Seeing You Again For The First Time by Colleen

Seeing You Again For The First Time
The second story in the Jamie and Erin Series
by Colleen

Summary: This is a continuation of Jamie and Erins’ love tale, but introducing a dire turn of events, which takes the reader to desperation and back along with the characters. Intermingled with the magic of Ireland and the wisdom of very wise soul, the embers of hope are stirred for love to make its way back into bonded hearts…and it will be a miracle to rejoice.

Silvery moonlight peaks between slowly passing clouds, casting the palest of shadows across the gritty surface below. The bluish, lunar sphere pulls the foamy Pacific waves in to meet the sandy shore as it has a million times…and more. Tide is eternal. As are the questions, what is fate? What is destiny? Do we make our own when life is at it’s worst or are we gently guided down a path that best suits our soul?

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Chapter 1
A chilly winter wind swept over the ocean waters and up the beach to fall against the large, white structure. Inside the beach side home, the two occupants praised the seasonal temperatures. Though not cold by any means, it still allowed them to enjoy the romanticism of a warm, sparkling fire. They cuddle closely on the soft, comfortable sofa and make plans for their future.

“How about April 11th?” asked Erin, as she climbed onto her lover’s lap and began absently playing with the long tresses adorning her lover’s head.

It was three days into the wonderful New Year, the first year of a new millennium. Erin Casey and Jamie Sheridan had hardly gotten out of bed since the author had accepted Jamie’s marriage proposal. The tall, dark haired woman had been so romantic, asking just at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. Erin had, of course and quite enthusiastically, said yes, hence the reason for the three-day celebration. But now the task of choosing a wedding date was upon them.

“That way you’ll never forget,” teased the blonde.

“You think I’m going to forget something this important?” Jamie asked with a hurtful tone.

Erin brought a hand to her love’s face and stroked the soft skin. “Sweetheart, I was kidding,” she said gently. After all the progress Jamie had made in the previous six months, there were still times when her insecurities reared up and kicked her in the butt.

When Erin and Jamie had met in June of the previous year, the dark haired chauffer had been living in a lonely world of guilt for past mistakes. Erin Casey was a famous author who was also lonely. They had met at a party and a strong friendship was born. Only after many struggles and much determination on Erin’s part, did Jamie finally accept the love that had blossomed between them from the very beginning.

Jamie pulled the angelic face in for a soft kiss. “I’m still doing it aren’t I?”

“That’s okay honey, I understand. So how about it?”

Jamie chuckled. “The 11th? I don’t think so, not on my birthday. Besides that’s in the middle of the week.”

Erin carefully stood from her place on Jamie’s lap. “You’re right,” she said as she went into the kitchen for more coffee. “I guess it does need to be on a Saturday. But I don’t want to wait too long. If we’re going to have it outside, I don’t want everybody to be hot and uncomfortable.”

Jamie walked in behind the smaller woman and grabbed an apple from the bowl on the counter. “Just how many everybodys are we talking about?” she asked before she crunched into the red fruit. “I thought we wanted to keep this small.”

Erin let her nose guide her to the sweet aroma and snatched a juicy bite for herself. “Darling, small is a relative term. To you, small would be you, me and the preacher.”

Jamie snorted. “Not quite. I know your family has to be there. So that’s five, but who else is there?”

Erin grabbed the tall woman by the hand and led her back into the living room, shaking her head as they went. “First of all, half of my family will be in the ceremony. I want Bridgett to stand up for me. Caitlin can be the flower girl and Conner can be the ring barer. Unless you have a problem with that?”

“No, of course not,” said Jamie, as they retuned to their favorite spot in the corner of the couch. “I’m just not up on wedding procedures. But you’re right, I do want your…” She heard the clearing of a throat. “…our family involved.”

Erin kissed the hand she still had hold of. “Thank you.”

There was a comfortable pause in their conversation as they just enjoyed the warmth of each other’s touch. The fire in front of them crackled and shimmered as Jamie mulled over another thought. “I don’t suppose you are going to ask your father?”

Erin huffed. “I don’t think so.”

Timothy Casey had had a very adverse reaction to the news of his daughter’s gay lifestyle. His vile words stabbed at her heart and his violence was nearly unforgivable. But after several months of estrangement from his entire family, he had a change of heart. On Christmas Eve he had sent presents and a touching letter of apology. The tears of forgiveness washed away most of the pain that the entire family had endured. But his words were not quite enough to reunite father and daughter. Until he completely accepted her love for Jamie, Erin would never again be close to her father.

Jamie rubbed her partner’s back. “Maybe you should at least ask. He might surprise you.”

Erin nodded. “Maybe.” The tempting apple was placed in front of her mouth and she took another healthy bite. “Do you think we could use the tickets he gave us for Christmas… for our honeymoon?”

Jamie smiled and squeezed Erin’s shoulder. “I think that’s a great idea, sweetheart. A honeymoon in Ireland sounds wonderful. Maybe I’ll get to meet your grandmother.”

That thought put a bright smile on the author’s face. “Oh, most definitely. And she will absolutely love you.” Erin reached up and removed her dark glasses. Once again she wished that she could look into the ice blue eyes in front of her and see the love she felt reflected there. But the sense of sight that her eyes lacked had manifested itself in her heart and her immense imagination. She always saw the love of her partner. And she always felt that love radiating back.

Erin leaned in and floated around the face she loved. Whiffs of sweet aromatic shampoo filled her heightened sense of smell as she followed the hairline down the side of Jamie’s face. She smiled at the moan she heard when she reached the spot just below the delicious earlobe. The kisses, nibbles and teasing licks were no longer experimental. Each knew the other better than they knew themselves. The intense physical and emotional sensations they both felt when making love or just holding hands, filled them with a sense of incredible wonderment. Could any other couple on earth begin to understand their connection? Could they ever begin to explain to any other human being just how strong their love was? They both knew the answer to that. No words in the human language could ever do it justice. Their eternal bond, past, present and future was a beautiful secret they both kept locked away, only to share with each other. Erin’s lips finally drifted over to make contact with Jamie’s. Once, twice. The feather light touch inspired Jamie to apply a firmer grasp of the cloth-covered flesh beneath her hand.

“Do you know what I want to do?” asked Erin.

“Yes,” said Jamie, breathlessly. “But I want to hear you say it.”

Erin moved aside the strands of raven hair and whispered in her ear. “Finish the guest list.” She immediately felt Jamie’s tension deflate. She pulled back with a teasing smile.

Jamie gave her an affectionate swat on the behind. “That’s not exactly what I wanted to hear, you tease.”

For a blind woman, Erin was always accurate with her kisses as she proved once again, landing right on the tip of Jamie’s nose. “You can tease me all you want as soon as we’re through here. In fact, I insist on it. But first things first.”

Jamie groaned. She had meant it to be a silent one though. “I’m sorry, babe,” she said when Erin slipped off her lap, back onto the couch. “I really don’t mean to sound as if I don’t want to make these plans. I want to marry you more than anything else in the world. You know that right?”

Erin nodded.

“I promise to do whatever we need to do to make this the best day of our lives. So back to the guest list.”

Erin twirled her engagement ring around her finger, slightly disappointed that her enthusiasm wasn’t matched by her fiancée’s “We can finish this tomorrow… I guess.” She finished with a shrug of one shoulder.

The pang of guilt pinched Jamie’s heart like a vise. “No, we’re going to finish it now.” She lovingly kissed the side of Erin’s head and lingered there. “I’m sorry for being such an idiot. This is important to me.”

Erin finally smiled and leaned into the touch. “And I’m sorry for pushing so hard. Being a writer has made me a little compulsive to have everything perfectly organized.”

Jamie pulled back a little, but still maintained their touch. “As it should be. I want this to be a perfect day. But I’m just not sure who else we need to invite.”

Erin shook her head again. It was only a month ago. How could she have forgotten? “What was the last thing Mrs. Davis said to you when you moved out of your old building?”

Jamie’s face scrunched together with the realization. “Yeah. I guess we’d better invite everyone there. Wouldn’t want sixteen wrathful senior citizens beating down our door.” They both laughed as Jamie grabbed a pen and paper and jotted down the names. “So that makes eighteen guests.”

“Nineteen. I have to ask Anne.” Dr. Anne Carson was a long time friend of Erin’s, having been her roommate in college. So another name was added to the list. “Oh and Joseph and his partner.” Joseph Hudson was producing the movie being made from Erin’s novel, The Noah Factor. “And if I ask the producer, then I have to ask the director, Blair.”

Jamie just nodded her head as she wrote down more names. “And her boyfriend?”

“No. They broke up right after Christmas.” Erin threw out that tidbit absently, while thinking of any others to invite.

Jamie had been jealous when Erin and the beautiful director had gone to a movie premiere together a few weeks earlier. Deep down, she knew her jealousy was totally unfounded. She trusted Erin implicitly. But still the green eyes lurked in her heart, ready to glare at any and all intruders.

Erin sat back and gave an internal sigh. She was about to suggest something and she knew it wouldn’t be taken easily. “Jamie?”

“Yes.”

“I’d like to invite…Megan. I went to her wedding and she and Karen just had a baby boy. I’d like to meet him and…” She felt Jamie stiffen at the mention of her first and only other lover. Erin and Megan had been together for a short time in college and parted the best of friends. “But if you don’t want…”

Jamie pulled Erin closer for a hug. “It’s okay, sweetheart. Go ahead and ask her. I have to learn to share your past.” I never asked if she was in love with Megan, thought Jamie. But I guess I don’t really want to know. Megan is in love with someone else now and Erin loves me.

“That’s right, my past. And our wedding signifies the future. Our future.” They sealed that comment with a long, heated kiss that lasted through the ten chimes of the clock in the hallway. They finally parted with huge smiles that that particular activity always produced. “We still need a date, don’t we?” asked Erin.

Jamie reached for the calendar on the coffee table and flipped through to the right month. “How about either April 14th or the 21st. Both still comfortable, weather wise.”

They had finally decided on the fourteenth, Erin citing some silly reasoning that it was the sum of their birthdays on the eleventh and the third. Jamie kissed her, sometimes quirky, but always cute, partner on the nose. Before the planning session was over they had also managed to add a few more names to the guest list. Mr. and Mrs. Phillips were giving Jamie the opportunity to fulfill a life long dream, by selling her their sixty-acre ranch. They had become like family, allowing Jamie’s passion for horses to soon become a cherished career. She had to invite them as a thank you.

Ten thirty brought an end to their wedding plans, but signified the beginning of yet another practice session for their honeymoon.

****

On Thursday, after Jamie’s workday was over, they drove to the house on Burnham Street in Brentwood. Erin had not set foot in her childhood home since the incident with her father. She felt the car pull into the circular drive and her thoughts were many. The hurt was still there, but much less than it had been on that terrible day in August. Her hand drifted up to rub the side of her face, where his hand had impacted.

Jamie saw the gesture and reached over to kiss the cheek that had bore the evidence of Tim Casey’s violence. “Are you sure about this Erin? I’m know your mother would meet us somewhere else.”

Erin turned a confident smile to her partner. “Yes, I’m sure. I should have done this long ago. I grew up here and this house holds so many wonderful memories. I won’t let that one incident keep me from that part of my life.” She turned back toward the big, white house. “Besides, I have forgiven my father for hitting me. As for the rest…”

Danielle Casey came to the bottom of the grand staircase just as the doorbell rang. “I’ll get it Sarah,” she told the housekeeper who was coming down the hall. She opened the door surprised to find her daughter there. “Erin…I…come on in,” she stammered as she hugged them both. “What are you doing here?” She quickly realized how harsh that sounded. “I mean I wasn’t sure you would ever come back.”

“That’s all in the past now Mom. We’ve come here today to talk about our future.”

Jamie read the confusion on the older woman’s face, but she also detected some nervousness as her green eyes kept shifting to the second floor. “Have we come at a bad time Danielle?”

“No, no of course not dear.” She stepped in between them, linking her arms with theirs. “Let’s go into the family room.” Once inside the brightly decorated room, Erin and Jamie took a seat on the white sofa, but declined the refreshments Danielle had offered.

Now Erin had picked up on her mother’s anxiety. “What’s wrong Mom?”

Danielle took her daughter’s hand. “Nothing is wrong dear. It’s just…your father is upstairs,” she said quietly, as her head dropped to her chest. “We are trying to work things out.”

Erin reached out and hugged her. “Mom that’s great!”

Danielle gave a surprised smile at her daughter’s enthused reaction. “But I…”

“Mom, I have forgiven him. And I want you to be as happy as you were when we were kids. I know that’s want you want.”

“Yes, it is.”

“Good, because I want everyone to be as happy as I am.” Erin flashed a smile at Jamie and took her hand. “That’s why we came today. Mom, Jamie and I are getting married.”

Danielle was momentarily speechless and she nearly fell off the couch as she smothered her daughters with hugs. The tears of a happy and proud mother continued to fall on Erin’s shoulder as the three of them embraced.

Jamie heard the heavy footsteps walk away from just outside the door, but she didn’t say anything to spoil Erin’s moment. She was only glad that he had chosen discretion this time and left them to their private celebration.

Danielle dried her tears, but the realization finally settled in. “But I didn’t think you could get married.”

“Well, legally we can’t,” explained Erin. “But we want to express our lifelong commitment to one another in front of our family and friends.”

The older woman nodded. “And that’s what’s most important. So have you set a date?”

Erin hesitated, wanting Jamie to join in on the conversation.

The tall woman easily picked up the cue. “April the 14th.”

Danielle grabbed a pen and paper from a nearby desk drawer and began jotting down notes. “That’s perfect. It gives us plenty of time to plan a wonderful wedding.”

They spent the next hour discussing weddings and other things. When Erin stepped away to the bathroom, Jamie was able to tell Danielle about some secret plans she had. The older woman cried once again over the special woman Erin had chosen to spend her life with.

When the author returned, Jamie detected the slight sadness in her expression.

She stepped over and rubbed Erin’s shoulder. “Is everything okay sweetheart?”

Erin threw both arms around her lover’s neck. “Everything is wonderful because you are by my side.” She planted a long, firm and possessive kiss upon willing lips.

Danielle subtly cleared her throat.

Erin blushed. “Sorry Mom.”

“Never be sorry dear. I just didn’t want you both passing out from lack of oxygen.”

Without totally ending their embrace, they walked back over to the couch. Jamie looked at her watch. “I guess we’d better be going. You still want to go to Bridgett’s tonight, don’t you?”

“Absolutely.”

Danielle kissed them goodbye. “In case you haven’t noticed it, I want to tell you how very happy I am for both of you. I love you.”

“We love you too,” said Erin.

Jamie placed a very special kiss to the older woman’s cheek and held her with warm eyes. “Thank you…Mom.”

You guessed it. Danielle cried again at Jamie’s love laden word. She scooted them both out the door before she flooded the entire house. She watched them pull away before turning back inside. And when she did, she met a pair of gray eyes coming down the stairs.

“I heard,” he said as he moved passed her, down the hall and into the kitchen.

Danielle followed closely behind. The cook told them that dinner was ready and she set about taking the steaming dishes into the dining area. Neither Casey said a word as they sat at opposite ends of the long wooden table and waited for the maid to leave the room.

The burly man unfolded the yellow, linen napkin and placed it in his lap. “I don’t think we should discuss this now dear,” he said as he reached for his fork.

Danielle took a sip of her wine before asking why.

“Because this time is for us. We are rebuilding our marriage and this topic is the main reason for our troubles to begin with.”

“You can’t blame all our troubles on Erin. We were starting to drift apart long before that. Timothy, our marriage includes our family. Erin is not a topic, she is our daughter.”

“I know that. I love her and I want her to be happy. I just don’t see how she can be with that kind of person.”

Danielle shook her head in frustration. “Jamie loves Erin. She worships her and I couldn’t have wished for a better spouse for my daughter. And how could you know whether or not our daughter is happy, you’ve never spent any time with them. You don’t even know anything about Jamie. If you could open your eyes for just one minute and look beyond the fact that Jamie is a woman, you would see that they are not just in love…they are a part of each other.”

Suddenly the meal that he had been consuming lay heavy on his chest. He dropped the silver utensil and sat back in his chair with an audible sigh.

“Can you at least try?” she asked as she looked into his eyes through the candlelight.

The shame in his belly almost rivaled the weight from his partially digested food. “I don’t know,” he finally answered and excused himself from the table.

Danielle pushed away her still half full plate of food. She gave a silent prayer for guidance to help make her husband understand. After informing the maid that they were finished with the meal, she followed her husband to the darkened den.

Only one small lamp near the desk gave the room any illumination. Tim stood by the window swirling the amber liquid around in the bulbous glass he held in his right hand. She approached him carefully. Danielle wasn’t afraid of her husband, even after what he did to Erin. But she knew that pushing him to fast would only make him retreat further.

She joined his gaze out over the side yard where the thick shrubs rustled in the early evening breeze. Danielle eased an arm around his waist as she leaned against his strong body. He wrapped his free arm across her shoulder and placed a kiss to the slightly gray hair atop her head.

“I’m sorry dear,” he said. “I know this upsetting to you. I don’t want to do that.”

She nodded her understanding. Danielle’s eyes slipped shut and she snuggled closer, basking in their touch for several more minutes. “Can you just explain to me why you have a problem with Jamie being a woman?” she finally asked. “I mean is it religious? Are you afraid what your business associates might say? I just want to understand.”

Tim closed his eyes and swallowed the last of his brandy. “I don’t even understand,” he whispered sadly. “I just know something is preventing me from accepting this. I’m sorry.”

****

Jamie guided her blue SUV up the freeway onramp. “Do you want to tell me what happened when you stepped away to the bathroom?” she asked the quiet woman beside her.

Erin reached over and squeezed Jamie’s knee. “You do know me, don’t you? But it wasn’t all bad. I had one of those happy memories that made me glad I came back home.” She took a breath, remembering those very few seconds then related the story.

Erin dried her hands on the fluffy green towel. The fresh smell of the special laundry soap, that her mother preferred, brought a flash of her childhood.

Six-year-old Erin giggled loudly as she was engulfed by soft, brightly colored towel. The huge cloth wrapped her up like a mummy and she was carried off to her bedroom, where her mother proceeded to tickle her mercilessly as she dried the little body. Danielle pulled out a small blue nightgown and helped Erin pull it down over her head. As the cloth went passed her nose, Erin took a huge breath.

“I like the way that smells Mommy,” she said as she was helped into bed.

“Me too honey.”

“Will you lay down with me and tell me a story?” asked Erin.

The green, puppy dog eyes couldn’t be denied. “All right, one story.” Danielle snuggled her daughter close and proceeded to tell the tale of Snow White.

Erin never made it passed the eating of the poison apple before her eyes drifted shut. That same bedtime routine repeated itself many times over the next few years. Erin never remembered hearing a complete story, but when she learned to read well enough, she pulled the books from the shelves in her room and read the imaginative tales over and over again. That was what had sparked her passion for writing.

The smile was still on Erin’s face when she stepped from the first floor bathroom. Then another smell assailed her and she sensed his presence at the end of the hall. Both stubborn people waited for the other to say the first word. The Irish stand off lasted many long seconds. She finally sighed and started to walk away.

“Erin wait.”

She stopped, but didn’t turn back.

The big man approached slowly. He placed a tentative hand on her shoulder. “I’m sorry Erin.”

There was a sincere tone of regret in his usually gruff voice. She turned and was engulfed in his strong arms. She didn’t cry and she didn’t say a word. She just loved the father that had been absent from her life all those months. He stroked her blonde hair, knowing he was forgiven…at least for hitting her.

“I’ve missed you sweetheart,” he said when she pulled back.

“Me too Daddy.”

“I…ah…was passing by the family room a while ago and…I heard what you were talking about.”

Erin pursed her lips, knowing what was coming. But she was mildly surprised.

“I…you appear to be happy,” he said softly. “But…”

“I know Dad, you can’t give me away…because you already have.”

“Erin, please don’t say that. I said I was sorry.”

“Stop apologizing! This isn’t about you…hitting me.” Her head shook in disappointment and she turned away. “I have to get back to Jamie. Goodbye Dad.”

Erin finished her short story just as they pulled into Bridgett’s driveway.

“Come on sweetheart.” Jamie opened the car door and helped her out. “You know your sister will be happy for us.”

And she was. Bridgett accepted her position as matron of honor with pride and Caitlin jumped up and down with glee, even though she wasn’t quite sure what a flower girl was supposed to do. Conner reacted with a smiling “cool” when asked to be the ring bearer. Not wanting Bridgett’s husband to feel left out, Erin asked him to be an usher, to which he replied with a smiling “cool”. Like father, like son.

Danielle spirited Erin away for an entire Friday to discuss the important things, in her words, like clothes, colors, flowers and food. She amended her earlier statement and complained that three and a half months wasn’t nearly enough time to prepare the grand wedding she had envisioned. But Erin’s well-chosen words had finally convinced Danielle that they did not want a royal sized ceremony. Danielle did insist on having a special family dinner on Sunday, at their favorite restaurant for an engagement celebration.
Chapter 2
Jamie was on the phone, in the office, a business call she had whispered to Erin. The author gave her partner privacy and went into the kitchen to start lunch. She carefully carried the tray of sandwiches out on to the deck, where they often had their meals. The ocean waters always carried in a refreshing, clean scent despite the ever-present pollution that California was famous for. She listened as a few of the local avian inhabitants flew overhead in search of their own mid-day meal. As the waves rolled in with a shallow roar Erin sat back in her chair with a smile, remembering the wonderful feelings of the previous night.

Artemis ran down the private stretch of beach, barking at the funny little crabs she chased through the silver surf. Her black nose got covered in white sand as she rooted around looking for treasures to take home in triumph. She barked once again and looked back toward the house. Her humans lagged far behind, just now exiting the small fenced in backyard. They were in no hurry.

Jamie had suggested a late night walk along the sand, to unwind from their busy day. Her hand gravitated over and grasped the smaller one at her side, as they leisurely followed the northward shoreline. They often joked that they had magnets implanted in them because they just could not be near one another and not be touching in some way.

Only the softly rolling surf and the occasional bark broke the quiet of the brisk January night. The comfortable silence and the tangible presence of the other was enough to calm any nervous exhaustion. Jamie hadn’t mentioned the solemn reason for her need to settle her emotions.

She had worked a full eight hours at the publishing company and then had been caught in a traffic jam. She had slowly inched her way home along the crowed highway and after almost an hour and a half, she finally passed by the reason for the delay. She had heard the live report on the radio from the news helicopter circling above. A horrible car crash had taken the lives of a young couple. As sad as the scene had been, all Jamie could think was how lucky they were to have met that fate together. She had been left behind by those she loved and let the loneliness consume her.

Jamie had continued her drive home, thinking about that couple and her parents. For the first time in her life, she was glad that they had died together. She realized how selfish she had been, always wishing that at least one of them would have lived. Even the ten year old Jamie had seen just how much her parents loved each other, how connected they were. To have watched one go on without the other would have been a fate worse than the one she had suffered.

She had finally pulled into the drive and the edges of her mouth curled when she saw Erin sitting on the side deck, quietly reading. Please don’t ever let me be left behind again, she prayed.

The ivory shimmer of the moon’s image on the ocean waters reflected onto Erin’s saffron hair as they continued their walk. Jamie was mesmerized by the, almost, hypnotic scene. Her reverie was soon shattered by the loud bark that raced by them, heading back toward the house. Their mutual, silent agreement saw them turn back and follow the dog’s lead. Ten steps later, Jamie kicked something half buried in the sand. She bent down and picked up the item.

“What is it?” asked Erin.

Jamie turned it over in her hand, appreciating the subtle, varying colors and the rough, nubby texture. It was one of nature’s beautiful creations. Jamie’s brow wrinkled in happy wonderment at how easily that thought had occurred to her. She knew it was the blind woman at her side that had taught her the simple, but amazing ability to see life. “It’s a message for you,” she said as she placed one end of the small conch shell beside Erin’s ear. She leaned down to speak into the other end. Her whispered words echoed through the smooth, coral tunnel and landed loud and clear in Erin’s soul. “I love you.”

Erin sat at the glass-topped table, absently playing with the seashell that she had insisted they bring home. “Who was that sweetheart?” she asked when she heard Jamie open the sliding door.

Her tall lover sat down at the table and started in on her food before she answered. “It was the courier service. They have an errand for me. It’s a rush job and I have to leave first thing in the morning.”

“Where are you going?”

“I’m not sure,” she said around a bite of her sandwich. “They said I’d find out when I get to the airport. I’ll be going on a chartered plane this time”

A sudden, unexpected shiver ran down Erin’s spine. A wave of dizziness swept over her and her hand trembled as she reached for her drink. It was several minutes before she could persuade her mouth to ask the question that was sticking in her throat. “What do you mean, you’re not sure? Why wouldn’t they tell you where you’re going?”

“All they said was that it was out of the country.” Jamie anxiously gobbled down the last two chips on her plate. “They’re going to pay me two thousand dollars. That’s all I need to know.”

The physical reactions that had assaulted Erin were now gone, but an intense feeling of dread was left in its wake. “That doesn’t sound right to me,” she said with a slight tremor in her voice.

“I don’t care where it is. This means I can meet with the bank official on Tuesday or Wednesday and get the paperwork started on the ranch. Two thousand is exactly how much I need. I thought it was going to take me at least another six weeks, but this is great!”

Erin loved hearing the pure excitement in Jamie’s voice and she hated to diminish it, but something nagged at her, grabbing on with very sharp, unrelenting claws. “But they wouldn’t tell you where you are going?” she asked again. “That just doesn’t sound right. Why all the secrecy?”

Jamie shrugged. “I don’t know.” She swallowed the last of her drink and got up from the table grabbing the dirty dishes. “I have to go find my passport and get packed.”

