde tresses were styled with the strict part in the middle of her head yet softly padded over her ears. The plaid short-sleeve dress she wore was cut below the shoulder-line exposing her shoulders. She wore a necklace with a cross and a pair of white gloves. She was seated with her hands resting comfortably on her thighs. Her right hand covered her left. The photo only exposed her body from the thighs up, thus the photo provided a far more close-up view of the face than the photo of Maggie. Rejeanne studied the familiar face of Bronwyn Forbes. She studied the hint of freckles, the sharp but soft curve of the eyebrows, the prominent nostrils, the bow-shaped lips and the bright eyes with their slight asymmetrical gaze.

“This photo was taken in 1852, when Bronny was but a 14-year-old lass,” Sir Robert said. “Maggie always carried a leather satchel. When she acquired this photo, she placed it in her satchel and was never without it.”

As Rejeanne continued to study the photo before her, Lindsay was able to tear herself away from the military photo of Maggie and join Rejeanne on the other side of the room. Upon looking at Bronwyn’s picture, Lindsay let out a deep sigh. “Oh my God,” she whispered.

“Quite amazing,” Sir Robert responded.

Lindsay looked at Rejeanne. “It’s you, Jeannie,” she said. “It’s you and Angela and probably Gisela and definitely Gabrielle.”

That remark caused Sir Robert to shoot a startled look at Lindsay. “Gisela?” he asked stunned. “Gabrielle? How do you know?”

Before Lindsay could answer, Rejeanne spoke up, “I’m ready for a second cup of tea.”

* * * *

The threesome returned to the sitting room where Paul arrived shortly thereafter with more tea and cakes. Sir Robert invited the women to be seated before walking over to an antique roll-top desk and retrieving a miniature bronze sculpture that was resting on the top of it. He brought the sculpture of a horse and cloaked rider over to the women. “This statue was commissioned by an Italian nobleman and casted by a Transylvanian dissident in the mid 17 th Century, about one hundred years after the death of Angela Delia,” he said as he gave the sculpture to Lindsay.

Lindsay inspected the sculpture and then handed it to Rejeanne, who poured her fingers over the smooth metal surface of the sculpture. The horse was standing on its hind legs. Its mane and tail were braided. The female rider’s right hand bore a long sword raised skyward. The hair of the rider was long and draped over her flowing cloak. After inspecting the sculpture for a few moments, she handed it back to Lindsay while Sir Robert eyed both women intensely for their reaction.

Lindsay looked at Rejeanne. “Do you think that this is someone’s rendering of Xena?” Lindsay asked Rejeanne softly.

“If it is, it’s all wrong,” Rejeanne responded.

Sir Robert’s eyes widened. “What makes you think so?” he asked, thoroughly captivated by the direction of the conversation.

“Xena would never have braided Argo’s mane,” Rejeanne insisted.

“Right,” agreed Lindsay as she inspected the sculpture some more. “The clothing is all wrong too,” she added. “Where’s the breastplate? Where are her signature boots?”

“Yeah, and why is her scabbard on her hip rather than on her back?” Rejeanne noted.

“This is a pretty crappy rendering of Xena,” Lindsay said as she returned the statue to Sir Robert.

As he grabbed the statue from Lindsay, Sir Robert slightly lowered his eyes in disappointment until Rejeanne’s next remark caused his heart to skip a beat.

“That could be Valentina Xerxes.”

Sir Robert nearly dropped the sculpture upon hearing Rejeanne’s statement. “What do you know of Valentina Xerxes?” he asked in a demanding tone.

Rejeanne folded her arms, smugly. “She was a warrior, with dark hair and intense blue eyes, who fell in love with a blonde, green-eyed farmer’s daughter named Gisela. Angela Delia, a blonde, green-eyed farmer’s daughter, wrote a poem about the two a thousand years after their deaths. Marcella Erasmus, who had dark hair and intense blue eyes, probably learned of Valentina and Gisela when she perused through the Xena Scrolls in her daddy’s vault. Grand-daddy Erasmus found the scrolls somewhere in the Po Valley where Valentina hid them after obtaining the scrolls from an Ethiopian. And the scrolls, of course, told the tale of Xena of Amphipolis, a warrior with dark hair and intense blue eyes who fell in love with Gabrielle of Potedaia, a blonde, green-eyed farmer’s daughter.”

Sir Robert gasped.

“Oh, and by the way,” Rejeanne continued. “Lindsay did competitive fencing in college and my dad was raised on a farm.”

At that moment, the 71-year-old white-haired nobleman began to cry. Concerned, both women leapt from their respective seats and knelt down by his sides. Lindsay placed her left arm around his shoulder and grabbed his right hand in hers. Rejeanne began gently patting his back with her right hand while placing her left hand over Lindsay’s. He continued to clutch the sculpture with his left hand.

“Why are you crying?” Rejeanne asked softy.

Sir Robert looked at Rejeanne and then at Lindsay before turning his attention to the large painting of Lady Harry. “When I was 21, I went to my dear Aunt Gracie and confessed to her my, uh, tendency toward homosexuality,” he began. “Aunt Gracie never married, and I long suspected that she, too, was…”

“…a member of the choir?” Lindsay interrupted.

“Precisely,” Sir Robert answered after a slight chuckle. Rejeanne handed to him a tissue from a dispenser on one of the end tables, which he used before continuing. “Aunt Gracie responded to my revelation by admitting her predilection to women. She then began to tell me that Maggie’s relationship with her was that of a mentor and confidante. Gracie was only sixteen when she revealed to her dear Auntie Stretch her sexual orientation. That’s when Stretch began to confide in Gracie about the true nature of her relationships with Lady Harry and some of the other women in her life. Gracie told me that when Stretch returned to Europe after visiting Bronny’s grave, she engrossed herself into the lesbian subculture of London ‘s art and literary world. Years later, around the turn of the century, she would journey to Paris and meet legendary figures like Renee Vivien, Natalie Barney, Romaine Brooks and Sarah Berhardt, all of whom were years younger than she, but who were equally captivated by the tall and enchanting, elder beauty that was Stretch Needham.

“But in the days following her return to Europe in 1879, Stretch needed to earn a living. Thus, she took a job procuring works of art for various galleries in London, Oxford, Canterbury and Birmingham, an occupation that required frequent trips to Italy, particularly Rome, Milan, Venice and Florence. During this time, she learned to speak some perfunctory Italian, although she was never as remotely fluent as Alemnesh. Anyway, it was during the course of one of her trips to Venice that she happened upon an auction of the collection of a Florentine man named Minaci Calvaresi. Calvaresi had spent much of his life procuring the artwork of the defunct estate of the Erasmus family. It was in 1882 when Maggie went to that auction and saw this sculpture and an original Emilio Iossa painting of the Erasmus family from 1497. She liked the sculpture because it depicted a warrior woman astride a horse, an image to which Maggie could relate. But when she saw Marcella Erasmus’ likeness in that painting, something triggered inside of her. Lady Harry’s painting of Angela Delia took on a whole new meaning for Stretch.”

“What did she do?” Rejeanne asked.

“She purchased the Iossa, and this sculpture, and took them to Florence where they originated,” Sir Robert answered. “There, she began feverishly researching everything about the Erasmus family. Once she discovered their tie to the scrolls, Marcella’s close relationship to Angela, and both women’s captivation with the legendary Xena the Conqueror and her consort, the Bard of Potedaia, Maggie began to believe that she, too, was somehow connected to Xena.”

“When did she find out about Valentina and Gisela?” Lindsay asked.

“Maggie lacked the capital, connections or resources to commence a full-scale search for the scrolls on her own,” Sir Robert continued, “but she knew that Lady Harry’s dower was sizable and that Harry was always one to accept any opportunity for adventure. Thus, Maggie approached her former lover and recruited her on a mission to find the scrolls. Eventually, they both would learn of the existence of Valentina’s translated manuscripts of the scrolls as well.”

“How long did it take for them to find out that the manuscripts existed and the scrolls were hidden in Ethiopia ?” Rejeanne asked.

“Almost eight years,” came Sir Robert’s reply.

“That’s a long time,” remarked Rejeanne.

“Well, they didn’t have Yahoo or Google back then,” Lindsay spoke up.

“Touché,” Rejeanne conceded.

Sir Robert glanced over at his grandfather clock and noticed the time. “I’m very sorry,” he said. “I would very much love to continue this conversation, but I’ve been invited to a dinner party by an old friend visiting here from Oxford .”

“That’s okay,” Rejeanne said.

“I honestly didn’t expect our meeting to be this, uh, productive, or I wouldn’t have agreed to a conflicting engagement.”

“Not a problem,” Lindsay said as she felt the grumbling in her stomach. “I was going to suggest to Jeannie that we dine at that cute little countryside pub that we passed by on our way here.”

“Ah, Caswell’s is delightful,” Sir Robert said. “You must try either their roasted pheasant breast or the haddock.”

“Dude, I’m so hungry, I could eat both,” Rejeanne chimed in.

Sir Robert laughed and then took Rejeanne’s hand to kiss it. He was growing ever fonder of the spirited young American woman. His thoughts about Lindsay were far more complex, however. As he was speaking to her, he found himself observing her mannerisms and the tone of her voice. Although he never met Maggie Needham, as she died thirteen years before his birth, he had heard so much about her in his lifetime that he felt he knew her. For Sir Robert, watching Lindsay was like experiencing Maggie’s presence. And with everything that the two women revealed to him, he was totally convinced that they were the reincarnated beings of those long passed luminaries. There was one last test for them to take, however. Sir Robert found himself battling from within whether he could trust them enough to reveal that test.

