Personal Assistant by Kat (part 2)

The Buddhas do but tell the way,

It is for you to swelter at the task.

********The Buddha********

 

Chapter 16: (Ooh, Love to Love You Baby……)

 

 

After much tossing and turning, Kate settled back to sleep. Oddly enough, she awoke crying in her sleep, Jessie holding her tightly, and whispering soft, shaky words into her ear. Apparently they had both had a bad dream, but it was of no consequence. They returned to sleep, uninterrupted until the phone began to ring.

Shaking her head, and sitting up, the last shreds of deep sleep clinging to her, Kate reached out and grabbed the phone after the third ring. “Hullo? This is Kate. Yes, she’s here. She’s sleeping Ted. Oh, I see. Okay, I’ll wake her, and get her down there as soon as possible. Sorry, thanks.”

Giggling despite herself, Kate realized that she had just told Ted, the show’s director, that Jessica Ryan was sleeping at her house. It would be interesting to hear the buzz on the set, once this little tidbit got out. Turning back to her still sleeping companion, Kate reached out and softly traced a finger along the edge of Jessie’s face, from forehead to chin. Barely disturbing the fine hairs that covered her soft skin, she worked her way up the other side, her face as close as possible to observe the fuzz as it reached for her fingertip. It wasn’t until she reached eyebrow level, that she realized she was being watched by a singular azure blue eye.

Turning to kiss the fingertip, Jessie curled her arm towards herself, and effectively managed to pull Kate over on top of her. “Howdy there, sunshine. What’cha doing to my face?”

Now giggling out of control, Kate planted a sloppy kiss on Jessie’s chin, and hid her face in her lover’s neck. “I was going to wake you up, and I thought I would start with the little fuzzies on your face. They’re very cute you know. I guess they got too rambunctious, and woke the rest of you up. How are you feeling? Better I hope.”

Jessie stopped the torrent of questions with a sloppy kiss of her own. This one however was directed at the correct target. Effectively capturing Kate’s lips with her own, she met no hesitation whatsoever in the response she received. Carefully turning Kate onto her back, Jessie blindly tasted every inch of her lips, her tongue probing its mate, testing then tasting, finally savoring the invitation. She slowly moved her ministrations to the soft skin below Kate’s ear. Teasing and tempting Kate’s little fuzzies with the tip of her tongue, she traced the outline of first her ear, and then along the curve of her neck. Kate softly moaned, willingly abandoning all responsibility to the burn of passion that coursed through her body.

Suddenly, in the midst of their pleasure the phone began to ring. Jessie’s eyes opened wide and then narrowed a hint of annoyance creeping in around the corners. The answering machine picked it up, and as the announcement rattled off in the distance, Jessie returned to her ministrations. Kate began to respond, her hands moving across Jessie’s back, her legs falling apart naturally. It wasn’t until Michael’s voice came ringing through the house, that they knew they were doomed.

“Hi there babies. Rise and shine! I’m out in front, and judging by the lack of any discernible light in there, I am assuming that you are not awake yet. Better wake up and get moving I’m giving you a count of 50, and then I’m on my way in to wake you myself. I’ve got coffee, food, and strict orders from the captain and crew to make sure you get to the site post haste. Don’t make me come in there after you, girlfriends, cause I most surely will embarrass you, should you not be sleeping, heh heh, if you know what I mean. See you in a minute and a half.” The irritating message was followed by peals of laughter, and then the audible click.

With a groan, and a few expletives, Jessie stopped her subtle assault on Kate’s senses, and the two lay tight in each other’s arms for about 30 seconds of that minute and a half. Kissing Jessie gently, with a small frown of sorrow on her face, Kate squirmed out from under her, and then leaning back and kissing her shoulders she tickled her a bit, and then gave her a light poke to start her out of bed.

“Come on sweetie. We’ve got to get going. Don’t want Michael in here stirring up trouble now do you? Come on. The studio did call, and said they needed you right away. I promised Ted I would make sure I got you there as soon as possible.” Kate was firm, but apologetic with her cajoling.

Pouting, Jessie folded her arms across her chest. “I don’t want to go. I want to stay here, and finish what we were doing. I don’t care if Michael catches us, and I don’t care what old creepy Ted wants me to do either. This is not fair. IT’S NOT, IT’S NOT, IT’S NOT!”

Smiling in spite of herself, Jessie knew that her tantrum probably wouldn’t get her what she really wanted, but it made her feel a little better. Just to emphasize the point, she covered her mouth and coughed, trying to sound sick so she wouldn’t have to go. Too late, they realized that Michael was in the living room, fast approaching.

“Halloooo! Better cover up, cause here I come, and I’m not going to stop!” Michael sounded like he was playing hide and seek.

Quickly Jessie threw back the covers, and swooping a startled Kate over her shoulder into a fireman’s carry, made a mad dash for the bathroom. Kate squealed loudly, and the two of them began to laugh hysterically. Michael stopped short of the bedroom door, not sure now whether he really wanted to interrupt whatever was going on in the bedroom.

Listening at the door, he smiled broadly, realizing that he had in fact disturbed them, but more than likely he wasn’t going to suffer the wrath of his sister. Banging on the door, he made his voice real low, and shouted, “All right you two. We’ll have no more of this nonsense. You better be in that shower by the count of ten, or I’m coming in there after you.”

After safely depositing Kate in the bathroom, Jessie dashed back to the door. Flinging it open in all of her naked glory, she almost made Michael fall headfirst through the opening.

“Think you’re man enough, big boy?” Jessie stood there challenging him to respond.

Blushing all the way to his toes, he turned around and heading back to the living room, called over his shoulder to his sister. “Not on your life, sister, you ain’t got nothing there that interests me for goodness sake. Jeez, put it away, you’re scaring me.”

Chuckling, Jessie closed the door behind him, and then returned to the already running shower. Kate was humming to herself, when Jessie slid open the door, and stepped in behind her. Handing her the bar of soap, Kate indicated that she would like to have her back washed. Obliging her, Jessie coated her own front entirely with soap, and then pulling Kate back to her, did a sensuous little bump and grind, while she scrubbed her lover’s back with her own special brand of sponge.

Closing her eyes, Kate almost abandoned herself to the sensations that were threatening to overwhelm her again. “Whoa there, you’re going to make me, make you late if you don’t stop doing that.”

“That’s the idea, silly.” Jessie breathed in her ear, her soapy hands beginning to roam with a mind of their own.

Another loud barrage of knocking sounded at the door to the bathroom. Frustrated, Jessie shouted at her brother, threatening to kill him as soon as she could catch him.

“I’m sorry Jess. Alice just called, and Justin is on his way to the set to see you. He had heard that you weren’t feeling well, and he decided to come out and see personally how you were doing. She wanted to make sure that we were on our way. Justin’s got a case of the guilts I guess, and he feels bad.” Michael was seriously apologetic.

Resigned to their fate, Jessie and Kate stopped their lovemaking again, and quickly finishing their shower, got out and began toweling off. Wrapping up in her towel, Jessie stepped out of the bedroom, to ask Michael if he had brought anymore clothes for her. She returned shortly with a large suitcase.

Kate had already begun to dress. She figured it would be cold, so she slipped into a long sleeve thermal shirt and jeans, with a long sleeve flannel over that. Warm hiking boots and socks, and her big winter coat completed the outfit. Jessie watched her as she slowly dressed herself. Layered in her usual black turtleneck, and black jeans, she was dismayed to find that Michael had not brought a jacket for her. She remembered that her one good outdoor jacket had been damaged once when Gregory had grabbed her and practically ripped the sleeve off. She mentally cursed herself for not remembering to replace it.

Kate sensed her problem, and digging into the back of her closet, came out with a beautiful North Face down jacket. It was azure blue, matching Jessie’s eyes. Jessica tentatively tried it on. It fit her perfectly.

“This is great. Is it yours?” Jessie didn’t want to pry…too much anyway.

“It was my father’s. My mother thought that I might want to keep it. I had given it to him for Father’s Day. He never wore it. It’s yours if you want it.” A small sadness flashed in her eyes for a moment.

“Oh, honey, I don’t want to take your dad’s coat from you. I mean, sentimental value and all.” Jessie wished she had thought more before opening her mouth.

“Don’t worry. No sentiment there. And besides, I’m glad I kept it. I couldn’t think of a better person to wear it. It was being wasted hanging there all of these years. It looks great on you.” Kate smiled more convincingly this time.

“I really appreciate it. It gets really cold on the set, and the studio jackets just don’t cut it. Anyone touches this, and they’re dead.” Jessica mock growled.

Stepping closer, Kate allowed them one more minute to just hold each other tightly. Then she grabbed a pill or two, making Jessie take one of them, and then checking her fanny pack for her stun gun led her friend out into the living room, to the slightly smirking Michael.

“Jeez, about time. Hey, nice jacket. Is that a gift?” Michael was sounding a little smarmy.

Nodding her head, Jessica chose to ignore the implication. She was hoping that her little brother would keep his mouth shut, but she soon realized that there was no hope for that.

“Oooh, does this mean you’re going steady? Huh, does it? What are you going to get for Katie? Tell me, I want to know.” Michael moved from smarmy to wheedling.

“She isn’t going to get me anything Michael. And don’t push your luck. If she doesn’t kill you, I just might.” Kate shot him a look of semi-evil.

“Drop it Michael. Just go to the car, and we’ll be there in a minute.” Jessica had that “no more nonsense” tone that she hadn’t used since Michael was very young.

Sensing that he had way over-stepped his bounds; Michael nodded quietly and headed out to the car. Kate had busied herself gathering anything else that they didn’t really need, and then set it all down again. She was clearly embarrassed by Michael’s question, and she wasn’t even sure why. Jessica stopped her short, before she decided to implode.

“Hey, slow down. Michael can be a jerk, and I’m really sorry about that. And I’m sorry about this evening. It seems like we never get any time to just be us. I’ll make it up to you I promise. He just gets out of control sometimes, and well the nature of my job, causes problems with my life. I do feel much better this evening, than I did this afternoon though. I wanted to thank you for taking care of me.” Jessica slid up next to Kate, idly playing with a curl of her damp hair.

Leaning into her, Kate soaked in the contact one more time, smiling at the sound of her jacket brushing against the nylon of Jessica’s jacket. “It’s okay. I am so happy you feel better, and I’m not even certain what made me mad a second ago. I guess I’m feeling a little off myself, and what with the necessity of being responsible, I’m frustrated with myself, for allowing us to get carried away, instead of doing my job like I’m supposed to. It’s not right to look after my own happiness, when there is a job that I am supposed to be doing.”

Jessica let out a sigh. “Listen, other performers have lives, families, and love. There is no reason that we can’t either. We just have to learn how to juggle these things around the studio.”

Kate kissed Jessie’s chin again. “You’re right, and there is no sense in beating ourselves up over it. I guess I just….”

Kate’s thought drifted off. She was puzzling in her mind Michael’s comments about them going steady, and what Jessica might get her. She didn’t want anything from Jessica. Just her heart. And she didn’t like the thought that someone else might think her motives were anything less than honorable. Getting mildly angry again, she didn’t notice that Jessica was quietly observing the emotions playing across her features.

“If I offered a penny for your thoughts, I think I would be seriously under paying you. Let me guess Michael’s big mouth again? Tell you what, give me five minutes, and I’ll give him my extra special “Kendra Knight” treatment. Trust me, he’ll never bother us again.” Jessica was tensing with her own building anger.

Kate couldn’t help but smile. “You know something, you really are scary when you go all “Space Warrior”. I. . .was just thinking, and the more I thought the madder I got. Can I ask you something? Something important?”

Jessica’s own smile met her lover’s. “Of course you can. Ask away.”

“Do you think that I’m using you, that I’m goldigging or something like that? Do you think Michael or the others think that?” Kate’s eyes turned down to watch her fingers nervously fiddle with the zipper on her jacket.

Jessica burst into laughter. “Honey, I wouldn’t suspect you of anything of the sort. The thought never even crossed my mind. And as for Michael, and any “others”, I don’t give a rat’s ass what anyone thinks. They can all stuff it, for all I care. It’s you and only you that I want. I think I’ve made that clear, and I was kinda hoping that you felt the same way. I don’t feel that there is any price that you can put on those kinds of feelings. I. . .I. . .well, I just don’t.”

At the last minute, Jessie chickened out. She was about to tell Kate that she loved her, with all of her heart. Kate sensed that, and for a moment her disappointment almost showed on her face. Then she realized that she would be just as scared, if it were she in Jessie’s place. Did her fear translate into uncertainty? Certainly not, it meant that she was simply chicken. Just like when she was a kid, and her best friend told her to touch a snail. It made her heart pound, and her brow sweat, and definitely caused discomfort for the snail. But eventually she did it, and she was the better for it. And so was the snail, since by the time she was ready, she had learned how to do it, without causing the snail or herself any pain. So, there!

“I appreciate that. That’s not something that I would ever find myself being proud of, if I were that kind of person. The whole idea makes me ill. Well, enough of this, we better get going, before the neighbors call the cops, what with Michael honking the horn and all.” Kate took Jessica by the hand, and leading her to the doorway, kissed her chin again, then walked out the door careful not to give the impression to her nosy neighbors, that a TV star was staying at her house.

Jessie smiled her heart about to burst. She was certain that Kate really did love her. She began to think about a special time, and a special place that she could finally say those three little words. Then she stepped out the door, and carefully closing it behind her, almost skipped down the walkway to the waiting car.

When she reached the car, the usual herd of neighbor kids were hovering around, seeing if the could catch a glimpse of her. She waved at them, and told the closest ones to “keep an eye on things” for Kate and Steven while they were gone. The kids were all readily agreeable, especially since she promised to buy them all ice scream the next time she saw them. They quickly scattered, dying for school on Monday, so they could brag to all of their friends that they knew Jessica Ryan, or Kendra Knight as most of them knew her as.

Chuckling at the look of exasperation that Kate gave her for fraternizing with the kids, she settled back into the seat, and then discreetly grasped Kate’s hand in her own. “What? They’re great, and you know that the slightest thing moves near your house, and they’ll be the first to tell you.”

“I know, but if that keeps up, the next thing you know I’ll end up being a stop on the “Tour of the Stars” bus circuit for local vacationers. I can see it now, buses lined up for blocks, people stepping on my flowers, peeking in my windows. We could set up a card table during the summer block party, and you could sign autographs. It would be a blast.” Kate rolled her eyes and sighed.

Jessica struggled with the giggles that were welling up inside. Playing dumb, she looked at Kate with an evil glint in her eyes and said, “There’s a block party? When is that? Can I wear my favorite shorts, and my Hawaiian shirt?”

Kate realized that Jessie was making fun of her. Counting to five in her head, she suddenly sprang from her seat, and began an earnest tickle attack on her jokester friend. Casually grasping her arms, and holding her still for a moment, Jessica mock-struggled with her, until Kate too was laughing so hard she almost couldn’t breathe. Folding her into her ample embrace, Jessica kissed her tenderly on the lips, almost again forgetting that they weren’t alone. Hmmm, we better do something about that soon, or I might just lose my mind, and any shred of inhibition I have left.

Making eye contact with her brother in the rearview mirror, she mentally willed him to return his attention to the road, and to quit spying on them. Kate realized too, that it wouldn’t be good to pull onto the shoot site, wrapped around each other in some uncompromising position. Funny maybe, but not very good professionally.

They settled back, while Kate went over the schedule for the next day. They never stopped touching each other, their thighs resting next to each other, their hands brushing each other with slight gestures now and then. For Jessica each contact sent a small electric shock to her central nervous system. Yes, they definitely needed to make some quality time for each other.

Kate began to notice an annoying little tickle at the back of her throat. Feeling slightly feverish, she made a mental note to take one of Jessie’s pills, and some aspirin just in case. Even though they had both slept for several hours, she felt somehow, fatigued. She finished reading the schedule to Jessie, and then settled back for the rest of the ride, her head laying on Jessica’s shoulder. Jessie lightly kissed the top of her head, noticing the heat beginning to emanate from her scalp.

Uh, oh! Probably got the virus. Well, it’s my turn to play nurse. Hopefully the trailer’s out there, and I can get her to go back to sleep. Jessica’s thoughts were interrupted as they arrived at the gate to the shoot site. Waving them through, the security guard made no notice of the occupants in the back seat. Apparently he was much more interested in Michael. Another wannabe actor, he had heard that Michael worked for his sister, and was always on the set. Determined to get the opportunity to use Michael for access, he spent an unusual time trying to flatter him. Michael had already accepted that Steven was his one and only, so without so much as a “by your leave”, he closed the car’s window, and drove over to the parking area. Jessie noticed the by-play, and was impressed with her brother’s commitment to his new lover. By the Gods, he really is growing up!

Upon their arrival, a crowd of show crew, determined to escort them in at least ten directions at once set upon the car. Make-up, costume, lights, commissary, everyone was in attendance, all talking at once. Kate indicated to Jessie that she should go to make-up and costume first, and then deal with scripting and lights after. Promising to catch up to her soon, Kate went in search of Ted the director, to check in and gather any changes or special notes that might be awaiting their star. Kate was really feeling lousy, but she pushed that into the back of her mind, as the excitement of making a weekly TV show took over.

Looking back, Jessie noticed the number of times that Kate wiped the sweat from her brow. It was cold enough to see their breath in front of them, so Jessie realized that Kate must really be sick. She could have kicked herself for letting the staff whisk her away so fast. Returning her attention to the nagging drone of voices, she tried to concentrate on what they were saying. Finally she stopped and threw her hands in the air. Looking at all of the startled faces, she tried to smile and politely tell them to speak one at a time. Several nodded, and then they all started speaking at the same time again. Shaking her head in resignation, she concentrated on the one closest to her, and continued walking towards the make-up tent.

Ted had sent Kate off to find the Office trailer they had brought in from the studio. It had several makeshift desks, and computers, fax machines, several phones, and a small staff of Administrative people to run the whole thing while the shooting was taking place. They were answering calls from the main studio office, sending and receiving faxes, and tracking data on the computers. An occasional runner would appear, with the responsibility of carrying written messages to the staff that was outside producing the elements of the show. Even though most of the outside staff carried cell phones, there were areas where no cell activity was allowed. For the most part it was necessary to keep the noise down, but there were also several mechanical units, and computer driven devices that were affected by the high frequency of a cell phone signal.

Kate stepped into the trailer, and a young blond, with a too-wide smile greeted her, and then handed her a folder stuffed with messages and correspondence. Settling herself into one of the empty desks, she sorted through the folder, and then began the task of returning calls, and handling each of the items one by one. Since they had left early, Alice had taken the liberty of having the Admin group take care of organizing all of their data into low and high priority groups.

Kate handled the high priority information first, including leaving a message at the Awards ceremony office that yes, Jessica would attend, that she would present, and that she would be bringing a guest.

Several times during her visit to the office trailer, an Admin would approach, and hand her additional notes and information. Clearing her throat for the tenth time or so, she wiped the sweat off her brow, and adjusted her jacket against the chill in her bones. The new information being delivered, were things that only Kate, as Jessica’s PA, could be trusted with. The last item was a phone message that Justin would be on his way shortly to visit them on the set.

Sighing again, Kate zipped her jacket back up, and grasping the folder of remaining business and her day planner she headed out the door, and back in search of the crew in the shoot area. Spotting Jessica’s dark majestic profile above the smaller costume crew, she smiled slightly at the beauty of her lover and friend. Then she located Ted’s support staff, and delivered her “most important messages” to the right people.

Wandering over to where they were putting the final touches on Jessica’s costume and weapons array, Kate managed to interrupt long enough to ask Jessie if there was anything else she needed before the shoot. Jessica shook her head no, and then took a second to try to tell Kate that she should get some rest. Not comprehending what she meant, Kate nodded her head, and then went over to the food coach to get some cool water to drink. Sitting down for a moment, it was several minutes before she realized that she had drifted off where she sat.

Shaking her head, she rubbed her temples for a moment, bidding the building headache to go away. She finally remembered that she needed to take the two pills she had in her pocket. Fishing them out, she swallowed them down, noticing that her throat had gotten sorer since she first noticed it. Sighing yet again, she stood, a wave of dizziness threatening to knock her down, and after breathing deeply for a moment, headed back to the filming area, where she would be expected to stand and observe, and wait to see if Jessie needed anything in particular.

Jessie headed into the factory area, her mind continually wandering back to Kate. She knew the fiery little PA would not do as she requested, and go find the trailer, and rest. Instead out of the corner of her eye she could see her listening to the directions that were being given, and paying attention to the monitor that was set just to the right of where Ted was sitting. He was calling out instructions, and shortly he would give the command for quiet on the set, and roll. Jessie just hoped that he wouldn’t take advantage of Kate’s presence, and start sending her on stupid little “Ted” errands, simply because he could. She might have to kill him.

Tonight they were going to be doing close-up shots, recording the planning session between Kendra Knight and her faithful sidekick. The story line went such that they had received a communication from headquarters, and that it was essential that they get the area secured, so that they could return to the main fortress, where the rest of their squad, and their superiors were based.

Kate watched the monitor with interest. Each time the camera moved closer to Jessie, her heart skipped a little. It was one thing to sit in her living room with Steven, or talk to Laura on-line while watching the show, and compare notes, and another thing all together to watch the episodes actually being created. She was still caught up in the thrill of it all. Periodically she would rub her temples, and at one point she removed her jacket. Her skin felt too warm to be wrapped up in her snug winter jacket.

Ted noticed the flush on her skin, and had one of his assistants get her some more water, and a chair to sit on. He had been hoping to make her run the paces tonight, but realized that after discovering his star sleeping at this little red-haired girl’s home, it was probably not a good idea to pick on her. Regardless of what anyone else says, he was definitely afraid of Jessica Ryan, and not just a little afraid of Justin. He knew that at any moment Justin could pop up, since he was due on the set tonight, and if Ted was giving Jessie or her friend any trouble, Justin would probably publicly humiliate him. He was not in the mood. All Ted wanted was to put out a great show, stay in the top ten, and get paid what he was worth for it. Anything else was too Hollywood for him. He was even proud of himself for not telling anyone else about finding Jessie sleeping at Kate’s. Well, just Marie, one of the make-up girls, but she wouldn’t tell. He had been trying to date her for a while, and he figured that if he shared this secret, she might go out with him. She never did give him an answer, but he was certain she would, if he asked her again.

Re-staging the shot two more times, Ted didn’t notice that there was a buzz of conversation around the area. Almost too late, he saw Justin approaching with a group of men he had never seen before. Stopping the shot, he bustled over to where they were standing, and greeted Justin personally.

“Um, hi, we were expecting you. Can we get you anything? We’re resetting this shot, for a better light angle, and then we’ll move on to the next 3 or 4 shots, and then finish up tomorrow. Barring any interference, we should be able to suspend the scheduled shoot on Sunday.” Ted was visibly nervous, expecting Justin to change things around.

Surprisingly enough, Justin just grunted his affirmative, and then asked politely if Ted would mind if he disturbed Jessie for a moment. Ted said he didn’t mind, and called a runner to retrieve her from the location. He noticed that Justin seemed to be slightly edgy, and decided it would definitely be in his best interests to keep his mouth shut.

Kate’s ears pricked up as soon as she heard Justin say Jessie’s name. She was afraid that he might be here to pick on her again, about their new relationship. She was praying with all of her might, that he would invite her over to join them. Surprisingly enough, he noticed her standing near the monitor, and reached out his hand, gesturing for her to stand with him.

“So, little lady, how are you this evening? You look a little under the weather. I wanted to thank you for taking care of our Jessie gal, while she was not feeling well. I understand she stayed at your home, while she is currently looking for new digs? Well, that was right nice of you.” Justin made no attempt to hide this information from his guests.

Kate tried to hide her surprise. She carefully scrutinized the group again, and realized that some of them were the sponsors she had seen him with earlier, and one or two were members of the law teams representing the studio. She knew by the fact that they came all the way out here to see Jessie that something big was in the works. She hoped that they hadn’t messed things up. Obviously someone had a big mouth, or Justin wouldn’t have known that Jessie stayed with her. Glancing at Ted, she caught his eye, and gave him an evil grin. He blushed, and shrugged his shoulders, pretending not to know what she was looking at him for, even though he had a good idea.

Their thoughts and discussions were interrupted with the arrival of Jessie. She obviously was feeling better, and she immediately began a polite, joking banter with Justin. Justin gestured to the group that they should move a little ways away from the rest of the general staff, because he had an announcement to make, and he wasn’t quite ready for all of them to know. He figured Jessie could tell them when they were done.

Kate hung back, not expecting to be included, but Justin himself wrapped his big arm around her shoulder, and drew her along with the group. Glancing at Jessie, she received a broad smile, and a small shoulder shrug, as if to say “don’t question it, just be glad of it.” The group wandered back into a lighted area near the command trailer.

When they were all assembled Justin removed his arm from around Kate, and then clearing his throat, prepared to make his announcement. “I’ll make this short and sweet. Our show, Kendra Knight, has been named the number one action series on television. Our Jessie here has been nominated as the top female actress in a drama series, and our special effects team has been nominated for several awards for their superior presentation, and backgrounds for our show. Oh, and lest I forget, Ted has been nominated for an award for the best director of an action/drama series as well. You should be proud of yourself Jessie. This is quite an honor, and I for one am extremely proud of you for working so hard to make this happen.”

Jessie thanked him quietly, and then politely shook hands, with the assembled sponsors and the two attorneys. Kate could hardly contain the excitement that was bubbling up inside of her. She politely shook everyone’s hands as well, and then stood at a respectable distance away, while Jessie addressed them before heading back to the staff.

“I want to thank you all for coming out here, and I want you to know how proud I am to represent such a fine team. Justin, I really think that you should tell the rest of the group. I really believe that they would appreciate hearing it direct from the “Horse’s mouth” so to speak.” Jessie implored him with her eyes.

“Oh, well, if you think so, then I guess so. I would really rather it be you, but whatever. Let’s get this over with, so I can get on with my business. Lead the way ladies, and we’ll follow. Uh, Jessie? These two stuffed suits are here for another reason. While I’m making the announcement, they’ll fill you in on what’s happening in the rest of our world.” Justin followed the group, and then as he stepped in front of the staff, Jessie stepped back with the attorneys. Kate stood between, until Jessie motioned for her to come along.

The men waited until Justin was in full swing, and then told Jessie what was up. Apparently they wanted to notify her that they had managed to recover almost the entire amount of both the studio’s, and her assets. They were going to be able to get her released from her marriage, with little or no trouble, and her house would be on the market by sunrise. All in all, things were moving well for all concerned.

Impressed, Jessie had no idea that the attorneys were working at that pace behind the scenes. She knew she should have been paying more attention, but for some reason she seemed to have been preoccupied. Glancing sideways at Kate, she winked and then thanking the men, promised to be in contact by the following week.

Heading back to the raucously cheering crowd gathered around Justin, Jessie reached out and lightly squeezed Kate’s shoulder. “Thanks,” she whispered. “for staying by me through all of this.”

Kate smiled, wincing slightly with her pounding headache. “Hey, no problem, anything for you.”

Noticing the rasp in her voice, Jessie stopped her for a moment, and laying the back of her hand on Kate’s forehead, made a dramatic show of getting her hand burned. “Why aren’t you in my trailer laying down. You look terrible. And you sound really bad too. Come on, I’m not going to have you catching pneumonia.”

Stopping one of the assistants who had run over to congratulate her, she sent word to Ted that she would be back in a few moments, that she needed to go to her trailer. The messenger ran off, glad to help out their star. Taking a protesting Kate by the arm, she led her to where she remembered the trailer last being parked. She couldn’t think of the last time she had been in there. She did remember that it was very nice. Plain, since she hadn’t added anything to it, but nice just the same.

Spotting it next to several others, she stepped up to the door, and was surprised to find it unlocked. Reaching in to turn the light on, she noticed a sharp, stale odor from inside. Without knowing why, the hair on the back of her neck stood on end. Motioning for Kate to step back, she was going to enter the trailer on her own, when Kate grabbed her by the arm and pulled her back. Reaching into her pocket, and taking out her stun gun she stepped ahead of Jessie, and entered the trailer.

The odor was overwhelming. Turning the lights on as she went, she soon discovered what it was that had caused that horrible smell. Laid across the bed in the back, were the corpses of three dead cats. All of them had signs around their necks, each one with a name on it. In Kate’s diminished condition, the smell caused and overwhelming attack of nausea. Turning, and running full speed out the door, she barely made it out the door, before the entire contents of her stomach hit the dirt.

Jessie quickly ran to her side, and simultaneously holding Kate and her hair, tried to be as supportive as possible while her lover was ill. When Kate calmed down, Jessie walked her a safe distance away from the trailer, and then having her sit down on the ground, started to return to investigate herself. Kate tried to stop her, but she was stubborn, and continued until she made it to the horrible scene that had been left for them.

Surveying the mess, she was shocked to see her name, Kate’s and Michael’s on the signs around each of the poor animal’s necks. Obviously Gregory had left them this “note”. Realizing that she was probably compromising a crime scene, she quickly retreated, being careful not to touch anything else on her way out.

Kate was curled on the ground, holding her throbbing head, and trying desperately to hold back her tears. Being a cat owner and an all around sensitive person anyway, the scene was almost more than she could take. Jessie quickly returned to her side, and pulling her into her arms, bid her to let the tears fall. No longer able to hold them back, they came in large, gaping sobs.

“Hey, it’s okay. Let them come.” Jessie spoke softly, slowly rocking back and forth, her chin resting on Kate’s head.

“It’s . . .just . . .horri..ble! How. . .can. . .some . . .one do some. . .thing like . . .that?” Kate could hardly speak through the sobs.

“Gregory is very sick, honey. He has no respect whatsoever, for any other living being. He is extremely dangerous. Come on, we need to get back to the group. I’ll have someone call the police, and take care of this. We need to get you home.” Jessica helped her up, and cradling her, headed back to the assembled staff while they waited patiently for their star.

Kate stopped her halfway. “No, I don’t want to be alone. I . . .I’ll stay here, until you’re done. Don’t worry about me, I. . .I’ll be okay. Please?”

Jessie was reluctant. Kate’s fever was pretty high, and she was obviously in distress. But in the big picture, Jessie didn’t want her to be alone either. She felt much better having Kate where she could see her, and keep an eye on her. Giving in to the lesser of two evils, she decided to keep her at the site, until she was done. Hopefully she could talk Ted into moving things along a little faster.

After quietly explaining to one of the assistants what had happened, Jessica stopped Justin, and let him know the details. He was about to leave with his guests, and promised Jessie that he would follow through with the police, and beef up security for the next day, until they were done shooting. Ted had indicated that they would probably only work for half a day, and then the film would go to editing. The next episode would be shot at the studio itself, so they could be assured of greater security.

Jessie thanked him, and then grabbing one of the runners, had them bring a blanket, and a hot cup of tea for Kate. They settled her into the cab of one of the gear trucks, and made sure she was comfortable before they resumed shooting. Most of the staff was unaware of the discovery at Jessie’s trailer. They assumed that Kate was sick, and that (hee, hee) Jessie was taking care of her. Those people that knew what happened had all agreed, that the quieter the better. The police weren’t even going to approach the site, until the regular crew had left.

About four hours later, Ted was satisfied that they had done all they could for the night, and had the crew wrap up until tomorrow. Jessica quickly headed to wardrobe, and changing into her regular clothes, dashed over to the truck where she had left Kate. Opening the door, she stood for a moment, and watched her love sleep. Kate was curled into a ball, the blanket tucked under her chin. Jessie could see small beads of sweat dripping from her scalp, and realized that she needed to get her home, and into a nice warm bed as soon as possible.

Michael always seemed to be in tune with her. Just as she was carefully sliding Kate out of the truck, Michael came slowly through in the town car. Parking a few feet away, he jumped out and taking Kate in his own arms, waited until Jessie was seated, before settling Kate in Jessie’s arms. Several of the crew members were milling around waiting for rides etc, and several of them noted how nice it must be to have someone care about you so much. It was turning out, that most of them were getting the idea about Jessie and Kate, and they couldn’t be happier for them. Even the ones that were secretly enamored of their star, decided that they match was okay by them.

Michael started the car, and carried the two women back into the Los Angeles night. Somewhere, a maniac, enjoying the demented nature of his surroundings, took another swallow of whiskey, and planned the next step of his sick journey of revenge. His heroin saturated companion cried out in her drug-induced sleep. Somehow, even the heroin couldn’t keep this demon at bay.

——————————————————————————–

“Don’t take life too seriously.

You’ll never escape it anyway.”

********Elbert Hubbard********
Chapter 17: (In a land without rules…….)
While Kate slept quietly, Jessie wandered around the kitchen wondering what she should eat. She knew she should be asleep as well, but the long nap in the afternoon, combined with the mixed shock and excitement of the evening, was preventing her from resting comfortably. Besides, she was worried about Kate.

Jessie didn’t think much of the virus at first. After a few hours of rest, and some medicine she was just fine, but Kate got hit hard. Her fever was still a little on the high side, and the watery rasp in her chest made Jessie’s heart chill.

It had been a long time since Jessie had been sick. If she remembered correctly, she had been about 12 years old. Funny thing, she wasn’t sick for very long that time either. She figured she must have great healing powers. Opening the pantry, she came across some bread and was about to take out the peanut butter, when Michael and Steven came wandering in. Steven had returned home some time after Michael brought her and Kate back to the house, and Jessie left them alone to catch up with each other.

“I’m sorry guys, did I wake you?” Jessie was mentally chuckling at the two boys in their boxers.

Michael yawned deeply. “No, we were hungry, and Steven remembered there is bread and peanut butter, so we thought we would come out and join you. How’s Katie?”

Jessie handed the bread and peanut butter over to Steven. It had been a while since she had produced anything in a kitchen, so she thought they might be safer if one of the boys took over. Steven found the jelly in the refrigerator, and began the process, while Jessie and Michael sat at the table.

“Kate is sleeping, but I’m worried about her. Her lungs are pretty congested, and her fever is hanging on. I’m going to call Helen in the morning, and see if there is anything else I should be doing. I have to go to work tomorrow night, but I’m not going to let her come with me. She needs to get better.” Jessie’s wavering voice betrayed her fear.

“Hey, it’s okay. Steven and I are missing each other a lot, so we thought we would stay in. We can keep her company. Besides, this thing with Gregory is getting out of hand. He’s really lost his mind. I would feel better if we didn’t leave her alone anyway.” Michael was trying his best to comfort his sister. He reached across the table, and held her hand for a moment.

A small tear escaped from one corner of Jessie’s eye. Embarrassed she quickly wiped it away. Steven came over and put his hand on her shoulder. “You don’t have to worry about us, Jess. We don’t mind if you cry. I mean after all, we’re family.”

Jessie laughed in spite of her tears. “I don’t know why I’m crying anyway. I just can’t help it.”

Steven and Michael stole a glance at each other. They thought she didn’t see them, but she did. “What? Why are you looking at me that way?”

Michael squeezed her hand, and Steven hugged her from behind. Michael spoke first. “Because you big doofus. You’re in love. As soon as you admit it, and tell her, you’ll feel a lot better. I’ve been watching you. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you happier in all my life. You two are so cute together, it makes me crazy. Sometimes I just want to stop the car, and tell you both to get over it.”

Jessie considered his words for a moment. “Then I would have to do something terrible to you. You think I should tell her? What if she freaks out? Maybe she doesn’t love me? You guys what if she sends me away?”

This time both men looked at each other in astonishment. Michael put his hands on his face, and Steven covered his own eyes. The two of them burst into hysterical laughter. Finally, noticing the bewildered, and rapidly becoming angry look on his sister’s face; Michael got control of himself and explained.

“Jessie! Are you really that blind? Kate is sooo in love with you; it’s a joke. You two keep dancing around each other, and second-guessing each other’s motives, because you’re both afraid to commit to each other. She feels the same way as you do. What if, maybe, I don’t know? Someone has to make the first move, and it might as well be you.” Michael was totally serious now.

“Who’s moving?” Kate’s sleepy voice joined them from the doorway.

“Hey, what are you doing up?” Jessie reached out a hand to her.

Kate came over, almost stumbling over her own feet. She was only dressed in her underwear, and a light T-shirt. Jessie could see the goosebumps popping up on her arms. Pulling her onto her lap, she began to rub her arms trying to get them warm. Michael dashed into the living room, and brought back the quilt that was hanging over the back of the couch. Thanking him, Jessie wrapped Kate up, and kissed her on the forehead.

“Hmm, you still have a fever. I think we should give you another dose of aspirin. Do you think you can handle some soup right now?” Jessie was speaking softly to the shivering woman in her arms.

Kate nodded her head, wincing with the stab of pain in her temple. The headache was still very much present. She had gone through this a few times when she was younger, and it always took her a few days to get over it. She was heart broken, because she knew that Jessie had to get a dress for the awards show. Now more than ever it was important, because she might win for her nomination. Kate wouldn’t be able to go shopping with her if she was still sick.

A small tear escaped, which made her even more angry. The last thing she wanted was to act like a baby, especially over a stupid dress. And a stupid awards ceremony. If I don’t get better, then I can’t go there either. Her diminished state was making her emotions swing like crazy. Burying her face in the curve of Jessie’s neck, she closed her eyes and tried to will her body to feel better. Just having Jessie hold her, and whisper sweet things to her was helping quite a bit.

Jessie could sense the change in moods, and the stress Kate was going through, without even seeing her face. The small tear that had escaped was slowly dripping along Jessie’s collarbone. Taking a chance, she tried to lift Kate’s face so she could have a better look, but Kate wouldn’t let her.

“What’s wrong, sweet thing? Got the blues? Tell me what’s bothering you, and I’ll see if I can make it better.” Jessie’s attempt at baby talk, in that smoky sultry voice of hers sent all kinds of strange signals to Kate’s nervous system.

Choosing to hold back the multitude of sensations brought on by that sexy, sweet, loving murmur, Kate shook her head carefully, and peeked up into Jessie’s eyes. “I. . .um, was . . . okay, I’m feeling sorry for myself. I hate acting like a baby, and yet this is sooo nice, sitting here in your lap, being babied. I’m also having a mental cow over not being able to shop for that dress with you. I can’t let you be seen with me looking like this, and I feel to crappy to look any better.”

Jessie chuckled deep in her throat, careful not to make Kate think she was making fun of her. “I don’t care what you look like, you’re always beautiful to me.”

Kate smiled, and kissed Jessie on the cheek. The boys were watching the whole scene in front of them, as though it were the sweetest thing they had ever seen. Kind of like a child with a puppy. Michael smiled at Steven, and held his hand, a feeling of warmth, and love filling the room.

Jessie stood up, and carrying Kate back to the bedroom, told the boys she would be back to get the soup. Steven volunteered to heat it up, and Michael got up to make some tea.

Standing next to Steven, Michael bumped him with his hip, and put an arm around his waist. “Don’t you have some connections around this town in the fashion industry? I could have sworn you told me that you were always being courted for fashion shows, and to wear certain designer’s stuff at various functions and dinner and so on.”

Steven kissed him on the temple. “You know, you just took the thought right out of my head. As soon as the sun comes up, I’ll make some phone calls, and see what I can arrange. Should we tell them, or make it a surprise?”

Michael thought about it for a minute. “Let’s tell Jessie, then she can be prepared. She doesn’t have to be at the set until about eight o’clock in the evening. If we schedule people in around noon, then she can sleep in for a while. Oh, and make sure they bring some things for Kate too. Jessie’s taking her as her date to the awards show. I know she wanted to get something nice for her too.”

Steven agreed, and then hearing Jessie returning, poured the soup in a bowl, and dug some crackers out of the pantry to go with them. Michael told Jessie their plan, and she was so excited that she kissed them both on the cheek, and gave them a big hug.

“I don’t know what we would do without you guys. I really appreciate your fast thinking. I’ll wait until tomorrow to tell Kate. I want her to eat something, and then we both need to get some sleep.” Jessie wasn’t sure she would be able to sleep, having to hold in all the exciting news.

Taking the soup back to Kate, Jessie noticed that Corky and Violet, Kate’s feline children had joined them. Pushing a disgruntled Corky down to the foot of the bed with her sister, Jessie took her spot and as Kate had done for her earlier, spoon fed her lover with soup, and a cracker or two on the side. When the tea was ready Michael brought two steaming mugs in, and winking at his sister, bade them both goodnight.

Kate sat back for a moment, and closing her eyes counted to ten. She was praying that the soup would stay in place, because her pounding head was threatening to “reverse the flow”. Jessie retrieved a couple of aspirin’s from the bathroom, and added an antibiotic from the samples that Dr. Mac had given her. If necessary, she would call Helen in the morning, and ask her to send a prescription over to the pharmacy nearby, and Michael would pick them up. Jessie was not afraid to venture out to places like the grocery store, or the pharmacy, but she didn’t make a habit of it. Sometimes the fans could be a little overzealous, and especially in LA. If she lived somewhere that was not so “wild”, it might be different.

Before Jessie had a chance to say goodnight, Kate was already drifting back out, her eyelids fluttering, in a lame attempt to fight her overwhelming fatigue. Jessie kissed her on the cheek, and snuggling in close, surprised herself by drifting out.

Sometime the following morning, the aroma of bacon, and pancakes cooking in the kitchen awakened Jessie. The morning sun was peeking behind the blinds, and for the first time in a long time, everything seemed . . . . right to her. The cats noticed her moving, and were immediately on top, competing for the prime spot under her chin. Violet finally got so disgusted at Corky’s insistence that she be closer, that she perched on Jessie’s knee, and turned her back. She refused to move or acknowledge their presence any further.

“You know Corky, one of these days she’s going to get back at you, and then you’ll be in real trouble.” Jessie scratched Corky’s smiling face while she lectured her about the unsafe practice of making her sister mad.

Kate’s eyes opened slowly. She had been awake for several minutes, listening to the conversation between her cats and her lover. Smiling, she reached over and placed her hand next to Jessie’s on Corky’s head. Feeling extremely important over the extra attention she was getting, Corky rolled over and gave the two women a rare glimpse of her rather ample belly. Jessie chuckled, and scratched the furry pillow, receiving a loud, appreciative purr in return. Violet, still perched on her knee pedestal, continued to ignore the whole mess. It just made her ill what a scene-stealer Corky had become.

Jessie took a moment to assess Kate’s condition. Placing her lips tenderly on her forehead, she determined that the fever had finally run its course. She brushed Kate’s bangs back, and looking into her eyes, decided that they were clear enough, and . . . .absolutely the greenest, most beautiful she had ever seen. Kate smiled when she realized that Jessie had just slipped into a small trance.

“Hey there cutie-pie, what caught you in its snare?” Kate giggled.

“Hmm, I think it must have been this beautiful green-eyed vision laying next to me on our cloud here. Have I told you yet how happy you make me, and how absolutely beautiful you are?” Jessie smiled, her sky blue eyes glinting in the morning light.

Blushing, Kate smiled, and looked away. “I only reflect your beauty. You flatter me; I couldn’t possibly be beautiful this morning. I still feel like a truck ran over me.”

Lifting up the covers, Jessie poked and prodded Kate for a minute, and satisfied with her findings, dropped the covers, folded her arms across her chest, and shook her head emphatically.

“I do not see any tire tracks, nor do I detect any missing body parts. By my careful examination, I have determined that you were not in fact “run over by a truck”. I think however, you may have contracted a bug of monumental proportions. It may require an exterminator, or a rather large can of Raid.” Jessie pursed her lips, looking very prim and proper.

Kate couldn’t help herself; she burst into the giggles. Coughing a few times, she realized that her throat was still a little raspy, and her head felt like it had oatmeal in it. She still had some small traces of her headache, but the worst had passed her. She still didn’t think she would be able to go shopping though. She was afraid she might relapse.

Choosing not to think about it, she mentally changed the subject. “So, what’s for breakfast? I’m starving, and even though my nose isn’t working very well, I think I detect bacon in the air.”

Unfolding her arms, Jessie threw back the covers, and pushing Corky over onto Kate, leaped out of bed. Violet was unceremoniously dumped over the side, and swishing her tail in disgust, turned and slipped under the bed, no longer interested in her mother’s “friend”.

“I believe you’re right, M’Lady, and I shall make haste in retrieving said odor and bringing it’s substance to you momentarily.” Jessie bowed deeply, and leapt towards the door, almost knocking the overflowing tray of breakfast out of Michael’s hands.

“Hey there, take it easy. Get back in that bed this instant, or else. We worked hard at this, and it’s meant to be consumed in bed. I shopped, and Steven cooked. Now, sit down, before I knock you down.” Michael waited until Jessie was back under the covers, and then setting his tray across Kate’s lap, he stepped aside, and let Steven come in and set his tray over Jessie’s.

Both men went back to the kitchen, and while Steven brought more food back for them, Michael brought in some cushions to sit on the floor. The four friends enjoyed their breakfast together, idly talking about the weather, the news, and very vaguely about the women’s discovery in Jessie’s trailer.

“I heard that Justin went ballistic, and had the trailer towed away when the cops were done with it.” Michael contributed.

“How did you get all of this information already?” Jessie inquired.

“Umm, well, while Steven was making his. . .calls, I called Diane, and well, you know, she knows everything, and if she doesn’t, then she certainly will find out.

Anyway, she said that Justin was furious, because Gregory or whoever managed to get past security, left what he did, and not get caught. He almost didn’t let them finish the shoot tonight, because he was afraid that someone might try to hurt you again. Oh, and he’s demanding that the security at the award’s ceremony be to his standards, or he isn’t going to let you go.” Michael was clearly excited about his insider knowledge.

“Why? Doesn’t he think that we can take care of ourselves? I have no intention of letting anyone hurt me or Kate, and certainly not that weasel Gregory.” Jessie was getting irritated.

Kate carefully swallowed her bite of pancakes. “I sincerely doubt that anyone can get past the already heavy security they have at those things. I mean it’s not like that movie The Bodyguard or whatever. Or maybe it is!”

Everyone chuckled at the ridiculous picture that drew in their minds. Michael and Steven carried the dishes back into the kitchen, and then the girls got up and got into the shower. Jessie thought that Kate would feel better if she showered, and changed into something comfortable to hang out in. She still hadn’t told her that the dress shopping was coming to them, instead of her going out. Jessie thought she would wait a while, and tease her before she told her.

“So, when are you leaving?” Kate tried unsuccessfully to keep the sadness out of her voice.

“Oh, I have a few things to do here before I can even think about dresses.” Jessie replied nonchalantly.

Only slightly consoled, Kate asked more questions. “What do you need to do? Is there anything I can help you with? I mean, I’m feeling better, and if I need to make some calls, or write some letters or something, just say so. As a matter of fact, maybe I better call Alice, and get an update. She could send me a courier and I could. . . .Blup, mpf, hey!”

Jessie splashed Kate with water to get her to stop talking for a moment. “Sorry, but I wanted to tell you that all I have on my agenda for the moment, is scrubbing you till you’re pink and shiny, dressing you in something warm and comfy, and settling back for some quality cartoons or drag racing, whatever strikes your fancy. I don’t want to work. I want to be a veggie for a while. Work is tonight. And let us not forget dresses. Yecchh!”

Kate giggled, and hugged Jessie tight. She was so pleased that Jessie was going to stay and hang out with her that she started to cry. Feeling stupid she buried her head in Jessie’s chest, and refused to look up until she stopped crying. Jessie finally took the shower sprayer and blasted her again to see if she could coax her out.

“Stop that! You just wait Jessica Ryan. One of these days I’ll get you back. That’s not funny. Now, wash my back for me.” Kate was playfully indignant, but pleased when her lover complied.

“You know, I don’t think I’ve ever been happier than right now. This is what life should be like, right?” Jessie kissed Kate on the back of her neck.

Shivering a little with the contact, Kate nodded her head in agreement. “Yes, it should, always. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier either. You make me happy. You . . . complete me.”

Jessie turned Kate around to face her, and kissed her tenderly. She decided that it was not necessary to take this moment any further. Being close, and sharing each other’s touch was enough. The rest could still wait. They held each other for a while, just letting the warm water cascade over them like a small waterfall.

A short time later, realizing they were probably using all of the hot water, Jessie finished bathing Kate, and then let Kate wash her back. They finished up, and then stepping out first, Jessie grabbed their towels, and wrapping one around herself, she enclosed Kate in hers, winding the towel around her like a mummy. She tenderly dried every nook and cranny, and then towel dried Kate’s hair, combing it out when she was done. Drying herself off, she led Kate to her dresser, and had her select some comfortable things for her to slip into. Kate chose sweats, and an oversized T-shirt, and socks to keep her feet warm.

Jessie dug through her suitcase, and was pleased to see that Michael included a pair of sweats and T-shirt for her too. She slipped into them, but passed on the socks. They made her feet too warm. Jumping back into bed, she handed Kate the remote, and they bantered back and forth about what to watch, and finally settled on an old Laurel and Hardy meets Frankenstein movie.

A sort time into the movie, Kate asked Jessie if she would mind if Kate got her laptop, and talked to Laura while they watched the movie. Jessie jumped up and volunteered to get the case for her, and hook it up, as long as Kate directed her.

Again pleased about Jessie’s willingness to just hang out with her, she told her where to find the case and all of the cords etc.

Bringing back the gear, Jessie followed Kate’s instructions, and hooked up all the connections to get her going. Kate logged on, and waited until the Instant Messenger came up to see if Laura was online. Not seeing her, she went ahead and checked her mail. She smiled when she noticed that Laura had sent several messages, asking where she was, how she was, and if she was ever going to “see” her again. The last one was particularly funny.

Hey there spud, what’s new? Did you die, or get sucked up into the mother ship by the aliens.

You know, I was driving to work the other day, and I noticed this huge radar dish sitting in the middle of a rather large hill. Covering the hill was a herd of about five hundred head of cattle, all munching on the grass, laying down and resting, or contentedly watching all of us humans in our little metal pods shooting down the road.

I thought about them for a while, and it hit me. They were “Radar Cows”. You know, aliens from another planet. They are a peaceful race, brought here by the mother ship, and transmitted to the hill via the signal from the radar dish. They have been contentedly observing us for months now, using the green grass to sustain their lifeforms.

They have been trying to figure out ways to assist us humans in getting our lives and our planet back on track. They are a far superior race, and have a monumentally larger background technology than anything we have ever seen before in our entire history. They have walked among us for centuries, blending in with our regular population of cattle.

The Radar Cows admittedly abhor our practice of eating other living species, but they understand that the habit was born out of a need to survive. It is their long range plan to teach us to feed ourselves, without damaging our Eco-system, and to obtain world peace, intergalactic travel, and a means of eliminating fossil fuels and pollutants from our atmosphere, with an end product of restoring our ozone layer to it’s full potential.

A sad thing happened though . . . .just the other day. It had been the Friday before a long weekend, and I felt compelled to stop and talk to the Radar Cows, sort of as an emissary you know. Well, obviously we couldn’t speak each other’s language, but I did my very best to communicate with them, and apologized for my frequent trips to the “In and Out” Burger stand, and any other infractions of their food policy. I tried to get them to tell me their message, and let me communicate with the rest of humanity for them. Instead they continued to eat, sleep, and watch the rest of us go by.

Disappointed, I returned to my car, and continued to work, knowing that the mother ship would return by the evening to take them back to their planet. I don’t know how I knew all these things about them. It was almost as though it came to me in a dream.

Anyway, I worked late that evening, and when I returned home, the Radar Cows were already gone. I waited for the weekend to pass, barbecuing some steaks, and feeling extremely guilty over the whole matter, and vowing to apologize again when the Radar Cows returned.

Tuesday morning I eagerly jumped into my car, earlier than usual to spend some time with the Radar Cows. When I arrived at the spot, there wasn’t a single cow in sight, Radar or otherwise. Frantically I ran back and forth in front of the fence, calling to them, crying and apologizing. A lone cowboy rode up to me, concerned about my distress.

I asked him what happened. He looked around, and shading his eyes, and squinted into the sun. “What happened to what?” He asked. “The Radar Cows”. I answered. “Radar what?” He said. “Cows. Where did all of the cows go?” I replied. “Oh, you mean the steer? They went on to market, you know, hamburger heaven.” He whistled to his horse, and the two of them turned and rode off into the sunrise. (It was morning, so sunrise instead of sunset).

I was crestfallen. How could we humans be so stupid? Here we are, with a prime chance to redeem our evil ways, and save our species from ourselves. Instead we send our only salvation away to provide fodder for our fast food lifestyle. Chances are we will never have this chance again.

From now on, I will shed a single tear each and everytime I consume a burger or a medium-well steak smothered in onions with sautéed mushrooms in memory of the Radar Cows.

I miss you kiddo. I hope things are doing okay. Say hi to that gorgeous woman I know you’ve got yourself wrapped around. Let me know what you know.

Love you,

Laura

Kate smiled, and chuckled a little. “I miss you too, you silly goof.”

Jessie noticed the distant look on Kate’s face. Fearing that she might be intruding in Kate’s privacy, Jessie stood to leave. Kate took her hand, and stopped her.

“Where are you going? Don’t go. You have to read this, it’s great.” Kate turned the laptop so that Jessie could see the screen.

“Oh, I was thinking, well. . .” Jessie sat back down.

“You were thinking what?” Kate inquired.

Jessie frowned a moment. “I was thinking that you might want some privacy. I didn’t want to intrude on your thing with Laura.” There, I said it. I don’t know why I said it, but I said it.

Setting the computer aside for a moment, Kate took Jessie’s hand in her own. “Listen, you never intrude on me. And I don’t have a “thing”, with Laura. She is my friend. She has been there for me in some of my darkest moments, and I value that very much. Haven’t you ever had someone that is so special to you, that you “miss” him or her every once in a while? A friend?”

Jessie shook her head. She had never been really close to anyone, except Michael, and they were around each other all of the time. Dr. Helen and her girlfriend were friends, but that wasn’t the same. She never had a private “friend”. Not until Kate that is.

“Well, it’s kind of like a sister. Someone you can tell your secrets to, and someone you can depend on. I guess kind of like Michael, but not related. Laura and I, or I should say “I” have spent many hours pouring my heart out to her. She is so patient, and kind. Yet in a “no nonsense” sort of way, she can be tough on you too. She really believes that we shape our own lives, and that we have to own up to our mistakes and move on. You don’t need to feel threatened by her. Laura thinks you are singularly the greatest person on the planet. You’ll feel better, when you meet her. Trust me.” Kate kissed the hand she held, and smiled at Jessie for reassurance.

Jessie smiled back. If Laura were that important to Kate, then she would be that important to Jessie. Taking the laptop from Kate, she scrolled back up to read Laura’s letter. Chuckling herself, she asked Kate if she could reply. Surprised, Kate readily agreed.

Dear Laura: Why is it that you haven’t gone into publication? This has to be the singularly most charming story I have ever read. I too will pay homage to the Radar Cows, each and every time I consume one of their by-products. You’re great Laura, don’t forget it.

Kate is here, with her eyes bugging out because I asked to write to you. I wanted to thank you for being Kate’s friend. She loves you very much.

And yes, I am wrapped around her, and loving every minute of it.

Take care,

Jessie

Kate showed her how to send the letter, and decided not to reply right at the moment herself. Deciding that Laura must not be online, she logged off, and put the laptop away. Settling back in Jessie’s arms, leaning against her chest, Kate sighed contentedly. Wishing she had the guts to tell Jessie she loved her, she closed her eyes, and pretended to in her head instead.

“Thanks, ” Jessie interrupted her thoughts, “For letting me do that. I don’t know why, but it made me feel better. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I think I was jealous there for a moment.”

“Why would you be jealous? I’m here in your arms, not hers. And there isn’t anything I would say to Laura, that I couldn’t say to you. Don’t be jealous, that would make me sad.” Kate turned to look into Jessie’s eyes. Except maybe, hmm, I bet the fact that I told Laura I loved her bothered Jessie. Don’t worry my love, soon I’ll say it. Real soon!

“Oh, I’m not jealous, not anymore. And I appreciate you sharing me with her, and vice versa. I really do think that I’m going to like her even better when I meet her. Can we go tomorrow? I’m dying of curiosity, and I can’t wait for our vacation.” Jessie’s eyebrows went up, hoping for an affirmative to her request.

Kate laughed, breaking into a coughing fit for the effort. “<cough> You can’t be serious. We have way too much to do, and <cough> ugh, that’s killing me. You have to get a dress for the ceremony, and that’s final. We can see Laura when we get some time off.”

Jessie stuck her lower lip way out. She was just getting ready to wind into a massive “it’s not fair” tantrum, when Steven popped into the room. Snapping her fingers because she missed her chance, she received a pinch on the belly for her efforts.

“Hey, there’s someone to see you guys in the living room. Better get out of that bed and come in here. It’s really important.” Steven fought hard to keep the secret. His smile was blinding them both.

Kate pursed her lips. “Are you expecting anyone?”

Jessie shook her head; afraid she might give herself away if she said anything.

“Who is it, Steven?” Kate was starting to get suspicious.

“I don’t know, but they asked for you and Jessie specifically. Why don’t you just come out here, and see for yourself. I have things to do.” With that said, he turned and sashayed out the door, hoping they would follow soon behind.

Kate looked at Jessie, and then her eyes narrowed. “You know what’s going on don’t you? And you’re not telling. You better tell me, or I just might . . .”

“Might what? Come on; give it your best shot. I’m waiting for you.” Jessie got on her knees, and prepared for a wrestling match.

“Never mind, but when you least expect it, POW!” Kate bowed out, feeling too weak to do battle at the moment.

Standing up, Jessie took her hand and coaxed her out of bed. “Come on sweetie, let’s go out there and see what’s going on, before the twins come back here and have some kind of hissy-fit.”

Kate got up reluctantly, and followed Jessie out into the living room. When they stepped into the room, Kate didn’t immediately see what was awaiting her. Jessie finally stepped aside, and revealed the display before them. Kate’s mouth dropped open, and her eyes went as wide as dinner plates.

Jessie tugged her arm, and had her sit in a chair to the side, set up just for her. The boys had worked very hard to clear out the room, and make some space for the people and their wares that were currently occupying every available square inch. There was a raised platform in the center, and a beautiful full-length mirror set alongside. Spread in rows, were rack after rack of gowns, in a rainbow of colors and styles.

Each section of dresses had a representative from the designer standing nearby to give tips, and suggestions. This was most unusual for all of them to be at the same place, at the same time. Normally, each designer would schedule an appointment, and send several dresses to the actress, or the performer would go to the designer’s shop, and they would try them on and fit them there. Even more rare were the occasions when the designer would be asked to custom tailor something exclusively for the wearer. This is extremely expensive, hence the rarity in which it occurs.

The designers usually vie for attention since just as much notoriety is gained from your fashions, as is paid to the person wearing them. Since each of the designers represented in this group owed Steven many favors, they all cheerfully agreed to try this out for the first time ever. The deal they made was that since Jessie would be represented several different times during the show, as presenter, possible recipient, and guest, she would take a gown from each of them. That left one extra designer, who would be providing the outfit for Kate. Everyone would be able to share the exposure that way. It was Michael’s idea to have Steven pitch that to the representatives, when he started calling all of them.

Kate still hadn’t closed her mouth. Jessie reached over, and squeezed her hand. Whispering in her ear, she told her that soon all the flies in the neighborhood were going to take up residence, if she didn’t close the hangar door. Kate closed her mouth with a snap, and then shook her head a few times to make sure she was still awake. Never before had she ever been involved in anything like this.

The first representative came over, and addressing Jessie, had her step over to the racks that belonged to her respective company. After flipping through the selection of beautiful dresses, Jessie selected three to try on. She had gone through this before, and not really being a fan of all the glamour, had decided to limit the choices, and thereby shorten the time involved. As soon as her selections were complete, then the other two representatives quickly moved the clothes around on their rack, so that different styles and different colors were represented.

The designer that was waiting for Kate was selected purely because Steven had remembered how much Kate liked her clothes. Never having been able to afford to buy anything, she always wished, but never followed through. Besides, she wasn’t exactly going to formal events every week, so it hadn’t been necessary for her to buy designer label stuff. She had one or two “little black dresses”, and a couple of suits she had gotten for job interviews. Jeans and shirts were more her style.

Jessie made her choices rather quickly. She had done this enough times, that there was not much mystery to it. Her first gown of the evening was a midnight blue satin strapless number, with tiny little rhinestones across the bodice, and a straight, but not too form fitting skirt. Her presenter’s gown, was a silvery sheath, which showed all the curves, in all of the right places. Her final gown was black full-skirted satin, off the shoulder, with a spray of black feathers across the top of the bodice.

Kate was so busy marveling at all of the selections that she had to choose from, that she hardly noticed what Jessie was doing, let alone what she had chosen to wear. Kate only needed one dress, but they were all so beautiful. She finally decided on a Kelly green satin gown, in an oriental style. It was trimmed in gold embroidery, with a mandarin collar. It set off her eyes beautifully, and was accented by her reddish-blond hair. Her tan skin made it picture perfect.

Kate’s representative thought she should try on the dress, because they thought it might need to be altered before the event. They even had matching shoes, and assured her that they would get a pair that fit her perfectly. Kate went into the bedroom with the representative, and moments later emerged with the dress on. It was obvious to all present, that there would be no need for alterations.

Jessie was awestruck. Almost letting her own mouth hang open, she gave Kate a brilliant smile, and raised both of her eyebrows in salute. The last dresser was fussing with the feathers on Jessie’s dress, and she couldn’t step away to get a closer look. Right then and there, she felt an extreme surge of love and need well into her chest, and surround her heart in a warm glow. She knew that all eyes would be on them, and that more than one person would be jealous of her date. Of course, most of them would assume that because of the problems with her husband, she wasn’t with a man for that reason. Little did they know what that reason really was.

Finishing up with the designer’s reps, Jessie made final arrangements with them for the evening of the event. Michael had called the studio for her and made an appointment with her regular hair and make-up primaries to come and take care of both of the women.

After the last rack of dresses was rolled out the door, and everyone pitched in to put the furniture back, Jessie noticed that Kate was missing. Wandering into the bedroom, she found her sitting on her bed, hands folded staring at a spot somewhere between the floor and the ceiling.

“Are you okay? Is your headache back? Can I get you something?” Jessie’s voice was starting to betray her panic.

Kate turned at the sound of her distress, and smiled from ear to ear. “Hey, don’t worry, I’m fine. My headache is not back, and the only thing you can get me is you.”

Jessie fairly beamed at her response. She closed the door behind her, and then stepping over to Kate’s side, sat down and almost shyly held her hand. Kate put her arms around her lover’s body, and squeezed her tightly. Tilting her head back, she silently demanded contact from Jessie’s soft, lovely lips. Gladly willing to oblige, Jessie kissed her tentatively. Immediately receiving a more passionate response, Jessie swung her legs up onto the bed, and pulling Kate into her arms returned the offered kiss with equal passion.

Slowly Kate opened her eyes, and sitting up removed her T-shirt, then reaching for Jessie’s helped remove hers as well. Returning to her place in Jessie’s arms, Kate became the aggressor. So much was their need for contact; they were no longer conscious of their movements.