“How do you know what to pack if they won’t tell you where you’re going?” Erin said under her breath. She sat there stewing for several more minutes. She didn’t know why she felt a sense of fear, but it was nearly overwhelming and she needed some answers.

Erin went into the house just as Jamie was finishing loading the dishes into the washer. She followed the whistling woman up the stairs and down the hall to the bedroom. “I wish you’d get some more information before accepting this,” she said. “Did they at least tell you why all the secrecy?”

“No and I didn’t ask.” Jamie pulled the bigger suitcase down from the shelf in the closet. She tossed it onto the bed and disappeared into the bathroom.

Erin crossed the room and stood by the window, trying to figure out just why she was feeling so strongly about this situation. Try as she might, Erin couldn’t put words to the almost sickening feeling that had draped over her soul. But she had to find the words to convince Jamie not to leave, not to get on that plane.

Her grandmother Casey had told her stories of the premonitions she had experienced all her life. She used to call them the leprechaun’s whispers. Those whimsical tales, along with the woman’s lilting, Irish accent had entertained the wide-eyed little girl for many of her childhood hours. It was a secret only they had shared. The older woman had told Erin that she too would be blessed…or cursed with ability of future knowledge. The little girl had been excited at the prospect, but it had never happened… until now. Her grandmother never mentioned just how lonely and terrifying those feelings would be, knowing with absolute certainty that something terrible was going to happen, but not being able to convince anyone else.

The tall woman came back into the room humming, seemingly without a care in the world. “You’ll have to apologize to your mother, since I won’t be able to make it to dinner tomorrow night. Tell her that I will take us all out to dinner next week to celebrate our ownership of the ranch.” She quickly hugged Erin then went back to her packing. “I’m sure she’ll understand.”

Erin sighed heavily. “She might understand, but I don’t.”

Jamie looked up from her busy activity. “What do you mean, honey?”

Erin threw her arms around herself, fighting the sudden chill she was feeling. “I just don’t like the sound of this whole thing.” Her jaw clenched even tighter. “You are going, God knows where and meeting up with some stranger. Doesn’t that sound just a little odd to you?”

The dark haired woman shook her head and gave a crooked smile. “No. I guess I don’t have an over-active imagination like you do.”

“Oh come on Jamie!” yelled the author. “Even in the real world, innocent people get trapped in horrible situations and I know that is what’s going to happen to you if you go on this job.” The sea green carpet suffered Erin’s heavy pacing, as she went from one end of the room to the other.

Jamie chuckled and sat down on the edge of the bed. “Just what fantastical scenario has your mind cooked up for me, huh?” she asked, stretching out her long legs in front of her, crossing them at the ankle.

“Don’t patronize me, Jamie!” The frustration raised the level of Erin’s voice. “If you could just get the dollar signs out of your eyes for two minutes, you might comprehend what I’m trying to say. This smells of illegal activity. You could wind up in some God for saken prison or worse and no witnesses.”

Jamie folded her arms over her chest and snickered at the accusations. “Let me guess, your next book is a spy novel, right?”

Erin stopped in her tracks. “Why are you dismissing my concerns? You’ve never talked to me like this before. What’s going on?”

“Last time I looked it was called life. My dream, remember?” Jamie went to the dresser and pulled out a few shirts. “I thought you wanted this for me. What were all those presents and that pretty speech at Christmas? You said you wanted this too.”

Erin made her way to Jamie’s side and grasped her right arm. “I do, sweetheart. And I understand how excited you are to get this started, but what’s wrong with waiting a while longer?”

“Because I don’t have to. I have been handed this opportunity and I’m going to take it.” Jamie couldn’t understand why Erin was being so difficult about this. A thought occurred to her and a part of her brain knew she should sensor what she was about to say…but she didn’t. “If you want to know the truth, I had all the money a month ago, but I had to put two thousand dollars down on your ring.”

Erin pulled away, her fear turning to anger and getting the better of her. “So now I’m supposed to feel guilty?” Erin ripped the diamond ring from her finger and shook it in Jamie’s direction. “If you don’t want my concerns, why don’t you just take this back.” She threw the ring to the floor. “You can sell it and then you won’t have to go on this damn trip!”

Jamie’s eyes followed the ring’s flight and she slumped to the bed, absolutely shocked at Erin’s actions. She desperately wanted to stop the argument and save their relationship, but her pride wouldn’t let her say the words. On opposite sides of the room, their hearts raced and breaths came in painful gasps. The situation had escalated over the edge and neither was willing to give in.

Erin stood by the door, listening to Jamie’s breathing as she had done on so many nights. But those times were spent in absolute contentedness. Now the turmoil had to be stopped. She knew there was one more suggestion to be made and she was 99% sure how it would be accepted…but she had to do it. Their future might depend on it. She took a deep breath and turned around. “Jamie, please respect my wishes and don’t do this. I can give you the mon…”

“Stop right there!” Jamie jumped up from the bed and stomped across the room. “Just stop right there. Don’t you say it. Don’t you dare say it. I don’t want you to give me the money. I want to earn it, every damn single dime of it. And I will do it my way.”

“But I can…”

“Oh, I know you can! You can walk into any place on earth and whip out your big platinum card and buy anything your heart desires. I know you have the money. Believe me, you never let me forget it.”

Erin shrank back into the corner. “You still can’t get past my wealth can you?” she asked in a quiet voice. “Can you!?” she yelled, when her question wasn’t answered.

Jamie turned and headed for the door. “I’m leaving before I say something I’ll regret.”

“It’s to late for that. I only wonder if you will regret it. Jamie, please,” she begged once again. “A voice in my head is telling me that there is something wrong with this whole thing.”

“Well tell your little voice to shut up. I’m going.”

“Excuse me, did you just tell me to shut up?”

“No, I told your annoying little voice to shut up. I need some air.” She pulled the sliding door open with such force that it jumped the top track and creaked as it swayed with the wind. She flew down the stairs and around the side of the house, leaving the gate swinging as she headed for her car. She got in and slammed the door. Her hand put the key in the ignition, but it wouldn’t turn. Her future had just unraveled in the span of a few minutes, but that last unbreakable thread refused to let go. Jamie tossed her dark head back and panted through clenched teeth. The near rage, dissipated to mere anger with twenty or so breaths. I can’t do this, she chanted. I can’t do this. She got out of the car and took off at a full out run toward the beach.

The cold water rolled in over her shoes as her steps slowed. Jamie remembered walking that same beach the night she finally let Erin’s love into her heart. The night she really started to live again. After the months of self-doubt, Jamie was finally convinced that she wouldn’t ruin another relationship. But now look where they were. How can I just give up? That’s what I did before and looked what happened. Erin understands me like no one ever has. But she has to let me make my own decisions. I’m not being selfish. Am I? Jamie turned back to look at her home, not the four walls and a roof, but the person inside. She has always had so much faith in me. She loves me. Jamie squinted against the bright sun as she lifted her face to the sky. “My God, what have I done? Nothing is as important to me as Erin. How could I have said those things to her? I have to talk to her, explain everything.”

****

Jamie climbed the deck stairs after her hour-long absence. She stood there for just a second letting the January breeze dry the last of the sweat on her forehead. She walked slowly to the sliding glass door leading into their bedroom and peaked around the curtain, wanting to know what she was walking into. Her breath hitched and her heart ripped a little more at what she saw. Erin was on her hands and knees desperately feeling across the thick, green carpet, searching for her ring. Every few seconds she raised her hand to wipe at the tears streaming down her face.

A noise, somewhere between a growl and a whimper, brought Jamie’s attention to the end of the deck where Artemis was sitting. The big golden retriever stood to all four feet as they stared each other down. Artemis was an extremely loyal companion, being with Erin almost every day since the woman had lost her sight. The animal always fed off Erin’s emotions and the dog was…pissed.

“I really fucked up this time, didn’t I girl?”

The animal responded by sitting her hind end down, but her big, brown eyes never left Jamie’s face.

“Don’t worry Arte. I’m going to try and fix this.” Jamie closed her eyes and calmed her heartbeat. I will not lose my temper. I can make her understand…but can I make her forgive me?

Erin heard the door slide open. She pulled back her hands, not wanting to appear as despondent as she felt. She stayed on the floor and sat back on bended knees. No words were spoken by either one of them as Jamie stood there looking at Erin and Erin sat there listening to the endless silence. A strong wind gust kicked up and blew the curtain aside, allowing the sunlight to hit the diamond and flash a signal. Jamie bent over to pick up the precious jewel that had landed under the bedside table. She approached her kneeling partner and dropped to her knees in front of the sad blonde. Jamie slowly reached for Erin’s left hand.

“I’m so sorry.” Her voice cracked. “I will never regret buying this ring.” Jamie slipped it back onto its home and raised it to her mouth for a kiss. “But I do regret the things I said. Please forgive me.”

Erin couldn’t speak. She threw her arms around the woman she loved and held on for dear life, knowing that there was going to have to be a compromise to the situation. She just feared that she would have to be the one to make it. And she prayed that her fears would be totally unfounded.

“Of course I forgive you, sweetheart,” she finally whispered into Jamie’s neck. “I love you. That’s why I can’t bear the thought of being without you…ever.” She brought her hand up between them. “I’m sorry I took the ring off. I will never ever do that again. This is staying here forever.”

Jamie nodded against Erin’s forehead. “I love you.”

Their tears mingled as they kissed. No more was mentioned of the trip, as Jamie led them to the shower in the bathroom. The ritual washing away of the insults, angry words and regretted actions, helped to calm their tumultuous emotions and patch their hurting hearts.

****

It was only late afternoon, but they were lying atop the patterned comforter on the bed, just holding one another, each lost in their own thoughts. But the conversation had to be continued.

Erin turned to face Jamie and she started out softly. “You said that it was going to be our ranch. So I don’t understand why you won’t let me put in the last of the money you need.”

Jamie smiled sadly, closed her eyes and sighed. “Sweetheart, it will be our ranch and I promise that you can buy whatever we need, once we are up and running. But I started saving for this before I met you and I just…I would really like to do this part of it on my own. I kind of made a promise to my parents. After everything I’ve done, I want to make them proud of me.”

That did it. Those words firmly implanted themselves onto Erin’s heart and she couldn’t ask Jamie to go back on that promise. “Okay honey, I understand. But can you explain to me why you can’t wait just a few more weeks to get the money?” Erin felt a fingertip softly trace her lips.

“Well, it was going to be a surprise,” said Jamie, while continuing her gentle explorations. “…but I thought we could have the wedding at the ranch. And in order to do that, it’s going to take a couple of months to get things in order. I wanted to build you a beautiful gazebo where we could take our vows. And I want to do some landscaping and create a beautiful garden like the one we were in the first night we met.” She received a silent kiss for her romantic sentiments. Then she continued. “Sweetheart, I know you have reservations about this trip and I shouldn’t have belittled those feelings. But you know about my past in New York. I know what to look for. I know the signs of illegal activity. And I promise you that I will bail at the slightest hint. In just a couple of weeks, we will be spending our first night in our…other house. And in less than three months we will be getting married in front of our family and friends and this day will all be forgotten.”

Erin finally resigned herself to accept the situation. She pushed the feelings of dread far back into her soul and gave her lover a weak smile. It was all she could manage. No words, just the smile and a nod.

Jamie took the small gesture and cherished it, knowing that their love was still as strong as it had always been, as it always would be. Disagreements were a part of life. They may be of one soul, but definitely two different minds. But she was determined never to let their future misunderstandings reach such angered heights.

Later that night, they spent an hour taking each other to passionate heights as they slowly and tenderly shared their love… body and soul.

* * * *

Jamie slipped out of bed very early the next morning for a quick workout and to finish packing. An hour later, she came out of the bathroom, rubbing her long dark hair with a towel. She looked to the bed and realized that her lover hadn’t moved an inch since she’d gotten up. But Jamie was totally unaware of the reason why.

After making love and some much needed cuddling, Jamie had fallen to sleep almost immediately. But Erin had laid awake most of the night, trying not to cry, but failing. She hated the feelings that had a strangle hold on her, but short of hearing Jamie say that she wouldn’t go on the trip, she knew they wouldn’t let go until her partner was back home, safe and sound. Exhaustion had finally crept in and banished the worries to a small area of her brain, allowing her at least a few hours of sleep.

Just as the dark of the long winter’s night was sliding across the horizon, the smell of cinnamon wafted into the bedroom, drawing Erin from her dreamless state. She took several very deep whiffs and also detected her favorite mocha coffee, which blended quite nicely with the sweet spice. She smoothed out her mussed blonde hair, gave a small stretch and pulled out from under the heavy blanket to sit up against the headboard.

“Good morning sweetheart,” said Jamie as she laid the wooden tray across Erin’s lap and scooted up beside her.

Erin smiled after receiving a kiss that was much more enticing then the food. “What’s all this?”

“I wanted to serve you breakfast in bed.” Jamie took a small sip of her own coffee and hummed at the delicious taste. “And I wanted to say I’m sorry… again. I’ll never be able to apologize enough for the way I acted yesterday.”

“Yes you can.”

“How?”

“By not going.” Erin heard the groan and felt Jamie start to move away. “No wait! Now I’m sorry. I promised myself I wouldn’t start this again, but…”

“Erin, honey, remember what I said last night? I know how to protect myself and when to get out. I would never do anything to knowing jeopardize my life.” She took the author’s trembling hand. “Not when I have so much to live for now.”

The blonde pulled their joined hands to her chest. “My head knows that Jamie…but my heart just doesn’t get it.” The stand off was back again. Two strong willed people who loved each other more anything else in the world, stood on opposites sides of the same wall, clawing their way up, trying to meet at the top and come to a mutual agreement. There was no compromise to this situation. Either Jamie was going or she wasn’t. And Erin knew which it was going to be…so she mentally scaled that wall and jumped to the other side. “All right Jamie,” she said with a small sigh. “I will trust your judgment. And I won’t say another word about it.”

The victory did not bring a triumphant smile to Jamie’s face. She knew her lover was still scared and hurting…but she also knew that the trip would go smoothly and she would be happily on her way back home…soon.

Erin nibbled on her breakfast roll as Jamie finished up a few details. With the last sip of her coffee, Artemis came bounding into the room. She received her good morning pats from Erin, but as soon as Jamie stepped from the bathroom, the dog jumped over to the tall woman’s side.

Jamie threw her travel kit into the open suitcase and started wrestling with the animal. She obviously had the canine’s forgiveness for her mistakes of the day before and that made her happy.

Erin listened to the two of them rough house with a bit of envy. She knew how much Artemis had come to love playing with Jamie. The dark haired woman could give the dog the kind of attention that she couldn’t. Sometimes Arte had so much extra energy that she literally pulled Jamie from whatever she was doing to go outside and play on the beach. While she was happy that they had formed a bond, it always made her stop and wonder what it would be like when they had a child. With her worries about Jamie and their future, her irrational insecurities ran amok. Who would want to be stuck with a blind parent who might step on them, who might throw a ball and hit them? And later on, one who couldn’t teach them to drive or see them graduate. Erin shook her head to rid the morbid thoughts. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and concentrate on right now. She then heard Jamie give Arte some instructions.

“I want you to take care of your Mommy while I’m gone.” She received a positive response in the form of doggie kisses. “Good girl.”

Erin couldn’t help, but smile at the word mommy. I still want to have a child. I can be a good parent, whether I can see or not. But I can only be a parent if… “I lied before Jamie.”

“About what?”

“I have one more thing to ask.”

Jamie moved onto the bed.

“I want you to call me every two hours,” said Erin staunchly. “I know that sounds really paranoid,” she rushed to add. “But I really need to know you’re all right.”

Jamie smiled and took Erin’s face in her hands. “Sweetheart, I will call you every ten minutes if that will help ease your fears.”

Erin blushed at how extreme that made her sound. “I think every two hours will do.” She pulled Jamie in for a long, hard kiss. Her very creative mind had a split second, absurd thought that her kiss could put some sort of protective spell over her lover. Erin pulled away and giggled at herself.

“My kisses are funny now?” Jamie asked teasingly.

“No. I was just…never mind.” Her smile flickered away as she ran her hands through the raven silk and whispered desperately, “Just please be careful.”

“I will sweetheart. I promise.” Jamie glanced at her watch. “I have to go. I love you.”

Erin threw her arms around Jamie for one last hug. “I love you.” She finally sent her off with a swat to her jean covered behind. “Go. And hurry back.” Please.

As promised, Jamie had called every two hours after boarding the plane. They soon made a game of the conversations, each pretending to be a famous person, complete with silly accents and dialogue. Seven hours into the flight, the plane made a short stop for re-fueling, during which time she was not allowed to leave, the attendant sighting security reasons. It was starting to feel a little odd, but Jamie’s finely honed survival instinct still sensed no real danger. She was able to look out the tiny window and saw that they were at a relatively small airport, but she couldn’t find a name anywhere on the two buildings within sight. There were several maintenance men milling around the plane going about their normal business, working on the machine. She couldn’t tell by looking if any of them were of a certain ethnicity. There were absolutely no clues as to where in the world they were. She wasn’t even told the correct time. But she always knew what time it was at home. The bright sunshine looked inviting as she got up to stretch her long legs. The small jet was equipped with plush, luxury seats and if she had had company, Jamie might have enjoyed the privacy since there were now only three other passengers. An older couple sat huddled together at the front of the plane, reminding her of the emptiness in her arms.

The plane ascended into the cloudless sky once again. Ten minutes later a lavish meal of steak, baked potato and salad was served. Jamie relished the surprisingly delicious food and partook of an after dinner drink.

The sun finally started to sink, far off in the horizon as the plane glided along smoothly. But the interior was quiet, a little too quiet. Jamie stealthy watched the short, swarthy looking man who sat near the middle of the plane. Besides the older couple, he was the only one to remain on board after the last stop. He was dressed all in black and his dark eyes had remained ever alert since leaving LA. He had been on the phone numerous times, which wasn’t unusual since Jamie had as well. But during every call, he never spoke a word, only nodded. He had made eye contact with Jamie three times and always with a questioning brow. Jamie peered over the rim of the round drinking glass, watching him pull out a black soft-sided satchel. Her eyes widened in mild alarm. A dozen different dangerous items could be concealed within the container. Her gazed flashed forward to the two other passengers who were totally oblivious to the situation.

He continued to rummage around inside the bag as his eyes met hers once again, for just an instant. A sudden chill went down her back. Shit! Maybe I should’ve listened to Erin, she thought. I know I promised I’d bail out of a bad situation honey, but not at thirty thousand feet…without a chute. She downed the remaining amber liquid and casually set the glass aside. Maybe I should warn the attendant. Maybe she can… Her thought was interrupted when he set the bag on the seat next to him and stood up. She saw something in his hand as he moved toward the back where she was sitting. Jamie held her breath, as he came near. She readied herself to strike out against an attack. Her hand twitched, as from the corner of her eye she saw his black shoes just three feet away. Her gaze traveled up the dark slacks to his empty hand. He suddenly transferred what was in his left hand to his right. Jamie took a visible deep breath when she saw the…shaver. It was a small electric shaver. The loud laugh burst forth in the small compartment as she slumped back in her seat. The mysterious man looked at her in surprise as he reached for the handle to the bathroom door. Jamie reigned in her laughter, but continued the silent giggles. He’s going to kill his five o’clock shadow, not me. She finally managed to calm herself after a few more mirthful minutes. She pulled out the small cell phone and hit the #1 button.

“Hi sweetheart.”

“Hi hon. Are you…alright?” Erin asked cautiously.

“Just fine.” She proceeded to tell her partner of their stop and her nice meal and drink. She thought to herself that she could really use another one, but she didn’t exactly mention that to Erin. The tall man in black stepped from the bathroom and an involuntary chuckle escaped Jamie’s lips.

“What was that for?” Erin asked with a slightly amused smile.

“Oh, it was…well I’ll explain it when I get home.”

“And when will that be?”

“I don’t know, but you’ll be the first…the second to know.” Jamie settled back in her soft seat. “What have you been up to in the last two hours?”
Chapter 3
Danielle carried her granddaughter up the wooden stairs and down to the open door. They had been playing on the beach for just ten minutes. The four year old had on a bright yellow jacket, it’s hood pulled up over her head protecting her ears from the winter’s breeze. But it did nothing to stop two little feet from getting soaked in the surf. Danielle had hoped to sneak in and change the saturated footwear before her daughter discovered the mishap. She switched the tiny body to her right hip and tucked the front foot under her lower arm. The two playmates sauntered in to find the girl’s mother and her aunt sitting at the table, deep in conversation. But not too deep. The older woman had almost made it to the doorway leading into the dining room.

“Mother.”

“Yes Bridgett,” said grandma, knowing she’d been caught. She had taught her daughter too well.

The red head pointed to several spots on the blue tile floor. “You’re dripping. Want to tell me what happened…Caitlin?” Bridgett knew her daughter wouldn’t lie to her.

The little blonde head and green eyes dropped in shame as they turned to her mother. “I ran to close to the water.” She finally looked up to see her mother giving the mad eye to her grandmother. “Grandma told me not to. Don’t be mad at her Mommy.”

Bridgett maintained her stern face as she approached the guilty pair. She pulled off the small tennis shoes and the white socks and then tickled the tiny bare feet. Caitlin squealed and laughed, twisting in her grandmother’s grasp.

“Mommy don’t!” giggled the child. “That tickles!”

The red head took her daughter and set her down on the floor. She sent her off with a kiss and a warning. “Listen to your Grandma from now on.” Bridgett stood back up and turned to regard her mother.

Danielle stopped any further reprimand with an upturned hand. “I know dear. I shouldn’t have taken her out to the beach, but it’s such a nice sunny day and she pleaded with me. The same way you used to do,” she reminded the smirking woman. “It worked every time…and still does.”

“I know. Just don’t teach her to try and cover up her mistakes.”

Danielle nodded and they both looked around to find Erin turned in their direction. “You are a great mother.”

“Who me?” they asked in unison.

“Yes.” Erin gave them a smile, albeit a sad one.

Jamie had called one last time the night before and told Erin that she wouldn’t be able to make another phone call until she was finished with her business. Of course this upset the author again, but Jamie managed to calm her with more reassurances. At least that’s what the blonde led her to believe.

Sleep had eluded Erin for the second night in a row, leaving her looking pale and haggard. She sat at the small kitchen table finishing off her second cup of coffee, hoping that the caffeine would kick-start her stalled motor giving her the energy to join in on her family’s plans for the day. Nothing would take her mind off of Jamie, but her family was trying so hard and she didn’t want to disappoint them.

Bridgett’s husband Brad had taken their son for a day of male bonding, so they had decided to have a girl’s afternoon out starting with Sunday brunch.

Danielle stepped over to the counter and poured herself a cup of coffee. “I am famished. Let’s drive up the coast to The Roost. They have those chocolate chip pancakes that Caitlin loves.” She walked over and brushed Erin’s short hair with her hand. “What about you sweetheart, what are you in the mood for?”

Erin could feel the concern in the air. The hesitations. The attempts at lame jokes. She mentally scolded herself for burdening her family with her worries. She pushed back her shoulders and brightened her expression. “I don’t know, Eggs Benedict or maybe that great mushroom quiche they have.”

Caitlin came bouncing back into the kitchen with new socks and shoes. Erin always kept extra clothes for her niece and nephew, a decision that had paid off many times. The little girl grabbed a hand. “Come on Aunt Erin. I’ll help you find the car.”

Erin smiled happily and bent over to place a kiss on top of the curly head. “Thank you sweetie.” She followed the little girls lead with Artemis at her other side. They passed through the large dining room and into the living room where the sun was streaming through the big bay window. Erin stopped by the couch and reached down to stroke the dog’s golden fur. “I’m sorry girl, but you can’t come with us this time. We’ll play when I…” The ringing of the telephone cut off her words. She dropped the little hand and reached for phone, clutching it tightly as if her life depended on it. “Hello.”

“Hi sweetheart.”

Erin giggled as the tension drained from her muscles like water through a sieve. She fought to stay upright on wobbly legs as relieved breaths circulated through her lungs. “Jamie, I love you,” she rushed to say. “You are all right aren’t you?”

Jamie laughed at her lover’s tone of voice. “I’m fine honey, but I’ll be even better when I’m back in your arms. I’m on my way home right now and I’ll explain everything when I get there.”

Erin turned toward the wall as her cheeks blushed with a tinge of pink. “I’m just glad that I was wrong and I’m a little embarrassed. I went a totally nuts over this. I’m sorry. I never want to fight with you again.”

“Sweetheart we are bound to have disagreements. But in the future we both should take the time to really hear each other out before the anger catches hold. I honestly don’t think we will make that mistake again though. All I have to do is remember how much it hurt when I walked away from you that day.”

Erin sniffled. “Can we talk about something else before I start crying?”

Jamie cleared her throat of its tightness. “That’s a great idea. I bought you a surprise.”

Now Erin smiled. “Well you know how much I like surprises. I’ll be anxiously waiting for it…” Her voice dropped to a deep tone. “…and you.”

Jamie licked her suddenly dry lips and looked around at the empty seats surrounding her. “You know that thing we wanted to do yesterday over the phone? Well maybe we can do it now. This time I am all alone here in the back of the plane. Alone and very needy, if you get my drift.”

“Oh, I get it all right,” said Erin with a huge grin on her face. “But I don’t think my mother and my sister would appreciate a demonstration of our…abilities.”

Jamie’s face fell with disappointment as she heard a voice in the background.

“You got that right,” said Bridgett, seeing her sister’s blush. “Come on you love birds. You can talk later, but I’m hungry.”

“Me too,” said Jamie pitifully.

Erin chuckled. “When will you be home?”

“In about ten hours. So you go and have…”

Jamie’s words were cut off by a loud screech. Then the phone went dead.

“Jamie! Jamie!” Erin called out frantically. She knew it wouldn’t help, but she quickly tapped the button on the phone.

Her mother rushed across the room. “What happened?”