“What is your itinerary for tomorrow?” Sir Robert posed.

“We’re having breakfast at the inn,” Lindsay responded, “and then we had hoped that we could meet with you again.”

“How about ten?”

“We can do that,” Lindsay responded.

Sir Robert stood and called for Paul to return with the women’s coats. “It’s agreed, then,” he said. “Ten in the morning, and I look forward to speaking with you both again.”

* * * *

After dinner at the countryside pub, Lindsay and Rejeanne were eager to return to their hotel suite. It had been a very long and emotional day for both. The long flight, the time change, the drive to Leominster and the need to absorb all to which they had been exposed at Sir Robert’s residence had left them physically and psychologically exhausted. It was only shortly after 8:00 p.m. that both women found themselves attired in pajamas and lying beside one another on the hotel bed.

“Wanna watch a little telly?” Rejeanne asked Lindsay in her faux English accent.

“No, hon,” Lindsay responded as she planted a soft kiss on Rejeanne’s lips. “If you don’t mind, I think I’m just going to crash.”

“Not a problem,” Rejeanne said.

Lindsay nuzzled up against Rejeanne and wrapped one arm around her waist. “Good night, sweetheart,” she whispered as she relaxed her head next to Rejeanne.

“Good night, my love,” Rejeanne replied as she turned on the TV and flipped the channels on the remote to the BBC. Within minutes, Rejeanne’s eyes grew ever heavier as she joined Lindsay in a deep slumber.

* * * *

Rejeanne awoke to the sound of a soft wind whipping against the hotel room window. She glanced over at it and into the darkness. She then looked over at the hotel room alarm clock on the bedside table. “Six-twenty-four,” she said quietly to herself, referencing the time on the clock, before turning her attention to her still sleeping lover. Rejeanne began softly caressing the side of Lindsay’s face as she reflected on their circumstances. For her, being told in a dream that her soul had lived before was one thing, but bearing witness to that reality in the form of pictures and paintings of those past lives gave her situation a whole new meaning. She found herself straining to remember a thought, a word, a tear shed that could have come from any of those past souls, but only faint images and memories of Gabrielle would surface. Rejeanne especially desired to know more about Gisela, the one past soul who was not documented by either writing or visual means. She wanted to comprehend the world of the young girl in the daguerreotype photo and the woman in the Renaissance painting. She pondered whether knowing them more would help her further understand herself.

Rejeanne continued to stare at a sleeping Lindsay until sleep once again claimed her.

It was 8:30 in the morning when the inn room phone rang as a wake-up call. Lindsay reached over to answer the phone. “Okay, okay,” she said to the receiver, still half dazed. She then turned back to see her lover Rejeanne with head propped up on her hand.

“How long have you been awake?” Lindsay asked.

“Just a few minutes,” came Rejeanne’s answer.

“How did you sleep?”

“Like a baby. You?”

“Like a baby.”

“Good,” Rejeanne said before shifting to lie on her back. Lindsay slid over, threw her arm around Rejeanne’s waist and kissed her forehead. “I have loved you for two millennia,” she whispered.

“And I you, Lin,” Rejeanne responded as she placed her hand behind Lindsay’s head and drew her close for a kiss. “I only wish that I could remember something… anything… from Gisela, Angela or Bronny,” she said afterwards.

“You know what’s important, honey,” Lindsay remarked. “is that we achieved far more in our short lives than they were able to accomplish in all of their lives put together.”

“Do you mean hunting for the scrolls?” Rejeanne asked. “Because we haven’t quite achieved that yet.”

“No, I mean fulfilling our destinies; you as a writer, me as a philanthropist, and the two of us as committed lovers,” Lindsay professed. “And we’re young, Jeannie. There’s so much for us yet to do.”

“What do you mean?” Rejeanne asked.

“Well,” Lindsay started. “I had no idea before yesterday that Maggie was so involved in the art world. It makes sense to me that she was, because much of what my foundation does, because of my efforts, is pour money into non-profits that help acquaint at-risk and low-income youth to the visual arts, literature, theater and music. Being a devotee of the arts is part of who I am, and I have been able to spread that love in very beneficial ways.”

“I see,” Rejeanne said quietly.

“And you, my dear,” Lindsay continued. “Look at where you are at 25. Anything you write, about being openly gay, about us, about the scrolls, about reincarnation, could potentially reach a global audience through the internet. You could change the life of every scared closeted lesbian in rural BFE Arkansas about being out and loud and proud. You could literally save lives.”

“Gee, I never thought of it that way,” Rejeanne said reflectively. “From slave, to simple farm girl, to poet, to abolitionist to… me… I have been climbing a staircase and I’m getting ever closer to the top.”

“Yes,” Lindsay recognized. “And don’t forget, reformer of evil despots, bloodthirsty warriors, immoral slave owners and Republicans.”

Both women broke out in laughter as they embraced. “Let’s get showered and dressed,” Lindsay said. “I wanna eat so that we can get back over to Sir Robert’s.

“Yeah, I’m eager to find out what other little trinkets of the past he has up his sleeves,” Rejeanne agreed.

* * * *

After a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon, English muffins, sautéed potatoes, pudding, juice and tea, the women left the breakfast area and were heading toward the front door of the Tostig Guest House when they were stopped by the innkeeper. “Excuse me, Madam,” he spoke.

Lindsay turned. “Yes?” she asked.

“Oh no, I’m sorry Madam,” the innkeeper responded. “I am addressing your companion, Miss Piscard.”

“Me?” Rejeanne asked.

“You have a message, Miss,” he responded. “The call came whilst you were at breakfast. The lady left a message.”

The innkeeper handed to Rejeanne a slip with a name, number and short message on it. Upon reading the slip, Rejeanne let out a gasp. “What the fuck!” she exclaimed.

“What’s wrong?” Lindsay asked, very concerned. “Who called?”

Rejeanne held up the slip of paper. “Fucking Ingrid,” she responded.

CHAPTER TWENTY TWO

HONEYPOTS

Rejeanne looked on in horror as she handed to Lindsay the slip of paper with the message from her ex-girlfriend Ingrid. Lindsay read the slip:

Jeannie – I made a huge mistake.

Please please call me.

Ing

She looked up at Rejeanne in bewilderment.

“How in the hell does she know that you’re here?” Lindsay asked in a menacing tone that wasn’t lost on Rejeanne.

“How the fuck do I know?” Rejeanne replied, equally alarmed. “I haven’t spoken to that bitch in almost a year.”

Realizing that they were still standing in the lobby of the inn, Lindsay took a deep breath and quickly told herself not to jump to conclusions. “Who did you tell about our trip?” she asked in a more sedate tone.

Rejeanne took a deep breath as well. “Only my parents,” Rejeanne responded. “No one else knows where we’re staying

“Would either one of them tell her?” Lindsay asked.

“Oh, hell no,” Rejeanne replied. “My dad loathes Ingrid and Mom… her attitude about my love life is don’t-ask-don’t-tell.”

“How could she have possibly found out?” Lindsay asked as she again read the note and felt her heart sink.

“I honestly don’t have a clue,” Rejeanne said before considering. “Wait a minute,” she continued. “I called my editor when we were still at Heathrow.”

“Yeah, but does he have any contact with her?”

“Not that I am aware of, Lin,” Rejeanne said. “I mean, he knew her through me, but when we broke up, she moved back to Chicago . She married her brother’s best friend back in August of last year.”

“Did you attend the wedding?”

“Uh, hell no” Rejeanne responded appalled. “I heard all of the info on her engagement and wedding second-hand from mutual friends. I cut all ties with her back in March of last year when we broke up.”

“And this is her very first attempt to contact you since then, right?” Lindsay inquired almost as a demand for honesty.

Lindsay’s tone was again not lost on Rejeanne, who put her hands on her hips in defiance. “Yes, ‘Conqueror,’” she responded. “This is the first time I’ve heard from the bitch since March of ’02.”

Lindsay lowered her head, realizing that jealousy, insecurity and her inner Xena were getting the best of her. “I’m sorry, Jeannie,” she said. “I’m just honestly worried when the love of my life gets a message from her ex that says, ‘I made a mistake.’”

Rejeanne reached up and ran her fingers through Lindsay’s lush dark hair. “I understand, my love,” she responded. “But the note said that the mistake was hers, not mine. Breaking up with her and then subsequently meeting you were the best two things that have happened to me.”

Lindsay nodded as a tear escaped her. “I don’t know if my editor told her or not,” Rejeanne continued. “And if he did, I don’t know why he would. What I do know is that I am here with you, and we are on our journey together, and Ingrid can… she can suck dick.”

Lindsay burst out in laughter. “You have a way with words, my bard,” she said.

Rejeanne took the note from Lindsay, balled it up and threw it in a garbage pale. She then grabbed her partner’s hand in hers. “We have an appointment with Sir Robert,” she said. “Let’s not keep him waiting.

* * * *

As the two women stepped up to Sir Robert’s front door, Lindsay looked over at Rejeanne. “You have everything in your shoulder bag, right?” she asked.

“Yup,” Rejeanne replied.

“Good, because I have a few tricks up my sleeve as well,” Lindsay responded cryptically as the door opened and the two were greeted by Paul.

For their second meeting, Sir Robert guided the two women into his study. As with every other room that the two women have seen, this room was also furnished with antiques. The only contemporary items in the room were a desktop computer with a keyboard, mouse and monitor, a printer, a fax machine and a TV. “May I borrow your computer?” Lindsay asked.