Kate gradually worked her way from her passionate possession of Jessie’s lips, to a heated moist trail of kisses along the curve of her neck, to the soft mounds of her breasts. Jessie’s hands became insistent, wishing to reciprocate the attention that Kate’s lips were lavishing upon her. Small moans began escaping from the two lovers’, only half-aware that there were other people in the house, and the fact that a small need for discretion might be necessary.

Her hands never stopping their endless journey, Kate swiftly slipped them under the waistband of Jessie’s sweats, touching and caressing every inch of skin that passed by them. Jessie’s movements became more erratic the closer Kate approached to her destination. Never losing contact with Jessie’s breast, she finally reached the soft curls her questing fingers had been searching for. Slipping into the soft damp folds, she was pleased to find her target ready and waiting for her, pulsing softly with anticipation. Jessie moaned louder, arching her back to meet the welcome intrusion. Her own quest about to be completed as well, as her actions mirrored those of her most attentive lover. They began to move in rhythm with each other, wild, quiet sounds escaping as they approached their climax together.

Jessie’s body reacted first, with Kate only a millisecond behind. The two women had the sensation of falling, through soft clouds, or a warm mountain stream. Hearts pounding together, breath and moans mingling in their own lovely symphony, their bodies crashed like a tempest of storm tossed waves against the shore. Again and again, until their weary but satisfied souls could take no more.

Sharing gentle kisses and caresses, they held each other until the tremors subsided. Pulling up the covers, and wrapping them up in their warmth, Jessie squeezed Kate tightly almost afraid to let her go. Amazed at the power of their passion, she vowed to never let so much time go by before they shared each other in this way.

Kate slipped over onto her side, and had Jessie wrap around her from behind. Exhausted from being ill, from the excitement of both the clothing, and from their lovemaking Kate was soon fast asleep. Jessie watched her breathe for a short time, her lovely face so soft and contented, before she too drifted into her dreams.

——————————————————————————-

Only the wisest and the stupidest of men

Never change.

********Confucious********
Chapter 18: (What’s it gonna be, odd or get even. . . .?)
Somewhere on the other side of the city, in a sick little temple of death, Gregory was happily typing away at the computer, talking to his monstrous new friend. “Baby Doll”, as he was known on the internet, was sharing pointers with Gregory on his hobbies, both fun and gruesome. Apparently “Baby Doll” had spent a number of years committing atrocities against animals, men, and primarily women. He so far had managed to allude the police. His trail led across most of the United States, and in some cases as far away as Europe, Australia, and the Tropics. He was truly a monster of epic proportions, and yet so incredibly intelligent, that it was no effort whatsoever for him to dodge capture, or even detection. His crimes were all so different, and varied in their design, that it was difficult for them to be tied together to form any sort of continuity.

For some financial considerations, and a few minor contact names in the orient, “Baby Doll” was willing to assist Gregory in some of his plans for Jessie and her friends. Gregory was planning a trip to Northern California, conveniently around the same time that Jessie would be on a short vacation up there. “Baby Doll” had another chamber of horrors in that area, hidden inside an abandoned warehouse. He had purchased the property under an assumed corporate identity, and had occupied it on and off for a number of years. Fortunately it was in an area, where nosy Urban Renewal committees weren’t likely to go sniffing around. Besides, he had hired an immigrant family to maintain the property, in exchange for immunity from the NIS. They never questioned their employer, just took care of the facility as though it was in full operation. Of course, they never went inside. El Diablo as they referred to him was very clear about his instructions. They crossed themselves, and steered clear of the building at all times.

Gregory signed off, satisfied that he had provided himself with the ultimate of opportunities. His new friend was too good to be true. Sick, intelligent, well connected, and truly monstrous. Gregory shouted for Star to join him. He was hungry, and he wanted her to get some supplies. He was also curious if she had heard anything about the little present that he had left for Jessie in her trailer. He chuckled maniacally every time he thought about the look on her face when she saw what he had left for her. By now it should smell really awful. And if that damn PA was with her, so much the better.

“Were you callin’ me Greggie?” Star interrupted his private thoughts.

“Yeah Star. You know, I think your hearing is being affected by that crap you suck up all the time. Pretty soon you’re going to be relatively useless to me, and who knows, I might have to send you to “Baby Doll”. He could use a nice girl like you.” Gregory’s grin took on a sick twisted appearance.

Shuddering, Star tried desperately to hide her revulsion. She knew she had to get away from Gregory, she just didn’t know how. Waiting patiently for him to speak again, she thought frantically of her options. There weren’t many. Star knew that if she managed to get away, and he caught her, then she was as good as dead. Not willing to take that chance, she filed away her thoughts for another day.

“Star, I don’t know about you, but I’m starving. I think we can use some supplies don’t you?” Gregory was cheerful again.

“Sure Greggie. Should we go to the store? I finished taking the plates off the van like you asked, and added the dents and all. I could probably find a market somewhere.” Star was starting to think again. Maybe this was her ticket out.

Anticipating her thoughts, Gregory headed her off. Sneering, he jumped up and grabbed her by the hair. “Don’t think you’re going to get away from me Star. I take care of you, and I can kill you. We go when the sun goes down, and we go together. I own you Star, and don’t you forget it!”

Shoving her into the wall, he held her face pressed hard against its rough surface. “Gregory, honey, I didn’t mean nothing. I wouldn’t leave you. Not Star. I’m your gal, you said so yourself. We can go together. Honest, I wouldn’t try to leave you.”

Laughing at the tears streaming down her cheeks, Gregory shoved her one more time, and then let her go. A bruise was already beginning to form next to her eye. Need to be more careful about that shit. Don’t want anyone to question her.

“Go get cleaned up Star, and put more makeup on. I don’t want anyone to see your face, understand. No one! And change into something less. . . whorish. I’m tired of that outfit. Why don’t you put on those jeans and that sweater of Jessie’s I brought you. I’d like that a lot.” Gregory’s eyes took on a glazed watery look. It happened more and more, each time he thought of Jessie.

Shooing her out the door, Gregory picked up the phone and called Jackson Briggs. The phone rang several times, and finally Jackson picked up.

“Jackson you idiot, how the hell are you? Listen, have you gotten me any information yet? I’m anxious to get moving on my plans, and I got to have all the info first. Remember Jackson. I’ll take you out myself, if you don’t come through.” Gregory loved scaring the crap out of Jackson.

Voice trembling, Jackson assured him that he would have some information by the morning. The private investigator he hired was sending him an envelope full of pictures, and a detailed explanation of Laura, Kate’s friend’s whereabouts and routines. Surprisingly enough, Jackson actually had the information that Gregory was seeking about Jessie’s trailer. The cops had contacted him, and questioned him about where he had been, and what he had been doing. Originally they suspected that Gregory may be getting help from him, but they were satisfied after Jackson provided proof of his whereabouts.

The police were missing some serious clues in this case. If they were paying attention, and checking phone records, they would have found out that Jackson wasn’t as clean as he pretended to be. Warning him not to leave LA, they left, not giving him a second thought.

Jackson and Gregory made arrangements for a place and time that the envelope of information could be picked up. Thanking him for doing his job, and also for letting him know about Jessie’s trailer, he threw in a new threat or two and signed off.

His second call was to Mr. Shimada’s son. Gregory asked him if there was someone who was good with explosives in their organization, that could help him out. At first the son refused to give Gregory even the smallest courtesy. Rudely he asked why they should do anything for such an incompetent as Mr. Thomason. In the middle of his conversation, his father interrupted him. It was Mr. Shimada’s wish that his son help their friend Gregory. Grudgingly he agreed to give him the information. He gave Gregory explicit instructions, and a phone number for a contact. Unbeknownst to Gregory however, the son intended to hire the hit man for his own purposes as well. As soon as Gregory provided what his father wanted, he was history. That was of course as long as Gregory stayed alive.

Sitting back, Gregory dreamed of eliminating Mr. Shimada’s son. The bastard always had to give him grief. NOBODY MESSES WITH ME! Getting restless, he started for the other bedroom, to see if he could find Star. She was always keeping him waiting. Stepping through the doorway, he stopped for a moment. In his demented mind, he saw his beloved Jessie. She was drying her hair, already having dressed in the clothes that he requested. The only thing that screwed up his vision was the ugly purple bruise next to her eye.

Shaking his head, he returned to the present. “Star, don’t forget to fix your face. And don’t put so much of that eye shadow and crap on. You look better when you don’t look like such a slut. If you’re real good, I’ll give you another line when we get back.”

Finishing her hair, Star stepped into the bathroom, and looked at herself in the mirror. Where did I go wrong? Jeez, I’m so scared! Just do what he says, and I’ll be okay. All I need is another line to keep the edge off. He keeps giving me lines, and I’ll survive. Pulling out her makeup kit, she used a base to cover up the bruises, and then only applied a little eye shadow, and liner. A little color to her lips, and she was set. Stepping back and glancing at her image again, she realized with a start how easily she could be mistaken for Jessica Ryan. No wonder Gregory kept her around.

Just about out of patience, Gregory’s anger was beginning to build again. Prepared to take his chances, and get supplies himself, he was set to pop Star again, when she finally stepped out of the bathroom. In the dim light of the bedroom, it wasn’t Star that strolled through that doorway; it was his beloved Jessica. Star unconsciously adjusted her walk, and gave it that purposeful stride that she remembered of Jessie from the TV. Moving to the bed to pick up her purse, she smiled only slightly, and then waited for Gregory to respond.

“Wow, wow, wow! Ain’t you something else? I can’t believe you Star. Keep looking like this, and who knows, I may keep you after all. Shall we go my dear?”

Gregory offered his arm to the now blushing Star.

Lowering her voice, she concentrated real hard on sounding like Jessie too. “Sure, lead on. Show me the lights, babe.”

Gregory smiled his approval. He knew she would never replace the real Jessie, but until he was finished with the project, Star would do just fine. However, just because she kinda looked and sounded like Jessie, didn’t mean she could get away with anything. One step out of line, and she was history. Quickly before his twisted demeanor got it’s claws into him again, he led Star out the back door to the waiting van.

All the wheels were in motion now. Another few weeks and this whole sordid mess will be finished. Gregory will have his Jessie back, the PA will be properly reprimanded for her interference, and all the rest of those busy bodies that hang around his beloved will be dealt with accordingly. Two tickets to Rio, and it’s smooth sailing. Of course, he has to pay off his debts, and deliver on the promises he made, but he had plenty of time for that. Besides, who knew what great opportunities lay ahead in South America?

——————————————————————————–

To love is to touch . . .

With our hands, with our hearts.

*****************************
Chapter 19: (Because I do not hope to turn again. . .)
Early evening arrived, bringing with it the smell of rain. Michael and Steven had very graciously left the two lovers’ alone, content to spend some time with each other. Steven was due to escort a rather wealthy matron to a symphony concert, and Michael, of course, would be spending the evening transporting his sister to the production site and back.

Kate and Jessie spent the afternoon exploring each other’s physical landscape. Many times they made love, alternately satisfying, and being satisfied. Finally having truly exhausted themselves, they drifted back into a lovely warm dreamscape, occupied only by each other, and the growing bond that could only mean love.

As much as he hated to, Michael realized it was time to wake his sister, and have her begin getting ready for work. Knocking softly on Kate’s door, he called to them quietly, almost unwilling to break the spell that he knew surrounded them. Listening for a moment, he knocked again. This time he heard a muted reply, and then Kate’s deep struggling cough began again.

“<Cough> I hear you Michael, hang on, I’ll wake Jessie <Cough>.” Kate struggled to untangle herself from Jessie’s embrace, her cough making it hard to breathe.

“Mpf. Where are you going? It can’t be time to get up, and I can’t go again right now. Just a few more minutes?” Jessie mumbled from somewhere under the covers.

Kate started hacking again, this time truly struggling to draw air into her lungs. Sitting up rapidly, the head rush almost knocked her to floor. Holding her sides, she bent her head towards the floor, coughing hard. Panicking, desperate to draw air into her chest, she failed to notice the strong arms wrapped around her, and the soothing words being whispered into her ear to calm her down. Switching her attention to Jessie, she started to breath through her nose, following the quiet instructions, finally gaining control over the nagging cough that had enclosed her in its grip.

“That’s it, breath through your nose, take it easy. I got ya. Looks like we pushed you a little too hard. Do you have anything for a cough in the house? Don’t talk; just nod your head yes or no. Good, I’ll go and rifle the medicine chest, and I’ll bring you the cough stuff and some water, okay?” Jessie did her very best to try and keep Kate calm. It sounded as though she might be getting a touch of bronchitis. Her face felt quite warm, Jessie wouldn’t be surprised if the fever had returned as well.

Propping Kate up with all the pillows on the bed, she headed for the bathroom in search of some cough syrup and a glass of water. Violet, the previously ignored cat, or so she thought so, took this as an opportunity to get to know her mother’s new mate better. Following her into the bathroom, she launched herself onto the edge of the sink, and immediately struck up a conversation.

“Meow! Mow wow wow mawow.” Violet exclaimed.

Surprised, Jessie stopped her search for a moment. “So, decided to speak to me after all, huh? Well, what’s on your mind?”

“Mawow, mow birrrr mow meow.” Violet was certain she was getting her point across. Perhaps this wasn’t your average stupid hu-man after all.

“Hmm, let’s see, yes I do love your mother, and I think she loves me. But right now she needs some extra special care. She doesn’t feel well, and needs some medicine. So, I apologize for cutting this conversation short, but really, I must go.” Jessie petted her head, and scratched her ears.

Violet, satisfied that her mother’s mate indeed, truly had some redeeming qualities after all, honored Jessie with a full body brush, and a contented purr. This was her way of saying, “okay, even though you show favoritism to that overgrown pile of fur Corky, you love my mother and that’s what’s important.” Satisfied that progress had been made, she jumped off the sink and returned to her place under the bed.

Thoroughly amazed at her encounter with the small feline, Jessie retrieved the bottle of cough syrup from the cabinet, and filled the glass on the sink with water. She grabbed an antibiotic and some un-aspirin as well. Returning to Kate’s side, she was dismayed to hear her caught in another bout of coughing.

“Wow, you keep that up, and you might just blow a lung. Do you want me to call Helen? I have her home number.” Jessie tried to hold back her smile after the lung comment, but it was too hard.

Laughing in spite of her cough, Kate marveled at the feelings that Jessie stirred up inside of her. The afternoon was. . .marvelous. If only she didn’t have this damn cold. As her cough finally calmed down a moment, she quickly swallowed a good-sized swig of syrup from the bottle, and then sipped some water to wash the nasty tasting stuff down. Gagging, she quickly wiped the corner of her mouth with the back of her hand, and then said a quick prayer to keep the medicine down where it belonged.

After several minutes and no more coughing fits, Jessie stood, and kissing Kate on the forehead, turned to head back to the bathroom, this time to shower and dress for the final shoot of this week’s episode. As she reached the doorway, she noticed Kate out of the corner of her eye, getting out of bed to join her.

“Whoa there, where do you think you’re going?” Jessie put her hand out as a sign to stop.

“I’m taking a shower with you, and then we’re going to the studio.” Kate knew she was in for an argument, and the way she felt, she wasn’t sure she wanted to win.

“Unh uh! You are not going to the studio, or anywhere else for that matter. You need to rest, and get over this virus. It could turn into pneumonia if you’re not careful, you know.” Jessie made a funny picture, standing there naked with her hands on her hips tapping her foot.

Relieved at not having to put up much of a fight, Kate soon reached Jessie’s side, and laying her head on her shoulder, put her arms around her and squeezed tightly. “Thanks, I really don’t feel up to it, but I’m going to miss you. However, I still need a shower. After this afternoon, I think it’s probably necessary, don’t you?”

Pinching her nose shut, and making a funny face, Jessie nodded her head emphatically. “You betcha. For that, I will gladly assist in the process. Especially if it means that poor Corky will uncover her head when you’re done.”

Looking in the direction that Jessie was indicating Kate almost started her coughing jag again with the bubble of laughter that burst forth. Corky was spread out on the foot of the bed, a roll of the blanket covering just her head, looking for all the world as if she were dead. Her tail switched back and forth lazily, sort of like a small furry fan moving the air away from her sensitive nose.

Taking Kate’s hand, the two moved into the bathroom, and worked their way through a short, thorough shower. Kate rapidly ran out of energy, her fever raising slightly with the setting sun, and aided by the hot water. Jessie quickly toweled her off, and then used the blow dryer to dry her hair. She didn’t want Kate to catch a chill from lying around with wet hair.

Glancing at the clock, she realized that she need to hurry or she would keep the rest of the crew waiting for her. Tucking Kate back into bed, she quickly dressed, and then sitting on the side of the bed, she touched her lips to Kate’s skin, and then had her take the antibiotic and the un-aspirin. Kate clung to Jessie for a moment, suddenly reluctant to let her go unprotected to the set. It never occurred to Kate that she would be alone in the house all evening.

“I don’t like the fact that there is no one to protect you, Jessie. You be very careful. Promise?” Kate’s voice broke slightly.

“I promise. Don’t worry. There is an entire security squad at the sight, ready to blow away anyone who threatens me. I’ll be fine. Its you I’m worried about. Don’t answer the door, and don’t go anywhere. You’re too sick, and I don’t want anyone hurting you. Do you think you’ll be safe here alone?” Jessie gripped Kate’s hand, almost too tightly.

Reaching into her nightstand drawer, Kate withdrew her stun gun. Never sure whether or not she could actually fire a real gun at another human being, she was definitely sure she could stun an assailant with the “stinger” as she called it.

Nodding her head, Jessie still was concerned, but conceded that Kate could probably protect herself better than anyone else she knew.

Promising to call at every break, Jessie kissed Kate deeply, and then rose reluctantly to leave for work. Reaching the door, she opened it solemnly, and still not quite able to leave, she returned to Kate’s side, and taking her in her arms, held her tightly for a few more moments.

“Hey, I miss you too. But if you don’t get a move on, they’ll fire me for holding you captive.” Kissing her again, Kate half-heartedly gave her a shove towards the door.

“Fire you my ass. They’ll have to catch us first, won’t they.” Jessie winked, and throwing her love a kiss, stepped out the doorway and was gone.

Kate watched the door for a long moment, wishing that it was all a joke, that Jessie didn’t really have to go to work, and that she really wasn’t going to be left behind, all alone. Sighing, she got out of bed long enough to grab the laptop, and prepare to hunt the Internet for Laura. She reached for the phone cord, and almost jumped when the phone rang.

“Hello? Holy cow Jessie, you almost scared the daylights out of me. I was just getting ready to plug in the laptop, when the phone rang. It made me jump.” Kate giggled nervously.

“I’m sorry, but I needed to hear your voice again. I miss you already.” Jessie sounded pouty.

“Have you even pulled away from the curb yet?” Kate smiled, tickled pink that someone cared about her enough to treat her in such a lovely way.

“Nope, Michael hasn’t even started the car yet. Oops, now he has. Want to talk for a while? Maybe I won’t miss you as much.” Jessie’s mood perked up at the thought.

Kate only thought for a millisecond. “Sure, let me call you back on my cell phone, so I can still hook up the laptop. I can tell you if Laura got your message or not. Say, and then you can talk dirty to me for a while, okay?”

Kate’s last comment stunned Jessie into silence. She wasn’t sure how to proceed. Blushing, she smiled to herself, a warm tingle bringing back memories of the afternoon. Kate’s chuckle brought her back to reality.

“Oh, sorry, you caught me off guard. Um, what were you saying?” Jessie decided vagueness was a good response about now.

Hoping she hadn’t overstepped an invisible boundary, Kate was immediately embarrassed at herself. “Oh, I’m sorry, I don’t know what got into me, I . . .anyway, let me call you. Just take a second.”

Concerned that she made Kate feel bad, Jessie was quick to respond. “Oh, don’t worry, you can ask me for phone sex anytime. Glad to oblige. Talk to you in a minute.” There, try to catch me off guard will you?

Kate spluttered, almost dropping the phone. Quickly reaching for her fanny pack, and searching for her cell phone, she barely found it before it started ringing.

“What’s the matter, cat got your tongue? Put her on the phone, and I’ll tell her to stop it.” Jessie was completely enjoying her humorous streak.

“Very funny, here you want to talk to her so bad, go ahead.” Shaking her head again, she laid the phone next to Corky’s now visible head.

Corky looked at her mother, and then began purring in earnest. While Corky occupied Jessie, Kate hooked up the laptop. She had another project in mind, before looking for Laura. Logging on the ‘net, she searched for a moment, and accessed her company E-mail. Sure enough, it was overflowing with letters, requests, and other related correspondence. Great! At least she won’t feel lazy lying around doing nothing.

Remembering Jessie, Kate laughed when she heard Corky meowing as though she really was talking on the phone. Grabbing the cell back, she put it to her ear in time to hear Jessie make some comment about the different flavors of cat food, and then expound on the virtues of being nice to her sister Violet.

“You know, I think you missed your calling. I think you should have been a pet psychiatrist.” Kate stifled a giggle, and opted to cough instead.

“Very funny. Hey did you forget about me or what? I mean Corky is a brilliant conversationalist and all, but I would really rather talk to you.” Jessie tried in vain to sound bummed out.

“Aww, I wasn’t ignoring you. I was hooking up so I could get some work done. I’m going to answer some letters, and do some work from the office. Alice sent me a ton of E-mail that I need to sort through. Oh, and by the way, that was absolutely the best surprise this afternoon. I have never seen anything like that, getting all of those designers and such to work together. I felt . . .special.” Kate’s eyes began to tear up.

“Whoa, it’s okay. As far as I’m concerned, you deserve the very best. Heck, without Michael and Steven, I wouldn’t have been able to pull it off. They were the masterminds behind that show. Something about gay men, they have all of the right connections.” Jessie was attempting humor to cheer Kate up.

“I know what you mean,” Kate’s voice steadied, “I just can’t remember when anyone has done something so nice like that before. It was perfect. I . . . really appreciate it.” Dammit! What am I waiting for, why can’t I tell her I love her? I guess because the phone is so impersonal. Soon…..

“I, uh yeah, I’m glad. You are very special to me; I want you to know that. Anyway, we’re about to pull into the site, and I can already see some of the staff members milling around waiting for me. I’ll call you as soon as I can, I promise.” Jessie couldn’t help but sound disappointed. Of course I didn’t hear you saying anything either you boob!

Promising not to work too hard, Kate told she would be waiting impatiently to hear from her again. Both women were reluctant to hang up, but when the wardrobe captain opened the door, they knew that it was time. Jessie hung up first, while Kate listened to the buzz of the disconnect signal.

Addressing the cats, she sighed. “What is wrong with us. We spend the day together making love; mad passionate exciting love, but we can’t say the word around each other. Surely it can’t be fear still, can it? What do you guys think; does Jessica Ryan love me, as much as I love her? What about it, cat got your tongues, or should I say dog?” Kate chuckled rewarding them each with a pat on the head for having the good graces not to answer.

Kate settled into her pillows, and was about to begin working on her mail, when the phone rang again. “Wow, that was fast. I . . .oh sorry, I thought you were someone else. Hi Alice. Not doing as good as I had hoped.” Kate blushed realizing she almost said something inappropriate to Alice, thinking it was Jessie.

“That’s a shame doll, you do sound a little rough around the edges. You better take care of that. Listen a huge envelope arrived today, with a ton of information about the awards show. I was wondering if I could send that over. I think you two need to go through it, and make sure that Jessie knows where and when, etc. It has all of the seating assignments, and rehearsal times and so on. Did she ever get a dress? I hope so, that would be one more worry off my plate.” As ever, Alice was all business. Kate was sure that she never slept, or even ate very often. Alice was a driven woman.

“That would be great, Alice. I’m under strict orders not to leave the house anyway. Just have a courier drop it. I’ll read through it, and make sure I know the schedule first, so I can keep an eye on Jessie.” Kate was looking forward to getting the package.

“That’s what I like to hear. Have I told you how perfect I think you are for Jessie? Keep up the good work kid. You’re the best thing for her.” Alice smiled to herself, and said goodbye.

Just as Kate hung up the phone, her Internet Instant Messenger beeped signaling Laura’s arrival. It was unusual for Laura to be online on a Saturday night, but stranger things have happened. She smiled as she saw the beginnings of Laura’s message scroll across the screen.

Lady Knight: Hey there sugar! How the heck are you? You know, you keep having that gorgeously tall hunk-a hubba hubba woman writing to me, and I might just have to usurp your spot on the throne there. Man, it gives me the tingles every time I hear from her. April wants to come down there, and kick her butt.

PAK: Laura you are so funny! Jessie wrote to you, because she was getting jealous of you. You should tell April that, maybe she’ll change her mind about killing Jesse. J Say, your Radar Cow story made a great impression on her. She thinks you should write professionally. That was a cute story Laura.

Lady Knight: Aw Shucks! Thanks honey, and thank Jessie too. I don’t know about being a professional. There are so many good fan fiction writers. I’m nothing special. Heck, I can’t even get my new story reviewed. Besides, I’m too chicken to send it into the publisher. My fans still like me though. Say, have you been keeping up with the posts. I know you’ve been busy. <VBEG>

PAK: Okay, I’m guilty, and I’m blushing. No, the last chapter I read was 15 or 16 I think. Maybe I can catch up tonight or tomorrow. Jessie’s working, and I’m sick, so she made me stay home. A courier is bringing me an envelope full of stuff I need to go over for work. The awards ceremony is at the end of this week, and we just got our dresses.

Lady Knight: Wow, is she really going to take you to the ceremony? Ain’t you somethin’! I’ll have to tell my mom, she’ll be thrilled. She doesn’t watch “Kendra Knight” yet, but she does hit an awards show now and then. We’ll watch for you. If you see the camera pointed in your direction, wave. I’ll wave back. So tell me about your dress, and Jessie’s.

Kate and Laura talked for another half-hour or so about the awards ceremony, the surprise, and both lovers’ inability to say “I Love You”. Laura assured her that it would come, that they were still a little afraid of each other. Laura thought it was hysterical that Jessie was pretty much living with Kate. She bet that Michael wasn’t looking that hard for an apartment. He sounded like an instigator to Laura, and Steve was the perfect partner in crime for him.

While they “talked” something very disturbing was going on outside their little world. Gregory and Star had visited the grocery store, for some supplies, including cigarettes and booze. Star had a special penchant for ice cream, especially when she was high, so Gregory gave in, and let her choose something. She picked a gallon of Rocky Road, with a can of peanuts, and some chocolate syrup. Gregory was amazed that anyone, who did as much speed as Star, could eat anything let alone ice cream.

Returning to the van, Gregory walked around it for the fourth time, admiring the “damage” work that Star had done on it. “Hey Star honey, you did a great job on this van. I can’t get over it. No one will figure out we lifted this, no one. Say, I got a great idea! Let’s test it out. I want to go for a ride to Glendale, to check up on a few things. Get in, I’ll drive.”

Star reluctantly returned to the van. She had been hoping to find a way to escape, but to no avail. Gregory never left her side, and he was in such a good mood, she didn’t want to upset him. Settling in, she stared out the window, careful not to let him see her sadness. She smiled to her self a moment, remembering their visit to the market. Several people gave her a second look, and more than one outright stared at her. Star realized that she really did have a striking resemblance to Jessica Ryan. The kids especially were really cute. She almost wished they would have talked to her. She could practice her voice on them.

Gregory hit the freeway, and cruised along with the traffic. There was no hurry, and he didn’t want to draw any unnecessary attention. Ignoring Star, he was deep inside his own head, plotting his next moves. He was scheduled to pick up the envelope from the Northern California PI in the morning, and then meet with the “Demolition Man” in the afternoon. He could barely contain his excitement as his plans started to come together. This trip to Glendale was just a diversion. Curiosity more than anything. He wanted to see what the PA and her faggot friend were up to.

Exiting off the freeway, they circled around for a bit, while Gregory tried to remember where Kate’s house was. Seeing the familiar stores, and then locating the court, they pulled up a few houses away, and parked. Watching for a few minutes, he couldn’t believe his luck. A courier vehicle was turning onto the street. It became immediately apparent that it was heading for Kate’s driveway.

“Quick, Star! Here’s your chance to be an actress. I want you to stop that guy, and tell him you’re Jessica Ryan, and you’re staying at Ms. McKenna’s house. You’ll be glad to deliver the package to her. Hurry, before he gets out of the van.” Gregory’s forehead started to sweat he was so excited.

Nervous herself, Star quietly got out of the van. Pretending to say goodnight, she consciously lowered her voice, and then keeping to the shadows from the trees, approached the courier. Stopping short of the front porch, she waited until he stepped over to her.

“Hi there, can I help you?” She purred.

“Oh, uh, I have a package to deliver. Are you Kate McKenna?” He gulped, sure he recognized Kendra Knight standing in front of him.

“No, I’m not Kate, but I do live with her. My name is Jessica Ryan. I’d be happy to take the package to her.” Enjoying her role, Star gave the boy a good strong squeeze with her hand. She threw in a wink for good measure.

Practically drooling, the courier handed to package over to Star. “Uh, thanks, uh could I have your autograph, uh, I mean your signature?”

Star smiled. This was great! “Sure, I’ll sign your book and anything else you want.”

The courier boy was seriously star struck. He didn’t even realize that the longer you looked the less like Jessica the woman before him really was. She was too young, and too thin, and there was something tired and worn out about her eyes. And she had this annoying little sniff. Oh well, maybe she is just tired. They work a lot, or so I’ve heard.

Thanking her, the boy returned to his van, and drove away. Star quickly went back to their van, slipping in quietly next to Gregory. Handing him the package, she waited patiently for his response.

Giggling with excitement, he turned to package over and over, looking from some magical sign. It was addressed to Kate, and it showed the studio address as the return. Nothing remarkable. Curious as to why Kate was home alone on a Saturday night, he came up with what he thought was a brilliant idea. Handing the package back to Star, he instructed her to deliver it to Kate.

“Don’t use your Jessica Ryan voice, use your own. I want to see if she notices the resemblance. Take special care to notice if she is alone, and if there is any sign that Jessie might be staying with her. Get as much information as you can. Make small talk Star. Ask her about vacations, her health. Stay as long as you can without causing her to get suspicious. If you do this, I’ll do something nice for you. Go on now, do this for me.” Gregory was almost babying Star. He didn’t want her to mess this up.

Nodding, more nervous than ever, Star left the van and went back to the front steps. Looking back at Gregory one more time she reached for the doorbell. A fleeting thought passed by her. She could warn Kate, and tell her it was Gregory waiting in the van. She could ask for Kate’s help, tell her where they were hiding. Yeah, and she could catch a bullet between her eyes, or worse yet get beaten, maybe even have her drugs taken away. Nope, not this time, Star!

Kate, hearing the doorbell, bid Laura to STANDBY. Extracting herself from the covers, she put her robe on, and then headed for the front door. At the last minute, she dashed back to her room and slipped the stunner into her pocket. She figures it was the delivery person, but she didn’t want to be stupid. Returning to the door, she peaked through the side curtain, and was startled to see Jessie’s tall form standing half-shadowed, turning a big mail envelope in her hands. Almost throwing the door open, she realized that it couldn’t possibly be Jessie. She was working, and she did not leave wearing that outfit. Spooked, she slipped the chain on the door before opening it.

“Yes, can I help you?” Kate was cautious, peeking through the crack in the door.

Star stepped forward and cleared her throat. “Oh, sorry, I was supposed to deliver this package to a Kate McKenna. Is that you?”

Realizing that this woman only sort of looked like Jessie, she marveled at the coincidence. Unchaining the door, she let the “courier” in. “Sorry, you look an awful lot like a friend that’s staying with me right now. In the shadows I thought you were her. She’s working now, and couldn’t possibly be home.”

Stepping in, Star was feeling better now that Kate was more comfortable with her. Handing her the envelope, she decided to take a chance. “Yeah, my friends say I look a lot like Jessica Ryan. I don’t know though, I was thinking more like maybe Cher or something.”

Kate gave her a closer look. “I dunno, you do look remarkably like Jessie. She’s older of course, but still, in the shadows it was hard to tell. Anyway, let me get a tip for you, I’ll be right back.”

Going back into her bedroom, she grabbed her fanny pack, and pulled out a couple of dollars. Turning around, she was startled to see Star standing in her doorway.

“Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to follow you. I saw the cat come in here, and I really love cats. I wasn’t thinking.” Absorbing as much of her surroundings as she could, she tried really hard to commit it to memory, so she could go back and tell Gregory.

Getting nervous, Kate decided she wanted this person to leave now. “Um, no problem, well, as you can see, I’m not feeling very well, so I’ll take my package and say goodnight.”

“Oh, sure thing. And I am sorry. I don’t usually follow people around their houses, but I couldn’t help it, the cat looked so cute.” Star knew she sounded lame, but she had to find someway to recover. She noticed that Kate was nervously twirling something in her pocket. Thinking it might be a gun, Star decided she needed to leave. Now!

Heading back to the door, she thanked Kate for the tip, apologized again, and then dashed down the walkway. Kate noticed that she wasn’t alone. That was unusual, normally couriers didn’t travel with another person, nor were they acting as passengers, but usually drove themselves. Of course, this was LA. Maybe that particular company had a thing about women making night deliveries alone.

Just to be sure, she locked the door, and put the chain on. Sitting on the edge of the bed, she checked to see if Laura was still there. Telling her the whole story, she waited for Laura to tell her what she thought.

Lady Knight: You know, that is really weird if you ask me. I wasn’t going to tell you, but I think I was being followed the other day myself. Some guy in a beat up sedan. I kept seeing him at all kinds of places. I was starting to get paranoid, especially when I think I saw him take pictures or something. I saw the flash of a reflection like a camera lens come from his car several times. I was thinking that maybe he was some sick stalker or something. Or maybe the IRS. Of course, I don’t owe them anything, but you never know. Oh well, I refuse to worry about it.

PAK: Laura! Have you told April? This is serious. Jeez, maybe someone might try to hurt you. Did you ever think of that? Do you have a stun gun or anything like it? Maybe I should send you one.

Lady Knight: No! I have not told April. I don’t want to upset her. She would never let me leave the house again, and especially not to drive 90 miles a day to go to work. I’ll be careful, I promise. And no guns, knives or stun guns. I couldn’t use one if I had to. I’ll bet it was harmless, just some pervert getting his yaya’s. Who knows, maybe he has a thing for 40ish lesbians.

PAK: Yeah, well, you be careful. I don’t like the sound of this. Especially when I get this strange visitor tonight. You know, I am so stupid. I never even signed anything for the package. For all I know, they could have killed the other courier, and left him in my bushes. And now they’re going to come for me. This is definitely not funny! I better call the detective right away. I’ll check back with you later.

Signing off, Kate picked up the cell phone, and dialed the special number the detective gave her. The answering service promised they would page him, and have him call her back. Nervous again, she couldn’t decide whether or not to stand, sit, or spin around in circles. The cell phone rang, and she almost jumped out of her skin.

“Hello, Detective?” Kate was breathless with fear.

“No honey, it’s me. Why are you waiting for a detective, what’s wrong?” Panic was rising rapidly in Jessie’s heart.

“Nothing really, at least I’m not sure.” Kate explained the story about the woman, and the package including the man that was waiting for her in the van.

“Oh boy, this is not good. That may have been Gregory. After the last time they thought they had him at that motel, someone said that he was traveling with a woman. They just couldn’t remember what she looked like, but that she was somehow familiar.” Jessie was greatly frightened. She was beginning to look for a way to escape the rest of the shoot. They were really done using her anyway; she was just hanging around in case they needed her for fill in or anything.

“Listen, I’m going to find Ted, and then I’m coming home. I don’t want you to be there by yourself anymore. They might come back. Besides, I miss you, and I want to be there with you.” Jessie grabbed a staff runner, and told them to find Ted, immediately!

“Jess, I’m okay, and I’ve got protection. You don’t have to come home just because of me, I’ll be all right.” Kate wasn’t sure she sounded convincing.

“Hang on a second.” covering the phone, she told, not asked Ted that she was leaving. They could do any repairs during the editing. Apparently Ted was too afraid of her to disagree. “We’re done here, and I’m coming home now. If I could be there any sooner, I would have arrived an hour ago.”

Running to the wardrobe tent, Jessie didn’t even take the time to change her clothes. She gathered up her things, and then ran straight for the car. Michael was napping in the front seat. Startled, he sat up quickly, banging his head on the steering wheel.

“Whassa madda?” He mumbled.

“Wake up, and take me to Kate’s I think Gregory was there. I don’t want her to be there alone any longer than I can help it.” Jessie was frantic. She was almost tempted to push him over and drive the car herself.

Michael’s mind finally absorbed his sister’s message. Starting the car, he barely looked to see if anyone was in the way, before he shifted into reverse and shot backward out of his spot. Quickly turning the car, the two of the disappeared into a cloud of dust. Not concerned whether he got a ticket or not, Michael dodged in and out of traffic, Jessie sliding around in the seat behind him. Fortunately they were in the town car. If they had been in a full sized limousine, they never would have been able to drive like that.

Kate held the phone to her ear, not certain that Jessie had really hung up on her. Moments later it rang again. “Jessie? Oh, hi detective. Yes, I did. Yes, she was tall, long dark hair. Looked a lot like Jessie. No I didn’t get a good look at the van. I think it was a dark green or blue, but it was scuffed up, and they were parked in the shadows. No, I’m sorry. I couldn’t see the man at all. No, I haven’t called the courier service. I’m not even sure which one they sent. Okay, thank you. If I remember anything else, I’ll be sure to call you.” Kate was furious at herself for being so stupid.

Down the block, Gregory and Star were sitting in the van, under a low hanging tree. “Wow, Star this is great. I am very pleased with you. You did a great job.”

Pleased with herself, but still worried she might have done something wrong, Star chose to remain quiet. “Thanks, Gregory.”

They sat for quite a while. Star worried sick about the ice cream melting, and Gregory promising to buy her tons of ice cream for doing such a good job. He was strangely pleased, even though they didn’t really find out that much. Just the fact that they were able to venture into the enemy camp virtually undetected. It made him feel powerful.

Finally Gregory was getting bored with sitting around. It was too dangerous, someone might spot them. He started the van, and prepared to pull away when a car caught his attention. Watching carefully, he was pleased to find that it was his beloved Jessica, and her sniveling little brother Michael. It never occurred to him that they would be driving a different car. He supposed he must have done quite a bit of damage to the limousine.

Considering doing them all in right away, he changed his mind. He would much rather wait and do things the way he had planned them. Continuing his observance, he almost burst into giggles, when Michael screeched the tires pulling up to the curb. Jessie literally jumped from the vehicle before it had come to a complete stop. Clapping his hands, he turned back to Star.

“Look baby. Must have scared the daylights out of Jessica’s little playmate. The reinforcements have arrived. We better beat it. Next thing you know the cops will be showing up. I want to be far from here when they do.” He restarted the van, and pulled away from the curb, careful not to do anything to suddenly. He didn’t want to look suspicious.

Jessie bounded across the walkway, and up the steps. Trying the door, she remembered that she had told Kate to lock everything up tight. Ringing the doorbell, she waited every nerve in her body singing. Kate heard the bell, and approached the door cautiously. She knew it was probably Jessie and Michael, but she wasn’t going to be that stupid this time. Looking through the side curtain, she saw Jessie beginning to pace.

“Who is it?” Kate called out.

Good girl! Jessie thought. “It’s us, Jessie and Michael.”

“How do I know it’s really you?” Kate realized she was pushing the envelope really hard now.

Jessie thought for a moment, and then pulling down the collar of her jumpsuit, flashed the almost faded hickey still present on her neck. Michael burst into huge guffaws of laughter. Punching his arm, Jessie scowled at him, and then addressing the door folded her arms and waited.

Kate decided she had better let her in, before she knocked the door down. Carefully she removed the chain, and then before she barely had the door pulled back, Jessie was across the threshold, and scooping Kate into her strong embrace. Burying her face in Kate’s hair, she held her tightly, until her own nervously shaking body calmed down.

“Hey, it’s okay. You can put me down. I’m okay.” Kate softly ran her fingers through Jessie’s hair, trying to calm her.

Jessie stood very still, her heart pounding in her chest. “We can’t keep living like this. If they don’t catch him soon, I’m going to find him, and stop him myself. If he hurts you I’ll kill him!”

Kate placed two fingers on Jessie’s lips. “Shh, don’t say that. Nothing is going to happen to me. I just have to be more careful. I was stupid, I guess the fever is worse than I thought. Actually, forget it, that’s no excuse, I was just plain stupid.”

Tears came unbidden to Kate’s eyes. She needlessly endangered herself. If she was that stupid, next time she might endanger Jessie. Jessie could almost hear Kate’s thoughts, they were so plainly written on her face. Holding her close again, she kissed her forehead, and then wiped away Kate’s tears.

“Please don’t cry. You had no reason to think that they would come over here. If you ask me, it was probably just a fluke. Gregory got bored, and decided to go for a joyride. I think if he had wanted to hurt you, he would have. Come on, we need to get something to eat. Let’s see what’s in the kitchen.” Jessie put her arm around a reluctant Kate’s waist, leading her into the kitchen.

Michael was already ahead of them. He had made some sandwiches, and was pouring some tea when they joined them. He was unusually quiet. Jessie correctly surmised that his feelings were hurt, when she punched him on the arm. Rolling up his sleeve, she checked to make sure she didn’t leave a bruise.

“Oh, go on you big baby, I didn’t even leave a mark. I was just scared Michael, it was a gut reaction.” Jessie tried to get him to look her in the eyes.

Pouting, he milked it for a minute or two longer, and then finally gave in. “Sometimes you can be so mean Jessie. I was just kidding.”

“Well, sometimes you kid too much Michael. Now, let’s eat. I don’t have to work tomorrow, and my patient here needs some serious taking care of.” Jessie pulled Kate into her lap.

Kate laid her head on Jessie’s shoulder, unwilling to eat anything, or speak anymore for that matter. Sighing, she closed her eyes, and tried to empty her mind. Her thoughts wandered back to Laura. She realized she needed to tell Jessie about Laura’s stalker.

Sitting up, she looked at Jessie, almost startled at her own excitement. “Jessie! I forgot to tell you, I was talking to Laura before they came to the house. She said someone is stalking her. He followed her to and from work, and he’s been taking pictures of her. She hasn’t told April, because she’s afraid that she will either get grounded, or April will hunt him down and pound him.”

Jessie pondered this new information for a moment. “Honey, has this man attempted any direct contact with Laura, other than following her, or taking her picture?”

Kate shook her head no. “So far he hasn’t. Laura said she saw him constantly the first day or so, but he left abruptly this afternoon, and she hasn’t seen him since. He gave her the heebie jeebies, because she works alone at her boss’s house, and she was afraid he might try something. Of course, she has the two dogs with her, and they can be pretty loud, but for the most part, they are pretty useless.”

“Next time you talk to her, tell her to be careful. I wouldn’t put it past Gregory, to threaten her for being involved with us, and helping us precipitate his capture in the first place. Tell her she should probably tell April. It’s not right to keep it a secret.” Jessie pursed her lips, unconsciously pulling Kate closer.

They finished their meal in silence. Each person buried in his or her own thoughts. Steven came home, and without even asking knew there was something wrong. Michael joined him, and the two of them retired for the evening.

Jessie, feeling a little at a loss for what to do, picked Kate up in her arms, and carried her back to the bedroom. Laying her down, she carefully cleared away the computer, and all of the other stuff spread across the bed. She made note of the amount of work that Kate had been prepared to do, sick or not.

Changing into a T-shirt, and her underwear, she slipped under the covers next to Kate. Carefully she pulled Kate into her arms. “I just want you to be safe. That’s all, just safe. I need you with me.”

Kate nodded her head, snuggling in as close to Jessie as she could get. Jessie tested her skin with her lips again. Still a little warm, Jessie reached for the non-aspirin bottle on the nightstand. Sitting up, she handed a couple to Kate, along with another antibiotic, and a swig of cough medicine for good measure. Satisfied that she had done all she could for the moment, she pulled Kate back into her arms, and shutting the light off, made a feeble attempt to get some sleep.

Kate fought sleep for a while, but she lost the battle. Slipping softly into a series of fitful dreams, she clung to Jessie desperately in her sleep, as though clinging to a life raft in a large a turbulent sea. Jessie hung on to her lover, content to stay awake and stand vigil against the storm that swirled around them.

——————————————————————————–

No one is useless in this world,
Who lightens the burden of it to anyone else.

********Charles Dickens********
Chapter 20: (Fafafafafafa, Fafafafafafafa, Fabulous . . .)
Kate stretched her arms spreading the movement down through the rest of her body. Her fever was gone, and the cough had been reduced to a nuisance more than anything else. Rolling over, she smiled, catching a glimpse of Jessie’s still sleeping face peeking out from under the edge of the blankets. She sat watching Jessie breathe, wondering how she could go from a basic mostly boring life, to sharing her home, life, and love with her absolute idol. Somehow scared, and exhilarated at the same time, she sat up, careful not to disturb her sleeping lover.

Jessie was in a dream. She was lying on a sleeping bag near a lake, watching the stars. She was trying to find Orion’s Belt, but couldn’t seem to locate it. There was someone lying on a sleeping bag next to her. She couldn’t see who it was, but she knew that she was very much in love with this person. For some reason, her dream wouldn’t let her put Kate’s name to her dream companion. Slowly she reached for the mystery woman’s hand. Pulling her closer, she held her tightly, surrounded by her love.

Kate smiled again; realizing that Jessie was dreaming and was including her in that dream. Jessie was stroking her hair, and nuzzling her neck. Slowly she opened her eyes, and the whole dreamscape faded away. Kate lightly touched her face, brushing her hair from her eyes. Jessie smiled back, finally able to put a name to her dream lover.

Kate waited for a moment, until the last bit of sleep left Jessie. “Hi there sleepyhead, were you having a good dream?”

Jessie sat up a bit. “Yeah, I was. It was kind of strange, because you were with me. We were camping by a lake, and watching the stars. I knew it was you, but I couldn’t say your name. I went to hold you, and then I woke up, and I really was holding you. I like that, it felt . . . good.”

“Still, I wonder why you couldn’t say my name. I mean, you knew it was me right? Hmm, that is so strange. There must be something in your subconscious that’s blocking you from recognizing me completely. Weird. . .” Kate pursed her lips, trying to figure out what it might be that would prevent Jessie from saying her name.

“Well, maybe it will come to me later on. Now, didn’t you have some schedules or something we needed to look at? Something that had to do with the award show?” Jessie tried to change the subject, not wanting it to upset Kate.

Frowning, Kate remembered her promise to Alice. Grudgingly she grabbed the envelope that had been delivered the night before. Suddenly, she remembered the night before, and a chill gripped her heart. Dropping the envelope, she shrank back, almost as though she were handling a snake.

“Honey, what’s wrong? You look as though you were holding something slimy, or gross.” Jessie was immediately concerned.

“I was thinking about last night. Jessie, how much longer are we going to have to deal with this? I’m getting to the point, where I want to go out and find that SOB myself.” Kate was starting to work into a really good round of anger.

“Please, promise me you won’t do that. There is something extremely wrong with Gregory. According to the report from the profiler to the detectives handling this case, he is starting to show extreme signs of dementia. He is dangerous, and unpredictable.” Jessie was worried about her lover running off to play cowgirl.

“Well, he might be showing signs of dementia, but I’ll show him my Smith & Wesson.” Kate was completely wound up now.

Jessie sighed, and then launched herself across the bed, effectively pinning Kate to the mattress. “Okay, you have forced me to take drastic measures. Either promise me you will not go after him, nor will you unnecessarily endanger yourself in any way regarding this matter.”

“Jessie! Let me go, right now!” Kate struggled to free herself.

“No, not until you promise.” Jessie pinned Kate’s arms to her side.

“Jessie, come on, you’re making me laugh, and its not funny. Let Me Go!” Kate started to giggle.

“Promise!” Jessie replied.

“Jessie, I have to go to the bathroom, NOW! LET ME GO!” Kate struggled harder, trying to shake her larger companion onto the floor.

“Promise.” Jessie pleaded.

Kate noticed the change in the tone of Jessie’s voice. Jessie was dead serious, and near tears. Kate relented. “Jessie, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize . . .”

“What, that I was serious? Oh, yeah, way serious. He has stripped me of everything he possibly can, my self-esteem, my happiness, my money, everything. He’s already made it clear in my mind, that he wants to take you away from me as well. Gregory was always very thorough Kate. Once he starts a project, he researches it from every angle. He probably brought that girl here, to see how prepared you really were, and how careful. That gave him an advantage, and he will use that to its fullest potential.” Jessie sat back, releasing Kate from her “trap”.

“Gregory is psychotic, and he is obsessed with only one thing in life, and that is me. He truly wants to possess me. Complete ownership. The best way to do that is to eliminate you. There’s a small catch though. He likes to toy with people, mess with their minds, before he takes them down. Says it weakens them. Kind of like a cat with a mouse. He’ll threaten, and probably try to eliminate those people that are closest to you, so that he can make you suffer. Then he’ll try to take you.” Jessie bowed her head, unable to continue.

Kate crawled to her, and taking Jessie in her arms, held her closely whispering apologies, and begging for forgiveness, for not taking the whole thing more seriously. Jessie clung to Kate, like a life preserver in a storm. She knew she wouldn’t be able to live with herself if anything happened to Kate. Judging by the previous evening, and the fact that Laura was being followed, led Jessie to believe that it may already be too late.

Jessie’s eyes were closed tightly. Kate stroked her face, trying to get her to look back at her. For some reason it was important that Jessie see her when she spoke to her again. Finally Jessie slowly opened her eyes. They were red, and watery, filled with tears from fear, and premature grief. Kate wiped the tears away with her thumbs, and then focused her complete attention on Jessie.

“Jessie, I promise you. I will not chase Gregory, or aggravate this situation any further. I will do everything I can to protect you, and to protect myself from being harmed in any way. And Jessie? I promise I won’t act like this again. I can’t take it when I make you cry. It’s way too painful. Okay? Believe me? I mean it, I promise you.” Kate kissed Jessie’s forehead, hoping that Jessie believed her.

Jessie kissed her back on the lips, and then nodded, unable to speak at the moment. Her heart and mind were in turmoil. She wished there were someplace that she could take Kate to hide her away, until this was over with. Of course, Jessie knew without a doubt, that Kate would never go. She was too dedicated to her job, and way too enamored of Jessie, to leave her to deal with Gregory on her own. No, they would have to do this together.

Kate continued to stroke Jessie’s hair, and watch the emotions play across her beautiful features. She felt like she could almost read Jessie’s mind. She probably wants me to go away and hide somewhere, and leave her to fend for herself. Not on your life, my love. Whither thou goest, than so shall I. I love you Jessica Ryan. More than I have ever loved anyone in my entire life. You are my soulmate, my everything. Don’t even try to make me abandon you. Not now, not ever! Funny thing, why can’t I say that out loud?

The two women lay like that in each other’s arms, content not to speak any further on the subject. Eventually Kate recovered the envelope with the awards ceremony schedules, and they both went through the packet, sorting the information into piles, and then reading each pile. It was noon before they finished, and their matching growling stomachs gave them both away.

“Say, what say we stop this nonsense, and catch a bite to eat?” Kate was the first to break the monotony.

Jessie laid down the papers she was holding, and considered Kate’s question. “Okay, what did you have in mind? Want to get out of here and go somewhere for a change?”

Surprised, Kate smiled. “Yeah, let’s. But where can we go? Or more importantly, where can you go?”

“Well, I can go just about anywhere I want. I just have to be prepared to deal with the public if I get recognized. Oh, and I hate that disguise business. It is so silly. Sometimes, if I just put my hair back, and wear some sunglasses or something, and leave the makeup off I do okay. So, what’s around here that’s good?” Jessie was starting to get excited about going out with Kate.

“Let’s see. There is a great Italian place, over near the Galleria. Its called Gianelli’s. Michael and Steven went there on their first date.” Kate blushed, excitement beginning to build in her as well.

“Are you sure you’re feeling up to this? I mean, what with you being sick and all. And say, did you ever get those stitches out? I mean, I don’t remember seeing them anymore, and I surely don’t remember Helen taking them out for you.” Jessie moved Kate’s hair out of the way, checking the spot that ironically enough sort of brought them together.

“Oh, that. Yes, I feel much better, thank you. Besides, I need to get out of here and be normal for a while. I am sick of being sick. Ah yes, and the stitches. Don’t get mad, but I took them out myself. You were sleeping, and I sat on the edge of the sink with some clippers and tweezers, and used a mirror. Took me forever, trying to organize all of that stuff, while I was looking backwards. I think I did okay though, don’t you?” Kate was proud of her achievement, even though she knew that Jessie would be upset that she did it herself.

Checking all of the angles, Jessie pursed her lips, and hemmed and hawed for a moment, drawing out the inspection as long as she could. Finally she smoothed Kate’s hair back into place, and made a big show of clearing her throat and “aheming” a lot.

“What? Did I miss something? What’s the problem?” Kate was immediately on the defensive.

Chuckling, Jessie squeezed her from behind. “No, you did a great job. But next time let me help you all right? Or better yet, no more next times.”

Kate nodded her head in agreement, and then kissing Jessie on the lips, pinched her behind, and then ran for the shower. Moments later, Jessie joined her, and they managed to make up for all of the other “interrupted” lovemaking sessions they had missed before this.

Jessie provided Kate with her infamous human body sponge, effectively soaping both the front and back of her lover. Allowing her hands to roam freely, she marveled at the interesting texture soap and water added to her explorations. Trying hard not to get too involved herself, she concentrated entirely on bringing pleasure to Kate.

Small moans escaped Kate’s throat, leading Jessie to experiment further. Backing Kate against the wall of the shower, careful not to drown them both, Jessie placed her knee between Kate’s thighs. Slowly Kate began to move with her, increasing the friction between them, and lighting the fire that would soon engulf them both. Returning the attention she was receiving with her own hands, Kate soon brought Jessie along with her. So powerful was their mutual climax that both women almost slipped to the floor of the shower, their legs weakening for their efforts.

They held each other close, kissing, caressing, and supporting each other until their hearts calmed, and their legs regained their strength. The water began to cool down, and they realized that they had been in the shower for quite a long time. Jessie laughed out loud at the “pruning” of her fingertips. Experimenting, she brushed them across Kate’s sensitive breasts. Immediately she received an enthusiastic response. The water continued to cool down however, so much so that Kate almost began to shiver. Quickly they finished washing up, and then stepped out and began drying each other. It seemed to both of them, that showering together had to be one of the best moments in life.

Giggling like two children, they rifled through Kate’s closets, and came up with some warm clothes, and a couple of ski hats to wear. The weather was blustery, even for LA, so it was perfect for Jessie’s non-disguise. Kate recovered their winter coats, and gathering up her bag, cell phone, and her stun gun, the two of them headed out to do some adventuring.

Far on the other side of the land of LA, Gregory was positively dancing with joy. “See Star, its just like I told you, that little PA thinks she is so tough, but she is totally out of her league. Prepared my kiester. Hell, we could have waltzed right in there, and taken her out, and probably made our selves at home in the process. Man, I was so tempted, but no . . . I want to savor that moment. Just like “Baby Doll” is teaching me. Make it last.”

Star just stared at him blankly. For her efforts, he gave her an extra half-gram of her regular mix. She vaguely heard him, but was unable to get her brain to engage in any meaningful conversation. She was content to stare at the wall, and contemplate the deeper meaning of nothingness. Before she went off the air though she thanked Gregory for letting her participate in his plans. She was very pleased with herself, for not ratting him out to the red-haired girl, and for not screwing things up. Of course, she could have saved herself, but this just felt much better . . .

Gregory shook his head, realizing he was talking to a mannequin. Star was so off the air, her eyes were rolling back into her head. No major, he had work to do, and it was just as well that she stay out of his way for a while. Reaching across the desk, he grabbed the envelope full of information about Kate’s friend Laura in Northern California. He was quite excited at being able to move on to the next step.

Opening the envelope, he dumped its contents on the table. Sifting through the pictures, he stacked them, and then analyzed them one by one. The first few were unremarkable. He couldn’t get a real good look at Laura, because she was seated in her car. The car was an older model red Honda CRX two-seater. She was wearing a Levi’s type shirt, and sunglasses. It was too shadowed inside the car to tell what color her hair was, or if it was long or short. The next batch of pictures were much better. She was getting out of the car on the side of the road, in a wooded area. She wore jeans that matched the shirt, and her hair was short, and dark brown, maybe with gray. She was slightly on the heavy side, but her arms looked like she could take care of herself in a fight.

Setting these aside for later perusal, Gregory picked up the last pile. They showed Laura in her home. She lived in a mobile home, nothing special. The first picture showed her walking up the back steps into the house. Fortunately for the photographer, there were curtains open, allowing him access to the interior of the house. The next picture showed Laura kissing her girlfriend hello. The third showed her picking up one of her two cats, and hugging it. The last must have been taken at the same time as the first group, because Laura was looking right at the photographer, and giving him the finger.

So, she’s not as stupid as she looks. Huh, wonder if she told anyone she was being followed. This is great, makes her more of a challenge. I love a good fight.

Gregory set aside the pictures, and then scanned the written report that was included. There were detailed descriptions of Laura, her girlfriend, and even the cats. The spy had even included a diary of her routine, and addresses of her job, and the local grocery store. The last page, was a synopsis of the photos. Funny thing though, he didn’t include any explanation for the last one. Gregory chuckled, thinking he probably hadn’t intended for anyone else to see it.

Returning everything to the envelope, he checked his watch, and realized he’d better hurry on to his next step. It was almost time for him to call the “Demolitions Expert”. He had heard from a reliable source, that the custom limousine, KNIGHT 1 was to be released from the shop this afternoon. His plan was to have the explosive device installed, so that when Michael picked up the car to take Jessica to the awards ceremony. . . <poof> no more Michael.

Picking up the phone he dialed carefully. A low gruff voice answered the phone. “Speak your piece.”

“Uh, yeah, this is GT. Shimada Junior gave me your number. He says you might be able to help me with a little project I have in mind.” Gregory started to sweat.

“So? He said that did he? Well, maybe I can, and maybe I can’t. I don’t come cheap you know.” The voice was acting sarcastic.

“Yeah, well, I got money, lots of money. And more to come. This is a pretty easy job; any chump can handle it. Are you sure you’re capable?” Gregory sneered.

“Look buddy, you called me. You want me to do this job or what? ” The Demolition Man realized that he needed the money, and he had better not make this guy mad.

Gregory smiled GOTCHA! “Yeah, I do. I want this done by Friday AM. Listen carefully so I can give you all of the details.”

He spent the next twenty minutes or so laying out locations, addresses, and times. The last thing they discussed was the money. He would have to press Shimada for another loan, just until he got Jessie back, and recovered some of his money. He knew Shimada would help him. He had to.

Kate pulled her car into the Galleria parking lot. Reaching over, she squeezed Jessie’s hand. “This is so exciting. I just wanted to touch you again, before we head out into public. I know, no PDA’s right?”

Jessie smiled at Kate’s excitement. “Right. The studio might be willing to put up with things they don’t know about, but if they see us in the papers holding hands or whatever, well, Justin just might have a coronary. Wouldn’t want to do that to him now would you?”

Shaking her head, Kate giggled. “Maybe just a small one? Okay, I was just kidding. Come on, let’s go. If we have time, we might be able to do something else, a show or something. Right now though I’m starving.”

Popping her door open, Kate dashed around and made a big show of opening Jessie’s door. Catching on to the game, Jessie put on her “I am the Queen of England” airs, and stepped into the parking lot. She was a bit nervous, venturing out into someplace as huge as a mall. Kate was with her, and if she kept reminding herself to keep a low profile, she probably wouldn’t have any problems. She just didn’t make a regular habit of going to places where large numbers of people congregated, and there were not a lot of ways to escape.

Just do the best you can, Kate will protect you. I hope!

Jessie slouched, self-conscious of her height, and tried to look inconspicuous. Kate noticed her discomfort out of the corner of her eye. “Are you sure you want to do this? I mean, I’ll understand. It can be scary going into a mall, even for me. I promise I’ll protect you. Actually, Gianelli’s entrance is outside the mall, so we don’t even have to go in there.”

Jessie took a deep breath. “No, I’m okay. I just get a little nervous. So many people, so few ways to escape. Just don’t leave me okay? I might need you to help me out if something comes up.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll be by your side the whole time. Like I said, we don’t have to go into the mall. We can just go to Gianelli’s, have a nice meal, and then head back home. That way, the fewer people see you, the less likely will have any problems.” Kate was disappointed, but not enough to risk Jessie’s safety.

Jessie nodded her head, not wanting to hurt Kate’s feelings. Straightening up a bit, she followed Kate into the darkened entry to the restaurant. The Maitre’d came up, and taking two menus, beckoned to them to follow him. Since they had arrived before the dinner rush, they had plenty of tables to choose from. He sat them at a table out of the main traffic area, but that still afforded them a glimpse of the people bustling back and forth in the mall.

Kate took her jacket off, and hung it on the back of her chair. Helping Jessie out of hers, she noticed a light sheen of sweat forming on her lover’s face. “Hey, calm down. So far, so good. He didn’t even notice you. Relax. It’s time to pig out, and have some fun. Are you with me?”

Jessie couldn’t seem to shake the uncomfortable feeling that had gripped her when they came into the restaurant. Once when the show first started, she had stopped at a small strip mall, and was mobbed by the customers shopping there. A young woman had spotted her in a gift shop, and had shouted to a friend waiting by their car. Everyone within earshot heard her, and came running over. The gift shop owner acted fast, and quickly locked the door, preventing anyone from getting in, but also preventing Jessie from getting out. They finally had to call the police to disperse the crowd, and Michael had to bring the car right to the door to pick her up. She signed some autographs, and had her picture taken with a few of the children, but the experience had really shaken her. Later she had sent a signed picture, and some collectible things from the show for the gift shop owner. The woman was very proud of her gifts, and made sure she put a very high price on them.

Realizing that no one was probably going to disturb them, Jessie calmed down finally, and concentrated on her menu. Kate was chattering good-naturedly, about her favorites, and how great everything on the menu was. She hadn’t personally tried everything, but she was certain it was all good. Jessie chose baked lasagna, with a green salad, and garlic bread. It was basic, but she had a craving that needed to be addressed. Kate selected the linguine with clams, and took the liberty of ordering the appetizer combo plate. It came with a mixed assortment of antipasto items, such as, marinated mushrooms, toscano salami, olives, etc.

As an added bonus, Kate ordered a bottle of Mirrasou Vineyards Chardonnay. She wasn’t that fond of Chardonnay, but red wines put her to sleep, and she’d had enough sleep over the last few days to last for a while. She was busy chattering about her past experiences with wine, when she noticed Jessie simply smiling at her.

“What? Don’t tell me you don’t like wine. Wait, we shared a bottle before. That crazy night at Momma’s. Did I say something wrong? Jessie?” Kate was perplexed.

Smiling broader, Jessie brushed Kate’s leg with the edge of her foot. “You’re doing fine. I just love to hear you so excited. I’m okay; I’m feeling better. Boy am I starved though.”

No sooner than the words had left her mouth, and their waiter returned with their appetizers. Both women filled their small appetizer plates, and began the task of feeding their empty stomachs. Half way through the platter, Kate stopped and setting her fork down started to giggle.