Erin pulled the brown phone from her ear and just held it in her hand. The feeling of dread washed back over her and she swayed.

Danielle grabbed her daughter’s arm. “Whoa. Take it easy.”

Bridgett swooped in to her sister’s side and together they eased Erin down into a chair.

“She’s just gone,” Erin whispered the author.

“I’m sure you just lost the connection.” Bridgett raised the phone, which was still clutched in Erin’s hand, to her ear. The dial tone sang it’s mono tune as she and her mother exchanged glances.

“Dear, I’m sure there is nothing to worry about. Jamie will call right back.” Danielle reached for the phone. “But she can’t do that unless you hang this up.”

Once the phone was back in it’s cradle, Danielle ran to the kitchen and brought Erin a glass of water. The author downed the liquid, but it didn’t drown the hurt.

“When are we going?” asked the little voice that came to stand in front of Erin.

Bridgett pulled her daughter into her lap. “We can’t leave right now honey.”

“But I want to.”

“Caitlin, please don’t whine. We just can’t leave right now. I’ll take you back to the beach in a little bit.”

Erin listened to the child’s pleas and Bridgett’s response. She felt the dog nudge her leg. She heard the clock chime the half hour as Danielle took her hand. She might not have been able to see the faces filled with concern, but she could feel their loving concern. Her family. Their support and caring was the second most important thing in Erin’s life. Without them, she would be totally alone to face whatever was happening. But her capacity to love them wouldn’t let her bring the mounting pain down upon their shoulders. Erin shook her head of the morose feelings. “Why don’t you go on without me. I’ll stay here and wait for Jamie’s call.”

“That’s all right,” assured her sister. “I’m sure she’ll call soon and then we can all go to brunch.”

The atmosphere in the room sparked with tension as ten minutes passed. Then fifteen. Then twenty. Erin had barely moved a muscle except for the twitching of her hand that lay next the phone on the end table. Her hard, but emotionless expression had been maintained while inside, her heart beat double time with fear.

Danielle moved about the room nervously straightening the already immaculate furnishing and decorations.

A bird that flew past the large window had momentarily distracted Caitlin. She watched the blue creature hunting and pecking for twigs, strands of grass and other nesting materials among the shrubbery. Once it flew off, hunger became her main concern again. Bridgett retrieved a bag of chips and some juice from the kitchen to placate her daughter a little longer.

Erin listened to the crunching as the snack was devoured and while her heart was consumed with worry about Jamie, her head was clear enough to feel the guilt. “You know she really shouldn’t have to suffer because of me. Why don’t you just…”

Ring

Erin ripped the mouthpiece from it’s home before the first ring was finished. “Jamie?”

“No Ma’me.”

Erin’s head dropped to her chest.

“May I speak to Erin Casey?” the voice on the phone asked.

“This is she, but I really can’t tie up this line.” She had call waiting, but that didn’t matter.

“I understand, but this is important. I am from the National Organ Donation Center and we have your tissue donation ready.”

The blonde head shot up. “I…I…”

“What is it dear?” asked her mother.

Erin couldn’t get her mouth to work and she mutely handed over the phone. She had waited for this moment for almost five years. She craved it, needed it. But why now? She heard her mother’s voice in the background, getting the information as her thoughts ran to a single subject. I can’t until I know Jamie is all right. It will just have to wait. She suddenly felt two very enthusiastic arms encircle her.

“Sweetheart this is wonderful!” cried the older woman. “You are going to see again. I’ll help you pack a bag and we’ll leave for the hospital.”

“No! I can’t leave…Jamie…you just…I don’t…” The confusion in her brain wouldn’t allow the formation of a complete sentence. Erin felt her soul being torn in two. The best and the worst moments of her life were battling inside her, threatening her sanity if she didn’t take control.

Bridgett knelt down in front of the confused woman. “Sis, I will keep your cell phone with me and when Jamie calls I will tell her the good news. Just think about how happy she will be for you. And think about seeing her…really seeing her for the first time. You deserve this. You both do.”

One final shudder and a deep breath stopped the turmoil. Bridgett’s words finally brought a smile to Erin’s face. She wanted nothing more in the world than to be able to gaze into the blue orbs she had imagined so many times. It was going to happen. She would make it happen. Jamie would be there when the bandages came off. She had promised.

****

Two hours later Erin was lying in a hospital bed. She wasn’t concerned about the surgery; it certainly wouldn’t make things any worse. But Bridgett had informed her that Jamie still hadn’t called. Her fingers unconsciously scratched at the fuzzy yellow blanket that covered her lower body. Under the covering, her leg muscles twitched in tune with the tension that strummed through her. Again the war was building inside. Unbearable worry and giddy anticipation took the front lines. Heartache and hope came next. Tears and smiles held the flanking positions. Neither side held an advantage as every second waiting for a phone call was matched by a second closer to the coming medical miracle.

The doctor, who was going to perform her operation, was delayed by a snowstorm in the east, but he had been in contact with the surgical staff and everything was well prepared. One of the hospital’s eye surgeons had been in to see Erin and had asked permission for her surgery to be observed by a group of medical students. She gave him a vague nod of the head since her attention was on much more serious matters. She would probably have agreed to a vasectomy if anyone had asked.

An hour later, Dr. Andrew Mathias stepped into her quiet room. “Good afternoon Ms. Casey.” Erin jumped at the sound of his booming voice. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you,” he said.

Erin scooted herself up in the bed. “It’s all right. I was just concentrating on something.” She extended her hand. “It’s good to meet you in person Dr. Mathias.”

He returned the gesture. “And you Ms. Casey.” He studied the chart in his hand as he continued. “Everything looks good to go and I have every confidence that you will regain some, if not all of your sight.”

Erin took a deep breath and gave a nervous smile. “I know that you will do everything possible Dr. Thank you for giving me this opportunity.”

“When you can tell me what color tie I’m wearing, that will be thanks enough.” He reached out and gently squeezed her arm. “I’ll see you in just a little while in the operating room.”

“Could you ask the nurse to send my sister in here?” Erin asked as she heard his footsteps head for the door.

“I’ll do that.”

The sterile, white room went back to being silent. The only sound was the faint hiss when the heating unit in the corner popped on. She listened as a wheel squeaked on the metal cart that passed by her door as afternoon meals were being served. The aroma of the hospital food combined with the strong odor of the antiseptic cleaner that permeated the air, did nothing to help the queasiness that began to rumble in her stomach. Erin concentrated on another smell that brought with it very nice memories.

They were at the mall. On a whim, one Saturday afternoon while waiting for Erin to try on clothing, Jamie picked up a bottle of cologne. She cautiously sniffed at it, having had her olfactory senses burned on previous occasions. She smiled at the pleasant scent that held the scent of a clean ocean breeze and just tiniest hint of floral. Jamie was not one to decorate her body with aromatic substances, other than scented soaps or other lotions that she would share with her lover. But she thoroughly enjoyed the perfumes that Erin wore and wondered if she should return the favor, especially since Erin relied greatly on her sense on smell. Jamie gave a curt nod and handed the bottle and the cash to the salesperson. She slipped her purchase into her jacket pocket, totally forgetting about it when Erin stepped from the dressing room in a stunning outfit.

They had returned home from their shopping excursion and started in on household chores. Jamie didn’t remember the cologne until that evening when she retrieved her jacket from the car and felt the weight in one pocket. She went to their room and applied some to all the appropriate areas.

Erin was on the deck, in the twilight of the day, listening to nature’s harmonies. Her mind was so intent on the ocean waves she didn’t hear the door slide open. Two long arms gently settled around her and the kiss that followed stirred the ever-present passion in both of them. Erin pulled back when her lungs demanded air. She inhaled deeply. “What are you wearing?”

Jamie mis-interpreted the tone of Erin’s voice. “You don’t like it.”

“Are you kidding? It’s wonderful.” She leaned in and nuzzled the tempting neck.

Her busy nose tickled the tall woman, but not enough to stop the sweet affection. “I’m glad you like it,” said Jamie. “I wasn’t sure.”

“Believe me, you made an excellent choice. But I didn’t think you liked to wear anything like this.”

“I didn’t before, never had a reason to, never let anyone get close enough to care. But now…”

Erin pushed against her lover’s shoulders scooting her back. She stood, grabbed a hand and walked toward the bedroom door. Once inside, Erin started with the top button of Jamie’s shirt and very slowly proceeded downward. “Well I care.” She kissed the exposed collarbone. “I really do.”

“Wow. I should have bought this a long time ago.”

“It’s never to late.” Erin was now on her knees, in the process of removing the snug black jeans. She brushed a bare hip with her fingertips as she stood back up. “I love you with or without it…but I won’t complain if you want to buy a truckload. In fact,” Erin said as she pulled Jamie onto the bed. “I might even buy stock in the company, to make sure they never discontinue it.”

Erin had snatched up the bottle of Iridescence in her rush to pack. It now sat on the table beside her hospital bed, giving her some small tangible connection to her missing partner. After taking a last deep whiff, Erin threw her head back into the plush pillow. And she waited. The intercom in the hall made three separate announcements before Bridgett made it back to her room.

“I guess this is it,” she said as she approached her sister’s bedside. She took the slightly trembling hand and placed a kiss on her cheek. “I’m so happy for you. I know this is going to work.”

“Bridgett has…”

“No honey. Jamie hasn’t called yet. But she will. You have to go into this surgery with a positive attitude.” Her sister gave no response. “Right Erin? Tell me.”

The blonde author took a deep breath and nodded her head sharply. “Right,” she said with as much determination as possible.

Bridgett’s husband had come to take Caitlin home, leaving Bridgett and her mother alone in the waiting room. They huddled together in the corner of a brown couch that had seen better days. Bridgett sighed and leaned on her mother’s shoulder. She felt somewhat vulnerable, concerned not only for her sister, but for her friend as well. Everyone knew what effect it would have on Erin if something really had happened to Jamie. Bridgett needed the reassurance of a parent and a return to the innocence and happiness of childhood.

They started reminiscing about old times, remembering especially the summer of ‘77’. Danielle had taken her daughters to Disneyland for the first time.

“You girls were so excited. You hardly slept for two days. That’s why we didn’t tell you sooner. Every time we tried to get you two to take a nap,” Danielle playfully tapped her daughter’s nose. “…you would wake up and start ranting about something you’d heard or seen on TV about Disneyland. You would sit up and go on and on and Erin would be wide awake asking questions of her well informed big sister.”

Bridgett laughed, remembering how Erin had idolized her and how the redhead had loved it…until she started dating. Having a little sister spying on you and giggling in the bushes when you were saying goodnight to your date was an experience to remember. Bridgett made a mental note to have a long talk with Caitlin once Conner started dating. And of course since that wasn’t going to happen until he was twenty, Caitlin would be sixteen and by then she should be very understanding. Yeah right, thought Bridgett, laughing to herself at that whole little scenario.

Danielle continued the story. She had been standing by the living room door when she heard two little bare feet hop down the stairs and scamper into her father’s den. Danielle quietly followed her youngest daughter and peeked around the double doors just in time to see Erin climb into her father’s lap. He dropped the paper he had been reading and settled her into the crook of his arm.

“I thought Mommy put you to bed over an hour ago,” he asked with gentleness in his voice.

Erin scrunched up her face, not wanting to get in trouble. The happiness she felt strummed through her little body as she bounced up and down in his lap. She finally relented. “I can’t sleep Daddy. When will tomorrow be here?”

The corner of his mouth curled in as her wide green eyes pleaded excitedly for an answer. “Well unless you go to sleep my little E bug, tomorrow will never come.”

She believed the small fib and crossed her arms over chest and her bottom lip popped out in the biggest pout her had ever seen. It took all of Timothy’s self control not to burst out laughing.

“Oh all right,” she said. “I’ll go to sleep. Will you tuck me in Daddy?”

He stood up, dwarfing her with her size, hefting her into his powerful arms. Danielle sneaked around the corner not wanting to be discovered, but she listened to the conversation as the two headed up the stairs.

“Are you bigger than Mickey Mouse, Daddy?”

“I don’t know sweetheart, I’ve never met Mickey in person.”

“I think you are,” said Erin, confident in her spatial estimation. “He won’t be afraid of you will he? I won’t get to hug him if he is.”

“Don’t worry honey, Mickey will love you. But not as much as I do.”

Danielle and Bridgett both smiled at the happy memory, but as Bridgett went on to think about the trip, she remembered that Daddy hadn’t been with them. But they did have a lot of fun, just the three of them.

Erin got to hug Mickey. In fact she carried on a very lengthy conversation with him about the importance of Pluto in his life and how he should help Chip and Dale find a nice safe tree to live in, one that wasn’t always being cut down by Donald Duck.

Bridgett, whose tastes were a little more sophisticated, found Cinderella more to her liking. Her beautiful pink gown glittered under the California sun and Bridgett was mesmerized, asking questions about her castle, telling the costumed woman how she lived in a castle too. Bridgett told her every detail of her prince charming, who she would meet when she was twelve. They went on to discuss the finer points of romance, like sharing a double scoop chocolate ice cream cone in the backyard and holding hands on the swing set. Bridgett looked back where her little sister was still carrying on her animated conversation with the big mouse. Kids, she thought, his lips don’t even move he talks.

“Remember how Erin insisted on buying Dad that special present?” said Bridgett. She ran into the house and down to his office. He stooped down and she put those Mickey ears on his head.”

Danielle nodded. “And she said, Mickey may be bigger than you Daddy, but I love you more.” What Danielle hadn’t told the girls was the real reason why Tim couldn’t go with them. He had gotten a call and was needed out of town on business. She didn’t even bother arguing with him, but she wasn’t about to hurt her daughters. She told them he was not feeling well instead of letting them feel less important in his life.

Danielle had called her husband just after their daughter was taken into surgery. He was very happy for the chance for Erin to see again, but declined to come to the hospital, not wanting to upset her. Jamie’s name never crossed his lips, nor his thoughts.

Two and a half hours after the operation had begun, Danielle had slipped out for coffee. Bridgett picked up the silver cell phone from the sofa beside her. She stared at it intensely, willing it to ring. “Damn it Jamie, where are you? Erin needs you. This is one of the most important times in her life and she needs your support.” She leaned forward, closed her eyes and rested the phone against her weary head.

Danielle came rushing back into the room a few seconds later. She carefully put down the two cups of hot liquid. “I just saw Dr. Mathias down the hall,” she nervously informed her daughter.

Bridgett moved to her mother’s side just as the tall, blonde haired man walked through the door. His blue scrubs were rumpled, but clean. He scribbled a note on the chart in his hand then looked into the expectant eyes of the family. He cheerfully smiled through his late day whisker stubble. “Everything went perfectly. We will have to wait about forty-eight hours for the swelling to go down before we will know the results, but it looks very promising.”

Danielle couldn’t hold it in any longer. The tears slipped from her eyes as she hugged her oldest. They soon parted and thanked him furiously. Danielle took him completely by surprise and pledged one hundred thousand dollars to help him continue to make miracles around the world.

His jaw went slack and his blue eyes widened. “Thank you so much for your generosity Mrs. Casey. I’ll have the nurse let you know when you can go in and see Erin. And I’ll be by to see her first thing in the morning.” With a final handshake he left.

* * * *

The powerful, butter colored horse galloped across the meadow. The two riders, astride her back, held tightly to one another and their shared smiles told the world of their total contentment. The taller woman pulled on the leather reigns bringing the animal to a stop. Erin hopped off and landed softly upon the carpet of vivid green. She stared into the clear blue sky dotted with just a few puffs of pure white. Her gaze slowly followed the beams of sunshine to where they reflected off the small lake ahead of them. She just stared at the shimmering, glassy surface drinking in nature’s beauty.

“Erin.”

The cherished voice spoke quietly behind her and she felt a hand rest on her shoulder. She smiled and slowly turned, anxious to see the most beautiful blue she could ever imagine. The twinkling eyes of the woman she loved, awaited her. She heard her name called again. But the dream faded away leaving nothing but darkness. “Jamie?” her gruff voice called out.

“No sweetheart, it’s your mother.”

The fuzzies continued to swirl around her brain, holding stubbornly to the desires of consciousness. She felt a straw placed against her lips and she took just a sip to clear the cotton that coated her mouth. “Mom?”

Danielle smoothed down the blonde hairs that stuck out from the white bandage wrapped around her daughter’s head. “Yes dear. Your surgery went fine. The doctor expects you to make a wonderful recovery.” Another tear slid down the older woman’s cheek “You don’t know how many times I have prayed for this day,” she whispered.

“Me too mom.” Erin adjusted her head against the pillow, feeling just a small amount of pain around her eyes. “Did Jamie call?” She heard Bridgett sigh and turned her head to the left.

“No Sis. Not yet.”

“It’s been too long.” The blonde’s voice quivered. “Something’s wrong.” Erin’s hand flailed in the air trying to find her sister. “You’ve got to find out where she is Bridgett. You have to.”

The red head shared a concerned look with her mother as Danielle rubbed a soothing hand down Erin’s arm.

“I will Erin. I’ll call Brad. He will get the information from that courier service. We will find her, Sis.”

“Please dear,” said Danielle. “You need to stay calm while you are healing. You don’t want to do anything to harm yourself.”

Erin nodded solemnly. “Just find Jamie and I’ll be fine.”

* * * *

The next two days passed with still no word from Jamie. Brad had used his contacts and was calling in every favor he could think of to find some answers. The answers he was receiving were vague. He was given false leads by the courier service and told bold- faced lies by the supposed owner of the private plane that Jamie had been on. But Brad dug in deeper, willing to do almost anything to help his sister-in-law.

Erin’s mood was increasingly sullen. She said nothing unless asked a question. She picked at her food, even when Bridgett brought her a juicy hamburger from her favorite fast food place. She was slipping away and they didn’t know what to do.

Finally the time had come for Dr. Mathias to remove the bandages. Danielle and Bridgett stood by anxiously. Bridgett had brought her children, hoping they could help lift Erin’s spirit with their exuberant personalities.

* * * *

Expensive leather shoes walked across the highly polished, gray, hospital floor. The casually dressed man could see the very distorted reflection of his bearded face and he didn’t like what he saw. Timothy Casey stopped and considered his thoughts. Why do I feel so angry, confused…scared. My daughter is about to see again for the first time in almost five years. But what will she see when she looks at me. What do I see? I love her and I know she is happy with the way she is…but… His thoughts trailed of as he looked up and saw the number beside the open door. Realizing he had arrived, he cautiously approached the room at the end of the corridor. But he did not enter. He chose to remain quietly just outside the door where he cloud hear the events inside.

* * * *

Dr. Mathias sat the metal tray down on the bedside table then perched himself upon the rolling stool beside the small bed. “Are you ready Erin?”

“I guess,” she said with barely an emotion. She sat up, pushed the blanket aside and tossed her legs off to the side of the bed. Her shoulders slumped as the Dr. reached for a pair of scissors.

He slowly and carefully cut away the thick gauze, being careful not to touch her skin or her hair. “I want you to keep your eyes closed until I say.” He pulled away the bandage and discarded it. He then peeled off the two oval shaped pads that covered her eyes. He carefully probed the slightly reddened and puffy area where he had removed some scar tissue. “This looks really good Erin,” he said in a quiet, but reassuring tone. “There is one tiny scar left that will be mostly hidden by your eyebrow. Other then that, it looks perfectly normal.” She nodded. He then took a damp cotton swab and wiped away the residue of the antibiotic cream that had been applied since the surgery. “Okay, I want you to very slowly open your eyes. Everything will be blurry at first.”

The room held it’s collective breath as Erin’s eyelids twitched. Her lashes continued to flutter as the tired muscles struggled to move. Slowly her darkened world broke through to a palette of color. Blurred and very muted color, but defiantly the yellow of a shirt, the white of a lab coat; it all happily spoke to her. Her head turned toward the window where the blue and green plaid curtains were illuminated from behind by beautiful golden sunlight. She expelled a small puff of air and a smile spread across her face as she looked back to the doctor. “Brown,” she said simply.

A puzzled expression crossed his handsome features.

“Your tie,” she explained. “It’s brown and Winnie the Pooh has always been one of my favorites.”

He patted her on the leg and gave her a big smile. “I’m very glad to hear that. I think there are some other folks here that you are probably anxious to see. I’ll be back in a few hours to determine the specifics of your vision. I think you’ll need to wear glasses, but I doubt that will be a problem. Get some rest,” were his last instructions as he walked out the door.

Danielle was the first to reach the patient. She placed her hands on either side of Erin’s face and just stared into the green eyes that now looked back. Her mouth trembled, wanting to say something, but she finally just pulled the seated woman into a fierce hug.

“I love you too Mom.” Jamie was still at the top of all her thoughts, but this moment belonged to her family as much as to her. Their support and love, especially through the down times, was always crucial to Erin. She wanted to be positive for them now.

“Hey, can I get in on this?” asked Bridgett.

Erin tilted her head and studied her sister when she finally came into focus. “I had almost forgotten how pretty your hair is, even though it’s a lot shorter.” The sisters embraced.

“I’m so happy for you Erin. I love you.”

“Thanks. I love you too.” Erin was still a little weak from the inactivity and she leaned back against the raised mattress.

Bridgett took her children by the hand and brought them over to the bed. Caitlin immediately climbed onto her aunt’s lap. She put her tiny hands on either side of Erin’s face and leaned in real close. “Can you see me now Aunt Erin?”

The blonde smiled. “I sure can sweetheart,” she said as she ran her fingers through the child’s yellow, curly hair. “And you are absolutely adorable.” The exuberant four year old bounced on her legs as Erin looked over to her nephew. He was still a little blurry, but his semi-toothless smile shone through loud and clear.

“Will you come and watch me do karate?” he asked excitedly.

“You bet sweetie.”

Bridgett stepped forward and lifted the four year old off her sister’s lap. “Okay guys, Aunt Erin needs some rest. We’ll come back and see her later.”

Erin smiled as two small hands waved goodbye. Once she was alone again, her head sank into the pillow. She closed her eyes for just a moment, wanting to test them, just to be sure. She had a sudden thought and her eyes popped open, almost startling her as the beaded white ceiling came into fuzzy view. Erin reached over to the bedside table and opened the drawer. She grabbed the small red velvet bag, pulled open the string closure and tuned it over in her hand. The shining golden, engagement ring lay in her palm, invoking the memory of the words that had accompanied the treasure. Erin picked it up with a trembling motion and slipped it back onto her finger. She must have stared at it for an hour before her tired eyes finally slipped shut. She raised her hand to her mouth and kissed the heart shaped stone that Jamie’s lips had touched two days before.

* * * *

Erin heard muffled words near the doorway. She strained her hearing to make out who it was. What am I doing, she thought. I can see now. Unless it was a dream. Please don’t let it be a dream. Please. Erin raised her head and blinked several times. The two fuzzy shapes turned in her direction. She could see enough to tell that it was Bridgett and her husband. She gave them a slight smile as they approached. But once she saw the expressions on their faces that smile fell like lead. “What? What is it?” She sat up quickly and nervously shifted the blanket over her lower body. “Tell me,” she demanded. “It’s Jamie isn’t it? Where is she?”

Bridgett took her sister by the shoulders. “Erin calm down.”

The author pulled away. “No! Just tell me what’s going on.”

“All right, all right. We Will.” Bridgett nodded to her husband as a tear came to her eye.

The tall man stepped forward and clasped his wife’s hand. “Erin, the plane Jamie was on…crashed.”

Erin began to shake her head furiously, but she remained silent.

“They were over a mountainous region of Asia. Three people on board, including Jamie, were not found. But they are presumed…dead.” He almost whispered the last word.

An icy hand clamped around her throat. The world stopped, as did her heart. Oh it still pumped blood to her organs, but there was nothing else. No feeling. No anger. No sorrow. Nothing.

“I am so sorry.”

Erin sluggishly brushed aside her sister’s comforting hands. She just sat there numbly, barely breathing. “You promised Jamie,” she squeaked through parched lips. “You promised.” The darkness swallowed her once again. Erin gave in to it and gave up everything else.
Chapter 4
Bridgett turned off the main road and down the long, winding drive. A quarter of a mile later, she pulled up in front of the huge, old farmhouse. She climbed the wooden stairs, which creaked slightly under her running shoes and studied the wrap around porch, noticing two tiny cracks in its cement surface. Nothing had been added since her last visit almost two months before, no furniture or potted plants, only the two spider webs that spanned the distance between the oak beams in the corners.

Two knocks on the heavy green door brought no answer. Bridgett tried the handle and when it turned in her grasp, she opened the door and stepped inside. “Erin,” she called out. And then again. With no answer, she began searching the rooms.

The sparsely placed furniture hadn’t been used by anyone in months. There were still a few unpacked boxes sitting in the corner of practically every room she entered. But there were no pictures or decorations on the walls, no knick-knacks or books sitting the shelves. Bridgett swiped one finger across the top of the black stereo unit and it came away covered in dust. She shook her head sadly.

Climbing the carpet-covered stairs, Bridgett made her way to her sister’s bedroom, where the most depressing sight greeted her. A basket of freshly laundered, but horribly wrinkled clothes had been tossed on the floor inside the door. The big rumpled bed sat in the middle of the room, but it had rarely been slept in.

Near a corner window, on the floor, lay a nest of blankets and tear stained pillows. That was where Erin had crawled to every night, since mid-April, when it became too painful to sleep in their bed alone.

“All right Sis, I can see you’ve been lying to everyone. You are not fine and it’s time to do something about that.”

Bridgett headed down to the kitchen, still in search of her missing sister. There she found another room that seemed useless. A quick search of the cabinets and refrigerator uncovered only the bare necessities of food, enough to sustain life, but as with the rest of the house, nothing that spoke of the enjoyment of life. By the back wall sat a big, double dog dish, full on each side.

A golden, sad-eyed head poked its way through the swinging doggie door.

The red head knelt down and rubbed the drooping ears. “Hey girl. Do you know where your mommy is?”