Sir Robert nodded as he invited Rejeanne to be seated on a textile-covered settee that faced the TV. “Paul will be in momentarily with tea and cakes,” he announced.

“Thank you,” Rejeanne said as she opened her shoulder bag to dig out a couple of items. Finding what she needed, she handed one of the items to Sir Robert.

“This is a dream journal written by my friend, Jo Clark,” Rejeanne started. “I have placed a sticky-note on the specific page where I want you to start reading.”

As Sir Robert read Jo’s dream journal, Rejeanne looked over at Lindsay, who was pulling up a website on the computer. After reading the journal entries, Sir Robert could only stare blankly at the booklet in utter astonishment, until Rejeanne placed a photograph on top of the book. “This is a picture of Jo and me that I grabbed off my fridge,” she said. “It was taken when we were both students at DePaul. Please excuse the bad mullet.”

Sir Robert studied the photograph, focusing his attention on Jo’s face. “Have you ever seen that face before?” Rejeanne asked him.

Without saying a word, Sir Robert stood and left the office.

“Where did he go?” Lindsay whispered to Rejeanne.

“I have no clue,” Rejeanne whispered back as Paul entered with tea and cakes. Several minutes passed before Sir Robert returned, carrying a wooden box that was slightly thicker than a briefcase, and a framed photograph resting on top of the box. Returning to his seat next to Rejeanne, he handed back to her the photo of Jo before giving her the framed picture.

“The Woizero, Alemnesh Tesfaye,” he announced.

“Wow!” Rejeanne exclaimed upon looking at the photo. Lindsay jumped up from her seat at the computer to look as well.

“This is beyond belief,” Lindsay said under her breath as she looked upon the tintype photo of a lovely light-skinned African woman in her late-thirties. Seated, she was wearing a traditional Ethiopian kemis, or dress, made of what appeared to be woven cotton. The kemis had borders of elaborate embroidered woven crosses and the woman had what appeared to be a silk scarf softly draped around her neck and the back of her head.

“This is what Jo will look like in about ten years, if she’s lucky,” Rejeanne whispered to Lindsay warmly. “I would love to scan this and email it to her.”

As Lindsay knelt down next to Rejeanne to eye the photo of Alemnesh, she briefly looked over at Sir Robert. “Please have a look at the woman in the picture on the website that I pulled up,” she said to him.

Sir Robert stood and walked over to the computer and let out a frightful gasp. “Who is this!” he demanded to know.

Lindsay stood. “That is Heather Courtney,” Lindsay responded as Rejeanne leapt to her feet to see the picture on the computer as well. “She was one of my best friends in college,” Lindsay continued. “She’s an anthropologist who has been working with a group from the US , Canada and Australia on an archeological study for the past two years. She’s in Syria now.”

“Callisto with a buzz-cut,” Rejeanne chimed in jovially.

Sir Robert sat down at the computer. “This is so overwhelming,” he said as the two women sat down next to each other on the settee.

“Let me tell you a little story,” Rejeanne started as Sir Robert turned to face her. “A long time ago, there was this beautiful woman named Xena of Amphipolis. She was very tall, and had black hair, olive skin and piercing blue eyes. Sadly, she was also destined for great and unfortunate things. One year, while she was leading an army of mercenaries across Thrace , Macedonia and the Peloponnese, she sacked the small village of Cirra . Most of the villagers were killed by her men or died in the massive fire that swept through the town. One of the few who lived was a young girl named Callisto. Callisto was a teen at the time. Xena wasn’t much older. A few years later, when Xena was well on her way of becoming The Conqueror, she and Callisto met and hooked up… er, uh, dabbled in the Sapphic arts with each other… because each of them had an agenda. Xena’s agenda was to recruit Callisto’s husband to join her army. Callisto’s agenda was much simpler. She wanted revenge for Cirra and her murdered family. Vengeance, however, would elude Callisto for years, until it was almost realized in a Roman coliseum during a gladiator bout with Xena. That bout also included a beautiful woman named Bahri of Napata. Bahri was a sleek and strong southern Egyptian woman who was loyal to Xena and best bud to Xena’s consort, Gabrielle.”

“How do you know these things?” Sir Robert asked.

“Please let me continue,” Rejeanne responded. “Anyhoo, Callisto met her end in the coliseum, but neither by Xena or Bahri’s hands. Regardless, at the end, Xena and Callisto were enemies, but not in the same vein as those who desired to overthrow Xena from power. It was the tragedy at Cirra that forced these two women at odds, the same way that the existence of slavery in the culture at the time caused the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle to be so stunted for so long. But simple evolution was at play too. Because when you fast forward eighteen-hundred years, you get Maggie, Lady Harry, Alemnesh and Bronwyn, and fast forward 140 more years and you get Lin, Courtney, Jo and me.”

Rejeanne took Lindsay’s hand in hers. “Lin and Courtney are friends,” she continued, “Jo and I are friends, and Lin and I are totally, er uh, special friends.” Rejeanne winked at Lindsay

Sir Robert smiled at the two women. “Please,” he said, “open the box.” Both women looked over at the box that Sir Robert had brought into the room with the portrait of Alemnesh. The box was on the settee next to Rejeanne. Reaching over, she lifted the rather heavy box and placed it on her lap. She then slowly lifted the latch and then both women grabbed the box top to raise it. Inside of the box was a flat hoop throwing weapon with a sharp outer edge approximately 12 inches in diameter. The weapon was mostly steel with a unique ornately engraved pattern of what appeared to be nine flames of fire, inlaid with gold and silver, and with blue diamond nail heads within each flame. Lindsay carefully lifted the weapon out of the box to inspect it.

“Be careful, it’s sharp,” Rejeanne whispered.

“I know,” Lindsay responded.

“Do you know what it is?” Sir Robert asked.

“It’s a chakram,” Lindsay responded. “But is it Xena’s chakram?”

“What do you think?” Sir Robert asked.

“I don’t know,” Lindsay said. “The only way to tell for sure is to throw it.”

Rejeanne shot Lindsay a look. “Wait a minute,” she spoke up. “Xena could catch that thing, but do you honestly think that you can?”

“I don’t see why not,” Lindsay replied.

“But dude, if you can’t, you’ll be lucky if it only severs your hand.”

“I’ll wear my gloves,” Lindsay said in jest.

“This isn’t funny,” Rejeanne replied concerned. “That thing can do major damage.”

“Oh, come on,” Lindsay said. “How difficult can it be? It should have cut my hand to pieces already and it hasn’t. It’ll be like throwing a Frisbee…”

“…That comes back to you like a very sharp boomerang,” Rejeanne chimed in. “Now who’s acting irresponsibly?”

“What do you mean?” Sir Robert inquired.

“Oh, Lin was pissed off that I smuggled a couple of joints into the country. Joints can’t kill, however. That thing can.”

“Well now, you like to smoke a little wacky-backy, do you?” Sir Robert asked.

“Yeah, do you?” Rejeanne asked.

“Jeannie!” Lindsay exclaimed. “Sir Robert is a man of position.”

“Yes,” Sir Robert agreed. “And a gay man who came of age in the 1950s, when it was very counterculture and cool to listen to underground music and poetry whilst partaking in the shared pleasure of cannabis sativa.”

“My man,” Rejeanne declared as she and Sir Robert joined in laughter.

Lindsay rolled her eyes in disgust. “I’m going outside to see if this is the real deal,” she announced as she stood and headed for the closest door that would let her outside. Rejeanne jumped up and ran after her, protesting all the way.

Exiting a door that took Lindsay out to the rear of the home, she looked out at a clearing next to the apple orchard. “This looks good,” she stated as she raised the chakram to hurl it into the clearing.

“Please, Lindsay,” Rejeanne pleaded. “At the very least, if you don’t think you can catch it, duck.”

At that moment, Lindsay confidently threw the chakram, with precision and skill, into the cold English air. The weapon made a whipping sound as it traveled at a fast rate of speed several hundred feet before making a sharp u-turn and returning, just as fast, toward Lindsay. As the weapon got closer, confidence was replaced by doubt as it gripped her and she found herself falling to her knees to avoid being beheaded. She heard the whipping sound grow nearer as she went down, but at the very moment that her knees hit the snowy ground below her, the noise stopped. She looked up to see a hand gripping the chakram. She then looked at the shocked face of Rejeanne as she too looked at the hand, her hand, holding the weapon.

As Lindsay stood, Sir Robert placed his hand over his mouth utterly astounded. All three were silent for several seconds as what took place began to filter in them.

“Is your hand okay?” Lindsay finally asked.

Rejeanne opened her fingers to release the chakram from their grip. Lindsay carefully grabbed it from Rejeanne’s palm so that she could inspect her shaking and reddened, but otherwise unscathed hand. “It’s the real deal,” Rejeanne said softly.

* * * *

Paul placed an ice pack on Rejeanne’s aching palm as she nestled comfortably on the settee in the study. Lindsay sat down next to her and threw her arm around Rejeanne’s shoulder to draw her closer.

“What happened out there?” Sir Robert queried after Paul departed.

“I don’t know,” Lindsay said. “I panicked. I felt very comfortable in throwing the chakram, but when it started coming back to me, I started envisioning that thing slicing my skull in half. I just… ducked.”

Sir Robert looked at Rejeanne. “How were you able to do that?” he asked, referencing her catch.