“Now what? Do I have food on my face or something? What’s so funny?” Jessie scowled.

“No silly. I just think it’s hysterical that we haven’t said a word to each other since the food arrived. You would think we haven’t eaten for a week. Must be good, eh?” Kate settled back for a minute, letting her food settle down.

Jessie nodded her agreement. She realized that if she kept eating at that pace, two things would occur. First, she wouldn’t be able to eat the rest of her dinner, and second, she might just end up putting on some weight. Justin would have an absolute cow. She could hear him now, Jessica! What kind of world would this be with a fat super hero? Stop eating or else! Shaking her head to remove the thought, she decided that it would be a great world to have a “larger” super hero, or model, or whatever. Too much emphasis was placed on looks these days. Sure, she liked her looks okay, but if push came to shove, she much preferred looking at Kate.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of the rest of their meal. After resting for a moment, and giving the waiter a chance to move away, they dug in with a renewed energy. Kate was right; the food at Gianelli’s was outstanding. Even though they were both starting to feel full, they couldn’t resist stuffing their faces. When both plates were clean, they sat back and looked at each other. Kate was so full; she loosened the top button of her jeans. Jessie stretched a few times; hoping that her overfull feeling would pass.

“You know, I think we are going to have to venture out into the mall. Maybe if we’re lucky, someone will chase us, and we can work of some of this meal. I’m beginning to think that I might just explode.” Jessie puffed out her cheeks a few times, trying to get her body to settle down.

Kate yawned, the wine and the heavy Italian food doing their best to put her to sleep. “Are you sure you can handle that? What if the people corner us, or chase us? I don’t know if I can run right now. I’m way too full.”

“Come on, don’t chicken out on me now. I finally get brave, and now you want to wuss one me. Let’s pay these people, and get moving. Oh, here’s my card. Alice gave it to me when I went by the studio the other day. They had to close my other account, because of Gregory.” Jessie held the credit card out to Kate.

Waving it away, Kate rifled her wallet, and produced her own card. “I invited you out, and I’m paying for this. Remember? I don’t want to be a kept woman. We share from now on. Unless of course you get the urge to take me to the Bahamas, or New Zealand. Then we might have to renegotiate our deal.”

Jessie returned her credit card to her fanny pack. Michael had showed up with the fanny pack a few days ago, when he noticed her admiring Kate’s. She thought it was a cool way to carry the few things she ever carried. It seemed that there was always someone around to take care of those things, Kate included. Jessie was determined to change things in her life though. She liked being out, and doing things with Kate. At least so far anyway.

The came and went, and then the two ventured to the doorway into the mall. They stood there for a few moments, watching the crowd hustle and bustle about their business.

“Are you sure you’re ready for this? We can go out the other door and be done with it right now if you want.” Kate was starting to feel a little nervous herself.

Taking a deep breath, Jessie placed her hands on the door. “No, I’m ready. If something bad is going to happen, then its going to happen. We’ll deal with it then.”

Pushing on the door, they were immediately assaulted with the noise, smells, and energy of a shopping mall on a Sunday afternoon. Kate led the way while they casually walked along window-shopping, and keeping a wary eye on the crowd.

It had been such a long time since Jessie had been inside such a huge place, she almost felt like she was on another planet. Everyone seemed to have someplace to go, and at least half of them were carrying either packages, or small children. Occasionally they would hear an exasperated mother saying no to her child’s request.

Jessie stopped for a moment, and listened to the conversation between a young boy and his mother over a pair of tennis shoes. “Honey, you know I can’t afford those shoes. You’re growing bigger every day, and before you know it, you won’t be able to wear them anymore. $180 is too much for a pair of shoes for a ten year old. I’m sorry, but we just have to be more practical.”

“You just don’t love me anymore.” The boy cried. “All my friends have these shoes. It’s not fair!”

“I know, honey, but you have to understand. With your dad getting laid off, and me working two jobs, its just too hard to buy all the extra things you want. Its not because I don’t love you. I just don’t have the money.” A small tear escaped the mother’s eye.

Jessie went to step forward. She had every intention of buying the shoes for the young boy, and anything else he might want. Kate’s firm hand on her arm stopped her. Turning to find out why she was being prevented from doing something she by all means could afford, she was stopped by the look of sadness in Kate’s eyes.

“Jessie, I know you want to help, but you can’t. Look around you. There must be a thousand kids just like him, wanting more than anything to have the most expensive shoes, toys, clothes, you name it. Most of the stuff here is just plain out of reach for these kids. It’s our crummy society. The big marketing machine. Parents have to work harder, and the rift between them and their children grows wider. It’s a “No Win” situation. If you buy those shoes for that kid, then you have to but them for everyone around. Because the news will get out. Do yourself a favor. Work with a charity. One that can do something for a lot of kids, and not just one. I’m sorry.” Kate bowed her head, feeling bad about hurting Jessie’s feelings.

Jessie placed her hand on Kate’s shoulder. “You’re right. Put that on your list of things I need to do this week. It’s important. I don’t know what I was thinking a moment ago. They just looked so sad. Come on; let’s keep moving. I’m starting to feel kinda sad right now.”

Kate nodded her understanding, and the two of them continued their trek through the great mall. When they reached the end, Jessie noticed several people heading down a small staircase, all carrying gym bags. Stepping around the corner, she noticed a huge window looking out onto an ice skating rink. Hurrying back to Kate, she grabbed her arm, jumping up and down.

“I want to skate! I want to skate!” Jessie tugged on Kate’s arm, leading her to the stairway to the rink.

“You what? Jessie I don’t know how to skate. And what if someone recognizes you or you get hurt? Then what am I going to do? I don’t know Jess, this could be dangerous.” Kate furrowed her brows, convinced that Jessie had lost her mind.

“Come on, I’m a great skater. I’ll teach you how.” Successfully convincing Kate, at least partially anyway, they continued down the staircase, to the counter.

Renting skates, they sat side by side, and changed their shoes. Jessie was so excited, she was wiggling on the bench. Kate decided that she must be nuts letting her go through with this. Putting their unnecessary stuff into a locker, she pocketed the key, and wobbling on her skates, made her way to the entrance to the ice. Jessie was already zooming in and out of the crowd, her taller stature giving her an almost graceful appearance.

Shooting over to the railing, she grabbed Kate’s hands, and dragged her out on the ice. After a few wobbles, Kate managed to stand perfectly still. Jessie held her hands in front of her, and then slowly skated backwards, pulling Kate along with her. Kate decided that as long as she didn’t make any sudden moves, she should be okay.

All around them children, teenagers and adults were maneuvering themselves around the ring, with varying degrees of expertise. More than once someone would come by, lose their balance and land rear end first on the ice. Kate was determined that she would not be one of those people. Too late, she got brave enough to move her feet independently of each other, and somehow they tangle up and down she went.

“Oops! Are you okay?” Jessie tried hard not to laugh.

“Quit laughing! This is not funny. My butt is killing me!” Kate scowled at her crazy friend.

“Aww, come on, let me help you up.” Jessie bent down to help Kate get up, just as a chain of women, old enough to know better, came giggling by. They were playing crack the whip. All of a sudden, someone in the middle lost her balance, and the entire group came crashing down. Bodies spun everywhere, and the end person, came careening right at Jessie. She tried to stop herself, but it was too late.

Crashing into Jessie, she knocked her legs out from under her, and sent her into a belly flop flat onto the ice. Kate tried to grab her, before the rest of the crowd stepped on her in their travels. Digging in her skate blade into the ice, she shoved hard, and went sliding right for Jessie. Using the blade as a brake, she spun onto her knees, and lay across Jessie’s back, forming a larger barrier for people to go around. Fortunately everyone saw them and gave them a wide berth.

Several moments later the woman who crashed into Jessie joined Kate. Kneeling in front of Jessie she very carefully lifted her chin to check for bleeding, or neck injuries. Kate watched the gorgeous, tan, blue-eyed woman for a moment, and decided that was about enough of that. Settling back on her knees, she fixed the woman with a stare as cold as the ice they were sitting.

“I’ll take care of her from here, thanks for your help.” Kate couldn’t help but sound a little angry.

The blond smoothed back Jessie’s hair, in a way too familiar gesture. “What are you, her body guard? No need to be defensive, it was an accident, I’m just concerned about whether or not I injured her.”

Kate’s scowl deepened. “If it’s your business, yes I am her bodyguard, and I’ll thank you for not handling her anymore. Now, if you’ll back up, I’d like to check on her myself.”

Raising her hands in surrender, the woman backed away. Kate took her place, and bending down, spoke softly to Jessie. “Hey, are you alright? Should I call an ambulance?”

Slowly, Jessie rolled over onto her back. “No, I’m okay. Just got the wind knocked out of me. I think I might have scraped my knees, and I know my hands are bruised. I’ll know more when I get off the ice. Help me up.”

Kate managed to get herself into a standing position. Reaching down for Jessie, she was suddenly scooted aside. The offensive blond had replaced her, and was helping Jessie stand up. Jessie put her arm around the woman’s shoulders, and let herself be led off the ice. Kate stood there stunned, watching them head for the benches. Carefully working her way across the ice, she stepped over to stand nearby and listen. Far be it from me to interrupt the great Ms. Ryan!

The blond helped Jessie out of her skates, and then turned to address Kate. “If your going to stand there like that why don’t you do something useful. Go and get her jacket, and shoes. She does look cold to you, doesn’t she?”

Furious Kate looked at Jessie for some kind of support. Jessie was busy checking her knees, and oblivious to the exchange going on around her head. Kate turned and stormed over to the lockers. A deep level of jealousy was boiling inside of her. She was so tempted to zap this. . .slut with her stun gun.

Retrieving their things, she returned to the bench where she thought they would be waiting for her. When she got there, they were gone. Frantic, she looked up and down the bench area, trying to spot her tall lover in the crowd. After several minutes, the crowd cleared slightly, and she saw them. They were sitting in the coffee shop with hot steaming cups in front of them. Both women were laughing. Jessie seemed to not even notice that Kate was missing.

Sitting down, desperately trying to hold back her tears, Kate changed into her shoes, and then returned everything to the checkout counter, paying for their session while she was there. Walking slowly to the coffee shop, her heart started to pound, so loud she could almost hear it. Jessie still hadn’t shown any signs of noticing her, looking for her, or even missing her. Several of the other woman’s friends had gathered around their table. It was apparent they had recognized Jessie, and were caught up in awe over their idol being at the local mall.

Trying to be as invisible as possible, Kate slipped into the group and laying Jessie’s things on the table, turned to leave. A strong hand gripped her wrist, and pulled her back around. Her eyes met Jessie’s, and any uncertainties she had about where she fit into Jessie’s life dissolved immediately.

“Ladies, this is my Personal Assistant, and body guard, Kate McKenna. I gave you all the studios E-mail address, and if you mention the skating rink, Kate will be glad to send you all pictures. Now, if you will excuse me, I think I’ve had about enough excitement for one day. Ms. McKenna and I need to leave. We have a busy week ahead of us.” Jessie bent down, and slipped her feet into her tennis shoes, not even bothering to tie them. Standing, she helped Kate gather their things, and hooking one hand around Kate’s elbow, steered her towards the door.

The blond tried vainly to catch Jessie’s attention again, but it soon became apparent that Jessie was plainly not interested. Kate risked a glance back at her momentary nemesis, and smiled ever so sweetly when they made eye contact. Receiving an extremely dark look in return, she stuck her tongue out at the woman, and then returned her attention to her lover.

Furious, the woman sat down. Never in her life had she ever been treated like that by anyone. Most women fell all over her, even straight women. Wondering what Jessie could possibly see in that redheaded bitch, Naomi made a mental note to do some investigating. She wasn’t the type to out someone, but she didn’t give up a challenge like this so easily either.

Kate and Jessie walked silently together. Kate could tell that Jessie was hurting, and could probably use a nice hot bath. She felt bad about not trusting Jessie. She couldn’t recall the last time she had been that jealous and angry over someone.

On the other hand, Jessie was smiling deep inside of herself. Sure, she ached all over, but Kate’s jealous rage more than made up for it. It left no shadow of a doubt as to who she loved, and who loved her. Thinking about that Naomi chick, and how her haughty self-confidence had turned to her own jealous rage, made Jessie laugh out loud. Kate merely looked at her, a question in her eyes. She was too embarrassed still to say anything.

“Oh, I was just thinking. You know, that woman really thought she was so much better than you were. I think she really thought that I might fall for her, like in an instant or something. Unfortunately, I have this deep streak of politeness in me, so I had to deal with that first. I know you were angry, and I know you were going to leave me here. I’m sorry I upset you.” Jessie placed her cold scraped hand over the hand that held her arm.

Bowing her head, Kate smiled to herself. “There is no need for sorrow, Jess. That woman was so rude, and yet so beautiful. For a moment, I thought she had succeeded. When she pushed me out of the way, and then took you to the coffee shop while I was fetching our things, I was . . . hurt. But I should be the one that’s sorry. I feel like I didn’t trust you enough, to even remember I was alive. I’m the one that’s sorry.”

Risking staring eyes, Jessie put her arm around Kate’s shoulder, and squeezed her as tight as her sore body would allow. She promised herself, that politeness be damned, she would never let something like this happen again. Now would be the perfect time to tell her you love her you idiot! Speak up!

Kate, conscious of the possibility of discovery, returned to her original position. She would have given anything to stay that way, with Jessie’s arm around her, but it was just too risky. Holy moly, Kate! Now is the perfect time to tell her that you love her. Why can’t you speak?

Jessie took a deep breath, and stopped Kate for a minute. Pulling her behind a stand of potted plants, she turned to face her, and was about to finally tell Kate that she loved her, when a loud screech came from the bustling crowd. Someone had recognized her, and the crowd was rapidly heading their way.

Quickly Kate grabbed Jessie’s hand, and started to slip along the wall towards the exit doors. Afraid that someone would grab Jessie from behind, Kate stopped suddenly, and pulled her in front. Pushing her to run faster, Kate could almost feel the heat of the crowd behind them. The noise was deafening. Fortunately, Jessie’s longer stride put her at the door, quite a ways ahead of the crowd. Slamming both hands into the door bar, she flung the doors wide and then reaching behind her grabbed Kate and pulled her through. The two of them made an all out mad dash for the car. Kate had already fumbled the keys out of her pocket. Gesturing to Jessie to duck behind the car, she opened the door, and then flicked the power locks open. By the time the crowd figured out where they were, they were pulling out of the driveway, and heading rapidly out of sight.

Breathing a sigh of relief, they both burst into a torrent of nervous giggles. There aborted “I Love You” forgotten for the moment as they hurried home, making sure that no one was following them.

After they arrived, Kate ran a warm bath for Jessie, and had her soak for a short time, to work the kinks out of her body. Carefully checking her hands and knees, she was satisfied that no permanent damage had been done. Jessie tried to get her to join her in the tub, but Kate was content to wash her lover from the outside. They talked quietly about their adventures, and decided that they would have to plan better, and be a lot more clever before they ever ventured to the mall again.

Later, they both settled into bed, to watch a little TV and wind down. They had an early call at the studio, and according to the director’s schedule, they could plan to be at the studio later than usual as well. Ted was going to try and shoot the entire episode in four days. Jessie’s obligation to the awards ceremony gave him the incentive to push every one into blowing out this thing pretty quickly. Only two more weeks and they could take a week’s vacation. That in itself was incentive enough for everyone. The sooner the better!

Jessie kissed Kate goodnight, and snuggling down, silently thanked whomever that might be listening, for making her the luckiest woman on the planet. Both slept peacefully, worn out from the previous day’s activities. It would be another week at least before they had any peace, or enough sleep. Holding on in their sleep, their souls said “I Love You”, even though their conscious selves still couldn’t get with the program.

——————————————————————————

I believe the very purpose of our life
is to find happiness.

********The Dalai Lama********
Chapter 21: (I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date…)
The next few days went by like a blur. It was starting to seem like the minute Kate and Jessie laid their head down, it was time to wake up again. The staff and actors managed to meet their goal of half an episode in the can in a day and a half. Ted had even indicated that they might even get Friday off if they kept up with that pace.

Tuesday evening, Kate decided to cook something light for dinner. She actually preferred to cook her meals, instead of eating out all of the time. She only wished she had time to do some decent grocery shopping. While she was standing in front of the open refrigerator, Jessie came up behind her, and hugged her from behind.

“What’s up? Anything alive in there?” Jessie closed her eyes, and rested her chin on Kate’s head.

Kate smiled. There had been so little time to be together lately. Of course, they were together all day, but it wasn’t the same. Taking a peek into the freezer, she was surprised to see that it had a package of chicken, and some frozen broccoli.

“I thought I would cook, I am so tired of catering food. Sound good to you?” Kate waited to see if Jessie was still awake.

“Mmm, that sounds great. Would you mind terribly if I laid on the couch for a few minutes? I was really embarrassed about forgetting those lines today, and I know its because I’m tired. Besides, I think my mind has been elsewhere these days.” Jessie yawned deeply, remembering this afternoon when she had been watching Kate out of the corner of her eye, and had missed a cue. If that keeps up, I’m going to have to banish her from the set.

“Sure honey, go ahead, and if you want, after dinner I’ll run lines with you for tomorrow’s scenes. Go crash for a while.” Kate gave her a light push in the direction of the living room.

Puttering around the kitchen, Kate decided that life just couldn’t be any better. Michael had taken her to the dry cleaners earlier to drop off some of Jessie’s things, and he had taken that moment to ask her some important questions. He had been wondering if Kate was still okay with Jessie staying with her. He admitted that he hadn’t been actually looking for a place for Jessie. Anything of importance that she might need was already at Kate and Steven’s, or at her offices at the studio. The rest had already been donated, or put in storage until such a time, as she might need it. Kate had made a promise to herself, to straighten out some closet space, so Jessie could stop living out of suitcases. Michael waited patiently, curious about her answer.

Kate smiled, remembering her careful response. “Michael, I don’t think or worry about that kind of stuff. If Jessie wants to move into her own place, its fine with me. I love her Michael, and whatever she wants to do, I can handle.”

“Have you told her yet that you love her? I mean, I know it’s none of my business, but well, its plain as day that you love each other. What’s the major malfunction?” Michael was trying to get in his daily dose of sensitivity. He placed is hand over Kate’s to emphasize his concern. Kate always refused to sit in back when they went on these errands,

“I don’t know Michael. I think we’re both scared to death. Like if we finally say, “I love you” to each other, that something bad is going to happen, as though it will change things. Is that weird or what?” Kate was perplexed.

“Well, since you asked, yeah it is. I mean, in such a short time, you have been through so much together. What with Gregory and all I mean. I think if you can’t trust each other, when it is so apparent that you are meant to be together, then there is something else wrong. What happened at the mall the other day? Jessie said something about some silly woman pissing you off.” Michael relished in gossip. Jessie didn’t always satisfy his need for information.

Kate told him the whole story, from beginning to end. She admitted guiltily that she had been jealous, almost insanely so. Michael agreed that if it had been him, and someone was so blatantly hitting on Steven, he probably would have been even less diplomatic. He was worried though about Kate. This was surely not going to be the last time that something like this happened, especially if his sister was going to continue to be brave and venture out into public.

“Kate, you know this is going to happen again, don’t you?” Michael winced internally, waiting for the storm.

“Yeah, I do. I need to talk to Jess real soon about how she feels about this, and how I should act. I don’t want to embarrass her, but by the same token, I don’t want people to walk all over me either. I should ask Laura how she deals with it, because people are always hitting on April, right under Laura’s nose. I know too that it will be even worse for us, because she is not only an actress, but one of the most popular action-adventure heroes on television.” Kate thought this might even warrant a phone call, rather than waiting for Laura online.

Michael agreed that it warranted discussion, but he also encouraged Kate not to wait much longer to express her feelings. He had always been one to act more with his heart, and not always with his head. Kate said she would get to it soon, not wanting to be pushed by Michael to move too much faster than she already had. She cared a great deal for Michael, but sometimes he just grated her last nerve.

Popping the chicken into the oven, her thoughts turned to the whirlwind that had become their lives. Deciding not to disturb Jessie, she headed into her office to check messages, E-mail, and to call Laura. She noticed with a smile, that both cats were firmly attached to various places on Jessie’s body like little furry parasites, unwilling to let go until their host moved.

Closing the door partway, she sat down to listen to the answering machine first. There were several messages from the office, regarding scheduling, script meetings, and the like, followed by a message from the dressers, confirming their appointment to dress the women for the award’s ceremony. Kate jotted all of this information into the appropriate days in her day planner, and then played the last message. What she heard chilled her to the bone.

“BEEP” Honey, this is Diane. Oh God! You won’t believe what’s happening to me. Someone tipped off the IRS, that we have been skimming our books, and not paying our taxes, and then this afternoon, the FBI, ATF, and who all knows what showed up on my doorstep, on an anonymous phone call that my husband and I are dealing in everything from drugs to guns. I don’t know who the hell would do this, but it stinks! We are so brutally careful about our taxes, and I would never be involved in any of that other stuff. They have taken all of our books and records, and my husband is currently in jail. I should have him out on bail in a few hours. Darlin’ call tomorrow, and hopefully I will have gotten rid of most of these people. This truly sucks!!!

Kate hit the save button, and then sat still for a moment letting Diane’s message sink in. There was definitely something weird going on. First Laura is being stalked, and now Diane. Some how, the whole thing started to smell like Gregory. Bypassing the Internet, Kate opted to call Laura direct.

The phone rang twice, before April picked it up. “Hello? Oh, hi Kate, sure she’s here, sitting under a pile of cats. Hang on and let me get her.”

Moments later, she could hear Laura coming to the phone. In the background, the loud protests of Laura’s two cats Tanya and Tasha were blaring in the background. Laura was firmly entrenched in the idea that she was the mother of her two cats, and that she could communicate with them. Of course, she knew she couldn’t really talk to them, but some how she managed to get her point across. One thing for certain, anyone messes with Laura’s cats, and they better be ready to defend themselves. Not much would stop her if anyone tried to hurt either April or the cats.

“Hey there sugar, what’s up?” Kate smiled at Laura’s cheerful greeting.

“Hey there yourself. I just decided that the stuff on my mind required a phone call, instead of just Internet. There are some strange things going on around here Laura. First you acquire a stalker, and then my friend Diane from the personnel agency gets accused of graft and insurrection by a whole group of government agencies. Her poor husband was even arrested. I don’t know for sure, but I think Gregory is behind all of this. I can only hope that it doesn’t get any worse.” Kate stopped for a moment to let Laura answer.

“Hmm, that does sound like all of this might be related. So far I haven’t seen any more of my stalker, especially since I acknowledged the fact that I knew he was there. If I were you guys, I would be especially careful these days. You never know what might come up next.” As soon as she said it, she realized that they had already had way too much trouble in their lives.

Again Kate was amazed at her friend’s huge heart. It was just like Laura, to worry about Kate and Jessie, and not have a single worry for herself. “You know, you should take some of that advice yourself. Have you told April yet?”

The pause on the other end of the line was enough to tell Kate that Laura hadn’t told her girlfriend about the stalker yet. “Laura. . .why haven’t you told her? Don’t you think her life might be endangered as well? Doesn’t she ride a motorcycle to work? Laura you need to tell her!”

“Okay, okay, I got ya. You’re right, I should have told her right away. Now I’m gonna get it. I guess I’m just not taking it as seriously as I should. As soon as we’re done, I’ll tell her the whole story. You know we bought a new motorcycle this weekend. I just didn’t want to ruin all of her fun. So, how’s that gorgeous girlfriend of yours? Have you told her that you love her yet?” Laura quickly changed the subject.

Kate felt the blush creep up the back of her neck. It was just like her friend to know what was on her mind before she said anything. “Laura, sometimes you amaze me. That was the other reason I called you. I just can’t seem to get the words out. It’s driving me crazy! What’s wrong with me?”

Laura thought for a moment. “Well, my guess is she’s just as tongue tied as you are. You know you both have had a hard time with relationships in the past. And others have spent a lot of time and energy making sure that you don’t feel very good about yourselves. I realize that Jessica gets a lot of attention, especially now that the show is in the number one spot. But I really think that you too have gone past all those horrible incidents, and have put those people behind you. There is no question in my mind that you love each other. If now is not the time, then I think when you get away from all of the chaos in a week or so, then maybe you two will relax enough to finally seal this “love thang” together. Oh, and sweetie, it’s tough dating someone that others want. You have to be confident in your love for her, and in her love for you.”

“I really feel that she loves me, but I am so afraid of rejection. Someone hit on her right in front of me, and I didn’t know how to handle it. I was torn between my duties as her assistant, and bodyguard, and being her lover.” Kate sighed deeply.

“Honey child, if she was going to reject you, I doubt very seriously she would be living in your house right now. For goodness sakes, she makes a small fortune. She could have any old house she wanted out there, but she chooses to stay with you and Steven. There’s something to say about that, and all I can come up with is love.” Laura chuckled at the thought. She and April had been together for 18 plus years, and she could remember all of the steps that love takes.

A number of people over the years had approached April, and attempted to take her away from Laura. They felt that April’s looks made her a step or two above Laura and that April deserved better. Laura was stocky, not real tall, and she had been called “dyke” more times than she cared to count. April always told them, they would never know what they were missing, that Laura was absolutely the best, in more ways than one.

“You know something Laura, I love you so much. You’re the best friend I’ve ever had.” Kate felt a small tear slip down her cheek.

“Oh come on now, you’ll forget me soon enough. All you have to do, is sink into those beautiful blue eyes, and the party’s over. I love you too kiddo. See how easy that is? Now, when the time feels right, you know the words, just say them.” Laura blew kisses in the phone, and hung up quietly.

Kate sat there for several minutes, thinking about Laura and all of her complexities. She certainly was the most insightful and interesting person that Kate had ever known. The buzzer on the oven interrupted her thoughts. Giving up her mail for later, she dashed to the kitchen and shut everything off before it woke Jessie.

Kate stood in the doorway for a moment or two, watching Jessie sleep, her chest slowly rising and falling in her slumber. Corky the fat cat noticed her mother from her place in Jessie’s armpit, and decided she should invite her to join them.

“Meow mow wow meow!” Corky called.

Kate giggled. “Shh, don’t wake her Cork, that’s my job.”

“WOW!” Corky shot back.

“Hissss, WAH!” Corky’s sister Violet took a swat at her offensive sibling.

“Hey you two, not while you’re sleeping on Jessie! If you scratch her, one of you is going to learn to fly.” Kate whispered loudly.

Kate quickly crossed the room, and grabbed Violet before she could take another swat at her sister. Setting her on the floor, she reached for Corky when she was suddenly grabbed around the waist, and pulled up into Jessie’s arms.

“Whoop! What are you doing? I almost crushed you.” Kate exclaimed.

“Not on your life, shweethot.” Jessie said in her best Bogart.

Settling Kate comfortably against her chest, she met her lips in a warm lingering kiss. Kate returned the kiss in kind, loving the feel of Jessie’s lips pressed against hers, gently asking permission to continue their exploration. Kate had no interest in denying them their request. Balancing herself on her hands, she began to gently tease Jessie, kissing her passionately, then pulling away when the kiss was returned. She had decided that she wanted control of this moment, fully and completely.

Sitting up, she slowly unbuttoned her shirt, one button at a time. Before removing it, she returned her attention to Jessie’s lips, gradually moving to her neck, placing small kisses, followed by light nips along the curve. Returning to her upright position, she reached for the buttons on Jessie’s shirt, again slowly working her way to each one. Her hand strayed once, brushing Jessie’s sensitive nipple through the fabric. She was rewarded with a quiet gasp. Kate prepared to remove her own shirt, and follow with her bra, when the front door suddenly opened

Michael was the first to bounce in. He stopped in shock, and then quickly turned, and covered Steven’s eyes. Trying desperately not to laugh, he backed Steven out the door, and closed it behind him. Kate had immediately dropped, covering Jessie with her body, at the same time trying to hide them both in the cushions of the sofa. She turned crimson when she heard the boys uncontrolled laughter outside the door.

Buttoning her shirt back up, and then doing the same for Jessie, she quickly kissed Jessie on the lips, and then stomped in a cloud of fury to the front door.

Flinging it open, she stood there with her hands on her hips, and tapped her foot, waiting for them to gain some sort of control. It wasn’t until she started to calm a moment when she noticed that they weren’t alone. Standing down on the steps, were two friends of Stevens from the agency.

Kate was stunned. Without much thought, she slammed the door shut, and turning to look at Jessie, bursting into tears. Running to her bedroom, she slammed the door behind her. Jessie was bewildered. She couldn’t decide whether she should be mad, happy, sad, or just plain frustrated. Rising from the couch, she turned to follow Kate. She heard the others coming in, and decided it was in her best interests to ignore them.

“Kate? Honey? Are you okay?” Jessie sat on the bed, pulling Kate into her arms.

Holding her close, she lightly stroked her hair, murmuring “sweet nothings” into her ear, and nibbling at her neck. Kate finally calmed down, and wiping her eyes with the back of her hand, just contented herself to lay in Jessie’s embrace, and listen to her heartbeat for a while.

“Want me to go out there and kill all of them? I would do that for you, you know. Wouldn’t mind it a bit.” Jessie starting tickling Kate for emphasis.

“Don’t! Stop! I don’t want to laugh, I’m mad.” Kate pouted while trying to hold back the giggles welling up inside. Picturing Jessie going out into the living room, and telling all of them that it was necessary to eliminate them made her laugh even harder.

“Oh, listen to you, don’t stop. Hmm, if I weren’t certain, I might think you wanted me to keep tickling you.” Which she did again for emphasis.

“Okay, okay I get the message. And no, you don’t have to kill them. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to face them all, but no problem. You can just bring me food, or check and make sure the coast is clear before I leave the house.” Kate sighed.

“What happened? Why did you cry?” Jessie wanted to know all of the details.

“Because Jess, I was embarrassed. And, I don’t know why. I guess I’m just sensitive right now, or maybe it’s going to be that time of the month or something. Oh, and I haven’t even had a chance yet to tell you about Diane and Laura.” Kate sat up, her memory bringing back all of the urgent news she had temporarily blocked out.

Kate took the time to tell Jessie about the message from Diane and then her subsequent phone call to Laura. She left out the more personal discussion regarding the “I Love You” issue, preferring not to broach that subject at the moment. Jessie listened quietly until Kate was finished.

Pinching her lips between her thumb and forefinger, Jessie was angry. “Damn! I am really getting worried about our family and friends. What the hell are the police doing about Gregory anyway? I could probably do a much better job at tracking him down than they seem to be doing.”

Concerned, Kate put her hand over Jessie’s. “Don’t go getting any stupid ideas. I’m the one that’s responsible for your safety. Please don’t get yourself into any situations that endanger you. Diane is taking care of her problem, and I’ll touch bases with her tomorrow. I lectured Laura extensively about her safety, and letting April know what’s going on. She tends to be a little less concerned when danger is standing in her face. I can’t stop her from doing that, but I can harass her about it as much as possible.”

Jessie was satisfied for the moment, but if this crap didn’t stop, she was going to stay mad, and keep a thumb on the detectives until something was done. She wouldn’t be able to live with herself, if one of their friends or family members were injured, or the worst of all killed, because of their association with her. God only knew she loved Kate, and if Gregory took her away, or hurt her in any way, she would hunt him down and kill him with her bare hands.

The two women hugged each other closely. Both were lost in their thoughts. Questions played through their minds like a never-ending newsreel; “will this ever end? Will he injure or kill someone, is there any hope of peace in their lives?” All of this served to dampen their moods, and make them both wish that it would all just go away.

Hearing distant laughter and commotion from the other room, they realized that if they didn’t get out there, face the music, and get it over with, then Michael and the group might eat their dinner. Kate gave up and swallowed her pride, and ventured out the door first. The assembled group stopped talking immediately, and pretended not to notice her, as they all stared at her intently.

“Jeez, give me a break. Don’t you have anything better to do than stare at me like a bug under a microscope? Get over yourselves. We’re going to eat, and then we have a big day tomorrow. So keep the noise down or else!” She turned and taking Jessie’s hand led her to the kitchen.

Jessie looked at the group as she passed and shrugged her shoulders. In a false whisper, she said, “You guys better listen to her. She just might do something terrible if you don’t!”

Kate yanked her hand, and dragged her into the kitchen. Laying the plates and silverware out on the small table, she quietly served their food. Finishing, she sat down, and then before she started eating, she stood back up, and went over to kiss Jessie. Returning to her chair, she continued her meal.

Jessie blinked a few times, and then picking her fork up, started to eat. After the first bite, she set it down, and tilted her head sideways, her eyebrow raised. “What was that all about?”

Kate smiled through her next bite. “Just because.”

————————————————————–

If art is to nourish the roots of our culture,

Society must set the artist free

To follow his vision wherever it takes him.

********John Fitzgerald Kennedy********
Chapter 22 (One way or another, gonna find you, gonna git ya git ya git ya….)
Gregory sat back in his chair, a certain air of satisfaction surrounding him. He had hung up the phone a few moments before, pleased to hear that the first victim of his plans had been suitably, shall we say, inconvenienced for a while. Diane was small potatoes in Gregory’s master plan. He really didn’t care one way or another whether she lived or died, he just wanted to send a message to her to stay out of other people’s business.

Star stepped quietly into the room. More and more she was noticing subtle changes in Gregory’s looks, and his demeanor. He seemed to be swinging backand forth between two different personalities. There was the original Gregory, obsessed with Jessica Ryan, and trying to recover her for himself, and hoping to make her love him. Then there was the crazy Gregory. Fueled by the need to live vicariously in the shadows of a man far more sinister and psychotic than even Gregory himself, this personality was rapidly gaining momentum. Star knew in her heart, it wouldn’t be long before something clicked in Gregory’s head, and he was unable to return to his less harmful original self.

Looking over his shoulder at the computer screen, she was appalled to see scanned photos of a woman that had been severely tortured, with the caption, “Laura, a gift to Kate” typed at the bottom. Shuddering, she covered her mouth with the back of her hand, trying to stifle the screams that were threatening to escape. Turning to leave, she was stopped by Gregory’s iron grip on her wrist.

“Where ya goin’ there Star? Don’t like what you see? Too bad. Baby Doll has been helping me out with some techniques. He has numerous ways of keeping someone alive, while treating them to some of the highest levels of pain. If I was you Star, I would keep yourself in check, or you could end up just like that girl in the picture. Apparently this is a new one he just did a few days ago. When he took this picture, she was still alive. Hard to believe isn’t it? I’m gonna have to be real careful with that dyke Laura. She’s diabetic, and I don’t want her to croak, before I’m ready for her to.” Gregory had a thoughtful, almost normal look on his face. As though he were lecturing to a room full of students.

Star swallowed the fear that was welling up from the pit of her stomach. Wishing she had made her escape while she had the chance, she prayed that there would still be another chance. She vowed to herself to cut back on the speed & heroin cocktails, if only to keep her wits about her long enough to survive and escape. Sitting down in the chair next to Gregory, she calmed herself enough to ask a question without her voice trembling.

“Is there anything that I can do, Greggie? I’d like to help.” Star sang a nursery rhyme in her head, to keep the demons away. She had already been making carefully scripted phone calls to some doctor and her girlfriend. She hoped that was all that Gregory was going to do to them.

“You know something Star, there is. After we blow Jessie’s brother Michael into a million small pieces, we are going to have to hightail it up North. I got to get the final steps to my plan in place, before those two head to Jessie’s house in the woods. I want to get a good look at the property, and scope out all the things that Baby Doll has told me are available. When I get that Laura chick, I’m gonna take her cat first. You can take care of the cat until we don’t need it anymore, and then you can keep an eye on Laura. Keep her alive and all that. Like I said, I don’t want her to “buy the farm”, until I’m ready.” Gregory smiled, pleased that Star wanted to participate.

“That’s nice Gregory. I like cats. Maybe I could keep it for a while, you think? I wouldn’t let it get in your way or anything.” Star smiled, hoping he would say yes.

“Well, maybe you could. We’ll see Star. You just have to keep that nose of yours out of trouble. Who knows, I just might let you keep the cat, especially if I decide to keep you, Star.” Gregory chuckled. Star still didn’t get it, but it was okay. Each time she blundered like that, it made him feel better.

Star excused herself, and wandered back to the bedroom. Deep inside she had a sick feeling threatening to overcome her. She didn’t want to stay in this house anymore, and she didn’t want to be around Gregory any more either. This crap was too much. Torturing people, and killing them. Star absently rubbed her still sore back where Gregory more than likely had caused permanent damage to her kidney. Fortunately, she had stayed out of trouble long enough for him to stop hitting her for a while.

Sitting on the edge of the bed, Star tapped her foot nervously on the floor. There was a TV in the room. Star idly picked up the controller, and turned on the set. The picture wavered a little, and then right in front of her, larger than life was Jessica Ryan. They were advertising the awards show, and announcing her nominations and the fact that she was presenting. For a moment Star thought she should probably tell Gregory that Jessie was presenting, but then she thought better of it. Even though she wanted to help Gregory, at least enough to stay alive, she really didn’t want to hurt anyone.

Closing her eyes for a moment, Star slowly drifted. Gregory would be busy for a while, so maybe she could sleep. The deeper she drifted, the more she felt like she was drowning. Suddenly her sleep was overcome by images of death. She saw Kate McKenna running, the wind blowing her hair, rain dripping in slow drops down her cheeks. She had a look of sheer terror in her eyes, as though an unimaginable beast was chasing her. The scene shifted revealing a woman bound and gagged. Her head was bowed low, and she was tied to a fence or a tree. Star’s mind told her it was Jessica, but when the woman lifted her head, it was Star.

Far in the distance, she could hear a woman screaming. Suddenly strong hands

gripped her tightly, and began to shake her violently. Lashing out, she struggled to escape only to have the pressure on her arms increase. Opening her eyes, she was startled to see Gregory, yelling at her to wake up.

“Good God Star. Wake up! You’re having a nightmare. Stop Screaming! Jeez Star you could wake the dead with that mouth of yours. I think I might have to cut back on your dope. If you’re gonna scream like that in your sleep, then there’s something wrong with you.” Gregory was sweating. Star’s screams almost scared him out of his wits.

Shaking her head, Star placed her hand on her forehead. “Help me sit up. I’m sorry Greggie honey, I don’t know what happened. I was just sitting here, getting ready to watch some TV, when I drifted off. I guess I must have been dreamin’.”

“Yeah, well, I think you’ve been fryin’ your brains so much, that they can’t function normal anymore. I’m not going to put up with that crap, that’s for sure.” Gregory turned Star loose. She carefully rubbed the new bruises that were already appearing on her arms.

“I’m sorry, really. Maybe you’re right, I need to cut back. It’s not feelin’ so great anymore anyway. Listen, I’m going to get a sandwich or something. Can I get you anything?” Star realized that she could have just added another line to her death warrant.

“Okay, yeah. Get me something. I’m waiting for another phone call about the car. Two more days and that faggot Michael are confetti. Seriously though, I don’t want to hear anymore screams like that. Or else…!” Gregory made a fist, and scowled at her, to make his point.

Star went to the kitchen. She was half tempted to call someone, and tell them what Gregory was up to. Her fear got the best of her, and she pushed those thoughts to the back of her mind.

Gregory returned to the office in time to answer the phone. The arrangements had been made. As soon as Michael started the car on Thursday, KABOOM! That’s all she wrote. Of course, that’s providing that idiot Shimada’s son didn’t screw things up for him. Gregory had a bad feeling, that he just might be planning something. Well, that would be fine with him. Bring ‘em on! Gregory would be just as happy to retaliate against that punk as he was to kill Michael.

Slamming down the phone, Gregory stood and paced. He would have to be extremely careful. Star came in quietly, and set a plate down on the edge of the desk. She didn’t stay, for fear she might incur some of the fury she could see building in his eyes. Gregory barely noticed her. His paranoia was reaching a fever pitch. Reaching for the phone, he dialed the Shimada’s phone number.

“Uh, yeah, this is Gregory Thomason. Would it be possible to speak to Mr. Shimada’s son? Oh, he is. I see, well, tell him I called.” Gregory hung up, more agitated than before. He couldn’t remember a time when he had called the Shimada’s, and there was no one there.

Sweat pouring into his eyes, he bypassed the sandwich that Star had brought in, and took a huge slug of whiskey from the ever-present bottle standing by. Grimacing, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and then continued his agitated pacing. Dammit! What are they up to? I don’t like this! I wonder if they know where I am. I’ve got to be real careful until I head up north. That conniving little bastard’s not going get the best of me. I’ll kill him first!

“STAR!!! Get in here. I need to get out of here for a while. Get the van. We’re going for a ride.” Gregory had no destination in mind, but odds were they would end up somewhere near Kate McKenna’s home. He might even catch a glimpse of Jessie if he was lucky enough.

Star hurried to the van, almost tripping and falling on her way out the door. She had no idea where they were going, but the last thing she wanted to do was draw attention to herself. Starting the van, she turned it around, and sat waiting for Gregory with the engine running.

Gregory appeared in the doorway, and then checking his bag returned to the office. He had forgotten to pack his gun. Not that he would need it, but one never knew what one might run into out there in the big bad world. He opened a drawer, and threw in the gun’s silencer, just in case. Returning to the van, he got in and directed star to drive him into the Silverlake District. He felt like hunting for some game.

Back in Glendale, Jessie and Kate had already gone to sleep. It had been a long evening, and they had a 4:00 am call at the studio, and Jessie was determined not to make any more mistakes. Getting a better night’s sleep, would make things at least a little bit easier on her.

Michael had cornered Kate earlier in the kitchen. He apologized for upsetting her, and between them they set up an early warning system, to prevent any further intrusions such as the one that had occurred that evening. From now on, whoever was out of the house, would call in before returning home, to be sure that there were no further interruptions. Of course, most of the time Michael was with Kate and Jessie because they were out in the studio car, so it was more important for Michael to call in rather than the two girls. Steven and Jessie stayed out of the whole conversation. They were glad to go along with whatever the others decided, rather than try to stand between them.

Kate had taken a moment earlier to call Momma. They hadn’t had much contact with her since the first attack by Gregory, when Big Leo had been injured. Kate had been feeling bad about ignoring them, especially since they had been so helpful with her and Jess. Momma was happy to hear from them, and only admonished Kate slightly for their lack of communication. Kate undated her on all of the past events, and the further problems from Gregory. She cautioned Momma to be careful. There were no guarantees that Gregory wouldn’t try to retaliate against Momma or her family.

Momma assured Kate that anything that Gregory tried would more than likely get him killed first. She positively hated and despised him. He was the purest form of evil she had ever met, and he needed to be cleansed from this earth. Kate chuckled, confident that Momma and her family would be safe from Gregory. She remembered seeing a couple of rather large men accompanying Deborah to and from the studio. It hadn’t made an impression until this moment, when she realized that the men were probably related, and more than likely bodyguards.

Kate said goodnight, and promised not to let so much time go by before they spoke with Momma again. She also sent their love to Big Leo. Momma assured her he was fine, acting like a big baby, and taking advantage of his injured status. Laughing, she said goodbye again.

The last call she made was to Dr. Helen McIntyre, and her girlfriend. Kate was beginning to worry about anyone who had regular contact with them, especially if it concerned Gregory in any way. She mentally kept her finger crossed as the phone continued to ring.

As she began to hang up, she heard a faint click, and then a tired, quiet voice tentatively said hello. “Helen? Dr. Mac? Did I wake you?”

“Who is this?” The voice got stronger, and slightly defensive.

“This is Kate, Kate McKenna. I was calling to check in and see how you are both doing. Strange things have been happening, and I wanted to make sure you were okay.” Panic started to rise in Kate’s throat.

“Oh, Katie, I am so sorry. We’ve been receiving threats, both here, and at the office. It sounds like a bunch of religious nuts or something.” Helen McIntyre was relieved to find that it was a friendly person, and not the one that had been calling.

Kate sighed. She knew better and told Helen so. “Helen, we have reason to believe that Gregory has started a campaign against our friends and family members. Please, take this seriously, and be careful. We have no idea what he is capable of. I don’t want anything bad to happen to you two because of us.”

Helen chuckled. “Honey, this isn’t the first time we’ve been threatened. I have already been publicly outed, and the threats are pretty regular as well. Since I allow women to make their own “choices”, I have become a natural target for every nutball on the planet. It’s just been a rather long time since anyone has bothered us. Every once in a while we’ll get a group that comes and prays on our doorstep, but this is much more violent in nature. And the strange thing is that it’s a woman that’s calling, and not a man. I don’t remember that ever happening before.”

“Hmmm, that is strange, but not surprising. Gregory was seen traveling with a woman, and I had a close encounter with them the other night. It’s almost spooky how much she looks like Jessie. There’s something kind of tired and sick about her though.” Kate shuddered while she recounted her experience to Helen.

“Well, we’ll take of ourselves, and you two do the same. And don’t forget we have a standing date to get together before you guys leave town. Oh, and tell Jess we can’t wait to see her on the show Friday night. I bet you both will look great.” Helen smiled, knowing how much her favorite actress hated to wear dresses, and foo foo stuff.

“I’ll tell her. You guys take care, and we’ll see you in a couple of weeks.” Kate hung up, and then went in search of Jessie.

After repeating the important parts of her various conversations, Kate promised Jessie that she would contact the detectives in charge of their case, first thing in the morning. Dragging her into the bedroom, Kate helped Jessie undress, and then they lay in bed running lines, until Kate said her part, and then got a quiet snore in return. Turning out the light, Kate kissed her love on the cheek, and then curled up and went to sleep herself.

Gregory was gradually getting more and more agitated. Star had driven him around the Silverlake district several times, but he couldn’t seem to make up his mind what he wanted to do. His original plan had been to cruise around, and pick some queen, and then pop him and dump him in a back alley. The evening was quiet though, and not a lot of people were out on the streets. It was unseasonably cold for LA that evening, and it managed to put a damper on Gregory’s scheme.

After an hour or so, he had Star take him into the “Chinatown” district of Greater LA. Again they drove around for a short while, until a very easily noticed limousine passed by them in a busy intersection. It was long and very sleek. Painted a pearlescent white, with gold trim instead of chrome, it could only belong to one person. Mr. Shimada!

“Quick Star, follow them, I want to find out what’s going on.” Gregory leaned forward, his forehead almost touching the windshield.

The further they drove, the more “family” cars joined them on their mysterious trek. After more than an hour, and Star’s repeated warnings that they were going to run out of gas, the convoy came to a stop at a known mob-owned restaurant on the outskirts of town. Something big was happening, and Gregory wanted to know what.

“Shit! Do you know who all is here Star? Just about every single mobster in the greater LA area. Something big is going down. Wait…who is that getting out of Shimada’s car. Damn! I wish I had a freakin’ pair of binoculars.” Gregory slammed his fist into the dashboard, making Star jump.

“Holy mother of…that’s Jerald. That sorry SOB! They must have gotten him out of the can. We need to get out of here right now Star. This shit is too much for me. I just hope their all not planning on gunning for me. Maybe it’s just business, yeah, that’s it. Just business. But . . .Jerald. I gotta see if I can find him, maybe talk to him. Start the van, and let’s get back to the house. This is important shit I need to take care of now!” Gregory sank back into the seat, silently praying that no one saw him.

Star started the van. For a fleeting moment she was tempted to just drive it across the street, and right into the middle of all of those mob guys. She figured that it would probably mean her death, either from Gregory, or one of the large number of bodyguards that surrounded the restaurant. Deciding that this wasn’t the right time to be a hero, she pulled away from the curb, and headed back in the direction of the beach house.

Convincing Gregory that they had to stop for gas, she pulled into the station, and filled up quickly. Gregory stayed low in the seat. He had removed his gun from the bag, and attached the silencer to the barrel. He was genuinely scared. It hadn’t been that long since he had been directly involved with most of the families represented at that meeting. The Shimada’s knew he was out, and they knew how to reach him. But they hadn’t. Something was rotten, really rotten!

Star finished pumping the gas, and then went inside to pay for it. The clerk stared at her for a while, probably thinking that she might steal something. It wasn’t until she handed him the money, that she realized he thought she might be Jessica. Standing a little straighter, and flashing a grin at him, she was pleased to see the blush creeping up his neck. Winking at him when she got her change, she turned and almost floated out of the store. She felt great, until she saw Gregory idly scratching his chin with the edge of the silencer. She quickened her pace, and jumped in the van, almost backing up too quickly, and causing Gregory to slide in his seat.

“STAR! Knock it off, or I’ll put a hole in you right here and now. I got some serious trouble here Star, and I don’t need you acting up. I’ll kill you right this minute you try anything else. Now, get on the road and get us back to the house. I gotta make some calls.” Gregory kept the gun pointed at her for the better part of the trip back.

Reaching the beach house, Star parked the van, and trailed behind Gregory as he bolted for the house. For a split second she toyed with the idea of running. I should do it, just turn around and run. I’ll have a head start, and he’ll never find me. I could sure use a hit though. Yeah, I’ll get a hit, and then I’ll make an excuse, and I’ll run. Jeez Star, are you pathetic or what? You’ll get the hit, and you’ll pass out. Maybe next time . . .

———————————————————–

Love transforms,
Love makes empty hearts overflow,
This happens even more
When we have to struggle through
Without assurance,
All unready for the play
Of Love.

********Mechtild of Magdeburg********
Chapter 23 (El Dorado…El Dorado…El Dorado…)
Friday came fast. Between the frantic pace of the studio, the meetings with detectives, and the rehearsal for the awards show everyone was exhausted. Not to mention the level of crankiness that pervaded the small group of friends. Jessie was angry because neither the cops, the FBI, nor the detectives that had been handling the case since the very beginning had anything to offer them in the way of assurances. None of them knew where Gregory was, or what he was up to. Jessica and Kate had more information, than all of the agencies combined.

Kate replayed in her mind the rehearsal of the evening before. They had arrived at the theater a few minutes late, and were immediately set upon by the organizational staff. The director of the show tried to grab her first, and was pushed back in the crowd by the choreographer, head of the usher’s, and the program manager. Rounding out the group was the ever-present hostess of the show. This year the Television and Arts group had borrowed a well-known comedienne, and movie star from the academy awards. Her primary reason for being selected was her recent presence on a popular game show. Not to mention the fact that Whoopi loved to do these shows. It was just like coming to a great big party. After all the BS blew away.

While Jessie stood in the middle of the group, towering slightly over most of them, Kate had been jostled, pushed, and at one point physically dragged backwards out of the crowd. Each and every one of the people assembled had individually or as a group treated her terribly. At one point, they were all taking at once, and Jessie turned rapidly in place, and then shouted, “SHUT UP” at the top of her lungs.

Jessie’s outburst stunned them all for only a moment. They looked at her collectively, and then returned to their assault. Kate’s anger getting the best of her, she waded back through the group, shoving back when they shoved her, until she was standing back to back with Jessie. Raising her hands above her head, she waved them frantically until the crowd finally quieted down. Clearing a space around the two women, they stood there expectantly waiting for this rude little girl to explain herself.

Standing on her tiptoes, she fixed the nearest offenders with a stare that could melt titanium. “If you all will excuse us for a moment. There is no way that Ms. Ryan can respond to all of you at once. If you don’t back up and give her some space, I will single handedly knock each and every one of you on your collective butts! Now, back up and approach her one at a time, or we are going to leave right now.”

Apparently they took her seriously. After a moment of feigned outrage they approached Jessica one by one, politely concluding their business, and then moving on. Kate stood to the side, arms folded looking every bit the butch bodyguard. She hadn’t been that angry in a long time, and had half expected to be escorted off of the property. Her only fear now, was that Jessie might be angry with her for embarrassing them both.

While she waited for the crowd to thin out, she noticed Whoopi heading in her direction. Bowing her head, she pretended not to notice. Part of her was excited to meet someone as prestigious as Ms. Goldberg, and the other part was terrified that they were going to ask her to leave. She didn’t need to worry though; Whoopi wanted to talk to her, because she admired Kate’s spunk.

“Girlfriend, I have never in my life seen anyone talk down those jerks like you just did. That was amazing! Listen, if you ever get tired of working with Jessie, you come on by and see me. You’re just the kind of assistant I could use. Back those idiots right where they belong.” Whoopi put her arm around Kate’s shoulder and gave her a squeeze.

Blushing, Kate thanked her. “Actually, I am sorry for blowing up like that, but they were acting like children. She couldn’t possibly talk to them all at the same time.”

“Oh listen honey, don’t be sorry. They get used to pushing all of us around, and then they get out of control. It’s like being attacked by a monster with sixteen heads. You just had the guts to stand up to them, I like that. You take it easy, girl. Jessie’s a lucky woman to have you in her life. You tell her I’m jealous.” Whoopi gave Kate’s a hand a squeeze too.

“Jealous of what?” Jessie had quietly joined the other two.

“Hey there tall girl. I was telling your girlfriend here, that if you aren’t careful, I’m going to kidnap her from you. She’s the greatest. You take good care of her or else.” Whoopi gave Jessie a bone-crushing hug.

“Try it! You’d have one hell of a major fight on your hands. You’re right though, she is the greatest.” Jessie grinned at Kate winking at her at the same time.

Again Kate blushed. “Oh stop it you two! I’m just doing my job. You keep talking about me that way, and my head’s going to swell up like a pumpkin.”

“Oh, yeah, I really like this girl. Brave, strong, and humble to boot. I’m gonna be watching you girlfriend, you can bet on it.” Whoopi hugged them both, and then wandered off to find her own assistant.

Jessie took Kate by the elbow, and led her down a side stairway, pretending to look for the restroom. When she felt they were safely from enough away from the crowd, she stopped and took a moment to just look at Kate. She shook her head a couple of times, and at one point ran the back of her hand across her eyes. Kate watched quietly, a slight wariness surrounding her like a fog.

“So, gonna kick collective butt are you?” Jessie fixed her with a stunning smile.

Caught off guard, Kate didn’t know what to say. Mumbling, she said something lame about “and the horses they rode in on.” Jessie laughed out loud, pulling Kate into her arms, and kissing her hard on the lips.

“Mmph, Jessie! Someone might see us!” Kate managed to squeak out between kisses.

“So what. Let them see. I am so tired of “THEM” and all of their BS. I almost would have paid just to see you kick some of them in the rear end. They are all certified nuts.” Jessie dove in for another kiss, while Kate struggled to get loose from her grasp.

“Jessie, they’ll splash it all over the front pages. Come one, save it for later….please?” Kate held her hands out in front of her to keep Jessie at bay.

“Okay, fine, whatever you say. Later huh? Is that a promise?” Jessie looked comical, trying to decide whether to pout or leer.

“Yeah, it’s a promise, now come on. If we don’t get up there, and get you into place, they’ll send someone after us. I might just end up in jail yet.” Kate took the lapel of Jessie’s coat, and pulled her back up the stairs. Before they reached the last ten feet, Kate let her go, and gestured for her to follow.

Tempted to turn and run Jessie decided that she had had enough fun for the moment, and continued to follow Kate back into the lobby. Just as they entered the main doors to the auditorium, they could hear the stage manager calling Jessie’s name on the microphone. Jessie waited until Kate found a seat, and then slowly wandered up on stage.

“They didn’t tell me you were difficult to work with.” The stage manager Joan said just loud enough for Jessie to hear.

“I’m not, as long as you’re not. Be polite, or I’m gone.” Jessie smiled evilly in her direction.

“Certainly. We just want to get through this, and get home. Everyone’s tired. Most of us work on production staff for other shows here in the area. So, we can relate to how tired all of you are as well.” Joan smiled back, shooting for a truce.

Embarrassed, Jessie blushed slightly. “Sorry, I forget that I’m not the only one that works around here. I apologize for acting like a prima donna. No harm intended.”

Joan nodded her head in acceptance. “None taken. We just have a lot of ground to cover, and very little time to do it in. It makes me crazy they only give us one evening to put this all together.”

Jessie was the model of good behavior the rest of the evening. She hit all of her marks, and managed to read each card as though the words came from her own thoughts. Kate was suitably impressed, and thrilled to meet all the wonderful people that were sitting in the audience with her. Many of them were other actors and actresses waiting for their turn on the stage. There were also quite a few assistants, managers, musicians, and other performers as well. Chaos was the order of the day, but the responsible staff managed to keep everything under control.

While Kate mused over the previous evening’s activities, Jessie was making a series of phone calls. The garage had informed them that the full size limousine, the “KNIGHT1” was being released in time for the show. The dressers were due anytime, as well as the makeup crew, and the hairdressers. By all rights, Jessie should be resting, and Kate should be making all of the phone calls, but Jessie insisted.

Michael called about two hours before he was supposed to pick up the car. He verified times with Kate, and assured them he would check over the car thoroughly before he left the garage with it. Steven would be present at the show, since he had been hired to escort an actress who did not otherwise have a date for the evening.

Jessie was the first to emerge dressed. While the hairdresser fussed with Kate, the first dresser finished zipping Jessie up. She stepped into her shoes, wishing for all the women in the world, that pantyhose had never been invented. A few minor adjustments and she was ready to make her entrance. Kate saw her first, and almost made a fool of herself. For some unexplainable reason, she almost burst into tears.

Jessie looked absolutely beautiful. Almost like a princess, or fairy godmother. Her dress was midnight blue satin, with just enough shine to reflect the blue in her eyes. There were rhinestones across the bodice in a shooting star pattern, which caught the light as she moved. The skirt was full, but not so full as to hamper her ability to walk. The entire outfit was topped off by several pieces of jewelry from a rental collection. Her shoulders were covered in a midnight blue satin wrap, sprinkled with matching rhinestones.

Jessie noted Kate’s reaction, and was almost afraid she didn’t like the outfit. But when she noticed that behind the teary eyes, was a look of almost complete adoration, she realized that she must look okay after all.

“Okay, stop staring at me, and finish her up so we can get going. The rest of you will meet us there, so I can change between sets, right? Good, now, I suppose I have to stand until we leave. Figures! Next year, I go naked and dress when we arrive.” Jessie smiled at the shocked reactions around the room.

Kate’s dresser finished zipping her dress, and then stood back so that she could model for Jessie and the others. Her oriental style green brocade was enough to set off her beautiful eyes as well. Jessie’s breath was taken away. She stopped herself just in time before she lost her wits, and swooped Kate into her arms and carried her away. Their eyes met, and exchanged an entire conversation.

A short time later, Michael arrived with the car. He escorted the women down the steps, while the entire neighborhood stood on the lawn, and the street watching and waiting for them. When they reached the car, Kate turned and waved to them all, receiving loud cheering and applause in return. Michael held the door while they held their skirts and seated themselves. Pulling away from the curb, they could see the children and the adults waving to them. Kate quickly risked her hair, and lowered the window a bit, sticking her hand out to wave back.

It took a little more than 45 minutes to reach the traffic that was approaching the theater. All of the limousines were kept in a holding pattern, until it was their turn to drop off their passengers. Somewhere in a small house near the beach, Gregory paced restlessly, waiting for some news or assurance that his plan to kill Michael had been carried out.

Star sat in the corner, watching the TV screen, praying that she didn’t see the car with the personalized license plates that could only mean Michael was still alive. She didn’t know Michael, and she didn’t really want him to be killed, but if it kept Gregory from going nuts on her, then it was probably all right. Much to her chagrin, her worst nightmare was being played in living color right in front of her. The camera had shifted, and was pointed directly at the license plate that read “KNIGHT1”.

“Greggie?” Star almost whispered.

“WHAT! What do you want Star? I’m waiting to hear about the explosion.” Gregory snarled at her.

“Greggie honey, there wasn’t no explosion. They’re showing the car on the TV right now. It’s already arrived at the show. And look, isn’t that Jessica’s brother Michael getting out of the driver’s seat? I wonder what happened.” Too late Star realized she should have shut her mouth.

Lashing out at Star, Gregory hit her in the mouth just below her right cheek. For a split second Star stared at him in shock, and then jumping from her seat, ran to the bathroom and locked the door. Slumping to the floor, she hid her head in her hands, and cried.

Gregory was at once exhilarated, angry, scared, and regretful. The fact that he felt some form of regret was probably a godsend. At least he hadn’t completely gone over the edge yet. Following Star to the bathroom, he knocked gently on the door.

“Star? Come on Star, don’t cry. I’m sorry already. I’m just scared, because I expected this guy to be blown to bits, and nothing happened. That means that someone is settin’ me up for a big fall. Come on now; let me see if you’re all right. Open the door.” Gregory almost sounded like a child that had been caught doing something wrong.

Unfortunately in her slightly blurred state, Star didn’t think too clearly before she opened the door. Standing, slight dizziness overcoming her for a moment, she unlocked the door and turned the knob. Before she had a chance to react, he grabbed her and dragged her out the door.

“I’VE TOLD YOU BEFORE, DON’T YOU EVER LOCK THAT DOOR AGAIN!” Gregory slammed Star to the floor, and knelt on her knee, effectively immobilizing her.

“I…I’m sorry, let me go.” Star cried.

“I’ll let you go when I’m ready. Now, I want you to listen to me. Do you know what all of this means? DO YOU? It means fair Star, that SOB Shimada’s son has double-crossed me. I may also mean that the group that we saw the other night, probably gunning for me as well. I don’t have a lot of options Star. If they’re after me, then that means no weapons, and no money. We got to get out of here as fast as we can. I’m gonna contact Baby Doll, and then we are driving up north, while we still have some money. That bastard Jerald is helping those guys, and if anyone know how I think, it’s him. Get your shit, we’re leaving in an hour.” He stood up, and began to walk to the office.

Star lay still for a moment, trying to bite back the pain that was wracking her body. As she slowly opened her eyes, Gregory returned and placed his foot across her throat.

“This is just to let you know that if you get anymore stupid ideas, I’ll crush you to death. But not before I make you pay. You got that?” He applied pressure slightly to her neck. Just enough to make it difficult to breathe.

Nodding her head, she whispered that she understood. The idea of killing herself before he had a chance was becoming more and more attractive. Gregory returned to the office, and Star rose slowly from the floor and began to pack their things. Her mind was numb, no longer able to put together an intelligent string of thoughts.

An hour later the van was loaded, and they were on their way. Gregory, in a moment of lucidity, gave Star a good-sized line of heroin. He bypassed the speed, and allowed her to lay in the back and drift off. As he drove, he replayed the conversation that he had on the Internet with Baby Doll. The bottom line was that he had agreed to give up Star to Baby Doll, in exchange for financial assistance, as well as the use of the abandoned factory, and its entire assortment of torture devices. He would give up Star, as soon as he had finished with Laura and the others.

Back at the theater, Jessie’s car had long since reached its destination, and the two women had begun the long walk up the red carpet. Hundreds of flash bulbs went off before their eyes, and Kate caught herself for at least the tenth time wishing she had brought her sunglasses. She was concerned about her effectiveness as a bodyguard, if she couldn’t even see Jessie standing next to her. As they approached the main doorway, they were stopped by Sharon MacAfee and her entourage. While they pointed the camera in Jessie’s face, Sharon put on her best smile, and began the obligatory round of questions.