The dog whimpered. “I know. You’re sad too. Let’s see if I can do something about this.” Bridgett made her way out to the main barn through the back yard.

“Hello Mrs. Nelson,” said the man brushing down a brown mare.

“Is my sister around here Dan?”

“She saddled up Simeron a few hours ago and rode out.” He stepped over to the fence that separated them, removed his hat and wiped the sweat away from his smudged forehead. “She’s been doing that a lot here lately and the fellas and I are kinda worried. We like Miss Casey a lot and it’s not really our business I guess…but we can see she’s in pain.”

“I know Dan. Thanks for caring. I’m glad she has you guys to watch over her. I’m gonna take the cart. I think I know where she might be.”

A lot had happened in the last six months. Brad had kept digging for the truth about the plane crash, determined to find some answers for Erin. He was finally able to discover that the currier service was involved in illegal industrial espionage. The worst part of all was that Jamie had just been a decoy. She was only carrying blank documents and shouldn’t have even been on that plane.

Eventually, enough of the wreckage was discovered to determine the cause of the crash, but a bomb had been ruled out immediately. The preliminary findings showed that it was mechanical failure due to lack of maintenance. Brad had immediately filed a lawsuit against the owner of the private plane on behalf of the families of the victims.

After Jamie’s death, Erin had gone into a deep depression, but she had never shed a tear. At first she hid herself away at the beach house with only her four-legged companion. Her family gave her all the support they could, but little did they know what was going on inside the despondent blonde. When she was alone, Erin’s mind was full of the memories she had of the love of her life. They would play over and over again like a cherished movie. But that’s all Erin did, day after day. What was worse, she had no face to go with the memories, no photographs or video…nothing. She only saw the eyes. Those eyes that smiled at her, twinkling with the utter joy that they brought to one another. Eyes that cried with a pain that Erin would have given her life a thousand times over to stop. The eyes that possessed her, pierced her with that singular shade of blue that existed nowhere else, but in Erin’s heart. Her soul had been on that plane, wrapped around the woman she loved and it died over and over again, every time she closed her eyes at night and opened them in the morning. The empty shell that had been left behind was soon to follow.

But then something changed.

One afternoon, about a month after her operation, Erin received a call from Mr. Phillips. He was the owner of the ranch Jamie had been desperate to buy. He was calling with a question about the horse Erin had bought Jamie for Christmas. During that conversation, Erin’s mind latched on to a bare thread of hope. When she hung up from Mr. Phillips, she immediately called her banker and her lawyer. Two weeks later she was moving into the ranch house.

The bodies of Jamie and the two others were never recovered. The family had arranged a small memorial service for Jamie in a quiet corner of the ranch. But Erin had refused to attend. She wasn’t angry, but wouldn’t give a reason why and they didn’t push her. They figured that she would go there on her own when she was ready.

As the end of March approached, her family was astounded at the change in Erin. She seemed back to her old self, happy and lively. Every time Danielle or Bridgett had talked to Erin, the blonde always said she was so busy, that there were so many things to plan. No one questioned her or ever mentioned Jamie for fear of bringing back the pain.

The movie, being made from Erin’s novel, was filmed without any further input from the author. She kept saying she had no time fly to the exotic shooting locations. And she hadn’t touched a keyboard or a piece of paper. Her well of creativity had evaporated on the wind and her inspiration had vanished in the span of a heartbeat.

When Erin had regained her sight she kept the loyal four-footed friend, in some ways needing her even more than before. She had donated ten new puppies to the canine helpers program and had started a therapeutic program of her own at the ranch. Every week, ten blind children from the ages of seven to sixteen would spend the day at the ranch with their families, riding, playing games and having picnics. That quickly earned Erin an outstanding citizenship award, which she accepted graciously. But through all the laughter and smiles, Erin was harboring a dark secret. A secret that saw the light on a sunny April day and had devastated her once again.

* * * * * * * *

Leather reigns dragged the ground as the white horse munched on a patch of sweet green grass. She didn’t need to be tied off because she would never stray far from the blonde author. The dark haired woman had named the treasured animal Simeron, after the character in the author’s novel.

Erin could never bring herself to ride Teegan. She cherished Jamie’s first horse and gave it all the love and respect that Jamie would have. But they had always ridden together when Erin was blind and without the tall woman to hold onto, it just wasn’t the same.

Erin heard the drone of the golf cart and knew it was her sister approaching. Bridgett preferred a mode of transportation that didn’t have a mind of its own.

The red head stopped the motorized vehicle far enough away as not to scare the grazing horse. Artemis hopped down off the back of the cart as Bridgett called for her wayward sister. But an answer was not forthcoming. She walked in circles, finally stopping by the strange, leaning tree. “I know you’re here Sis. Come on out.”

Something dropped to the ground behind her. “Right here Brig.”

Bridgett jumped high into the air, almost to the perch Erin had just vacated. “Don’t do that!” she yelled.

Erin gave a halfhearted chuckle. “What brings you all the way out here?”

Bridgett quickly regained her composure. “I just wanted to see you. You never call. The kids are really missing you.”

Erin’s eyes dropped under the rim of the Stetson she was wearing. “I know. I’m sorry. Tell them I miss them too.”

“Why don’t you come back with me and tell them yourself. You can stay for a week and we can talk and go shopping like old times.”

Erin bent down and snatched a long blade of grass from the ground. “Nothing can ever be like old times for me Bridgett.” She leaned back against the old tree, ripping the piece of foliage into strips. “I love you and the kids and I don’t want to hurt any of you, but…I need you to try and understand.”

“Erin, it’s been six months.”

The small woman turned away and shoved her left hand in the pocket of her jeans. There she rubbed her thumb over the golden band of the engagement ring still on her finger. “You say it’s been six months…and I say it’s only been six months. And it hurts today just as much as it did then. How long would it take for you to get over Brad’s death?” she asked after a long pause.

Bridgett looked away and shook her head. “That’s not the same.”

Erin whirled around, her eyes slightly ablaze. “Why, because he’s a man? I know you always thought this was just a phase and that Jamie and I wouldn’t last.”

“I didn’t mean it like that Erin. I just meant that Brad and I have been together so long and we have children and…”

“How long does it take to know your soul mate? I knew right away. I wanted a lifetime with Jamie and I am mourning the future I lost with her. All the precious moments, the children we would have shared, the grandchildren we could have watched grow up, the anniversaries, the birthdays, the Christmas’s that I will never get to spend with her. I ask you again, how would you feel?”

“Like half my world had been ripped away,” whispered Bridgett.

“Well Jamie was my whole world. Oh I’ll go on and with my luck I’ll live to be a very old woman, but my life will never be the same.”

“Alright, I can see how much pain you’re still feeling. But can you really dishonor her memory?”

“What do you mean? There’s not a second that goes by that I don’t think of her.”

“That’s just it! No you shouldn’t forget her, but you shouldn’t waste the gift you were given. You can see again for the first time in five years, but all you have seen in the last six months is four walls and these sixty acres. Yes, it is beautiful here, but there is so much more beauty in the world to see. Remember how much Jamie wanted you to see again. Well see everything that she wanted for you. Make her proud.”

Erin was silent for a very long time as she studied a half buried rock by the tip of her boot. She remembered the plans they had made to travel around the world, one country at a time. She bent down and pulled a clover from beneath the edge of the stone. Its four leaves triggered thoughts of her grandmother and the stories she used to tell. “Ireland. We were going there on our honeymoon…I don’t know…maybe.”

“Do it Sis. Make yourself happy by making her happy.”

* * * * * * * *

Erin’s first destination, upon arriving in Ireland, was her grandmother’s farm in Kerry, near the southwestern shore. The traditional, old world cottage was nestled in the corner of a lush valley, nearly surrounded by a range of majestic, forested mountains. The emerald jewels stood high and proud against the soft blue sky, guarding the special land and her people.

As Erin started into the valley, an early morning rain had given way to the sun, bringing with it a pale rainbow of yellow, pink, blue and purple. Erin would find a treasure at the end, the grandmother that she had waited so long to see again.

Kathleen Casey was a small, but strong woman. She had barely been sick a day in her life and had given birth to three healthy children, at home. She had also done more than her share of midwifery, lending her magical touch to the births of a good portion of the population of Kerry, past and present. There were more than a few girls and boys who shared one of her names or at least a version of.

The white haired woman had an opinion on everything and was never shy about sharing it. Some called her feisty and she loved it when they did. Some called her a woman ahead of her time. But they all called her friend. The woman had nearly single-handedly seen to the day to day running of her farm since her return to her homeland six years before. Her flock of sheep produced some of the finest wool in the country, most of it being purchased by the best mills and hand weavers in the land and tuned into beautifully crafted garments. Her life was prosperous. She had seen wonderful times and sorrowful times. But no matter what the times, her family was always first in her mind and in her heart.

Kathleen stepped onto the porch when she saw the car coming down the dirt road. She waved excitedly the whole time Erin was moving up the bumpy drive. She had been anxious all morning waiting for her granddaughter to arrive. Erin hadn’t told her grandmother of her impending visit, wanting to surprise her…but Kathleen knew.

Erin pulled the car to a stop, hurried through the small wooden gate and ran into her grandmother’s arms. They hugged and held onto one another for half an hour, sharing their joy at being reunited.

The happy woman gave her granddaughter a quick tour of the tiny, five room cottage. The house would have been a picture postcard, perfectly depicting the traditional Irish lifestyle if not for one tiny reason. A gray satellite dish was perched upon the thatched roof. The modern day technology brought the rest of the world into Kathleen’s day and many times through out the night as well.

Every wall in the house was a living pictorial history of the Casey and O’Rourke families. Erin had inherited her grandmother’s strong sense of family and she reveled in that as she studied the cherished photos. There were the great-grandparents she had never met, the distant relatives who stood straight and tall, proudly wearing the uniforms in service their country. The black and white images painted a colorful history rich in champions of every imaginable kind, from the war veterans to the nurse who had adopted a lonely little boy who had lost his parents in an accident, to the mother who educated her own children at home when they suffered hateful prejudice in the public schools. There was a hero perched on every branch of Erin’s family tree and even with the human flaws that plague everyone, they all held up the proud legacy. That is why Erin was so disappointed in her father’s attitude toward her lifestyle. Even though he was misguided, he never lost his place in Erin’s heart, just her life.

When he had been told of Jamie’s death, he couldn’t hold back the smile of relief. The rest of the grieving family had admonished him for his attitude and he did admit to himself that it was a tragic loss of a young woman with such promise for a future, but still…his daughter was once again…normal. He had approached Erin in mid February, as she was preparing to move. He was hoping to regain their closeness now that the obstacle was no longer in the way. He expressed his sympathies at her loss and explained his hopes for their future relationship. But Erin was not swayed. She had told him that she loved him and always would, but if he didn’t want her around while Jamie was in her life, then she didn’t want him to be around now. He walked away despondent, but still knowing that his daughter was better off alone.

Erin enthusiastically told her grandmother of the family back home. She presented new pictures to fill what few empty spaces were left on the walls and shelves. She told the story of her restored eyesight and of her successful career. Kathleen had read Erin’s novel and told her how proud she was of her. She neared the end of her stories and was about to ask of her grandmother’s life, but the white haired woman had another plan.

“Tell me about yer love?” she asked with her heavy accent.

For just a second Erin was stunned, but she quickly remembered that you could never underestimate Kathleen Rose O’Rourke Casey. Erin hadn’t intended to make her grandmother unhappy by telling her about her lost relationship with Jamie, but the old woman had seen and felt the sadness behind Erin’s smile. They sat in rocking chairs in front of the small, stone fireplace as Erin told her tale, which was anything but a fairytale with the proverbial happy ending.

Halfway through the story a wrinkled hand clasped onto Erin’s slightly trembling one. That touch helped her finish without too many tears.

“Tis heartbreakin ta hear that ya lost yer mate after such a short time together,” said Kathleen. “She sounds like a lovely young lass.”

Weary green eyes met. “She was Grandma, she was.” Erin stood and went to the small window. She looked out over the meadow full of grazing sheep, put her arms around herself and sighed.

“What is it honey?”

The blonde head shook. “I just feel like…I could have prevented it.” Erin turned back to the seated woman and knelt down in front of her. “I knew something bad was going to happen to her, Grandma. I heard the leprechaun’s whisper. I should have found a way to stop her, I should have…”

“No, dear. No.” Kathleen caressed the soft hair on the head lying in her lap. “I know it feels that way sweetheart…I do know. And I also know that ya did everything possible to protect her. But I bet she was a wee bit stubborn. No matter how much she loved you, she had ta do things her way.”

Erin nodded. “How did you know that?”

Kathleen smiled. “We seem to be attracted to that type, you and me.” She continued to rock softly, letting Erin feel the comfort. They both watched the dancing flames, each thinking about their lost soul mates. “It was the first time ya heard, wasn’t it?” Kathleen finally asked.

“Yes.”

The older woman gently pulled Erin’s face to meet hers. “I’m going to tell ya somethin sweetheart, somethin no one else knows. Because no one else would understand.”

Erin looked at her grandmother with quizzical eyes, but listened intently.

“Ya know that yer grandfather died when you were just a wee one.”

“He had a heart attack.”

“Yes, but I knew it was gonna happen. I knew weeks ahead of time, but he was so stubborn, the old goat. He called me daft and promised me he was in the best of health. But I woke up one mornin…and he didn’t. He passed away peacefully, but he took a part of me with him.”

Erin nodded staunchly and tears of agreement rolled down her face. “Does the pain ever go away Grandma?” Calloused hands touched her face.

“No dear. Not completely. But I came ta realize that it was just his time. Ronan and I had forty-two wonderful years together. We raised three beautiful children. And we saw seven absolutely adorable grandchildren come into this world.”

“But I didn’t get to do any of that with Jamie,” Erin whispered thickly.

“You will dear, you will.”

Erin stood and wrapped a brightly patterned quilt around her shoulders, feeling the warmth of the love with which it was handcrafted. “I don’t think so Grandma. I could never love anyone else with the intensity that I loved Jamie. And that wouldn’t be fair to them.”

Kathleen soon joined Erin by the window. She put her arm around the sad girl and closed her eyes. “She’s still here ya know,” said Kathleen after a long silence.

“I know Grandma. I feel her spirit with me all the time. Just like you feel Grandpa’s.”

The older woman nodded, but instead of sadness a strange twinkle filled her eyes. “I’m gonna make us some tea darlin.” She came back minutes later carrying a tray with a steaming china pot, matching cups and golden biscuits laced with almonds.

Erin’s eyes lit up at the sight of the sweet treats. She quickly sat down beside Kathleen and reached for a biscuit. Erin drizzled honey over the fluffy confection and bit into it with anticipation. She swallowed with a euphoric expression on her face. “You have no idea how much I have missed these. They are incredible.”

A smile spread the wrinkled face. “Maybe it’s time I teach ya to make them.”

Green eyes went wide. “Are you joking?”

“A Casey woman never jokes about baking.”

“Well I know I couldn’t make them as good as these, but I would love for you to show me.”

“Then I will. But first I want you ta do somethin for me Erin.”

“Anything Grandma.”

“I want ya to go back ta Dublin and visit there like ya planned.”

“I will Grandma, in a few days, but first I wanted to visit with you. I miss you so much.”

“And I you darlin. But will ya do like I asked first?”

Erin was puzzled, but couldn’t refuse her grandmother’s request. “Well, if that’s what you want.”

“It is. And I promise you will understand before ya return home.”
Chapter 5
Erin took the train back to Dublin and arrived at four in the afternoon, but she spent the rest of the day in her hotel room. She stayed there, not so much from being tired, but more from the morose feeling that had descended over her. She had started to feel excitement at the prospect of exploring the land of her heritage, but when she had gone to check in at the hotel, the couple in front of her had been wrapped around each other, smiling, whispering and kissing. They were so happy to be on their honeymoon, they had told the man behind the desk. After that scene, Erin couldn’t get the thoughts of Jamie out of her head.

In her cool, comfortable room, the soft, melodious notes of the local music had serenaded her from a radio and after a light meal they had lulled her to sleep. Her dreams that night were surprisingly pleasant. They were filled with the sounds of Jamie’s voice, telling Erin how much she loved her and how nothing could ever really separate them. Jamie’s last whispered words finally set Erin’s heart and her mind down a new path. She had said, “Above all else, I want you to live.” Erin awoke the next morning with a smile on her face and lightness in her soul.

* * * *

Erin stepped from the taxi, walked up to the courtyard and through the black iron gates. She had set out bright and early, determined to see all she could in her five day stay. Her first stop was Trinity College.

Tall, stone pillars with ornamental end caps, decorated the facade of the main entrance. A blue-faced clock, high in the eves, chimed eight thirty as she opened the large wooden door. Erin entered with great respect and quietly walked the public halls of the huge building, appreciating the architecture and artistry. School citations and awards hung on the walls, telling the world of the fine academic reputation of the Irish institute.

She spent over two hours perusing the many books in the huge old library, but the one that sparked the greatest emotions was the famous Book of Kells. As she stood there looking through the glass case, Erin found herself shedding a tear as she gazed upon the pages of the ancient manuscript. She was in awe of the artwork that had been painstakingly handcrafted with nothing more than a quill and ink. After several minutes gazing at the pages and thinking about its creation, she had a sudden flash of something.

Her modern day surroundings faded away as she looked down at her own hands and saw her calloused fingers delicately holding a white, feathered quill. She watched it glide across the tan parchment, forming the words of an unfamiliar language. Twilight was descending over the trees whose branches rustled in the breeze. The trace scent of burning wood wafted under her nose as Erin closed her eyes and let herself drift further into the vision. A garbled voice asked her something about fish and she felt herself responding yes and giggling. Fingertips traced her cheek and Erin reached up to touch the hand, but there was nothing. She jerked at the sound of a voice, but it was not the voice in the dream.

“I didn’t mean ta startle ya, but are ya all right?” The gray haired man gazed at her with caring eyes.

She was still slightly dazed as he guided her to a high backed chair in the corner of the room. He stepped away for a minute and quickly returned with a small cup of cool water.

Erin drank down the soothing liquid and returned his worried smile. “Thank you. I’m fine now. I just…I’m not sure what happened, but it was interesting.” Her eyes drifted over to the book that had triggered…whatever it was she had experienced.

He followed her line of sight. “It tis a magical piece of history, isn’t it? I’m Byron Elias Niessen, by the way.”

Her small hand was enveloped by his larger one. “Erin Casey.”

His head nodded. “Aye, not a home grown lass, but a daughter of the land none the less.”

“Yes. My grandparents and my father were born here, but this is my first visit.”

“Well, allow me to bestow a proper welcome.” He pulled the small white bloom from the lapel of his jacket and presented it to her.

She took a sniff of the sweet flower. “Thank you.” She rose from the chair with his hand on her elbow for support. “Again, thank you for your help, but I guess I should be going. I have a lot more to see.”

He gave a gallant nod of his head. “Of course. Maybe we’ll see each other again before ya leave,” he suggested.

She thought that was probably impossible, but didn’t want to insult him. “Maybe.”

He took a silver watch from his pocket and flipped open the casing. “May I suggest a walk through St. Stephens Green ta clear yer head. The fountain sparkles under the mid-day sun and it also carries a little magic if ya feed it a coin or two.”

She couldn’t help but smile at the charming man. “I’ll take that advice. Good-bye Mr. Neissen.”

****

Erin strolled through the peaceful green park, enjoying the sights. She studied the faces of the enchanting people around her. The smiles that spoke a dozen different reasons. The serious face of a student enthralled in a textbook. A mother’s love as she wiped away a tear from her child that had taken a fall. They were people she didn’t know, but brothers and sisters just the same.

The bright sun was just enough to warm her pale skin as she skirted the park’s boundaries, passing by the big sprouting fountain. It was just before noon and some people were gathering to eat their mid-day meal in the beautiful outdoor setting. She fished two coins from her pocket, closed her eyes and tossed them into the clear water. A small smile and a fluttering of her heart accompanied the wish.

She took a moment to once again think about the strange vision she had had at the library. It was so real…the smells, the sounds. And that touch. It was laced with incredible affection…the kind she had felt with… No! I can’t keep doing this. I’m moving on. And move on she did.

She rounded the fountain and was heading for the small cafe on the other side of the park when something caught her eye. Sitting next to the fountain, on a wooden bench, was a woman wearing dark glasses. She was tall and very thin and her short hair was inky black. Her head was lowered and her hands lay still in her lap. The woman’s body posture spoke of someone who was despondent and alone. She’s lost, thought Erin sadly. She’s a lost soul. Erin also thought that the woman might be blind and that tore at her heart, remembering her sightless years. Maybe she just wants to be alone. Or maybe she has no one else. Erin continued to study the woman for quite sometime. Her scrutiny continued to go unnoticed and she found herself strolling closer with every second. When she was just a few feet from the woman, the dark head turned in her direction. The two said nothing, but looked only at each other as the rest of the world continued on around them.

Finally Erin broke from the moment. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to disturb you, but you look like you’ve lost your best friend.”

The other woman sighed. “I probably have.” Her voice was low and gravely, but she definitely had an American accent.

Erin saw the scar across the side of her neck and once again felt empathy for the woman. “I’m Erin Casey,” she said extending a friendly hand.

It was graciously taken and held for just a second. “Jane Sims. Please excuse my voice. I suffered some injuries to my vocal cords recently and they still haven’t quite healed.”

Erin smiled and slowly moved onto the bench next to the stranger. “That’s okay. You sound fine. Where are you from in the states?”

Jane looked away, embarrassed. “I don’t know,” she whispered.

Erin didn’t quite understand, but she felt this woman’s pain. “If you need someone to talk to, I’m a good listener.”

Jane hesitated. She felt very confused, but one look at the compassionate smile bolstered her confidence. “Yeah, maybe I can talk to you.”

They both pulled one leg up on the seat and turned to face one another. Erin decided that she should make some further introductions. “I’m from California. But don’t believe everything you hear about California blondes. Although I have met some less than scholarly towheads, I can promise you some reasonably intelligent conversation.”

Jane laughed quietly, realizing that it was the first time she had taken the time to see humor, even in such a simple statement. Even Lia hadn’t been able to make her truly laugh. “I believe you,” she said to the blonde. “It’s me I’m worried about. I’m afraid I don’t have much of a story to tell.” She took another, closer look at the kind face with the gentle, but expectant expression. “But here goes.” She cleared her throat, but the raspy quality of her voice remained. “The same accident that did this to my voice, took away all of my memories. I have no idea what my real name is, where I’m from, if I have family or friends…nothing.”

That confession was totally unexpected and Erin was momentarily speechless. “Well, I… can only imagine how that must feel.” She paused. “No I can’t,” she added with down cast eyes.

Jane understood what she meant. “Most of the time I’m afraid to feel. I’m afraid I’ll lose my sanity. I’m just…empty.”

Erin placed a comforting hand on the dark haired woman’s arm. “As I said, I can’t really understand exactly what you’re going through, but I can relate. Several years ago I was in a horrible explosion. I lost my sight.”

Jane hung onto her every word as Erin continued.

“Only a few months ago did I get it back, due to a miracle and a very gifted doctor.” Erin looked off into the distance through the misty, barely there tears in her eyes. “Unfortunately, I lost something even more special to me at the same time.”

Somehow Jane read between the lines and she knew that Erin was referring to a loved one. “I’m very sorry.” The quiet between them lingered until Jane remembered something she had heard a few weeks before. “A love lost remains constant in a left behind heart. Each sunrise brings good memories and souls never part.”

“That was beautiful,” said Erin. “Thank you.”

That Jane would try so hard to console someone she’d just met, told of a caring heart. And her choice of words was made even more touching when she had no memories of her own loved ones.

Erin’s melancholy faded just a touch and a new feeling began to trickle over her like the soft drops of a spring shower. The corners of her mouth curled into a warm smile. “Maybe we could both use a friend,” she suggested brightly.

The dark haired woman grasped onto the offer with renewed strength. “I’d like that,” she said with a smile of her own. Jane stiffly got to her feet. “How about I treat my new friend to lunch?”

“Only if I buy dinner.”

****

They found their way over to the small outdoor café, where they were shown to the last available table in the back, protected from the sun by a towering, old oak. They choose a light meal from the menu and two orders of mushroom soup and fresh bakd bread was soon on its way to the kitchen.

They enjoyed the talent of a nearby street performer as they waited for their food. With guitar in hand, he sang of Irish eyes and roses wild, from Kathleen to Maggie Brown and traveled in verse from Tipperary to Tralee. The audience, of mostly tourists, showed their appreciation in applause.

From behind her dark, prescription sunglasses, Erin once again studied the body language of the quiet woman across from her.

Jane sat slumped shouldered, twitching every now and then from aches and pains that traveled across her back. Her lips tightened to keep from groaning against the strong sensations. She reached into the pouch, secured around her waist and pulled out a brown bottle. She flipped the lid and chased down two white pills with a swig from the bottle of water the waitress had brought. With a deep breath her body seemed to relax, knowing that the pain would soon ease. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I don’t seem to be much of a conversation starter.”

Erin smiled, trying to put the timid woman at ease. “That’s okay, I am. And if my questions get to be too much, feel free to tell me to mind my own business.”

“I don’t think that will be necessary. I feel very… comfortable with you.” Jane shook her head. “Maybe that’s because you are the first person who isn’t poking and prodding me, trying to analyze me or pushing me to do something I’m not ready for.” The anger filled emotions drew her fingers into a fist. She looked up see the sadness change Erin’s previously sunny expression. And she felt guilty. “I’m sorry.” Jane stood to leave. “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.”

Erin felt a desperation grip her. She needed to talk with this woman. And even more, she knew this woman needed her. “No, please. It’s fine. If you need to vent your frustrations go ahead. After my accident I was angry for weeks.” She placed a gentle hand on Jane’s arm. “I do understand.”