“Beats me,” Rejeanne replied. “I don’t think that Xena ever taught Gabby to throw the chakram. At least I don’t think so.”

“Not in her lifetime, I don’t believe,” Lindsay chimed in. “But according to the history books, Gabrielle lived another twenty-plus years after Xena died. Maybe she learned to wield it later.”

Sir Robert eyed both women intensely. “You both seem to know so much about the lives of Xena and Gabrielle, yet there seems to be so much you don’t know. How is that?”

“We can’t explain it,” Rejeanne said. “We didn’t know diddly-squat until we were both visited in a those dreamscapes by the people from their lives. The dreamscapes jump-started our memories, so to speak, and we’re both able to recollect certain facets of both women.”

“And it’s just certain facets and just Xena and Gabrielle,” Lindsay added. “We had no knowledge of the existence of the subsequent incarnations before our collective dreamscapes, and then after the dreamscapes, no info beyond names and the eras in which they lived until we started researching them on the internet.”

And as for Xena, what we definitely don’t know is how she died and under what circumstances,” Rejeanne added.

“According to history, she was defeated by Caesar Augustus,” Sir Robert said.

Lindsay folded her arms. “Yeah right,” she smirked. “That’s a crock of shit. There’s no way in hell that toad had anything to do with Xena’s demise.”

“Spoken like a true Conqueror reincarnate,” Rejeanne jested before returning her attention to Sir Robert. “We believe that she was betrayed by someone much closer to her. We just don’t know who. Octavius simply took the credit for it. ”

“That’s why we’re here,” Lindsay said. “We believe that the scrolls have the answer. And we were hoping that you, uh, have the scrolls.”

Sir Robert smiled. “Are either of you a fan of James Bond movies?”

“I saw ‘Die Another Day’ last year,” Rejeanne said. “But that was mainly because Halle Berry ‘s in it… and she’s totally hot.”

“I’m partial to the old Sean Connery ones,” Lindsay said as she raised her eyebrow and shot Rejeanne a “Xena” glare. “Why do you ask?”

“Well, if you were true devotees of James Bond novels,” Sir Robert started, “you’d be familiar with the role that honeypots have played in the espionage plots in several of them.”

“Honeypot?” Rejeanne asked. “Ain’t that just another word for, uh, a woman’s nether region?”

Sir Robert chuckled. “It very well might be,” he said, “But honeypot is also a term used to describe a spy or agent that uses sexual seduction to recruit new agents or procure information. It is my understanding that Xena was quite the master at it during her formative years.”

“Unfortunately, yes she was,” Lindsay agreed.

“Well, I suspect that she wasn’t the only one,” Sir Robert continued. “Several groups and individuals were motivated in overthrowing Xena from power, and according to some historical accounts, many used the power of seduction to get close to those around her.”

“And you know this because you’ve read the scrolls?” Lindsay asked, somewhat annoyed at Sir Robert’s evasiveness to her earlier question.

Sir Robert closed his eyes and lifted his head slightly. “When I look at you, Lindsay,” he said with eyes still closed and head still raised. “I picture in my mind the mighty Maggie Needham… a woman who always demanded straightforwardness when in confrontation.” He lowered his head and turned his gaze on Lindsay. “To answer your question, no, I do not possess the scrolls. I have never possessed them.”

“But you know where they are, don’t you?” Rejeanne chimed in.

“Somewhat,” Sir Robert replied. “But before I divulge what I know, I ask that both of you indulge me as I reveal to you the importance of the role of honeypots, so that you are not blindsided in your endeavor to find them.”

Lindsay and Rejeanne looked at each other before returning their attention to Sir Robert and nodding in unison their compliance.

“So let me start with your friend’s dream,” Sir Robert said. “It ended with Maggie, Harry, Alemnesh and the Orthodox priest beginning their dig in that cavern. The knowledge that you gain from what happened after that is paramount in your success in not only finding the scrolls, but preventing them from ending up in the wrong hands.”

“What makes you believe that that’s going to happen?” Lindsay asked.

“Because it has before, starting with Gabrielle,” Sir Robert replied.

“So, what do we need to know?” Rejeanne asked.

“My response to you is a question,” Sir Robert said. “And that question is whom do you trust?”

Before Rejeanne could open her mouth, Lindsay had her answer. “Besides Jeannie, no one,” she said bluntly.

“Good,” Sir Robert. “Well then, let us begin.”

CHAPTER TWENTY THREE

PLEIADES

Note: Abdallahi ibn Muhammad (1846 – 1899) was a Sudanese

General. Menelik II (1844 –1913) was Emperor of Ethiopia from 1889 until his death.

Maria W. Stewart (1803 – 1879) was an African-American public speaker and activist.

Rejeanne and Lindsay sipped tea, nibbled on cakes and listened attentively as Sir Robert began to chronicle the events that transpired after the end of Jo Clark’s second dream.

“Let’s see,” he began. “The dream ended with our heroines locating the painted chakram on the wall of the cavern under the church.”

“That’s right,” Rejeanne agreed.

“Your friend correctly guessed the year that these events took place…”

“…Pretty cool since she didn’t actually know,” Rejeanne said, interrupting Sir Robert.

“Absolutely,” he said. “Precisely, it was in September of 1890. Gondar was quite a volatile place at that time. The Sudanese Muslim warlord Abdallahi ibn Muhammad had invaded and destroyed much of the city two years before. Emperor Menelik and the Ethiopians had defeated Muhammad, but they were preparing for war against the Italians, who had been disrespecting a treaty between the two nations. Alemnesh, because of her diplomatic position and alliance to the Emperor, had been granted unlimited access to military personnel to serve as her bodyguards. Your friend stated that Alemnesh was vital to Maggie’s mission to find the scrolls because of her ability to translate, but that was only a part of her role. Lady Harry wasn’t paying the armed Tigrayan mercenaries for protection. Alemnesh’s ties to the Empire allowed for her to procure those men to protect the three women.”

“Well, Maggie probably didn’t need much protecting.” Rejeanne chimed in jovially.

“Unfortunately, as it turned out, she could have used more, but I digress,” Sir Robert stated. “Continuing, the women began using pick axes to break the wall. They eventually reached a very large chest made out of pure platinum.”

“Platinum?” asked Lindsay.

“It’s anti-corrosive,” Sir Robert said. “Whoever placed the chest within that wall wanted to prevent its contents from deteriorating. It also helped that Gondar is dry and over two thousand meters above sea level.”

“So, were the scrolls in the box?” Rejeanne asked.

“Actually, there were several things contained within the box,” Sir Robert replied. “There were four smaller boxes. Two of the boxes, made of pure gold, were molded in the early 16 th Century. A third box was made of silver probably one thousand years earlier. The forth box was from the era of Xena the Conqueror. There was also an urn contained within the box.”

“An urn?” queried Rejeanne. “That’s creepy.”

“So, what did they find in the boxes?” Lindsay asked.

“The first box that they opened contained various personal affects,” Sir Robert replied. “Jewelry and other such trinkets mostly. They likely belonged to Marcella Erasmus and-or Angela Delia. There was also a book of poetry written by Angela and some correspondences between the two women. They were written in Italian, of course, and thus, Alemnesh was eager to begin translating them as well.

“The second box contained the complete Italian translations of the Xena Scrolls. Again, Alemnesh would be tasked with translating them from Italian to English. The third box contained the writings of Valentina Xerxes, including the original translations of the scrolls from Greek to her Avar-Andic language. The urn contained the remains of Valentina.”

“Wow!” Rejeanne exclaimed.

“And the fourth box?” Lindsay asked.

“The Xena scrolls,” Sir Robert replied.

At that moment, Sir Robert’s assistant, Paul entered the study with a tea kettle, more tea bags and fresh cakes. “More tea and cakes,” he announced as he set the tray bearing the items on a tea table. “How is everything?” he asked the threesome.

“First class,” Sir Robert replied.

Lindsay and Rejeanne looked at each other puzzled. “What he said,” they said in unison.

“Excellent,” Paul stated gleefully before departing.

“So, where were we?” Sir Robert asked.

“Maggie and her gal-pals found the Xena scrolls,” Rejeanne replied.

“Right,” Sir Robert said. “After looking in each box, the women hurriedly returned the boxes into the large platinum chest and began to remove it from the cavern. The chest was extremely heavy, and took all three women and the priest to carry it from the cavern back up into the church sanctuary. Once they were in the sanctuary, the priest retrieved a large cloth to conceal the chest whilst Alemnesh summoned four of the militiamen to carry it from the church to an awaiting wagon. The plan was to take the chest to a safe haven at one of the compounds adjacent to Emperor Menelik’s palace on Mount Entoto . However, only moments after it was placed on the wagon, the women and their military entourage were ambushed by an Italian garrison who had obviously followed them from the outpost. A firefight ensued. Alemnesh’s militiamen were greatly outnumbered and all but two perished. Lady Harry was likewise mortally wounded in the short battle. Alemnesh, who carried her own revolver and fought as well, was shot in the shoulder but lived. Maggie, of course, being the reincarnated Xena the Conqueror, single-handedly decimated most of the garrison. Surviving the attack, Maggie, Alemnesh, and the two surviving militiamen carried my dying great aunt onto the wagon next to the chest and abruptly left Gondar .”

“If the Italians already knew where the scrolls were,” Rejeanne asked, “why didn’t they just go after them before?”