Too soon, Sharon strayed into territory she didn’t belong in. “So, who’s this little cutie? Oh, yes, this must be your little personal assistant, Kate McKenna. Tell us Katie, is this just the biggest thrill of a lifetime for you? Or is having Jessica Ryan live in your house a bigger thrill.”

Without missing a beat, Kate looked the camera straight in the eye, and replied, “Bigger thrill than you’ll ever know there Sharon. The absolute yummiest.”

Then, licking her lips provocatively, she gathered her skirt in one hand, and turned and followed a chuckling Jessie into the theater. For obvious reasons, the reporters and their staff members were not allowed inside the auditorium. As Kate and Jessie waited for their usher to show them to their seats, neither could speak. Kate was mortified at what she had just done, and Jessica was tinkled pink.

Jessie noticed the usher returning, and was surprised to see that another usher had joined him. “And to what do we owe the great honor of having two ushers?”

“Umm, Ms. McKenna is to follow me, orders of Justin Graves. He is waiting for you at your seat, and will explain when you arrive.” The usher was clearly terrified he would be killed for delivering his message.

Puzzled, Kate told Jessie to go on, that she would join her later. Following the second usher, he lead her to an elevator, and taking her to the highest balcony showed her to a seat in the front row, on the aisle.

“What do you mean I’m sitting up here? There must be some kind of mistake. I was clearly told I was to sit with Ms. Ryan.” Kate was whispering loudly, barely able to control her anger.

“I, uh, I’m just delivering the message. I’m sorry, I don’t know what’s going on.” The usher quickly turned, and ran up the aisle and through the exit door.

Fuming, Kate stepped to the rail, and caught a glimpse of Jessie as she was being led to her seat. Sitting down, she mulled over the options, and decided that as soon as she could she was leaving. Of course, having no money, and no cell phone, she was going to be hard pressed to find a way home. The heck with it, I’ll hitch hike if I have to!

The longer she sat there, the quicker the tears came. Now angry that she had let them hurt her this way, she realized that not only did she not have a way out, but she didn’t even have a tissue. Preparing to at least find a restroom, she was startled to have a tissue thrust into her face.

“Thank you.” Kate sobbed quietly.

“Hey, not a problem. Like my friend Laura says, you can’t be too generous.” The stranger volunteered.

“Laura?” Kate looked up startled.

“Oh, yeah. We met on the Internet. I was in trouble, and didn’t know where to turn, and Laura helped me out. She helped me find a place to live, and lent me some money to move. I was in an abusive relationship, and had nowhere to turn.” The woman clearly was referring to Kate’s friend Laura.

To make sure, Kate asked more direct questions. “Does your Laura live up north, and go by the name Lady Knight on the mailing lists?”

“Yeah, that’s her. She is by far the best person I have ever met. Patient, caring, and smart. Her girlfriend April is the best too. They make a great team. My name’s Kara by the way, and this is my new girlfriend Jan. She knows Laura too. Laura introduced us to each other.” Kate shook hands with Kara and Jan.

Amazed at how small the world really was, Kate almost forgot her own immediate problem. “Have you two ever met Laura face to face? Or are you just invisible friends?”

“We’re invisible, but Laura has been kicking around the idea of having a cyber-reunion next summer. She hasn’t told anyone yet, because she wanted to pass it by her friend Kate first. Hey I guess that would be you. So what are you doing up here with us in the nosebleed section? We figured that you would be down there with Jessica Ryan.” Kara’s question was innocent, but it still caused Kate to give her a double take.

“Actually, I’m not sure. Before we even made it in the door, they separated us, and brought me up here. I can’t decide whether or not to sit here and keep my mouth shut, or call a cab and leave.” Kate’s anger was building again.

“Well, if I were you, I’d stay. This sounds like studio crap to me. I used to be a PA myself, and this is typical of their kind of games. Just rest assured, it wasn’t Jessica that did this. She’s probably pretty mad by now.” Kara’s confidence reassured Kate.

“I hope so. Say, how did you know that I came in with Jessie? Did you see us?” Kate was concerned about what Laura may have told them.

“Oh no, if we wanted to sit inside, we had to be here hours ago. We’ve been reading, and doing crossword puzzles, keeping ourselves busy. This whole row and the two rows behind us are together. Everyone here has some kind of contact with Laura, and we’re all fans. Oh, and by the way, Laura didn’t tell us about you and Jessica. We have other ways of finding these things out. Some of us are studio gophers, and I actually work at the shop where the cars are maintained. Michael and I are casual friends.” Kara was a fountain of incredible information. Kate couldn’t wait to talk to Laura.

It was still some time before the show began, so Kate took the opportunity to look over the railing, and see if she could spot Jessie. What she did see made her wish she were down there so she could hear the conversation. She could see Jessie and Justin but she couldn’t quite make out the person standing just behind and to the right of him. Leaning a little farther, she almost over balanced herself, when Kara grabbed her arm and pulled her back.

“Here, don’t go falling over the edge. Try these.” Handing her a set of binoculars, Kara convinced Kate to step back from the rail a bit.

Focusing the lenses, she found the group in the crowd again. Silently begging Justin to step back, her thoughts must have been heard. Coming in plain as day was none other than the overbearing woman that had knocked Jessie down at the skating rink. Shifting her focus to Jessie, Kate was pleased to see a look of anger cross her lovely features.

“That bitch!” Kate mumbled.

“Let me take a look.” Kara carefully extracted the binoculars from Kate’s clenched fingers.

Training her gaze in the same area that Kate was watching, Kara was not surprised to see that Naomi was the cause of all of this stupidity. Settling back in her seat, she gestured to Kate to join them, so she could explain what she knew.

“I see you’ve met the “Ice Whore of LA”. She has slept with, or attempted to sleep with just about every gay, and even not gay actress in all of LA County. She’s pretty aggressive, and extremely abusive. She’s Justin Graves’ niece, and she takes advantage of him every chance she gets. Her father passed away in a drunk driving accident he caused. I should know, that’s who Laura rescued me from.” Kara bowed her head, remembering the pain she had suffered at Naomi’s hands.

Stunned, Kate didn’t know what to say. Taking Kara’s hand, she held it for a moment, to reassure her that neither Kate nor anyone else would blame her for her involvement with Naomi, and more than likely they’d jump at the chance to avenge her.

Kate sat back, and over the next few minutes the rest of the members of Kara’s group came by to introduce themselves, and to ask polite questions about the show, or to compliment Kate on her dress. She was heartbroken that she couldn’t sit with Jessie, but happy to meet so many nice women.

Down on the stage, the stage manager announced that it would be twenty-five more minutes before they started the broadcast, so everyone sit tight, and enjoy the warm-up acts. Several people were still entering the auditorium, but it was apparent that a large number of the seats on the floor were going to be left empty. Most of the empty seats had been set aside for staff and cast members from several syndicated shows, but a large percentage of them chose not to come. They were not included in the awards in any way, so they didn’t feel it was necessary to attend.

Kate, Kara, and Jan talked quietly about Laura, Radar Cows, and Kendra Knight. Suddenly there was a loud commotion in the back of the balcony, just outside the door. Kate immediately recognized the angry woman’s voice that was attempting to gain entrance to the seating area.

“I said get out of my way! I am here to escort Ms. McKenna to her rightful seat. Call Justin this minute, and he will assure you that he has changed his mind. DO IT!” Jessica’s voice echoed down the aisle.

Moments later the door flew open and a clearly angry Jessica Ryan came down the aisle searching the faces for Kate. Spotting her, she quickly came to her side, and crouching down took Kate’s hands in her own.

Oblivious to the rest of the crowd, Jessie kissed the backs of Kate’s hands. “Honey, I am so sorry about what happened. Come back with me. Justin tried to make a space for his niece, that crazy bitch that knocked me down at the ice rink. I told him I would quit the show tonight, if they didn’t find somewhere else to sit. Forgive me?”

Kate couldn’t decide whether to laugh, cry, or throw up. Looking at Kara, she received an affirmative nod. “It’s okay, Jess. I saw the whole thing. I understand. To tell you the truth, I was getting kind of comfortable up here with the gang. They are all friends of Laura’s. If you want to go and sit with those people that’s okay by me. Just make sure I get a ride home.”

Stung by Kate’s words, Jessie stood preparing to leave. Kate grabbed her hand and stood next to her. “Wait, I was just kidding. I don’t want you to compromise your relationship with the studio, because of me that’s all. I’m just an employee. It’s okay, really.”

Turning to face Kate, Jessie looked her straight in the eyes, an angry look clouding her features. “Kate, you are not just an employee to me. I . . . I love you, haven’t you figure that out by now? I. . . LOVE . . .YOU!”

Without thinking, Kate fell into Jessie’s arms, offering herself entirely to her love. “Oh God, Jessie. I love you too. So much you have no idea.”

Jessie bent her head, and kissed Kate tenderly on the lips. Not being able to sit quietly anymore, their shocked audience broke into loud raucous cheers. Blushing, the two lovers faced them and bowed, not knowing what else to do under the circumstances. Kara and Jan stood and gave both of them a hug, pleased that they were allowed to share this most precious moment with their idol and her love.

The two women spoke quietly together, both wishing that the ceremony had ended, and sharing their regrets regarding not having been able to say those three little words sooner. Over and over they repeated themselves, as though making up for all of the lost time. An usher carrying a two-way radio interrupted them.

“Jessica, girlfriend, are you coming back down here, or do I have to send the troops?” Whoopi’s voice came crackling from the radio.

Looking over the railing to the stage, Jessie could see her waving her arm in their direction. Jessie waved back. Turning to look at the expectant group behind her, she had an idea, and convinced herself that it would work.

“Yeah, I’m coming back down, but only on one condition. Not only is Kate sitting with me, but so are my friends here. By the time I get down there, I want two whole rows around my seat cleared out. Just have everyone move over, or down a row or two. Otherwise, I’m going home.” Jessie grinned at the excited women sitting behind her listening.

“Honey, it’s never a dull moment with you is it? Okay, I’ll see that it gets done, or I’ll go home with you. Now, please come down here. We only have about fourteen more minutes, and our little stage manager is going to blow a hose if we start late. You know, advertisers and all?” Whoopi gave Jessie the okay sign from her spot on the stage.

Turning to address the group, Jessie put her arm around Kate’s shoulders, and then grinned again. “So, what do you say? Want to sit with us?”

The group started to cheer again, then making way for Jessie and Kate, followed them up the aisle, and then bypassing the elevator due to their sheer numbers, headed for the nearest stairway. Acting completely behaved, they filed down the center aisle, Jessie at the lead, filtering into the seats that were left vacant by the rest of the crowd. A few of the honored guests were miffed by her boldness, but a large percentage of them thought it was quite amusing.

Settling in, Kate and Jessie boldly held hands, uncaring about what anyone in the audience might have to say about it. When it came time for Jessie to step behind stage, and change into her second outfit, she kissed Kate on the cheek, and promised to return as quickly as possible.

Jessie’s turn finally arrived. She stepped from behind the side curtains, and was met by loud whistles and cheering. Apparently she had more fans in the audience than she realized. For the second time that evening, Kate was stunned at how beautiful Jessie looked. The dress was shimmery silver in color, and clung to each and every one of Jessie’s voluptuous curves. Spaghetti straps kept the dress in place, but did nothing to hide her cleavage. Of course, the wonder-bra didn’t do so bad either. Kate made a mental note to keep that bra if they had the chance.

Reading the cue cards, and getting through the presentation without a hitch, Jessie returned to the dressing area, and changed into her final outfit. The black satin ball gown, with the feathers sprayed across the one covered shoulder was definitely not the best of the three outfits, but it was a good contrast to the rest. She returned to her seat during a commercial break, to a rowdy group of cheering, whistling gay women. Kate beamed from ear to ear, immensely proud to be associated with such a wonderful person.

The show was nearing its end, and with the exception of the best show etc, Jessie’s category, and the matching male category were almost all that was left. They announced the male winner, and then the tension began to build. Kate was gripping Jessie’s hand so tight; she almost cut off the circulation. The presenter read the nominees, and then pretending to fumble with the envelope, took a moment to pause, and then announced Jessie as the winner.

Kate literally jumped out of her seat, whooping and hollering like she had been bitten in the rear end by a snake or something. Their new group of friends joined her, and it wasn’t until moments later that she realized that pandemonium had struck the entire theater. Everyone was cheering, shouting congratulations, and whistling in their direction. Jessie kissed Kate again, and then managed to reach the stage. The noise continued for several more minutes, until Jessie finally got everyone to quiet down.

“I want to thank all of you for your support. I love doing the Kendra Knight show, and I am thankful that we have such a great crew, to help bring it all together. I want to thank the fans, and the studio, and awards committee for giving me this chance. Most of all, I want to thank Kate McKenna, the love of my life, for helping me see the good things in life, and giving me the strength to fight back the evil things.” Jessie held the statue up in salute to Kate and the rest of the audience.

The roar was deafening, for Jessie’s boldness, and admission of love for her assistant. Times were rapidly changing in Hollywood, and people who had been taught to fear being caught, or blacklisted for being gay, or knowing someone who was were beginning to fight back in their own ways. Ellen had started the ball rolling, and it was becoming more acceptable to come out, rather than live a lie.

After her speech, the rest of the show was kind of anti-climatic. Jessie was led to the back for her obligatory interview, and as could be expected, the reporter’s were overzealous in their search for information. Jessie kept her responses short but sweet. When she had decided that enough time had been given over to the interviews, she excused herself, and went in search of Kate.

Kate had already left her seat, along with her new group of friends. They met Jessie in the hallway as she left the interview area. Taking Kate into her arms again, Jessie squeezed tightly, suddenly afraid she might wake up, and all of this would disappear. It hadn’t even occurred to her yet that she might just be out of a job. She doubted it, but you never knew. She may have made Justin mad enough about his niece that this would just put the icing on the cake.

“What are you thinking about? Kate asked above the noisy group gathered with them.

“Nothing as important as you right now. Have I told you yet that I love you? So much it threatens to make my head spin, and my heart burst. I love you Kate McKenna, I truly do.” Jessie’s own eyes glistened with tears.

“I love you too Jessica Ryan, more than the air I breath, I do love you.” Kate closed her eyes, and pretended the crowd had moved away.

“I hate to break this up,” Kara interrupted, “but unless you want to be mobbed, you better make a break for it. I have a cell phone if you would like to call Michael. He can meet you in back here, and at least you’ll be safe in the car.” Kara pulled her phone out of Jan’s bag.

“Wow, that would be great. I think in the interests of our own safety, we better head for home. Unless you want to party hop or something?” Kate looked to Jessie for confirmation.

“Nope, home it is. I’m beat, and I have other things in mind, that don’t include a huge crowd of people.” Jessie waggled her eyebrows for emphasis.

After checking in with the show staff, and congratulating the other members of Jessie’s show on their various awards, Kate, Jessie, Kara and Jan piled into the limousine for the trek home. Michael was happy to drop the other two women at their modest apartment, and pleased that his sister and Kate finally managed to express their love to each other.

Pulling up to the front of their apartment, Kate got out with the two women, and gave them both hugs. “Listen, I want to thank you for being so kind. I don’t know how I would have made it through the show without your support. Jessie and I would like to have you both over for dinner real soon. We’re going away for the break in two weeks, but we can fit something in for a weekend maybe.”

“Hey, that would be great. You have no idea what a thrill it was to be included in your special evening.” Kara leaned in the door, and waved goodbye to Jessie, and Michael.

Tumbling back into the car, Kate shamelessly draped herself across Jessie’s lap. Reaching for the switch to the privacy window, she waved playfully at Michael while the shield went up. Without any concern for manners or decorum, Kate took a moment to slip out of her dress, and then helping Jessie out of hers, carefully lay them aside.

Facing each other in their underwear, they laughed nervously for a moment, overwhelmed by the emotional waterfall the entire evening had brought them. Silently Kate slipped her arms around Jessie’s waist, and coaxed her into lying back on the roomy seat. Closing her eyes, Kate kissed Jessie gently, playing her tongue across her lover’s lips. She was rewarded with a groan coming deep from Jessie’s throat. Her passion increasing with each moment, Kate began a hot trail along Jessie’s neck, forming a chain of wet kisses.

The car providing a steady rhythm to their lovemaking, Kate sat up and removed her bra, helping Jessie out of hers at the same time. Jessie held Kate back for a moment, savoring her lovely body. Carefully exploring each soft contour with her hands, Jessie slowly fanned the flames of Kate’s passion into a roaring blaze. Kate could no longer hold herself back; she mirrored each of Jessie’s movements with one in kind.

Unable to stay balanced on the seat any longer, the two lovers’s slipped to the floor of the car, where each and every bump in the road became apart of their passion. Finally, their passion threatening to go out of control, almost unable to keep their voices in check, they began their lovemaking in earnest. Removing the rest of their clothing, they tentatively touched each other, sending shivers through their entire bodies. Hands imitating hands, stroking, caressing, slow, fast.

Kate was the first to climax, wave after shuddering wave wracking her body, forcing her to cling tightly to Jessie, their breathing coming quicker, louder. Jessie was moments behind, her own climax forcing her upright into a sitting position, holding Kate so closely the heat of their passion nearly causing them to become one. Moments later their bodies in synch now, they crashed not once but two more times.

Michael smiled to himself. By the sound of things, he was certain they had no idea how loud they both were. Even with the stereo turned up, and the privacy screen closed, he could still hear the sounds of wild passion filtering through behind him. He should have had the decency to not listen, but there really wasn’t much of a choice. He had decided to drive the freeways for a while, allowing them time to. . . be together.

Michael could be logical sometimes, realizing that parking the car in front of the house while his sister and her lover had wild, animalistic sex, was probably not the hot setup. Finally, there didn’t seem to be any more noise coming from the back, so he pointed the car towards home. Whistling to himself, he couldn’t remember when he had last been this happy for someone else.

Kate slowly opened her eyes. Catching a glimpse of her and Jessie in the reflection of the side window made her decide to close them again. Not wanting to disturb Jessie, she realized that they should probably get dressed before Michael returned them home. Somewhere in her mind, she remembered being in this position on the floor of this car before. It seemed like such a long time ago, but it was really only a few weeks. Kate chuckled, remembering Jessie’s comment at the time about how kinky it was to have Kate laying on her on the limo floor. Somehow, it felt kind of right at the moment.

“What are you laughing about?” Jessie mumbled her throat scratchy and dry from their lovemaking.

“Oh, just a funny memory about this car, and the position we’re in right at the moment. Say, have I told you lately that I love you?” Kate kissed Jessie on the chin.

Pulling her up to eye level, Jessie kissed Kate deeply. Holding her closely she whispered in her ear. “Yes, and have I done the same? Told you that I love you too?”

“Mmm-mm, you have. I hate to break this up honey, but the car has slowed considerably, and I have the feeling that we are about to arrive home. If Michael opens the door, we are in for the teasing of our lives.” Kate hated being practical, but since her previous experience with Michael, she didn’t want to have to go through that kind of embarrassment again.

Not wanting the moment to pass so quickly, Jessie made a half-hearted attempt at swaying Kate’s attention to . . . something else. Reluctantly giving in, she helped Kate back into her clothing, and then allowed Kate to help her into the black feathered gown. Almost too late, they realized that Kate was wearing Jessie’s underwear and vice versa. Not normally a problem, except that Jessie’s underwear probably would have fallen off of Kate as she walked across the front yard of the house.

Gliding to a stop, Michael parked the car next to the curb. Pretending not to notice their disheveled look, Michael was amused to see all of the neighbors waiting on the lawn, and on the sidewalks for the two women to return. Opening the door, he almost fell over himself with laughter, as Kate stepped out of the car backward, rear end first.

Kate never would have noticed the crowd, except for the fact that someone flashed a camera at them. Almost diving back into the car, she tried to gracefully turn and face the intruder. Realizing that it was the neighbors, she smiled graciously, and then turned back to help Jessie step from the car. The crowd went wild, cheering, throwing confetti, whistling and clapping their hands. Several of the smaller children came up and gave them bouquets of flowers, and one man even gave them a six pack of beer. If this was any indication, then their outing at the show seemed to be accepted by the general public as well.

Exhausted, Jessie thanked the assembled crowd, and the two of them made their excuses, and quickly entered the house. Several of the fans wanted to start a street party, but Kate begged off, saying she wasn’t feeling very well and maybe in a week or two. They all said their goodnights, and still laughing and talking returned to their own homes.

Michael had followed them in, and as much as he wanted to, he retired to Steven’s room without even making one rude comment. Kate and Jessie went to Kate’s room, and after carefully hanging up the dresses, took a fast shower, and climbed into bed.

Several minutes went by, the two of them listening to each other’s heartbeats, content to just be together. Jessie turned slightly on her side, and pulled Kate as close as she possibly could. As hard as she tried to hide it, a sob quietly escaped.

“What’s wrong Jessie?” Kate was immediately alarmed.

“Nothing, ” Jessie cried softly, “that’s the problem, everything is right. Everything is so right; I am scared to death. I have been so far from right for so long, that I’m not sure how to act.”

“Hey, what’s to act? I love you. More than anything else. We need each other. I need us. I need you. We do deserve this you know. Life has not been fair, and its time we changed all of that. Okay? You and me, Jess. Against the odds. I will always be here for you, always. Okay?” Kate showered Jessie with kisses. Everywhere she could reach she kissed, until Jessie finally started to smile.

“Okay, it’s agreed. You and me, Katie. You’re right we are meant to be together. Ice cream and hot fudge, peanut butter and chocolate, Rowan and Martin, yin and yang. I love you. I love you. I love you. Now hold me until the screaming inside is done. Do you realize that not only did I tell you I loved you, but I also told about 3 million other people? Justin must be having small spotted kittens by now. Can we shut the phone off? Let everything go to the machine? Because something tells me that after the hangovers wear off tomorrow I’m in for some major harassment. Especially after I told Justin’s niece that I wouldn’t sit next to her if she were the last person on earth.” Jessie’s grin was infectious.

Grinning back, Kate sat up on one elbow to look directly at her. “Did you really say that? You’re too polite. I would have said something much worse. I only wish I could have been down there with you when all that was going on.” Kate raised her eyebrow, giving Jessie an evil leer.

“Actually, I kind of wish you had been there too. But in a way, I am glad you weren’t. Otherwise, I may never had told you that I loved you.” Jessie emphasized her comment with another kiss.

“Yeah, you’re right. Come her, and let me show you how glad I am.” Giggling, she turned out the light, and reached for her true love.

—————————————————————————

You are made whole again in silence,

Solitude shatters the illusion that you

And I are separate.

********Nana Veary********
Chapter 24 (All pay homage to the Lizard King….)
As the sun slowly spread its rays across the morning sky, Gregory and Star were within an hour of their intended location. Morning traffic in the Silicon Valley had already begun to pick-up, cars weaving in and out, dodging each other in their seemingly never-ending trek.

Their ultimate destination was an abandoned warehouse nestled in a small valley amongst other small valleys in the hills to the east of the Monterey Bay. The nearest town was Corralitos, best known for its apple orchards, and its world’s famous sausage factory. The warehouse that Baby Doll had utilized for his own sick perversions was part of the apple production business. It had been used for processing juices and cider. Baby Doll had contacted his caretaker, and requested that he meet Star and Gregory, and give them the key to the building.

Soon after they reached the warehouse, Gregory met with the caretaker, and after assuring him his services were no longer needed, pulled the delivery door open, and parked the van inside. Star hadn’t stirred since Gregory made her snort that larger than normal quantity before they left LA. He glanced at her casually to see if she was still breathing. For some reason he was more afraid of crossing Baby Doll, than all of the mob bosses put together. Deciding to leave Star in the van, he took a few moments to explore the surroundings.

Surprisingly enough, the interior was impeccably clean. It was unusual, considering that Baby Doll did not allow anyone else inside, especially the caretaker and his family. Off to the side of the building, were a series of interior rooms, presumably designed to keep the heating equipment that was used to sanitize the bottles, and bring the juice to bottling temperature. Gregory used the keys on the ring he had been given, to open the first door.

Slowly he pulled the door back, and was both startled, and mesmerized by what he saw. Inside there was every manner of restraint and torture device known to the western world. Stepping in, carefully assuring himself that the door would not seal him inside, he examined the interior more closely. Along the walls someone had installed eyebolts, that had chains and manacles suspended from them. Along the opposite wall, was a shiny stainless steel table, something that might have been designed with a coroner in mind. It gently sloped at an angle, to a well at one end. A second table next to it was covered in a bright linen cloth. Carefully displayed across the surface of the linen, was an assortment of cutting, sawing, burning, and electrifying devices. To complete the room’s design, a drain had been built into the floor, and a high volume hose hung neatly coiled onto a rack on the wall. Whoever had designed this room certainly knew his stuff.

Rather than be disturbed or sickened by the prospect of what this place was used for, Gregory was thrilled, almost exhilarated. Closing the door, he moved on to the next room. This one contained only a singular furnace, almost large enough to drive a small car into. He could see how efficient this would be for eliminating any incriminating evidence. The final room contained two cots, and a small table. Behind each of the cots was another set of manacles chained to the wall, with a matching set bolted to the floor at the foot of the cot.

Finding a flight of stairs in the far corner of the building, he took them up two at a time. Arriving at the top, he was please to find another series of rooms. The first was a tastefully appointed office, complete with a computer, phone, and another closet set up for displaying photographs. The second room was a small kitchen, with a dark room built into the utility closet. The last room was a stately bedroom, obviously designed with Baby Doll’s comfort in mind. It was a rather large room, with a master bath in a separate area off to the side, and a large king-sized bed in the center.

Finally deciding he had seen enough, he wandered down the stairs, mentally slapping himself on the back for landing on his feet again. Gregory stopped for a moment, and closed his eyes. Taking a deep breath, he savored the tang of apples and death that pervaded his senses. Breathing out, he tilted his head to the side, imagining he could almost hear the screams of the prior guests.

Sighing, he ended the daydreams, and made his way back to the van. Looking around, he found a small bin that contained pieces of scrap metal. Selecting a flat piece of tin, and a bit of stainless pipe, he held them next to Star’s head, and started banging as loud as he could.

“Wake up there sunshine, we’ve arrived at our new home. COME ON STAR! I said wake up!” Gregory held the tin to her ear until she jumped and shrank into the corner.

“Stop!” Star wined. “Stop banging that thing. I hear you. Stop it, please.”

Gregory almost felt a rush, power seeping into his bloodstream. It was almost as though he were practicing for the “Grand Show”, when all of his players would be present. Grabbing her by the wrists, he dragged her from the van, and deposited her with a resounding thud on the cement floor.

“Why are you always so mean?” Star cried, unable to keep her eyes open. “Why don’t you just kill me now, and get it over with? I don’t want to do this anymore, please, I’m tired, please kill me Gregory.”

Star’s voice had gone so deep, and cold, she almost sounded like Jessica again. Startled, Gregory released her, and stepped back several steps. For a moment, his sanity began to slip. The room shrank around him, while his heart began to pound out of control. He couldn’t quite grasp what had just happened. Star had spoken back to him. Or was it Jessie? No, not Jessie. Just that whore Star. Messing with my head. Maybe I should kill her, yeah, maybe I should. NO! Don’t be dumb! Baby Doll…can’t kill her, because of Baby Doll. SHIT!

Gregory stumbled away, sweat dripping into his eyes, unable to decide what to do with Star. It definitely wasn’t her time yet, but soon. Soon he would turn her over, and then she would beg. Oh, yes, you’ll beg, you’ll pay for that mouth of yours. THAT’S IT! I’ll ask him to cut your lips off. Poetic justice for that smart mouth of yours. Yes, that’s what I’ll do.

Recovering somewhat, Gregory shook off his moment of uncertainty, and returning to stand over Star, reminded her in his coldest tone of voice, that her time hadn’t come yet. She moaned slightly, and continued to lie where he had dropped her. Turning away in disgust, he stomped up the stairs, and sat at the desk, going online to let Baby Doll know they had arrived.

Star stayed there for quite some time. It took her a while to regain her equilibrium, and stand without getting dizzy or nauseous. Not interested in exploring, she managed to make it to the stairs, and sat down for a few minutes to catch her breath. Finally Star stood up again, and carefully pulled herself along the railing to the upstairs. Bypassing the office, she staggered to the bedroom, and fell onto the bed immediately drifting into a deep and dreamless sleep.

Gregory only vaguely noticed her passing. Now that they had arrived, he had much to do. Only one more week and the final pieces of his plan were falling into place. The first project was to start shadowing Laura again. Figure out her patterns, and then set the trap for her. After that, it would be just like dominoes, Laura, Kate, and then his beloved Jessie. He had one other project in mind as well. Jerald and the Shimadas. He had to think of some way to discredit them and pay them back for interfering with his plan.

Back in LA, Jessie and Kate had not quite started to stir yet. The previous night had been a blur in Jessie’s dreams. The two events that remained fresh in her mind, was telling Kate she loved her, and making love on the limousine floor with her brother at the wheel. Even now, she blushed when she thought about it, and then chuckled when she remembered the underwear switch at the end.

Listening to the sounds of the household, Jessie was surprised that it was so quiet. Even the cats were still sleeping, Corky behind Kate’s knees, and Violet curled on Jessie’s hip. Shifting, Jessie jostled Violet a bit, and the cat cracked one eye open, and fixed her with a sleepy stare. Yawning broadly, Violet whispered a small meow, and then closed her eye, and went back to sleep.

Smiling, Jessie turned her attention to her sleeping lover. It had been a while since the last time she had attempted to memorize each and every detail of her beloved. She started with her face, almost like the face of an angel. There wasn’t a single line to mar its soft surface. Her lips were curled slightly into a smile, and every so often a small sigh escaped, as though she were having a very sweet dream.

The next stop on Jessie’s mystery tour was Kate’s hand, which rested lightly on Jessie’s arm. As Jessie moved slightly, the hand would contract to maintain its tenuous contact with its companion. Jessie decided she liked that . . .immensely. Her own much longer arm trailed across Kate’s hip, almost touching the sleeping cat behind her. Just to see if she could, she flicked her middle finger in the cat’s direction, and was rewarded with a responding flip of one furry ear.

Jessie found this whole new life positively amazing. She had a warm bed, with an even warmer person to share it with. Two cats, that begrudgingly accepted her to their family. Steven, Michael, and a huge barrel of love, to give and to receive. Right then and there, Jessie decided that she would stop doubting whether or not she deserved all of this. In turn, she decided that she did deserve it, and that her only cost, would be to return it in kind. And return it she would. Her final conscious thought right at that very moment, was to never let anyone or anything stand in her way again. No one would ever harm them, or separate them, or threaten their relationship in any way. If they tried, they would have one hell of a fight on their hands.

Closing her eyes, she drifted back to sleep. Kate opened one eye, thinking that she had heard Jessie say something. Scooting forward a bit, she kissed her sleeping lover on the lips, and then said she loved her too. Joining Jessie back in her dreams, she too drifted back to sleep.

A bit later, Michael and Steven were in the kitchen making coffee, when a loud knock sounded on the front door. Steven quickly went to the side windows to check and see who would be so rude so early in the morning. Surprised, he was startled to see Justin Graves, and his secretary Alice staring back at him through the curtain. Gesturing to Michael to wake Jessie and Kate, he tightened his bathrobe, and then let the impatient studio owner into their living room.

“Um, hi. I didn’t expect to see you two here this early on a Saturday morning. Michael just went to wake Jessie and Kate. Can I get you some coffee?” Steven ever the gracious host was making an attempt to keep the situation calm.

“JESSIE! JESSICA RYAN, GET OUT HERE THIS MINUTE!” Justin bellowed after Michael’s retreating back.

Opening their bedroom door, Michael quickly dashed to Jessie’s side. “Jess? Jess! Wake up! We have a raging bull in the living room, looking for you. Jessie?”

“Make sure he doesn’t poop on the carpet, Mikey, it will make Stevie mad.” Rolling away from him, she returned to her pleasant dream.

Risking getting punched, he grabbed her shoulder and shook her a few times. “JESSICA, wake up. Justin Graves is here, and he brought Alice. I can’t tell if he’s angry or not. I think you better come out here now.” The panic in his voice finally got through to Jessie’s conscious mind.

Sitting straight up, she unseated the cat, and then turned to look at Michael, disbelief shadowing her face. “Did you just tell me that Justin was pooping in the living room?”

“No, you said that, I just said that he was here. I don’t know why, I just came to wake you up.” Michael shook his head in frustration.

“Thank God. That painted one heck of an ugly picture. Tell him I’ll be out in a minute.” Jessie frowned, not liking her morning disturbed this way at all.

No sooner had the words left her mouth, then the door flew open, and in stomped Justin, Alice right on his heels, trying to get him to stop. Standing at the foot of the bed, he realized too late, that his star was not only in bed, but not wearing any clothes, and still sleeping beside her was her newly announced lover. Quickly turning to face the other way, he almost tripped over Alice, who had stopped abruptly when he had.

Covering up a little better, Jessie smirked. “Whatsamatter Justin? Never seen two women in bed together before? Oh come on now. You came barging in here uninvited, what did you expect? Michael get them chairs, please. Since they chose not to wait for me to come out there, they can just conduct their business in here. I have no intention of being jerked around on my day off.”

Alice shoved Justin aside, and came and gave Jessie a hug. “You tell’em honey, and don’t take any of his guff either. Hey, and congratulations. I mean on the award, and Katie. You’re one lucky gal, you know that? I’m jealous, I admit it.”

Shocked, Justin couldn’t even form a coherent sentence. “Wha? You . . .I. . .Jess . . .? Ohhhh . . .”

Suddenly, Kate sat up, and blurted out, “OH MY GOD, what is he doing here, and why is he having a stroke in my bedroom?”

That did it, everyone burst into loud guffaws of laughter. Justin spluttered a few more times, and then sat down, holding his head in his hands. Alice and Michael held onto each other, unable to control the waves of giggles that threatened to overcome them, again and again. Steven stood in the doorway, shaking his head, thinking what a great picture this would make for the tabloids.

Confused, Kate turned to Jessie for an explanation. Wiping her eyes with the corner of her sheet, Jessie tried to explain as best she could, with what little information she had. By the time she was done, everyone else had managed to recover. They all turned their eyes on Justin, waiting for him to enlighten them all as to the reason for his presence.

Clearing his throat, he harrumphed a time or two, and then finally regained some of his composure. He gazed at the expectant faces surrounding him. “Well, I never did get to properly congratulate Jessie. After our little, ahem, problem with the seating arrangements, I . . . well, I had my hands full, and found it necessary to cut out a little early. Not before I heard Jessie’s speech though. Just what in tarnation did you think you were doing?”

Smiling, and raising one eyebrow in thought, Jessie formulated the best answer she could come up with. “I was freeing myself, Justin. Liberating myself from the sheer hell that I have lived in for the last several years, and giving my heart to the one person who managed to get through to it. Is there a problem with that?”

Justin absorbed Jessie’s words. Glancing at Alice, he was about to answer differently, when she scowled at him. “No honey, no problem. I just wanted to let you know how proud I am of your achievement, and that no matter what the fall out; I personally will back you up. All the way.”

Michael was the first to let out a loud whoop. Everyone in the room, congratulated each other, and then shared hugs all the way around the group. Kate was amazed at all of the excitement, and the familial support that Justin was willing to give. Alice and Steven were dancing a waltz in the corner, and holding the blankets to her chest, Jessie was gesturing to Justin to come over for a hug.

“Hey. . .HEY! I think someone here owes me an apology.” Kate stared holes through Justin.

Blushing through his embarrassment, Justin smiled sheepishly. “You are so right little lady. I do owe you a “very” big apology. I was completely out of line, and have been out of line with you from the beginning. Even the staff and set crew have commented on what a positive change you have brought to my little Jessie’s life, and I almost botched that. My niece, well, my niece has a lot of problems. Ever since her father was killed, I’ve taken on the responsibility of helping raise her. Unfortunately, she has very set ideas about the way things should be.”

Alice interrupted with a loud raspberry noise. “Justin! Stop being so diplomatic. She’s a pain in the butt, and you know it. Self-centered, rude, selfish, and abusive. Hell, we’ve bailed her out of jail twice now, for assault, and battery. That girl needs help, and not the kind we’ve been giving her.”

“That’s enough Alice. I have bigger headaches to deal with at the moment. The board has called a meeting for Monday morning to discuss the “latest developments”. I may be the owner of the studio, but I do have to deal with the board on occasion. I expect you to be there Jessie and Kate too. If I’m gonna go up against the firing squad, I’m gonna take you two with me.” Justin sighed, not at all happy about the prospect of facing the board.

Jessie had been quiet for a while. Serious now, she directed her attention totally to Justin. “You don’t think they’ll fire me, or cancel the show do you?”

“I doubt it. Judging by the flood of calls we have received at the studio over the last few hours. Only one or two have been negative, and if I’m not mistaken at least one of the negative callers is a regular, and calls in every week.” Alice interjected again.

“I’ll try to behave myself, but there is no way I am going to retract anything, or “change my mind”. I meant every word I said, and I won’t be bullied. I don’t expect to change the character of Kendra Knight, nor would I expect the writer’s to feel that they have to. As far as I am concerned, it’s business as usual.” Jessie slapped her fist into her other hand to emphasis the point.

Excusing themselves, Michael, Steven, and the two guests returned to the living room, to allow the girls to get up and get dressed. Kate remained surprisingly quiet, deeply involved in her own thoughts. Jessie pretended not to notice for a while, but the silence became deafening, and finally she couldn’t take it any longer.

Stepping in front of Kate, on her way to the bathroom, Jessie held her close for a moment. “So, what’s on your mind there sweetheart? You unusually quiet, considering all that just passed.”

“Um, well, for starters, if you don’t let me get to the bathroom right now, I just might not make it. Secondly, I can’t help but feel like this is all my fault. And thirdly, after all I’ve heard about that Naomi woman, I might have to be restrained if I ever come across her again. She’s really a piece of work. I haven’t even told you the half of it yet.” Kate squirmed loose, and ran for the bathroom.

Jessie mulled over all of Kate’s points. Obviously, the bathroom was already being taken care of. Naomi didn’t need to be a problem. Stay away from her, and no problem. But the part about all of this being Kate’s fault; that didn’t ring well in Jessie’s mind. There was no fault involved in this situation. Determined to set Kate straight, Jessie sat on the end of the bed, and waited for her to return.

When Kate emerged from the bathroom, she was surprised to see Jessie sitting and waiting for her. “What’s up? I thought you would be out there harassing Justin some more.”

“Honey, come here for a minute, and sit with me. I want to straighten something out before we continue on with the day.” Jessie patted the bed next to her.

Kate sat down, and leaned slightly into Jessie’s shoulder. “Kate, I don’t want you to feel bad, or uncertain about any of this. Especially where our future is concerned. I’ve spent so many years being pushed around, that it is a wondrous feeling to know that I can let go of that. Please, tell me that you understand how much I love you, and how much I’m willing to give up, or let go of for that privilege.”

Kate lowered her head for a second. Looking directly into Jessie’s eyes, she swallowed, and then answered Jessie’s statement of love. “Jess, if you lose your job, then I lose mine. Whose going to buy that new convertible I’ve been looking at?”

Jessie stared at Kate for a moment, not sure if she heard her correctly. “Jessie, yoohoo, Jessie. I’m kidding. Really I am. Just kidding. I sweeeaaarrrr!”

Jessie leaped up, and straddling Kate, flattened her into the bed, and proceeded to tickle her, until it brought tears of laughter to Kate’s eyes. “Don’t tease me like that. If I lose my job, and you want a car that bad, then I’ll steal one for you, because you’re the bomb, the real deal, and I’d do anything, for you dear anything. . .for you mean everything to meeee!”

Kate squirmed, and then getting free, sat up suddenly. “How come you don’t sing more often? That was great, even if you were being funny.”

Suddenly shy, Jessie mumbled, and then turned Kate loose. “Jess? Tell me, what’s wrong?”

Sighing, Jessie sat back down. “Kate, my mother taught me to sing. It was something special we shared between us. I . . . there’s more, even Michael doesn’t know this. I feel terrible about not sharing it with him, but I made a promise. I know you know that I am paying to support someone in a private hospital in Northern California. That was how I met Justin, and Gregory.”

Kate held up a hand. “Wait, if you don’t feel comfortable about telling me this Jessie, then don’t. I understand.”

Jessie shook her head. “No, I want to share this. You have no idea how painful its been being the only one that knows.”

Kate slid closer, gripping Jessie’s hands tightly. Jessie took a moment to pull her thoughts together. When she finally began again, it all spilled out at once. “I don’t know where to begin. I know you’ve heard some of the stories about my father, and his abusive nature. I spent many sleepless nights, terrified that he would come to my room. He had threatened me often about raping or beating me. I knew in my heart, that if he ever succeeded, I would kill him. He tried often enough, but I was too strong for him. Anyway, when I was about ten, he was drunk, and had grabbed me, and touched me. . . inappropriately. I clocked him with a frying pan, and then grabbed Michael and we ran.”

Even thought Kate had already heard this story, she sat quietly and didn’t stop Jessie. It was more important for Jessie to tell her in her own words, than to implicate Michael for speaking out of turn.

“Hours later, our older brother Kevin came to our hiding place, to bring warm clothes, and to say goodbye. He was going to run away, because he couldn’t take it any longer. Way after nightfall, my aunt came and brought me and Michael to her house. We never did go back to our home, nor did we see the rest of our family ever again. Many years later I found out that when Kevin had returned to the house, our father was beating our mother again. Kevin went into a rage, and attacked him from behind. Even in his weakened state, he managed to throw Kevin off of his back. He slammed him to the floor, and began to strangle him. Mother was unconscious on the floor, and came to as Kevin began to turn blue. Terrified, she took a kitchen knife, and stabbed father until he collapsed and died. It was too late for Kevin too. He died from lack of oxygen.” Tears slowly slipped down Kate’s face in sorrow for her lover.

Jessie wiped Kate’s tears with the corner of her shirttail. “Anyway, mom was jailed for murder. When I was in my mid twenties, and just starting to get some acting jobs, they released her. During her time in prison, she had completely withdrawn. She hasn’t spoken a word since the day the family crumbled. I’ve been keeping her in this hospital, and taking care of her. I go and visit her every time there’s a break. Gregory knows about her, but doesn’t know the story of the deaths. He’s tried for a long time to get it out of me, and if he were smart enough, or had enough money, he could probably get someone to tell him everything.”

Kate stood, and held Jessie closely. “Jess, I’m proud of you. If there is anything I can do to help, ever, just say so. I love you Jessie. Very much.”

Squeezing her tightly, Jessie’s own tears had begun to fall. Just being able to unburden herself to someone else about her family’s history was a great relief for her. Realizing that they had spent way too much time in the bedroom, while they had guests waiting, she rose, and kissing Kate, reminded her how much she loved her as well, but they had guests to attend to.

Taking Jessie’s hand, Kate led her out to the living room. The other’s were drinking coffee, and sharing donuts that Steven had run down to the store to pick up. Joining them, they began the tedious process of planning their part of Monday’s meeting.

———————————————————————–

Our true nature is not some ideal that we have to live up to.
It’s who we are right now,
And that’s what we can make friends with and celebrate.

********Pema Chodron********
CHAPTER 25: (Bailamo, let the music take your soul…)
Gregory slept peacefully for the first time since all of his troubles had begun. He felt safe in this new haven of death. It was almost as if he were ensconced in his own special castle, protected from the people who might try to harm him. He was fairly certain that no one knew where he was. Especially Mr. Shimada, or the rest of his goons.

Shimada’s son had no idea the evil plans that Gregory had for him, should he ever come across the bastard again. As far as Gregory was concerned, nothing was too painful for the young Asian. He thought that a snip here, a burn there, and just maybe a ten thousand volt charge to his private parts, might wake him up a bit.

Star tossed and turned in her sleep. Her demons were very large, and very demanding. Waking in a cold sweat, she was almost sick to her stomach. The combination of too much heroin, and their immediate surroundings was enough to tear her insides apart. She remembered vaguely, that she was probably lucky to be alive. Part of her wished she had over dosed, and ended this whole nightmare.

Rolling out of bed, Star worked her way into the bathroom. Her head pounded with every step she took. Flipping the light on, she cringed at her own reflection in the mirror. Her skin seemed to have taken on a grayish pallor, accentuated by the bruises scattered here and there, leftovers from Gregory’s mean temper. Splashing some cold water on her face, she debated on whether or not to take a shower.

Being alone in this chamber of horrors brought up all kinds of terrible thoughts. Star was almost afraid that if she got in the shower, he might wake and kill her while she washed her hair or something. Vaguely she remembered seeing a movie like that once. The guy was nuts or something, and some girl got stabbed to death in the shower. Of course, maybe flirting with death on a more personal level was just what the doctor ordered. Strange, but Star was confused why he hadn’t gone ahead and killed her already. A chill ran up her spine, the fear of her uncertain future frightening her. Somehow she almost wished she had the guts to kill herself, at least then Gregory wouldn’t have the satisfaction of making good on his threats.

While Star mulled over her increasingly grim future, Gregory rose and wandered into the small kitchen. Opening the refrigerator, he was surprised to find it stocked full of fresh groceries. He took a moment to check the cabinets, and discovered them to be completely restocked as well. Impressed, he decided to make himself a decent breakfast for a change.

Several hundred miles away, Jessie, Kate, and their gathered friends and co-workers were finishing their own light breakfast. Plans had been made, for the coming weeks storm of interviews, and possible repercussions following the awards show. Kate had stepped into her room for a moment, when she heard her cell phone ringing. Almost regretting her decision to answer it, she was pleasantly surprised to hear Laura’s voice on the other end.

“Hey there, sugar, congratulations to that tall, dark, and sexy woman you’re cohabiting with. I realize I advised you to express your love to each other, but did she have to do it on National television? Holy Moly girl!” Laura chuckled at the spectacle of it all.

“Hey there yourself. Thanks for the congrats, I’ll give her your message. Isn’t it just the greatest Laura? I mean you have no idea what happened before Jessie won the award. There was a huge scene, they separated us, and I ended up sitting with a group of women in the balcony. Funny thing, they all seemed to know you. Anyway, remember that bitch of a blond, the one that knocked Jessie down at the ice rink? Well, her uncle is Justin Graves, and they were the ones that made me sit up in the balcony. Jessie blew up, and then made the entire theater move over and make room for me and all of our new friends. It was great, you should have seen it!” Kate stopped to take a deep breath. She was so excited talking to Laura, she almost forgot to breathe.

“Well, sounds like you had a wild night. Actually, I heard a little about it last night, Kary dialed in and caught me on the IM. She sure sounded like she and Jan had met the royal family or something. You two are making quite an impact on the Kendraverse today. Jeez, even my E-mail has exploded twice this morning. Do you think Jessie might have any trouble with the studio after her recent revelation?” Laura was concerned for her friends; she knew how deadly situations like this could be.

“Actually, Justin and Alice, his secretary, are here right now. We’ve been working on damage control for a couple of hours. Both Jessie and I have to attend a board meeting on Monday. Other than that, we haven’t been answering the phone. We are going to have to cut our little vacation short by a day or two. They’ve been scheduling Jessie, and then the both of us for some major talk shows, and interviews. Honestly, I would rather not, but for Jessie’s sake, I’ll do anything.” Kate sighed heavily.

“It’s okay kiddo, every once in a while, we have to do something we don’t really care for. And now that your love for each other is no longer an issue, it’s that much more important to support her.” Laura smiled, again remembering the various milestones of new love.

While Kate and Laura chatted for a few more moments, Jessie began to feel her lover’s absence. Excusing herself, she wandered into the bedroom in search of her missing companion. Standing in the doorway, she was again amazed at the ease with which she shared life’s little ins and outs with Laura. Jessie had never been able to share like that with anyone, not even Michael. While she eavesdropped, Kate felt a kind of warmth across the back of her neck. Somehow she knew it was Jessie.

Gesturing for Jessie to come and sit with her, she tilted the phone a little, so that Jessie could hear what Laura was saying. “I highly recommend that the two of you stay away from Naomi Graves. She’s dangerous, psychotic, and propelled by an insatiable need to control everyone and everything around her. If she doesn’t get her way, she lashes out. We should introduce her to Gregory don’t you think? Hi Jessie.”

Kate and Jessie looked at each other astonished. Jessie shrugged her shoulders. Laura was primarily Kate’s friend, and how she knew that Jessie was there, was a mystery to her. Taking the phone from Kate, she looked at her again, and then asked Laura herself.

“How in the hell did you know I was sitting here? I haven’t made a sound, and I know Kate didn’t say anything.” Jessie was perplexed.

“Ha! Didn’t Kate tell you? It’s a secret power I have. I read minds, see through walls, and speak to spirits. Actually, Kate’s voice changed slightly, a certain softness, with a definite smile behind it. It could only mean that her true love had entered the room.” Laura chuckled, loving the fact that she had caught them.

“Anyway, definitely stay away from Naomi. Treat her in the same class as Gregory. If they ever did get together, the world would end as we know it.” Laura’s mood turned dark suddenly.

“Laura? Are you okay? You sound down all of a sudden.” Kate was concerned for her friend.

“Yeah, I’m okay. You know how I am, I start to feel other people’s pain, and then I turn into a useless pile of Jell-O. Listen babies, I hate to cut this short, but I need to find my girlfriend. I am in serious need of a hug right now. I love you guys. Be nice to each other. Later.” Laura blew kisses through the phone.

“We love you too, Laura. Take care. We’ll see you next week.” Kate and Jessie replied at almost the same time.

“Jess, did you hear the tears in Laura’s voice?” Kate was bewildered.

“Yeah, honey, I did. Has she ever done that before? I mean cry “in front” of you.” Jessie’s internal alarm was going off.

“Not that I ever remember. Laura is always the tough, strong, unshakeable

“I can handle anything” person. I don’t think I’ve ever heard her in a vulnerable mode before. Do you think I should call her back?” Now Kate was worried too.

“Let’s give it some time, and then check in with her later this evening. Then it won’t sound as much like we are prying into her business. Of course, we are, but it won’t sound quite as pushy this way.” Jessie still couldn’t get that nagging “something is wrong” feeling out of her head.

“Well, we better get back, and see our guests out. This is going to be one heck of a week, and I for one don’t want to have to think much more about it, until the weekend. I need to get some groceries. Why don’t you start running the lines for the next episode, and I’ll start the laundry, and then head for the market.” Kissing Jessie on the cheek, Kate stood to return to the living room.

“Are you sure you’ll be okay? I can send Michael with you.” Jessie’s concern for Laura was spilling over onto Kate now.

“Honey, I’ll be fine. I’m just going to the market to stock up. I’ll stay close, and take my cell phone, and the stunner. I promise…I won’t be more than an hour. Okay?” Kate looked at Jessie with a little puppy dog face.

Jessie tried not to smile. “Okay. But be careful, and more than an hour, and we are there. Something doesn’t feel right to me, and until I find out what it is, I want to know where you are at all times.”

“Hey, the same goes for you, big, tough, bodyguard. I don’t want you out playing with the kids, or messing with anyone’s psychotic niece. Kapeesh? Good. Now, kiss me, and then let’s get a move on. We have lots to do today, if I don’t do some laundry, nobody has clean underwear.” Getting her kiss, she gave Jessie a shove towards the door.

Kate hopped in her car, and back out of the driveway. Several of the neighborhood kids noticed her, and piled onto her lawn, to wave and see if Jessie was with her. Glancing at the house she wasn’t surprised to see Jessie, Michael, and Steven step out onto the front porch. All the kids waved, and then joined the adults on the front porch. Michael had raided Kate’s supply of glossies of Jessie from the studio, and Jessie was signing as the two men handed them out.

Arriving at the closest market, Kate parked and locked the car, taking care to set the alarm. Heading into the store, she was so absorbed in her shopping list, she failed to notice the rather large man that entered the store right behind her. Securing a cart, she began her search down the first aisle that contained some of the items on her list. As she reached the end of the aisle, and was preparing to turn down the next one, she stopped for a moment to look at some new brand of toilet paper that was on sale. A large shadow passed behind her, but still she showed no notice.

Turning to the second aisle, she bent down to put a couple of bags of cat litter on the bottom of the cart, when a pair of rather large men’s shoes came into view. Standing cautiously, she fixed the intruder with a threatening glare. It took a moment for her mind to shift into gear, and recognize the man towering over her. Reaching for her stun gun, she realized with a gasp, that it was too late. A much smaller, elderly Japanese man was standing behind her blocking her retreat.

Standing very still, she addressed Jerald first. “What do you want? If you even so much as lay a finger on me, I will knock you on your ass.”

Mr. Shimada chuckled politely. “Quite a brave young lady, is she not Jerald? And smart too. She recognized you right away. Ms. McKenna, we intend to do you no harm. We wish only to express our congratulations, and to impart some very important information to you.”

Heart pounding in her ears, every nerve tingling, Kate decided in a flash, that it would be better to listen, than to start something. “Who are you, and why should I listen to you.”

Bowing slightly, Mr. Shimada found himself somehow delighted with the strength this small, attractive woman seemed to display. If she were part of his household however, she would not act with such disrespect to her obvious superior. Remembering that now was not the time for discipline, he got to the point of their intrusion.

“Ms. McKenna, please do not be alarmed. We are here only because of our concern for the safety of you and Ms. Ryan. Gregory Thomason is a former associate of ours. Of course you know who Jerald is. Jerald is now in my employ. We are…rehabilitating him you might say. However, I digress. We have reason to believe that Mr. Thomason is planning to inflict great harm on you and your friend. We wish that not to happen. Mr. Thomason owes us a great deal of money Ms. McKenna, and we would like to discuss that matter with him personally. He has also threatened my son recently. I do not take kindly to threats against my family.” Mr. Shimada stopped talking for a moment as another customer passed by them looking at them curiously.

Kate nodded politely at the other woman, who scowled at her for a moment, before continuing around the corner to the next aisle. Momentarily distracted, she wondered what that was all about. Mr. Shimada interrupted her train of thought.

“As I was saying, I have some important business with Gregory, and I do not wish to have it interrupted by any foolish attempts on his part to injure either of you. Please be aware that we will be watching closely, and will intercede on your part if necessary. Now, we are attracting unnecessary attention. Jerald, to the car please.” Mr. Shimada turned to leave.

“Wait, you stop me in the market, tell me all of this mysterious crap about Gregory, and you’re going to protect us and all, and that’s it? Why should I believe you?” Kate was getting angry.

Stopping for a moment, Mr. Shimada fixed Kate with a smoldering gaze. “Ms. McKenna, is Ms. Ryan’s brother Michael still alive?”

Kate’s eyes narrowed. “Yes, but what does that have to do with anything?”

“If we had not interceded, he would be dead right now. Come Jerald.” The larger man followed Mr. Shimada down the aisle and out the front door.

He acts like a large pet dog, Kate thought to herself. What Kate couldn’t know was that Jerald could no longer speak. His vocal cords had been chemically paralyzed when he was released from prison. If he so much as looked cross-eyed at Mr. Shimada, his heart would explode. They had surgically installed an electronic device that was keyed to a digitally coded box about the size of a pocket car alarm. One push and that was all she wrote for the big guy.

Kate was tempted to leave her cart where it was, and return home without the groceries. Thinking better of it, she rushed through her list, and then hurried to the checkout line. Hopping slightly from one foot to the other, she was growing impatient.

Behind her, she heard a loud snicker. Turning, she recognized the woman who passed by her earlier when she was talking with Mr. Shimada. The woman glared at her again.

“Can I help you?” Kate inquired politely.

“Tch, I wouldn’t accept help from a dyke like you if I were drowning in quicksand.” The woman replied rudely.

“Lady, I wouldn’t rescue your fat ass if it were on fire, so we’re even.” Kate retorted.

“Well…I never!” The woman was outraged.

Smiling broadly, Kate replied with a bit of sarcasm to her tone. “I have, and I enjoyed every minute of it.”

The woman’s face turned bright red. Huffing and puffing, she moved her cart to another line, and refused to make eye contact again. Kate stuck her tongue out at the rather broad back retreating from her. She knew it was childish, but she didn’t care. If people were going to harass her like that, then they deserved it.

Moving her cart up to the check out belt, she started removing her purchases from her cart. The cashier interrupted her thoughts.

“Way to go honey! Don’t let those narrow minded busy bodies mess with you. Good Gosh! This is the nineties. You’d think by now they would have gotten used to actresses coming out and all. I mean this is LA. You tell that girlfriend of yours that we’re all proud of her.” The cashier gave her a wink and a smile.

Returning the smile, Kate winked back. “Thanks, I never expected that kind of response. I guess I shouldn’t be so naïve.”

“Aw, don’t worry about it. She’s just jealous. Hasn’t been laid since the dark ages. Just keep your sense of humor, and you’ll be fine.” Getting the giggle from Kate she was shooting for, she finished with Kate’s order.

“I just wonder if it’s going to be like this in public for a while. I know I could use some of the contractor’s at the studio to do this kind of thing for me, but I hate that. It’s so stuck up. I would rather do these things myself.” Kate pursed her lips in distaste.

“Oh, well, you must be nuts then. If I had someone to do my stuff for me, I would take advantage of it. No question in my mind about that. Well, we could stand here all day and chit chat, but I’m sure you’ve got something better to do, and I got to go to lunch.” The woman finished Kate’s ATM transaction.

“Sorry, my brain is having a problem absorbing all of this. Thanks for helping me out. I appreciate it.” Kate shook the woman’s hand.

“Not a problem, take care of yourself.” She waved as Kate maneuvered her cart out the automatic doors.

Loading her groceries into the car, Kate felt a little lost. She just realized what Mr. Shimada had said about Michael. Fear overtaking her, she pulled quickly out of the parking lot, and hurried home. The others were all hanging out on the porch talking when she arrived. Jessie skipped down the steps two at a time, and met her as she opened the door. Taking one look at her face, she was immediately concerned.

“What’s wrong? Kate, what’s wrong?” Panic filled her voice.

Slipping into Jessie’s arms, she stood there for a moment. “I just had the strangest adventure. Help me take these groceries in, and I’ll tell you all about it. Better get the boys inside. They need to hear this too.”

They carried the bags in, and put everything away. Kate was unusually silent. Jessie watched her carefully from the corner of her eye. Anxious to find out what happened, she almost dropped a dozen eggs on the floor.

“Hey there, don’t drop those. Jess, I’m sorry, really, I’m okay. Just a little shaken up. A lot of strange things happened at the market. Come on, the sooner we get this done, the sooner I can tell you all about it.” Kate lightly ran her hand down Jessie’s arm.

Finishing up, they moved into the living room. Kate settled comfortably on the couch, slipping her shoes off and folding her feet underneath her. Jessie went to the door, and called the boys in. When everyone was seated, Kate told her story. They listened quietly, amazed at the events that had taken place. Kate finished, and Michael was the first to comment.

“Did Mr. Shimada say how I almost died? I mean, it would be nice to know what to look for.” For once, there wasn’t any humor or sarcasm to his tone.

“No, he didn’t. The whole thing was so weird, and mysterious. I mean he approaches me in a grocery store. What is that all about?” Kate shrugged her shoulders, mystified.

Jessie cleared her throat. “As for the public response to my announcement, I guess we can expect that. But, involvement in our lives by the Japanese Mafia, that’s another thing all together. I think we should notify the police about this little encounter. Although, their track record sucks so much, that I am almost inclined to let Mr. Shimada protect us.”

All three friends gave her a mock look of horror. “Hey, I was just kidding. Besides, it’s not like we can just call him anytime we want anyway. I do think though from now on, that Kate doesn’t go shopping alone anymore. Maybe they will be less likely to approach her if she is with someone else.”

Kate reached over and took Jessie’s hand. “You know, any other time and I would probably argue the point, but lately I’m getting a little tired of all of this. I don’t want to use a company shopper, but I’m a little spooked about going alone. And I am surely not taking you with me. That’s all we’d need. Cause a riot in the grocery store, with the Japanese Mafia, the religious right, and the fans.”

Steven normally stayed quiet during all of the crazy goings on between his friends, new and old. This time though he couldn’t. His fear of losing Michael pushed him to respond.

“I think that someone should alert the studio, and make sure that all the vehicles and so on are inspected both coming and going from the garage. More than likely if someone was going to try to hurt Michael that would be the place to start. I mean if they disable the car, or plant a bomb or something, no one would know, would they? Unless of course the garage mechanics were checking those things.” Steven’s face reflected both his concern, and his knowledge and training.

“I think you’re right, Steven, we’ll mention it in Monday’s meeting. Apparently the threat of Gregory still looms large. Fortunately or unfortunately depending on whom you count as allies, we seem to have more protection than we thought we had. I am not so certain I want to be calling on this Mr. Shimada and definitely not that bastard Jerald if I’m in trouble. However, if they choose to show up, then so much the better.” Jessie tried to make everyone laugh, but they weren’t convinced.

Kate excused herself, and slipped into the kitchen. Busying herself making coffee, she hadn’t noticed Jessie behind her. Slowly Jessie wrapped her arm around Kate from behind, only to be dismayed when she felt Kate jump. Just as quickly as she had jumped, Kate settled back against her lover, trying to snuggle as close as she could possibly get.

“You’re really taking this hard aren’t you?” Jessie whispered into her ear.

“I’m just feeling a little stressed. It’s getting as though every time I leave the house, something bad is going to happen. It all sounds like a really bad novel or movie or whatever. Thank God I love you so much. If I didn’t have that, I think I might go insane.” Kate turned and wrapped her own arms around Jessie’s waist.

Lightly brushing her lips across Kate’s forehead, Jessie considered her words. “If you didn’t love me, maybe these things wouldn’t be happening to you in the first place.”

Kate stiffened. Leaning back, but refusing to let go she fixed Jessie with a withering glare. “Don’t say crap like that. I mean it. We are past that uncertainty garbage. I want you, I need you, and I mean to keep you, even with all of the crazy, bizarre, weird stuff that trails behind you. So, promise me that kind of thought, and concern is past. Please…”

Smiling, Jessie kissed Kate. “I promise. I won’t do that anymore. But I’m sorry ahead of time if any more strange things happen. I must be cursed or something. I know… and you’re my lucky charm.”

“Hmm, I don’t think I’m that lucky since they seem to have accelerated since I met you. More like a not so lucky charm. Anyway, we weren’t going to talk about this anymore. Let’s change the subject. What do you think about Laura this morning? I think something has happened to her. Something bad. Do you think I should call her back tonight?” Kate looked at Jessie with a question in her eye.

“Well, you know her better than I do. If you think there is something wrong, then call her. I definitely didn’t like the sound of her voice though. It was so sad.” Jessie looked out the window behind Kate, remembering what it felt like to be that sad.

“I’ll think about it, and then make up my mind later. I need to get some laundry going, and clean this house up. It’s driving me crazy.” Kate kissed Jessie on the chin, and then started to squirm loose.

“Wait, I can help. What can I do? Where’s the vacuum cleaner, I’ll vacuum. I used to vacuum for my mom all of the time.” Jessie was excited.

“Well, okay. It’s in the closet in the hallway. And speaking of your mom, I want to talk some more about her later too if it’s all right. If I’m too nosy though, just tell me. I don’t want to hurt your feelings.” Kate was delighted that Jessie wanted to participate, although she never would have forced the issue.