Jane believed her. And she didn’t really want to leave. For the first time in many months she felt something new. She felt the need to take a first step and start her life or to be more precise, create a life. And a new friend was a wonderful thing to start with.

Jane reclaimed her seat as Erin asked, “Should we talk about something else?”

The dark haired woman laughed softly. “Well, since I don’t know about anything else, I guess not.”

Erin cooled the spoonful of steaming soup with a soft breath. “What kind of accident was it?” she asked, hesitantly.

“I don’t know,” said Jane, pulling off a chunk of the thick, crusty bread. “I don’t remember anything about it. A farmer found me lying in his field. No one knew how I got there.” She stopped to take another sip of water. “I was barely alive. My back was broken.” Her hand drifted to the scar at her neck. “I had a lot of wounds. The doctor said my recovery was a miracle. They never expected me to come out of the coma and when I did, it took months of rehabilitation to get me walking again. I spent my recovery time in a medical center. There were a couple of special nurses there who would never let me give up, now matter how much I yelled at them. When I was recovered enough to leave, they all chipped in and gave me this trip as a present.”

Erin nodded. “Why Ireland?” she asked, as she continued eating her lunch.

Jane paused. “I’m not really sure. They gave me this huge map and all these travel brochures. Everyone was suggesting all these tropical places, like Hawaii, Jamaica, the Bahamas. But none of those places appealed to me. One evening when we were alone, Lia, she was one of the nurses, told me to consider Ireland. I started reading about it and… I don’t know. Something just made me choose it. I get the feeling it has some special meaning to me.” She looked back over the park. “Maybe I was hoping to find someone here who knew me. It was a long shot I know, but… How about you?”

“Well, my family is from here. My father was always too busy with work when I was a child and we never got to come here as a family. But I always longed to visit.” The smile she had sported, slowly faded. “Actually this trip was supposed to be my honeymoon. But my fiancé died before our wedding.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“Thanks. Jamie was my whole world, but I know she wouldn’t want me to spend the rest of my life in mourning. It’s just so hard facing everyday without her. We had so many plans for the future.” Erin wiped away a lone tear. “I still can’t seem to stop crying when I think about her. But those sunrises give me hope for tomorrow.”

“I had someone that important to me too,” said Jane with a hitch of emotion. Her comment surprised them both. “Hearing the love in your voice just now, triggered something. Not really a memory, but a feeling. Thank you. That’s the first thing from my past that has come back to me.”

Erin’s sadness suddenly flew away and her hand landed on top of Jane’s. “I hope everything comes back to you, including that one special person.”

“Just talking to you has made me feel so much better.”

“For me too. How about we do some sightseeing?”

* * * *

They spent three hours touring the National Museum, learning about the ancient Celts and in particular, a flame haired warrior queen. They saw artifacts from the area that dated back to the Stone Age and read about Celtic Christianity, Protestant conquest and famine and immigration. Together they absorbed the history lesson and each was happy to have a companion to share it with.

When they were leaving, Jane suddenly realized that she had been so pleasantly pre-occupied that her own problems were put to the far recesses of her mind, replaced by pure enjoyment. She smiled all the way to their next destination.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral gave them both a sense of unbelievable serenity. They stood in the sun’s rays that flowed through the breathtakingly beautiful stained glass panels lining the upper walls. As they were absorbing the moment, their hands touched and clasped just for an instant before they were interrupted by the tour guide and led away. They made no further mention of the touch as the hours went on, but the special moment would be forever remembered by each of them.

Late in the day, Erin and Jane were strolling back thought the park where they had met. Jane removed her sunglasses and slipped them into her shirt pocket. Just minutes before, Erin had changed into her regular wire framed eyeglasses.

“Would like to join me for some Irish dancing lessons tomorrow?” asked Erin.

Jane chuckled. “I don’t think my back would enjoy that particular activity, but I wouldn’t mind watching you. Then maybe we could do something else?” she asked hopefully.

Erin had smiled more in that one day then in all the previous six months. “All right, that sounds like a plan.” They soon came to the park’s exit. “I’m staying at the Shelbourne,” she said, pointing to the fancy building across the street.

“I’m just down the way at the Buswells. I’ll meet you here in the morning at… eight.”

“That’ll work.”

They turned to one another and both where struck speechless as their eyes locked. It was the first time all day that Erin had been without her dark sunglasses. And the lenses through which Jane had seen her new friend were auburn and had certainly distorted the color. They were both embarrassed by the mute staring, but hated to break away.

“Winter in Switzerland,” whispered Erin.

“Huh?” asked the awe struck woman.

“Sky’s blue reflecting off an ice capped mountaintop.” Erin finally looked away, blushing. “Your eyes…I’m sorry, it’s the writer in me. Beautiful things just inspire me.”

“Don’t be sorry. I was just going to say that there are now forty one shades of green in Ireland.”

Erin blushed even harder at the compliment. “Thank you.”

Jane shifted and took a few steps back. “I’ll see you tomorrow Erin. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.”

Jane watched as the blonde carefully crossed the road and entered the brightly lit building. Once she had disappeared into the lobby, Jane headed down the sidewalk to her own hotel.

* * * *

Erin stepped out of the shower and wrapped herself in a warm robe. She stopped to look at the mirror and caught sight of her own eyes and remembered the compliment from her new friend. “I never really thought I would find joy in anything again. But today I had fun,” she admitted to her reflection. She took off the robe, slipped into her nightclothes then into bed. Erin snuggled deep into the covers and smiled. “I love you Jamie and I always will. But I know you want me to be happy. In fact, I felt your presence with me today, guiding me. I miss you.” Slumber claimed her, but for the first time in months she didn’t dream about her lost love.

* * * *

The low morning sun filtered through the thick pane of glass, spilling out across the table where Erin and Jane were enjoying a traditional breakfast fry. The meal included bacon, fried eggs, grilled tomatoes, potato cakes and black pudding. The huge servings promised to provide plenty of energy for their busy day.

Erin wisely decided not to attempt the dancing lessons on such a full stomach, so they mutually agreed to visit the local zoo first.

The interesting array of specimens from the wild kingdom fascinated them for several hours, during which time Erin told her new friend about her family and her childhood.

Jane enjoyed hearing the amusing tales. She listened to the love in Erin’s voice as she spoke, but her thoughts drifted. Surely I have family, parents looking for me. But how can they find me? I have to look for them. But how in the word do I even start?

“Jane? Jane?”

The dark head shook. “I’m sorry that was very rude. I really am interested in your life.”

“But it makes you think of what you are missing?”

Jane shrugged. “Everything makes me think of that. But I don’t want to be a downer. So where are we off to next?” She chuckled as Erin excitedly ran over to the next exhibit.

They laughed as they watched the wild antics of a troop of monkeys chasing each other over and around the trees in their exhibit. Erin gave a cute squeak when she spotted a baby riding under its mother’s belly, as she walked along on all fours.

The tigers splashed around in their pool, playing with a huge, blue, hard plastic ball.

Jane had snagged a single use camera at a vendor and insisted on taking a picture of Erin feeding the giraffes. She snapped it just as the long, dark tongue wrapped around the piece of carrot Erin held in her hand. The blonde had broken out in a surprised grin at the tickling sensation.

Jane went on to take several more pictures when they visited the petting zoo. She was sure the smile hadn’t left her face all morning as she laughed out loud when a goat nudged Erin in the behind, causing her to squeal.

“You think that’s funny huh?” the blonde asked.

Jane held her stomach as she nearly doubled over. “Yeah…yeah I do. I think he likes you.”

Erin crooked a finger at the laughing woman. “Well why don’t you come over here with our furry friends and we’ll see what kind of love connection you can make.”

Jane straightened up and marched in the fray of four legged creatures. She scratched behind the floppy ears of an adorable, white goat as Erin looked on.

“She’s not quite as cute as Artemis,” said the author. “But that is a face.”

“Who’s Artemis?”

“My Golden Retriever.”

“I bet she’s beautiful. They had one at the center. He was twelve and a little slow footed, but very lovable.” Jane leaned over once again and gave a last pat to the goat’s head. Suddenly she was hit from behind and falling forward. The white goat made a hasty retreat and Jamie fell into Erin’s surprised arms. They were both stunned as they held an almost hypnotic gaze. “I’m sorry,” said Jane, as she regained her balance. Still shaken, not from the fall, but from the feeling of Erin’s arms around her, Jane straightened her rumpled clothing, looking everywhere but the Irish woman’s face. “They should put a warning sign on that billy,” she chuckled.

Erin also had to calm herself after their momentary encounter. “Yeah. Let’s get out of the line of fire.”

They grabbed a cool drink as they headed back toward the zoo’s exit, stopping momentarily to watch an elephant, which seemed to be giving itself a bath. The comfort level had once again returned as they chatted about the beautiful scenery.

Near the exit, they came to a lush garden with an interestingly shaped, metal bench right in the center of a rainbow of petals.

“Go sit down and I’ll take your picture,” said Erin, as she held out her hand for the camera.

A shiver went down Jane’s back. “I…don’t…” Her hand reached up to touch the scar on her neck. “I’d rather not.”

Erin laid a comforting hand on her back. “That’s all right. Let’s go.” She grinned, trying to lighten the mood. “I’ve got some dancing to do.”

* * * *

Erin and Jane sat in the front row of the small dance hall. The lively music filled the room as a tall woman, with a mane of curly red hair, flitted around the room like a butterfly. She barely touched the ground beneath her feet as she gracefully executed a series of short kicks and silent tapping. The joy on her face was infectious as she moved from one end of the room to the other, dancing on her toes, interpreting the notes being played on the high pitched flute. She finished in a flurry to a generous amount of applause from the dozen or so spectators.

They then watched in fascination as the music ended and six young women marched to the middle of the stage. Their feet began moving at an incredible pace. There was no need for an accompanying melody, their synchronized, rhythmic tapping created the music. Jane looked over to Erin, tilted her head and with a raised eyebrow wished her luck.

Soon the show was over.

After talking for a short time with one of the helpful instructors, Erin abandoned her Nike’s and slipped into a proper pair of dancing shoes. She listened carefully to the words of the teacher and together they walked out the moves one by one. After a few minutes of doing that, the teacher nodded for the music to begin. Erin started moving her feet to the slow beat and she did quite well until the next section of music started and the pace picked up. She began to kick herself in the ankles again and again, knowing there would be bruises the next day. She looked over at her new friend and made a silly face at her own clumsy moves. A huge smile beamed across the dark haired woman’s face and she threw her head back in merriment.

The practice continued, even as Erin began tripping over her own feet. She raised herself from the floor at one point and looked to see Jane laughing. But Erin never once felt that she was being laughed at, but laughed with, as she herself soon had tears running down her face.

That evening they dined on fish and chips at the popular Leo Burdocks, as they reminisced about the day’s events.

When twilight had long passed, they once again walked through the park on the way back to their hotels.

“Are my feet sore,” said Erin, as she nearly limped along.

“I can just imagine. Let’s sit down over here for a while.”

They stepped up into the huge gazebo and sat side by side on one of the white, wooden benches. Erin slipped out of her shoes and rotated her stiff ankles.

Without even thinking, Jane reached down and lifted the sore feet into her lap and began rubbing them. Neither one found the act awkward. Jane knew well of pain and she just wanted to provide some relief if she could.

Erin reveled in the touch that seemed so familiar. She chose not to dwell on the thought and just went with the feeling. She closed her eyes and lay her head back against the seat. “Ooooo, thank you,” she moaned. “That feels so good.”

Jane merely nodded, concentrating on the task instead of the other things she was feeling.

“I think tomorrow,” Erin slurred through a yawn, “we should do something that doesn’t require pounding the floor with my tender tootsies.”

Tomorrow. For once Jane liked the sound of that word. And she liked it even more that it was going to still be shared with her new friend. She was afraid she might be intruding on Erin’s vacation, but she had become attached to the personable young woman and didn’t know what she would do when the time came for them to go their separate ways. Even without her memories, Jane had found herself feeling whole while in the company of Erin Casey.

Jane listened as the breathing of her companion became slow and even. She didn’t think Erin would want to fall asleep there, so after a few minutes of contemplation she asked a question that had been on her mind. She wanted to know what kind of a person Erin would love. “Tell me about Jamie.”

A small smile came across her lips and Erin slowly opened her eyes. She looked passed Jane into the distance as she spoke. “Jamie was intelligent. She had a great sense for business, even though she would have told you otherwise. She was funny. She could chase away my blues with a tickle or the worst joke you’ve ever heard.” She chuckled then paused. “I felt safe in her arms, but there were times when I needed to protect her. She would never allow anyone else to see it, but she had some insecurities because of some incidents in her past. Physically, Jamie was almost as different from me as you could get…but we fit, perfectly. I knew that I had been lonely before, but until we met, I didn’t realize just how much was missing from my life. Jamie made me complete…even if it was just for such a short time.”

When Erin was through with her story, they both silently looked out over the calm lake. Darkness was all around them and there were just a few people left in the park. A light mist began to fall as they got up and silently walked back to their hotels.
Chapter 6
They each had breakfast in their own rooms the next morning, but had made plans to meet by the fountain at 9:00. Jane had arrived half an hour early and was soaking in the early morning sun and reading through a US Today newspaper that she had gotten at a corner newsstand. She knew she had a lot of catching up to do when she got back to the states. Not just a few months worth, but a lifetime’s worth.

Once her injuries had been well on their way to healing, her doctor had contacted the proper authorities and explained Jane’s situation. They ran her fingerprints, but there was no match found. After a lot of strong and sometimes heated discussions, the politicians finally accepted her status as a United States citizen and began the process of re-establishing a legal identity. The red tape was arduous and the amount of paperwork incredible, but finally she was granted a new birth certificate, placing her age at thirty-two, a new social security number and a passport. They informed her that should her memories return and should she be able to prove it, she would be allowed to resume her true identity. They had asked her what name she wanted and although many were suggested, she had gotten used to being called Jane by the people at the hospital. Choosing a last name became a much more difficult task. After all it was something she might have to live with for a very long time. While perusing a list she was given, she came to the names Sims and Simmons. Something about them struck a cord within her hidden memories, but she just couldn’t pull out the reason why. She had finally decided to go with the shorter name and Jane Sims was born.

Jane had felt invisible during that time. People were arguing over her and about her like she was a useless, unwanted object instead of a human being with feelings. At night she would fall into bed with her spirit bleeding. She didn’t even feel worthy of her own tears. Then one night, during a restless sleep, she heard a voice within her dreams. The gentle voice simply said, “You are not alone.” The phrase repeated over and over until it had permeated her lonely soul and she woke up believing it. From that day on the sadness of not knowing exactly who she was still lingered, but the overwhelming despair had been lifted by…what, she didn’t know, but she prayed that someday she would find out.

Jane looked up from her paper and her blue eyes kindled with joy as she saw Erin walking toward her-make that limping toward her. She winced in empathy as Erin got closer. The injured woman shrugged a shoulder and sat down with a sigh of relief.

Jane tapped a jean-covered leg with her folded newspaper. “Maybe we should take the day off,” she suggested.

The blonde head shook staunchly. “No, no. I refuse to let a little pain stop me.” She heard the soft snort beside her. “Okay a lot of pain. But I will persevere. Maybe you could carry me piggy back,” she joked, as another small throb passed through her foot.

The dark haired woman grinned as an idea popped into her head. “Instead of a piggy, how about a horse?”

Erin jerked up from her slumped position. “What did you say?”

“We could go horseback riding. I heard about a stable that rents horses for the day and…” Jane noticed the odd expression on her companion’s face. “What’s wrong? Don’t you like horses?”

“No…I mean yes, I love horses. In fact I own a ranch back in California.”

Jane’s face brightened even more. “Wow, that must be a dream. To have those beautiful animals around all the time and to be able to go riding whenever you want.”

Erin’s time on the ranch had been a severely mixed bag of emotions, but still…”Yeah it is,” she said wistfully. “What is your experience with horses?” she asked after a slight pause.

“It was part of my rehabilitation at the center. They had three of the gentlest horses there and I helped take care of them. Lia said I needed something to spark my interest. All I ever did was read and she said I needed some outside, fun activity, so she introduced me to the man who owned the horses. I took to them right away and them to me. She called me a Doctor Dolittle because I could almost talk to them and understand them.”

Erin had been quiet during her explanation, the skin above her nose wrinkled with concern.

“Am I boring you?” Jane asked with an insecure tone.

“No, of course not. It’s just…never mind.” Erin pushed the melancholy expression from her face and smiled. “Actually that sounds like fun. And my feet will be forever grateful. Let’s go.” Erin took Jane by the hand, they hopped into a cab and off they went.

* * * *

The chestnut colored gelding galloped past the black mare and her blonde headed rider. “Come on slow poke,” Jane yelled over her shoulder. “Last one back to the stable buys dinner.”

“You better check your wallet then, my friend,” said Erin as she watched the pair round a curve in the trail ahead. A few clicks of her tongue and a poke of her heels sent the ebony steed racing toward the finish line.

She easily caught up to Jane, who was relishing her place in the saddle and her apparent victory. A cloud of dust was left in their wake as they ran side-by-side, exchanging leads only by a nose. They turned to smile at one another several times before the end of the trail came into sight.

God this is great! Thought Jane. I don’t want this trip to end! She turned to her companion one final time and gave her a smug wink.

Oh that does it, Erin said to herself. “Yah! Yah!” she yelled aloud. Several flourished kicks sent four hooves pounding the dirt and flying past the over confident brunette.

Erin cruised into the huge corral followed closely by the losing horse and rider. She pulled her steed around and flashed a triumphant glare. They walked the horses around for a few more minutes before ending up side by side, facing each other.

Erin reached out a hand. “No hard feelings.”

Jane accepted the hand and bit back a grin. “No, no hard feelings.”

Erin continued to watch as Jane tried very hard to keep from laughing. They both dismounted and led the horses back to the barn. But Erin stopped suddenly and grabbed Jane’s arm. “Did you just let me win?” she asked.

The taller woman looked down with innocence. “Absolutely not. You beat me fair and square.”

There was a pause as Erin stared into the sparkling blue eyes. “Right.”

Back at the barn they offered to unsaddle and brush down the horses themselves. The big, brown horse, named Duffy, became restless, pawing at the ground and snorting as his saddle was removed. Jane gave a stern tug on the leather halter than began to hum lightly.

Erin finished with her smaller horse and just watched in fascination as the other animal began to calm down. At one point Jane leaned forward and whispered something into the sable ear. The horse bobbed its head in response and whinnied loudly.

Erin laughed silently and walked over to a basket in the corner. She returned to offer both horses a couple of small, sweet apples. They munched on the treats as Jane finished the grooming and tossed the brush into the tack box.

“Well Doctor D, you certainly do have a way with them,” Erin said with a smile.

Jane gave the horse one final pat on the neck. “Thanks. So where can I take you to dinner?”

Since Erin’s feet had started to feel better, she decided that a couple of hours shopping was in order. She bought souvenirs of crystal, clothing, collectables and toys. Every member of her family was covered with a present…or two…or three.

Jane watched Erin’s eyes flicker with excitement as they walked into one shop after another. From bookstores to fine linens to craft shops, they hit them all. The pleasant merchants were always helpful, finding just what Erin wanted and every time the small woman debated over which item to purchase, she always ended up getting both. She walked out of one place with four handmade teddy bears. She was going to give one to her niece Caitlin, but just couldn’t leave behind the other adorable creatures. She held two in the crook of each arm as they walked down the sidewalk, approaching yet another shop.

Jane reached out and ruffled the tan fuzz atop one of the comical bears. “Do you collect these?”

“No I don’t.” Erin considered it for a moment. “But that is a great idea.”

“Yeah, if you are going to do a lot of traveling, you could get one from every country.”

A trace of sadness quickly flashed over Erin’s features. She had intended to see the world…with Jamie. “If someone had suggested that a few months ago,” she said. “I would have turned the idea down cold…but now, now it doesn’t sound so bad.” She looked up at the clear blue eyes. “Thanks.”

“For what?”

There was a pause. “Just thanks.”

****

Once Erin and her personnel beast of burden had unloaded the packages at the hotel, Jane had made good on their bet and escorted the victor to the Chapter One Restaurant. She thought it quite appropriate since its décor honored famous Irish writers.

After a superb meal, they slipped down the street to a small pub for a Guinness and some local entertainment. They sat in a booth near the far wall and gave the barmaid their order. Because of her pain medication, Jane had decided to stay with a non-alcoholic beverage, but Erin was adventurous and decided to try the local ale.

At eight o’clock, three people stepped up onto the makeshift stage in the corner and readied their instruments. A tall, slender woman slid the guitar strap over her head and adjusted the microphone. “Good evenin ta everyone and welcome to our new friends visitin us tonight. I am Shannon. The handsome fella to my right is my husband Ryan.” She waved her hand over her right shoulder. “And back there somewhere is my sister Katie. We have ta hide her back there or else she spends all of her time flirtin with all the good lookin lads. Collectively we are…”

“Tilley Dawn,” several of the house regulars shouted in unison.

The singer, with the Irish head of flaming red, laughed along with the crowd. “All right wise guys. Shane,” she said to the bartender, “ya best be cuttin off their supply of pints for the night.” More laughter filled the small room and a few mugs were clinked in celebration, which for an Irishman could be anything from a new job to a haircut.

Shannon always considered their audience each time they played. She knew most of the regulars and was pretty good at spying the tourists. When the small crowd was mostly visitors they added a lot of Irish standards along with some contemporary selections and one or two original works. She pushed the dark guitar around to her back and picked up a small, black flute. Ryan had stepped to the front and started out with ‘Danny Boy’, which was the unofficial anthem of the Isles.

Erin had turned to watch the musicians and after several notes her eyes had slipped shut and she was immersed in the song. The tenor had the perfect voice to croon the soulful words of the Irish classic. Of course Erin had heard the song many times throughout her lifetime, but it never failed to touch her sensitive soul.

With the last note, Shannon resumed the lead vocals for the next three songs. One was a lively, spirited tune and had there been more room in the place, Erin was sure that quite a few listeners would have gotten up and danced a jig. She might have even been coaxed into joining, because she was in such a good mood. Erin watched as dark haired Ryan beat out a perfect melody on the bodhran, a small hand held drum. The instrument could be played quite loudly and she cringed thinking how her sister was going to react when she discovered that Erin had gotten one for her nephew Conner.

When the latest round of applause died down, Shannon introduced the next song. “I think ya might recognize this one from their international fame. And although we don’t claim ta be near as good as the Coors, they are one of our favorites.” The guitar started in with the smooth introduction and after several seconds the drum came in with a steady beat. A violin then joined in with the trio of voices.

When the daylight’s gone
And you’re on your own
And you need a friend
Just to be around
I will comfort you
I will take your hand
And I’ll pull you through
I will understand

Listening to those few words, a sudden feeling cascaded over Erin, touching a place deep in her soul, a place that had been dead for months. She pulled her shoulders back, took a few deep breaths and reveled in the feelings of…joy and hope. The simple joy of friendship and the hope to regain something of what she had lost, even if just a small part. Having someone to share all the little things with. Having someone to laugh with and to listen. And having someone to listen to. That is what she could have. And it is what she wanted. She turned to meet the intense blue gaze. The look in those eyes told Erin she was no longer alone. The chorus continued.

And you know that
I’ll be at your side
There’s no need to worry
Together we’ll survive
Through the haste and hurry
I’ll be at your side
When you feel like you’re alone
Or you’ve no where to turn
I’ll be at your side

This is what Jane wanted. Just one person, one friend who could help her face the fear of the emptiness in her head, someone who could help her to build a new life. Someone who would care about her…would care if she lived or died. Because of Erin, Jane no longer dreaded another day of loneliness. She had a friend.

Erin reached across to touch the long fingers that tapped a beat on the worn tabletop. Jane turned her hand over and lightly squeezed the smaller one, as the words spoke what they both were feeling.

If life’s standing still
And your soul’s confused
And you cannot find
What road to choose
If you make mistakes
You won’t let me down
I will still believe
I won’t turn around
I’ll be at your side
There’s no need to worry
Together we’ll survive
Through the haste and hurry
I’ll be at your side
When you feel like you’re alone
And there’s no where to turn
I’ll be at your side

Both women eased into a shared smile that slowly grew into a joyous grin, as they absorbed the love of friendship.

Once the group had finished their set, Erin and Jane settled into a conversation about the ranch back in California. Erin nursed the dark brew, enjoying the malty flavor, but it was quite a bit stronger than she usually liked. The grimace that had followed the first few sips had attested to that fact.

From her vantage point, Jane had noticed that the woman who had been singing kept staring curiously at Erin, from her place at the end of the bar. Her red head kept leaning over to get a better view. Of course Jane knew that Erin was a beautiful woman and she did garner admiring glances everywhere they went, but the singer’s leering was stirring up a protective streak within Jane that she had yet to encounter. After fifteen minutes of the rude behavior, she was about to go butch and march over there and tell the skinny songbird to keep her eyes to herself. But she glued her butt to the seat, deciding that it wasn’t really her place to interfere. And she certainly didn’t want to embarrass Erin.

She returned her attention to the conversation and answered the blonde’s question. “That sounds like a great idea. I’m sure the symphony here is wonderful. If there is one thing I have discovered about myself is that I love music of all kinds.” Jane clinked the melting ice cubes around in her glass as an unbearable thought entered her head. “That’ll be your last night here, won’t it?”

Erin heard the sadness in her voice and shared it. “Yeah.” She raised the tall glass to her lips and let another strong sip slide down her throat. A small cough followed and she looked up to find her dark haired friend smirking. She held her drink out. “Why don’t you try it and see for yourself smarty pants.”

One taste shouldn’t hurt. Their fingers brushed as Jane took it and she defiantly held the author’s gaze as she tossed back a healthy swallow. Her throat spasmed as she fought back the tickling sensation. But after two seconds she exhaled then drew in a wheezing breath, followed by several coughs. The tears that came to her eyes were a combination of the alcohol and the laughter.