“For a long time,” Sir Robert responded, “only a few fortunate individuals in the Italian government knew of the proximate whereabouts of the scrolls. They knew that the scrolls were in Gondar and they were fairly sure of the particular church. However, for many years, any European outsider who even attempted to persuade the local Gondar clergy as to the scrolls precise whereabouts was met with fierce resistance. The garrison that followed Maggie was optimistic that she would not have any headway with the clergy either, so you can only imagine their dismay when she surfaced from the church with that prized chest.”

“Dismay?” Rejeanne asked.

“Of course, because of the long-held belief that the scrolls painted an unflattering portrait of ancient Rome ,” answered Sir Robert. “The Italians didn’t want them discovered.”

“What about the Ethiopian Empire?” Lindsay asked. “Did they not know about the scrolls being hidden under their own noses?”

“Oh, they absolutely knew,” Sir Robert replied. “Their agenda was quite different from the Italians. For the Ethiopian nobility, hanging on to the scrolls was always a potential goldmine for any European with enough capital who desired them. Interestingly, they had likewise had no luck in persuading the Gondar clergy to reveal the precise whereabouts of the scrolls.”

“Interesting,” said Lindsay as she took Rejeanne’s hand into hers.

Sir Robert continued. “The journey to Mount Entoto would be over 700 kilometers. The group endured treacherous landscapes, unforgiving climates and the constant threat of ambush from a cascade of thugs. Ignoring her own wound, Alemnesh’s noble efforts to control the bleeding from Lady Harry’s chest sadly proved futile. Lady Harry didn’t survive the trip, dying that first day of their journey. Knowing that Lady Harry wanted her remains to be returned to England , Maggie and Alemnesh wrapped the body in burlap, and once they arrived at Mt. Entoto two days hence, cremated it.”

“So, there were no more attacks?” Rejeanne asked. “They made it to Mount Entoto with the scrolls?”

“They did,” Sir Robert replied. “Whilst convalescing from her shoulder wound, Alemnesh began the arduous task of translating Marcella’s Italian version of the scrolls.”

“What about the originals?” Lindsay asked.

“The original Xena scrolls remained safely encased in their gold box, safe from any oxidizing agents that could deteriorate them even more than they had already been exposed.”

“What happened next?” Rejeanne asked.

“Two very important things happened,” Sir Robert continued. “One, in that time that Alemnesh was working on the translations, she and Maggie forged a close bond. It wasn’t sexual, as both women were of an age where they were past such trivial notions. Theirs was a far more intimate and personal bond… a deep sisterly bond that both cherished. Maggie confided in Alemnesh, telling her about her believed connection to the scrolls and her deep love for the long passed Bronwyn Forbes. She also told Alemnesh about her half-sister Lucy…”

“… Whoa! Time-out! Maggie had a half sister?” Rejeanne asked excitedly.

Sir Robert chuckled before standing. “I’ll be right back,” he said.

“Hey, while you’re gone, do you think that I could hit the head?” Rejeanne asked a perplexed Sir Robert.

“I beg your pardon?” he asked.

“She needs to use the loo,” Lindsay responded. “As do I.”

“Ah,” Sir Robert said. “Second door on the left.”

Both women were able to relieve themselves and nibble on more cakes before Sir Robert returned with a stack of old journals.

“I believe that you should know,” he began, “that I was somewhat evasive with you during our first meeting. Trust issues, I suppose. Not all of the information that I obtained about Maggie was from Aunt Gracie. In fact, the vast majority of what I learned is chronicled here in these journals. Maggie wrote vociferously for many years. As I had mentioned before, Bronny chronicle her short life toward her last years. Maggie, on the other hand, had plenty of years and life experience in which to write her memoirs.”

He handed to Lindsay the dusty stack of journals. “I often contemplated submitting them to a publisher,” he continued. “But after my own experience with writing, I just thought better of it.”

“I think that you should publish these,” Rejeanne said. “There may not have been an audience for her story back in the early ‘70s, but now, in the millennium, there are readers out there who’d love to read about this old Civil War dyke.”

“I’d buy the book,” Lindsay chimed in as she thumbed through the yellowed pages.

“Do you have Bronny’s journals too?” Rejeanne asked.

“I do,” Sir Robert said. “I’ll fetch them for you shortly, but first, what I’d like you to read is located in the second journal. She numbered the pages. What you’re looking for begins on page 42. And bear in mind, her racially offensive language is reflective of that time.”

Lindsay cupped her left hand under the aged journal and gingerly placed it on her lap. Rejeanne closed in the space between the two women and slightly moved the journal to her right, so that it rested on both women’s thighs. They then both began reading the passage in silence.

LUCY

 After I was born, Mother lost all interest in relations with Daddy, if she had ever had any interest to begin with. Daddy wasn’t going to be denied his satisfaction, so he turned his attention to my Mammy, Peg, who was only 24 at the time and had already given birth to 3 children. All of them were sold off before reaching the age of 4. Their daddy was Big Will, one of the field hands. When he found out that Daddy was having forced relations on Peg, he turned away from her. Without her own children to nurture or a man to love her, Peg turned all of her motherly energy onto me.

 My heart grew for my Mammy, and by the time I was almost 5, I asked Daddy to have her removed from the field shacks to one of the servant rooms in the house. Daddy obliged, probably because he wouldn’t have to walk as far to get his satisfaction. If only I had understood at the time what my request meant for Peg!

 Right after I turned 10, Mammy’s belly started to get big. I didn’t yet know about how babies are conceived, but I remember hearing arguments coming from my parents’ bedroom. During one of their arguments, Mother was insisting that Daddy sell Peg. Frightened at the notion of losing my dear Mammy, I burst into their bedroom and begged them not to do so. Daddy smiled at me and said that Peg wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Mother turned away from Daddy and told me to go back to bed.

 On October 19 th 1841 Peg gave birth to a little girl. I was right there watching as the midwife pulled the bloody tan-skinned baby from Mammy’s body. I remember eagerly helping the midwife clean the blood off the baby and cut her cord. I remember lightly touching the thick straight black hair on the baby’s head. When the baby’s eyes opened, I remember looking into her big beautiful brown orbs. The baby girl was perfect in every way. When the midwife returned the cleaned and swaddling baby girl to Mammy, she looked at me and said, “Your middle name is Lucille, ain’t it child?”

I said yes.

 Mammy said, “Then I will name this baby girl after you. Her name is Lucy.”

 I immediately fell in love with Lucy. I would sit and watch as she suckled Mammy’s breast. I helped Mammy wash, change and cloth her. Throughout the winter months, I would rock her in her little crib in front of the fireplace in our first floor lounge, no doubt vexing Mother. I was there for Lucy’s first laugh, her first step and her first word. I didn’t know yet that Lucy was my baby half-sister, but she so made me the happiest little girl in Charleston .

 When Lucy turned 2, Mother wanted Daddy to sell Lucy like he had done with all of Peg’s other children. Daddy refused. It wasn’t because he knew or even cared that he was Lucy’s father. Daddy was devoted to me and he knew that selling Lucy would break my heart. A short time later, I asked my brother Peyton to build a bed for Lucy that was placed next to mine. Instead of the slave rags that the other children on our plantation wore, Lucy was adorned in all of the pretty dresses that I had outgrown. I gave to her all of the dolls that I no longer played with. I loved to watch her play with them. She had such a vivid imagination.

 As far back as I could remember, all of the slaves on the plantation called me Miss Margaret. When Lucy began talking, she started calling me Miss Margaret as well. Something in me felt that that was wrong. I dare not get her into any trouble by having her call me simply Margaret, so I thought about it long and hard and taught her to call me Mags. To subdue any suspicion, I convinced everyone that, at age 2, Lucy was unable to pronounce “Miss Margaret.” Too many syllables, I told everyone. Even as she grew up and it was obvious that she didn’t have any speech impediment, she was able to still get away with calling me Mags. To this day, she is the only person to ever call me that.

 One night, I also decided to defy our laws about teaching the colored to read. I opened one of my old nursery rhymes and began reading it to her. I then started teaching her the words. Lucy absorbed the words like a sponge. By the time I had left for college, Lucy was secretly reading Charles Dickens and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

 I also shared my love of horses with Lucy. Slaves on our plantation were not permitted to ride, but once she was old enough, I would put Lucy on the back of my spotted stallion, Augie, and ride out into the deep countryside of neighboring Berkeley County . Once there, I would get behind her and she would ride us bareback. Lucy loved to ride as much as I did, and I had no doubt that she would have been a skilled equestrian someday.

 Daddy had stopped his forced relations on Peg once she was with child, but for Mother, Lucy was a constant reminder of Daddy’s betrayal. Daddy wouldn’t let Mother hurt Lucy, but she spared no opportunity to make life a living hell for Peg. She would find the slightest excuse to beat Peg or make an example of her in front of the other house servants. When I protested, she removed Peg from her comfortable servant quarters in the house and returned her out to the field shacks. The beatings stopped, but she invited all of our hired men to go out and have forced relations on her. When I was old enough to understand that Mother had turned my dear Mammy into a whore, I went to Daddy and begged him to intervene. He put a stop to the rapes, but the damage had been done. Peg would never bear any more children.

 It was around that time that I figured out that Lucy was my half sister. None of the hired men had touched Peg before she was returned to the shacks when Lucy was 4, and it was obvious that with Lucy’s light skin and curly hair, she wasn’t fathered by any of our bucks. I also noticed that she and I had the same mouth and the same curve in our eyebrows, both of which I had inherited from Daddy. And like Daddy and me, Lucy was tall, taller than any of the other little children her age. When I approached Mother about my suspicion, she simply told me to ask Daddy. When I asked him, he shrugged his shoulders and curled his nose before responding, “I suppose that that half-baked pickaninny is mine.”