“Sure honey, not a problem. I’ll tell you what I can. There’s a lot of stuff I don’t even know myself. Now, let me get going on these carpets. I’m going to ask the boys to take care of the yard too if that’s okay.” Jessie was positively giddy about being allowed to participate in the household.

Steven and Michael agreed to work outside getting the yard in shape. The weather service had said that rain was expected later in the day, so they wanted to hurry and get the lawn mowed, raked, and any trimming that needed taking care of. Jessie vacuumed, dusted, and cleaned the cat box. Kate was amazed at the group participation. She had always heard that living with roommates was terrible, but so far she couldn’t see what they were talking about. She loved these folks, and thought of them as her family.

Gathering the laundry, Kate started the first load, and then set about cleaning the bathrooms, and sweeping and mopping the kitchen floor. The cats found a safe place in her room to hide. There was too much activity going on for their feline sensitivities. Every once in a while she would pass Jessie, driving the vacuum, singing away without a care in the world. Shaking her head, she thanked the Gods, Goddesses and lucky stars that they saw fit to drop this woman into her life. Both the good parts and the not so good parts.

A short time after they had begun their house cleaning chores, Steven came dashing into the house out of breath. “KATE, JESSIE, you guys have to see this. Come quick.”

Joining him at the window, Jessie and Kate peered through the curtains. Standing guard at the walkway, was Michael. Flanking him along the driveway were several of the neighbors kids, with bats, rakes, and a couple of stuffed animals. Michael was holding the garden hose, with the gun shaped nozzle pointed at their intruders. Upon further perusal, Kate and Jessie discovered the source of Michael’s concern.

Crowding the walkway, and a large percentage of the street, were reporters, photographers, cameramen, and journalists. They were all jostling for position, and shouting at Michael. Many were demanding to speak with Jessie and Kate, while others wanted to gain access to the house. Michael was determined to keep them off the property. As Jessie and Kate watched, Steven slipped out the side door, and quietly joined the children guarding the driveway. He was concerned that one of these “so-called” adults might get out of hand, and injure one of the kids.

Jessie and Kate turned to look at each other. Kate spoke first. “What do we do Jess? If someone doesn’t answer them, they are likely to start trouble. Do you think I should go out there?”

“I don’t know Kate. I think maybe we should both go out there. We can stand on the porch, and threaten to hose them if they get any closer. Just be careful what you tell them. They’re libel to twist it all out of proportion.” Jessie pinched her lower lip between her thumb and forefinger.

“Okay, but leave the door cracked slightly. I want to be able to make an escape if I have to.” Kate took a deep breath, and squeezing Jessie’s hand, stepped out onto the porch.

The noise that greeted them was deafening. Everyone was talking at once. One woman made an attempt to pass Michael, and he dowsed her with the hose. Screaming at him, she swung her fist in his direction. He shot her again with the hose, this time effectively pushing her back into the crowd. The children closed ranks at the end of the driveway with Steven, and anyone that approached them ran the risk of getting their kneecaps swatted with a bat.

Jessie and Kate were amazed by all of the commotion. They stood for a moment, their fingertips barely brushing each other. A palpable fear welling inside. Finally Jessie couldn’t stand it any longer. Stepping to the porch railing, she leaned slightly forward and shouted “STOP” at the top of her lungs. The startled crowd froze for a moment; not a sound emanated from any one of them.

Jessie raised her hands, pointing them palm forward, and indicated that if anyone spoke out of turn, then she was leaving. Many of the reporters surged towards Michael, hoping to get around him, and move closer to the porch. Michael pointed the hose at the first group again, and released enough spray to remind them that he meant business. Unnoticed initially by the pressing crowd and the group of friends, were the adult neighbors replacing the children on the perimeter. In moments, there were at least twenty adults circling the yard, linking hands, and forming a human barrier.

Both impressed and pleased at their support, Jessie and Kate waited until the noise died down, and then Jessie spoke to the crowd. “I am assuming that you are all here to congratulate us on our news, and on receiving the award last evening.”

A smattering of laughter rippled through the crowd. Sharon MacAfee stepped up close to Michael, and addressed Jessie. “So, Jessie after all the secrecy and threats, what made you decide to “come out of the closet”? Aren’t you concerned that it may have an adverse effect on your career?”

Jessie smiled, and took Kate’s hand giving it a squeeze. “Am I concerned, or are you hoping it does effect my career, Sharon? I did it because I wanted to. I am tired of living a lie. I love Kate, and that’s all that’s important to me. I would feel terrible if the show ended because of my personal business. However, I am not a prisoner, and I will not live like I am for anyone.”

The crowd burst forth with a cacophony of questions. Once again, Jessie held her hands up to signal for quiet. After several seconds, the noise level dropped again, when they finally realized that they were getting no where talking all at the same time. Another reporter stepped forward. Jessie didn’t recognize him.

“Um, hi, my name is Jake Haplan. I’m a friend of Laura Flanagans’, and I represent a Netzine dedicated to your show. I am also a special effects designer for the Horror industry. I was wondering how Kate feels about all of this attention.” Jake smiled and winked at Kate.

Kate was nervous as she stepped forward. “I guess it was to be expected, although I had no idea that our privacy would be exploited to this degree. I realize that making our private life public carries its risks, but I agree with Jessie. She’s the most important person in my life. I will love her, and protect her as best I know how. Michael could you send Jake up here, I would like to speak to him privately.”

The crowd booed, and jeered at Jake as he was allowed to slip past Michael, and approach the house. Kate asked him to sit on one of their patio chairs until they were finished. Returning their attention to the crowd, Jessie asked if there were any further questions.

Another woman stepped forward, this time from the LA Times. “Several of us are wondering what drew you two together. The curiosity level comes from the fact that just a short few weeks ago you were married, Ms. Ryan. Could it be a money factor for Ms. McKenna, or a rebounding fling from your marriage to Gregory Thomason?”

Jessie’s face darkened. “You say you’re from the Times? I would have thought something more like the Enquirer, some other filthy rag. There will be no more questions, and I would appreciate it if you would afford us some privacy, and leave as quickly as possible. If not, then I will call the police, and have you all hauled away.”

With that said, Jessie turned and strode into the house, Kate and Jake right behind her. The crowd went wild, pushing and shoving the woman for being so stupid. They all wanted to know the answer to the question, but they all felt that it should have been asked later. Now they had all lost their chance at getting any further information.

Michael, Steven, and the neighbors all stood in place until the assembled reporters, etc. drifted back to their vans and sports utilities and returned to their cement caves. Both Michael and Steven walked through the crowd of neighbors shaking hands, and thanking everyone for helping out. They promised a big block party, as soon as the weather was better, and Jessie wasn’t so busy with the show. The kids stayed around for a while, pretending to fight off the now dispersed crowd, and acting as sentinels for the house.

Jessie stalked around the living room, clearly angry that the question had gone in that direction so soon. She had expected that kind of rude speculation, but really thought they would wait. And especially the LA Times. She wouldn’t be surprised if that writer lost her job. Kate and Jake sat quietly watching as she paced.

Finally, Jessie came and joined Kate on the couch. Kate kissed her on the cheek. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Just pissed off. I hate this kind of crap. I wish they would all just leave us alone.” Jessie sighed.

Michael and Steven came back into the room. Steven immediately walked over and gave Jake a big hug and a slap on the back. Jessie and Michael were shocked. They had no idea that Steven even knew this guy. Kate covered her mouth with both hands to hold back the giggles.

“What’s the matter, you don’t even know Steven’s last name? Let me introduce you all again. Jessie, Michael this is Steven Haplan. Jake is his brother, who just arrived from Spokane, Washington.” Kate bowed to the assembled group.

“Brother? You never said you had a brother, or that he was coming to visit.” Michael looked at Steven with a mock glare.

“Actually, I didn’t tell him I was going to be in town. I am down here with some managers from my company, for a training workshop, and trade show. It was boring, so I skipped out and decided to look Steve up. I had no idea things had, ahem, changed around here so much.” Jake winked at Kate and Steve, having met Kate several times during visits, and also being an extremely close friend of Laura’s.

Jake, Steve and Laura had known each other since junior high school. They were all originally from the same general neighborhood, and had spent a lot of time together. Laura had first met their sister, but rapidly became close to the whole family. Jake and Laura shared a penchant for computers, video games, and Halloween. While Jake still lived in California, he, Laura, and April would get together and build big Halloween displays for the neighborhood kids. Their most infamous, was a Batmobile they made out of a ’73 Olds Delta 88. They were very popular with the kids in those days.

“I still work on the Halloween stuff, and I talk to Laura on the IM every once in a while. I’m hoping to see her again one of these days.” Jake was married now, and travel was expensive, but you never knew what might happen.

“I met Laura through the Kendra Knight show, and just happened to find out that she practically grew up with these guys. So, Jake, what do you think of all of this crazy stuff going on?” Kate asked.

“Well, what do you expect, damn homos taking over the world. There oughta be a law or something.” Jake wiggled his eyebrows at Jessie.

Jessie’s face colored at Jake’s statements. Surely he couldn’t possibly be serious. His own brother was gay. Leaning forward, tension building across her shoulder blades, Jessie looked for all the world like she might come out of her chair.

“Whoa, Jessie, calm down. That’s my brother’s warped sense of humor. He didn’t mean it, really.” Steven shot Jake a “knock it off” look.

“He’s right, I’m just kidding. I didn’t mean to make you angry. It’s just the Lesbians they need to do something about. Gay men are okay, they make great decorators, and chef’s.” Jake winced as Steven elbowed him in the ribs.

The friends spent the next hour or so getting to know each other better, and as they warmed up, each sought ways to catch Jake in his own game. Unfortunately he had too many years of practice to be caught. Deciding that they should finish their chores, before the day ended, they broke for a while, and promised to talk more over dinner that evening.

Before Jake went out front to help the boys, Kate pulled him aside and asked him about Laura. “Jake, Jessie and I spoke to Laura this morning, and she sounded like she was on the edge of tears. Has she said anything to you lately?”

Jake thought back for a moment. “No, not anything in particular anyway. You know how it is with her. Between her mom, her home, and all of her other “causes”, it’s a wonder she doesn’t explode more often. I keep telling her to pack her stuff, and come up north for a few days and get some rest. But no, she just can’t bear to leave her family alone. I know April would understand, but Laura just refuses.”

“Hmm, well, maybe we can check in on her later. When does your flight go back?” Kate asked.

“Oh, I don’t have to head back until tomorrow. I decided to skip out on the rest of the workshops today, and all that’s left is some boring cocktail party and dinner tonight, and I have no desire to participate in any of that. Steven said I could stay on the couch tonight, and then he and Michael will take me to the airport. Michael is a nice guy. Quite a change from the usual.” Jake smiled mischievously.

“Yeah, and his sister is pretty cool too, if I do say so myself.” Kate grinned embarrassed.

“Well, let’s get this stuff done, so we have more time to talk. I’m anxious to find out what’s wrong with Laura.” Kate went back to the laundry room, while Jake went outside to find his brother.

——————————————————————————

If one comes across another who has been shot by an arrow
One does not spend time wondering about where the arrow came from,
Or the caste of the individual who shot it,
Or analyzing the type of wood the shaft is made of,
Or the manner in which the arrowhead is fashioned.
Rather, one should focus on immediately pulling out the arrow.

********Shakyamuni, the Buddha********
CHAPTER 26: Bold and Zesty, Armed and Dangerous
While Kate and Jessie spent a quiet evening at home with friends and family, Laura and April were not having as much luck. Besides being besieged by an ungrateful housemate, Laura quit her job, and was struggling to find another one. Her mother was not doing well, and demanding a good deal of her time, and one of the cats was sick. The final stroke came when they heard someone walking outside their bedroom in the middle of the night. April was sure it was a friend of theirs who was having emotional problems, but Laura thought it might be one of their neighbors. Living in a mobile home park sometimes had its liabilities.

Fortunately, the two women had no idea what truly evil entity was fast approaching their not so quiet life. Gregory was sitting in front of the computer; positively absorbed in the lessons Baby Doll was giving him in the art of prolonged torture. Gregory had tentatively planned to take one of Laura’s cats before the end of the week, and then find a way to lure Laura to the warehouse in search of her animal.

Baby Doll helped him come up with how to pull that part off. He suggested that Gregory pretend that he had moved from the park, and somehow Laura’s cat managed to get inside the moving van. He would then ask her if she could come and get the pet herself, because of his age he was no longer able to drive. Lot’s of elderly people lived in mobile home parks, so it wouldn’t be that hard to make her believe him.

Anxious as Gregory was to get moving on these projects, he knew he had to force himself to wait. The idea of testing his new skills on Star had crossed his mind several times, but he would have to be patient until Laura’s arrival. Baby Doll was insistent on having Star for himself. Each time Gregory spoke to him online, he would recount the problems he was having with her. Baby Doll was beside himself, with the need to “punish” Star. Gregory promised over and over again that Baby Doll could have her, as soon as he was done with his own project.

Once he captured Laura, then he would use her as incentive to draw first Kate, and then finally Jessica into his snare. He knew they would be coming up to visit soon. There were still a small handful of people in LA that were willing to help him out with information. A threat here, and a promised buck there, and eventually you could find some lowlife or other to spill the beans. Signing off for a while, he decided to go in search of Star.

Working his way slowly room by room, he wasn’t surprised to find her still in bed. He had been trying to ply her with his usual heroin and speed mixture, but she had been balking. Looking at her now, he could see that it wouldn’t be much longer before she gave in. The first stages of withdrawal were already taking their toll.

Star vaguely heard Gregory approaching, his footsteps echoing on the floor outside the door. Inwardly she groaned. She had thought that she might be able to gradually break away from the smack, but it was turning out to be much more painful than it was worth. Pretending to be asleep, she prayed that he would go away and leave her alone. If she didn’t move, then maybe it wouldn’t hurt so much.

Gregory approached the rumpled form on the bed. “STAR! Hey STAR! Wake up. Jeez Star, you look pretty bad. You should, like take a shower or something. You stink. What’s the matter Star, does it hurt? I can fix that you know. Just a line or two, and you’ll be back to normal. Come on Star. You’re no use to me like this. I need your help, remember…you’re the one that wanted to help me. You wanted to take care of the kitty cat. You don’t get your act together, and I’ll cut the cat into pieces, and make you eat it for dinner. DO YOU HEAR ME STAR?”

Shivering, even though a bead of sweat slipped off her brow, Star attempted to sit up. The pain in her head, and her stomach almost forced her to fall back. She persisted, and managed to sit upright. Opening her eyes was another problem. Turning to face the general direction of Gregory’s voice, she slowly opened first one eye, and then the other.

Her tongue felt like it was covered with fur and weighed a ton. “What do you want?”

“I…want…you…to…be…more…productive!” Each word accentuated by a finger stabbing the air. “I didn’t give you permission to get off of the drugs, did I? You are much more useful to me when you are more pliable, Star. If you can’t be useful to me anymore, then I will have to get rid of you. I chose you, because you are so similar in looks to my Jessie. When you started this stupidity, you genuinely ruined that illusion. Now, you have a choice…you either do as I say, or I will make you so miserable, that your withdrawal symptoms will seem like a vacation. Do you hear me, Star?”

Shrinking back from his quietly insane fury, Star nodded her head. “Yes, I hear you.”

“WHAT? Did I hear you say you heard me? Then I expect to see some changes. My plans are about to come together here, and I don’t need you acting up in the middle of it all. Go, and clean yourself up, and do this here line. Cause if you don’t, I’ll find another way to get it in you, and you ain’t gonna like it.” Gregory stood up straight, and glared at her, his face darkening with disgust.

Leaving a line on the top of the dresser, Gregory stalked out of the room. When she was sure he was gone, Star slipped off the bed and went over to look at it. Carefully she picked up the razor blade, stroking the fine powder back and forth across the small square of mirror. She was tempted to blow on it, spreading it to the wind. She played with it, making the line short and fat, then long and thin.

Finally the pains in her mind and her body couldn’t fight it any longer. Picking up the short piece of straw on the dresser, she held the end of it to her right nostril, and resigning herself to the inevitabilities, drew in hard. The initial blast was startling, a small sting, and then a numbing drip. The numbing indicated that Gregory must have added some form of speed to the mixture. Vaguely she wondered where he was getting all of this stuff, but then the pleasant mind-numbing effect took hold, and it no longer mattered.

Gregory went back to the office, and sat down again at the computer. He had been surfing around, looking for other things to do, and had come across some book marked sites that Baby Doll had left. Gregory was both thrilled, and amazed that some of these sites even existed.

The list sounded like a Who’s Who of serial killers. There were individuals name listed, with full biographies, photos, etc. available. As he paged further down the list, he came across sites with names like “Kitchen Torture Devices”, and “Human Anatomy for the Aspiring Dismemberer”. One by one he visited the sites, checking out the information, reading some of the articles. He got a certain pleasure from realizing that there was so much information available, right at his fingertips.

Gregory was deep in his thoughts, thinking about what life could be like after he recovered Jessica. He was at the point now where he actually believed that once she was with him again, she had to realize how much she needed him. Together, they could rule the world. Or at least their small part of it. He had already decided, that the first thing for Jessie to do was to help him kill Kate.

That would definitely establish their new bond.

Closing his eyes for a moment, he visualized their meeting. He could see her crossing the warehouse floor, wrapping her arms around his neck and showering him with kisses. She would apologize, and beg for his forgiveness. Yes, begging that was how he visualized her, begging for forgiveness. Then, she would allow him to punish her, for bringing all of this pain and hurt into his life.

When he completed her punishment, then he would make love to her. She would enjoy it, miss it, and want it. Then after a sufficient time had been spent catching up on old times, and planning their future, he would spring the last test on her. Killing Kate McKenna.

Lost in his reveries, he didn’t notice Star coming in and sitting quietly in the corner. She had showered, and changed into something almost Jessie like.

The glaze in her eyes was the only sign that she had done as Gregory asked and broken her cold-turkey attempt to kick her habit.

Several minutes went by, Gregory lost in his dreams about Jessica Ryan, and Star just…lost. Shifting in her chair, Star made a small sound. Turning in her direction Gregory fixed her with an eerily loving gaze. Signs of tears glistened in the corners of his eyes. Star smiled at him, and he smiled back, tentatively. Slowly his smile turned to a frown, then a grimace.

“Why did you do that? How come you snuck up on me? Are you making fun of me? You aren’t very funny Star. I was thinking about important stuff, and you came sneaking in here, and now you’re laughing at me.” Gregory whined.

Turning her blank stare in his direction, Star could only nod. She was present, but to far into her high to respond. She had no comprehension whatsoever about what he was talking about. Gregory almost sounded like he was speaking another language altogether. Star recognized the look on his face though, it was Dr. Insane-o. Turning her eyes down, she refused to look at him anymore. Maybe if she was looking away, he wouldn’t be able to see her.

Realizing that Star’s lights were on, but no one was home, Gregory turned back to his research. “Star, go to the kitchen, and find me something to eat. And look and see if you can find the whiskey. I need something to drink.”

Star stood slowly, keeping her eyes turned away from her soul jailer. Leaving the room, she did not look back, nor did she utter a sound. Fear, and a need to go undetected by Gregory any further kept her moving towards the kitchen. When she got there, she shook her head a few times trying to remember what she was there for.

Opening the first cabinet she could reach, she saw an unopened bottle of Scotch. Reaching for it, her arms feeling like it was reaching through thick mud, she grasped the bottle by the neck, and removed it, setting it on the counter. She closed the first cabinet, and then opened the second. This one had glasses in it. Repeating the same steps for the glass that she did with the bottle, she set the glass on the counter side by side with the Scotch. It was beginning to seem like the whole process was taking forever. Of course, it was only taking a matter of seconds, but Star was so far out in the ozone layer, it was a surprise she was still standing.

The last stop was at the refrigerator. Slowly, one by one Star removed the components to make a sandwich for Gregory. First the bread, then the lunchmeat, the mayo, mustard, and some lettuce. Still fighting the feeling of being in mud, she made a sandwich, then took it and the whiskey and glass in to Gregory. Not daring to make a sound, she left the food and the bottle on the desk, and then returned to the kitchen and cleaned up the mess.

Gregory ate the sandwich, and feeling a little confused himself, returned to his research. He was a little scared, realizing that he had almost made the mistake of confusing Star with his beloved Jessie. Worried that he might be slipping, he checked the calendar again, counting down the days until Jessie returned to him. By then it wouldn’t matter. Kate, her meddling friend Laura, and Star would all be gone, and Jessie would be his.

——————————————————————————-

Outside of a dog, a book is Man’s best friend.

And inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.

********Groucho Marx********
Chapter 27: The only thing constant in life is change. . . .
The weekend passed swiftly and Monday arrived too soon for Jessie, Kate, and their small family unit. They finished with their chores, and then visited with Steve’s brother Jake, and learned some before unknown information about Laura. After sharing brunch on Sunday, Jake flew back up to Washington, with promises of staying in touch.

Kate and Jessie spent the rest of Sunday going over lines, scripts, and other business pertaining to the show. Realizing that they had been spending far too much time (sigh) with each other, they were determined to get some actual work done for a change. Many hours later, and not just a few lapses in concentration, they managed to reach all of the goals that they had set out for themselves, and a few others besides.

It was early in the evening on Sunday, when Kate came into the bedroom and found Jessie already sound asleep. Disappointed that her own personal agenda had just been usurped by the Sandman, she grabbed a book and settled in for the night. Barely into her second chapter, Kate jumped when she heard Jessie talking, or rather murmuring in her sleep. Setting the book aside, she moved closer to listen.

“Mmm, yes. . .mmmmm, yesssss. . .” Jessie murmured.

Blushing, Kate raised her eyebrows. Judging by the timbre of Jessie’s voice, it wasn’t ice cream she was having in her dream. Frustrated that Jessie was enjoying something of a carnal delight in her sleep, rather than awake with her, Kate reached over, and lightly stroked Jessie’s face. Hoping she would wake her, but willing to feel bad if she did, she watched Jessie’s face closely for any reaction.

A smile crossed Jessie’s face. “Ohhh, yesss, that feels great…” she mumbled.

Still uncertain whether or not Jessie was awake or asleep, Kate tried talking to her. “Jess, are you sleeping?”

A small frown crossed Jessie’s lovely features. Afraid that she was disturbing the dream, Kate continued her caresses. Jessie had fallen asleep dressed in a t-shirt with buttons down the front, and her panties. Carefully, Kate began unbuttoning the shirt. Jessie’s frown returned to its dreamy smile shape. Lightly brushing her fingertips from her collarbone to her navel, Kate was pleased when first goose bumps appeared, and then Jessie’s nipples responded in kind. Replacing her fingers with her tongue, Kate began creating a very soft, warm trail over the landscape of her lover’s torso.

Jessie shivered slightly as her skin cooled with the dampness from Kate’s tongue. Shifting slightly into partial wakefulness, her conscious and unconscious minds began to do battle over what was real and what was a dream. Preferring to stay still, and wait to see what was really causing these pleasurable sensations, Jessie’s subconscious took over, and left her halfway in the dream state, most unwilling to surface into reality.

Kate sensed that she had almost drawn Jessie out of her dream, and enjoying the fact that she could control the outcome, slowed her attentions until she was sure that her subject had drifted back into the dream. Satisfied that she had regained control, she moved her attentions to first one nipple, and then the other.

Circling each with her tongue, she closed her lips, and then gave a light tug with her teeth. An almost inaudible moan escaped from Jessie’s lips.

Thoroughly enjoying her secret lovemaking attack on her sleeping companion, Kate gradually worked herself into an all out exploration of her subject. Closing her eyes, she tasted, touched, and acquainted herself with the entire front of Jessie’s body. In the low light of the reading lamp, Kate could detect a sort of rosy blush glowing in streaks where her tongue had touched. Jessie’s breathing was becoming more shallow, erratic, and her body had begun to move ever slow slightly in rhythm to Kate’s touch.

Afraid she might wake Jessie if she tried to remove her panties, she carefully slipped her hand through the elastic around her leg. Brushing her fingers over the now warm and moist area, Kate’s heart began to beat more quickly. Her desire to have Jessie completely was almost overwhelming. Removing her hand, and quickly disrobing, she very carefully straddled Jessie’s hips, and then knowing that Jessie would awaken, lowered herself until her own moist warmth mingled with her lover’s heat soaked undergarment.

Jessie, now becoming more fully aware that this was reality, and not a dream abandoned any hope of resistance. Not that she wanted to anyway. Without opening her eyes, she reached for her panties, and began to struggle out of them. Kate moved slightly with a moan of protest, and assisted her in removing them. Taking an extra moment to completely remove the shirt she was wearing, Jessie settled back, this time encircling Kate with her long legs, and facilitating their contact. Very few moments were taken to bring them both back to where they had left off. Moving together in a harmoniously pleasing motion to both parties, their breathing erratic, hearts pounding, sweat beginning to mingle where their skin touched, they allowed their lips to meet, moaning in a pleasurable song of desire. Increasing their speed, Jessie tightened her legs in an almost bone crushing grip, effectively bringing them even closer together, and increasing the friction between them.

Jessie was the first to reach her climax. Shuddering, small moans escaping with each movement, she resisted the urge to dig her nails into Kate’s back. Breaking contact with Kate’s lips she blindly turned her attention to her collar bone, sucking and biting, increasing the movements of her hips, anxious to come again, while trying to bring Kate along with her. No sooner had the pleasurable pain begun then Jessie’s wish of being joined was met. Kate cried out, her body responding to this new assault as though a switch had finally been thrown. Arms no longer able to keep her in position Kate collapsed fully into Jessie. Her mind completed disengaged, and her body completely taking over. Meeting Jessie’s thrusts in kind, her body responded again and again.

Slowly their movements subsided. Drenched in sweat, twisted in the sheets, they clung to each other as though they had been apart for months, hungry for the contact, needing to feel their hearts beat together, their skin slick with moisture between them. Kate began to move away, fearful that she might be cutting off Jessie’s breathing some. Jessie refused to unlock her legs, effectively trapping Kate.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Jessie whispered in her lover’s ear.

“I . . . don’t know. I guess I. . .” Her words were cut off by Jessie’s lips.

Returning the kiss, she found herself hungry for more. “What were you dreaming about?”

Kissing her again. “You. Weren’t you there?”

Sliding onto her side, hands moving randomly. “Yes, didn’t you recognize me?”

Mirroring her lover’s movements. “I did. You were so mysterious.”

“Mysterious?” Brushing her tongue across Jessie’s chin.

“Mmm, yes. There, but almost not there.” Running her strong fingers along the ridges of Kate’s spine.

“Hmm, tried…to…sneak…in. Aahh, didn’t…want…to…wake…” Passion had begun to build again deep inside Kate’s nether regions.

“Didn’t want…to…spoil…the…sur…prise…” Jessie’s breathing became more erratic, as her body began to respond to the rhythms of Kate’s passionate response.

So deeply lost in each other, there rapidly became no need for words. Not that any words could be spoken. Seemingly mindless, breathless, they skated along the edge of each other’s passion, embracing the moment, trying to make it last forever. Soaring to the highest possible level, and then crashing over the side, wave after wave of responses, both verbal and physical. It wasn’t a normal spoken language, but the language of complete and utter sexuality. A melding of souls, a crashing of hearts. Love shouldn’t feel this good!

The morning meeting with the board of Director’s went very poorly by most meeting standards. Jessie and Kate reluctantly arrived early, and then sat quietly while Justin took over the meeting. Most of the members of the board did not even attempt to hide their boredom. Kate noticed that most of them were either fidgeting, drawing doodles on their notepads, or outright dozing in their seats. One member however was very loud, and very annoying.

“I said that we shouldn’t allow this kind of behavior, and especially in public. It was very poor judgment on Ms. Ryan’s part to take it upon herself to publicly humiliate this company, and more importantly, our advertisers!” Mr. Everland’s face had turned deep purple by this time.

Justin replied to his tirade. “I don’t understand what the problem is. At last count not a single one of our advertisers has pulled out yet, and the only threats we’ve received have been from you and your organization. We have been getting our regular number of crank calls, but Alice assures me there is nothing out of the ordinary. Seems to me that you all are the only one that has a problem.”

Several of the other members grumbled their agreement. It was 1999, and this kind of thing was becoming almost commonplace. It was too early in the day to start with this kind of stress. Most of them did not start their days quite so early.

Unfortunately, it was necessary to work around the shoot schedule. The staff would be very unhappy and hard to work with if their vacation was shortened for any reason.

Jack Everland was clearly amazed by Justin’s comments. The lack of enthusiasm on the part of the rest of the Directors angered him even further. They never should have messed with her husband, Gregory. He would have kept her in line…a smack in the head or too would do. Look at that smug face of hers, and bringing that bitch of hers to the meeting. What is she trying to do, throw her immoral ways into our faces? She’ll burn in hell, that one will.

“I think something should be done about this situation. What about another actress? We could kill Kendra Knight, and spin it off into another actress. We could be rid…” The words died on his lips as Jessica stood up, her eyes smoldering with outrage.

“Jess…” Kate whispered.

Hands clenched into fists, Jessie almost growled. “Save your breath you pompous pig! I quit!”

Taking Kate’s hand they exited the conference room, while chaos erupted around them. Everyone was shouting at the same time. Several fists were being pounded on the table, while Justin sat with his face in his hands.

Jessie stalked determinedly down the hall. Her longer strides would have left Kate at the conference room, if she didn’t have such a strong grip on Kate’s wrist. Kate was afraid to fight loose. She had never seen Jessie like this. She wasn’t certain what would happen if she resisted, so she just did her best to keep up.

Arriving at Alice’s office, Jessie threw the door open so hard the glass almost broke. Alice dropped whatever she was reading, and clutched her chest as though she had been shot. Pulling Kate behind her she approached the desk in two steps.

“I just quit my job, Alice. Kate and I are starting our vacation early. Please, do me a favor, and make plane reservations for this afternoon. I want to go home.”

Jessie’s face softened, when she realized how she must sound to Alice. After all it wasn’t Alice’s fault.

“Whatever you say, Jess. What should I tell the big guy, when he finally gets his carcass down here?” Alice sighed, unwilling to argue with the angry actress.

“I’m sorry Alice, I know that you aren’t part of this. I’ve just had it with this whole thing. I’m sorry they can’t be happy with who I am, and the person I am in love with. I just can’t take this crap anymore. I love Kate, and they aren’t going to take that away from me. Just tell him I left. And call Ted, and tell him to send everyone home. Tell them that I’m sorry.” A sadness crept into her beautiful blue eyes.

Kate stood by silently, not wanting to interfere with Jessie’s plans. She was still in shock over how quickly everything happened. Seems like a few hours before they were secure in each other’s arms, enjoying being in love, and now they were a few hours from being on a plane, and leaving the show. Oh well, no one can say that show business isn’t out of control.

Jessie hugged Alice, and then quickly left the room, pulling Kate behind her. When they reached the elevator, she sank back against the far wall, tears suddenly appearing in her eyes. It was then that she realized that she was still gripping Kate’s wrist. She hadn’t really been hurting Kate, as long as the smaller woman kept up. Grimacing when she realized that she hadn’t even been paying attention to Kate, she bowed her head, the tears falling harder.

“Jess, it’s okay, really. I understand. Honey, come here please…don’t cry.” Kate moved over, and embraced Jessie holding her close.

“I’m…sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you. Please…for…give me.” Jessie sobbed.

“Jessie, you didn’t hurt me…scared me a little maybe, but you didn’t hurt me. Come on sweetie, I love you. And I’ll back you up no matter what. Now, can you tell me what your plans are? Cause I’d really like to know…if it’s okay with you.” Kate tried to tip the taller woman’s head up a little and get her to smile.

Fighting back the tears, Jessie wiped her eyes with her sleeve. “I feel like an idiot. How could I treat you like that? How could that asshole Everland treat us like that? That’s why I’m doing this. I know it will kill Justin, but they have to decide. Either they get rid of Everland, and support me one hundred percent, or I won’t be returning.”

Kate considered this for a moment. “But Jess? They were behind you. You don’t think we’re moving a little too quickly do you? I mean by the time they get control of the board, and get ready to shoot again, we’ll be gone. Don’t you think that will make them even angrier?”

Jessie had calmed down a little more. “Yeah, probably, but I haven’t asked for anything since I started this show for them. Including working long hours, and doing everything they have asked of me. I’ve never even called in sick. You have no idea how badly I need, and want this time with you. So it came about the wrong way, at least we can be together. After last night…”

Kate smiled and blushed. “Okay, I agree. There is nothing more that I would rather do, then get away from here, and have you all to myself. And besides, we can get up there, and find out what’s up with Laura, and visit your mom. I give in, let’s go home and pack.”

Jessie squeezed her tightly. Her thoughts were spinning in her head. My mom…I’ve never taken anyone to visit my mom before. This is scary. And Laura. Maybe I should have thought this through more carefully…

—————————————————————————–

The present is a freely given canvas.

That it is being constantly ripped apart

And washed downstream goes without saying;

It is a canvas, nevertheless.

***************************
Chapter 28: Darkness comes sooner than you think…..
After several frenzied hours, packing, arranging with Steven to take care of the cats, and finding Michael to take them to the airport, Kate and Jessie were finally on their way. The phone had rung several times. Jessie forbade everyone from picking up the calls. Most of them were from Justin, pleading with Jessie not to do anything crazy. Each time he called, Jessie’s scowl deepened. Kate decided she would be happy when they were in the air, and away from all of the stress.

As soon as the plane left the ground, Jessie fell into an uneasy sleep. She kept having a foreboding feeling that they might be heading into more trouble. For some strange reason she suddenly started worrying about Gregory. No one had seen or heard about him for a while, and she kept feeling that he may have headed north. As far as the show was concerned, she knew for a fact that the studio would more than likely inform the affiliates to go into reruns until further notice.

Kate silently watched Jessie’s face while she slept. Her concern for her lover was growing by the moment. It seemed so out of character for Jessie to act so impulsively and put them on a plane so quickly. Kate resolved to speak to her about it later when they were settled.

A nervous thrill ran through Kate when she thought about where they were going. She hadn’t had a chance to notify anyone of the trip, so Laura, Kate’s parents, and even the caretakers of Jessie’s house would be surprised by their arrival. Michael attempted to argue with his sister before he dropped them at the airport, but it was to no avail. Jessie refused to listen. She just wanted out of there. Michael too had offered to contact the caretakers, but Jessie bluntly told him to mind his own business.

Before she could even get comfortably settled, Kate was shaking Jessie awake. Grumbling, she mumbled something about better planning, and then stretched and prepared to leave her seat. The plane was taxiing to its final stop next to the terminal, and the flight attendants were bustling around preparing the passengers to disembark.

San Francisco was sunny and warm, even for late fall. Kate could see the fog just beginning to roll over the hills to the west. She suddenly had a pang of regret that she couldn’t have at least let Laura know. The surprise would be fun though. Since it was so late in the day, Kate was able to convince Jessie that they should stop at Laura’s first, and stay there for the night before they went on to Jessie’s home near the coast.

Kate noticed that Jessie was beginning to relax finally. Stealing a glance at her while they walked swiftly to a car rental stand, Kate noticed the fine lines around Jessie’s eyes that had appeared earlier, were beginning to disappear. She was genuinely worried about her girlfriend. Jessie had grabbed Kate so abruptly, and just dragged her along as though she were a rag doll or a child. Kate had decided that it would do no good to approach her about it now, but later when they had a quiet moment, she was going to ask. That side of Jessie definitely scared her.

About an hour and a half south of where the two women were preparing to drive to Laura’s house, Gregory was, as usual, sitting in front of the computer. He had left Star staring blankly at the TV screen, sporting a fresh bruise or two. More and more her mere presence was enough to provoke him into some sort of uncontrollable rage. She interrupted his thoughts a short time before, and without thinking he had lashed out and knocked her to the floor. It was getting to the point, where Star was so numbed by the drugs that she barely even flinched.

Gregory considered this. If he kept her so saturated, that she was no longer reacting to pain or any other kind of stimulus, then she would not be a very good plaything for his very special friend “Baby Doll”. He would have to come up with a better plan for Star, and quickly. If his calculations were correct, only two more weeks, and he would finally be rid of her. He would have his beloved Jessie back instead.

Switching to his E-mail account, he was pleased to see that he had quite a few stored up. He had joined several mailing lists, to wile away the time, and had become quite involved in their little communities. A few had to do with serial killers, and he had actually joined one or two of the Kendra Knight lists. It was amazing how much these people knew about the stars of the show, and each other for that matter.

Skimming the list, a small shiver ran through him as he recognized a message from Baby Doll, his partner in crime. Later he thought. Instead, he selected a post from someone called Lady Knight. This woman by far had the most information of anyone on the list. He knew she was a lesbian, because of her periodic references to her “girlfriend”. Gregory entertained a small fantasy that this might even be his next target, Laura, Kate’s friend. Scanning the message she posted, he hit the reply button. Earlier in the day he had changed his E-mail identity to something less noticeable than the one he used on the serial killer lists.

GT <kndralvr@netglobeworld.com

Hey there, Lady Knight. Wow, you sure do know a lot about

The Kendra Knight show. I always look forward to your posts.

Say, where are you from? I live in Northern California, and

I am always looking for new friends that share my obsession with

Tall, dark and deadly women.

Thanks for your time,

Kndraluvr

(Jan)

Chuckling to himself, he clicked the send button. If this was the person he thought it was, it may end up being a lot easier than he thought to snare her. Judging by her participation on the mailing lists, she was pretty involved in the Internet communities, and very open about her lifestyle, and her opinions. He had discovered just now in this current post that “Lady Knight”, writes fan fiction stories as well. Vowing to research this person more carefully, he decided that even if it wasn’t Laura, she might provide a good practice subject. Before the main event that is.

Working her way through traffic, Kate was surprised to see Jessie had dozed off again. Jessica had always been so easy going, quick to give her a smile, hard to ruffle. Now she was easily angered, and so tired. Duh! Of course…she’s exhausted. Man, I was afraid it was me she was upset with. Poor baby, well, if we don’t hear from the studio for a day or two, then maybe I can get her to rest. Geez, I can be so stupid sometimes. Her whole life gets turned inside out, and I’m worried about me!

“Hey…if you grip that steering wheel any tighter, you just might pull the whole thing off.” Jessie smiled and whispered, one blue eye peeking from behind her sunglasses.

“I thought you were sleeping. I’m sorry, did I wake you?” Kate cast a glance in the rearview mirror while she changed lanes.

“No, I wasn’t really asleep. Actually, I owe you an apology. I realize I’ve been acting like some crazed wild woman. I hope I didn’t hurt you.” The last word died on her breath, a glimmer of sadness surrounding it.

“Honey, it’s okay. I admit, you scared me there for a while, but I understand. If you look over the last few weeks, it is almost as though we have been living inside the eye of a hurricane. Every few hours or so we slip into the main stream, and get blown from one side to another. With all of the emotional ups and downs we’ve been through, it’s a wonder you didn’t blow sooner.” Kate reached over and covered Jessie’s hand with her own.

“Yeah, well, I’m sorry anyway. I don’t know what has gotten into me. I guess I’m just tired. Tired of all of the BS that keeps getting shoved my way. Let me ask you something. Is it too much to ask just to have even a small semblance of happiness in my life? They attack you, they attack me. All I want is a safe happy life for both of us. Am I out of line here?” Jessie’s face had a look of extreme pain.

“No Jess, it’s not. You are a human being, and you have every right to be as happy as you want to be. Remember, I love you, and what ever I can do to make you happy, then that’s what I want to do. Exclusively! If I have to get a job at Taco Bell to feed us, then so be it. If we’re happy, then bring on the tacos.” Kate gave Jessie her best “If I can convince you, I’ll convince myself” smile.

Grinning back, Jessie squeezed Kate’s hand. “Fair enough. But if you ever decide that tacos aren’t your bag, then let me know. I’ll see if I can get a job at one of those chicken places or something.”

This information set off a round of hysterical giggles between the two. Kate almost missed their exit. Signaling, she stepped on the gas, and slipped the car into the next lane of traffic. Quickly heading for the exit, she downshifted, and spun the wheel with one hand, while downshifting again until she reduced them to a much more reasonable speed.

“Hey there, Ms. Andretti, be careful. I would hate for Laura to find out we’re here, by having to call her to scrape us out of the front seat of this car. Speaking of cars, are you sure this is all they had? I mean a Geo for crying out loud. I could almost be comfortable if I sat in the back seat, and hung my legs over this front.” Jessie pinched Kate’s arm, to tell her she was just kidding.

“Yeah, well next time give me some more warning. It isn’t my fault we chose to disappear so quickly. The Bay Area gets a lot of traffic, and there wasn’t time. They said they would deliver a replacement as soon as the next one came in. Now, are you done picking on me? Because we are less than 5 minutes from our destination, and I wouldn’t want Laura to pound on you for being mean.” Kate grimaced in her best threatening manner.

“Heh, Laura doesn’t scare me. She should be the one that’s scared.” Jessie mock growled back at Kate’s threat.

“Hmmm, we’ll see.” Kate’s eyes twinkled.

Laura was sitting in her usual spot at her computer, when April announced she was heading outside to water the plants. “Okay hon, I’m just going to answer this one post, and then I’ll join you.”

Hitting her reply button, she quickly dashed out a note to this “kndraluvr” person. She was so wrapped up in her message; she failed to hear the sound of a small car pulling into her driveway.

Hi there Kndraluvr. Small world I live in Northern California as well, right

in the heart of Silicon Valley. If you’re ever in this area, let me know,

maybe we can get together.

Well, the Girlfriend is waiting for me, so I have to go. Check in anytime

I’m always happy to answer any questions I can.

Take care,

Lady Knight

(Laura)
Hitting the send button, Laura was startled out of her thoughts, when she heard April start to scream. Bolting out of her chair, Laura was at the front door and down the steps, before she realized that she had even stood up.

“What in the hell is going on out here? April! Where are you? Are you okay?” Laura shouted.

“I’m back here. I need you’re help, come out here now!” April shouted back, trying hard to cover the bad case of the giggles that were threatening to overwhelm her.

Laura skidded to a stop, and then reversed direction jogging towards the back yard. She saw April sitting on the ground in the gravel, and was immediately concerned that she had hurt herself somehow. So worried was she, that she failed to notice the two women crouching down behind the furniture stacked in the corner. Reaching for April, she was caught off guard when a pair of arms suddenly restrained her from behind.

Startled, Laura immediately began to struggle to be released. A second pair of hands came around and covered her mouth, to keep her from yelling so loud. Without thinking, Laura attempted to bite that hand. Failing to get a good grip on it she did the next best thing…licking the palm.

“Ewww, that was gross. Let her go Kate.” Jessie was wiping her hand on the leg of her jeans.

“Ha, catch me will ya!” Laura shouted.

Kate released her, and waited until Laura’s brain caught up to the moment. Moments later, Laura’s brain did engage, and realized that one of her assailants had called the other Kate. Spinning in place, the expression on Laura’s face was enough to appease both of the friends.

“Aughhhh…you guys! When did you get here? What are you doing here?” Laura’s words all came out in a rush.

Holding Kate at arms length Laura quickly locked eyes with her friend. Time seemed to stand still as Laura evaluated Kate’s emotional well-being. Jessie, uncertain what was going on caught April’s attention signaling to her to explain. April got off the ground, and shrugging her shoulder signaled back to Jessie to wait and see.

When Laura was certain that Kate was okay, she pulled her into a warm hug and closing her eyes kissed her on the cheek. Feeling a rather menacing presence nearby, Laura opened her eyes and found herself inches away from a pair of blazing blue eyes that could only belong to one person. Separating from Kate, but never losing contact with those eyes, Laura suddenly fell backwards into the waiting arms of her lover April.

Jessie was the first to react. As April laid Laura on the ground Jessie pushed past Kate and kneeling over Laura felt her wrist for a pulse. Not readily finding one, she bent lower and turned her face to listen for Laura to breath. Suddenly she was pulled into an iron grip, and Laura was planting a sloppy kiss on her cheek.

“Grrr…do you always slobber on your guests?” Jessie growled.

Laura turned her loose, and accepting Jessie’s hand rose from the cement and stood for a moment refusing to make eye contact with anyone. Brushing herself off, she turned her back on Kate and Jessie for a moment. Laura choked back the small tears that were threatening to make an embarrassing appearance.

After regaining her composure, she turned back to face her friends. Extending her hand for a proper handshake, she was still unable to speak. Puzzled, Jessie took her hand and held it for a moment.

“Laura…?” Kate began.

Holding up her hand, Laura cleared her throat. “I only slobber on people I like. Normally I wouldn’t make quite such and idiot of myself in front of strangers. Honestly, I never in my life would have pictured myself doing that to you of all people Ms. Ryan. I must have lost my mind. I apologize.”

Releasing Jessie’s hand, Laura bowed at the confused group, and excused herself. Walking up the back stairs to the mobile home, she disappeared inside.

Kate was stunned. Turning to April, she mouthed, “What was that?” April shrugged her shoulders. Moving closer to their friends, she whispered that if it didn’t come up in conversation later, that she would try to find a way to tell them what was bothering her lover.

Jessie was crestfallen. Here she is meeting Laura face to face for the first time, and she hurts the poor woman’s feelings. Sitting down in one of the chairs on the patio, she put her head in her hands to think. Kate and April had already followed Laura into the house. What happened here? Why was I so jealous, and offensive, and why was Laura so…silly? Hmmm, and why shouldn’t she be. Nervous, excited, and how many times has Kate told me that I am Laura’s ultimate idol. Of course she was silly. They don’t actually give lessons in star etiquette now do they? She was just trying to treat me like one of the gang, and I screwed it up.

While Jessie mentally bashed herself for being so mean, Laura took a peek out of her bedroom window, and noticed the actress still sitting where they had left her. Laura sighed. It would figure that Jessie would blame herself for Laura’s behavior. Opening the blinds and sliding back the window, Laura startled her guest from her thoughts.

“Stop beating yourself Jess. It isn’t you. It’s me.” Laura said quietly.

Standing Jessie stepped up to the window. She was almost tall enough to look right in. “What’s up Laura? Why the show and all?”

“Honey, I’m having a real hard time right now. Life sucks, and I can’t seem to shake this feeling of impending doom. I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in at least a week now. Again, I’m sorry.” Laura sighed, a fresh torrent of tears threatening to appear.

“Whoa, wait….don’t cry. What feelings of doom?” Jessie nerves began to clang.

“I’ve been having nightmares involving all of us, but specifically Kate. Something bad happens to her. I can never see what or who, but it certainly scares the daylights out of me.” Laura wiped the tears on her sleeve.

“This is not good.” Jessie sighed.

“Come on in, and let’s start over. Maybe it’s just me and my over active imagination.” Laura gestured for Jessie to come in the back door.

Jessie turned to the door, and followed the others previous passage into Laura and April’s house. If she had thought that Kate was overly obsessed with her, she really had a surprise waiting for her inside.

Laura’s home was a jumble of knick-knacks, and Kendra Knight paraphernalia. Jessie stopped just inside the doorway, momentarily stunned by the wealth of goods scattered around the interior. It wasn’t overly garish, just cluttered. But, cluttered in a very homey, comfortable way. All of their furniture was large, cushy, with velvet upholstery, and recliners at the end of each piece. That way no one had to be uncomfortable when watching TV. Where there wasn’t couches or comfortable chairs, there were bookshelves, crammed full of paperbacks, and hard backs alike. Upon closer inspection, Jessie realized that most of them were either Sci-Fi/Fantasy, or Murder/Suspense.

The Kendra Knight collectibles were another thing all together. Laura had every doll, comic book, collector’s card and every other little toy or gift item with Jessica’s image on it. Laura’s computer even had a Kendra Knight screensaver running. Behind her, in the room she later discovered was primarily for the cats, she came across several posters, and the first standup that was released. Shaking her head, Jessie wasn’t sure how she was supposed to take all of this.

Kate crossed over and encircled Jessie’s waist. “See, I told you she was in love with you. Didn’t believe me did you? And trust me honey, she’s not nearly as obsessed as some people we know.”

Jessie made a big show of being embarrassed by all of the attention. Bowing her head, she covered her eyes with one hand and shook her head back and forth. “I had no idea. When I first met Kate, I stumbled on to her “Kendra” shrine, but I never expected something like this. It’s a weird feeling being surrounded by yourself.”

Finally gifting her friends with a smile, Laura offered to move them all into the living room. Fortunately the Kendra-abilia was less evident in that room. Following her, they all picked a cozy spot to sit, while April poured beverages for the group.

“So, who goes first? You guys and your sudden departure from the land of LA, or me and my sudden spate of insanity?” Laura started off the conversation.

Kate responded first. “Why don’t you go Laura. Since I won’t be able to sneak you off and make you tell me what’s bothering you, then you have to tell all of us. Besides, I think you scared poor Jessie here.”

Elbowing Kate, Jessie spoke up in her own defense. “I wasn’t scared, bewildered maybe, but not scared.”

Chuckling, Laura visibly relaxed. When April joined them, Laura told them her story. “Kate for your benefit, I’ve been having some pretty awful and disturbing dreams lately. All of them are similar, and all of them depict an individual determined to do some sort of serious harm to you. It’s been scaring me so much; I wake up before I can see who or what is happening. Between the nightmares, lack of sleep, job hunting and all the rest of life, I’m pretty beat. I guess I’m feeling a little out of control.”

Visibly disturbed, Jessie interrupted. “Laura, can you tell if the person is a man or a woman?”

Pausing to think, Laura shrugged her shoulders. “I’m not sure, but I think it’s a man. Someone with a great deal of evil surrounding him.”

“Second question…do your dreams normally come true?” Jessie’s voice was strained.

Looking Jessie straight in the eye, Laura said, “I’m not always certain. They cannot always be interpreted exactly to real life. I can be pretty intuitive though.”

Kate sat there silently the whole time. Part of her wanted to be extremely scared of what she was hearing, and part of her wanted to yell the whole thing was “hogwash”. She loved Laura, but she didn’t want to believe that anyone was intending her harm, or stalking her. Remembering the guy that had stalked Laura for a while, she wondered if that incident might be transferring itself into Laura’s dreams.

“Laura, could some of this be a hangover from when that guy was stalking you?” Kate inquired.

Shooting Laura an evil glare, April spoke up for the first time. “What guy stalking Laura? Honey, what is she talking about?”

Looking sheepish, Laura blushed, giving away the fact that she hadn’t informed April about her stalker. “It’s no big deal. Some guy was following me back when I was still working in Half Moon Bay. At least I’m pretty certain he was following me. He took a few pictures, and some notes, and then I stopped seeing him. I was thinking that maybe my former boss thought I was stealing from him or something. Really, its not a big deal, babe.”

April was clearly unconvinced. “Dammit! I wish you would stop thinking of yourself as invincible. We should call the police.”

“Look, its too late to call the police. It was a couple of weeks ago now, and I haven’t seen him since.” Laura was wishing the subject had not come up.

Kate was busy trying to hide behind Tasha, the larger of Laura’s two cats. She was feeling guilty about spilling the beans to April, but she had told Laura when it happened that April should hear about it. And Laura promised to tell her. So, it wasn’t really Kate’s fault…but she realized too late that she probably should have waited for Laura to mention it, or at least ask her in private. Jessie could sense her lover’s discomfort, and reached over to grasp her hand. The cat shot her a look of “don’t you dare, she’s mine”, but Jessie missed it.

Laura was trying desperately to redeem herself to April, in front of her friends. “Honey, really, I’m sorry. I just didn’t think it was worth getting you all upset. I mean it’s been a couple of weeks, and I haven’t had any more problems since. Please, let’s just forget about it, and I promise, I’ll never hold back on anything like this again. Okay?”

“You better not, or I’ll…well, just suffice to say it will piss me off big time, okay?” April kissed Laura’s cheek, but gave her a look that said, “This is not over, not by a long shot”.

Petting the cat, Kate breathed a mental sigh of relief. While she scratched the cat’s neck, she discovered a small lump of some sort. “Laura? What’s this bump on Tasha’s neck? Right here behind her ear.”

Laura chuckled grateful the subject had been so smoothly changed. “That my friend is a GST probe.”

“A What!?” Jessie and Kate said simultaneously.

“A Global Satellite Tracking probe. You know how I am about the cats getting out. The last time Tasha got out, I slept on the chaise lounge on the patio, and waited all night for her to come back. I can’t face the possibility of losing them. No way! Anyway, it’s a small transmitter injected under the skin that uses satellite tracking to locate them. I can connect to the tracker program via the Internet, and after a few sweeps, it will map out their location. A lot of people are using them for pets, and even children. I know, silly but I can’t help it.” Laura blushed again.

“So, enough questions about me. What in blazes are you two doing here a week early?” Laura asked.

“Well, it’s a little confusing, but we attended a board meeting this morning, and some Right Wing religious guy took over the meeting, and demanded that they find some way to fire Jessie. She saved them the trouble by quitting.” Kate cast a sheepish glance in Jessie’s direction.

Laura’s eyes nearly bugged right out of her head. “WHAT!? You quit? Ohhhh Nooooo!”

Laura pretended to be devastated. “What will I do without Kendra Knight?”

Jessie blushed. “I don’t think they’ll really take me seriously. I mean they have a lot at stake here, even though I could be sued for breach of contract. I’m putting all my bets on Justin to protect me and the show, and by that protect himself. I chose to take this drastic action, because I have always put everyone else ahead of myself when it came to the show. I try really hard not to act like a primadonna, and I’ve had it. For the first time ever I have the opportunity to have a real life, and these guys are threatening me over it. Actually not all of them, just that jerk, Jack Everland.”

The room was quiet for a moment, as everyone absorbed Jessie’s speech. Kate was the first one to speak up. “Jess, do you think they might fire me? Not that I care, except I won’t be able to be with you all of the time if they do. I’ll have to get Diane to find me another job.”

Jess smiled at Kate giving her hand a gently squeeze. “I don’t think so. If they decide to see things my way, and invite me back, then I’ll make sure they don’t separate us.”

Laura took that moment to direct everyone to the dining room table. Dinner was ready, and she didn’t know about the rest of them, but she was starving.

While the friends were sitting down to a rather large, sumptuous meal, Gregory was reading the mail from Baby Doll. He eyes grew large when he realized what Baby Doll was telling him. It seemed that they shared some low friends in high places.

Baby Doll: I just thought you should know, that it seems we share a mutual acquaintance. A gentleman named Jack Everland, who happens to sit on the Board of Directors at your wife’s studio, contacted me by E-mail this afternoon.

He was quite upset about Ms. Ryan’s recent public revelations regarding her relationship with her PA. According to Jack, there was a hastily formed meeting of the Board this morning that resulted in Jessica quitting her job. Jack is pushing to have her permanently replaced, but the rest of the board is resistant Jack apparently is extremely religious, with a slightly twisted view of how women should be treated. Let’s just say we share a common bond that way. LOL.

Anyway, it seems that little Ms. Jessica, and her diminutive lover have flown the coop, and are heading to an as yet undisclosed location in Northern California. My bet is that they are staying with that sinister dyke friend of theirs, you know…your practice subject. LOL.

Well, I hope this helps you out my friend, and that you have a chance to follow through on your projects, and subsequently hand over my gift. All this talk about your impending practice run in my…special art…has me itching to go again myself. I hope our little Star-child is all that you’ve promised Gregory. I do so hate to be disappointed.

Ta Ta For Now, and keep me posted on your…progress.

Gregory suddenly let his breath out in a rush. He hadn’t realized that he was holding it while reading Baby Doll’s message. Frantically, he stood up then sat down again. Jessica! Here already…? I need to get going on this. I wonder if that sorry excuse for a PI is still available. I’ll need to know where she is, and what she’s doing so that I can schedule this properly. Jackson Briggs, I’ll call him, and have him set up a meeting with that PI and me.

“STAR! Where the hell are you? STAR! I need you right now! Get in here!” Gregory shouted, suddenly disturbing the dusty silence of the warehouse.

Star vaguely heard her name. She had almost completely given up on even trying to think anymore. Her despair, and her addiction had finally won out. Closing her mind to the annoying sound of her name being blasted off the walls, she tried to climb back into the fuzzy white cocoon her drug-saturated mind had created for her. Without warning, she was pulled out of her reverie, and slammed into the floor.

“Oh God! What do you want with me?” Star cried.

“STAR! Wake up you whore! I need you now. You have to sober up Star. Jessie is already here.” Gregory was at once excited, and scared.

Confused, Star blinked her eyes for a moment. “Here? In this building? What do you mean here?”

“No you idiot, here in Northern California. A… friend of mine…well, anyway, someone let me know that she is visiting up here. She arrived today, with that slut of hers. And the “friend”, thinks that she may be staying at that bitch Laura’s house. I gotta get ahold of that PI. I need to know what they are going to do for the next few days. HA! It’s finally show time Star. Shit! You need to get cleaned up. You look like death warmed over. Geez, I’m sorry for doing that to you Star. Wow, you’ve lost a lot of weight over the last couple of weeks. Go take a shower, and then meet me in the kitchen. You really need to eat.” Gregory’s concern startled Star.

While Star was showering, Gregory paced nervously. He couldn’t decide whether or not to change his plans. Deciding against it, he dialed Jackson Briggs’ phone number on his cell phone. After several rings a very drunk young man answered the phone.

“H’lo? Whose it? What?” The young man slurred.

A slight tussle was heard in the background. A man’s voice, presumably Jackson Briggs, was heard telling the young man that he was not to ever answer the phone. The next time would be the last.

Chuckling, Gregory waited for Jackson to take over the call. “Jackson! You filthy stinking pig! Got another young piece with you, eh? Listen slime bucket…no, no, don’t talk, I’m not done yet. I want you to hire that PI for me again. I need updates every four hours as to Jessie’s whereabouts. She’s here…in Northern California. Yes, I am, but you would never be able to find me. Tell him to send his information to Star@interworldglobe.com. I mean it Jackson, I want to hear from him every four hours.”

Jackson could barely squeak out his answer. “Oh…okay. No problem. I’ll take care of it as soon as possible. Sure thing Greg.”

“You know what will happen if you don’t Jackson….” Gregory hung up without finishing his sentence.

Star met Gregory in the kitchen. He had taken the liberty of putting together a small meal for the two of them to share. After her shower, Star was a little bit more together. Enough to know that she needed to be afraid again. Gregory had changed so much in such a short time. It made him very unpredictable. Somehow, Star got the feeling that she played a key role in his future, but she couldn’t figure out how. Too much dope! Quietly sitting down, and making an attempt to eat, she was surprised that her stomach didn’t lurch, and force the food back up. Warily watching Gregory out of the corner of her eye, she ate slowly, ready to run if she had to.

“So Star, looks like we’re gonna be able to move ahead here soon. I heard that Jessie and that Kate are near here somewhere. I got someone looking into it. I still want to take that cat Star. I think that would be a great way to lure that Laura here. I’m just not sure how to let her know I have the cat. We’ll have to think about that I guess.” Gregory’s gaze shifted nervously around the room, never quite able to settle on Star.

Star decided to press her luck. “Do I still get to keep the cat Greggie?”

Gregory shot a look at Star, as though she was a stranger, making her cringe. “Huh? Oh yeah sure, no problem. You can keep the cat Star, as long as you take care of it.”

Star smiled for the first time in days. “I will Greggie, I promise.”

Gregory’s mind went back to wandering. So much to think about, so little time. Every so often his heart would start to pound. He couldn’t decide if it was because he was almost afraid at what he knew he would be doing soon, or because he was sure that this would all lead to the return of his beloved Jessie. Idly finishing his meal, he decided to check his mail again.

Star, left alone to finish her meal, tried desperately to focus her thoughts. She knew there was something going on; lurking in the background, and it wasn’t going to be good news for her. In her heroin-saturated state though, she was unable to focus on what that something might be. Resolving again to do her very best to clear her head up again, Star drifted back into the twilight.

—————————————————————————-

Our true nature is not some ideal
That we have to live up to.
It’s who we are right now, and that’s what we
Can make friends with and celebrate.

********Pema Chodron********
Chapter 29….(Yeah, sure you’re 29, more like 40 if you ask me)
Jessie and Kate insisted that Laura let them clean up after their shared meal. While they worked in the kitchen, Laura and April set up the spare bedroom for their visitors. The cats were having a field day, slipping under the sheets, and spreading as much of their black fur as possible.

“Hey! I told you to get out of there. Come here you beastling, and get out of the way!” Laura playfully squeezed Tasha, while Tanya slipped under the bed, to see if there was anything worthwhile to play with.

April regarded her lover with a slightly annoyed gaze. “So…when were you going to tell me? Being stalked. What the hell is that all about? I hate it when you get involved in these things, and then hide them from me. Dammit Laura. One of these days that phone is going to ring, and it’s going to be some cop or something telling me that you were killed doing any one of a number of stupid things. You have got to stop risking your life like that.”

Laura smiled sheepishly. “I’m sorry babe. Really I am. I just can’t help. I guess I have a different view of what to be scared of. And well, sometimes people just make me mad, and I have to act out. Don’t worry, I made sure he knew I saw him. Besides, that was a few weeks ago, and nothing has happened.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t like it…not one bit. At least for my sake you can tell me when these things happen. I hate hearing it second hand.” April came over and wrapped her arms around her lover’s shoulders.

Returning the hug, Laura laid her head on April’s chest. “I really am sorry, and I’ll try real hard not to let it happen again. Okay?”

“Okay. I should make you promise, but I know it wouldn’t do any good.” Squeezing Laura tightly, she kissed her cheek and forehead.

Kate and Jessica were about to step into the room, when they heard the sounds of kisses being exchanged. Kate put her finger to her lips, and led Jessie out to the front porch. Sitting on the porch swing, they held hands and rocked gently.

Kate laid her head on Jessie’s shoulder, suddenly tired after all of the excitement of the day.

Kissing the top of her head, Jessie sighed. “I am really sorry I dragged you into this Katie. Do you think I acted foolishly?”

Kate considered her question. “Foolishly? No. Differently? Definitely yes. I’ve never experienced your anger before. It was…a learning experience.”

Immediately Jessie’s face turned to ash. “Oh My Gods! Did I hurt you?”

Kate held Jessie tightly, afraid she might bolt. “Jess, honey, you didn’t hurt me. Scared me a little, but you did not hurt me. Babe, it’s okay. Calm down. I’m fine. I know I’ve seen you angry with Gregory and all of the crazy stuff we’ve gone through. But this somehow seemed more personal.”

Jessie pulled at the soft warm hands holding her in place. All she wanted to do was run somewhere and crawl into a hole. She would never be able to live with herself if she thought that she had injured or hurt Kate in any way. Finally giving in to her partner’s will, she relaxed and gave up the struggle. Any further conversation was interrupted by the return of their hostesses.

“Hey now, no necking on my front porch. The neighbors already have a cow every time April and I sit out here. April just figures its cheap thrills you know?”

Laura swung the screen door open. She did not fail to notice the looks of concern on her friend’s face, and the absolute devastation on Jessie’s face.

Pushing Laura aside, April came out and settling into the big easy chair across from the swing gestured to Laura to sit on her lap. Laura complied, but continued to keep a tight motherly eye on her friends. Jessie finally graced her with a small pained smile, while Kate tried desperately to regain some composure.