“Are you okay?” asked a wide-eyed Erin.

She nodded and smiled through the small convulsions, drinking down the last of her sparkling water. As her breathing returned to normal, out the corner of her eye, Jane saw that the singer was now joined by her sister and they were both staring at Erin and whispering to each other. Jane tried to flash them an intimidating glare, but they didn’t seem to notice her at all.

Erin set the ale aside and put in an order for two more glasses of water as Jane excused herself for a quick trip to the restroom.

She returned a few minutes later, turning the corner just as the two sisters were approaching an unsuspecting Erin. She quickened her steps and scooted back into the booth just a few seconds before them.

“Erin?” said the tall woman.

The author looked up at the sound of her name.

“Erin Casey,” the singer clarified.

“Yes, I’m Erin Casey.”

The red head just stood there smiling and waiting.

The dark blonde brows drew together as Erin studied the grinning pair. She felt that she knew them and her brain went through its mental files searching for an answer. Her green eyes flew wide open as the light bulb ignited. “Oh, my God! Shannon, Katie.” Her eyes bounced back and forth between the two and she jumped up and hugged them. “It’s so great to see you! Why didn’t I make the connection?”

Jane watched the spectacle with great confusion.

Their exuberant greeting was drawing the attention of the other patrons, but they didn’t care. “Well,” said Shannon. “it has been twenty years since we last saw each other at Grandfather’s funeral. You were only eight and I was ten.” She threw an arm around her sister’s shoulder. “And Katie here was just a tot.”

Erin caught sight of her quiet friend sitting far back in the seat. “I’m sorry,” she said. Erin scooted in next to her friend and ushered her family into the other side of the booth as she made the introductions. “This is my friend Jane. Jane these are my cousins, Shannon and Katie.”

“Nice to meet you,” said Jane. Her face held a smile, but inside she was mentally scolding herself for the previous thoughts she had of Erin’s family members.

“You as well. That’s why we were starin earlier,” Shannon explained. “We just wanted ta be sure it was her.”

Jane nodded as Katie piped in. “Actually, the only reason that we recognized ya at all was from the picture on the back of your book. Grandma saw to it that it made the rounds among the family over here.”

“She was as proud as a newly crowned Rose of Tralee. And so were we,” said the older sister.

Erin gave a flicker of an embarrassed grin. “Well, look at you, up there singing your hearts out. Where is your handsome husband by the way?”

“He left already, had ta pick up our little one from the sitter. As far as the singin goes, we love it and it’s a way ta make a livin, but we don’t aspire ta be anything but a pub band.”

“But we also do our share of weddings and special events around the country,” said Katie proudly.

Their conversation went on and on. Jane knew it wasn’t on purpose, but she was feeling left out, although she did learn more about Erin’s family.

Shannon was the mother of a five-year old named Sean. Katie was still unwed, but at only twenty-two she wasn’t in any hurry to change that fact. Their older brother, Ronan had gone to college in the states, where he decided to stay when he met and married his wife.

Erin’s father, Timothy Casey, had two younger sisters. Shannon and Katie’s mother, Caroline, was the middle sibling. She had married a local man and had never moved from the homeland. The younger sister was Kelly. She had married and moved to Florida years before, where she still resided with her husband and two sons. The Casey family extended to many points around the world, but the emerald isle was always their home base.

* * * *

A quick glance at her watch told Erin that an hour had gone by as she had been jabbering on about her side of the family.

Their little, unexpected reunion could have gone on even further, but the owner of the place had signaled to Shannon that he wanted to close up.

“I guess we should call it a night,” said the red head as her sister hid a yawn behind her hand.

Katie gave a sheepish grin and agreed. “I guess I stayed on the phone a little late last night.”

“Aye, I’m surprised Da hasn’t invested in Telecom.”

“Well, you just seem to forget what it’s like ta be this age,” teased Katie. “It has been so long.”

Shannon waged a finger at her. “Watch yer mouth baby sister.”

Erin certainly recognized that relationship. She had a quick flash of regret at the loss of closeness with Bridgett over the past six months. But that was one relationship she could definitely get back.

They all got up and had another round of hugs. “I’m so glad we came in here tonight,” said Erin. “I wish we had more time to talk.”

“So do I, but we have ta be in Wicklow tomorrow.”

“And I’m going back to Grandma’s on Sunday.” Erin thought a moment. “What we need is a family reunion.”

Katie’s face lit up. “That’s a grand idea! How about later in the year? I’ve been wantin ta visit the states,” she hinted to her cousin. “I hear that a California beach is full of tall, tanned, muscle bound men.” The dreamy look on her face sent the others into a bout of laughter.

“Well, I wouldn’t know about that,” said Erin. “but I will definitely work on that reunion.”

Shannon offered them a ride back to their hotels. Outside of the Buswell’s, Katie met up with a friend and they took off, leaving behind her sister and cousin just shaking their unbelieving heads at the seemingly endless youthful energy. The red head then waited as Erin stepped inside the lobby to say goodnight.

“I’m really sorry Jane. I feel like I was ignoring you the whole night.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. They’re your family.”

“Well, so…” Erin hesitated.

Jane smiled. “It’s okay. We’ve still got tomorrow.” She pulled the small body in for a hug. “Goodnight Erin. Sleep well.”

“You too,” said the blonde as she stood there watching her friend head for the elevator. They waved one last time as the door slid shut.

****

Even with the late hour, the cousins were too sad to separate, so Erin invited Shannon up for tea so they could talk some more.

Shannon sat at the small table in the corner of the room, taking a few sips of her steaming drink before asking the question Erin had seemed to avoid all evening. “So Erin, I noticed that ya never mentioned a better half. Do ya have a husband or a boyfriend back home?”

The hot, tan liquid swirled around the silver spoon, in the china cup and Erin watched the tiny whirlpool with a small frown. Talking about her private life with her family was something Erin had almost come to dread. The incident with her father had taught her a good lesson. Coming out to her immediate family had given her mixed emotions and she was having such a good time catching up with her cousin, she didn’t want anything to alienate her. “No,” she finally said. “No husband, no boyfriend. I…”

The tall, red head had picked up on some signals earlier at the pub. And judging from her cousin’s apprehension, she was even more curious. “Yer friend Jane…are you and she…?”

“No! No, Jane and I are just friends. We only met here a few days ago.” She paused as the cooling tea met with more disturbance. “But… ”

“But?”

Erin finally made eye contact with the eyes similar to hers. She saw the question there and the tip of the head, urging her to continue. “I am…I was in a relationship last year. Her name was Jamie.” When Erin didn’t see the shock or revulsion on the pale colored features, she continued the story.

When Erin had finished, a relaxed, understanding smile greeted her. “I’m sorry for yer loss,” said Shannon. “I certainly understand the connections of a soul mate. Ryan and I literally bumped into one another at the train station. I was runnin in the rain to catch the early mornin rail and he rounded a corner just as I did. We both fell flat on our bums. The package I was carryin had flown up and smacked him in the face. We both sat there just starin at each other, me with my drenched hair and him with a bloody nose, but all we saw was the person who we knew would make our lives complete.”

Erin genuinely smiled at the happy story.

“Every year on our anniversary we take that train to somewhere different and spend the day just enjoyin each other.” Shannon pulled from her little fantasy to see her cousin’s face. The smile was still there, but there was a lonely wanting in her eyes. “I’m sorry Erin, I shouldn’t be goin on about this.”

“It’s all right Shannon. I will never begrudge anyone his or her happiness. I’m sorry to be such bad company.”

“You’re not,” assured the red head.

“Well, I promise to be much better when you come to visit in the fall. Actually, coming here has helped a lot. As I said, I only met Jane a few days ago, but she has become a very good friend. All of a sudden I’m not so lonely anymore.”

“Ya know Erin, I’m not so sure I should say this, I mean it’s none of my business, but…”

Erin looked at her expectantly.

“When I was starin at ya back at the pub earlier, yer friend,” she stressed. “was givin me the back off look. I’ve seen my jealous husband flash it often enough to recognize it.”

Erin gave several quick shakes of her head. “No. It’s just…she was just being protective. Friends do that you know,” she stated firmly.

Shannon held up two hands in mock surrender. “All right, all right,” she said with a chuckle. “Guess I was wrong.” But I really don’t think so.

Erin laughed at her over reaction. “Jane is a really good friend though. And I do want her in my life. She’s really helped me with my grief. Her companionship has been…very important. And I won’t lose it.”

Shannon sat there listening to Erin with a hidden smile and a knowing twinkle in her eye.

She finally left around two in the morning, but sleep was the last thing on Erin’s mind.

Chapter 7
Erin called Jane on Saturday morning and asked if she could cancel their morning plans. She was slightly embarrassed when she citied the reason. After Shannon had left the night before, she had had a brainstorm of an idea for her next book and she sat up all night working furiously on her laptop. The first few chapters had taken on their basic form as her fingertips tapped out the first creative thoughts to flow from her mind in six months. Erin was so ecstatic that her passion had returned the hours had slipped away without her knowledge. Only when her alarm rang, did she look up to the window to see the sun rising in the distance. The intense, golden rays split the haze in the sapphire sky and in the weary soul. The dawn of a new day indeed, she thought with a smile.

Jane was very understanding. Her friend’s health was her most important concern, but that didn’t stop the disappointment she felt at the prospect of spending the morning without the comforting presence of the small blonde author. Erin had assured Jane that their evening plans to attend a concert and dinner were definitely still on.

So she spent the morning and early afternoon just strolling around the general area. She passed by a stylish clothing shop and suddenly realized that their evening plans called for more formal attire, of which she didn’t have.

Jane took her time trying on several different types of outfits. She immediately knew that the dress just didn’t feel right on her body. Nor did the knee length skirt.

The middle-aged storeowner was very helpful in showing Jane the things she thought would compliment the tall woman’s coloring and her build.

She finally tried on a pair of black slacks and a sleeveless, lightweight, knit sweater in a very pale blue with accents of an iridescent green thread running throughout the soft garment. Jane stepped from the small changing room and studied herself in the full-length mirror… not liking what she saw. There were several small, but noticeable scars on her bared upper arms. The high collar disguised the flawed skin on her neck and she liked the rest of the outfit very much, but she didn’t want to be seen like that. Funny, she thought to herself, it never mattered to me what I really looked like or what I wore. But tonight is special. I want to look nice for our evening out. I want to look nice for…Erin. Her head tilted up to meet her own blue eyed gazed. You want to impress her. Don’t lie to yourself anymore. The shop owner stepped into her view and with a compassionate smile, handed Jane another item. The tall woman nodded a thank you, slipped her arms into the garment and turned back to the mirror. The long sleeved, slate gray jacket fell to just above her knees and was tailored to hug her slim figure. Jane nodded to herself and smiled, finally confident in her appearance.

* * * *

Erin stood in front of the well-lit mirror applying just the tiniest bit of blush to her cheeks. Next, a spring green powder slid across each eyelid and a light shade of reddish cream accented her lips. She hadn’t bothered with any make up as she was doing the tourist thing in the days before, but tonight she felt like really dressing up. The hand carved brush slid through her short hair, as there was a knock on the door.

“Come on in Jane,” she called out loudly. Erin heard the door open and close as she finished smoothing down her tresses and any wrinkles in her dress. “I’ll be right out.”

“We have plenty of time,” came the response from the outer room.

Erin settled her wire frame glasses onto her nose and stood back. She made a quick twirl in front of the mirror and smiled as a small wave of giddiness tickled her spine. She blamed it on her lack of sleep and shook it off without a second thought. Erin stepped into the main room and moved to get her purse from the nightstand. “I’m glad I got two tickets when I arrived on Monday,” she said as she rummaged through the small bag, making sure she had everything. “I heard that they sold out the…” She looked up to see Jane staring at her, mouth hanging open in a trance like state. “…next day.”

My God she’s beautiful. Jane’s eyes were struck by the vision in green the second Erin stepped through the door. That dress is absolutely perfect for her. But then she would look wonderful in anything…or noth…

“Jane.”

No answer.

“Jane is something wrong?”

The tall woman blinked several times. Did she just ask me something? “Yes, yes.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” Jane took a deep breath and rubbed two fingers over her wrinkled forehead. “No, nothing is wrong…I just…um…got distracted. I’m sorry.”

The corner of Erin’s mouth twitched slightly. “No need to be sorry. It happens to me all the time.”

Somehow I doubt it.

Erin moved a step closer. “You look very, very nice. I really like the long jacket.”

Jane actually felt herself flush at the innocent comment. “Thanks. So do you. That dress is…you look…really…” Beautiful. Gorgeous. Breathtaking. “…nice.”

“Thank you.” Erin grabbed a light cardigan from the back of the chair, in case the night air was chilled when they left the concert hall. “Are you ready?”

All Jane could manage was a nod.

* * * *

Thirty minutes of melodious solo harp music was followed by another forty-five minutes of selections by a forty-member symphony. Music in all forms was very important in the Irish culture.

Later in the evening, as Erin and Jane sat in the restaurant waiting for their dinner to be served, the blonde author regaled some of the stories and Irish myth’s involving music.

“One of my favorites is The Dagda’s Harp. It is said that there were two different kinds of people in Ireland: one with long, dark hair and dark eyes, called Fomorians. They carried slender spears made of golden bronze when they fought. Another race of people were golden haired and blue eyed and carried short, blunt, heavy spears of dull metal.

“The golden haired people had a great chieftain who was also a kind of high priest. He was called the Dagda. And this Dagda had a wonderful magic harp. The harp was beautiful to look upon, mighty in size, made of rare wood and ornamented with colorful jewels. It had wonderful music in its strings, which only the Dagda could call out. When the men were going to battle, the Dagda would set up his magic harp and sweep his hand across the strings and a war song would ring out which would make every warrior buckle on his armor, brace his knees and shout, ‘Forth to the fight!’ Then when the men came back from battle, weary and wounded, the Dagda would take his harp and strike a few cords and as the magic music stole out upon the air, every man forgot his weariness and the smart of his wounds and thought of the honor he had won and of the comrade who had died beside him and of the safety of his family. Then the song would swell louder and every warrior would remember only the glory he had helped win for the king. Each man would rise at the great tables his cup in his hand and shout, ‘Long live the King!’

“There came a time when the Fomorians and the golden haired men were at war and in the midst of a great battle, while the Dagda’s hall was not so well guarded as usual, some of the chieftains of the Fomorians stole the great harp from the wall where it hung and fled away with it. Their wives, children and a few of their soldiers went with them and they fled fast and far through the night, until they were a long way from the battlefield. When they thought they were safe and they turned aside into a vacant castle by the road and sat down to a banquet, hanging the stolen harp on the wall.

“The Dagda with two or three of his men had followed hard on their tracks. And while they were in the midst of their banqueting, the door was suddenly burst open and the Dagda stood there with his men. Some of the Fomorians sprang to their feet, but before any of them could grasp a weapon, the Dagda called out, ‘Come to me my harp.’

“The great harp recognized his master’s voice and leaped from the wall. Whirling through the hall, sweeping aside and killing the men who got in its way, it sprang to its master’s hand. And the Dagda swept across the strings in three great solemn chords. The harp answered with the magic music of tears. As the wailing harmony smote upon the air, the women of the Fomorians bowed their heads and wept bitterly, the strong men turned their faces aside and the children sobbed.

“Again the Dagda touched the enchanted strings and this time the magic music of mirth leaped from the harp. And with that, the young warriors of the Fomorians began to laugh and they laughed till the cups fell from their grasps and the spears dropped from their hands while the wine flowed. They laughed until their limbs were helpless with excess of glee.

“Once more the Dagda touched his harp, but very, very softly. Now a melody stole forth as soft as dreams and as sweet as joy. It was the magic music of sleep.

“When they heard that, gently the Fomorian women bowed their heads in slumber, the little children crept into their mother’s laps and old men nodded. The young warriors closed their eyes and dropped into their seats. One after the other, the Fomorians sank into sleep.

“While they were all in deep slumber, the Dagda took his magic harp and he and his golden haired warriors stole away and came in safely to their own homes again.” Erin waited for a response from her dark haired companion. “So what did you think?” she finally asked.

“I think you have the perfect voice for story telling. It’s like sugar on a cloud as the words melt into the listener’s ear with a sweetness of form and style.”

Erin pulled her bottom lip into her mouth as she looked down at the napkin in her lap. The tips of her ears pinked up as she fumbled for the words. “I think you might just be a writer too. And thank you.”

Jane let her gaze drift away. “No. You just inspire.”

The oddly, intense moment was broken by a rousing birthday song from the next table. Erin took the opportunity to return the conversation to its previous topic. “No matter what the language or the notes, music always touches me in some way.”

“If you love it so much why didn’t you become a musician instead of a writer?”

Erin gave a wistful smile. “Just because the love is your heart, doesn’t mean you have the talent in these,” she said holding up her hands.

Jane studied the wiggling digits. “Those look pretty talented to me.” The words slipped out before she could censor them.

Neither woman had time to be embarrassed by the flirtatious comment as the waiter arrived with their meals just at that moment. They both dove into the hearty food without further discussion. But the silence lasted only a few minutes as Erin quickly realized, or perhaps just rationalized, that her friend must have meant the talent of her writing. “So what did you do today while I was in slumber land?” she asked.

Jane took a sip of water. “Actually I just wondered around, did a little shopping, threw a few coins into the wishing well…” she shrugged her shoulder. “…nothing out of ordinary.”

What did you wish for, I wonder, thought Erin.

“You know, with the exception of this morning, we have spent nearly every minute of the last four days together,” Jane happily observed.

Erin gave a joyous grin. “I know, wasn’t it great? It was so much nicer having someone to share all of this with.”

“Yeah it was.” Jane tried to keep the distress from her voice when she said, “You must be anxious to get back to your grandmother’s tomorrow.” The disappointment over the impending separation was tied to Jane’s heart like a lead weight. She had no idea what she would do without her new friend’s guidance. Just her presence had added so many dimensions to Jane’s solemn existence. Her life was empty of previous memories, but somehow she knew that the pain of losing Erin’s companionship would far surpass that.

I am…but. “Yeah, the next week is going to be…fun.” The last word was spoken with less than enthusiasm. As much as she loved her grandmother, she wished she could stay in Dublin for the next week…or two…or…

* * * *

Later, Erin returned from the ladies room to find a bowl filled with huge, bright red strawberries sitting in the middle of the table.

“I hope you don’t mind,” said Jane. “I saw some of these as we came in and they just looked so good I had to order some. If you want something else I’ll get the waiter.”

“Oh no! These will be fine.” Erin quickly selected a plump, ruby treat and doused it liberally with the rich, sweet cream in one of the smaller bowls beside it. Perfect white teeth gently clamped down and her lids slipped shut in culinary ecstasy as the tartness tingled inside her very happy mouth.

Jane watched in fascination. God, I know she’s not doing that on purpose, but that is so… She pulled her gaze away and softly cleared her throat. You have to stop having these thoughts. You know she’s not interested in that way.

“Aren’t you going to have any?” asked Erin. “They are as delicious as you thought they’d be.”

Jane giggled at herself silently and reached for a large berry. She, however, by-passed the cream and dunked it in the thick, golden liquid in the other bowl. She lifted it and let some of the sweetness drizzle off. Then Jane twisted is slightly and brought it to her mouth. Their eyes met for an instant as she quickly finished the fruit.

Erin leaned forward and brought her linen napkin to Jane’s face. She started to touch the corner of the tall woman’s mouth. “You…ah…have some…honey.” She handed Jane the cloth. “Well here, I guess you can…”

The rest of the dessert was eaten in silence and much less sensually.

They were seated at a table near the back of the restaurant where it was fairly quiet and cozy. A softly scented candle flickered between them as they rested before leaving. The lights outside the building suddenly sprang to life, illuminating the small balcony beside their table. Shadows swayed across the cement landing as the trees danced to the music that was starting on the street below.

Erin turned her head, her hearing attuned to the melody.

Jane watched as the blonde head faintly bobbed with the beat. “Care for some air?” she asked standing, her back popping as she did. “They probably want this table, but we can listen a while longer.”

Erin followed her through the open double doors, out onto the balcony. Potted plants and hanging flowers filled the night air with a sweet aroma. They both leaned forward onto the black iron railing and watched the quartet below. Their chosen selections for the performance were soft and spoke of contentment and pleasure, romance and love.

During the musical bridge of the second song there was a small recitation.

If there be another day

To love, to laugh, to live

Take the chance that’s in your hand

T’was only God’s to give

Thank him with a smile and prayer

And make each day the best

Let your heart create each thought

With love to guide the rest
An owl suddenly made his presence known from deep in the tree to their right. A brush of cool air fell across Erin’s shoulders and she shivered for just an instance.

“Do you need your sweater?” asked Jane, realizing that it had been left behind on the back of the chair.

“No. I’m fine.” As she continued to listen, Erin felt the body next to hers float a little closer, guarding her from the nippy air. She turned her head to say something and came face to face with those hypnotic eyes. Under the moonlight, the blueness glowed, enchantingly, with silver accents.

Jane held just the ghost of a smile. There it was. The chance. There was no one to say you can’t, you shouldn’t. Nothing to interrupt. The darkness hid away the rest of the world from their perfect moment in time.

And then it happened.

In just an instant, even before Erin had time to take her next breath, soft lips covered hers, moving slowly and gently. Her eyes fluttered shut and she was lost in the sensation of a long missed touch. Her own lips trembled into the rhythm of the tender dance and she savored the faint taste of… fruited honey.

The kiss only lasted three seconds more then Erin pulled away abruptly. Her green eyes went wide and she quickly looked away, only then remembering to breathe.

Jane stepped back in shock…at herself. “I’m so sorry Erin! I shouldn’t have done that! Please forgive me! I just…I’ve hurt you and I’ve ruined everything. I…” She ran back into the restaurant, dropped some money onto the table and quickly fled down the stairs and into the consuming darkness.

Erin’s hands gripped the railing and her lungs fought to take each breath. Her thoughts swirled into a maelstrom of confusion inside her head as the words of her grandmother and her cousin echoed through the valleys of her gray matter, finally sparking the shock of awareness. But the pain was there too, still pounding from its stronghold inside her heart. The memory and the reality finally crashed head on in a single second and Erin was sent floating into a cloud of possibilities. She only fell back to conscious thought, when, out of the corner of her eye, she saw a tall figure fleeing down the cobblestone road below. “Jane,” she whispered.

* * * *

A single tear rolled down a sculpted cheek, followed by another and another. The liquid sadness fell to the ground with barely a splash as Jane sat bent over, arms resting on her knees. The watery curtain over her eyes obscured her vision of the patterns in the gray stone under her feet, as she berated herself for her foolish actions. Here the night was still and quiet, the park otherwise deserted. The only sound was the soft whoosh of the fountain behind her. She had, just that very morning, dropped several coins into the clear water, watching as they settled to the bottom, mingling with all the other currency. The wishes she had made were all but shattered now. Now all she wanted to do was drown her pain in the cool, shimmering water. Dr. Kim told me that I had only lost my memories. Who I was in my soul and in my heart was still the same. What does that say about me? I hurt a friend that I have only known for a few days. Her thoughts continued as the moonlight shone down on her back, glowing like a beacon.

“Can I sit down?”

Jane’s body snapped up at the sound of the voice, but her gaze remained into the darkness ahead. She hadn’t heard the clicking of heels against the walkway. She barely nodded an answer to the question.

“I knew I’d find you here,” said Erin softly, as she settled herself onto the wooden seat. “The first place we met. You looked so lost when I first saw you. I had this incredible need to reach out to you, to help you. That was actually the first time in six months that I wasn’t being selfish.”

Jane blinked to keep any more tears from falling as she listened to Erin’s voice.

“Until then, I was too busy with self pity to notice much of anything else. But you changed all that. These past four days have given me a new sense of life. You helped me to laugh again, to enjoy the beauty around me.”

“And then I ruined it all,” came the whisper.

Erin placed a hand over the fidgeting ones by her side. “You didn’t ruin anything.”

“But…”

“No. Don’t you know what happened on that balcony?”

“I kissed you against your will.”

Erin gave a small ironic chuckle. “You weren’t really paying attention then.”

Jane looked over for the first time since Erin had sat down.

The author tried her best to answer the questioning look on the sad face. “You did kiss me and I will admit I was startled…for an instant, but then…I kissed you back.” Her green eyes fixated on the blue ones before her, imploring her to believe her next confession. “…because I wanted to.”

Two dark brows wrinkled. “But you pulled away…and the look on your face…I don’t understand.” Erin’s soft fingertips caressed her cheek.

“I’m sorry if I made you feel like you hurt me.” Erin took a deep breath. “When I pulled away I was afraid…but not of you… of me. I liked that kiss…a lot. It would have lasted longer if I hadn’t remembered Jamie. I guess I did feel like I was betraying her. I loved Jamie with all my heart. I still do and always will. You see I never thought I could feel an attraction for anyone else, ever again. That’s what shocked me, because I did. I have been attracted to you since we met, but I wouldn’t acknowledge it.”

Jane nodded. “I understand. But you are still grieving. It wasn’t fair of me to take advantage of that.”

“You didn’t, Jane. I have come to care about you very much, very quickly. I don’t want to lose you.”

“I don’t want to lose you either.”

Erin put a hand to her own chest. “I don’t know exactly what I am feeling in here or where it could lead, but I am attracted to you. But I know you will be hurt if I can’t be anything more than just a friend and…”

The moments of silence hung heavy between them, neither knowing just what say.

“I don’t know if you want to hear this,” Jane finally spoke. “but when I first saw you it was like I had known you forever. For an instant I thought you would be able to tell me who I am, give me my memories back…save me.”