 Three years later, I’m now embarrassed to admit, I lost my virtue and was having torrid relations with Daddy’s best friend, Hoffius MacLaurin. Hoff was much older than me and married, but he had no children, at least not with his wife. I would come to discover that all of the mulatto children of both his house and field wenches were his own offspring. None of those women were willingly having relations with Hoff, and that realization disgusted me. I ended the affair. I also concluded that Peg wasn’t a willing participant in her relations with Daddy. Knowing the manner in which Lucy was conceived created an everlasting bruise on my heart toward my father. By the time I was 18, my respect for both of my parents had evaporated. As far as I was concerned, Mammy was the only parent that meant anything to me.

 When I left for college, Lucy begged to go with me. As much as I wanted to take her, I didn’t want to run the risk of someone discovering her literacy. Anyway, I had bigger plans for Lucy and me once I graduated and Daddy’s business was producing stable revenues. Lucy and I were going to go north, maybe to New York or Boston, where I would emancipate her and take her to one of those learning institutions for colored girls. Lucy could become a teacher, a nurse or maybe even a writer. She would be free to live a life where she could converse with other free Negro intellectuals and be proud of herself. No sister of mine was going to languish in slavery.

 Before any of my plans could transpire, I had to insure that Lucy would be safe while I was away. Thus, before I left for school, I approached my brother Peyton, the one of my three brothers that I trusted intrinsically, and pleaded with him to watch over her. I didn’t want what happened to Peg to befall my dearest Lucy. Peyton promised that she would remain amongst the house servants, stay out of Mother’s way and retain her chastity. When I came home from Columbia College , I was delighted to learn that Peyton had kept his promise. Lucy was the head kitchen maid. She had blossomed into a lovely young woman, and was virtuous, happy, healthy and very glad to see me.

 I began working at the main office in my Daddy’s lumber mill, keeping the books, documenting supply, demand, revenue, and saving my money. At night, Lucy and I would venture out to Peg’s shack. There, we read to each other by lamplight. When I was at Columbia , I had discovered this colored abolitionist speaker from Boston named Maria W. Stewart. She was a public speaker and many of her controversial speeches were published in northern newspapers and periodicals. I had acquired some of those publications and brought them back home with me to share with Lucy. I felt a devilish delight in sharing this illicit material with my sister. I wanted her to know that there were women like her in the world that weren’t living their lives in shacks and in constant fear of the white man’s sexual savagery.

 Also while at Columbia , I had also learned about an Italian woman named Angela Delia, who wrote published poetry over 300 years ago. Some of her writings were quite scandalous; musings about a world without religion or a world where women didn’t need men for anything, including passion. I wouldn’t access much of her work until years later while working in Italy , but the works that I did read had a profound effect on both Lucy and me.

 On April 4 th 1860, I came home from the mill and immediately noticed that all of the field hands were hovering outside of Peg’s shack. Fearing that ill health or worse had befallen my dear Mammy, I ran to the shack. When I opened the door, I saw the worst horror of my life. Peg was clutching my dearest Lucy as she screamed over and over, “God no God no God no.” I dropped to my knees before them and looked upon Lucy’s bloodied body and into her still eyes. My dearest little sister was dead. My heart was shattered, my head was in a fog and the words escaped me before I had a chance to chain them.

 “Which one of you worthless niggers killed my Lucy!”

 “It weren’t none of us done kill Lucy, Miss Margaret. It was Mista Maxwell.”

 Filled with rage, I ran out of the shack, grabbed a hoe from one of the field hands and ran to my eldest brother Maxwell. He was talking with one of the hired men when I approached him, swung the wooden handle of the hoe, and struck him once, twice, three, four, five, ten times. By then, Daddy and my brothers Forrest and Peyton ran to me. Peyton held me while Forrest took the hoe from me. Maxwell was unconscious and bleeding badly. I wanted him to be dead. Daddy was kneeling beside him checking his pulse. “He’s alive,” Daddy said to one of the hired men. “Go and fetch Doc Baxter.”

 Daddy looked up at me, wanting to know why I would try to beat my own brother to death. When I told him that he murdered Lucy, he dismissed it. It isn’t murder when a white man kills a wench, a slave, a nigger, I’ve been raised to believe. But Lucy was my sister, his daughter, and that should have made a difference to him. “That uppity wench slapped Maxwell when he was trying to have her,” one of the hired men said. That revelation incensed me even more. With the tears streaming down my eyes, I pointed at my father. “You’re going to hell. You’re all going to hell.”

 That night, I was the lone White in sea of Negroes as we lay to rest my dearest Lucy; the melody of their spiritual songs occasionally broken by wails of sorrow and heartbreak. I had just turned 29 years old and had lost the dearest being in my life up to that point. I feared that I would never experience such a profound and perfect love ever again.

 A month and a day later, on May 5 th 1860, I met Bronwyn Forbes.

Lindsay slowly closed the journal and, setting it down, turned to embrace the crying Rejeanne. Crying as well, Lindsay shook her head. “So much pain, so much betrayal,” she muttered.

Rejeanne wiped her tears and returned her attention to Sir Robert. “In the account of Maggie’s life that we read on the internet, it said that she witnessed the murder, but clearly she didn’t. And the online account made no mention that the girl was Maggie’s half sister or that Maggie beat the shit out of that bastard brother of hers.”

“Tell me that the fucker died from his injuries,” Lindsay asked in a low, ominous tone.

Sir Robert was momentarily frightened by Lindsay’s demeanor. There’s the Dark Xena within her , he thought. “No, he lived, although he suffered some permanent injuries from the beating. His life was not for long, regardless. He was one of the early casualties of the Civil War.”

Lindsay took a deep sigh. “I feel so bad for Peg,” She said. “What a miserable life for her to have lived. Having all of her children ripped away from her, having her youngest child murdered, constantly being beaten and raped. What ever became of her? Does Maggie reveal in her journals?”

“Actually, yes,” Sir Robert said. “Had you continued reading, you would have learned that when Maggie left Charleston to join Bronny and the abolitionists, she had her father sign ownership of Peg over to her and took Peg with her to Philadelphia . Once there, she emancipated Peg, who ended up working with Maggie and Bronny on the Underground Railroad. She lived with the Forbes family, not as a servant, but as an extended member of that family until her death in the mid 1880s.”

“That is so awesome,” Rejeanne said as she wiped away tears. At that moment, she remembered something. “You said that two important things occurred while Alemnesh was transcribing the scrolls,” she reminded Sir Robert. “What was the other thing?”

“The women discovered that part of the Xena scrolls were actually written by Xena,” Sir Robert announced.

“The Conqueror’s logs,” Lindsay whispered to herself.

“Yes,” Sir Robert said amazed. “How do you know that?”

“I just do.” Lindsay said reflectively. “I was wondering,” she continued. “Do you have a personal item of Maggie’s in your possession?” Lindsay asked. “A comb, hairbrush or toothbrush by chance?”

“Why?”

“I’d like to run her DNA against mine.”

CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR

CONTENU SOUS PRESSION

Note: Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 –1882) was an American essayist, lecturer and staunch abolitionist who led the transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century. Moncure Conway (1832-1907), the son of a wealthy southern white slave owner, was a clergyman, scholar and author, best known for his outspoken opposition to slavery in the decades prior to and during the Civil War.

Rejeanne felt the churning in her stomach that indicated hunger. Lindsay, who was thumbing through the pages of one of Maggie’s journals, heard the noise. “Hungry, my love?” she asked.

“Starving,” Rejeanne replied. “You think Sir Robert will let us order pizza or something?”

“I don’t know if there’s any pizza delivery places here in Leominster ,” Lindsay answered. “But we can ask when he returns.”

Sir Robert had exited the study to try to locate any article of Maggie’s personal effects that could possibly have traces of her DNA on it. While they waited, both women decided to peruse through Maggie’s journals to try to glean any additional information on the whereabouts of the scrolls. Both women were also very interested in reading more about Maggie’s relationships with Bronny, Lucy and Peg.

“Do you remember that original ancestry piece on-line that we had read about Maggie?” Lindsay asked.

“Yeah, what about it?”

“Didn’t it say that Maggie’s brother’s name was Ronald or Raymond or something?”

“Richard!” Rejeanne exclaimed. “That’s right. That was the older brother who was the ancestor to the writer in the site. So where do the names Forrest or Peyton come into play?”

“I can answer that,” Sir Robert responded as he entered the study. “Peyton was born Richard Carl Needham, but he changed his name to Peyton R.C. Needham in the mid 1850s whilst at doctoral studies in New York . While he was away at university, he attended a lecture of Ralph Waldo Emerson where he met the famed southern abolitionist Moncure Conway. What he took away from that lecture was monumental. You see, Peyton adopted the abolitionist philosophy. The name ‘Peyton’ was Conway ‘s father’s middle name, I believe, and was a quiet act of defiance on his part. Of course, to your typical wealthy southern white, abolition was considered as blasphemous as worshipping Satan. So Peyton returned to Charleston deeply in the proverbial closet, if you will. He was only able to disclose his feelings to his sister Maggie, with whom he felt most comfortable and close, especially after she had earlier asked him to watch over Lucy whilst she was at university.”

“What ever became of Peyton?” Lindsay asked.

“In due time,” Sir Robert replied cryptically. “In due time.”