“Hmmm…so, what’s the plan? You’re heading to Jessie’s house tomorrow, so when do we see you again? Never mind, how about Thursday. I was thinking I might talk April into calling in sick, and heading out to the club. Thursday is Hootchie girl night. What do you say?” Laura waggled her eyebrows for emphasis.

Kate was relieved that Laura didn’t push them for information. “Hootchie girl night? What in blazes is that? And how do you suppose we sneak Jessie into the club unnoticed? Or have you already forgotten who she is? And what about me? It’s not like I haven’t been on every news show for the last few days. If they see me, they are going to know that’s Jessie with me.”

“Ha! Like that’s ever going to happen. Nah, I figured with a little clever disguise action, we should be able to get you in and out without too much trouble. We just have to remember to maintain the ruse. Remember, I have a lot of experience in Oscar winning bar performances. Even though Stan has been gone for quite a few years now, it’s not something I could ever forget.” Laura let a small glimmer of sadness cross her features.

For the first time since they came outside, Jessie seemed to rejoin the group. “What is the club? And what the hell are Hootchie girls?”

Kate breathed a mental sigh of relief. “The “club” is the Savoy. It is the hottest women’s bar this side of the Mississippi. And…Laura will have to tell you what Hootchie girl night is. Laura?”

April interrupted her lover’s answer. “Hootchie girl night, is when all the dirty old women go to the club to watch a group of strippers dance and shake their business in their faces. Everybody hoots and hollers, drinks too much, and has a generally pretty good time. Laura is really good at getting everyone to join the party.”

“But Laur…you don’t drink.” Kate fixed her with an inquisitive glare.

“Heh! Don’t need to. I got past that a while ago. I have this uncanny knack for being able to draw people in and make them feel included. You know…part of the gang.” Laura’s grin was infectious.

The friends all laughed and talked for a while longer, comfortable in the knowledge that they were all safe and sound. Kate and Jessie agreed to return and join the other two for “Hootchie night”. Jessie was actually kind of looking forward to it. Something about being able to act like a normal person for a while held an irresistible appeal. They continued to discuss various methods of disguise, and came up with some ideas. Promising to talk more about it by phone, Laura and April shared hugs around, and then retired to their own room.

“Honey?” Jessie whispered just before closing her eyes.

“Yes Jessie?” Kate replied.

“I just wanted to tell you that I love you. And I really, really, really like Laura, April, and Tanya and Tasha too.” Jessie kissed Kate, wrapping a long protective arm around Kate’s waist.

“I’m glad sweetheart. Really, really, really glad.” Kate slowly drifted to sleep.

Star sat back in the kitchen. She had decided earlier that it would probably be a smart idea to keep eating. Especially stuff like oranges and things. It might bring her health back a little bit. Sitting still for a moment, she listened for sounds of Gregory lurking in the background. He had been missing for what seemed like hours. Right after their previous meal, he had ventured downstairs to the “torture arena” as he referred to it, and had been banging around, moving equipment, and rearranging all of the various implements that had been provided for his use.

Gregory idly hummed to himself. A small bead of sweat working its way down the back of his neck. He had been spending the last couple of hours practicing what he was now calling his “little show of horrors” for first Kate, and then later Jessie. After much thought, and a recheck of the original notes and photos from the first time he had Laura followed, he had decided the exact progression he planned to take in…disciplining the nosy bitch.

A couple of the photos that the PI had taken revealed that Laura had several tattoos on her body. Not the least of which was a rather large one of Jessie on her back. Mentally smirking, he had decided that tattoos were extremely unbecoming, especially on a woman of Laura’s obvious ilk. In order to correct her obviously uneducated and satanic ways, he was going to remove the tattoos. Just as simple as that. Of course, it would require a skilled and steady hand.

The first step would be to secure her to the worktable…naked of course. Gregory decided he would give her a light sedative…just enough to make her manageable. Then after securing her in place, he would use one of the many different scalpels available to simply peel the offensive images from her body. The pain would be punishment enough during the first phase. He had toyed with the idea of using a sanding device, and still hadn’t quite giving up the idea. He was afraid that it might make too much of a mess. Besides he didn’t want her to die right away.

Later, he would come up with something much more creative to cause her death. Like maybe pure alcohol in the wounds or something equally as cleansing. Gregory knew that Laura was diabetic, the PI had managed to provide him with at least that much. He would have to be very careful not to let her blood sugar slip. If she fell into a coma, she would certainly be no fun at all.

The next project would be Kate. That would have to be extra special. Hopefully he would be able to talk Jessie into participating. If not…well, he was certain he could handle the responsibility on his own. Maybe fingers and toes first, then ears and facial parts. Something to think about anyway. Either way, he was determined to make her pay. Pay for taking Jessie from him, for making Jessie act in that…unnatural manner.

Realizing he had been away from Star for quite a while, Gregory started to get nervous. What if she is doing more heroin? What if she’s escaped? Maybe I should chain her to one of the beds. No, I guess not, then I would have to take care of her. She just better not try anything, or I’ll have to kill her. Maybe I still will, I could always give Kate to Baby Doll. It would ruin the fun, but it would give me something to practice on. I’ll have to think about that.

While Gregory continued to ruminate about the different levels of possibility his life might take, Star wandered back into the bedroom flipping on the entertainment news as she passed. Choosing a chair instead of the bed, she put her legs up, crossing her feet at the ankles. The announcer was finishing a segment on some new Latin singer, when they switched to a preview on the next story. Star immediately sat up, when she saw Jessie and Kate’s image cross the screen. Turning up the volume, she heard the reporter say something about a rumor that things were not going well in the “brand new public relationship” between Jessica Ryan and her personal assistant.

Setting the remote control down, Star listened intently. She wanted to make sure that she remembered everything, so that she could repeat it to Gregory. She was surprised to hear that the show had been temporarily thrown into reruns. Waiting until the segment had completed, she rose and dashed down the stairs to the room that Gregory was working in.

Standing a respectful distance from the door, she called to her keeper. “Greggie? Honey? I just saw a news thingy about Jessica. They were saying that there was something wrong with her relationship…and that the show was in reruns temporarily. Greggie? I thought you should know.”

Gregory suddenly appeared in the doorway, startling Star. “What are you screeching about Star? You say you saw Jessie on TV? Star, she is on TV every week. Remember, she has her own show. Damn! Have your brains completely fried or what?”

“No. I mean, that they mentioned her on one of those entertainment shows, you know, gossip and all that stuff. They were saying that something had gone wrong on the set, and that Jessie and her friend may have left the area. They are guessing that she may have headed to her private home here in Northern

California. I just thought you might want to know.” Star took a step back away from him.

Realizing that his prior bit of information had just been corroborated, he almost did a little jig right there. Regaining his composure, Gregory tilted his head slightly regarding Star with a half grin. Slowly the grin slipped, so unfamiliar was it on Gregory’s face. Straightening, he nodded and thanked Star, turning quickly and reentering the chamber. He silently closed the door behind him.

Star slowly breathed out. Retreating back to the safety of the bedroom, she pondered what had just taken place. Gregory was definitely nuts. There was no question about that. Somehow though, Star felt that his focus was no longer on her. As long as she stayed as sober as possible, and showed some improvement, then he might not bother with her anymore. Dare she hope that that might be true? It was still too soon to tell, but she had time to find out. Seeing how late it was, Star decided to attempt to get a regular night’s sleep. No drugs! Shutting off the lights, she closed her eyes…praying that the gnawing craving in her guts would go away…soon.

Laura’s dream started out rather pleasant. She was walking on the beach, the light of the moon reflecting on the water. It was a familiar beach, Laura felt certain she had been there before. Just a short way ahead the beach ended, with a large peninsula jutting out into the ocean. Following the trail to the top of the bluff, Laura walked along the edge of the cliff, watching the waves slam against the rock wall, the foam glowing white in the bright moonlight.

Laura never saw herself in her own dreams. She saw her dreams through her own eyes. And her eyes just saw a man standing over a woman on her knees. The woman was crying, while the man yelled at her threatening her. Laura couldn’t here his words, but she knew by the tone that something bad was about to happen. Trying to will herself to run, her dream legs refused to cooperate. Suddenly she was standing so close; she could have touched them if this were real.

The man was beating the woman on the head with his fists, while she cried out in pain. Laura couldn’t see the woman’s face, but she was sure she recognized the voice. Suddenly the man grabbed the woman by the shoulders, and pulling her to her feet, shook her several times. The woman’s head fell back, and her face became visible…it was Kate.

——————————————————————————–

I believe the lasting revolution comes from
Deep changes in ourselves
Which influence our collective life.

********Anais Nin********
Chapter 30: Twist and Shout…
Laura awoke with a start, a bead of sweat slipping from her forehead onto her pillow. Another dark encounter with an unknown foe, and the unshakeable feeling of eminent danger for her friend Kate. Afraid she might wake April; Laura quietly slid out of bed, and went out of their room. Closing the door behind her, Laura tiptoed into the kitchen, filled a glass from the water crock, and then moved into the living room, deciding to forego sleep, and instead see if she could shake the nightmare, that was still lurking in the corners of her mind.

Sitting in her chair, Laura sipped her water, closing her eyes to calm her nerves and make an attempt to stop the headache that was forming in the back of her head. A low sleepy voice nearly caused her heart to stop.

“Another nightmare?” Jessie said quietly.

“Holy Moly, Jess! You scared the crap out of me. What are you doing up?” Laura clutched her chest in the dark; not remembering that Jessie probably couldn’t see her.

“I couldn’t sleep. I’m beginning to think that I made a terrible mistake this morning. And I never should have dragged Kate into this. I wasn’t very nice to her…I may have hurt her. She’s too polite to say so though.” Jessie was unable to cover the sadness in her voice.

“Hurt her, how?” Laura asked.

“I left in such a hurry, and in such a fit of anger, I practically dragged her down the hallways through the building. She says I just scared her. But I’m not so sure.” Jessie replied.

Laura considered Jessie’s words. “Nah. I don’t think so Jess. Kate’s pretty up front and she’s been through a lot. You know that. If you had hurt her, she would have said so. Yeah, scared her, or surprised her, but hurt her, nope, I don’t believe it.”

Laura’s assurances made Jessie feel better. Finding her new friend in the dark, Laura gave Jessie a quick hug. They sat side by side on the couch, silently contemplating everything, and nothing. At one point, Jessie grasped Laura’s hand, and held on almost as though she was hanging onto a lifeline in the darkness of her fears. That was the way that Kate and April found them the next morning. Sound asleep, sitting side by side on the couch holding hands.

Kate grabbed April by the arm; almost afraid she was going to burst out laughing. Whispering into April’s ear, “Should we be worried or what? I don’t think I’ve seen anything so cute in my whole life.”

“No kidding. I was wondering where she went when I woke up. I had no idea they would be consorting under my own roof this way. Actually, I’ll bet it was one of those middle of the night counseling sessions Laura is so famous for. I think she had another nightmare last night.” April smiled fondly at her sleeping lover.

While Kate stood and watched the two friends sleeping, April went and let the cats in. First one and then the other jumped up to investigate the sleeping women. Laura was the first to wake up.

“Mpfh…wha? Get out of my face you four legged bag of fur.” Laura growled.

Stretching, Jessie realized that she and Laura had fallen asleep…holding hands…together, and both Kate and April were standing across the room, arms folded staring at them.

Elbowing Laura, she gestured at the other two women with a nod of her head. “Think they’re mad?”

“Hmmm, not sure. Think?” Laura held back a flood of giggles.

“Weeelllll…let’s find out.” Jessie jumped up and grabbed Kate for a hug, while April launched herself at Laura still sitting on the couch.

“You guys have no idea how cute you looked together. Two of the most powerful women on the planet, sitting on the sofa holding hands, keeping the Boogey Man away.” Kate giggled, getting the others to join her.

“Yeah, well, don’t forget that powerful thing, the next time the garbage needs to go out in the rain.” Laura tickled April.

“You all go ahead and start rotating through the shower, while I get breakfast ready. I’ve got an interview in a couple of hours, and April needs to get ready for work.” Laura waved them all off to get ready for the day.

Gregory paced. Back and forth like a caged animal. He was ready…more than ready. He was anxious to begin this new chapter in his life. For hours, he rearranged the tools in the chamber, cleaning and polishing each and every one. Once or twice he took a break, and checked his E-mail.

Most of the mail came from the mailing lists that Gregory had joined over the last few days. One message though made his day. It was from the PI he had used the first time he had Laura trailed. The guy had managed to hook up a device to the back of Laura’s mobile home that allowed him to record everything that went on inside the house. Mobile homes weren’t known for their thick walls, so filtering was an extremely simple task.

Of the many hours of “listening” that the PI had gathered, the most valuable news was the date that the women occupying the house had made for Thursday evening. Gregory almost jumped up and down when he read the note. Right then he decided that Thursday night would be the night that he stole the cat. Sometime later on Friday, he would contact Laura, and tell her to come and get her pet.

Half-skipping across the walkway, Gregory went in search of Star. He found her in the kitchen area making breakfast. She didn’t look great, but she didn’t look bad either. She was cutting grapefruits, the tremor in her hands the only outward sign of her withdrawal symptoms. At Star’s request, Gregory had given her a much smaller amount of the heroin that had been her primary sustenance over the last few weeks. She had begun to pace herself last evening, when she had decided it was more important to have her head more clear than it had been lately.

Gregory stepped into the room, startling her. “What’s a matter, Star? Jumpy or what? I got great news Star. We head up to Silicon Valley on Thursday evening, to grab the cat. Then on Friday, that’s when the show begins.”

“Uhh, oh, that’s great Greggie. I can’t wait. Umm, Greggie? Can I ask you a question?” Star was worried he might hit her for being a smart aleck.

“What’s that honey?” Gregory smiled, while Star winced at the intimacy.

“Well, I uh, well…promise you won’t get mad? I was wondering what would happen if when that Laura came to get her cat, if she had Kate and Jessie with her? I mean wouldn’t that change things a bit?” Star was starting to get the creeps wondering what had come over her captor.

“You know something Star? You got a good point there. I hadn’t thought about that. Hmm, we have to think of a plan in case that happens. So, is that food about ready? It sure smells good.” Gregory sat down, his mood still unaffected by Star’s revelations.

Laura kissed April goodbye, promising to meet her after the job interview for lunch. When she was sure that April was on her way, Laura went back in to say goodbye to their guests. Kate and Jessie were all packed, and getting ready to make the hour long drive to Jessie’s home. They had an appointment to visit with Jessie’s mother later in the day, and did not want to be late.

“So, just about ready?” Laura announced when she popped back in through the back door.

The two lovers were deeply involved in a kiss of their own. Not one to sit by and be idle, Laura jumped right in.

“Hey…either stop that, or get a room. Oops! My mistake, you already have a room. Just kidding, if you want to stay just close the door, and I’ll be on my way.” Laura stood outside the door, arms folded with her back to the wall.

“Beat it nosy, before I come out there and give you what’s for.” Jessie growled.

“Hmm, interesting. I dare you.” Laura’s eyes narrowed, ready to bolt if necessary.

“WAIT! Stop it you two…no black eyes, challenges, or any other nonsense. We have a very special appointment this afternoon and I for one am nervous enough, without any more shenanigans. And you Jessica Ryan are going to meet my parents tonight, so watch yourself. No unexplained bruises, or headaches from horseplay.” Kate stood between the two friends, her hands on her hips.

Jessie let the comment about Kate’s nervousness meeting her mother slip by. She knew that the likelihood of her mother having any communication at all, or even being capable of acknowledging their presence was slim to none. Meeting Kate’s parents however was a whole different “bag of bees”. She was usually pretty good in a new situation, but this was something special.

Grabbing the rest of their luggage, the two women made their way to the car. Laura made them promise again to call and make final plans for Thursday’s “Girl’s Night Out”. Give them both a hug and a peck on the cheek, she helped Jessie load the bags, and then simply because she could, she pinched Jessie’s behind just to show her how much she liked her.

“OW!! Why I oughta….” Jessie growled at her assailant.

“Oops, gotta go…see ya Thursday.” Laura giggled, as she ran back up the steps to the mobile home.

Rubbing her injured behind, Jessie slipped into the passenger seat of the miniature automobile. Scowling, she lost herself in her thoughts of revenge, and failed to notice the crazy woman dancing and laughing in the driveway as Kate backed the car into the street. Laura waved and blew kisses, and then headed inside to prepare for her interview.

Gregory spent the better part of the morning cruising the Internet, and “speaking” to Baby Doll, his teacher and cyber-mentor. Baby Doll assured Gregory that if all of the women showed up together there were two very simple ways to control them. One way was a small handgun hidden in the workshop that contained small darts filled with a rather potent tranquilizer. The second way was a small switch in each and every room that opened a hidden panel that contained two items. The first item was a gas mask, and the second was a pellet about the size of a large chicken egg, that when smashed against a solid object emitted a gas that temporarily paralyzed the victim.

Gregory was astounded by the various new and different “toys” that his teacher continually produced. Every hour that passed, putting him closer to the inception of his plans, gave him a certain euphoric boost. Three more days, three more days…it had become a mantra in Gregory’s head. He was determined to make sure that everything turned out just as he had planned. Changing venues, he picked up the phone and dialed the PI that had been checking up on the women for him. Nothing new had happened, so he abandoned that project for more Internet research on torture.

Jessie stared out the window, watching as the landscape sped by. Laura’s nightmares and her own unsettled feelings were really beginning to wear her down. Shaking her head a few times, she tried vainly to organize her thoughts into something more constructive. Every so often the Director’s meeting comes back to haunt her.

What am I going to do? Do I resign and give up the show? Or do I stick it out? What if they fire me? I am getting so tired of the BS. I would much rather move up here, be close to good friends, and stop being hounded by the nature of my job. Constantly working, being forced to hide from my fans, not being able to have a life outside the security of my home, or my job. And poor Kate. I should never have let her fall in love with me. It would have been difficult, since I fell for her like a ton of bricks, but still…

“Let me guess,” Kate interrupted her thoughts, “you’re going over again, why you let me fall in love with you, and what a terrible life you’ve given me so far, right?”

Jesse frowned, then smiled sheepishly, “Yeah, I guess I was. Am I that transparent?”

“Yes, and I have low friends in high places…but that’s beside the point. You have to stop worrying about me. I’m a big girl, and I’m having the time of my life. I never would have thought that this is where I would be, here with you. I just thank The Powers That Be, that I’m so lucky.” Kate’s throat caught.

Jessie lightly touched her arm. “Hey! I love you. Don’t ever forget that!”

“There’s no doubt about that, honey, no doubt at all.” Kate whispered.

Signaling to change lanes, Kate fell silent. Jessie reached over and lightly grasped her hand, a warm quiet settling over both of them. Taking the Highway One exit, Kate followed Jessie’s instructions to the facility where her mother was staying. Kate still wasn’t certain what to expect. According to Jessie, her mother hadn’t spoken or acknowledged anyone in several years. Whatever had happened all those eons ago, when Jessie was a child and its aftermath were too much for her to handle. She simply shut down.

Pulling into the parking lot, Kate noticed Jessie’s hand had started to tremble slightly. Shutting the car off, she pulled Jess into an awkward embrace. Kate stroked the dark head lightly.

“Jess, its going to be okay. I promise. I’ll try my best not to embarrass you…really.” Kate tried to make Jessica smile.

“Ha. If you only could, I might feel better. But I don’t think there’s any hope for that. Not now, and not ever.” Jessica’s slight smile disappeared as rapidly as it had arrived.

Locking up the car, Kate followed Jessie into the building. There was nothing very special about it. It was an old building, somewhat in the Old Spanish mission style. There were nuns moving silently through the hallways, hurrying off to take care of the various residents. From what Kate had gotten from Laura, this particular facility specialized in the type of patient that needed fulltime personal care. Jessie’s mother fell into this category. According to Jess, she was able to walk, and stand or sit on command, but that was about all. She couldn’t feed herself, and her face remained fixed in a sad, far away expression.

After checking in at the desk, Jess received a full report from the attendant Sister at the counter. She assured Jessie that there had been no dramatic changes in her mother’s condition. They were pleased to see Jessica, and would continue to afford her mother the best possible care. Jessie distantly acknowledged the Sister’s words, as though this event had become a repetitive scene in a play, over and over the same night after night.

Taking Kate’s hand, not concerned at the veiled glances they were receiving, Jessie led the way to her mother’s room. Deciding ahead of time to forgo trying to walk her mother to the garden, Jessie had requested that a wheel chair be left for their visit. When the two women entered the room, Clare Ryan was facing the window, looking as though she were enjoying the mild coastal weather.

Jessie stepped to her side, crouching and placing her hand on her mother’s wrist. “Hey there. How are you mom? I’ve come to visit today, and I brought a very special person to see you. Her name is Kate, mom, and well, I’ve given her my heart.”

Kate stepped closer and mirrored Jessie’s position on the opposite side of Clare’s chair. “Hello there, Mrs. Ryan. I’m Kate. I’m very pleased to meet you. Jessie’s told me a lot about you. She’s…very special to me too. Well, and I guess I’ve given her my heart as well.”

Reaching over the arm of the chair, Kate lightly grasped Clare’s hand. “I just wanted to meet you, and let you know that I promise to take good care of her. I’d give up my life for her Mrs. Ryan. I guarantee that.”

Slowly without any prior warning, Clare sighed deeply as though she had been holding her breath for a very long time. One by one tears began to form in the corners of her eyes, slipping down onto her cheeks. Where her gaze normally remained fixed on the far unreachable distance, it now focused directly into her daughter’s eyes. Her sad blank expression shifted into an almost angelic smile. Once, twice she blinked, then raised Kate’s hand and kissed it softly, holding the back of it to her lips.

Jessie was stunned. She couldn’t decide whether to cry, throw up, or run. All the doctors, nuns, and visits from Jessie and earlier on Gregory, and never once did her mother even move or smile. Then Jessie brings in who she could now easily say is her soulmate, the love of her life, and suddenly her mother miraculously returns to the land of the living.

Kate silently watched Clare’s reactions, and Jessie’s responses. Without saying a word, Kate reached for Jessie’s hand and placed it into Clare’s other hand. Clare squeezed Jessie softly, and turned her gaze to Kate. Swallowing carefully, she whispered something that neither of the emotionally charged women could hear.

“Mom? Did you say something? I can’t hear you.” Jessie said.

Clearing her throat, Clare tried again. It had been so long since she had last spoken, the muscles in her throat were almost not able to sustain any sound. “I…love…you…Jess…both…of…you.”

Jumping up with a loud whoop, Jessie pulled her mother from her chair, and hugged her tightly in her arms. Now crying freely, Jessie held on while Kate watched, her eyes brimming with their own tears, amazement and pure love written on her face.

Carefully seating Clare back into her chair, Jessie kissed Kate resoundingly on the lips, and then dashed out the door to find someone to tell. Kate shook her head, grinning from ear to ear. Settling herself on the edge of the bed, she smiled as she felt Clare’s hand tentatively slip into her own.

“I don’t want you to speak too much Clare. Not until you’ve had some time to get used to it. You know, Jessie loves you very much, and I love her. I only wish you could tell me where you’ve been all of these years.” Kate tilted her head to show that she wasn’t being serious, just talking to talk.

Clare shook her head, indicating that she wasn’t sure herself. Gesturing for a glass of water, she drank deeply nodding her thanks to Kate. Moments later, Jessie came bounding back into the room, the Mother Superior hot on her heels.

“Mom, this is Sister Mary Rose. She’s the head nun here. She doesn’t think you can talk. Silly, huh?” Jessie was fairly bouncing she was so happy.

“Good…afternoon…Sist…er.” Clare managed to squeak out.

Clutching her hand to her heart, Sister Mary Rose almost fainted dead away. Never in all of her years working for this private hospital have they ever had such a remarkable recovery.

“Oh my…OH MY!” Sister Mary Rose exclaimed.

“Oh my is right.” Jessie giggled.

“Oh, I’ll have to call the doctor right away. We’ll need to examine her, and get her into rehabilitation. Oh my…I just don’t know what to say.” Flustered, she bustled back out the door, and almost ran faster than her short little legs could carry her.

The rest of the afternoon was spent talking to the doctor’s, and the rest of the staff, and making plans for Clare’s rehabilitation. Kate followed along quietly, unsure whether or not to interrupt, but content in her heart. She never could have hoped that something this miraculous could have happened, especially since this was the first time that Jessie’s mother had ever laid eyes on her.

Even the doctor’s were mystified. Collectively they had decided that she had suffered such a heart-rending trauma all those years ago, that it had driven her into a deep semi-catatonic state that she was not able to withdraw herself from. Something in her daughter, and her friends presence today must have provided the key that unlocked whatever it was that might have held her in its clutches.

Early in the evening, the two women bade farewell to Jessie’s mother, and promised to return the following day. Guiding Kate to her home, Jessie couldn’t seem to stop talking. She began to make plans, and then shortly after changed her mind. Kate shook her head, chuckling inside. Turning on a darkened, tree lined road, she noticed a beautiful beach-style cabin tucked back in the trees. Actually, cabin was a small word to describe the gorgeous home that came into view as they made the last turn up the driveway.

The house was a three-story split-level, built in what looked like natural woods. A large deck surrounded the third level, and judging by the location of the home, Kate was sure you could see the ocean from up there. There was a large staircase that curved from the parking area in front of the garage, and ended up at the entry on the second floor. Kate parked, and was surprised to see lights on in the interior.

“Jessie, honey, I don’t want to interrupt your train of thought, but did you notice the lights are on? I thought no one knew we were here.” Kate stated quietly.

Stopping in the middle of a sentence, Jessie’s eyes narrowed as she peered up at the second floor door. Before she had a chance to react, Kate was out of the car, and pulling her stun gun out of her fanny pack. Sliding quietly up the stairs, she ignored Jessie’s frantic whispers to wait. Standing to the side, she reached over to turn the doorknob, when the door suddenly swung in away from her. Kicking out with her foot, she made contact with someone’s soft middle section, and heard a loud grunt as the person dropped to the floor.

Stepping out and holding her stunner in front of her, she was almost bowled over by Jessica as her lover raced up the stairs to confront the intruder. Kate stopped Jessie in time, as the person sat up rubbing his stomach.

“Gosh Katie, did you have to kick me? I was just opening the door to welcome you home.” Michael blinked in her direction, a grimace on his face.

“MICHAEL! What are you doing here? I told you not to bother us.” Jessie growled.

“Jess…I didn’t think you were serious. Steven and I flew in this morning. We opened the house, made the beds, and did some shopping. I thought you’d be happy. If you want, we’ll fly back tonight!” Michael pouted.

Kate stepped back between the siblings. “Whoa, wait a minute you two. It’s not a big deal. We can all manage to share. After all, we do it on a daily basis as it is. Besides Jess, I think you and Michael have some things to talk about, and I don’t think you should wait until we go back to LA.”

Jessie’s face softened. “You’re right babe. I’ve been guarding this too long, and I guess now is as good a time as any. But…the next time I tell you to stay home, I mean it. This was supposed to be a much needed “private” vacation.”

Michael grinned, knowing all along that he would win the argument with Kate’s help. Intrigued by the mysterious news Jessie was preparing to share with him, he dashed downstairs to bring up their luggage. Kate wandered into the kitchen to talk to Steven while he finished the last of the dinner preparations.

“Hi there sunshine. Sorry we just showed up, but Michael was very insistent. So, have you seen Laura? How are things?” Steven pulled Kate into a tight hug.

Not sure whether or not she should spill the beans, Kate busied herself surveying the beautiful kitchen. It was tastefully outfitted with all of the latest appliances, all very casual and rustic looking. Here and there were shells and driftwood, obviously souvenirs from the beach.

“Helloooo, honey, are you dodging me or what?” Steven stood in the middle of the kitchen with his hands on his hips, tapping his foot.

Smiling at her friend, she decided to sneak a little of the news to him. “Listen, something happened today, that was both exciting, and scary. I want to tell you the whole story, but I think it would be better to hear it from Michael. What Jessie’s about to tell him is going to change his whole life.”

Leaning against the counter, and folding his arms across his chest Steven nodded his head to give Kate an indication that he understood. Kate took a deep breath, and gave Steven the highlights, without going into too much detail. Steven listened patiently, humming his amazement, when she reached the part about Jessie and Michael’s mother suddenly recovering.

“Wow! That’s incredible honey. I wonder what this means for us. I mean, there is going to be a lot of catching up, and stuff that they are going to have to do as a family. It may not include us, you know? Just a thought anyway.” Steven’s voice took on a note of sadness.

Trying not to show her true fear, Kate just nodded, then shrugged. “I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. So, where are you with this dinner? Care to show me the deck or something?”

Seeing clearly that Kate needed to stop thinking bad things about their situation, Steven led her out onto the deck, and persuaded her to tell him about Laura. He was happy to hear that Laura and April were doing fine, and hoped that Laura found the job of her dreams. He expressed concern about Laura’s nightmares as well. Before too long, the friends realized that they had run out of idle chitchat, and both fell silent. Turning in the direction they thought the ocean might be, they stood quietly side by side, both lost in their thoughts.

No too many minutes later, their respective lovers came bustling out on the deck looking for them. Before they even approached the others, they stopped and faced each other babbling on about the things they had to do, and the people they needed to contact. Steven listened for a moment, and then excused himself to start setting the table, and setting out the food. Kate waited a moment longer, then joined him. The other two barely noticed their departure.

When she reached the kitchen, Kate grabbed Steven’s arms. “Steve? Do you think we should just turn around and go home? I mean at least until they have time to sort out what this all means?”

Steven considered her words for a moment. “I don’t think so babe. I think maybe we’re both over-reacting. Let’s wait and see what happens. And wipe that sad look off your face. Maybe it won’t be as bad as we think.”

“I guess so, but this is really a big part of their lives, and well, Michael didn’t even know their mother was alive. This could change everything.” Kate began to wring her hands. “Jessie may want to go ahead and break her contract, and move up here permanently, and she may want to have some time to herself to get to know her mother, and….”

“Shh, stop and listen to yourself. You’re getting all wound up over nothing. Jessie loves you. You know, you and I haven’t had a lot of time to talk lately, but you two need to stop second guessing this relationship, and take it for what it’s worth. I’ve never seen two people more suited for each other. Every time I think you’ve finally accepted that you belong together, you start to doubt yourself or her. It will be fine. I promise.” Steve mentally crossed his fingers, hoping he was right.

Calling the others to the table, they listened while Jessie and Michael discussed their plans. Passing the potatoes to Steven, Kate gave him a mock accusatory glare, not realizing that Jessie had seen her. Filing it away for later, Jessie dove into her meal like a starved person. She had been this excited in, well, since she first made love to Kate. Letting her thoughts turn to Kate for a moment, she noticed the strain showing in her eyes, and realized that she hadn’t even acknowledged her presence since they had arrived.

“Jess, helloooo Jessie? Are you there? Sister wake up!” Michael waved his napkin in his sister’s face a few times.

“What? Oh, I’m sorry, I guess I drifted for a moment. What were you talking about?” Jessie let her gaze linger on Kate for a few seconds longer.

“I said, we will have to get up bright and early, so we can head into the hospital. It’s been almost 20 years since I saw mom last. I wonder if she’ll remember me.” Michael rambled on; most of what he said only absorbed by Steven.

Jessie caught Kate’s eye. Gesturing with a nod of her head, she filled her wineglass, and gestured to Kate’s glass, and did the same for her. Pushing back from the table, she indicated that Kate should follow her. She took a moment to stop and get some warm sweaters for both of them, and then stepped out on the back deck, Kate a few steps behind her.

The two women stood side by side at the railing for several moments, staring out into the darkness. For some reason Jessie’s heart was pounding, almost out of control. Kate was afraid to look her in the eye, for fear she would see that which her heart was already telling her was there.

Jessie cleared her throat and spoke first. “I…I guess I haven’t exactly been the greatest hostess, have I?”

Kate started to protest. “No, Jess, it’s understandable, really. Listen, I was thinking. Maybe I should go back to Laura’s for a few days, until you get settled. I mean I don’t want to be underfoot, you know, in the way. Really, it won’t be a problem. You could catch up to us on…”

A warm pair of lips stopped her from finishing her sentence. Slowly Jessie increased the pressure, until she got the response she had been aiming for. Kate moaned deep in her throat, her lips parting slightly, allowing Jessie’s searching tongue to gain entrance, seeking its counterpart. The pair took their time exploring each other, allowing the warmth to surround them both. Any notions of flight that Kate had been entertaining had dissipated in a cloud of passion.

Pulling Kate closer, Jessie whispered in her ear. “Have I given you the tour yet?”

Kate simply shook her head no, unable to speak for fear she might say something to break the moment. Taking Kate’s hand, Jessie led her to the far corner of the deck. Reaching out into the dark, she pulled on an almost invisible latch. So quiet you almost had to strain to hear, a sliding glass door glided open, letting them into the master bedroom. Without breaking contact, Jessie grabbed a small remote control from a table as she passed by.

Kate barely noticed the room. So intent on maintaining the passion of the moment, she simply followed Jessie, content with the fact that her lover was in charge. Jessie pointed the remote at various locations in the room, tossing it aside when she was content with the setting. Small distant noises and the sound of running water were the only things that gave away her electronic passage.

Suddenly shy and nervous, Kate couldn’t control the small tremor in her hands. Sensing her lover’s fear, Jessie held her close, quietly stroking her hair and rubbing circles on her back. When Kate settled into the soft comfort, Jessie slowly moved on. First pulling her own sweater over her head, she made eye contact with Kate, and receiving a nod, slipped Kate’s off, and tossed it on the floor in what would soon be a growing pile.

The next to go were the brassieres. Jessie idly thought how annoying they were, but yet what an exciting addition to foreplay. When those offending garments had been added to the pile, Jessie drew Kate in close. Both women shivered at the warm contact, skin to skin. Slowly Jessie began to rub her upper body over Kate’s, causing immediate reactions to both. Heartbeats increasing, it seemed to Kate that her body, or more importantly her nipples were reaching out to Jessie’s, begging to be touched, to share their warm tingling sensations with her lover’s counterparts. Not one to disappoint, Jessie stooped a little lower, allowing them to brush against each other. The contact was almost overwhelming.

Kate’s knees began to go weak, shaking slightly with the effort to stay upright. Sensing her difficulty, Jessie scooped her into her arms, turning slightly, and laying her onto her rather large, comfortable bed. Taking her time, she made a show of lowering the zipper on Kate’s jeans with her teeth, nipping at the sensitive skin at her waist and teasing her navel with her tongue.

Sucking her breath in through her teeth, Kate longed to touch Jessie, to reciprocate her attentions. As Jessie slipped Kate’s jeans and underpants off, pulling shoes and socks in their wake, she made a small gesture with her head, as if to say “lay back and enjoy this, it’s all for you”. Not wanting to upset the plan, Kate relaxed giving in totally to her lover.

Jessie made short time out of removing the rest of her own clothing. Taking a moment to gaze at her lover, she knelt on the bed, creeping slowly over the warm flesh below her, allowing her breasts, an errant fingertip or two, a strand of hair to brush across, leaving goose bumps in their wake. Starting to lose control of her own sensations, she bent low to Kate’s lips, teasing them with her tongue, silently asking permission to enter. Smiling through the tickling touch, Kate graciously invited her in. Increasing the pressure, their minds began to disengage to all outside influence, and join together in the sensations of their mounting passion.

Jessie slowly lowered herself covering Kate’s body with her own. Kate opened her thighs, allowing Jessie to slip into the inviting niche. Rocking her hips gently against Kate’s, she let her arms bend slightly, increasing the pressure, and by that increasing the pleasure. Kate reversed her motion allowing them to clash pleasantly against each other. Accelerating her speed, Jessie began moaning her voice joined by that of her lover’s.

Kate locked her legs around Jessie’s waist, pulling her in closer. Jessie had raised herself up slightly on her arms, her elbows trembling, increasing the pressure even more. As her arms began to give out again, her breasts brushed against Kate’s questing lips. Seizing the opportunity, Kate caught the closest nipple in her mouth, and clamped down lightly. Jessie moaned loud enough for the entire neighborhood to hear. Vaguely aware of the effect her ministrations were having on the dark haired beauty above her, Kate increased her attack, nipping and biting.

Suddenly Jessie’s left arm gave out; causing Kate’s teeth to scrape across her nipple, and instinctually bite the tender flesh before it could slip away. Caught in her own screaming passion, Kate released Jessie’s nipple, but bit down again, this time catching Jessie’s breast. Her teeth closed tightly, her mouth sucking in the soft skin. Jessie cried out, no longer able to hold back her mounting orgasm. Seconds later, Kate joined her, hearts pounding in sync, sweat and warm wetness flooding between the frantically moving bodies.

Gradually their movements slowed, Kate finally releasing Jessie’s bruised breast from her grasp. Raining kisses over the sweat drenched surface of her face; Jessie panted, drawing short gasping breaths between the shuddering aftershocks of her orgasm.

Making an effort to slide off of Kate, and release some of the pressure of her heavier body, Jessie tried to roll onto her side. Kate refused to let her go, holding her close; legs locked tight, arms pulling her down into a solid embrace. Still concerned about her weight on Kate’s much smaller body, Jessie braced herself, and holding tight to her lover, managed to roll them both over, effectively putting Kate on top of her.

For reasons known only to her self Kate was crying, tears slipping softly down her cheeks, dripping like a soft warm summer rain onto Jessie’s hot sweating skin. Taking one long slender finger, Jessie tried to tilt her head to see what was wrong.

“No…don’t.” Kate mumbled, fighting to avoid eye contact.

Refusing to be daunted, Jessie cupped Kate’s whole face, gently stroking the damp skin with the side of her thumb. “Baby, why are you crying? I love you, you know. Please, don’t cry.”

Burying her face into the curve of Jessie’s neck, Kate pulled in a shuddering breath. “I love you too. I don’t know why I’m crying. Maybe I’m losing my mind. Just hold me.”

Troubled, Jessie pulled the covers up around them, the hot steaming bath that she had electronically drawn for them forgotten. Laying back, hanging onto the softly sobbing woman in her arms, Jessie’s gaze strayed to the open skylight that she had rolled back before their lovemaking. Sighing, she placed a kiss on Kate’s soft golden hair, and fumbling for the remote, closed the skylight, figuring it could wait for another time.

Elsewhere in the house, Steven and Michael had finished clearing the table and loading the dishes into the dishwasher. Finding the half full glasses of wine on the deck, the two men smiled knowingly at each. Holding Michael in his arms, Steven kissed him tenderly on the cheek.

“Do you think they’re okay?” Michael whispered.

“Oh yeah, they’re just fine. They just have to learn to trust themselves, as well as each other. They’re almost there, but life keeps throwing them some wild curves, and they let it hold them back, but they’ll get over it soon. Nothing could separate them, nothing.” Steven smiled into Michael’s hair.

“I hope not…” Michael sighed.

“Say, how are you doing? This has been quite an eventful day for you too.” Steven tipped Michael’s head back, kissing him lightly on the lips.

“Honestly? I’m scared shitless. I mean all this time, I thought she was dead, and now I find out I have a mother. I don’t think I’ve managed to absorb it all yet.” Michael said thoughtfully.

“Well, have no fear my love, I will be with you the whole way.” Steven kissed him again, this time with a definite message of love.

Returning his kiss, Michael bade him into the house. “Tomorrow’s going to be a crazy day. We should turn in. Oh, and Steven? I love you.”

Taking Steven’s hand, he led him back into the house. Stopping him at the doorway, Steven whispered into his ear. “I love you too.”

——————————————————————————–

The coward calls the brave man rash; the rash man calls him a coward.

********Aristotle********
Chapter 31: (It’s only fear that makes you run….)
Morning came early for the troubled friends. Kate was the first to open her eyes. Gazing at her partner, she made a vow to stop questioning every word, every action, and start living in this relationship completely. It was only too obvious that Jessie loved her, and there was no question about her feelings for the tall, complex actress. And she certainly couldn’t deny the fact that her life was anything but boring.

Soon after she awakened, a soft knock sounded at the door. “Jess, Katie, the hospital is on the phone. They need to talk to Jessie.”

Kate nudged her lover with her elbow. “Come on sleepy head, you have a phone call.”

Mumbling, Jessie reached for the phone on the nightstand next to her. “Hullo? Yes, this is she…WHAT? We’ll be there right away.”

Slamming the phone down, Jessie jumped from the bed and rushed to the bathroom, grabbing towels and clothes on the way. Stopping in the doorway, she looked around as though she had lost something. Turning back to the bed, she spied a surprised looking Kate, slowly pulling back the covers to join her.

“Oh, babe, I am so sorry. Mom’s awake, and she’s asking for us. Says she has something important to tell me and wants to see Michael. They also said that it is imperative that you come too. Something about you being the catalyst to waking her up and all.” Jessie’s eyes pleaded with Kate for forgiveness.

“Honey, it’s okay. I’m coming. No need for worry.” Kate made reassuring noises as she stepped past Jessie, and into the bathroom.

While Kate started the shower, Jessie shouted out the door for Michael and Steven to be ready to go in 20 minutes. The boys packed a few pastries for the ride, and filled some travel mugs with coffee for the group. Michael backed Jessie’s personal vehicle out of the garage, and let it warm up while the women were dressing.

Working her way down the steps, Kate was surprised to see the car parked out in front, the engine rumbling quietly. Everyday was a new adventure with her lover, and Kate would not give it up for a single moment. Idling at the foot of the stairs was a bright red Cadillac convertible, with a white vinyl top, and white interior. By Kate’s estimate, it must have been an early 60’s model. Walking around lightly brushing the shiny surface with her fingertips, she could only shake her head in amusement.

“What’s so funny?” A soft, low voice chuckled behind her.

“For someone who wants to lead such a low-key life, you certainly have an interesting taste in cars.” Kate laughed with her.

“Yeah, well, it was a gift from the past you might say. One of the few happy memories I had growing up, was the big old rattling Cadillac we had for the family car. The thing was a pile of junk, but I remember having fun in it, and pretending that I was someone special.” Jessie’s eyes took on a wistful gaze.

“That’s really great honey. I’m glad you got to keep a bit of your “good” past. Well, we better get moving. Don’t want to keep the hospital waiting.” Kate squeezed Jessie’s arm before sitting in the back seat of the waiting vehicle.

Squinting through the windshield, Jessie gestured for Katie to get out and get in front. “You surely don’t think that I’m going to let Michael drive my car any further than the driveway, do you?”

Kate smiled; amused at the glimpses of sibling rivalry, and other little carefully hidden aspects of Jessie that were beginning to appear on a more regular basis. She felt yet another layer of trepidation about their relationship slip quietly away, replaced by an even stronger love and determination in her heart.

Michael and Steven appeared, and slipped into the back seat, and the friends drove off to the hospital, and the waiting doctors. Michael was unusually quiet. Jessie caught glimpses of him in the rearview mirror, and noticed with some concern, that he had been crying.

Pulling into the parking lot, she asked Kate and Steven to go on ahead while she talked to Michael for a minute longer.

“What’s up little brother? Are you going to be okay?” Jessie gripped his shoulder lightly.

Scuffling his feet a little Michael shrugged his shoulders a few times. “I don’t know Jess…I mean here you’ve know all along that mom was in this hospital, heck, you even paid for it. And I knew nothing. I feel like a child, an idiot or something. I’m excited to see her, can’t wait even, but I wish you would have let me know before. I could have helped out Jess, maybe even brought her back sooner.”

Jessica pulled Michael into a tight embrace. “I didn’t know what to do Mike. She was basically catatonic. No response whatsoever. I was trying to protect you from any more pain in your life. Really, I wasn’t trying to hurt you. There are so many empty places that I don’t know the answers to. Maybe mom can help us out.”

“It’s okay Jess, I love you anyway. But in the future, you can tell me; I promise I won’t freak out. You’re my sister, and I will love you and Katie and mom forever. Understand?” Michael tilted his head to the side waiting for her answer.

“I understand Michael, and I promise, I won’t hide anything from you ever again.” Taking his hand, she walked him into the hospital to reacquaint him with his mother.

Several miles away, Gregory was actually making love to Star. He had awakened early in the morning, and feeling stronger and more powerful than ever, he had decided to exercise some of that power over his faithful companion. Of course Star wasn’t in the least bit interested, but her years as a call girl, had made it easier for her to get through moments like this.

Star was pretty proud of herself, and feeling stronger as well. She had managed to cut way down on the heroin, and only use a little now and again to take the edge off. She had decided that keeping her wits about her, and catering to Gregory’s plans was the best way for her to survive. He was exhibiting such rapid personality changes, that she actually dared hope that if he got what he wanted, and captured the women as planned, that he might actually turn her loose rather than kill her or worse.

Pretending to be involved in the sweating, grunting pig act-taking place in and on her body, Star automatically made the proper responses, while her mind continued to work. The coming event could go either way. She could help Gregory capture the women, and carry out his deeds, or she could wait until he was occupied, and then try to escape herself. The problem was, if she escaped and Gregory caught up to her it would mean instant death. Considering the new skills he’s developed, the thought of dying at his hands made her stomach turn several times.

While her mind reeled with these thoughts, Gregory was caught up in a fantasy of his own. Each time he thrust his body into Star’s, he visualized that it was his beloved Jessie. Surely he thought, that this time she would stay with him for good. Jessica would see the error of her ways, once her little friends were gone. Gregory was so certain that she would come back to him willingly, convinced that the past weeks had only been a minor setback in their relationship.

Star closed her eyes, and counted the seconds until Gregory reached his climax, and rolled off of her, panting and whispering Jessica’s name. Playing into the charade, Star whispered back, her voice low, her words sounding just like Jessica. Gregory shuddered a few times, and turned back to drape his arms around her. Suddenly his eyes flew open, and the reality of who he was being tender to slipped back in.

Pulling back, he slapped her hard, hard enough to rattle her teeth inside her mouth. Stunned, Star slid off the side of the bed and ran for the bathroom. If she had any questions about which of the two options she had left for herself she should take, that action just sealed the decision. Star would look for her first available opportunity, and…escape!

Shaking his head a few times, Gregory’s uncontrolled mind returned to its now normal psychotic state. “STAR! Don’t ever pretend to be someone you’re not again. YOU GOT THAT STAR! NEVER!”

Star just shook her head, while she watched the slowly developing bruise darken on her cheekbone. Suddenly sickened by the fact that she had let him have sex with her, she ran to the shower, turning the water to the hottest she could possibly have stood it. Star scrubbed and scrubbed until the water ran cold, and her skin was raw with her efforts. Slowly she closed her eyes, and leaned her head against the cool tiles. A soft click from the doorway made her look up, fear creeping across her eyes.

“What’sa matter Star? You don’t look so good. Got the heebie-jeebies from all that smack you been doing? What I said Star…I meant it. Next time you pretend to be Jessie, without my permission, and I break your neck…got it?” Gregory waggled his eyebrows at her, looking almost comical.

“Got it.” Star whispered back.

“Good, now get the fuck out of that shower now, and there better be some hot water left, or I’ll make you see God.” Gregory smiled at his little power game.

Silently praying, Star stepped out of the shower. She knew that there couldn’t possibly be much hot water left, but hoped beyond hope that there would be enough to at least get him started. She grabbed her towel, and stepped past him, not daring to look at him or make eye contact. Gregory slapped her hard on the rear end, but made no other moves to harm her in anyway.

Star moved back into the bedroom. She paused near the door, while Gregory turned the water on. No screams or swearing came from the vicinity of the bathroom, so Star felt a little relief. Maybe her luck had held out this time, and the water was hot enough for him. Another moment passed, and he actually started to sing. Star took the opportunity to dress, and find someplace else in the vast warehouse to be, somewhere Gregory would be unlikely to notice her.

It had been such a long time since Jessie had driven her own car. She truly enjoyed the feeling of the “land yacht” on the road, the way it turned and glided over the surface like a boat in calm waters. The other occupants seemed to be off in their own little worlds. No one was talking much, and that was just fine with Jess. She hadn’t decided yet how much longer they could all go before someone cracked at the seams. Earlier it had felt like Michael would be the first to go, but with Steven supporting him, and the promise of more time to talk later in the day, she was confident that Michael would hold on.

Kate was another matter altogether. Jessica stole a glance at her lover. Kate was quietly staring out the window, enjoying the passing scenery. Suddenly she smiled, and reached for Jessie’s hand, squeezing it softly.

“I see you looking at me, stop that and keep your eyes on the road please.” Kate chuckled.

“Hey, I’m fine. How are you? What do you see outside the confines of our Urban Assault Vehicle?” Jessie smiled warmly back at her.

“Hmmm, I see landscapes, cows and cars. I see a story plot, and something to write about in my spare time. I see other planets, stars, and species. But most of all, I see you. This is your real home, this is the real you. I kind of like that. I like being included in this part of your life.” Kate squeezed Jessie’s hand again, a warm tingling sensation creeping up her arm.

A slow blush crept up the side of Jessie’s neck. “I don’t think I could have made it this far without you. I’m proud to have you with me.”

“Thanks, I love you too.” Kate smiled back, her own cheeks blushing with the compliment.

The two women stopped talking then, the need for words passing by. Kate recognized the area they were in, and knew that the hospital was only a few blocks away. In a very short time, Jessie signaled, piloting the large car into the parking lot, as though she were docking an ocean liner in port.

Just as she settled into a vacant spot, each of the friends cell phones began to ring. Digging through pockets, fanny packs, etc. they almost simultaneously said hello into their respective instruments.

“This is Jessica Ryan…”

“This is Steven…”

“This is Kate McKenna…”

“This is Michael can I help you?”

Jessie listened closely to the voice on the other end of her phone. It was Alice, Justin Graves’s secretary. It seemed that Justin wanted to speak to Jessie about returning to the show…immediately. Jessie chuckled, and told Alice to inform her employer that she was otherwise occupied, and that she would be returning the following Monday, and not a moment too soon.

Steven’s caller was an older woman, who frequently used him as an escort to various charity functions, and other public events. She was attending a major fundraiser on the coming Friday, and wanted to know if he was available. Steven apologized, and promised that he would be available for the next event.

Michael had the pleasure of hearing from Diane, the personnel agent that was responsible for setting up jobs for Steven and Katie. She was dying to know where they were, and what they were up to. Rumors had been flying around LA, and the lowest, darkest corners of the entertainment world, and she knew that most of it was crap. She figured if she could contact Michael or Steven, she could get on the inside track. Michael promised her a conference call with all the players, if she could just remain patient until the evening.

Jessie was the first to know that beyond her greeting, Kate had not uttered a single word. Her face was drawn, and a darkness that hadn’t been there before was shading her eyes. Periodically she would nod her head, and then shake it back and forth. At one point, her face went so pale that Jessie was afraid she might pass out. Reaching for Kate’s hand again, she squeezed it lightly, hoping to attract her attention, and get an indication as to who might be on the other end of the call. For a moment she thought it might be Gregory, but this didn’t have a “Gregory” feel to it.

Kate raised her hand to Jessie, indicating that she would be done in a few more minutes. “Yes, I understand, thank you for calling.”

Hanging up, Kate turned her face towards the window of the car, trying to regain some of her composure.

“Honey? Are you okay? Who was that?” Jessie talked quietly, not wanting to pry, but frantic with the way Kate was reacting.

“I…uh…I’m sorry, I was just caught off guard. That was Mr. Shimada. You know, the man from the Japanese mafia. He wanted to warn me.” Kate’s nervousness was overwhelming her ability to speak.

Jessie’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Warn you about what?

“Umm, his spies have been trying to locate Gregory. They’ve noted some traffic on the Internet, and they believe that it might be him. It seems that he’s been corresponding with a known, but very mysterious, person who goes by the name of Baby Doll. According to Mr. Shimada, this man is very dangerous. He captures women and…” Her voice trailed off.

The silence in the car was deafening to Jessie, as all at once their collective minds began to imagine the message that Kate had received.

“He captures women and tortures them. Mr. Shimada believes that he may be mentoring Gregory. He thinks that Gregory is preparing for something big, something that may involve us. He also believes that Laura may be involved somehow.” The fear in Kate’s voice caused Jessica to look up sharply.

“Involve her how?” Jessie said a bit too harshly.

Cringing at the tone of voice, Katie shook her head. “I don’t know. He couldn’t say. He just advised me to be careful. He also asked that if we somehow come into contact with Gregory to give it our best effort to contact him. He’s left a message at your home, with a number where we can reach him. He assured me that he will use all of his resources to protect us, but he also wanted me to understand that we are essentially baited. His primary goal is to capture Gregory.”

Jessie pondered her lover’s words a moment longer. “Do you think we should ignore him, listen to him, or call the cops?”

“I think it’s in our best interests to listen to him. I admit, I am just as afraid of Mr. Shimada, as I am of Gregory, but if I have to choose who to side with, then he’s the one. I can’t believe that Gregory is receiving “training” from that demented weirdo. Yuck, Baby Doll.” Kate made as though she might throw up.

“Really, that is sick. We better call Laura later, and let her know to be even more careful. Think she’ll listen to us?” Jessie’s eyebrow went up in question.

Steven suddenly snorted. “I doubt it. Laura doesn’t listen too much of anything anyone says. She has this image that she’s ten feet tall and bullet proof. It won’t be easy to convince her.”

“Yeah, well, I’ll try my best. After all, we’re going to see them tomorrow, and if I have to use April as leverage, I will.” Kate adopted a self-satisfied smirk on her face.

Deciding that there was nothing more to discuss on the subject for the moment, they made plans to share all of their messages, and start on some strategies later at dinner. Leaving the car, the group headed into the hospital for their morning visit with numerous doctors, nurses, and finally Jessie and Michael’s mother.

The doctor’s were quick to warn Jessie that their mother’s return to reality may only be temporary. Similar to the character in the movie Awakening, that came out of a coma, only to revert back after several months. She had shown signs of coherency, and recovery, still, there were no guarantees.

After informing them of her absence for the next day, Jessie strode purposefully down the hall, the rest of the group trailing after her. She entered the room first, the rest staying back in case it was too much for their mother to handle all at once.

A young candy striper was visiting, babbling on about boys, school, and cars, not necessarily in that order. Noting Jessie’s arrival, she excused herself and exited the room. The head nurse had alerted Jessie ahead of time that they had all kinds of volunteers coming and going, trying to keep her mother focused on the present.

At Jessie’s approach, her mother’s tired blue eyes focused on her. “Jessie?”

“Yes momma, it’s me…” Jessie fought hard to keep her tears in check.

“It’s good you’re here. I have important things to tell you Jessie. Real important. Too much time has gone by, and I am not certain that my wits will stay with me. Where is your brother Michael? I want to see him too, and that cute little friend of yours. She loves you Jessica, I can see it in her eyes. You take care of her.” Her voice trailed off, her unused vocal chords protesting at the long sentences she spoke to her daughter.

“They’re here momma. They wanted to wait until you were ready for them. I’ll get them now if you want.” Jessie started to rise, when all three came bursting into the room.

Michael was at the head of the group, tears already streaming down his cheeks. “Mom? Is that you? It’s me, Michael.”

“I see you son. You need a haircut, but aren’t you handsome. Look just like your sister. And who’s this young man?” She whispered.

“Oh, this is Steven. He’s my…friend.” Michael wasn’t sure how to approach their relationship, considering the amount of strain, and the number of years that had gone by.

“Come around Steven I want to see if you’re worthy enough for my son’s heart.” Startled, Steven did as he was told.

“Umm, I…I’m pleased to meet you ma’am.” Steven stammered.

“Hmm, and I you. He loves you Michael. You must take care of him.” She turned her unsettling gaze to Kate, who was standing back in the shadows.

Kate felt as though a hand had reached out and touched her mind. She felt like she was being pulled to stand in front of Jessie’s frail mother. Moving forward without so much as an inch of control, Kate stepped past the others, and knelt at her feet, taking her hand as though an unseen force were controlling each of her actions.

“Now, you young lady are in extreme danger. I can “see” this as plain as the nose on your face. Do you know what I am referring too?” The older woman gazed intently into Kate’s eyes.

The others were dazed. The scene unfolding in front of them was something right out of the Twilight Zone. Jessie interrupted the conversation first.

“Mother, why are you saying that? You’re scaring her, and you’re scaring us.” Jessica couldn’t keep the concern out of her voice.

“I’m saying it, because it’s true. There is a darkness hanging over her that I can almost taste. Someone is planning to do great harm to her. If I go back, I will see who it is, but I may not return.” She continued to stare at Kate, her gaze never wavering.

“What do you mean go back? And not returning? What does that mean?” Kate whispered.

“I have not been idle in my years of contemplation. I have taken many trips through the spirit worlds. That’s right, worlds. There is more than one. Many in fact. I have a guide. Jessie and Michael’s brother. If I go back though, I may not be able to return to the present. The spirits are very jealous, and their brother is no exception. Your power, Miss Katie, it was your power that pulled me through.” The old woman smiled, still unwilling to let go of Kate’s attention.

Jessie shivered, almost as though something had walked over her grave. A chill blew through the room, carrying the light scent of orange blossoms, and Old Spice aftershave. It instantly reminded her of growing up, and her older brother. They had taken walks in the nearby orange groves when they were children. If what her mother was saying was true, then her brother was dead.

“Mom, why are you saying these things? This doesn’t make any sense. This sounds like voodoo mumbo jumbo or something.” Jessica tried to catch her mother’s attention, anything to get her to let go of Kate’s stare.

“It is voodoo mumbo jumbo Jessica. Do you remember where I was born? Your brother left here after your father’s spirit left his body. He ran from the authorities, back to my hometown. He was determined to stay out of jail, and to discover as much about my beginnings as possible. He did kill your father Jessie. If he hadn’t I would have. But he wanted to protect my soul. You see there’s a curse on me since my childhood. Your father was sent to me by this curse, and I did not have the power to hold him back. I was blinded by his swarthy good looks, unable to use the power that was given me by birth. The power to see his evil…until it was too late.” Absently she reached for her water glass, still holding Kate prisoner with her gaze.

“You may not believe me, but it’s true. Kevin’s spirit has been keeping me safe from your father’s revenge. Until his spirit is vanquished, you are all in danger. Tell no one outside this group that I have awakened. You won’t know whose skin he’s sharing, but he will find out, and he will seek his revenge.” Suddenly she closed her eyes and drifted into sleep, no longer able to keep up the energy needed to stay awake and communicate.

As suddenly as she fell asleep, Kate fell backwards, bumping her head against the floor. Jessie was immediately at her side, helping her to sit up.

“What happened?” Jessie was beginning to sound slightly hysterical.

“I…don’t know. It was really strange. It felt like she had this hold on me, as though an invisible hand was holding me in place. I started to see glimpses of really scary things flashing through her eyes. I don’t know what to say.” Kate’s voice was weak.

The nurse came and announced that they would all have to leave, since the older woman had fallen asleep. Wandering down the hallway to the waiting room, they were all beginning to feel as though they had just had a group hallucination. Michael was disappointed that he couldn’t have talked to his mother more, but he planned to wait around to see if she was going to wake up. The four of them sat quietly for a moment, gathering their thoughts again.

“Jess, you don’t suppose that your father’s spirit has taken up residence with Gregory do you? I mean is that even possible?” Kate rubbed the sore spot on the back of her head.

“Honey, I don’t know what to believe. Part of me is scared to death, and the other part, the one I really want to believe is that its possible my mother is delusional. I mean, come on. I know there were some mysteries about my mother when I was a kid, and I remember her doing things like invoking the evil eye and all, but I just thought she was a little quirky. I’m not sure what to believe about the things she said. As far as I’m concerned, Gregory is his own brand of evil.” Jessie reached for her hand, squeezing it with something less than assurance.

“Well, I guess we had better take her advice, at least for now. I mean what if we didn’t, and something bad happened?” Kate’s hand shook ever so slightly.

“Well, okay, if you say so…but, I don’t think anything bad is going to happen. However, as long as Gregory’s whereabouts remain “unknown”, and we’ve got other weasels, like Mr. Shimada hanging around, makes me think we should be a little cautious.” Jessie tried to smile, but only succeeded halfway.

“Yeah, I agree.” Michael chimed in.

“You do?” Jessie asked, a smirk crossing her face.

“Yeah, is there something wrong with that? I’m telling you, that this whole thing is giving me the willy’s. Better to be safe than sorry.” Michael smirked back.

“Okay, then it’s agreed, we don’t talk about mom, or any of the circumstances around her to anyone. Not a word.” Jessie made eye contact with the group.

Heads all nodded, and everyone murmured their agreement. Michael and Steven stood and decided to find a soda machine somewhere, both of them deeply lost in their thoughts. Kate sidled up to Jessie, threading her arm through her lovers, and leaned her head on her shoulder. Back in the hospital bed, Jessie’s mother dreamed about things too frightening for even the strongest mind.

——————————————————————————

Never mistake knowledge for wisdom. One helps you make a living; the other helps you make a life.

******** Sandra Carey********
Chapter 32: (One day I will wake up, and it will all fit together…..)
The rest of the day was spent visiting with doctors, and making plans amongst themselves. Very real problems, such as calling the studio, their friend Diane, and a host of other things, quietly got pushed back in the list of priorities. Kate had even contacted her mother and stepfather, and postponed their get together for another time.

As late afternoon approached, the four friends gathered in the parking lot of the hospital. They all looked tired, hungry and depressed. Jessie moved slowly to the car, her feet feeling like they were mired in thick, sticky mud.

“Ready to go?” She asked half-heartedly.

“Yeah,” Michael shrugged “Steven and I will come back tomorrow while you guys are up north with Laura.”

Guiltily, Kate spared a glance at Jessie. “Unless of course, you’d rather not go.”

“Naw, I think it will do us some good to separate a little bit from all of this stuff. We can regroup on Friday, and mull over our next move. I for one was kind of looking forward to “Hootchie-girl Night”.” Jessie forced a small smile at her lover.

Mentally breathing a sigh of relief, Kate slipped into the big car next to Jessie, and the group settled back for the ride home. Checking her mirrors, and the flow of traffic, Jessie was struck with a great idea for bringing up their collective spirits. Changing lanes, she maneuvered the car into the commuter lane, and sped up to meet the flow of traffic. She decided to head downtown towards the lights and bustling crowds of the tiny little beach town of Santa Cruz.

Michael was the first to recognize his sister’s plan, and caught up in the flow of things started to bounce in his seat.

“I wanna ride the roller coaster! I wanna ride the roller coaster!” He began to shout.

Jessie shot him an evil grin. “Stop bouncing young man, or you’ll sit in the car. Hear me?”

Michael pouted back. “Okay, I’ll be good, but I challenge everyone to a squirt gun contest when we get there…”

Caught up in Michael’s infectious happiness, Kate turned to him with a puzzled look. “What pray-tell, is a squirt gun contest? I’m not sure I’m equipped for such things.”

Aiming her arched eyebrow, and a small crooked grin, Jessie couldn’t help herself. “And you think I am? Holy cow, honey, if you haven’t figured that out by now, we’ve got a problem.”

This sent the boys and Jessie into peals of laughter, while Kate blushed, not quite sure she was getting the entire joke. Jessie finally got control of herself, and reached for Kate’s hand, giving it a squeeze.