Erin pulled the tall woman into a hug. “I wish I could do all that for you.” She pulled away and dried both of their tears. “We can’t run away from this and I certainly don’t want to lose your friendship.”

“So what do we do?”

Erin sighed. “Lets not do anything…I mean change anything. We are friends. Friends who feel an attraction for one another. We’ll just let it happen.”

“We won’t run, but we won’t push.”

“Right.”

“But maybe it’s not fair to you either,” Jane reasoned.

“Why?”

“What if there was somebody I loved and I remember them. That would hurt you and I couldn’t stand to see that.”

“There is that possibility. But I would be willing to take that chance…if you are.”

The dark head nodded again, not quite convinced. “What about tomorrow? You’re going to Kerry and my flight leaves in the afternoon, although I don’t know exactly where I’m going or what I’m going to do.”

“Actually, I’ve been thinking about that. Would you like to work for me on my ranch?”

Jane’s mood brightened, hesitantly. “Are you kidding? That would be great. But don’t you already have ranch hands?”

“Yes. But what I have planned is going to require much more help. I bought that ranch because it was Jamie’s dream. But for the last five months it hasn’t been a working ranch. I isolated myself from the world and just couldn’t move on. But now a weight has been lifted from my soul and I need to start living again. And that means hard work…. and friendship.”

Jane smiled. “I need a best friend.”

“You have one.”

****

They walked slowly around the park, heading back to their hotels. At one point Erin’s hand slipped into Jane’s. It was just…right.

“Jane.”

“Yeah.”

“Would you come with me to my grandmothers? You can re-schedule your flight and we’ll get two train tickets. You’ll just love my grandmother and I know she’d really enjoy meeting you.”

“Erin, I…my money…I just have enough to get my life started and…”

“Maybe I could…” Erin suddenly remembered the rift that her money had caused between her and Jamie. Jane seems just as proud. I don’t want to get started down that road again. “I could give you an advance on your salary,” she suggested.

That seemed to make Jane very happy. “Okay. I will go with you then.”

They arrived in front of Erin’s hotel. “I’ll meet you here at eight,” said Jane.

“I’ll be ready.”

Jane bent down and kissed Erin’s cheek then pulled away, but two delicate hands gently pulled her back. They shared a small, but very affectionate kiss on the lips. Erin wanted to reassure Jane that she was willing to give their relationship every chance. But she knew in the deepest recesses of her heart that it wouldn’t be easy. The battle would be hard fought. Fear and grief were her worst enemies. And they were foes with insatiable needs. Erin gave one final look into the beautiful blue eyes and mentally strapped on her armor and readied her weapons for the fight to take back her future.
Chapter 8
Kathleen was once again standing on the porch anxiously awaiting Erin’s arrival. She had known that her granddaughter was bringing a guest with her, even though she hadn’t spoken to Erin since the blonde left for Dublin.

As the car made its way up the dirt road, Jane’s right leg twitched in anticipation. She wanted to make a good impression on her friend’s grandmother, but since she had no background to tell of, she was going to have to rely on Erin to lead her.

The hour-long train ride had given her plenty of time to reflect on the turn her friendship with Erin had taken. She knew she was taking a big risk allowing herself to fall in love with someone who was still grieving such a loss. But risk or not, it was a chance she had to take. Time was all she had to give and in the coming weeks and months…even years, Jane was certain that Erin would come to love her, even if it wasn’t exactly how she wanted.

Fifteen minutes after meeting Erin, Jane knew that she could trust her with her soul, probably even her life. Maybe it was because they shared the emotional traumas of having had life threatening injuries. Maybe it was because she was just so alone and needed someone, anyone to make her feel. Or maybe it was because Erin was just very special and could wrap you up in warmth and comfort with just the sound of her voice and a trusting smile. Jane finally came to the conclusion that it was a little bit of the first two and a whole lot of the third. The puzzle pieces of Jane’s life had lain scattered about for months and she had no idea where to start assembling them. But after meeting Erin, it finally began to start falling into place. Erin had become her corner stone. She was her friend. She had given her a job and a place to live, but most of all she had given her hope.

Jane saw the diminutive woman waving wildly as they approached the house and it brought a nervous smile to her face. She wasn’t sure exactly how Erin was going to introduce her. Yes they were friends, but possibly more. How should she act? What should she say? Even though their level of affection with each other was still low, would she be able to stop herself from automatically grabbing Erin’s hand as she longed to do? Jane was afraid of jeopardizing their relationship by causing friction with her relative. It was almost too much to handle, too much to worry about. But one glance at the profile sitting to her right and all of her fears suddenly calmed and the apprehensive smile widened into one of pure adoration.

As the car pulled to a stop, Jane expected her friend to run and greet her grandmother. But instead the author stepped around the front end of the car just as Jane opened her door.

Erin smiled and took the tall woman’s hand. “Come on.” She led Jane up the cobblestone walk and through the small gate. She momentarily let go of the hand and stepped into the older woman’s arms. She then took repossession of the hand in both of hers. “Grandma I want you to meet my friend Jane. We met my second day in Dublin and did the whole tourist thing together. I invited her to stay here until we go back to the states.” She gave the older woman a quick wink. “I knew you wouldn’t mind.”

Kathleen gave a knowing grin. “I’ve been expectin ya Dear. It’s so nice ta meet ya Jane. I can see that my little E bug thinks very highly of ya.”

Erin winced at the use of her long lost nickname.

The tall woman caught the expression out of the side of her eye, but held back the smirk she felt coming on. Instead she turned her full attention to the gracious Irish woman. “It’s very nice to meet you Mrs. Casey. Thank you for allowing me to stay at your home.”

“Aye, yer quite welcome.” She wagged a slightly crooked index finger in Jane’s direction. “But only if ya call me Kathleen.”

Jane gave a small smile. “All right, Kathleen.” She turned to her friend. “I’ll get the luggage.”

“Oh that’ll wait,” said the white haired woman as she linked her arm with Jane’s. “Let me give ya a quick tour. I’ll show ya where you’ll be stayin and then we’ll get to know one another over tea and biscuits.”

Jane held a slightly drawn expression as she was led through the door.

Erin caught the look and reminded herself to have a little chat with her grandmother. The well-meaning woman could be a little forceful.

She followed the pair down the narrow hallway and into the spare bedroom. The small room had one window, its dark wood shutters open to the fresh air. The window overlooked an understated, but aromatic garden in the side yard. One full, but small bed covered with a multi-colored quilt sat against the back wall, right under the window. Next to the bed was a cot, already made up with fresh sheets and a soft goose down pillow.

Dark brows drew together. How did she know I was going to be staying here? Erin said she hadn’t talked to her grandmother since she left here last week.

Erin just rolled her eyes and shook her head, remembering her motto. Never underestimate Kathleen Rose O’Rourke Casey.

“Now Dear if ya would like to freshen up a bit, I’ll be seeing to those refreshments.”

The Irish woman scurried out of the room and down the hall, leaving the couple to themselves.

“I’m sorry,” said Erin as she brushed her hand over the taller woman’s arm. “I did warn you about her. But I’ll ask her nicely to back off just a little.”

Jane rubbed the back of her neck, which had stiffened up with the long train and car rides. “No. Don’t do that. She’s fine.” She studied the blonde for a few seconds then smiled. “I can see a lot of her in you actually. You both just jump right over the walls and storm the heart.” Jane grabbed the soft hand and rubbed her thumb over the back. “I have a feeling that is exactly what you are going to be like in fifty years.”

Erin let out a small chuckle. “Think you’ll be able to stand me?” The comment startled both of them, but nothing was said. They quietly joined Kathleen in the cozy living room.

* * * *

Later that night, the two took turns in the bathroom changing for bed. When Erin returned, she saw her friend swallowing one of her pain pills.

The taller woman sat on the side of the low cot. She gave a slow stretch then adjusted the fluffy pillow. Erin thought she looked too cute in her oversized, white t-shirt that had, printed on the front, in exaggerated, green lettering, ‘Too tall to be a leprechaun’.

Erin scooted in between the two pieces of furniture and sat on the bed. Their legs touched and their eyes met. “You can’t sleep on that uncomfortable thing,” she said. “It will be hell on your back.”

“I don’t have much of a choice. The floor would be just as bad.” She reached beside her and patted the white sheet. “Besides there must be three or four quilts under here. It’s not that bad.” Jane turned to find the blonde head cocked to one side, sporting raised eyebrows.

Erin slipped under the covers and scooted off to the far side. She held up one side of the colorful bedding. “Come on, get in.”

Jane’s jaw twitched twice before she finally asked, “Are you sure? Cause I’ll be just fine right here.”

Erin tapped the soft, but sturdy mattress with her palm. “But you’ll be even better here.”

Maybe too good, thought Jane as she stuck her long legs under the quilt and loosely tucked it around her waist. Her bare arms settled across her mid section, fingertips meeting at her navel. She had to restrain her digits from tapping out a nervous tune on her belly as sleep was eluding her. She wasn’t nervous about being in the same bed with Erin. Okay that wasn’t totally true. Being that close to that beautiful body definitely made her tingle from head to toe. But she was more afraid of doing something to change the tentative relationship they may be forming. Their friendship was solid, of that she had no doubt, but she found herself craving more. Not just sex, but the intimacy that was shared by two people in love.

“Just look at those stars,” said the awed blonde.

The dark headed woman craned her neck sideways to share Erin’s view. “Yeah, they’re beautiful. I would assume that being way out here, so far from the city lights, that you have a perfect view for all the night sky productions.”

“It’s that way back home too, on the ranch I mean.” Erin felt the bed shift as Jane turned on her side.

She held the woman with a soft gaze. “Sounds wonderful.”

Erin hummed an agreement, her eyes never leaving the sky. “I can’t tell you how many times I have just laid there studying each spot of light.” Her head gave a little shake. “I don’t know what I was looking for.”

“Maybe you were trying to figure out which one is Jamie.” A moment passed in stillness, but then the blonde head flipped to face her.

“Why would you say that?”

Jane was taken back by the slight forcefulness of the question and her face showed the panic. “I…I didn’t mean any disrespect to her…I…”

Erin’s eyes fell shut. “No! No that’s not what I meant.” She opened her eyes, smiled softly and brushed a hand down Jane’s arm.
“I just meant, what made you say it that way?”

“I…I read it…in a book. I borrowed it from a nurse at the center. After long hours of therapy, I would try to relax by reading. I could only get in a few pages at night before I got too drowsy, but it helped take my mind off the pain until the medication took effect.”

Erin turned to her side to fully face the tall woman. “I’m sorry you had to go through all that alone.” Jane just shrugged a shoulder. “Do you remember the name of that book?”

Jane gave it some consideration. “I think there was a Bible reference in the title. It was a great story.”

“The Noah Factor?”

“Yeah that was it. Have you read it too?”

Erin gave her an ironic, half smile. “I wrote it.”

The blue eyes went very wide. “Really! That’s incredible. I know you said you were an author, but of all the books in the world,
I find that one. That’s a pretty big coincidence huh?”

They stared into each other’s eyes as Erin silently agreed. “Goodnight Jane.”

“Goodnight Erin.”

* * * *

Erin tied the belt on her robe as she stepped into the kitchen. Kathleen was just reaching down to pull a pan of her granddaughter’s favorite biscuits from the oven. The small room was filled with the enticing aromas of a big Irish breakfast. Erin cautiously hugged her, being careful of the hot dish. “Good morning Grandma.”

“Good mornirn to you. Did ya sleep well Dear?”

“Better than I have in a long time.”

“And yer friend?”

“I’m not sure,” Erin said as she snatched a golden pastry. “She was in the shower when I woke up.”

“Since I’m the only other she in the house,” said Jane as she stepped through the door. “I guess you must be talking about me.”

Erin looked up with a grin on her face. The smile faded and her breath hitched as she got a glimpse of her friend, whose short, dark hair was slicked back from the shower. There were still a few shimmering droplets of water clinging to her temple. It made her look…sexy…very sexy. Erin pulled her gaze away and cut a slab of butter for her sweet confection. She was a bit surprised by her intense reaction. But she soon confessed to herself that it was a nice surprise.

“Have a seat Jane, Dear,” said Kathleen as she placed the rest of the meal on the table. “And how did you sleep?”

Jane settled into the wooden chair and poured herself a cup of the aromatic tea. “Wonderfully. That bed is very comfortable.”

Kathleen smiled as her back was to the table.

Four shocked eyes met. “Jane has a bad back Grandma. I let her share the bed so she
could be more comfortable.”

The older woman took her seat. “Of course Dear. That was very generous of you.”

The three engaged in a light conversation over the meal. Jane paid Kathleen several compliments on her cooking. The woman accepted them graciously, but quickly turned the tables and raved about her granddaughter’s culinary skills.

“Well Grandma, I did learn a lot of that from you. Which reminds me, you did mention something about teaching me to make these,” Erin said, biting off a fluffy piece of biscuit.

“That I did dear. I’ve scheduled that lesson fer Friday afternoon. You will be quite busy till then.”

“I will. Doing what?”

Kathleen pulled a piece of paper from the pocket of her yellow apron. “I have yer itinerary right here. Ya must show Jane some of the best Kerry has ta offer.” She read off a list of the places they were going to visit and sights they were going to see. “In fact ya best get ta move on if ya are goin ta get to the castle before mid mornin. Ya know this time of year tis a busy one.” Kathleen stood form her chair and put the teakettle back on the stove.

“What castle?” asked Jane.

The small woman turned and brought both hands to her hips. “Why, Blarney of course,” she stated indignantly.

“Of course. Sorry.” Jane turned back to Erin and shrugged.

Kathleen began putting the dirty dishes in the sink “When ya return I thought ya might like ta go up the road ta the village for a little while. They have a lovely little shop where they sell the most beautiful capes, made no less, from the wool of this very flock. And then ya can have a nice late evenin meal out in the back and enjoy the stars. I have a meetin ta go to at church, but I’ll prepare somthin nice for ya to warm up in the stove.”

She turned back to find Erin and Jane still in their seats, sharing dumbfounded expressions. “Well, what are ya waitin for, scoot. I’ve got chores ta get to.”

“You’re not coming with us?” asked Erin.

“No Dear, too much ta do. But give her a kiss for me.” Kathleen flashed a quick wink in the dark haired woman’s direction.

It took a minute to sink in, but Jane finally realized that the older woman was referring to the Blarney Stone. She looked over at the beautiful blonde. But I’m quickly learning that with Kathleen Casey, you never know.

* * * *

Blarney Castle was about sixty miles away, in neighboring County Cork. With driving directions in hand, they hopped into Erin’s rented car and headed off, straight into the morning sun. Along the way they listened to a CD by the famous Irish artist Enya. The flowing, sometimes haunting melodies, became a soothing background as each of them took the time to contemplate…things. As the last song faded away Erin removed the disk and was about to slip in another one.

“That was nice,” said Jane as she rolled down the side window.

The mid morning temperature was a comfortable sixty-one degrees, but the sun streaming through the front glass considerably warmed the air inside the vehicle. Erin followed her lead, creating a refreshing cross breeze. “I’ve got several more at home, in California. You are welcomed to use them any time. Just remind me when we get back.”

“Thanks, I will.”

Erin studied the passing countryside in silence until she heard a soft chuckle from her passenger. “What?” she asked.

“I was just thinking about your grandmother. She is really something.”

“That she is. I love all of my family, but she and I have a special connection. We share certain personality traits, not the least of which is a fair amount of stubbornness and curiosity.”

Jane turned in her seat and watched Erin as she spoke. The corner of her lips curled as she saw the breeze ruffle shaggy blonde bangs as those bright green orbs watched the road from behind wire-rimmed glasses. The blue eyes followed the hairline down to the well-defined shoulder, displayed nicely in the black sleeveless shirt. And yet farther down the outstretched arm where delicate hands loosely gripped the steering wheel, telling of her comfort level, even under the unusual driving conditions. She also noticed a very faint tan line where a watch would have rested. A flash of light struck her eye and the smile wavered. The ring on Erin’s left hand finger quickly reminded her of the blonde’s reluctance to deepen their relationship. I know I shouldn’t be jealous of Jamie. The woman died a horrible death and that’s very sad. But did she leave enough of Erin’s heart behind? I know I can’t make her forget, but can she make a place for me in her broken heart?

Erin was well aware of the intense blue-eyed gaze and she felt her face flush under the slightly lustful scrutiny. But the only way she could handle her own feelings, not to mention the racing vehicle under her control, was to go right on with her story and not give her tingling body too much thought. “She lived in the states for a long time after my grandfather died,” she continued. “My sister Bridgett used to get so embarrassed when Grandma would interrogate her dates when she was in high school.”

“I can just imagine.” Jane paused as the first buildings came into view. “Even though I’ve only known her a day, I know I’ll miss her when we leave.”

Erin smiled over at her friend. “I’ll just have to convince her to come visit us in California.”

Us, thought Jane. What a wonderful word.

* * * *

Once arriving at their destination, they took their time exploring Blarney House, a grand Scottish mansion that shared the same grounds as the castle. They also took a tour of the arboretum and lush gardens before heading off to the main attraction.

Little remained of the 15th century castle that housed the Blarney Stone. The battered, weather worn rocks of the keep and nearby towers spoke not only of its age, but the strife it had been a witness to in its prime. They took a few minutes to examine a druidic circle of stones and a sacrificial alter just outside the main structure. Erin declined to visit Blarney’s dungeon, but Jane took a quick trip into the dark, dank area.

She returned just a few minutes later, looking a little on the pale side.

As Erin and Jane started the six-story climb to the top, they thought a lot about the people that had lived there and the kind of lives they had led. Their trip to the museum back in Dublin had helped with their perceptions.

Erin stopped to look out a window in the caste wall. The floor to ceiling opening was less than a foot wide and served a strategic purpose in its time. An archer could shoot with great accuracy to the ground below, but it was an almost impossible task to return fire through such a small space. Erin quickly got lost in thought as she could almost hear the sounds of clanking swords desperate for freedom. The tang of a blood soaked ground would not have been far behind as warriors fell beneath the unending assaults. She caught movement out of the corner of her eye and turned to see a horse and rider dashing across the nearby field. The white stead kicked up chunks of earth as it carried the dark haired hero off to a victorious celebration. She blinked twice, but the vision remained. A soft touch fell upon Erin’s shoulder and she looked around.

“Are you ready to head on up?” asked Jane.

Erin turned back to the window, but there was no sight of the ghostly rider. She shook her head of the spooky feeling “Yeah. Let’s go.”

Their soft-soled shoes scuffed against the stone steps as they ascended the steep, spiral staircase to the battlements at the very top.

“This place is kind of intense, isn’t it?” Jane asked in a hushed tone.

Erin gave a nervous laugh. “Especially if you have an overactive imagination.”

Jane was left to wonder just what had held the author’s rapt attention back at the window and just what had she seen in the eerie, black space beneath the castle floor.

Reaching the top, they held back, waiting for another group of visitors to finish. When it came their turn, they bantered momentarily, each insisting that the other go first. Jane finally won and watched as the small woman lay on her back and was then suspended backward over the two-foot gap under the stone parapet.

Erin’s hands held tight to the iron bars and her eyes closed, not wanting to see the ground so far below. When she felt the cold stone near her face, Erin peaked out and a sense of pride passed over her. She kissed the stone once and then a second time before being helped to her feet by a strong hand. “Just what me or my grandmother need is the gift of gab,” she said with a chuckle while dusting off her back end.

“My turn huh?” said Jane with slight trepidation.

Erin smiled and stepped aside.

The tall woman quickly bestowed her single gesture and rose to find a brilliant smile still focused in her direction. She took the author’s hand and led her back to the stairs. “Thanks for bringing me here.”

“Thanks for being here to share this with me.”

* * * *

After stopping along the way for a late lunch, they were back to the house by four o’clock. Erin found a note in the kitchen reminding them of there next scheduled activity.

Sleep came quickly to both of them after their busy day. As did dreams that brought smiles to two slumbering faces.

* * * *

Bright and early the next morning they were sent off again on another day’s adventure. Today they were touring the Ring of Kerry, a 112 mile route around the Iveragh Peninsula. Kathleen’s house was closet to the northern shore, so they chose Caherciveen, the main town on the peninsula, as their starting point. Erin took them three miles northwest of the town to see Leacananbuaile Fort. The round, stone structure with its ten foot thick walls, was excavated in the early forty’s. Objects found inside were of iron, bone, bronze, lead and stone suggesting the fort was used in the 9th or 10th century.

From there they headed southeast on to the town of Waterville and then through Caherdaniel, a pretty village on the shores of Derrynane Bay. After taking a few minutes to get out and stretch and watch the boats on the harbor, they were once again driving through some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. Erin made many stops along the way for pictures to share with her family and to preserve the memories forever.

One of those stops happened as the road climbed through a pass. There they got out to view the fine panorama of the Sneem Valley. The backdrop of mountains stretched as far as the eye could see. In those mountains were scooped out corries, an effect of the ice age.

Jane stayed close as Erin snapped picture after picture from all angles and views. The blonde finally stopped to rest her arms, but her eyes never left the breathtaking scene before her.

“This must be really incredible for you,” said Jane. “I mean after being blind for so long.”

Erin nodded, overcome with emotion. “It is,” she finally managed. “I can’t even begin to describe how it really feels.”

Jane placed a hand over the smaller one resting on the fence rail. “I think I’ll probably be speechless too…if my memory ever returns.”

Erin turned and held her with a soft, caring expression.

Jane gave the hand a gentle squeeze. “I want to thank you for allowing me to make these very special new memories.” She gave the author a small kiss on the cheek.

Erin smiled. “I’m just glad I’m not making these memories alone.” A few seconds later she looked at the camera, then over at the tall woman by her side. She chewed on her bottom lip, contemplating a question.

“What is it?” asked Jane.

Erin nodded toward the instrument in her hand. “Could I? I know you were reluctant to have your picture taken back at the zoo. And it’s not that I won’t remember our time here forever…but I would really like a picture of you…here.”

Jane hesitated just a moment then caught the subtle, pleading, green gaze. She nodded. “For you.”

The clouds moved aside at the very moment she snapped the shutter, giving the sky behind Jane a magical glow. A satisfied smile followed the tall woman back to the car and they were off to their next destination, which was just up the road.

The charming town of Sneem greeted them with its brightly painted cottages lining the streets. Sneem was a fishing village proud of its reputation for having the finest salmon in Ireland. They had earlier decided to delay lunch to avoid the mass of tour buses that converge on the towns at mid-day. But a rumbling stomach signaled that a meal was needed. It was only right that they put the reputation to the test.

An hour later they were back on the road, knowing that Sneem’s boasting was quite deserved.

They drove straight through Kenmare and headed on northwest through bleak bog land and more high mountainous terrain before being offered more stunning views at Moll’s Gap. The sun was dropping as late day approached. They reached Killarney and although the scenic lakes called to her, Erin knew they still had quite a drive to reach home. Besides, she knew they had an all day trip to the lakes scheduled before leaving for the states.

Once home, the exhausted pair bid Kathleen a quick goodnight and they fell into bed for yet another goodnights sleep.
Chapter 9
The next morning, as they ate another delicious breakfast, Erin convinced her grandmother that she and Jane wanted to stay around the farm and help with the chores. The author appealed to the older woman’s sense of family, asking to hear some of the delightful stories she had been told as a child. Kathleen gave a prideful smile and relented to allow them to help.

With the morning dishes put away in the beautifully hand made cherry wood buffet, Erin and Jane set about dusting the shelves, pictures and rugs. Kathleen was a consummate housekeeper and the chore was finished in half an hour. The beds were stripped and the bundles were placed in the automatic washing machine. That and an automatic dryer was another modern luxury that Kathleen had insisted on, even though a laundry room had to be built to house them.

The cot had been removed from the small bedroom when they had arrived home from their trip to Blarney. They had climbed into the bed that night with just a small bit of trepidation. They felt themselves getting closer by the minute, but it was not without worries on both sides.

Erin had awoken in the middle of the night that night to find a hand gently wrapped around her upper arm. The long fingers began to tremble and she looked over to see the beautiful face twitch in fear. Eyes jerked rapidly under closed lids and a muffled moan escaped the slightly opened lips. She reached out and cupped the troubled face. “It’s all right Jane,” she said soothingly. “I’m here. You’re not alone.” The movement slowly stilled and Jane slipped back into a peaceful sleep. Erin studied the face, as best she could in the pale light coming through the window. She began absently tracing the contours of the high cheekbone and moved down across the jaw. What am I doing? She suddenly pulled her hand away, burned by the realization that it was no longer necessary. She could see every inch of tanned skin, every strand of dark hair that was cut up over the ear and lay close against the long neck. Erin reverted her eyes to the ceiling and released a long puff of air. Her lips drew into a thin line and she mentally kicked herself. The odd thing was that she wasn’t even sure exactly why she was scolding herself. The hand around her arm gave a gentle squeeze. Erin looked back to find her friend still sound asleep. She leaned over, kissed Jane’s forehead and returned to her own slumber.

* * * *

Erin returned from the laundry room to find Jane sitting at the upright piano that sat in the corner of the living room.

The tall woman studied the black and white keys intently then she ran the tip of one finger backwards along the music-making device. Little pressure was applied and the notes came out nothing but a faint chime.

“Do you play?” asked Erin as she stepped up behind the seated woman.

Jane answered without looking up. “I don’t know.” Both hands were soon poised over the keyboard and a series of finger movements brought forth a lovely tune and a bright and shining smile.

Erin scooted onto the bench and gave her friend a one armed hug. “That was great! See, I knew things would start coming back to you.”

Jane met the green eyed gaze with a timid smile. “Yeah, I hope so.”

Kathleen had been standing in the doorway, watching the scene with a twinkle in her eye. She clapped her hands twice. “All right, you two wanted ta do chores, it’s time to move this outside.”

They followed her through the kitchen, where they stopped just a moment to take a healthy sniff of the mouth-watering aromas coming from the large cooking pot on the stove.