Lindsay looked over at Rejeanne, who returned the glance. Both women were dumbfounded by Sir Robert’s cryptic remark. “I’m hungry,” Rejeanne professed. “Are there any pizza delivery places around here?”

Sir Robert chuckled. “Actually, as we speak, Paul is preparing roast beef and mash for lunch.”

“Sounds yummy,” Rejeanne said sardonically.

* * * *

The trio left the study to eat lunch in Sir Robert’s stately dining room. As they ate and chatted, both women looked around the room at the various paintings and portraits. Most were of Sir Robert’s family and ancestors. One portrait, however, stood out to both women. It was a sepia tintype photograph of a large family. Overcome with curiosity, Lindsay inquired about the portrait.

“Ah, I’m not surprised that that one portrait would gain your attention,” Sir Robert said. “It’s the Forbes family.”

At that moment, both women rose from their seats to get a closer look at the picture. There were twelve people in the photograph. Bronwyn was easily noticeable as she was positioned dead center. “It is a portrait of Bronny, her mother, her three brothers, and their wives and children.” Sir Robert explained. “Do you notice anything unusual about Bronny?” he asked.

“Well, she doesn’t have the Princess Leia hairdo thing going like the other women in the photo,” Lindsay remarked.

“Yeah,” Rejeanne agreed. “Her hair is loose and long, like a hippie. If you were to cut her out and put a tie-dyed tee-shirt on her, you could argue that the picture was taken in 1972.”

Sir Robert chuckled. “Women rarely wore their hair down in that fashion in those days,” he remarked. “Bronny was way ahead of her time in that and in many regards.”

“Did she wear her hair like that when she was with Maggie?” Lindsay asked.

“Usually,” Sir Robert replied. “It was one of the first things that Maggie noticed about Bronny when they met. In one of her journals, she characterized Bronny’s hair as ‘thick strands of honeyed silk.’ She was clearly smitten early on.”

“How did Maggie wear her hair in those days?” Rejeanne asked.

“When she was out and about, in the usual styles for that era,” Sir Robert answered. “However, when she was with Bronny, she went natural as well. Maggie wrote about how both women would spend their evenings brushing each other’s hair… which reminds me…”

Sir Robert left the dining room momentarily and returned with a paper bag. “Their hair brushes,” he announced. “Strands of hair are on both, but I don’t know if there’s any viable DNA that could be extracted from any pulled roots.”

He handed the bag to Lindsay, who opened it and peeked inside. Rejeanne looked as well. “We can take the brushes?” she asked.

“Yes,” Sir Robert replied. “I understand that there are several reputable labs in the States. I only ask that you return the brushes once they’re no longer needed.”

Lindsay pulled one of the brushes out of the bag. “Do you have a magnifying glass and a pair of tweezers?” she asked. Sir Robert summoned Paul, who, upon request, presented Lindsay with both requested items. She took the glass and used it to closely inspect the hairs on the old tarnished silver hair brush. The hairs on the brush were a strawberry blonde color. This is Bronny’s brush , she thought as she hoped to find a strand of hair with the root still attached. Pleased, she was able to find what she believed to be several hairs with roots. Very carefully, she extracted the hairs from the brush and placed them on a cloth napkin on the dining room table. She then did the same thing with the other brush that she took out of the bag. As she pulled hairs and placed them on a separate napkin, she was ever mindful that she was handling the hairs of two women who were, in essence, her and Rejeanne a century and a half ago.

“I’ll have Paul bring two plain envelopes for you to place the strands,” Sir Robert said.

“Great,” Lindsay remarked. “You can keep the brushes. No need for us to take them.”

“I also have several pairs of earrings worn by both women,” Sir Robert said. “Perhaps there’s something useable on them. I’ll have Paul separate and bag up a couple of pairs for you.”

“Thank you,” Lindsay said.

“Absolutely,” Sir Robert replied. “I’m game to learn the results of your DNA testing.”

“So are we,” Rejeanne chimed in.

After lunch, the trio returned to the study. Sir Robert was eager to continue the story of Maggie, Alemnesh and the scrolls.

“So, where did I leave off?” Sir Robert asked.

“Uh,” Rejeanne thought, “Maggie and Alemnesh discovered the Conqueror’s logs.”

“Ah, yes,” Sir Robert responded. “So, Alemnesh had plenty of work on her hands. She was tasked with translating both sets of scrolls. It would take her many months of careful transcribing, but she was able to complete not only the translations of the scrolls, the logs, and Marcella’s and Angela’s writings, she translated Valentina’s chronicles as well. She actually taught herself Valentina’s native tongue in order to accomplish that, which was no small feat.”

“Wow,” exclaimed Rejeanne. “What a remarkable woman.”

“She was,” Sir Robert said before continuing, “So, during this time, the two women were living in relative peace and tranquility under the secure auspice of King Menelik. For her part, Maggie turned their little cabin into a functioning farm. She grew vegetables and herbs, raised chickens, cooked, cleaned and went on game hunts. Roasted ibex and wild hog were favorites at their dinner table.

“After the work was completed, the two women debated as to where their valuable cargo should end. Alemnesh, of course, believed that the platinum chest should remain in Ethiopia , since it had safely been there untouched for hundreds of years. She and Maggie would take the English translations back to Britain to publish. Maggie agreed with the second portion of that opinion, but was very hesitant in leaving the scrolls in Africa , given the near-death experience visited upon them when the chest was unearthed. Alemnesh believed that the chest would be as safe with King Menelik as it was in the church. Maggie was dubious, knowing full well how quickly empires crumble and valuables are plundered or destroyed. Alemnesh countered that England was an empire as well, and there was no guarantee that the chest would survive an overthrow of that empire.”

“Hmm,” Rejeanne chimed in. “Good point.”

“So, the women were at a crossroads in their debate that lasted a couple of days, until an unlikely visitor changed the course completely as to where the priceless chest would end,” said Sir. Robert.

“Who was the visitor?” asked Lindsay.

“A woman named Cynthia Riley, an American who had briefly befriended Maggie shortly after Bronny’s death,” Sir Robert replied. “Maggie had not spoken to Cynthia for over ten years, so her sudden appearance at their cabin in the secure compound astounded Maggie.”

“Who was she, and what was she doing there?” Lindsay asked.

“For that answer, I direct you to the fifth journal, page twelve,” Sir Robert responded.

Lindsay grabbed Maggie’s journal and opened it to the directed page. When both women read the heading, they looked at each other. “This isn’t going to end well,” Rejeanne commented.

Cynthia Riley’s Betrayal

 Alemnesh and I had been debating what to do with the chest for two solid days when an envoy to the King knocked and entered the sitting room of our cabin to announce a visitor. Not knowing what or who to expect, both Alemnesh and I drew our pistols when in walked a being I that had not seen in over a decade. It was Cynthia Riley, my dearest Bronny’s personal nurse and closest confidant during her last three years at the sanitarium. I had met her when I returned to the States to visit Bronny’s gravesite and possibly retrieve whatever personal affects I could. At first, Cynthia had been very helpful in that regard. She gave me Bronny’s cherished locket, her photographs and, most significantly, her writings. I took those items from New York to Peyton’s cottage in Wellesley , Massachusetts , where I had spent those first emotional weeks pouring over Bronny’s voluminous journals. As I had already chronicled in my earlier journals, the things that I learned about my dearest Bronny in the years after our dissolved relationship broke my heart over and over.

 So, when Cynthia arrived at Peyton’s cottage six months after giving me the journals to demand that I return them to her, I was both astonished and outraged. She had given them to me without questions asked or compensation expected. But now, there she was, at my brother’s cottage, claiming that Bronny never meant for me to have her possessions. She claimed that she and Bronny were true soul-mates that my life as a cessationist and murderer frightened Bronny, and I was never any good for her. I countered that I had read Bronny’s journals in their entirety, and no where did she proclaim any affection for Cynthia. Quite the contrary, she only mentioned Cynthia toward the end of her last journal entry as a kind nurse who read poetry and prayed with her. Her words of affection for Cynthia were no more profound than her words for any of the other floor nurses who attended to her. On the other hand, Bronny declared her true and unyielding love for me over and over again in her journals. Cynthia disagreed, remarking that Bronny wasn’t in her right mind when she wrote those things. She insisted that Bronny’s later verbal declarations to her were what mattered, despite the fact that those verbal declarations, had they actually happened, would have occurred mostly after completing the journals when Bronny was ill. Cynthia also unwittingly disclosed three things during her argument with me; one, that most of Bronny’s journals were written two years before her mind was ravaged by the disease that claimed her life; two, that Cynthia didn’t meet Bronny until seven months before her mind was ill; and three, that Cynthia never even bothered to read the journals. It was obvious to me that Cynthia was both obsessed with Bronny and clearly delusional.

 As we continued to argue, I grew more angry, and fearing that my flaring temper would cause me to do something I would later regret, I took a deep breath and offered a compromise to Cynthia. I told her that I would return to her Bronny’s locket and half of Bronny’s photographs. I also offered to take the journals to Boston , where Peyton had a publisher friend who could print the journals in an uncirculated book form. I would keep the originals and give her the printed book. Cynthia was agreeable, except that she wanted the original journals. I, of course, didn’t want to part with them as they were the only things of Bronny that were written by her hand. After haggling back and forth, Cynthia finally agreed to my offer, but only after I included a cash payment to her of $200. It was an expensive, but worthwhile compromise to insure that I would be permanently rid of her.