“Don’t worry honey, it’s all in fun. We’ll show you what we mean when we get there.” Jessie shot a knowing look at Michael. “It’s something we used to do as kids.

Signaling again, Jessie angled the big vehicle into the exit lane, and slowed down while they met up with afternoon traffic, heading for home or dinner downtown. Seemingly intimidate by the red Cadillac nudging for space in the sea of cars, several slowed their trek, allowing for the “land yacht” to join them in their journey to the sea.

Somewhere, not too far away someone else’s thoughts had turned to the sea. Gregory paced near one of the windows looking out from the second floor of the warehouse. The closer the day came when he would be able to start the ball rolling on his plans.

He reflected for a moment on the past few weeks, and how quickly things seemed to fall apart, and just as quickly came back together. Back then, he thought, he was a small time hood, with the best wife a small time hood could have, and the keys to his own empire, but now…now he was on the brink of something much bigger than that.

After meeting “Baby Doll” and receiving his very personal attention and instruction, it made his former “shady associates” like Mr. Shimada, and the rest of the Yakuza, small potatoes. Instead of learning to conquer the world with limited resources, he was going to be able to control anything or anyone. And if they refused to be controlled, then they had to die, the hard way…or the fun way depending on how you looked at it. Either way, he was the only one that would win that argument.

Turning from the window, he literally skipped down the catwalk, and took the stairs two at a time. Less than 24 hours to go, and phase one will begin. By the weekend he should have Jessie back, and her little playmates, maybe even that annoying little faggot Michael, would be gone, just so much fish bait.

Sitting in the bedroom, staring at the television screen, Star’s mind couldn’t stop spinning. She wanted, with every last ounce of her being, to do a line of heroin.

But, her fear of Gregory, and what was coming was enough to convince her to fight the urges. If Star could find a way to get a message out to the cops or something, she might even take the risk. That’s when she began to form her plan. Gregory wanted her to deliver a list to the handyman and his family for some supplies. If she could slip them a note of her own, she may be able to escape this chamber of horrors alive.

Jessie circled the Boardwalk parking lot, looking for a suitable place to park her beloved car. Finally finding something that was big enough, she angled the big car into its space. Normally she wasn’t quite so finicky about her car, but for some reason she just felt that it would be smarter to be cautious. So many strange things had been happening lately, that she felt better just taking the extra steps. Even though she knew in her heart that Kate wouldn’t let anything happen to her. She wondered if she would be capable of protecting Kate if something or someone ever attacked her. Not thinking twice, she knew she would.

Babbling like a bunch of school kids, the group dashed across the parking lot, eager to have some fun. Jessie hung back for a bit, rifling through the trunk of her car. Satisfied that she found her quarry, she dropped the lid to a startled exclamation from Kate.

“WHOA! What in the heck is that?” Kate’s eyes looked like they were going to bug out.

“Whadda ya mean what’s that? It’s my disguise silly. You really don’t think that I could go into this crowd looking like myself, do you? I always kept something back here, just in case of emergencies. How do I look?” Jessie spun around.

“Well, um, you definitely don’t look like you.” Kate suppressed a grin.

Walking around Jessie as though she were checking the finish on a chair, Kate gave her a careful once over. Adjusting the shirt a bit, Kate finally nodded her head; satisfied that no one in their right mind was going to recognize her lover as anyone but a rather tall, skater/Rasta type. Jessie had done a large colorful knitted cap, shoving her hair inside to make it invisible. Around her neck she wore a necklace of beads, and carved animals. Her shirt was once a man’s long sleeved dress shirt, but had been tie-dyed into multiple colors. A pair of sunglasses, and she was ready to go.

“Okay, honey, I’m pretty sure no one is going to notice it’s you in there, but we forgot about one thing. Anyone who watches TV, is going to recognize me, and then by process of elimination your cover is going to be blown.” Kate shrugged her shoulders.

Snapping her fingers, Jessie turned and reopened the trunk. Rifling around again, she came out with an assortment of items. The first was a smaller version of the knit cap she wore, in a solid bright red, a plaid short sleeved shirt, and a pair of gigantic white sunglasses with rhinestone trim.

Once Kate was completely dressed, Jessie led her to the side view mirror. She angled it out so Kate could see herself.

“Oh, Gods Jessie, this is absolutely hysterical…I mean it’s a great cover job, but I sure look silly. If Michael says one word, I think I might have to kill him. Okay by you?” Kate frowned, thinking about Michael’s eminent demise.

“Don’t worry about Michael. He is only too familiar with the necessity of this whole act. Now, come on, let’s go have some fun.” Jessie took her hand and shuffled towards the amusement park.

Star moved nervously around the kitchen, preparing a list of supplies they would need if they were going to stay much longer. She was sure her heart was pounding so loud, that Gregory could here it from the office. He has stepped in there earlier to “talk” to Baby Doll, and hadn’t come out since. Sliding the last drawer closed in the refrigerator, she turned, only to be face to face with her captor.

“Watcha doin’ Star?” Gregory drawled.

“Oh geez honey, you scared me sneaking up like that. I was just going through the supplies, seeing what we were out of. Do you think I should leave a list for that handy guy?” Star tried to sound sincere.

“Hmm, you might have somethin’ there Star.” Gregory grinned, a sick light showing in his eyes.

Suddenly he reached out and grabbed Star’s hair, pulling her down to her knees.

“But, don’t get any fancy ideas, because if something happens, and you’re behind it, I’ll take you straight into the worst hell you can imagine Star. One where death might be your only friend.” Gregory shook her a few times by her hair to make his point.

Shaking her a few more times, he let her go. “Don’t worry baby, I wouldn’t do anything wrong. I wouldn’t want to miss the show this weekend, honest.”

Gregory let out a hearty chuckle, and returned to the office, eager to check his other chats and mailing lists.

Star’s hands shook, while she finished off the shopping list. On the back of the note she wrote one word…Police. Under the circumstances, it would have to do. Walking quickly to the outside door, she placed the note in the special box for just such a circumstance, and slipped it out onto the walkway. Sometime later the handy man would retrieve the message, and climbing into his truck with his youngest son, would travel to the market. When he returned, he would leave the bags outside by the same door, and ring the bell. As agreed, he would then return to his home, while the occupant of the building waited ten minutes before retrieving the groceries.

What Star didn’t know was the handy man couldn’t have read the note if he wanted to. He only read Spanish, and had brought his youngest son to read the list. The child simply committed the items to memory, and crumpled the paper, tossing it into the ashtray of the truck.

Kate hazarded a glance at Jessie, rolling her eyes when she saw what Jessie was up to. They had just boarded the wooden roller coaster, the one that had made the Boardwalk famous, and Jessie had hunkered down, wrapping both arms around the restraining bar, as though she was certain she would be thrown from the car, and dashed onto the tracks below. Kate chuckled, and raised her own arms high into the air, preferring the thrill of danger.

“Don’t do that!” Jessie admonished.

“Excuse me? You who climbs scaffolding, and plays superhero all day, and you’re yelling at me? I don’t think so.” Kate grinned evilly while the car slowly climbed to the top of the structure.

“You’re nuts! Put your arms down and AAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!” Jessie’s lecture got lost in the wind as the car plummeted through the first of many turns.

When they rolled to a stop, Kate bounced out of her seat, and healthy flush coloring her features. Pale as a ghost, Jessie stepped out and refusing the hand that had been proffered, stalked out the exit gate, and down to the nearest bench. Shrugging her shoulders, Kate followed.

“Honey, what’s wrong? Did I do something?” Kate tried to sound apologetic.

“Oh no, just hanging out there, waiting for the damn car to turn you lose and smash you on the tracks below, no, nothings wrong.” Jessie sounded just a bit hysterical.

“Jess, what’s up with you? I know you’re not afraid of heights, because of the work you do on the show. So why are you afraid of the roller coaster?” Kate pried gently.

Sighing heavily, Jessie calmed down a moment before speaking. “My father used to threaten to throw me off, if I didn’t behave and do what he said. Even here he would separate me from the family, and make me…do things. I used to love the roller coaster, but after about the time I was eight, it wasn’t fun anymore. The rest of the Boardwalk still holds good memories, because I could stay with my brothers, and not worry about what my dad might want from me. But the roller coaster is different. I even have nightmares about still.”

Appalled, Kate took Jessie’s hand in hers. “Jess, that’s all gone now. There’s nobody else that’s ever going to hurt you like that. And if you don’t want to ride the roller coaster anymore, that’s fine with me…as long as I don’t have to ride the merry-go-round.”

“Merry-go-round?” Jessie’s eyebrow shot up.

“Yeah, ever see the movie Something Wicked this Way Comes? Ever since I saw that movie I was afraid to ride the Merry-go-round. I didn’t want it to go backwards, and make me disappear.” Seeing Jessie’s confusion, she merely shrugged.

“Someday I’ll rent the movie for you, okay?” Kate smiled.

Smiling back, Jessie agreed.

Holding each other closely, they silently watched the crowd stroll by, laughing, talking, some carrying big stuffed animals. It was the animals that caught Jessie’s eye.

“Well, enough of this depressing stuff. I know a little brother, that’s just hankering to win his honey a big stuffed seahorse, and I’m not about to let him. If we don’t hurry, he’ll start without us, and then he’ll win. We can’t have that now can we?” Jessie jumped up and grabbing Kate’s hand, walked quickly to the squirt gun gallery.

Michael and Steven had just arrived when Jessie rounded the corner with Kate in tow. Hurrying to his favorite spot, Michael plunked down enough cash to buy several rounds for everyone.

“Ha! Just you wait there sister. I’m gonna blow you away.” Michael shouted good-naturedly.

“Don’t count on it little brother. That there seahorsey is mine, got it? All mine.” Jessie sneered back.

Kate and Steven took their spots, and lining their squirt guns up with the small targets in the clown’s mouth, they waited patiently until the operator rang the bell. All of a sudden all hell broke loose. Jessie was gritting her teeth, one eye shut, the balloon in her clowns head filling rapidly with air. Michael started whooping out loud, trying to throw her off. Neither of them was paying much if any attention to their other opponents. Kate quickly caught on, and being an expert marksperson, drew a bead on the target and kept a steady stream of water blasting the spot.

What seemed like seconds later, Kate’s balloon popped, signaling the end of this round. Both Jessie and Michael looked at Kate with accusatory expressions as though she had no right to win at their personal game.

“Look you two, all’s fair you know. If you didn’t want anyone else to win, then you shouldn’t have let me play. Now, are you going to keep pouting, or shall we keep playing?” Kate grinned mischievously at the two siblings.

“Sure, fine, whatever.” They both mumbled.

Waiting the few minutes for the operator to replace Kate’s balloon, the friends geared up for another round. The bell rang, and they were back at it. This time Jessie’s balloon popped first, affording her a small prize similar to Kate’s. After the third round, Kate finally convinced Jessie that they should combine efforts, and work together. That way they could get a larger animal sooner than Michael.

Michael just glared, and redoubled his efforts to win a prize for Steven. After several more rounds, Kate and Jessie were in possession of the coveted seahorse. Michael had a smaller version for Steven, but neither of them were close enough to win the big prize.

Michael pouted, and Steven anxious to head off a tantrum, took him by the hand and walked him out to the sand, hugging his cute little seahorse, and throwing kisses with it, to make Michael smile. His ploy did the trick, and wrapping his arm around Steven’s waist, Michael broke into a proud grin, glad that Steven didn’t think he was a wimp for losing to his sister.

Jessie stood up, and after stretching a bit, put her own arm around Kate’s shoulders, and the two women followed the boys onto the beach. Kicking her shoes off, Kate smiled, remembering how good the sand felt on her bare feet. Pinching Jessie on the rear end, she giggled, and took off running. Seconds later Jessie was on her tail, seahorse under her arm chasing her to the water’s edge.

Kate stopped, and swerving in a loop backwards, almost evaded her captor when Jessie caught her arm, and pulled her back into her tight embrace. Kate fought half-heartedly, and then finally gave in and melted into those strong arms she had come to crave.

Star slowly opened the door, trying to stay back in the shadows far enough to be invisible, while still being able to see the groceries the handyman had left. Part of her was afraid that the cops may have come back with him, and the other part was hoping they had. Unfortunately, there was nothing there but the bags. Gathering them up, she stepped back into the hallway, again to be confronted by Gregory. It seemed that the closer they came to the implementation of their plan, the worse he was getting.

While Star waited for his next barrage of either physical, or mental abuse, she looked at him carefully, hoping he wouldn’t catch her assessing his condition. It seemed that his eyes had taken on a hollower look to them, sort of wild and out of control. He had lost some weight, some of the softness that came from his days as the husband of a popular TV star. His hair was a bit longer, and he alternately let his beard grow, and then meticulously shaved it off.

If you didn’t know him, you might think he was just another average white-collar guy, struggling to raise a family, or working long hours to get ahead. But, there was something haunted about him as well. If a dog were to approach him, it would turn tail and run, as though he carried a scent of evil around him. Star shuddered, realizing that was exactly how she felt, as though a demon had possessed him and was controlling his every thought and desire.

Star realized that too much time had passed since he had met her at the door. He never said anything, just took a few of the bags, and headed back towards the kitchen. He seemed closer right at the moment to his original self. While it was every bit as evil in its own way, there was a definite difference between this Gregory, and the…other one.

Mentally shrugging her shoulders, and silently thanking whatever God put him into this mode, she quietly followed him down the hallway, and into the warehouse. She could see him at the top of the stairs, and as surprised as she was to see the old Gregory for a moment, just as quickly the new more evil model appeared.

“STAR! What the fuck are you strain’ at? Get your fat ass up here, and give me a hand already. Do I look like the house maid to you or what?” Gregory grinned, but it was almost like Satan himself in those eyes.

“Oh, sure Greggie, I’m coming. I was just thinkin’ how handsome you are these days.” Star tried for a quick recovery.

“Yeah, well, don’t get too attached to it. Cause once I hook back up with Jessie, then you and me are done. You got that?” Gregory’s evil mask seemed to slip a bit, as though he regretted saying even that much.

Noticing the small change, Star made a note to herself to find a way to get more information. “Sure Greggie, I gotcha.”

Keeping the seahorse hooked under her arm, Jessie squeezed Kate, and bent down to capture her lips in a searing kiss. At that moment in time, Jessie would have been happy if they were the only two people, and seahorse, on a deserted island. Kate responded in kind, as though she could almost here Jessie’s thoughts.

Several minutes passed, while the two continued to make physical promises for things to come later in the privacy of their own room. It took several heartbeats, and a great deal of willpower before Kate noticed that Jessie had stopped, and was focused on a spot somewhere behind her. The look on Jessie’s face said that it was not good.

Slowly Kate turned and immediately she backed herself against Jessie, arms held out palms towards her lover as if to hold her back. As silently as a birds wings on the breeze, a chair, an umbrella, and a small army of men in beach wear had assembled behind them while they were kissing. Sitting in the chair was Mr. Shimada, head of the California Japanese Mafia.

“Good afternoon Ms. McKenna, Ms. Ryan. A lovely day at the beach wouldn’t you say?” Mr. Shimada grinned slightly.

“What do you want? Who gave you the right to stalk us like that?” Jessie blurted out before Kate could stop her.

A flurry of movement in the group of men caught Kate’s eye and she found herself wishing she had her 9mm. Out of the formation came a solitary man, one who was only too familiar to Kate, and should have sent alarms of recognition through Jessie. It was Jerald, Gregory’s old henchman, and one of Jessie’s former tormentors. Kate had encountered him once before, in a grocery store near her home. She remembered all too well what Mr. Shimada had done to him to gain his “loyalties”.

“Calm yourself Ms. Ryan. I assure you that my intentions are most honorable. I come bearing information for you and Ms. McKenna. Jerald?” Mr. Shimada reached back with an open hand, never once letting his gaze stray from that of the two women in front of him.

Kate could feel Jessie jump a little, when she finally recognized Jerald. Jerald paid only a passing bit of attention to Jessie, delivered his package, and then stepped back a few paces from his keeper. Kate risked a glance back at Jessie, and lowered her still raised arms, mentally willing Jessie to stay still.

“What information do you have Mr. Shimada? I am most interested in what would be important enough to draw you out here in such a public location.” Kate stood taller, praying he wouldn’t see her true fear.

“Ahh, a true player aren’t you Ms. McKenna. Remember, nothing in life is free. Once I divulge my secrets, I will expect a favor from you as well.” Mr. Shimada chuckled as Jessie tried to move past Kate, intent on slapping his mouth out the back of his head.

All eyes shifted to Jessie, and one by one each of the bodyguards pulled their shirts aside, and revealed an incredible assortment of weapons. Kate grasped Jessie’s arm, trying to soothe her lover as she regained control of the conversation.

“Fair is fair Mr. Shimada, I’ll try to help you as best I can.” Kate assured him.

“Very good Ms. McKenna. It seems that my men are very close to discovering the exact location where Gregory has set up camp. They have located a home off the coast highway near Malibu, and have reason enough to believe that he and his whore have been playing house there. Apparently this home is one of many dwellings that may belong to his demented playfellow, the so called “Baby Doll”.” Mr. Shimada smiled smugly, proud of his news.

“What is it that you want from us then?” Kate asked.

“I am allowing my son to handle the recovery operation concerning Gregory. Day after tomorrow, shortly after 12:00 noon, I would like you to call your investigator friend, and tell him that you received an anonymous call, telling you where Gregory is hiding. By that time, we should be long gone.” Mr. Shimada began to rise, preparing to leave.

“What if he’s not there? Then what?” Kate asked the retreating man.

Waving his hand in the air, he replied, “We’ll be in touch.”

——————————————————————————–

To see the world in a grain of sand,

And a heaven in a wild flower;

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,

And eternity in an hour.

********William Blake********
Chapter 33: (You better knock, knock, on wood Baby!)
Safely back in their car, the friends, rattled by the intrusion of Mr. Shimada and his henchmen, decided that take out pizza, behind the safety of their own locked doors was good enough for the rest of the evening. Jessie called on her cell phone, and the pizza kid arrived at the house about the same time they did.

Michael was very agitated. Steven did his best to calm his lover’s fears, but his efforts seemed wasted on the pacing figure in front of him. He finally stood in front of Michael until he finally ran into him, so deep in his thoughts he failed to notice the “obstacle” in front of him.

“What?” he asked flustered.

“You’re wearing a track in the carpet, and I think that Kate and Jessie want to eat so they can crash early.

“Fine, sorry, let’s eat and get some sleep ourselves.” Michael ground out between his clenched teeth.

********

The digital clock glowed constantly, the only movement the change in numbers as time wore inexorably on. Kate tossed and turned, afraid to close her eyes. So many strange things kept happening, the stress was starting to weigh heavily on everyone. Even their lovemaking earlier seemed forced, Kate finally calling a stop to it, preferring instead to snuggle, and be close. She was sure she hurt Jessie’s feelings, but there was just no way to stop the information from rolling through her head and interfering with her concentration.

At a few minutes past four a.m., Kate slipped out of bed, pulling on a sweatshirt and sweat pants. Quietly she slipped out the sliding door onto the deck, deciding that a little cool air might help her clear her head and get some sleep. Stepping to the railing, she folded her hands under her arms and leaned out, squinting into the shadows made by the pale glow of the moon and the scattered trees of Jessie’s property.

“What on earth is going on here?” she thought, “Ghosts, crazy people, the Yakuza…it’s almost like a bad novel, or a summer B movie. Poor Jessie, her mom channeling her brother, and me being a psychic connection. The next thing you know, Dionne Warwick is going to call and ask me to be a psychic friend. Either I’m crazy, or there is something seriously scary going on. I just hope that Mr. Shimada’s goons catch Gregory tomorrow. Then maybe we can get some kind of normalcy in our lives for a change.”

The longer she stood there, the better she felt. Convinced that Gregory’s capture was imminent, Kate decided to return to bed, and see if she could sleep. Opening the door, she pulled the blinds back, and froze. A bright shiny form hovered just above Jessie’s sleeping form. Frightened, but not wanting to scare it away, Kate slipped in and approached the bed.

Suddenly it started to shimmer, and then resolved itself into the form of a young man in his middle twenties. He seemed to glide to the floor, and then tentatively reach out to Jessie, a look of love and devotion on his face. Kate stepped forward towards the bed, at once terrified yet intrigued by what she was witnessing. The specter took notice of her, and fixed her with a gaze of curiosity.

“No closer, Kate McKenna.” His soft voice coming to her as if on a summer breeze.

“Who…who are you?” Kate stuttered.

“I think you know. My name is Kevin, I’m Jessie’s dead brother.” He smiled at the sound of his sister’s name on his lips.

“Kevin? Why are you here?” Kate realized after she said it, that it might sound rude. But what’s rude to a ghost?

“I’m here, because my family is in danger. I truly thought that after I killed the bastard, that his evil spirit would go with him. But apparently I was wrong.” Kevin turned his gaze back to Jessie.

“Kevin, we’ve been in danger for a couple of months. What made you appear now?” Kate settled in for some serious questioning.

“You sound as though you speak to spirits everyday.” He chuckled, a soft glow emanating from him.

“Well, I realize that this is all new, and kind of crazy, but I’ll take any help I can get. I keep getting the feeling that something bad is coming, and we may be powerless to stop it.” Kate frowned at that thought.

“You’re very right Katie McKenna. Something really bad is coming. It was one thing to have the true evil that personifies my father loose in the world, but combine that with that psychotic bastard Gregory, and you’ve got a whole new ballgame.” Kevin’s frown matched Kate’s.

“So, what can I do to stop it before it happens?” Kate inquired.

Kevin shook his head, trails of vapor whispering around him. “It’s not that simple. I wish there was more to tell you, but I, unfortunately, can’t predict the future. I can try to provide some guidance. The real reason I’m here is to ask you to take care of my family. I can see how much you love Jessie, and I know she loves you. You have a very important role in her life. Let’s make sure it’s a long one.”

Kevin’s presence started to fade. “Wait, don’t go. Kevin, what happened to you? How did you die?”

Distantly he replied, “It another story, for another time. You will hear it, but not now. I have to leave…”

Kate stood to approach, but before she could take a step, he was gone. She slipped back between the covers, and snuggled closer to Jessie. The last thing she saw before she drifted off again was an almost angelic smile on Jessie’s face.

********

Early that morning, Jessie and Kate set out to visit their friends Laura and April. Despite all of the crazy things that had been happening, Jessie was actually looking forward to this adventure. She had never been to a women’s bar before, and the thought of being able to anonymously, or as close to anonymously as she could get, interact with other women in a common setting was thrilling to her.

Kate was relieved to be moving again as well. She had decided not to tell Jessie about the visit from her brother just yet. For some reason she couldn’t quite define, she just didn’t want anything to interfere with their plans for the evening. She found a certain degree of relaxation and solace in her friend’s home that had seemed to be eluding them both for quite a while. Dancing with Jessie in public, without all of the studio protocol associated with one of TV’s top stars was an attractive prospect for her too.

The two women cruised along in Jessie’s big caddie in companionable silence. Scooting over as close as she could get, and still stay fastened in the seat belt, Kate placed her hand on Jessie’s thigh. A small shiver of delight from Jessie met her light touch.

“What’s up there darlin’?” Jessie breathed with a smile.

Kate pondered her response for a moment. “I’m just pretending this is a normal day for us, that we don’t have important jobs, that all of this other stuff doesn’t exist.”

Jessie stretched her arm out, and reaching for the seatbelt, pressed the release button and pulled Kate closer.

“Jessie, I shouldn’t be out of my seatbelt, it’s not safe…..!” Kate giggled.

“Ahh, and why do you think I had them install a center belt. Buckle up, and get over here.” Jessie pretended to scowl, her eyebrow arching slightly.

Kate blushed, and did as she was told. The heat from the closeness of Jessie’s body gave her a sweet tingle deep inside. She laid her head on Jessie’s shoulder, and listened contentedly, while her lover idly hummed with the radio, negotiating traffic with the ease of a captain piloting a boat in calm waters.

Without realizing it, Kate drifted off to sleep. Her mind was still, her heart calm. In the back reaches of her mind a beautiful voice lulled her into the most wonderful sense of love and security. She snuggled in closer, wrapping her free hand lightly in Jessie’s soft denim shirt.

Jessie smiled down at her companion. For the first time since their odyssey began her mind wandered to the changes she had experienced since she had first run into Katie in the studio restroom. It was making her re-evaluate some of the choices she had made with her life. It made her shudder to think how close she had come to the stereotypical life of a Hollywood star. Actually one of her major demons, was accepting the fact that even though it wasn’t in her nature to buy into all of the scandals and scams that were part of the Hollyweird way of life, it would have been inevitable as long as she had stayed with Gregory. And of course, she couldn’t kid herself now, that there would still be a certain degree of scandal attached to her since she had been publicly outed. Gazing at her sleeping lover, made it all worth it.

The trick now was to find a way to find a way to fight for their privacy, her rights with the studio provided she still had a job, and her right to have Katie at her side…forever. Jessie realized that it was only a matter of time, before Justin Graves and the Board of Directors were going to need to be dealt with. A part of her wanted to hang up the whole career and move to her Northern California home permanently, and spend the rest of her life reacquainting herself with her mother, as well as with who the real Jessica Ryan is. And more importantly, learning more about what its like to be truly loved by someone, and returning that love in kind.

Concentrating on the heavier traffic as she got closer to Silicon Valley, Jessie turned her attention back to the coming evening. Jessie truly liked Laura and April. Laura had an incredible way of getting inside a person’s head, and seeing all sorts of things that person might be trying to hide from themselves, and not be willing to face it. She had the strength, and yet warm fuzziness of a Universal Mother.

Jessie also spent some time considering whether or not she wanted to disguise her identity for the trip to the club. The process of trying to hide from her fans, and avoid contact was almost as bad as the contact itself. And not all encounters with her fans had been bad by any stretch…just look at Katie she thought. She made a mental note to talk to Laura about how much hassle it would be in this particular club for her and Kate to go in as themselves.

Moments later she left the freeway for the short trip to Laura and April’s mobile home park. Pulling into the parking area, she gave Kate a little squeeze. It surprised Jessie that Katie was so tired, not stirring once since she had drifted off. Of course, she had no idea that Kate had spent half the night awake, and part of it talking to her own dead brother.

“Hey there sleepyhead, we’re at Laura’s. Time to wake up.” Jessie tickled her knee.

“Nooo! Not time to wake yet…seeping.” Kate snuggled deeper into Jessie’s shoulder.

“Come on now honey. Laura’s waiting for us….got to get inside. I promise you can take a nap later.” Jessie reached across to undo her seatbelt.

Out of the corner of her eye, she caught Laura standing a few feet away, her arms crossed over her chest, a look that said “what are you gonna do now?”. Jessie smiled, and then shrugging her shoulders, opened the door and backed out of the driver’s seat. Leaning in she slid Kate closer to the door, and then picked her up. Pulling her closer, she kicked the door closed with her foot, and sidled up next to Laura.

“You never cease to amaze me Ms. Ryan. You’re such a hero.” Laura giggled at Jessie.

As Laura held the door open, Jessie sidled in with her precious cargo and laid Kate on the guest bed. Covering her with a quilt, Jessie smoothed her hair back and kissed Kate’s temple. Kate shifted slightly already missing the warmth of Jessie’s presence. Moments later she was joined by two warm fuzzy cats, and that settled her for the moment.

Closing the door part way, Jessie stepped out into the family room and right into Laura’s bear hugging embrace. Hanging on for all she was worth, Jessie sighed deeply.

“Got some time for a patient meeting Doc?” Jessie eyed Laura seriously.

Leading her into the living room to the comfort of the “Big Chair”, Laura had Jessie sit, and raise the footrest. When Laura was satisfied she was comfortable, she made a soft kissing sound with her lips. Barely 30 seconds went by, when Corky, Laura’s rather large fat cat joined Jessie in the chair, her head firmly planted under Jessie’s chin.

“Okay, I think we’re ready. Tell me what’s on your mind Jess.” Laura sat on and adjoining sofa her eyes shining with curiosity.

“I don’t know Laura. I’m beginning to wonder if I shouldn’t have dragged Kate into all of this.” Jessie pursed her lips, her eyes staring into the eyes of the cat.

“All what Jess?” Laura asked.

“This, my life. All we’ve had is hassles and heartaches. Psychic intruders, and death threats. Is this all she has to look forward to?” The sadness in her voice brought a noticeable pall on the room.

April took that moment to interrupt and pass out mugs of tea. With both women’s approval she settled in on the couch with Laura. They usually worked well as a team, and this moment was no acception.

Laura considered Jessie’s question. “Nope. She’s also had rather large doses of love, respect, caring, and hot monkey sex. Kate is not stupid Jessie. If she were scared or unhappy, she would not have gone this far with you. She loves you, and for Kate, that’s all that matters. Nothing more, nothing less.”

“I just don’t understand how. By this time next week, I may be unemployed. My mother came back from near death and brought a truckload of voodoo with her, and let’s not forget the real threat of Gregory.” A small tear began to slide down her cheek.

“Whoo Jess, calm down sweetie. Katie would rather be by your side, protecting you from these things, not running from them. She’s one tough cookie.” Laura placed a hand on Jessie’s knee.

“She’s right you know.” Kate stepped in having heard the last part of the conversation.

“Oh, I’m sorry Kate.” Jessie blurted suddenly.

“For what Jess?” Katie sounded surprised.

“By not talking to you first. I feel like I’m sneaking around behind your back.” Jessie grimaced at the thought.

“Jess,” Kate slipped over and sat in her lover’s lap, dislodging the cat, “It’s okay. I trust Laura and April with my life. I want you to be able to confide in them, and share your thoughts and concerns with them. Especially if you’re worried about anything concerning me. Laura will set you straight.”

“Well, not straight…” April chuckled, lightening the mood.

Everyone laughed with her, grateful for the mood breaker. After getting another round of tea, the attention turned to plans for the coming trip to the bar. Kate had considered telling everyone about the visitation from the middle of the night, but decided later was better.

——————————————————————————-

Fear is met and destroyed with courage.

********James Bell********
Chapter 34: (Teach only love for that is what you are).
After making a few phone calls, and a quick trip to the club, it had been decided that Kate and Jessie would go to the bar that night as themselves. The bar owner was delighted that Laura had thought of her place when entertaining her friends, and assured her that all care would be taken to insure a good, fun, safe evening for all.

Further down the coast, Gregory and Star were packing their stolen van, preparing for the drive to Laura’s mobile home. Gregory’s dark persona was in full force, as the events that he had been planning so long for was soon to arrive.

“Get the lead out Star. I’ve been plannin’ this shit for weeks, and I ain’t going to be late because of your sorry ass.” Gregory shouted back through the warehouse door.

Star did one last inventory of the area, and then headed out the door. The only noticeable evidence that she was struggling with her addictions was the trembling in her hands and the bead of sweat that dripped from her temple and ran along her jaw line. She had voluntarily stopped the heroin and speed, on the hopes that eventually she would be able to facilitate her own escape. Daily her fear of Gregory and his intentions had grown, until she no longer believed that she would be set free. Star knew with a grim certainty that she would be on the menu of death that her captor was planning.

Rushing out the door, she slipped behind the wheel of the idling vehicle. Gregory sneered at her, raising his hand in a threatening gesture as though he planned to backhand her for her tardiness. Instead he turned his gaze to the side window, almost visualizing his secret torture chamber through the thick brick walls. Star breathed a mental sigh of relief, grateful for whatever respite she might get from his evil intentions. Putting the van in reverse, she carefully guided them out towards the highway.

Kate adjusted her collar again, not satisfied with how it settled against the front of her shirt. She had chosen this outfit for comfort, but also for ease of movement. She had every intention of dancing, and didn’t want to be uncomfortable in her clothes. The chosen outfit was a soft blue denim sleeveless shirt with a matching pair of soft blue jeans, and dark brown cowboy boots. Kate had no idea what Jessie was wearing, and was anxious to find out. It would determine just how many women she would have to beat back from trying to steal her girlfriend from her.

Waiting patiently in the living room, Jessie idly scratched Violet’s head and ears, only inwardly nervous about her first trip to a women’s bar. She only hoped that the various women who might recognize her wouldn’t pester them the entire evening. While she ruminated over the coming events, she was joined by Laura and April noisily discussing locking up the house, and turning down the heat. Jessie wondered, not for the first time, if she and Kate would ever achieve the same level of companionship and normalcy the their friends seemed to share.

Out of the corner of her eye Laura spied Jessie talking to one of the cats, and did a mental once over. Immediately she could feel a hot blush creep up her neck.

“Holy Cow Jess!” Laura blustered out loud, “I should be carrying a stun gun to keep the women at bay!”

“Geez babe, don’t drool. And, don’t scare her so much. We may never get her into the bar if you keep talking about her that way.” April admonished her lover, a small bit of jealousy showing at Laura’s obvious attraction to Jessie.

Laura smiled, and gave her girlfriend a pinch on the rear end. She could almost feel as well as see the flash of jealousy cross April’s features. She would never in a million years ever be unfaithful to her longtime love, but in a weird way it made her feel good that April felt that someone might actually steal Laura away. Turning her attention to the back of the house, she began to wonder what in the blazes was keeping Kate so long.

“Katie McKenna! You’d best get your cute little behind out here right now, or we’re going to take off without you!” Laura winked at the other two.

Kate heard the call, and grabbing her leather jacket, and her stun gun, joined the others in the living room. Gazing at Jessie, she had nearly the same reaction that Laura did, but more body parts were involved.

“Whooeee! Jessie my love, stand up and let me look at you.” Katie wolf whistled at her blushing lover.

Jessie set the cat down, and brushing any stray fur off stood to her full height, casually swinging her long dark hair back over her shoulders. She was dressed in very tight form fitting black leather pants, with an even more form fitting black vest. Since this was the first time out to this kind of occasion, she had decided to be daring, and had passed on wearing a shirt, and buttoned the vest up to its rather low place at her cleavage. Katie blushed again, and almost told Laura and April to head on without them.

“So…what do you think? Will I fit in?” Jessie’s blue gaze intensified, fearing she had made a mistake.

“Oh, uh, yeah, right in there…you bet.” Kate stammered. “I’m beginning to believe that this stun gun is a good idea after all.”

“Whoa, I was only kidding when I said that.” Laura exclaimed, surprised.

“Oh, well, I never travel without it anymore. There is always the possibility of someone threatening Jessie, and I’m not about to let anything happen to her.” Kate slipped the weapon into her fanny pack.

“Honey, can you do me one favor?” Jessie’s quiet voice rumbled close to Kate’s ear.

“What’s that babe?” Kate blushed again.

“Make sure it’s on stun, and not death ray or whatever. I wouldn’t want anyone to perish on my account.” Jessie smiled a lopsided grin.

“Oh, yeah, sure…not a problem.” Kate said as she changed the setting on the stunner.

Moments later they were driving through the gates of the mobile home park, heading for their newest adventure. Unnoticed by all of them, was a beat up, dirty blue van parked among the various other cars that could only find street space. Once Jessie’s caddie made the turn at the stoplight, the headlights of the van went on, and the engine roared into life. Without drawing any attention, the van slipped through the gate, and very daringly parked right in Laura’s driveway.

Opening the door, Gregory gathered the few things he felt he needed his gun, a flashlight and a cheap Polaroid camera they had picked up on their way to Silicon Valley. Gesturing to Star to grab the cat carrier, he headed for the back of the house where his spy told him was the easiest entrance to the home.

Peering into the gloomy light, cast by the reflection of a street lamp in front of the house, Gregory reached into his pocket and pulled out a very small folding knife. Looking around to see if any of the neighbors had noticed them, he slipped the knife between the aluminum door, and the frame using the blade for leverage. In a very few seconds, the door popped open. Placing a finger to his lips, he waved to Star to follow him. Once inside the room, he made his way to the sliding glass door, left open a few inches to allow the cats to get to their food and water. Opening it quietly, he stepped in careful to look for anything that might indicate an alarm, or other security system. Certain that they were safe, he turned the flashlight on, and began a sweep of the house looking for the animals.

Not readily locating them, Gregory entered the first room that his light had crossed. Recognizing the faint scent of perfume as Jessie’s, he pushed the door in further, and flipped up the light switch. Star was surprised by the sudden glare, and shocked that Gregory would be so bold as to turn a light on. She was about to follow him into the room, when he suddenly thrust the flashlight at her, pushing her back through the doorway.

“Go out there, and find the god damn cat. You don’t belong anywhere near Jessie’s things. You’ll spoil them.” Gregory growled at her.

Not willing to make him any angrier, Star did as she was told. She was interested though in the slight show of vulnerability she saw in his otherwise evil demeanor. She turned away to the other bedroom, and was pleased to see that both cats were lounging on the bed, their eyes glowing bright yellow in the reflection of the light. Sitting on the bed carefully, Star extended her hand, allowing the closer of the two cats to learn her scent. The rather fat, furry cat sniffed the air first, and deciding that this must be a likely victim to press into head petting, she bowed her head and pressed against Star’s palm. Star obliged, scratching the animal’s ears, and letting her long fingers travel under the cat’s chin.

Across the bed from her Violet observed the whole scene. Not liking the smell of these intruders, she knew that they didn’t belong here in her mother’s home. She hissed at Corky in disgust, trying to make her see the danger that Violet was feeling. Corky just purred louder, rolling over onto her back like a shameless hussy. Violet growled at her in disgust, and slipped quietly under the bed, not wanting to be involved with whatever bad thing was happening. She only wished that she had hands so that she could call mommy’s cell phone. And of course she also would need to know how to speak human…

Star was immediately taken by Corky’s flirtatious actions. Carefully reaching down she picked the cat up and held her close, allowing the fuzzy head to rub under her chin. While Gregory was still busy in the guestroom, she took the time to wander out to the kitchen to see if she could find some cat food to take with them. Locating a few cans, she put those in the carrier, and then slipped the cat in with them. Immediately Corky began to protest loudly, missing the warm trembling arms that had been holding her close.

Gregory stalked around the room, taking in the luggage, and the unmistakable sign that Jessie was not staying there alone. Sneering once or twice, he opened the first bag he saw, and rifled around to see if he could identify whose it was. He grabbed a frilly black nightie, and due to the small size correctly identified it as Kate’s. Removing the knife from his pocket, he opened it, and began to randomly slash the nightgown into shreds. Stuffing it back into the bag, he dug through the contents, and came across a small photo of Kate and Jessie together. Using the sharp tip of the knife, he cut a small X through Kate’s image. Placing the photo next to the bed pillows, Gregory moved to Jessie’s bag. Moving through her things, he found a similar nightgown tucked under a pair of jeans. It smelled heavily of Jessie’s perfume. Sitting on the bed for a moment, he held the nightgown to his face, deeply breathing in the heady scent of his obsession. Lost for a moment in his thoughts, he could barely contain the raging excitement he felt. His heart pounded, and he began to feel a reaction elsewhere in his body.

Star stepped to the door of the guestroom, and was preparing to knock when she caught Gregory’s reflection in the mirror. She stared in fascination as she watched him rub a black nightgown over his face, while his other hand squeezed his crotch. Not certain whether it was sexy or sick, she decided she had better interrupt or they might get caught. Clearing her throat, she tapped lightly on the door.

Gregory quickly shoved the nightgown into his jacket pocket; his face and neck a deep red in color.

“DAMMIT STAR! Don’t go scarin’ me like that. Next time I might just blow your fool head off. What in the hell do you want?” Gregory was livid.

“I…I just wanted to let you know that I got one of the cats, and that we should probably go. Someone might notice the van, and call the cops.” Star gulped, fearful that he still might hurt her.

“Yeah, yeah…take the animal out there, and back the van into the street. I’ll close this place up so they don’t catch on right away.” Gregory’s attitude change was so drastic, it was almost comical.

Surprisingly enough, even though Laura and April had been visiting their local women’s bar, for the better part of 20 years, Laura still had the pre-visit jitters. Of course, taking her best friend Kate, and her famous lover and lesbian icon, Jessica Ryan was not exactly an everyday occurrence. Laura glanced at her two friends snuggling in the back seat, and wondered if they were all ready for the reception that they were about to receive.

Part of Laura’s quick visit that afternoon involved picking up the key to the back door of the bar’s office. After conferring with Barb the owner, they both decided it would probably be more comfortable for everyone if Laura’s group just sort of appeared at their table, rather than trying to work their way through the crowd. If they came in through the front, it might take them all night just to sit down. At 8:00 in the evening, it was early enough to blend in, without making a major Hollywood entrance.

April pulled her SUV in behind the club, and parked. A light rain had begun to fall, a possible precursor to a much bigger storm just off the coast. The weather service had even promised a little thunder and lightning to cap off the promised rain and wind. Choosing to brave the sprinkle, and leave their jackets in the car, the four women ran for the door. Laura unlocked it, and as she pushed it open, she stopped. The other three ran into her before they realized she wasn’t moving forward.

“Laura! What are you doing? Get in there, we’re getting wet.” April gave her a little shove.

“BARB! What is going on?” Laura exclaimed.

Pushing her way into the small office space, Laura cleared enough room for her friends to see past her into the bright interior. The entire staff of the bar was crowded into the room, waiting to meet their special guest. Along with the staff, were their girlfriends, sisters, brothers and other regulars at the bar. After promises to give each and every one of them a few moments of Jessie’s time, the group finally backed out into the main bar, and allowed the women to regroup. Barb the owner was just turning to slip out the door, when Laura grabbed the back of her shirt.

“Whoa there dolly! And where do you think you’re going?” Laura raised her eyebrow in question.

“Oh, uh….well, I need to check the beer taps…yeah, the beer taps have been acting up, and I need to check them out.” Barb stammered.

“Oh, beer taps huh? Well, they can wait a few minutes. So, tell me…who else did you tell about our visit?” Laura asked.

“Well, let me see….um, not too many more people. Betty’s bringing more strippers in, cause they figure they’ll make more money, and well, the Royal Imperial Wildcat Court may be stopping by. You know their doing a major fund raising campaign for the Children’s Aids Summer Camp. And, I think that might be it. Give or take a few…” Barb trailed off.

“Geez Barb. I ask for discretion, and what do I get, a Gods-be-damned circus.” Laura turned back to her group. “What do you guys think? Should be back out?”

Jessie stepped forward first. “Listen Laura, it’s okay. I’m used to the attention, and as long as we get through it rather quickly, I can almost guarantee that they’ll leave us alone after while. The novelty will wear off.”

“Yeah Laura. Don’t worry about it. Jessie’s pretty good with the fans, and I’ll protect her if anyone gets out of hand.” Kate added.

“Okay, and so I guess it’s my job to protect you all.” Laura finally let a smile slip across her dour expression.

Once the surprise had settled down, the women worked their way out the door and found a table all set up for them between the dance floor and the bar, but far enough out of the mainstream, that the crowd gathered around them wouldn’t block the room too badly. The interior of the bar actually had three main rooms. The front door was placed between the two main rooms. To the left of the front door, was the main room with the dance floor, DJ booth, and bar. The restrooms and hallway to the office provided a divider to the second room that contained two pool tables, a couple of dart machines and some tabletop video games. The third room was a smaller more intimate space with sofas, a small dance floor, and a second bar. Most of the time this room was only open for special parties, or when a larger than normal crowd was expected. Tonight was no exception.

After everyone was seated, Laura took their drink orders and headed to the bar. Halfway there Barb stopped her. The bar owner had hired a waitress for the evening to take some of the pressure off the busy bartenders. Returning to her seat, she was dismayed to see one of her least favorite persons sitting in her chair, an arm draped across an uncomfortable April’s shoulders. The look on April’s face was enough to tell Laura that if she didn’t get back there, her lover was going to explode.

Seeing Laura approaching, a dangerous look on her face April shrugged her assailant’s arm off her shoulder. “You better disappear Angie, Laura’s coming, and if she doesn’t break your arms, I might.”

Angie took the hint, and bowing to Kate and Jessie, slipped out of the chair and shouldered her way past Laura. Losing her balance, Laura almost fell, but regained her balance and turned, determined to grab Angie by the neck and thrash her a good one. Kate reached back and grabbed Laura by the shirttail, and dragged her back to the table.

“Don’t do it Laura. Barb will have to eighty-six you if you do. Besides, we came to have fun, and not fight. Don’t let Angie push your buttons.” Kate smiled; hoping her friend would catch the hint.

“Sorry. She just has this way of insinuating herself into our space, and it pisses me off.” Laura sat down, grateful that she hadn’t done anything stupid.

After their drinks had been delivered, Jessie’s fans started filing by, individually and in groups. It only took about an hour before everyone was satisfied that it really was Jessica Ryan and her girlfriend, and that they were all fortunate enough that she had chosen their neighborhood bar to spend an evening out. By the time everyone had settled into their routine, it was time for the Hoochie girls to come on the dance floor/stage.

The first woman to step up was a tall willowy blond with legs to her chin, and a pair of…assets that thoroughly defied the law of gravity. As soon as the music started, she began a slow bump and grind, which elicited a loud cheering roar from the capacity crowd of women who were pressing in to get a better view. Halfway through her first number, she moved closer to the crowd, and one by one the women started slipping dollar bills under the straps of her bra top, and through the front and sides of her thong. By the time she had finished her set she was covered in money.

The next few girls came up, and that’s when Laura bought her group the first round of tequila shots. Laura wasn’t able to participate, due to her diabetes, but the others met the challenge with rousing applause. Kate counted to three, and she, Jessie and April slammed down their drinks. Limes and salt were passed around, to soothe the burn of the alcohol as it hit bottom.

Jessie grimaced, she had never done tequila shots before, and this was a new experience for her. Looking around at the crowd surrounding them, Jessie reached for Kate’s hand, a moment of anxiety clouding her features for a brief flash.

“What’s wrong honey?” Kate looked surprised.

“I…I just felt a little strange for a minute there. Sort of exposed. Things are going so well right now, I keep expecting something bad to happen. You know…kind of like my life has been.” Jessie sighed.

“Wait a minute babe, that stuff is in the past. We’re going to move forward, and take each day a step at a time. No more bad things, only good.” Kate kissed the back of Jessie’s hand.

Realizing they could very well kiss in the bar, they did just that. It felt good to both of them. Always being in the public eye, and constantly under scrutiny made these few publicly private moments very sweet. Kate moved her chair closer, so that Jessie could lay her arm across her shoulders.

The strippers left the makeshift stage, and the Royal Wildcats took their place. The Royal Court system had been around for a very long time. The men worked very hard making costumes and running campaigns to win the title of Emperor and Empress. Each person who won staged drag shows and other innovative fundraisers for various charities in the Lesbian and Gay communities. Their shows were always elegant, funny and exciting. This one was no different.

Jessie had never seen anything like it. It was a combination of camp, and a Las Vegas show, all rolled into one. She laughed so hard she had tears running down her cheeks. Kate watched her, and was happy to see that her mood had shifted. The waitress breezed by and Katie ordered another round of shots for April and Jessie, and a beer for herself. Before the drinks arrived, Jessie excused herself for a moment, and rose to leave the table. Kate knew that talking was futile with the music playing as loud as it was, but she managed to catch Jessie’s eye.

Leaning in close Jessie murmured in her ear. “I’ll be right back, I want to talk to whoever’s in charge of this group.”

“Are you sure you don’t want me to come with you?” Kate frowned slightly. “I’m not so sure one of these women might not try to snatch you away.”

“I’m fine. If anything bad happens, I’ll scream like a girl. Then you can ride in on your white horse and save me…” Jessie chuckled, thinking she had just made a joke.

Kate pursed her lips for a moment. Stealing another glance at Jessie’s face, she realized that Jessie was just kidding, and that more than likely the hard alcohol was talking for her. Nodding her head, she watched closely as Jessie wound her way through the crowd, causing near fatal heart attacks from everyone she brushed with a hand or elbow. More than one woman blushed, and pretended not to be looking at the strong tan arms and beautiful blue eyes as she gazed in their direction. Kate scowled a moment, and then relaxed, when Jessie sidled up to a rather tall “woman” with hair the color of flames. She recognized Tracy LaLa, a stockbroker by day, drag queen by night that she had met on one of her prior visits with Laura. Tracy had worked very hard for a number of years to raise money and awareness for his community, and absolutely had no qualms about wearing high heels to get his point across.

While Kate watched everyone else watch Jessie, Laura’s attention strayed to her own lover’s retreating form. From her vantage point, she could see April head for the door to go out and smoke, and from the opposite direction, she noticed the hulking visage of her nemesis Angie. Laura debated about 2 seconds, and when Angie turned and followed April out the door, Laura was out of her chair and hot on her trail. This left Kate by herself and now she started to understand what Jessie meant by feeling exposed.

Kate let her gaze wander through the crowd, noticing the wide diversity of men and women gathered there for the first time. There were professional women, in sedate outfits; women in leather, spandex, or denim. Women of every shape, size, and color. And more importantly, was the fact that the men mixed right in. There weren’t any outward displays of animosity, just one big huge rocking party.

Just when she was beginning to feel lonely, even in the crowded room, she spotted Jessie heading back her way. A few women made an attempt to stop her and make conversation, but she politely informed them that she needed to return to her table. Slipping into her chair, she replaced her arm to it former position, wrapped around Kate’s shoulders.

“Hi there, miss me?” Jessie spoke directly into Kate’s ear.

“Yeah, I was beginning to wonder if I was going to sit here alone all night.” Kate playfully whined back.

“Where did Laura and April go?” Jessie inquired.

“I think there was a problem with that girl Angie. April went out to have a smoke, and Angie followed her out. Laura followed Angie, and that’s about all I know.” Kate looked towards the door for any signs of trouble.

“Do you think we should go and check to see if they’re ok? I don’t know what the story is with this Angie girl, but I don’t think I like her messing with our friends.” Jessie’s eyebrow arched with indignation.

‘Yeah, I’m a little worried myself. Laura can be seriously deadly if she’s pushed too hard. She used to blame it on the alcohol, but I think it’s the Irish in her.” Kate started to rise.

Jessie took Kate’s arm, and ushered her through the crowd. No sooner had they stood up, when a few adventurous women rushed to the table in their wake, and pocketed Jessie’s two shot glasses, and anything else that looked of any value. Fortunately none of the tables occupants had left anything important or too personal behind.

When they reached the door, Jessie stepped through first. Kate giggled nervously, realizing that Jessie was protecting her from whatever might be happening in the parking lot. It made her feel good and kind of silly at the same time, considering that she was a black belt, and trained bodyguard.

As Jessie stepped through the doorway, she noticed Laura standing back in the shadows out of sight of Angie, but still able to see what was going on. Jessie grabbed Kate’s arm and pulled her towards Laura’s hiding place. The three friends watched as April took on the much larger and more annoying Angie.

“What’s up April? How ya doin’ these days?” Angie drawled.

“I’m good Angie, and I’d be a hell of a lot better if you would buzz off and leave me and Laura alone.” April lit her second cigarette.

“Aw, come on April, you don’t have to be so mean to me. I mean Laura’s in with her celebrity friends, and she ain’t gonna see you talkin’ to me. Besides, admit it. You kinda like me and you know it.” Angie winked in her direction.

Knowing that Laura was within earshot, April smiled a sneaky little grin. “Oh, sure Angie, and if you believe that, you’re stupider than I thought.”

“Hey now. You don’t have to be getting’ all mean you know. I mean I never did nothin’ wrong to you guys…well, except for the midnight phone calls, and that time I got you drunk and all…but anyway, Laura don’t deserve you anyway. Why you would want to be spending your time in bed with that fat bitch is beyond me.” Angie knew this would get a response.

From her spot in the shadows, Laura drew in a breath, and set her shoulders. Jessie’s taller vantage point gave her an almost frightening view of what Kate meant when she said that Laura could be dangerous. A certain power settled in her arms and back, and she seemed to gain about 3 inches in height. She was about to step out of the shadows, when Kate laid her hand on her shoulder. Shaking her head from side to side, she let Laura know that it wouldn’t be smart to engage Angie in anything physical. Laura nodded her agreement, and stepped back, only slightly content to let April deal with Angie on her own.

April flicked her cigarette towards Angie’s chest. “Step down off those high class shoes bitch! You have no idea what you’re talking about. Laura is one of the kindest, sweetest, most attentive lovers in the world. You’re just jealous because she’d just as soon break your jaw as sleep with you. Get over yourself Angie. If I were you, I’d get in my car and leave, cause you’ve got about ten seconds before Laura’s on you like a bad cold.”

Angie visibly ducked. She hadn’t counted on Laura being in hearing distance, and she certainly didn’t want to be on the receiving end of anything Laura might dish out, either physically or verbally. Angie had heard Laura speak on many occasions, and she could almost count on Laura belittling her in front of most of the patrons of the bar, and one of the most popular actresses around. Turning in the direction that April was now looking at, Angie cringed when she caught sight of Laura’s eyes. The trick of the parking lot lights made it look like her eyes were glowing. The fact that Laura wore glasses didn’t help either. It gave her an even stronger air of mystery that quite frankly scared the crap out of Angie. She had heard a number of stories about Laura’s reputation, and was not too excited about testing her out. Blatantly giving April the once over, in a last ditch effort to save her pride, she turned and stalked across the parking lot. Jumping into her truck, she backed out and screeched the tires, putting on a show like she was the toughest person around. Most people at the bar felt she was nothing but a loser.

After the truck turned the corner, all the women and men gathered in the parking lot breathed a sigh of relief. Most of them knew Laura and liked her, and knew that if she were pushed hard enough Angie would be but a bit of history. Laura walked over to where April was lighting another cigarette.

“I’m sorry if I interrupted your impromptu meeting there darlin’,” Laura pulled April into a quick hug, “But you know I can’t stand her.”

“I know babe, she’s a pain in the butt.” April kissed Laura’s cheek.

“So, Jess, what do you think about your first trip to a gay bar?” Laura turned her attention to her guests.

“I’m telling you Laura, I haven’t had so much fun in…well forever. This is like Emmy night, Grammy night, and Oscar’s night all rolled into one. Say Laura, think you might have cleaned her clock?” Jessie was positively beaming.

“Jess, Laura doesn’t fight…do you hon?” Kate pinched her friend.

“Hey now, watch that. I just might have to discipline you.” Laura laughed back.

“Listen Laur, they’re getting ready to start the dance music, let’s go back in.” Kate spun excitedly.

“Okay, okay. What about you tall, dark and deadly? Ready to do some dancing?” Laura addressed Jessie.

“”Well, I…I’ll try.” Jessie swallowed.

“What do you mean try?” Laura stopped in her tracks.

“I don’t really dance well. I’m…kind of clumsy.” Jessie frowned.

Kate grabbed her lover’s arm. “Don’t worry honey, we’ll show you how…it’s easy.”

Moving back into the bar, Laura was pleased to see that their table was at least still unoccupied. She had no idea that their glasses and napkins had been picked up as momentos, but that was neither here nor there. Sliding into her seat, Laura flagged down the waitress for another round of shots for her girls. The last member of the Court was leaving the stage, and Laura could see her favorite DJ entering the booth for the night’s dance music.

The first song came blasting out of the speakers. Laura jumped up and grabbed April’s hand, dragging her out to the dance floor. Laura had always enjoyed dancing. Back in her single days, she spent a lot of time in her favorite bars, dancing with an endless stream of women. Most people thought she must have money, or drugs. Something to attract the women to her. What Laura really had was very simple…charm. She could make the most unhappy person in the world have a moment of fun, as though they were the most special woman around. That’s what attracted April to her, and that very charm is what brought Laura the respect she enjoyed even now.

Kate and Jessie sat at their table holding hands. When the waitress came back with their drinks, Jessie threw hers back without thinking twice about it. Kate’s eyes nearly bugged right out of her head. Shooting her a quick glance, Jessie’s eyebrows went into her hairline.

“What?” Jessie tilted her head slightly.

“I don’t know. I’m just surprised at you. Can I offer some advice?” Kate smiled coyly.

“Sure.” Jessie smiled back.

“Be careful of those desert snakes Jess. They have one heck of a nasty bite.” Kate sipped her beer.

“Hmm, very cryptic my dear. So, are you going to teach me to dance or what?” Jessie missed the message, but Kate was sure she would catch on the next morning.

“Ooh, little ole me? Dance with you? I don’t know, am I worthy?” Kate adopted a smug look.

“Oh, maybe not worthy, but certainly the most sexy…” Jessie leered back.

“Hmm, well, since you put it that way, come with me.” Kate rose and took Jessie’s hand.

Leading her lover through the crowd, Kate couldn’t help but feel a few envious sets of eyes pass over them as they stepped on to the dance floor. Jessie started to get a little nervous, but Kate just pulled her close, and let her hips and her hands guide Jess through a few quick moves. Jessie quickly caught on, and matched Kate’s moves with her own. The end result was an incredibly sensuous dance to the otherwise solid pounding of the house dance mix pouring out of the speakers. Kate was surprised, and decided that Jessie must have stretched the truth about her clumsiness.

“Sweetie,” Kate murmured, Jessie’s hips pressed tightly against hers, “I thought you said you couldn’t dance.”

“I’m not…I’m just movin’ with the groove.” Jessie whispered into her ear.

“Mmm, well, if we keep this up much longer, we’re going to have to go to the motel next door.” Kate mumbled into Jessie’s shirt, her eyes closed.

“Oh, I guess maybe…besides, the music has stopped, and everyone’s looking at us.” Jessie chuckled.

Kate stopped suddenly. Slowly she lifted her head, and noticed all of the guests at the bar staring at them. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Laura coming towards them, a huge smile on her face. Bowing her head and laying her forehead against Jessie’s chest, Kate started to laugh. Laura put her arms around both of them, and whispered in Katie’s ear. Kate pulled back a look of utter shock on her face as she unconsciously backhanded Laura in the gut.

“LAURA! ” Kate exclaimed.

“Sorry babe, I couldn’t help it.” Laura chuckled, and gave her friend a peck on the cheek.

“Hey, what did you say to her, shorty?” Jessie loomed over Laura.

“Hey, lighten up, I told her that if I had known you guys wanted to do a floor show, I would have had them charge a bigger cover.” Laura tickled Jessie’s ribs.

“Funny girl…say Let’s go back and get something to drink.” Jessie started to return to the table, when the room erupted in applause.

Jessie bowed, and headed back to sit down, pulling Kate along with her. By the time they reached their seats a fresh round of drinks had been placed, and the music had started again. The friends sat down, and talked amongst themselves for a while. When the song changed, Laura grabbed Kate’s hand and together they went back to the dance floor. Both women grinned at each other, when suddenly Laura pulled Kate into a spin.

“Watch this Jess. These two are incredible together.” April elbowed the taller woman.

Jessie turned her chair, and watched the pair. She had seen people dance like this on TV, and in some of the shows she had done earlier in her career, but she had never been able to master it. Laura and Kate moved across the dance floor like a perfectly tuned machine. It was apparent that the two really enjoyed dancing together as well. They danced like pros.

“Where did they learn to do that?” Jessie asked April.

“Great huh? Laura’s a natural, so is Kate. She taught Kate during her stay with us when she was recovering from her bad attack, when she and Laura first met. Laura used it to bring Kate out of her shell, and convinced her to get involved in the real world again.” April watched her lover with pride.

Soon the song ended, and the women regrouped at the table. Jessie and April talked and giggled, the tequila doing its work on both of them. April was giving Jessie a brief history about Angie and a lengthier history of her relationship with Laura. Kate gave Laura a nod, and glancing at her watch, Laura nodded back.

“Okay you two. I’m getting tired. What say we head for home?” Laura grinned rakishly at April.

“Oh, sure honey. Anything you want…or I want.” April leered back.

The four of them stood, and after many claps on the back, and a thank you or two, they made their way into the office, and out through the back door. Laura was the designated driver, so she started the car, and drove them all back to the mobile home. As they pulled into the driveway, Laura realized that both Jessie and April had fallen asleep.

“So my little pumpkin…did you enjoy yourself?” Laura said in her version of a French accent.

“Yeah, I think both of us did. Jessie was smiling and glowing all night long. And the crowd wasn’t so bad either. I was a little concerned about the Angie thing, but April handled it well. Do you think Angie will ever give up?” Kate frowned.

“Probably not. She’s got a whole bunch of problems, not the very least of which I think she might be bipolar. She goes through these mood swings, where one week she won’t bathe or get out of bed, and the next week she’s out gambling or doing other things to excess. Her family thinks she’s got problems because she’s gay, they refuse to recognize that it goes much deeper than that. Angie’s more afraid of me than anything else. All I have to do is look at her, and she turns to oatmeal.” Laura sighed deeply.

“That’s a shame. Well, we can only hope that somehow, some way she gets help, before something really bad happens.” Kate sighed with her friend.

“Unfortunately, it already has.” Laura opened the door and stepped out of the truck.

While Kate quietly woke Jessie and helped her into the house, Laura did the same for April. Both women settled their respective lovers into bed, and then met in the kitchen for a glass of ice water, and some idle chitchat. Laura took a moment to call to the cats, preparing their dry food for bedtime. It was only one A.M., but she was beginning to feel a little weary.

After several minutes of calling, and the appearance of only one cat, Laura started to get worried. She idly searched from room to room, Kate following in her wake, not yet aware that Laura was upset. Laura started to panic, and pacing quickly back to the cat’s room; she let her eyes wander one more time across the tops of the tables, and storage shelf. She saw it this time. Not only was the cat missing, but some of the food was gone too. That was when Laura realized that someone had taken her pet.

——————————————————————————–

Loss and possession, Death and life are one.
There falls no shadow where There shines no sun

********Hilaire Bellock********
Chapter 35: (To die is landing on some distant shore). John Dryden
“Kate…” Laura whispered.

“Honey what’s wrong? Why are you so upset?” Kate’s heart was pounding.

“Someone’s been here. They’ve taken my cat.” Laura was stricken.

“What can we do?” Kate paused, her heart suddenly paralyzed by fear.

“I’ll check the Global Tracker, and see where they’ve taken her. Then I go and get her.” Laura was quietly matter of fact.

“No wait. Laura I’m scared. This sounds like Gregory, and I don’t want anything to happen to you. Oh please Laura…wait until morning, and I’ll call the detective on our case. They’ll send someone right away.” Kate was panicking, knowing how irrational Laura could be about the cats.

“Katie, that Yakuza guy told you they had him pinned in LA. It’s probably that bitch Angie. I swear I’ll kick her ass.” Laura was fuming now.

“I don’t know Laura. Listen let’s sleep on it, and by tomorrow we’ll know for sure. I’ll call the detective’s, and by the afternoon we should know what happened. Then we can go look for the cat.” Kate didn’t like the look on her friends face.

“I can’t wait Katie…I can’t. I have to find her. Tomorrow might be too late.” Laura started to cry, the fight suddenly leaving her.

“Okay, tell you what. Let’s look on the Tracker, and see where she went, and then I’ll go with you when it’s light out. With this storm, it wouldn’t be wise to go tracking around in the dark by yourself. Just wait until morning…” Kate resorted to pleading.

“I’ll try…” Laura didn’t sound too convincing.

Kate tried to get some rest, but her concern for Laura was too strong to allow her to sleep. Rolling to her side smiled slightly, while she watched Jessie sleep peacefully and deeply in a tequila haze. Lightly tracing and eyebrow, Kate nearly poked Jessie’s eye out when she heard the truck start in the driveway.