 So when Cynthia Riley appeared, out of all of the places on this planet, the massive and mountainous compound of the King of Ethiopia , thousands of miles and weeks of travel from the States, I almost fainted. How could a docile, 64-year-old woman have ever managed to travel so far alone on her meager earnings, I wondered? Ever more significantly, how and why did she find me?

“Hello, Maggie,” she said before extending her hand to Alemnesh in greeting. Before they could shake hands, I moved to stand in between them.

 “What in hell are you doing here?” I demanded to know.

 Before she could answer, the door to our sitting room opened and in walked five members of the King’s security detail along with three Italian soldiers and that Italian colonel that I had confronted in the Eritrean province. I immediately turned and looked at Alemnesh, who obviously shared my sense of alarm. She approached and began speaking with the leader of the security detail in Amharic. I gazed at Cynthia, who smiled at with me with such wickedness that my face flushed.

 After speaking for a few minutes, Alemnesh turned to me with fear in her eyes. She said that the Italians have offered to purchase the original Xena scrolls and the Erasmus translations for a sum that could feed the Ethiopian people for fifty years.

 “Hell no!” I replied.

 Alemnesh took me aside. “I do not believe that this offer is subject to negotiation, Maggie,” she said. “The Italians are willing to kill us for the scrolls, and I’m afraid that my kinsmen will not intervene on our behalf. We have the translations. We know the truth. What does it matter now if the Italians possess the originals? Is it worth dying for?”

 I love Alemnesh as a sister, but I was enraged at her defeatist outlook. “Harry died because of these scrolls,” I declared. “Hell, Xena died because of these scrolls. The world needs to know that. If these wogs get the scrolls, they’ll destroy them to prevent the truth from coming out.” I turned to Cynthia, whom I believed orchestrated this whole affair. “I’m not about to let that happen.”

When Alemnesh began to plead again, I interrupted her. “All of your life, you have sacrificed for your country,” I said. “You forfeited happiness with Harry almost 40 years ago to avoid a scandal. After your husband died, you could have left this place to fulfilled your dream of becoming an esteemed educator in Europe, but your kinsmen insisted that you remain here as a glorified translator for these wog invaders. And now, after all you’ve done, we’ve done, to accomplish something this historic, this vital, you’re going to once again defer to a kingdom that, because of your gender, barely considers you a worthy citizen?

 A tear streamed down Alemnesh’s face as, I believe, she considered my words. “Finding these scrolls was your dream, never my dream,” she finally said, but as my heart began to sink, she continued, “Having said that, however, you are right. I have sacrificed much happiness. But these months with you, even with the fighting and the labor and everything that we gave up to possess these scrolls, have been the most exciting and alive for me. The only episode of forlorn was holding my dearest Harry as she died in my arms… You’re right, Maggie. Her death will not be in vain.” Alemnesh returned her attention to the leader of the detail and announced in Amharic that we will not relinquish the scrolls. Then she turned to me and simply said, “Do what you must.”

 At that moment, I did what I should have done in Eritrea . I raised my pistol and put a bullet between the eyes of that Italian colonel. Alemnesh raised her pistol and shot the leader of the detail in his chest. As he fell, the other men in the room came toward us, drawing weapons. They didn’t get very far, as Alemnesh and I were able to dispatch all of them.

 “Good shot,” I said to her as I turned my pistol on Cynthia, who was gripping a leather satchel. Shaking, she nervously reached into it and pulled out a dagger. She then raised it, let out a shriek and charged toward me. I kicked the dagger out of her hand, cocked my pistol and aimed it between her eyes.

 “I learned from the best,” Alemnesh said as she hurriedly began gathering up her translations to secure in the chest. “I guess that the scrolls are not staying here in Ethiopia after all.”

 I returned my attention to Cynthia, who stood in place dumbfounded. With evil delight and a smile on my face, I whispered to her, “This is going to hurt.” But as I felt my finger pulling on the trigger, a soft voice that sounded just like my dearest Bronny whispered, “Xena, don’t kill her.” I lowered by pistol, but grabbed Cynthia by her throat. “You will die, Cynthia, but not today.” I punched her in her face, rendering her unconscious. I then bound her hands and began covering her mouth with torn cloth. As I covered her mouth, I noticed that she was wearing a heavy silver necklace. I lifted the chain and discovered Bronny’s locket attached to it. I angrily yanked the chain from Cynthia’s neck and placed the locket in the pocket of my trousers.

 Alemnesh and I had precious little time to get out of that compound. We were barely able to lift that chest on the dolly used to get it into cabin, but once it was on it, we quickly rolled it out to a covered carriage located next to an adjacent building. Because of where we were located on the compound, no one was immediately alarmed as to what had just happened in our cabin. However, missing officials of the King wouldn’t go unnoticed very long.

 Alemnesh asked two young gardeners who were working nearby to assist us in lifting our precious cargo. Once the chest was on the carriage, we covered it in blankets before I went back to retrieve the most important of our personal affects, all of our weapons, and Harry’s urn. After placing our possessions and the urn in the carriage, I went back to carry a still unconscious Cynthia to the carriage, heaving her into it next to the chest. I then climbed in as Alemnesh, with help from those two gardeners, was hurriedly tying two camels to it.

 We rode nonstop day and night across the treacherous and sometimes unforgiving highlands and savannah of Eastern Africa until reaching the port city of Mombasa in the southern region of the British Protectorate of Kenya . During our journey, I only removed Cynthia’s mouth binding long enough to give her some of what little food and water we had. During this time, she attempted her incessant protests or would howl through the binding, forcing me to punch her into unconsciousness repeatedly to keep her quiet. We were also accosted by nomadic thugs on more than one occasion. I did not wish to waste precious ammunition on them, for we had to preserve our stock to protect us from our largest enemies, the hungry prides of lions that roamed the savannah. During that dangerous journey, I killed six thugs with my pistol and shot one lioness with my muzzleloader. Our camels were also attacked by packs of hyenas twice. We were able to kill the majority of the packs both times, but one of our camels succumbed to its injuries after the second attack.

 We reached Mombasa hungry, thirsty and frightful looking, but despite our appearance, Alemnesh and I immediately went to the royal consulates’ office and advised one of the colonial officials that we were in possession of the remains of a member of the British peerage and the American woman responsible for her murder. The latter may or may not have been true, but I am almost convinced that Cynthia had something to do with that ambush in Gondar that cost Harry her life. As she was taken into custody, Cynthia began ranting about how we stole the Xena scrolls. I wasn’t alarmed by her accusatory outburst, because days of little food and water, along with the filth of the African savannah and a possible concussion from my blows, gave Cynthia the appearance of a blathering scatterbrained old woman. Also, who would have ever believed that two elder women, such as Alemnesh and me, could have possibly procured the legendary Xena scrolls in the vast expanse of the Horn of Africa ?

 What was definitely a falsehood of our account was our explanation as to the heavy platinum chest in our possession. We convinced the official that it contained the entire contents of Lady Harry’s Birmingham boudoir. We were highly confident, correctly, that the official wouldn’t want to go near a chest containing ladies perfumes, trinkets and undergarments. We were also able to convince him to grant us passage on the next vessel bound for London .

 Once we arrived in England , Alemnesh and I honored the wish of our dear friend Harry and returned her remains to her family in Birmingham . We stayed in Birmingham long enough to come to an agreement as to the contents of the chest. We concurred that it would be better not to keep all of our eggs in one basket, as it were. Alemnesh took the Erasmus Italian translated scrolls with her to Mantua, where she would establish residence. I presented the Xerxes translations of the scrolls to Harry’s sister, Olivia. With Harry’s family’s help, I was able to sail to Boston with the platinum chest still containing the original scrolls and Alemnesh’s English translations. From there, I returned, ironically, to the locale where Cynthia Riley was thrown into my life ten years before; Peyton’s Wellesley cottage. I did not learn the extent of Cynthia’s involvement in what transpired in Ethiopia until I returned to the States.

When Lindsay and Rejeanne finished reading that point of the journal entry, Lindsay quietly closed the book. Rejeanne began rubbing her eyes as Lindsay cracked her neck. Sir Robert, who had exited the room some time before, returned to check up on the women.

Lindsay rose. “I need to stretch,” she said.

Rejeanne chuckled. “Yeah, ‘Stretch Junior’ needs to stretch,” she quipped.

“Ha-ha, Rejeanne,” Lindsay retorted. “I’m stepping outside.” Once outside, Lindsay lifted her head skyward and gazed at the clouds. She closed her eyes and took deep breaths to clear her mind. She allowed herself to hear the sound of a nearby wind chime, the rustle of bare apple tree branches and sheep bleating. She relaxed with the tranquility of her surroundings until she felt a small warm hand take hers.

“Are you okay?” Lindsay heard the soft voice of her beloved Rejeanne ask.

“Yes,” she responded quietly. “Did you know that $200 in 1880 was the equivalent to $3,000 today?

“Didn’t know that,” Rejeanne replied as she squeezed Lindsay’s hand. “Lin, I think I know who Cynthia was.”

Lindsay opened her eyes and turned her attention to Rejeanne. “Who?” she asked.

“Najara.”

 

 

TBC…

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5 thoughts on “January Thaw by CJ Wells

  1. Is this still being updated? I generally do not read unfinished stories, because it’s like watching a movie & missing the end. I don’t want to start this only to be left with a bunch of unanswered questions, so can anyone advise?

  2. I too am hoping for this story to be finished. It’s so well thought out and well written. Thanks for the story so far CJ and please keep it coming

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