“Unh, what…who?” Jessie started.

“Nothing honey. Sorry…go back to sleep.” Kate whispered.

Once she was certain Jessie was asleep, Kate slipped out of bed and quickly began to dress. Carrying her shoes into the main room, Kate quietly listened at Laura and April’s door. The only sound was the quiet murmur of April sleeping. The remaining cat, Violet, was meowing at the door, asking to be let out. Kate turned the knob, and silently pushed the door far enough for the cat to get out. Violet wandered into her room, presumably to use the…facilities.

Glancing at Laura’s computer, Kate noticed that it was still on, the Kendra Knight screen saver playing through a mini episode from the show, to an otherwise inattentive audience. Lightly tapping the mouse, Kate was surprised to see that Laura had left her Internet connection on. Scanning the page, Kate realized that Laura had reconnected to her pet search, and had used the GPS Tracker to locate the missing cat. Clicking on refresh, Kate printed the updated version of the locator map, and put her shoes on preparing to follow her friend. Sifting through the keys on Laura and April’s key rack, Kate discovered the keys to Laura’s Honda. Taking the keys from the hook, she dashed out the door, only vaguely noticing the rough wind and the sound of thunder in the distance.

For the third time since they returned to the warehouse, Gregory visited what he was now referring to as his “Dyke Correction Facility”. Slowly he circled the room, caressing each implement of torture as though it were made of the finest silk. One by one he tested the sharpness, or performance of each blade, cutter, and clamp.

Star had been banished to her room, the cat with sitting with her on the bed. She was content to be snuggling with the softly purring animal, rather than be subjected to the terror that Gregory had become. He seemed to be focused and in Control, but in comparison to when she had first hooked up with him, he was another creature all together.

Star knew that she had a good chance of escaping while the cat’s owner occupied Gregory. Her only concern was…where to go, and should she call the cops. The sound of contented purring interrupted her thoughts. Reaching for her bag, she dug around for her secret stash of heroin. She was sure a little wouldn’t hurt, and might even help her with making her decisions.

Signaling to change lanes, Laura glanced in the rearview mirror. One look at the clock glowing on the dashboard told her it was no surprise there was very little traffic on the highway. She was still angry. Even more so considering that according to the GPS map, her beloved pet was somewhere outside Santa Cruz, not quite an hour from her home.

Doing a mental inventory Laura was hard pressed to find a person or reason for this to happen, with the exception of Angie. It never once occurred to her that it could be Gregory, even after Kate brought him up. Her final thought on the subject was the possibility that it might be a prank that backfired. Startled by a bright flash of lightening, Laura turned on her windshield wipers, promptly losing her train of thought in the torrential downpour that followed the loud rolling thunder.

Taking another look at his workroom, Gregory decided to run upstairs to the computer and contact his mentor in death, Baby Doll. He was surprised to find several messages from the demented killer. Checking on the message, he was further confused by the urgency in which it seemed that Baby Doll needed to talk to him.

Baby Doll: My friend…there is trouble in Paradise. I am at the Malibu house, but cannot stay much longer. We both may be in danger of exposure.

Gregory frowned, not certain what he meant by being in danger and surprised that his friend had returned to the home that Gregory had so recently vacated. He checked on the second message.

Baby Doll: When you get this message, open the ICQ system. You can do this by clicking on the yellow icon at the bottom of the screen. This is an urgent matter!

Gregory followed his instructions, waiting to see what would happen. Immediately the ICQ screen popped up with a message from Baby Doll.

Baby Doll: There is trouble afoot my friend. I am on the move heading in your direction.

Chantilly Lace: What’s wrong? Why the urgency. I’m not expecting you for a few more days. (The name that popped up for his entry did not escape his attention).

Baby Doll: It seems that a former underworld associate of yours, of the Asian persuasion is seeking a close encounter…of the dead kind. I was able to observer their visit from my transport vehicle, via closed circuit. Fortunately they did not trash my house, but they are now seeking you with a certain degree of intensity…and malice. They may find it judicious to either contact, or put a tag on your ladylove.

Chantilly Lace: I can’t leave now. We are moments from meeting my first…guest. Interesting thing I discovered in the materials from the PI. The cats are wired for satellite tracking. My only invitation was taking the animal. By my calculations she should be here any time now.

Baby Doll: Excellent! It is possible that your detractors may not find you before your project reaches its conclusion. However, please be cautious. In any event I will be there eventually to claim my prize for the training etc. Make sure she’s ready. If you wish, you may leave her in the “Operating Room”. No need to draw attention by traveling unnecessarily.

Chantilly Lace: I’ll do that. I may have to drug her a bit to make her more manageable.

Baby Doll: Don’t over do it! They’re no fun if you can’t hear them scream. Ta ta!
Chantilly Lace: Later…
Gregory logged off and sat back for a moment deciding what he should do to kill time. Grabbing one of the tranquilizer guns, he decided to wander down to the front door and see if his first visitor had arrived yet. Passing by the bedroom, he glanced in and noticed Star sleeping on the bed, the cat curled next to her. Fearful that his bait would get away, he stepped carefully into the room and grabbed the heavy beast by the scruff of her neck. She growled, hissed and struggled a bit until he shoved her into the carrier. Slamming the door closed he glanced back at her and barked like a dog. She hissed again, and shrank to the back of the carrier, her white fangs glaring in the shadows.

Turning to Star, Gregory stepped over and grabbed her by her hair. Reacting very slowly she tried to crawl away from him, his violent treatment interfering with her buzz. Finally her eyes opened and she began to realize she was in trouble.

“WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOIN?” He shouted at her.

“I was tired, I…uh was resting.” Star stammered.

“You’re screwed up! I thought you were tryin’ to clean up Star! But I can see that once again you’re failing. I swear to God, if you had lost that cat, I would certainly have to find it in myself to kill you, immediately after finding the fuckin’ animal.” Gregory had started to pace, eerily clinical in his presentation.

“She wouldn’t have gone Greggie, she really likes me.” Star whined.

“It’s an animal Star. They don’t think that hard. Now I’m gonna take the cage, and go and wait for our guest. You better wake your ass up, or you’ll end up as part of the main event.” Grasping the handle of the carrier, he strode out the door.

Laura glanced at the map again, and made the last turn onto the property. The large warehouse like building looming up in the occasional flash of lightening was ominous at best. Still she was so sure it was Angie that started this thing, that her anger overrode her fear. Putting the truck in park, she turned it off, and leaving the keys under the visor she closed the door without locking it and approached the front door. No harm in planning for a quick get away.

Angie’s family had been involved in the Silicon Valley agricultural business for nearly 75 years. It wouldn’t be surprising for her to hole up in one of their warehouses, to perpetuate her prank. Laura noticed the absence of any signs on the building, but this didn’t deter her. Stepping through the slightly open door, a loud creak rang through the building. She was dismayed to see how dark it was. Straining to hear if there was anyone lurking in the shadows, she fumbled in her pocket for a penlight.

Cursing herself for bringing April’s keys instead of her own, she resigned herself to fumbling her way down the hall. Suddenly a brilliant flash of lightening lit up the hallway.

Sitting at the far end was the carrier with her pet glaring back out at her. Almost before the thunder sounded she could hear the cat begin to cry. Breaking into a run, she had almost reached the carrier when another blinding flash ripped through the building. Slightly left and behind the carrier was a tall figure holding a small, strange-looking gun. It was that fleeting moment that Laura realized she was in trouble. Instead of Angie standing in the dark, the image burned into Laura’s retinas was that of Gregory. Turning as fast as she could, she bolted for the door. Too late, she felt a hard sting on her right shoulder and within seconds came crashing to the ground.

Whistling quietly to himself, Gregory reached over and flipped a switch, bathing the hallway in a soft golden glow. Strolling confidently towards Laura, he almost skipped with excitement and anticipation. When he reached her, he poked her with his foot making sure she was truly out. Crouching to feel her pulse, he was satisfied that she was sleeping and not dead.

Returning to his work area, he secured a cart, and called up the stairs for Star to join him. Pushing the cart, he was pleased to note that it was similar to an ambulance gurney, in that it would lower to within a foot from the floor. As soon as he reached Laura’s sleeping form, he started to drag her onto the cart when Star silently moved in next to him. Taking Laura’s feet while Gregory had her shoulders they heaved her ample body onto the gurney. Gregory released the catches and the unit lifted to waist high, a soft whisper signaling the maneuver. The two of them worked together and pushed the cart to the workroom, extinguishing the lights as the passed down the corridor.

Gregory moved the gurney alongside the main worktable. With Star helping him, together they rolled Laura to her side, still balanced on the edge of the gurney. Securing a pair of stainless surgical scissors, Gregory ran the tips across Laura’s arm, as though he was caressing a lover. A sinister gleam crossed his eyes as he used the scissors to carefully cut away Laura’s clothing. Star shuddered, her hands shaking slightly as she removed Laura’s shoes and socks.

When she was completely undressed, they rolled her the rest of the way onto the stainless surface of the worktable. Gregory busied himself securing the restraints that would keep Laura from escaping once he began to work on her. He had decided to do a little redecorating first, by removing one or two of her tattoos. If she stayed conscious, he would do a finger maybe, if not, he would save further improvements for when the next guest arrived. Slipping a sheet over her for the moment, he turned his attention to Star, who was standing listlessly in the corner waiting for further instructions.

“Whatsa matter Star? You’re looking a little pale there.” Gregory chuckled, startling Star and making her jump.

“I…I’m fine Greggie. Just a little shaky. Is there anything I can do to help?” Star was hoping to stay on his good side, fearful that he could turn on her at any moment, and all thoughts of survival would disappear.

“Huh, want to help, eh? Go out to the front, and check and see if she was followed. Whatever you do don’t turn the lights on. Come down here quick if anyone shows up, and don’t yell.” Gregory turned to a nearby closet and began to remove clothing for himself.

Star hurried along in the dark, careful not to make any noise or turn any lights on. Her mind was still muddled after her stupid choice to snort some smack. Spying the cat’s carrier, she stopped and whispered some comforting words through the bars. The cat was strangely quiet. Carefully Star opened the door, and reached in to pet her head. It was then that she discovered the dart stuck in the back of Corky’s neck. A small tear escaped the corner of her eye as she leaned back and closed the carrier door. At least he hadn’t already killed the animal.

Slipping into the shadows near the door, Star winced at the sound of the storm as she carefully scanned the parking lot for any new vehicles. So far Laura’s truck was the only one. She noticed that the storm was passing rather quickly, and soon the moon would begin to shine through the clouds. Star thought about it for a moment and decided she would be better off sitting here keeping watch, rather than returning to the dark, smelly room where Gregory was beginning his first round of torture.

Kate glanced in her mirrors, and veered off the main highway, down the road to her destination. Every nerve in her body was buzzing with a rush of adrenaline and fear. There was a cold certainty in her heart that Gregory was behind this. Turning her thoughts to Jessie, she silently apologized for not being better prepared and prayed that Jessie and April would call for help, rather than trying to help on their own.

Slowing to make the last curve, Kate was relieved that the rain was tapering off, and the moon was beginning to illuminate the road ahead of her. Looming in the distance was a large brick warehouse. Parked in the front are was Laura and April’s dark green truck. At once Kate felt relieved, but then the fear gripped her again, even harder than before. It left her with the feeling that her hair was crawling from her scalp. Pulling alongside the green SUV, Kate carefully reviewed her surroundings. Rifling her fanny pack, she grasped the tazer, cursing herself again for not bringing her gun on this trip.

Star saw the reflection of the headlights under the door, and quickly rising ran almost silently to the room where Gregory was holding Laura. Before Star hit the last hallway, she heard a muffled scream followed by a bone-chilling chuckle from Gregory. Skidding to a stop, Star was tempted to run back to the door and encourage the new arrival to escape with her while they had a chance.

Suddenly the door flew open and Gregory was standing in the light spilling from the opening. In one gloved hand was a sharp steel scalpel, blood dripping from the end. In the palm of his other hand were two small images. One a moon with a shooting star, and the other a small bird with the sun between its wings.

“See that Star…instant tattoo removal. I should start a new business.” Gregory chuckled pleasantly.

Star took one horrified look and realized what she was looking at. Covering her mouth, she turned away, fighting with everything she could to keep the contents of her stomach in place, she gestured to Gregory, and then pointed down the hall.

“There’s someone here.” Star whispered.

Gregory’s grin broadened. “Whyncha say so Star. Heh, it’s almost time for the main event.”

A small thrill ran through him as he returned to the chamber, and set his new acquisition into a small stainless tray. Grabbing a small bottle of saline solution, he dripped a bit over the skin pieces and then gagging a still groggy Laura, he tightened her restraints and quickly moved down the hallway to meet their new guest.

Slowly Kate crept along the dark shadowed walkway. The imposing walls of the abandoned warehouse looming against the stormy night sky. Again she straightened slightly, silently wondering what possessed her to come here alone.

It was her best friend Laura that drew her here. Kate and her lover had stayed at Laura’s house last evening. It had been a fun night, dancing, partying, and sharing stories. Even when that crazy drunk girl tried to hit on Kate’s girlfriend. Kate chuckled as a vision of all of Laura’s 5 feet 3 inches leaned into the girl’s face and politely told her she would rip her ears off if she didn’t back up. Now Laura was gone.

Shaking her head, she returned her attention to the building. A few more steps, she reached into the darkness, and brushed her hand across a small, cold doorknob. Her heartbeat quickened as she held her breath and turned the knob slowly. A slight screech rang out, as the door swung in on rusty hinges.

Taking a moment to regain her composure, Kate slipped into the darkness of the building, hugging the wall to her back as she crept along, desperately trying to be as invisible as possible. Kate knew what terrible secret might be hidden in the bowels of this fortress. She only wished that she had told Laura more about the phone call she had received, that they might all be in terrible danger. Laura just thought she was chasing down a lost pet, not walking into the arms of a killer.

Reaching a bend in the hall, Kate swiftly crossed to the corner, and peeked around, straining for any signs of movement. Not seeing anything out of the ordinary, she began to step into the next hallway, when she heard a soft rustle behind her. Adrenaline kicking in she began to run, but she was a second too late. A soft whooshing sound, a stinging in her neck, and then oblivion…

—————————————————————————-

We become actors without realizing it, and actors without wanting to.

******** Henri Frederic Amiel********
Chapter 36: (Who we are never changes. Who we think we are does – Mary S. Almanac)
Hearing a loud buzz, Kate shook her head a few times before she was finally able to open one of her eyes. At first her vision was blurry, and her mouth felt like she had been eating sand, but she was relieved to know that she was still alive. Closing her eyes again, she went to rub them and discovered she had been restrained. Glancing down at her hands, the after effects of the tranquilizer gave her the illusion that they weren’t really connected to her at all, that they belonged to someone else. Shaking her head again, she closed her eyes, took several deep breaths, and gave herself a moment to reorient. Opening her eyes, she took a quick look at her surroundings.

It seemed that she was sitting in a large high back chair. Her hands and legs were restrained by large leather straps. Looking up, her suspicions were confirmed…she was sitting on what looked like a huge electric chair, used in prisons for executions. Her blood chilled when she realized that the chair was fully active. It had been placed on a raised platform, so that she had a clear view of the rest of the room.

“Heh, so you decided to join us. Somehow I knew you would. All you dykes stick together.” Gregory’s face positively glowed with satisfaction as to how things had turned out.

Shifting out of the shadows, he gave Kate a better look at what he was doing to her friend. Kate also noticed another figure slumped in the corner. A large bruise was forming close to the person’s temple. Long dark hair trailed down the shoulders of the injured person, startling Kate with how much they could almost pass for Jessie.

Turning her attention to Laura, she quickly scanned her for injuries. Her brow furrowed when she reached Laura’s ankle. Squinting her eyes, she nearly vomited when she realized what she was seeing. Where there had once been a neat little quarter moon with a shooting star running through it, there was now a half dollar sized area where the skin had been removed. A trickle of blood seemed to be suspended in its journey towards the surface of the table that her friend was strapped to. Suddenly all sensibility left Kate as she began to thrash against her restraints.

“LET GO OF HER YOU BASTARD! Turn her loose now!” Kate screamed at Gregory.

Strolling over to his captive, he bent over slightly to catch her attention. “Or what? You’re gonna hurt me? Girlie, in case you haven’t noticed, you can’t get anywhere near her or me. Give up the heroics Katie McBuddy. You piss me off enough, and it only gets worse. Either I’ll cut bigger pieces off of her, or I’ll kill her outright. Now if you will excuse me. I’m more interested in keeping her alive for a while, so I need to bring her something to eat. She is diabetic you know…HA!”

Kate glared at him, unwilling to back down. Gregory chuckled again, and after removing his gloves, left the chamber to bring Laura some broth. He realized with a bit of chagrin that if he hadn’t smacked Star for gagging earlier, she could be handling the grunt work right then. Climbing the stairs to the kitchen, he decided to check in with Baby Doll while he had some down time.

Jessie stretched, the absence of her lover seeping into her subconscious. Reaching across the bed with her long arm, she bolted awake when she realized that the sheets were cold, and had more than likely not been slept in. Slipping out of bed she quickly put a robe on, and ventured out into the main room to see if she could find Kate. She didn’t find Kate, be she did find a note.

*Jessie, this is potentially bad. Please print the directions, call both the local authorities, and the detective from LA. Wake April and tell her what’s going on…Laura may be in trouble. Love you, Kate.*

Dropping the note, Jessie went to the computer to see what Kate was talking about in terms of directions. The screen was blank. Frantically Jessie pulled out the keyboard and started touching keys. The quick restart activated, and the directions and map that Laura had downloaded from the satellite tracker reappeared. From there Jessie was stumped as to how to print the image.

Heading for April and Laura’s room, Jessie knocked on the door and listened for a response. Hearing nothing, Jessie opened the door and stepped in. April was sprawled face down across the bed, her arms wrapped around what Jessie presumed was Laura’s pillows. Stepping closer to the bed, Jessie placed her hand on April’s bare shoulder. With a shout April literally flew out of bed and grabbed the front of Jessie’s robe, flipping her onto the bed, and straddling her while she pinned her to the mattress. Jessie gasped, and pressing her own Marshal Arts skills into play used her longer arms and legs to her advantage and flipped her naked nemesis back over and pinned her arms above her head.

“April stop! It’s me Jessie!” Jessie shouted at the struggling woman.

“Jessie? What are you doing? Where are Kate and Laura?” April mumbled, oblivious of her state of undress.

Embarrassed Jessie turned her loose and threw a sheet over her. “They’re gone. Judging by the note that Kate left and the map on the computer I would say they’ve gone after the cat. Kate seems to think Laura is in danger. She wants me to call the cops, but I need help with the computer.”

Finally realizing that she was undressed and that she had been straddled by one of the world’s most popular actresses, April had the good graces to blush. Grabbing Laura’s robe, April slipped it on and headed for the computer, grabbing the phone on the way.

“Jess, I’m sorry I jumped you. I’m an ex-Marine, and I was trained to jump at an unfamiliar touch. Sorry I’m not dressed either, but we don’t exactly wear clothes when we sleep.” April blushed again.

Sitting in front of the computer, she sent the print command and waited while the map and directions made their way onto the paper. Handing the printouts to Jessie the two of them scanned them carefully to see if they recognized the location.

“Why is Laura in danger if she’s just going after the cat?” April asked.

Scanning the map again, Jessie was surprised to see that she recognized the area that the satellite had focused on. When she had been a child her father had taken them to warehouses in that same area to process apples. As far as she could remember the warehouses had long gone without use, but Jessie knew they were still there. A creeping feeling of warmth and déjà vu washed over her. Looking at the computer screen, Jessie could have sworn she saw her dead brother’s face staring back at her. He was smiling, but his expression was one of urgency.

Turning to April she explained. “Gods April. They really are in danger. I think Gregory may be involved, so we need to find them right away.”

“Shit! What about the cops Jess? And that detective guy?” April was visibly upset now.

“We’ll call them from the car. Quick, get dressed and let’s go.” Jessie nodded her head towards the bedroom.

Voicing her agreement with a grunt, April dashed for her bedroom to change. Not willing to let any possibility get past her, she took a moment to rifle through their dresser drawers and came up with a small caliber dart gun, and several boxes of darts. She and Laura had confiscated the gun from one of the troubled kids who had passed through their life not long before. Although it was only a dart gun, it had the look, feel and deadly accuracy of a real handgun. The darts that it fired were meant for a target made of thick fiber. They were essentially the equivalent of a .22 caliber bullet with feathers and a point. April knew that beyond a shadow of a doubt between her military training, and the fact that someone was threatening her soul mate, she would have no problem using the gun to its optimum efficiency.

Joining Jessie in the driveway, they both realized that it would be necessary to use Jessie’s car to reach their destination. Not exactly the most discreet, but it was the only option. April sent Jessie to bring the car in from the visitors parking, while she gathered a few more supplies. By the time Jessie returned April had a rather large pile of equipment including ropes, a climbing axe, water, flashlights, blanket and a large first aid kit. Inside the first aid kit she had added Laura’s medication and some emergency protein bars. After checking with Jessie to make sure the big red car had emergency flares in the roadside kit, she was satisfied they were ready.

The two women were largely silent as they approached the freeway. Traffic was light, since it was still a couple of hours before dawn. Their combined anger and fear were being fueled by the response that Jessie received from the police and the detectives respectively. They had been told under no certain terms that they were to stay home and wait for word, and to stay far away from the location. The detective handling the case from LA told them that he could mobilize a team combined with the local authorities in approximately three hours.

Slamming the phone shut, Jessie glanced at April. “Screw them! I’m not waiting. Laura and Kate could be dead by the time they get there. We’re not waiting.”

April considered Jessie’s harsh response for a moment. “How come a big actress like you has suddenly grown such large huevos? I would have expected total cooperation from you.”

Jessie debated what to tell April, and decided under the circumstances the truth was the best plan. Taking a deep breath, Jessie resigned herself to the fact that now was not the best time to keep secrets.

“Not all people fit into neat little boxes April.” Jessie began cryptically.

“Duh, Jess. But…” Jessie stopped April with a raised palm.

“I’m sure you’ve heard some of the stories about my childhood, and the problems my family had.” Seeing April nod, she continued.

“After my father was killed, and my mother and brother were taken out of our lives, Michael and I were sent to live with relatives. When I reached high school, I became somewhat of a pain. Rebellious, in trouble all of the time, on the road to self destruction.” Jessie signaled to change lanes; idly noticing the sun would be coming up by the time they reached their destination.

“I was one of the best con artists around. I used my looks to get what I wanted, and manipulated and controlled people to my each and every whim. Once I started acting, both in school and on the streets it seemed like I had it made. When Justin Graves, and subsequently Gregory came into my life, I was thoroughly primed to become one of the biggest stars, and the biggest bitches on the planet. Chew people up and spit them out. Then Gregory began to show his true colors. While I was a manipulative, conniving bitch, Gregory was downright evil. He decided early on that I was no longer going to control my fate or my actions, he was. Suddenly I saw myself for what I really was, and it made me ill. I threw myself into my work, trained my body to withstand Gregory’s poor treatment, and steeled my mind against collapse. And the rest as they say is history.” Jessie took a deep breath, and trained her gaze to the road ahead.

“What about your mother?” April asked quietly.

“When she resurfaced, and I knew I had the ability to afford her care, I had her moved to the hospital near my home up here. It was my way of doing penance for my sins you might say. And it offered me occasional refuge from Gregory’s abuse. If it wasn’t for Katie, I would probably have killed myself by now.” Jessie sighed.

“Well Jess, we all have a past, and I promise we won’t ever let our knowledge of yours color how we feel about you now. For my part, I’m glad you’re really tough, because I don’t think I could get through this without your help. I have no idea what we are going to do when we get there, but the two most important objectives are for us not to get killed, and to make sure that neither Laura or Kate get killed either.” April sat up straighter, her anger turning into resolve.

“I’m with you April. Let’s go rescue our girls, and the hell with what the authorities have to say. Besides, I don’t think there is anyone else on this planet that knows Gregory’s mind like I do. At least I hope that’s still true.” Jessie’s brow furrowed with concern.

——————————————————————————–

Those who say it can’t be done

are usually interrupted by others doing it.

********Joel A. Barker********
Chapter 37: (Getting rid of a delusion makes us wiser than getting hold of a truth – Ludwig Borne)
Gregory sat staring at the computer frustrated that he could not seem to locate his friend Baby Doll. His ghoulish mentor, who seemed to be online all of the time, was unusually unavailable. He only wanted to tell him how well things were moving along. Finally giving up, he shut the system down, and grabbing the bowl of lukewarm broth started to head down to the workroom to resume his project. Deciding he was a bit hungry himself, he changed his mind and went back to the kitchen, figuring his guests weren’t going anywhere, so he had all of the time in the world.

Kate fought against her restraints again; anxious to get to Laura and see how badly she had been hurt. Nothing she tried worked, so in a last ditch effort she started to call out to her friend, hoping to get some sort of response.

“Laura! Laura can you hear me?” Kate called across the room. “Hey! Girlfriend, come on, talk to me.”

Laura stirred. She had actually been semi-conscious since Gregory had left the room, drifting in and out, uncertain of anything except the pain in her ankles, and the stiffness in her muscles from being strapped down for several hours. Vaguely she thought she could hear someone calling her. Doing her best to orient her attention in the direction of the voice, she attempted to speak. Nothing came out of her mouth, but a dusty sounding whisper. Closing her eyes for a moment, she tried again.

“Hello…?” Laura whispered.

“Oh Gods! Laura!” Kate called back.

“Katie? Is that you?” Laura replied.

“Honey its me. Oh Laura,” Kate started to cry, “are you okay?”

Laura tried to lick her lips, but they were still dry. “I’m okay babe. A little dry maybe, and my goodness don’t I hurt.”

“Laura, I’m sorry. Listen, we have to get out of here. I just don’t know how.” Kate’s voice took on a sound of panic.

“Well sweetie, I can’t see you, but I am sure you can tell that I can’t quite get off this table. Where are you, and more importantly where are we?”

Gregory returned in time to hear the last bit of conversation between the friends. “Well there. Looks like our girl survived round one. What do you say there Laura? In the mood for something to wet that whistle of yours?”

Laura, still uncertain who her torturer was tried to lift her head to get a better look. “Come closer, Dr. Dipshit. I want to see the moron who carves up women for fun.”

“Laura! Sshh! Gregory will only hurt you again. He may even kill you.” Kate sounded panicked.

Frowning Gregory loomed over his captive. “She’s right you know, bitch. I could kill you in a heartbeat if I were so inclined. Tempt me again, and I may get bored and end this game now.”

Gaining a little better control of her faculties Laura lashed out again. “So, Gregory huh? Figures some girly-man like you would stoop to capture and torture. Geez, what ever happened to a good old close range fistfight? Or did your mamma tell you it wasn’t polite to hit girls. Some how I doubt it. Listen pig boy, come on and let me loose. Hell, what are you afraid of? Short, overweight dyke like me? Shoot, I don’t stand a chance, but it would be a hell of a lot better than this redecorating crap. Come on little man turn me loose.”

His face a sick purple-red color, Gregory set the bowl of soup aside and grabbing the nearest scalpel, began to slash unevenly at the next bit of tattooed artwork on Laura’s leg. It had been his original plan to remove this particular piece in sections, to prolong her agony, but at the moment he was so angry he determined to give her the highest level of pain. Cutting along the lower part of the drawing, he slipped the scalpel under the image, and quickly removed the three inch pink triangle. Blood seeped freely, leaving a small pool on the edge of the table.

Laura gasped at the initial contact, and then gritting her teeth forced herself to remain quiet, not willing to give him the satisfaction of hearing her scream. Kate cried openly, not believing that her friend would be so stupid as to harass their captor into injuring her again, this time in a fit of anger.

Again she fought against her restraints, only to receive a resounding crack in the jaw from Gregory as he angrily paced back and forth between the two women. Moments later he slipped the small piece of flesh into one of the saline trays, and throwing the bloody scalpel onto the instrument tray, turned and stalked out the door, slamming it as he cleared the threshold.

Once she was sure he was gone, Laura finally gave in and allowed the tears to fall. She had begun to feel faint again, and knew that it would only be a matter of time before her diabetes and the shock of the torture would put her out for good. She wasn’t even sure in her own mind why she egged Gregory into attacking her again, but a small part of her wanted him gone, to give them time to figure a way out of what was looking more and more like a hopeless situation. Closing her eyes, she let the pain overcome her, the sound of Kate’s quiet sobs becoming distant in her mind.

Jessie signaled to make the last turn down the dark, damp road that led to the warehouse where they were certain Kate and Laura were being held. Glancing at April, she was surprised to see her companion’s eyes shut, her breathing steady as though she were sleeping. Shrugging her shoulder, Jessie slowed down and surveying the surroundings, decided to shut her headlights off, and drift in under the cover of early darkness, and scattered clouds from the prior storm. April sat up the minute she heard the click of the headlight knob.

“Hmm, I was wondering how the hell you could sleep right now…” Jessie murmured, the unknown ahead enough to cause her to whisper.

“I wasn’t sleeping. I was…praying…to whomever would listen. I can’t lose Laura…I can’t.” April stifled a sob.

“Don’t fall out on me now April. We need to keep our wits about us, and stay strong. I know he is capable of doing harm to them, but I am not sure he has the guts to kill them, and I don’t want to find out the hard way.” Jessie angled the big car through the trees, the warehouse beginning to loom in front of them.

“I won’t fall apart Jessie. I’m a former Marine, remember? When the going gets tough, the tough kick ass. First things first, what do you remember about this place?” April set her face into a concentrated scowl.

“I remember that it is roughly rectangular, few windows, and I know there is an upper level with offices and a lunch room or some such. Our biggest problem is going to be getting in without getting caught. If I remember correctly, there is an old iron staircase running up the back that let’s you into the upper level. If we can get up there, we might be able to sneak past Gregory and whoever he has helping him guard the place.” Jessie’s mind was warming up to the coming tasks.

“Okay, then here’s what I want to bring with us…definitely the dart gun. Even if it doesn’t prove lethal, at the very least it can buy us some times. And, I want the flashlight, the rope, the axe, and some of those flares from your roadside kit. The rest we can leave in the car until we get everyone out.” April counted off the items on the ends of her fingers.

“How in the hell are we going to carry all of that stuff? And do you have matches for the flares?” Jessie was beginning to think April was crazy.

“No, Jessie, we don’t need matches. The flares have a striker in the cap. They act like a match on their own. I have a small knapsack to put most of the stuff in, and I can hook the axe into belt temporarily.” April smirked at the look on Jessie’s face.

“Okay sure action hero. Then you lead this little mission if you’re so smart.” April’s face darkened in the dim light.

“April, it’s okay. I trust you to do what’s right. Again, the two most important things we need to do are get Kate and Laura out alive, and not get injured ourselves. The Feds can handle the rest.” Jessie attempted to soothe her companion’s nerves as she maneuvered the big car around the back of the building and under the staircase.

As she backed the car up, so that if necessary they could make a quick escape, Jessie noted that the last section of the staircase had been removed. That meant that they were going to have to do some climbing in order to reach the next section up. Pointing that fact out to April, she stopped the car, and the two of them quietly got out to more closely assess the situation. Uncoiling the rope, April slung the backpack over her shoulders, tossed the rope over the nearest rail of the staircase, and bracing her boots against the wall gripped both ropes as she hauled herself within range of the last step. When she was safely seated on the rail, she tied the rope off, and dropped the end down to Jessie. Not to be outdone, Jessie followed April’s example and soon was sitting next to her.

“Here’s where it gets a little dicey.” Jessie whispered.

“Yeah, I’m with you. Let’s hope that door is unlocked, and that the hinges don’t squeak. Otherwise, we’re sitting ducks.” April was about to stand and climb the stairs when the door above swung open.

Signaling to stay quiet, the two women froze in place. Risking a look up, Jessie jumped slightly when she realized that it was Gregory who had opened the door. He stood silently in the doorframe smoking a cigarette, and gazing towards the rising sun. Fearing that if he looked down, he would see them Jessie bowed her head, and indicated that April should do the same. It was still possible that her blond hair would show up in the dim light, but Jessie hoped that it wouldn’t be so noticeable. Moments later Gregory stepped back through the door, apparently not noticing the two intruders, or the big red car parked just below. He also made the final fatal mistake by leaving the door open to let some air in.

Jessie looked at April and shrugging her shoulders counted to twenty and began her ascent to the open doorway. April took a last moment to scan the sunrise and guess how much more time they might have before it was completely light, and then followed her friend up the stairs. Drawing herself in as tight as possible against the outer wall, Jessie listened intently for any movement inside the building. An involuntary shiver ran down her spine. Echoing through the door was the sound of Gregory whistling a light tune as he skipped jauntily down the stairs into the main warehouse. Jessie froze, counting to fifty, assuring herself that Gregory was far enough away from their position on the outer stairwell. Nodding her head towards April, the two women slipped into the dark, musty interior of the building.

Gregory felt…better. Whistling the theme song from the Kendra Knight show, he fairly danced down the steps, ready for more fun with his captive audience. His thoughts strayed to Jessica. He shivered with anticipation, excited about the prospect of regaining his control over her. After the current obstacles in his play/workroom had been eliminated of course. So much to do, so little time.

Stepping through the door to the workroom, he was surprised to see Star still on the floor unconscious. A brief buzz of concern ran through him, afraid that he might have killed her before he could turn her over to Baby Doll. Nudging her with his foot elicited a slight groan, relieving his concern. He redirected his focus to the pair of sea green eyes that were watching his every move. Stepping over to Katie his features softened for a brief moment.

“You know, I can see in a way why she might have been attracted to you. You are kinda cute in a little angel kinda way. She probably figured on using you, and extinguishing that angelic glow before moving on to someone more in keeping with her stature…like me. You’re not good enough Katie, not for the fiery soul that dwells inside Jessica Ryan. I own that soul. It’s mine, and it will never be possessed by anyone else.” He smiled beatifically at her before his evil mask slipped back into place.

“You can rot in hell, Gregory. She doesn’t love you or want to have anything to do with you. And she will surely make you pay for this!” Katie shouted at her nemesis.

Moving closer to his captive, he backhanded her across the face, and then waited for her response. Katie fixed him with a threatening glance, intent on injuring, and maybe killing him should she escape her bonds. Not very pleased with her response, Gregory hit her several more times, leaving Katie with numerous cuts and bruises over the better part of her face. Backhanding her a final time, he received an almost euphoric rush when he heard her nose crack. Blood gushed from her nose, dripping down the front of Kate’s shirt. Kate never cried out or flinched much during his abuse, but the shattering of her nose was all she could take. Her chin touched her chest as she slipped into unconsciousness.

Satisfied that he had rid himself temporarily of a minor annoyance, Gregory set his sights back on Laura and made preparations to remove the large tattooed portrait of Jessica as Kendra Knight from her back. This was the piece that he planned to preserve for the future as a reminder to Jessica of who was in charge in this relationship. Turning Laura onto her stomach, he reached for the scalpel when he heard a loud clanging noise coming from the area beyond the workroom door. Dropping the scalpel onto his tray, he grabbed the tranquilizer gun and dashed for the doorway.

Jessie and April had already hidden themselves in the shadow of equipment stored not far from the door of the workroom. Moving quickly when Gregory ran to investigate the noises, they slipped into the workroom, and were stunned by what they saw. April nearly blew their cover by beginning to raise her voice in anguish over the condition of Laura and Kate. Clapping her hand over April’s mouth, Jessie signaled to her to regain control and be quiet. Spying Star on the floor, and recognizing the vague resemblance, Jessie began to formulate a plan.

Grabbing April’s hand she got her to help drag Star out and stash her behind the same equipment they had hidden themselves behind. Star opened her eyes briefly, fear crossing her injured features. Jessie smiled at her, and had her slip her jacket off. Donning the jacket, Jessie whispered to her to remain hidden and to stay quiet, and they would make sure she got out alive.

Leaving April with Star, Jessie took the dart gun and returned to the workroom and lay down on the floor in Star’s place. Her gaze traveled past Kate, and her heart nearly froze with pain from what she saw. Putting her head down, she waited for Gregory to return, vowing silently to make him pay for all he had done to her lover and their friend.

——————————————————————————–
Chapter 38: (That’s all there is there ain’t no more…..) Me.
Gregory searched the rooms and stairs, realizing that he had left the door to the outside fire escape open. Searching the landing for signs of intrusion, he wasn’t entirely surprised to see the nose of Jessie’s car sticking out from below the stairway. Further investigation yielded the discovery of the rope dangling below the last step of the railing. Cursing, Gregory headed back into the building, and went into the bedroom to get his gun.

Racing down the stairs, gun at his side, Gregory pushed his way back into the workroom. Quickly scanning the room, he failed to notice that his former wife had replaced Star. Setting the gun down, he grabbed a rib cutter and began to cut the straps that held Katie in her chair. Slapping her slightly on her cheeks and wrists, he began to revive her for the purpose of using her as bait to flush Jessie out.

Moaning slightly, Katie opened her swollen eyes. Vaguely aware of the fact that she couldn’t breathe, she gasped as consciousness returned. Pulling her to her feet, Gregory grabbed the gun off the counter just as Jessie rose from the floor, her back to Gregory, the dart gun held loosely in her hand.

“Star! It’s about damn time you joined the party. Get over here and give me a hand. Jessie’s here, and I’m gonna find her. We’ll just use her little bitch as bait.” Gregory slung Kate’s arm around his neck, dragging her across the room.

Jessie let her hair fall across her face as she turned to face Gregory. Shuffling closer, and reaching for Kate’s other arm; she stopped in horror as Gregory pointed the gun at Laura’s head.

Hearing the slight gasp, Gregory turned in surprise to look at Star/Jessie. “What’sa matter? I’m just getting’ rid of the dyke, so I can concentrate on Jessie’s bitch. Fewer problems that way.”

Turning back to Laura he cocked the gun and suddenly dropped his head, firing a bullet into the far wall. Reaching for his neck he was confused and dismayed to find a .22 cal dart buried to the feathers in the flesh over his spine. Pain seared his head as he pulled the dart out, and turned to face whom he now knew was his former wife.

“That wasn’t a very nice way to say hello Jesse.” Gregory’s eyes flashed his anger and confusion.

“Don’t worry Gregory. I’m not feeling very nice at the moment.” Jessie pointed the dart gun in his direction.

“Jessica, Jessica, Jessica! I hate to tell you this babe, but nine-millimeter wins over a dart any day of the week. If I were you, I’d drop the gun and come along quietly. Face it; your only choice is to come back to me. Otherwise I might be compelled to kill you, along with your little friend here.” Gregory smiled smugly; sure he had her right where he wanted her.

Surprising herself, Jessie mulled her options, and agreed to go with him. “Okay, you win. But you have to let my friends go.”

“Ah, ah, ahh, not so fast. None of this would have happened if it wasn’t for this girl here.” Gregory’s eyes narrowed, glazing over slightly. Squeezing Kate’s shoulder, Gregory made her cry out in pain.

“It wasn’t her fault Greg. It was mine. Please let’s leave them here, and go for a ride to the coast. It will be like old times. I’ll make it all up to you.” Laying the dart gun next to Laura she stepped closer, and smiled reaching for his hand.

“You and me huh? Make it up to me? Do you really mean it?” Gregory tightened his grip on Kate’s shoulder again, wary of any deceptions.

“I really mean it Greg. Let’s go for a walk on the cliffs, and watch the fog burn off and talk about the future. Not tricks!” Jessie edged closer.

Letting Kate slip to the floor, Gregory took Jessie’s arm, his eyes glazed over, gun at his side. The two of them walked to the door and passed through on their way to the door. As they exited the workroom, Gregory stopped and closed the door behind them. Gregory turned a large valve on the wall next to the door, shocking Jessie when she heard water running in the room they just left.

Feigning disinterest, she fixed her gaze on Gregory, trying hard to keep the tremor out of her voice. “What’s the valve for Greg?”

“Oh, just a bit of housekeeping is all.” He answered vaguely, as he propelled her towards the outer door.

Risking a glance towards April’s hiding place, Jessie allowed herself to be led out of the building. Waiting for a few minutes, April made sure they were gone as she saw Jessie’s car head for the road out of the property. Running to the workroom, she arrived just as Star was turning the valve.

“What the hell are you doing? Step back before I deck you!” April pulled her back by the arm.

“I’m trying to shut the valve off. We need to stop the water, and then open the other valve. If this runs much longer, they’ll drown.” Star pulled her arm out of April’s grip, returning to the task of shutting off the water flow.

Realizing Star was only trying to help, she ran to the other valve and started turning it fast. “What’s this one for?”

“I think Greggie said it opens the drains. He said they often used this room for washing the apples. They filled it half way and then started dropping apples in through a chute in the wall. The often put chemicals in the water to kill any bugs that may be hangin’ around.” She locked the water valve, and then helped April lock the drains open.

Pulling the door open, April noticed that the water hadn’t reached Laura yet, and Kate had already begun to remove Laura’s bonds. She had been kneeling on top of the worktable, working frantically, while trying to remain conscious. Grabbing Laura by the shoulder, Kate pulled her into a sitting position. Laura’s head rolled forward, her actions lethargic. Kate quickly guessed that Laura was in shock from her injuries, and rapidly approaching diabetic shock. Kate quickly turned to April and Star.

“She needs food April, and her medicine. She’s in shock. We need to get her dressed, and warm her up.” Kate stepped to the floor, and gestured to Star to find Laura’s clothing.

While April ran for some snack bars, and Laura’s medicine, Star ran for the bedroom where she had left Laura’s clothes in a bag. Gregory had asked her to throw them away, but for some reason she thought she should keep them. Running back down the stairs she stopped for a moment, wondering why she was helping these people when somewhere inside of herself she knew she should run while she had the chance. Deciding that she didn’t have anywhere to go, or any way to get there, she continued back to the workroom. These folks couldn’t be anywhere near as bad as Gregory, she figured she could tag along, and probably do better than if she were by herself.

Jessie hazarded a peek at Gregory. What she saw frightened her deeply. His skin had taken on a sheen of sweat; the color a dull, blotchy gray. Every so often his eyes tracked back and forth, almost with no control. He talked to himself. Mumbling about how right it all was, how he would never lose control of the bitch again. Jessie was his. She shuddered, running ideas through her mind as to the best way to get rid of him. Heading for the cliffs, she could only hope that her idea would pay off.

“What are you thinkin’ so hard about there Jess?” Gregory broke into her thoughts.

For a moment he almost sounded normal. “Oh, just how happy I am that we can see this through Greg, and start working towards the future.”

“Yeah? So, where are we going?” His eyes narrowed, a brief flash of suspicion crossing his features.

“Oh, I thought we’d head out to the cliffs. Take a walk; catch up with each other. They really are beautiful this time of year. Especially after last night’s storm.”

Jessie mentally willed herself to relax.

Suddenly he began to yell at her. “WHAT IN THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING?”

“What…?” Jessie fought to stay in her lane on the highway.

“Taking up with that little whore, Kate McKenna. Did you really think that she could possibly be better than me? Did you? ANWER ME!” Gregory drew back, threatening to backhand her if she didn’t answer.

“Gregory, I’m sorry, she was just a diversion. It will never happen again.” Jessie made a note to apologize to Kate when she saw her next…if she survived.

“Damn straight it will never happen again. Cause by now…she’s sucking water there Jess. Drowned her perky little ass back there. Never have to worry about that bitch again, or her damn dyke friend.” Gregory chuckled, proud of himself.

Stunned, Jessie’s heart clenched when she processed his words. “What do you mean you drowned her Gregory? You didn’t have to do that.”

“Sure I did, Jess. Gotta make sure she doesn’t come around meddling in my business anymore. Besides, it will be a long time before anyone finds them.” Gregory chuckled at his good fortune.

Jessie turned her gaze back to the roadway. The turnoff to the cliffs was coming up pretty rapidly. She was uncertain whether or not he remembered that Star had been left behind, and whether or not he thought she had followed Kate alone, and had left April at home. Praying that they discovered what he had done in time, Jessie forced herself to continue on, and hope that she could follow through with her plans.

“Come on Laura…shake it off. Don’t leave us honey…” April slipped Laura’s shirt on, while Kate dressed the wounds on her legs.

“Katie, we have to give her some of this orange juice, or we’re going to lose her.” The urgency in April’s voice stopped Kate.

April tipped the glass, letting the cool juice drizzle into Laura’s mouth. Laura’s eyes had lost their tracking ability, and she wasn’t have much luck swallowing. April tried again, whispering entreaties into her lover’s ear as she coaxed her into swallowing. Moments later she began to shake violently, seizures racking her body. April tried to hang on tightly, letting Laura’s body chemistry react, without allowing her to harm herself. Slowly the tremors subsided. Kate took a soft towel and wiped the sweat from Laura’s forehead. Laura began to talk a bit, sounding drunker than a lush in a bar.

“Whad happent? Why did I fool so bat?” Laura mumbled loudly.

“You’re having a diabetic fit Laur. You’re going to be okay, honey. You’re just in shock.” Kate continued to wipe her friend’s face with a soft cool cloth.

“Come on babe. Let’s get a couple of these pills down, and then you can have a protein bar. Please baby, focus on me. Let’s get you feeling better.” April pleaded, cajoled, anything to get Laura to respond.

Laura began to cry softly. “My head hurts, and my legs hurt. What happened? And where’s Jessie. Man my head hurts…”

“We have to find Jessie, Laura. Gregory has taken her away. We have to find her…we have to.” Kate’s fear for Jessie began to overlap the throbbing pain her broken nose was causing her.

Clear her throat, Star stepped forward, wanting to try and help the friends. “I might know where they went.”

Kate stepped back, focusing on Star’s face. “Why would we want to trust you? You’ve been working with Gregory this whole time. How could I possibly think that you would actually be able to tell us where he’s taken Jessie.”

“Look, I know you don’t trust me. That’s only fair. But…Greggie’s been holding me prisoner for a long time now. He gives me…speedballs, heroin and coke. I have a smack problem, and he uses that to control me. And…he beats me…regularly.” Star bowed her head in shame.

“Kate…leave her alone. She’s been through enough. We need her help.” Laura shook her head trying to focus on the conversations.

“But Laura…what if she’s wrong?” Kate pleaded with her friend.

“Then she’s wrong. We don’t have anything else to go on Kate. Now, give me something to eat, so we can get this show on the road.” Laura tried to swing her legs off the table, and nearly fell over.

“Wait a minute…take it easy. You just averted diabetic shock, and you’ve had some horrible things done to you. Don’t you think you should rest a while?” April was staring at her lover like she had two heads.

“Honey, we have to go. If we don’t Jessie may be injured, or worse, he may try to kill her. We have to help her.” Laura looked to Kate for agreement.

“She’s right April. If you want I can take Star, and we can leave you two here. But we have to try and help Jessie.” Kate looked like she had been tangling with a Mac truck.

“Okay, you all look like death, but who am I to stand in your way. Let’s get our crap together, and get out of this place. I’m tired of looking at it…and smelling it.” April started looking around for things to use as weapons.

Packing a good size duffle bag with several items, they remembered to pick up the cat in her cage on the way out. Star followed along, still uncertain if they were going to include her, or leave her behind. She knew in her heart that if they left her, that something even more terrible than Gregory awaited her. She could feel it in her bones. Deep inside she was starting to feel a craving for some smack too. For a brief moment she was tempted to return to her room, and pack up all the smack that was left, but decided the only way she was going to win her freedom was to stay clean.

Loading up April’s Jeep Cherokee, the three women and the cat began their trip towards the ocean cliffs. Star had thought that they might be headed there, because she heard Jessie say something like that under her breath. While April drove, Star rifled through the glove compartment looking for a map. Kate snapped her fingers, reaching between the seats, she recovered Laura’s cell phone from between the seat and the console. Pulling it out of the case, she was dismayed to find that the battery was almost dead.

Taking a chance she dialed Michael’s number. The phone rang several times, until just one ring left before voice mail, he finally answered. “Hello…?”

“Michael, this is Katie. I need your help.” Katie spoke hurriedly into the phone.

“Katie? Honey where are you guys? Why do you sound so stuffed up?” Michael’s voice gave away his concern.

“Mike honey, I’ll tell you everything later. But right now we have to find Jessie, she may be in danger. It’s possible she’s heading to someplace she only referred to as ‘the cliffs’. Can you tell me where that is? We’re coming from the old apple warehouses you and Jessie used to go to when you were kids.” Katie ran her words together, trying to egg Michael into answering with as few questions as possible.

“What? What do you mean Jessie’s in danger? What’s going on?” Michael nearly shouted into the phone.

“Later Michael. We don’t have much time. She’s with Gregory.” Katie did everything she could to stay calm.

“Oh Shit! Okay, go south on the highway until you reach a sign that reads something like Seashore, or Seaside. Sea-something anyway. Take that exit and follow it to the end of the road. There’s a small parking area. Get out and follow the trail up past this group of three oak trees. The trail will take a drastic slope downwards. From there you can see the trail that runs along the top of the cliffs. It’s really treacherous there. In the meantime, I’m calling the cops, and then we’re coming out there.” Michael’s voice cracked with concern.

“Yes, please call the police. But if you come out here, be careful. We know he’s carrying a gun. And…he’s quite crazy.” Katie had seen first hand just how crazy he was.

Hanging up the phone, Katie thanked the gods above that the phone had held out. Relaying the directions to April, Kate sat back forming her own plan as to what to do about Gregory once they reached the cliffs. Searching through the duffle bag, her fingers closed around one of the tranquilizer guns. Checking to make sure there were several darts, and a fresh vile of whatever concoction Gregory had been using she realized that she had to put a drop or two in the barrel of each dart for them to be effective. Trying to steady herself in the bouncy back seat, she began letting droplets of the liquid fall into the small darts.

Watching her closely, fatigue showing clearly on her face, Laura chuckled. “Watch it there girlie. You spill that stuff, and we’ll all be laying on the floor. Then we’d really be in trouble.”

“Yeah, I know. I only need a few. This gun holds about five of these babies at a time. That ought to be enough to keep him down.” Kate mentally crossed her fingers.

Silence fell on the friends, as they moved ever closer to their destination. Miles away, and with no sense of urgency, the combined forces of the local police, the FBI, and the LA police were still working over their game plan, oblivious of the fact that they were already too late. Other forces were at work as well. Mr. Shimada, and his henchmen were heading swiftly towards the warehouse, a leak from the LA police department tipping them off to the whereabouts of their quarry. And last but not least. A rather large RV had parked behind the building, and a small, rotund man in a fancy white fedora, and sunglasses was working his way into through the front door.

Disappointed at what he found…or more importantly didn’t find, he approached a secret panel in the wall, and flipped a switch. Far into the deeper reaches of the building small creaking sounds could be heard as a series of doors slid back, revealing a glass bulb, each filled with accelerant. As the doors opened the bulbs slipped out, breaking, allowing the fuel to be exposed to the air. Almost immediately the liquid burst into flames, causing a rather large series of fires throughout the building. Enough of these had been over or near areas of material that were highly flammable. In moments, the building was engulfed in flames, the RV already heading down the highway in the opposite direction that Kate and her friends were going. Baby Doll lit a cigar, and continued on; sure that he could find some diversion or other in the form of a nice succulent young girl in the next town.

Arriving at the cliffs, Jessie swung the big red car into the small parking area, and turned the engine off. Hazarding a glance at Gregory, she threw the door open, and made a break for the trail, hoping she could draw him down and away from the public areas. As grim as it sounded in her mind, she realized that the only escape from him might possibly result in his death, or hers.

——————————————————————————

Every time I come here
I’m not sure what to say
I know it should be easy
But it never seems that way
You, you make me feel
Like no one ever will
So why, why do you bore me
Until my heart is still

********Blur – Wear me down********
Chapter 39: (I see the sweetness of what used to be, becoming a part of my memories. I feel you fading away) Baby Face
Spotting the sign in the distance, April floored the excelerator and sped toward the turn off. The others were quiet, lost in their collective thoughts. Kate’s face was throbbing, pulsing to the beat of her terrified heart, and in time with the pain of her injuries. All of that was secondary to her fear and anger. Anger at the fact that they had fallen so easily into Gregory’s clutches, and fearful of what he might do to her lover.

Laura was gazing out the window, watching the landscape for any sign of Jessie’s car. Her thoughts had turned south, blaming herself for endangering Jessie’s life, and the lives of her own lover and that of her best friend Kate. Kate nudged her a bit, breaking her concentration on the road, and shifting her thoughts momentarily. Casting a guilty glance at her friends injured face, Laura could only shake her head a return her gaze to the landscape whizzing by the car window.

“Hey there, a penny for you thoughts and all that stuff…” Kate made a shallow attempt a humor.

Shrugging slightly Laura smiled grimly. “Gonna cost a whole bunch more than that Katie my sweet.”

Catching the sorrow in Laura’s voice, Kate placed a hand on her friend’s shoulder. “Laura, I can tell what you’re thinking. None of this is your fault. After all, we’re the ones that lead him down here. If anything, it’s my fault. Jessie and I should have stayed in LA and dealt with all of this there, rather than dragging all of you into it. I’m the guilty party here, not you Laura.”

“Don’t be silly. Let’s just say that it’s no one’s fault. It’s the lousy state of the world today, and the crazy people that inhabit it. None of us could have predicted that this would happen. I mean hell, who would have thought you’d be dating and falling in love with my all time idol anyway…sheesh!” Laura grabbed Kate’s hand and gave it a squeeze.

Squeezing back, Kate nodded her head and trained her gaze out Laura’s window, watching for a flash of red towards the distant ocean cliff. Leaning forward, she placed a hand on Laura’s knee, and pointed. Laura nodded rapidly, and squeezed Kate’s hand again. Pointing out the car to the other two passengers, the women braced themselves for what they might find when they made it across the highway and into the small secluded parking lot. The energy intensified a notch, when they all noticed the driver’s and passenger’s doors standing open, indicating that both occupants had made a hasty retreat away from the public area.

Rolling to a stop, the group of women jumped from the car, and gathered near the passenger door of Jessie’s vehicle. Not able to tell if there had been a struggle, they began to turn back to their own car to gather weapons and equipment when two gun shots in the distance startled them all into stopping in their tracks. Kate was the first to recover. She started to lean forward and break into a run, when Laura grabbed her by the arm and held her back.

“LET ME GO!” Kate strained against her shock weakened friend.

Holding on for dear life, Laura refused to release her grip. “No Kate wait! You need to arm yourself, and remember your training. Calm down and think rationally. You have no idea what just happened down there. You could be walking into an ambush…or worse. Go cautiously, and plan your attack. You’re nearly blind as it is, and yet you are by far the most qualified to rescue Jessie…if he hasn’t injured her already. And if he has, then you are the most qualified to bring him down. Either way, if you don’t get some control, you might make things worse. Just slow down and think.”

Reluctantly Kate submitted to her friend’s rationale. Stopping for a moment to formulate a plan, she gathered her tranquilizer gun, and began a cursory check of the outlying area. Noticing how the trail sloped downwards towards the cliffs, Kate realized that if she had gone off running like crazy in that direction, she may have fallen off the edge, possibly injuring herself further, or even killing herself. Quietly she approached the trail, and standing behind a juvenile redwood tree, she tried to get a look down the trail to see if she could spot either Jesse or Gregory. She spied a flash of what could have been someone’s light colored clothing moving slowly away from them. It could have been the light playing tricks through the leaves, but her heart didn’t think so.

Encouraged that Jesse was still alive, she chose a route above the trail, and hidden from direct view by anyone coming from below her. Her biggest challenge was going to be keeping her footsteps from being heard. There was a lot of debris scattered underneath the trees and bushes, and with her vision limited by the swelling under her eyes, it was going to be every thing she could do to keep from falling onto the trail below. Hopefully, the sound of the waves hitting the face of the cliff would mask her approach. Confirming her sketchy plan with her group, she started out on her journey. The others had been given instructions to stay back and guide any police officers or highway patrol that arrived. If she needed assistance from them, she would call out.

Jesse’s heart was pounding, her blood rushing like a river out of control in her ears. At one point she was certain that he had caught up with her. Two gun shots had rung out, the sound of them like explosions in the back of her head. At least one bullet had grazed her arm, but not enough to even slow her down. The other had traveled past her, lodging itself into the bark of a young tree. She could hear Gregory panting behind her, his lungs straining against the exertion.

Rounding a small bend in the trail, Jessie gasped and slid to a stop. The weather and severe erosion had wiped away the trail, leaving a gap of about six feet from her side of the trail to where it resumed on the other side. Trapped with only seconds to spare Jessie wound herself into a tight ball and virtually flung her self across the gap. She landed with a loud grunt, and began to clutch wildly at the sandy ground beneath her, barely gaining purchase before she slipped down the gap into the rocky surf below. Pulling her body inch by inch along the ground, she was finally able to get a leg underneath her and pushed the rest of the way onto a more solid piece of trail.

Chancing a glance behind her, she saw Gregory sliding to a stop just before he would have gone over the side. Leveling his gun at her, he chanced a shot, and caught her in her right thigh just above the knee. Squeezing her eyes shut, she grabbed at the wound, trying to stanch the bleeding. She was fortunate that it was a shallow hit, and had passed through the other side, missing the more important femoral artery that might have caused her to bleed out.

“Just stop now Jess. Don’t run any more, and I won’t hurt you again. I need you baby…we can work this out.” Tears colored Gregory’s tone, making him all the more pathetic in his entreaty.

“Don’t kid yourself Greg. You might think you need me, but I don’t need you…I never did. I for the life of me don’t know what possessed me to marry you in the first place. Must have been a bout of insanity, because I’d rather be dead than go back to you.” Jessie tried to stand, but a stab of pain pulled her back down.

“JESSIE! Don’t talk like that. You know I could kill you right now. But that won’t do either of us any good. Now stop talking nonsense, and get back over here. I’ll catch you on the return.” Gregory put the gun in the waist band of his pants, and reached towards the gap, as though he were going to pull Jessie across.

Looking past him, Jessie caught a glimpse of blondish hair through the trees off to the right of the trail. Panicking, afraid that Gregory would see Kate and kill her, Jessie tried to stand again and play into his pleas, hoping to keep his attention occupied, and protect her lover from being seen.

“I don’t think I can Greg, but I’ll try.” Jessie grimaced as she pulled herself into a standing position, putting all of the weight on her left leg, and favoring the right.

“Just go easy Jess. I’ll catch you and pull you over.” Gregory reached again.

“Freeze idiot…before I blow your head off…” Kate whispered from behind him, the butt of her dart gun pressed against the back of his neck.

Reaching for his gun, Gregory attempted to turn around. At the first sign of movement, Kate had pulled the trigger effectively lodging a dart deep into the base of his skull. His reactions immediately became impaired, but not quickly enough to incapacitate him before he leveled his gun at Kate’s mid-section.

“KATIE! Watch out…”Jessie shouted from her vantage point on the far side of the trail.

Feigning right, then falling left Kate’s right foot went out catching Gregory’s knee, and sending him backwards towards the gap. He fired off a round, missing Kate’s head by barely an inch. For Jessie, time seemed to slow to a crawl, as Gregory grabbed Kate’s foot, and pulled her with him as he slipped over the edge toward the boiling waves below.

“NO! GREG! LET GO!” Jessie screamed.

“HA, HA, HA JESSIE! Looks like I win after all…” Gregory’s maniacal laughter assaulted Jessie’s ears as first he disappeared over the edge, followed by Kate. Kate managed a last blurred glimpse of Jessie’s beautiful face locked in terror as she slid along the sandy ledge.

Suddenly she was free falling, a million memories and a million regrets passing through her mind at the speed of light. Kate’s body suddenly slammed against Gregory’s, as he made contact with the rocks scattered across the ocean’s edge. Her last recorded memory before darkness overcame her was the sound of Jessie’s voice calling her name.

——————————————————————————

The union of the Word and the Mind

produces that mystery which is called Life…

Learn deeply of the Mind and its mystery,

for therein lies the secret of immortality.

********The Divine Pymander********
Chapter 40: That’s all there is, there ain’t no more…for now anyway…
Thwap…thwap…thwap…thwap…slowly the helicopter made its turn above the helipad at the coastal hospital, glimpses of the emergency staff bustling below in the downdraft from the craft’s blades. The medical staff on board worked swiftly preparing their patients for transfer and eventual surgery. One with a bullet wound to her right thigh, the other more desperate…a shattered leg, broken ribs, collapsed lung and a possible skull fracture. Miles behind them a crew of law enforcement officials, combined with the efforts of the Coastguard were searching the waters below the cliffs for any sign of Gregory.

For the two women, all was darkness. No pain, no emotion, no…nothing. Their friend Laura called it better living through modern chemistry. Several weeks passed, and all of this would be the fodder for incredibly bad nightmares, but those too would soon lessen. Eventually, they would settle back into their routine, one as a world famous actress, the other her Personal Assistant and lover.

Nine months to the day following their last encounter with Gregory, Jessie and Kate were driving north to Jessie’s home. They hadn’t been back there since a month or two following their release from the hospital. Kate was looking forward to visiting with April and Laura, and Jessie was looking forward to some private downtime for the two of them. It seemed to her that life had been nothing short of a deadly hurricane almost since the day they had met, and she for one would be happy to just leave it all behind.

The show had wrapped, and there had been rumors of canceling it, rather than pushing on for another season. Jessie was almost relieved. She would miss the show, and more importantly, her friends and now family that she has worked side by side with from the beginning. There would be more shows, and more family, but for Jessie, these moments would stay with her for the rest of her life.

Another grand achievement on this very same day was a graduation of sorts. Star, Gregory’s right hand slave, and sometime unknowing accomplice was to be released from rehab. She had been given probation, along with release into a work furlough program, with supervised counseling and support. Her first assignment would be at the hospital where Jessie’s mother still resided, for all intents and purposes never to recover from her long, deep and yet unexplained sleep. There had been no new encounters or breakthroughs from the spirit world, and for the most part that whole strange occurrence had been mostly forgotten.

There was only one small detail that haunted them during their collective recovery periods. Gregory’s remains had never been found. It was assumed by the law enforcement officials that the tide had washed his body out to deeper ocean, and he was “sleeping with the fishes” as it were. On the other side of the continent, a piggish little man with horror in his soul, and acid in his veins knew otherwise. His little Greggie, battered, bashed and quite insane was sitting in the passenger seat next to him while he breezed down the highway, whistling along with an old fifties tune playing on the radio of his RV. It seems that Baby Doll hadn’t quite abandoned his protégé. Where the Law Enforcement officials had failed, Baby Doll had succeeded.

Plucking Gregory from the surf a beach or two down the coast had been only mildly difficult. Using his vast knowledge of the human body, he managed to revive him, only slightly brain damaged from his time spent in near-drowning stasis, and nursed him back to something resembling health. The two of them had cut a swath of death across the United States. Never the same methods, nothing to identify their acts as those of a serial killer or two.

Ultimately their goal was one and the same…to work their way back to the West Coast…to finish some incomplete business, or tie up some loose ends as it were.

 

 

The End

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