“Lunch,” Kathleen informed them as she stepped onto the back porch. Her white head popped back through the doorway. “Come along, times a wastin.” She handed them each a pair of black, rubber booties as she slipped her own pair on over her comfortable shoes. “Tis always best ta wear these when you’re goin into the sheep barn.”

Erin wrinkled her nose and nodded. “Thanks Grandma.” She turned to her friend with a mischievous grin. “Guess what new job you get at the ranch?”

Jane laughed. “Oh well. I think I might like starting at the bottom and working my way up.” She casually turned her back, knowing exactly how she had meant the comment and it had nothing to do with work. But she wasn’t sure she wanted to see Erin’s reaction.

What was Erin’s reaction? Well, she was just glad that her grandmother was already out the door or else Kathleen surely would have asked why Erin’s face looked like a house a fire.

* * * *

The three busy workers had the barn cleaned, fresh water delivered and feed served within an hour.

“I thank ya much for yer help darlins,” the older woman said. “Now I want ya to relax fer the afternoon.” Kathleen slipped into the kitchen and soon returned with a tan, woven basket filled with goodies. “In fact, I thought ya might like to have a picnic down by Clover Lake.” She leaned closer and spoke in a hushed voice. “Actually, your Grandpa and I used to call it Sweetheart Lake. We used ta spend many a day there just…bein together.” Her weathered face took on a sweet, but melancholy expression. “Just follow the tree line west and turn right when ya see the old barn. You’ll find it in no time.”

Erin hugged her beloved grandmother. “Thank you,” she whispered then looked back at Jane. “It sounds like fun.”

The tall woman nodded and retrieved the basket as they headed for the back door. Just as they stepped onto the carpet of green, they heard a voice call from inside the house.

“One word of warnin, ya best be on the lookout fer banshees.”

Erin gave half a smile and a shake of her head as they kept walking.

A couple of bored looking sheep glanced in the their direction as the couple passed by. Aside from the dozens of woolen grazers in the pasture, it seemed as though she and Jane were the only two people in the world. It was another picture perfect day, as had every day she’d been in the country. She knew their luck with the weather was bound to fail soon, but it wouldn’t be enough to squelch what she was feeling.

That morning spent helping her grandmother was almost as fun as any day she had ever known. She fondly remembered the best moments of the morning as they made their way to the lake.

They had been raking dirty hay from the far side of the barn (no, that was not the fond moment) and the mid-morning breeze wafted through the open windows, stirring up the dust and smell (and definitely not that one either). Suddenly Kathleen burst into verse.

Long, long ago, beyond the misty space
Of twice a thousand years,
In Erin old, there dwelt a mighty race,
Taller than Roman spears
Like oaks and towers they were giant race
Were fleets as deers,
With wind and waves they made their biding place,
These western sheperd seers.

Their ocean-god was Manannan MacLir,
Whose angry lips,
In their white foam, full often would inter
Whose fleets of ships
Cromah their Day-God and their thunderer
Made morning and eclipse
Bride was their Queen of Song and unto her,
They prayed with fire-touched lips.

Great were their deeds, their passions and their sports
With clay and stone
They piled on strath and shore those mystic forts,
Not yet overthrown
On cairn-crowned hills they held their council courts
While youths alone
With giant dogs, explored the elk resorts,
And brought them down.

Of these was Fin, the father of the Bard
Whose ancient song
Over the clamour of all change is heard,
Sweet-voiced and strong.
Fin once o’ertook Grania, the golden haired,
The fleet and young
From her the lovely and from him the feared
The primal poet sprung.

Ossain! Two thousand years of mist and change
Surround thy name
Thy Finian heroes now no longer range
The hills of fame.

The very names of Fin and Gaul sound strange
Yet thine the same
By miscalled lake and desecrated grange
Remains and shall remain!

The Druid’s altar and the Druid’s creed
We scarce can trace,
There is not left an undisputed deed
Of all your race
Save your majestic song, which hath their speed,
And strength and grace
In that sole song, they live and love and bleed
It bears them through space.

O inspired giant hail we’er behold
In our own time
One fit to speak your spirit on the world,
Or seize your rhyme
One pupil of the past, as mighty souled
As in the prime,
Were the fond, fair and beautiful and bold
They, of your song sublime!

They had soon found themselves lost in her lilt, their strokes keeping time with the rhyme. All thoughts of laboring around the unpleasant odor were soon forgotten and the chore was finished upon her last word.

“There now, that wasn’t too bad,” Kathleen said, as she gathered the farming tools and set them aside. She walked over to a doorway that led to another room and beckoned the pair with the crook of a finger. “There is someone I want ya ta meet.” She pulled the latch back and opened the half door, inviting them to go in first.

The hay crunched under Erin’s feet as she gingerly stepped inside. She took one look and a grin the size of all out doors graced the author’s face.

From the far end of the twelve by six foot stall, the tiny, gray creature leapt forward on knobbly legs to greet its visitors. Erin dropped to her knees and gently scooped up the delicate baby. “She’s adorable,” she cooed as she snuggled her face in the lamb’s soft, fuzzy wool.

“Aye, that she is,” said Kathleen as she retrieved a baby bottle from a corner shelf. “Her name is Eire. I’m havin ta hand rear her, cause her mother rejected her.”

“That’s awful,” said Jane, as she watched the author cuddled the four-legged little one.

“It happens ta some first time mothers. But thankfully not very often.” A steady string of baaas started filling the air and Kathleen handed the milk to Jane. “I think she is wantin her lunch.”

Jane gave a quizzical look at the item in her grasp then to the helpless baby. Its pitiful cries tugged at her heart. She knelt at Erin’s side and held the bottle up to the charcoal colored face. The ravenous mouth soon latched on and began guzzling down the sweet substance. The lamb calmed in Erin’s arms as it ate and blue eyes met green. With matching smiles they shared in the feeding of the small animal and in the joy of the moment.

A partially dilapidated, old building loomed in the near distance as they continued on their way to the lake. “I guess this is where we go right,” said Jane, breaking Erin from her memories.

“Huh? Oh yeah.”

“Are you okay?”

“I’m fine Jane. I was just thinking about this morning.”

They walked side by side down the narrow footpath where the thick trees created a canopy above their heads. Shadowed patterns danced on the ground ahead as the sun peaked through the leafy branches. They began making a game of chasing the dark spots as they bounced around from the grass to the dirt and back again. They were soon jumping around and laughing so hard that at one point they bumped into one another.

Jane’s free hand flew around the smaller woman’s waist to keep her from falling. She tested the waters and pulled her a little tighter. “That’s funny, I didn’t see any goats around here,” she teased.

Erin caressed the arm wrapped around her as she laughed. “Nope, just my two left feet.” They stood there just a second longer. “I guess we should find that lake. I’m starved.”

Jane pulled back and quickly agreed. “Yeah me too.” She wasn’t disappointed. On the contrary, it gave her hope that Erin had allowed the intimate, albeit brief touch.

* * * *

After efficiently stuffing themselves with Kathleen’s delicious, culinary delights, a long rest was in order.

“Bunny rabbit,” Erin called out unexpectedly.

Jane looked into the surrounding grasses. “Where?”

The author giggled and pointed skyward. “There.”

They soon stretched out on the soft blanket, side by side, hands behind their heads and settled down to a session of cloud watching, which brought about some very unusual observations. Again, it became a competition of sorts, to imagine the strangest shapes in the sky above. Jane quickly pointed out a donut shaped cloud that slowly morphed into the letter C. That led to a rousing chorus of the cookie monster song and some rib tickling fun.

At one point Erin proclaimed that a blob of the graying vapors looked like a monkey reading a book, riding on the back of a unicorn. Next she saw a seahorse pulling a wagon full of pumpkins.

“Is this cloud watching or a Rorschach test?” joked the raven-haired woman.

“Let’s see you do better, oh seer of donuts.”

“Hey, it had rainbow sprinkles,” she rebutted.

Erin snorted her reply.

“Okay that does it.” With pursed lips, Jane scouted the sky for a winner. After about three minutes she spotted it. She flashed a sideways glance at her friend and sported a very cocky smile. “There,” she pointed far off to the right. “A buck toothed bat flying off to group therapy.”

“Group therapy?” came the skeptical question.

“Yeah, look at the way his wings are drooped. An obvious self-confidence problem.”

“Obvious.”

“Poor thing, being the butt of all those bad bat jokes. Like, how many bats does it take to open a bottle of blood?” Jane looked to find a raised eyebrow pointed in her direction. “Only one as long as it’s Bartholomew,” she explained. “You know, because of the pronounced overbite. The teasing of his name alone was enough, but when the teeth grew in…” She gave an exaggerated shudder.

Erin couldn’t hold it in any longer. She burst out laughing, soon joined by the brunette.

When their laughter quieted down, Jane began thinking about the woman next to her. She remembered how good it had felt holding Erin in her arms, earlier under the trees. How wonderful the kiss at the restaurant had been. How sleeping next to her for the past several nights had given her a feeling of safety, of finding something…familiar. Jane turned to her side and rose up on her elbow. At first she appeared to be taking in the splendor of the countryside, but her eyes soon drifted downward to admire the human splendor beside her. “Do you know how beautiful you are?” she asked softly.

A flicker of a smile hit the corner of Erin’s mouth, but her eyes never left the clouds. “No.”

“No, you don’t know or no, you’re not?”

The author turned to the brunette and the smile widened slightly as she answered. “Yes.”

The blue eyes momentarily rolled skyward. “Well either way, I say you are.”

Erin held the sparkling blues for several seconds before raising a hand to caress Jane’s cheek. “Thank you.” The sun peaked from behind a passing cloud, creating a halo of brilliance around the dark head. That hand slipped around her neck and Erin pulled Jane down to her. The kiss was that followed, by no means, tentative. It was firm and hot and delicious. The blonde rolled Jane to her back as tongues began their passionate play. Jane was careful with her hands, happy to just let them rest on the middle of Erin’s back. Soft moans and hums joined the chorus of affection as the kiss continued.

Erin was in definite control as she pressed harder into the strong body beneath her. Every curve of the feminine form fit next to her like two pieces of a puzzle. The hands on her back felt so familiar. It was almost as if…so much like…before. There was another grassy field and the kisses, the intimacy… It felt so good, so right…but it wasn’t. Erin sat up and closed her eyes in shame, not wanting to see the disappointment on Jane’s face. “No, no, no,” she chanted quietly to herself. It’s so much like her. But I can’t do that to myself again. “I’m sorry,” she told Jane. “But I can’t stop thinking about…”

“Don’t be sorry. That was wonderful. And I promised not to push you, remember.”

“You didn’t. I started it. I kissed you and…more. I just…I just can’t go there…yet.”

Jane sat up beside the distraught woman. “It’s okay.”

Erin still couldn’t look at her friend as she continued. “It was wonderful and so are you. I wish…” Long fingers reached under her chin and she was gently turned.

“I understand.” The words were spoken firmly, but tenderly.

The rustling of the nearby trees replaced the absence of words as Erin studied the face of her friend. “You do, don’t you?”

“Erin, you are all I have in the world. Now whether it’s as a friend or a lover, I need you. And I think you need me. I really do understand the conflict that you’re feeling. As much as I love you…and I do,” she confirmed when the startled expression appeared. “I won’t push you, but I just want to ask you not to give up on us because you’re afraid. Take all the time you need and do everything you feel you have to to reconcile your feelings for Jamie. And if in the end, your heart tells you that you can do nothing but be by my side, hold my hand and lend me a shoulder every now and then, I will still be the luckiest woman in the world.”

Erin threw her arms around her friend. “I do care about you…so much,” she said as the hug was returned.

The next baby step in their developing relationship had been tentatively, but successfully taken. And Erin had felt one more barrier dissolve away. It still hurt, but somehow the pain was cushioned by the compassion of the woman in her arms. But there was still one more confusing feeling stirring inside her heart. And until that could be resolved, she knew she might never be able to move on and love again. And the thought of hurting the incredible woman at her side was unbearably painful.

Erin’s dilemma continued.

Could she heal her own pain and prevent someone else’s? She wasn’t sure she could prevent it at this point. They were already too close. And if she couldn’t pledge her heart again, her conscience would bare the pain of both of them. Erin now understood the kind of torment that Jamie had gone through at the beginning of their relationship.

Love is the strongest force in the universe. And that is what makes loving so easy and so hard. For Erin it was always so clear, true love was forever. In life and in death. And beyond. Facing a new love meant letting go of the past one. Her forever was suddenly hazy and the wind carried no clear answers.

The heavens suddenly opened up on the embracing couple. Their luck had finally waned. They pulled away laughing as the rain fell down upon them. “The old barn,” they said in unison. Jane grabbed the basket and Erin scooped up the blanket. They quickly ran back to the path and through the grove of trees to the faded, brown structure.

Once inside, they shook drenched arms and squishy shoes, not that it did a bit of good. They had no choice, but to stay there shivering as they waited for the summer shower to dissipate.

Erin explored the empty stalls, not looking for anything in particular. She noticed the hayloft overhead, but wouldn’t chance the rickety old ladder that was propped against the upper level. She soon shuffled her way back to the front door where Jane stood. She approached and put a hand against the wet, blue shirt that was plastered against Jane’s back. The tall woman didn’t acknowledge her presence with as much as a sigh. Erin looked carefully into the face of her friend. The glazed over, blue eyes seemed to be staring into another time. “Jane, are you okay?” She called her name again and finally got a response.

Eyes blinked heavily as Jane looked down to the worried face. “I…um…there was something…”

“What? Did you remember something from your past?” she asked excitedly.

The dark head shook. “Not really. There was just something about rain. Something happened to me that involved rain.” She looked away, disappointed. “But that could be anything.”

Erin knew there were no words that could really make her friend feel better. She just pulled her into a comforting hug, offering her silent support as the rain continued to fall, softly splashing into puddles that were forming in the soft earth along the path back home.

* * * *

Erin and Jane convinced Kathleen to let them take care of the evening dishes and working together they finished in a matter of minutes.

They stepped out into the backyard to find the older woman sitting in a wooden swing, humming to herself. Her eyes were focused on a point high on the mountain, far off in the distance.

Jane put an arm around the smaller woman’s shoulder and Erin leaned into the tall body. They both stood there listening and taking in the peaceful moment.

The song came to an end and the white haired woman slowly turned to the smiling pair. “I’m thinking its time for Eire’s last meal of the day.” She winked at her granddaughter. “Care ta do the honors again?”

“You bet.”

Kathleen checked things over in the barn one last time before bringing in the flock for the night, while Erin slipped into the large stall with a full bottle.

Jane’s grinning face was propped on her crossed arms that rested on the top of the stall door. Her eyes took in the heartwarming sight, but her focus was on the beautiful face, which beamed with happiness. I wish I could keep that expression there forever. And I will do my best to try.

With her belly now full, the gray, fuzzed lamb bounced all around her new friend. Her small black hooves made the hay crackle as she ran around attempting to jump over Erin’s out stretched legs. A little pink tongue poked out as Eire vocalized her pleasure with a series of baas. Soon the four small legs began to tire out and the dark eyes began to droop. Erin snuggled the soft body to her chest. “Sleep well little one,” she whispered. She placed a kiss on the curly head and placed her back into the warm hay.

Jane unlatched the door and pulled it open. As Erin stepped out, the tall woman pulled a stalk of yellow straw from the collar of the blonde’s white shirt. “That must’ve tickled,” said Jane.

“Yeah it did.” Erin wiggled the lower half of her body and giggled. “I won’t tell you were more of those ended up. Excuse me,” she said as she stepped into one of the empty stalls.

Jane clamped the piece of hay between her teeth. “Sure you don’t need some help with those too?” she asked saucily.

The blonde head poked around the door and winked.

****

Next they watched as Kathleen and Lacey, the multi-colored Border Collie herded the flock across the field and into the barn with precision teamwork.

With all of the day’s farm work done, the three of them moved back to the porch and sipped lemonade while Kathleen told more stories. One in particular captured Jane’s attention.

“When Erin was just a sprout of two years, she became utterly fascinated with bugs. Ladybugs, crickets, grasshoppers, you name it and she chased it. And smart she was, figured out they liked ta live in the bushes. Every time her parents stepped out the door with her in tow, she was off ta the nearest greenery. One August afternoon, the family was havin an outdoor birthday party fer Bridgett.”

Erin looked over to find Jane tugging on her lip with her teeth, trying to hold off the anticipatory laugh. Erin’s pursed lips and bobbing head foretold her knowledge of the story’s ending. Although she had no recollection of the incident, she had heard the story many times during her lifetime.

Kathleen continued. “Durin the birthday song, Erin runs out from where she’d been sittin…in the bushes. She started dancing around, wigglin her little behind and gigglin up a storm. Everyone thought she was just havin fun, tryin ta get some attention. But she wouldn’t stop. Finally, her mother went over ta try and get her ta settle down before she hurt herself, but Erin kept on. Danielle thought that maybe her daughter had soiled and went ta check. All of a sudden she let out a scream would have scared the devil himself. Dani ripped off the diaper right there in the back yard, in front of the guests. She always pinned them on very loosely and no less then three of the little critters had crawled inside intendin ta make a home. Erin had little bites on her pink butt fer a week.”

Jamie laughed her head off and nearly fell out of her chair when Kathleen said that they had almost started calling her buggy butt, but settled for E bug as a nickname.

Several more stories followed until darkness began to settle over them. Kathleen moved back inside to flip on the porch light and retrieve the quilt she’d been working on.

Jane stretched and her back gave an audible pop. “I think I’m going to turn in now,” she told Erin. “You and your grandmother could use some time alone. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight. I’ll try not to disturb you when I come to bed.”

“You haven’t yet. Goodnight Kathleen,” she said as the older woman returned.

“Goodnight Dear. Sleep well.”

As Jane disappeared into the small house, Erin walked to the edge of the porch, into the shadows of the night. She watched the twinkling lights overhead, wondering at the turn her life had taken since coming to Ireland.

Kathleen watched as her granddaughter stood there in silent debate. “The stars make no noise,” she said after several minutes.

“What?” asked Erin, turning back into the light.

“You can tell the stars all yer thoughts, but they can’t talk back.”

Erin nodded and smiled. “Sometimes that’s a good thing.”

“Aye, but sometimes it’s not. Tell me what’s on yer mind Dear. Have ya not been having a good time here?”

“No Grandma it’s been fun. Jane and I have had a great time.”

The wrinkled hands stitched with sure precision on the multicolored cloth that lay in Kathleen’s lap. “Maybe that is the problem, do ya suppose?”

The low voice was barely heard above the chirping insects hidden in the blackness that surrounded them. “I don’t know. It shouldn’t be. Jane is wonderful.”

“Aye, I think so too. And I think she cares a great deal fer you.”

Erin released a long puff of air and turned to lean against the low, wooden fence. “She does. Today she told me…she told me that she loves me. She didn’t expect a response, she just wanted me to know.”

“And how do ya feel about her?” Kathleen asked cautiously.

Erin pushed off the wooden rail and began pacing the short length of the stone patio. “Oh, I could fall in love with her Grandma. I know I could. But how can I? How can I feel this close to her so fast.” Her head shook with the mystery of it all. “I fell in love with Jamie right away…because she was my soul mate.”

“Dear, you can have more than one soul mate in yer lifetime.”

Erin stopped and pinned her grandmother with an intense expression. “Yes, but there is only one person who is the other half of your soul. And I know, without a doubt that Jamie was my other half.”

Kathleen momentarily abandoned her sewing. “Put all that aside for just a moment,” she said “How do ya feel when ya are with Jane?”

Erin closed her eyes and sank into the memories of the last week. A smile eased onto her troubled face as she remembered the laughs, the words spoken across meals, the jokes, the touches…the kisses. “Complete,” she whispered. But then the scowl returned. “That is why this all so frustrating. I just don’t understand it.” Erin buried her face in her hands.

Kathleen hurt for her granddaughter. She got up and took her into her arms. “Maybe ya shouldn’t try Sweetheart.”

Erin looked at her quizzically.

“I know ya’ve heard the saying, the heart has reasons that the head might not understand. There’s no shame in lovin someone as long as that love is true. I believe you can love both of them, but never make it a competition. Jane knows about Jamie, yes?” At the nod she continued. “She knows just how important she was in yer life?” Another nod. “And she’s willin to wait until ya can commit yerself ta her completely.”

“Of course. She promised me that several times.”

“And that proves just how special she is. Erin, Sweetheart I just hope that ya don’t let fear keep ya alone the rest of yer life. Don’t be afraid ta love again.”

“I’m not afraid to love again. I’m afraid to lose again. And the closer I get to Jane, the more that becomes a real possibility. You don’t understand what I went through when Jamie died, no one could. I don’t even know if there are words to describe exactly what I felt.”

Erin hesitated, staring at a spot on the cement. She knew her grandmother was urging her to continue by not saying a word. I haven’t really told anyone…except for the grief counselor. Her voice was almost void of emotion as she began again. Erin could tell of the events during that period of time, but if she even tried to convey the emotions, that would be her undoing. And she wasn’t about to fall to pieces in front of her grandmother.

“At first I put up a strong front for the family. I know that’s how I was always perceived, especially after I conquered my fear after losing my sight. I didn’t want to disappoint them. But when I was alone, I was…truly alone. Nothing else in the world existed and I wallowed in my solitary reality. But that reality soon turned into fantasy, a fantasy world where everything was perfect. I began living Jamie’s dream because I knew…I knew that she was only away on a trip and that she would be back any day. Time meant nothing to me. The calendar was merely numbers on a page.”

There was only one date that meant anything to me, April 14th. But I can’t…I still can’t talk about that. I’m sorry Grandma, but I can’t. Erin pulled in a deep breath of fresh air and let it settle into her lungs before she continued. “I was finally pulled back to reality and only then did I seek professional help.” But even the therapy had only helped her accept Jamie’s death…it hadn’t eased the hollow feeling in her heart where Jamie’s voice still echoed.

“I’m glad ya told me this Dear and I hate that ya had ta go through that, especially alone. It was different fer me, I had children…” She reached up and cupped Erin’s face. “and grandchildren ta support me. I still had that part of yer grandpa with me, but it didn’t ease the loneliness. It hurt terribly.”

“Isn’t that why you never fell in love with anyone after Grandpa, because of the pain?”

“No Dear. I just wasn’t lucky enough ta find anyone that I wanted ta share that with. Sometimes I wish I had. I don’t want ya ta be my age and look back with regrets about Jane. You can have a happy life with her, if ya just take the chance.” Kathleen kissed her granddaughter’s cheek, said her goodnights and went back inside.

Once again the author turned back to stare into the night sky. She remembered giving guidance similar to that once upon a time. She had urged someone to have courage, to open their heart. Maybe it’s time to take my own advice.
Chapter 10
The Lakes of Killarney. The three bodies of calm, glassy waters reflected the peace of the surrounding emerald landscape. The shores were dotted with ruined castles and abbeys, but the lakes were the focus of the attention. The moody, watery scenery is subject to subtle shifts of light and color, bringing a new, enchanted vision to each traveler throughout the long day’s visit.

Erin and Jane had arrived at the dawn of the new day to join the small tour group. The area could be a little confusing and that was the best way to see the major viewing spots.

The group consisted of an older husband and wife couple, three women in their forties and fifties who, they found out, were sisters (siblings not nuns). The tour guide was a gentleman in his early fifties, his dark hair just beginning to gray. His voice reverberated with the local brogue as he welcomed each tourist with a handshake and a smile. He promptly made sure everyone had sufficient water and good walking shoes before heading off on the morning hike around the lakes.

Rounding out the group of visitors was a young man that had quickly set Jane’s temper flaring. He was a thirty something, grinning idiot in her estimation. The second he had seen Erin, he puffed out his chest and stroked his moustache, clearly planning his evening activities. The blonde seemed oblivious to his lustful brown eyes that planted themselves on her backside as the group trudged up the hill and to his obvious throat clearing whenever he stepped up next to her. Jane had thrown him several daggered glares, but it was his turn to be oblivious.

From the Torc Waterfall down to Dinis Island, where they saw the meeting of the waters from the three different lakes, they spent the morning in wide-eyed wonder.

About three hours into their journey, the group stopped for a rest. Most of them chose a seat on a nice, soft spot of grass shaded by a towering old tree. The stalker, as Jane had dubbed him, stood against the bark covered tree trunk, sipping his water, lost in his fantasies.

“How’s your back holding up?” asked Erin as she rubbed the body part in question.

“Not too bad,” she said just before she popped a pain pill into her mouth. “But not too good either.” She smiled to let her friend know that she was okay.

“We didn’t have to come here today,” said the author. “I mean we have been pushing the sightseeing.”

“That’s what you came to Ireland for.” Jane turned to face the green eyes that she loved. “I’m fine really. I’m not going to let anything keep us from enjoying ourselves. You are enjoying yourself, aren’t you?”

“Of course.” Erin took in the panorama. “It’s beautiful out here.”

“It certainly is,” said Jane without shifting her gaze. Her appreciation was interrupted as from the corner of her eye she saw him still staring. He was too far away to have heard their conversation or maybe he might have understood that he had no chance. “Stay here,” she said. “I’ll be right back.”

Scottie, as he had introduced himself, pulled a trail bar from his pack. He fumbled to rip open the tough, plastic wrapping when he heard the grass beside him rustle with footsteps.

“Ya know,” said Jane.

The growling voice still startled him and he nearly dropped his snack. He looked up to meet the intense blues as she continued.

“…my friend is not the center attraction on this little trip. She doesn’t like being gawked at, so keep your eyes on the foliage and off of her.”

He gave a short snort and a smarmy grin. “What are you, her body guard?” he asked, biting of a chunk of the granola bar. Before she could reply, he continued. “If not, I’d like to apply for the job.”

Jane waited until he turned to look at her. She flashed him her own evil grin. “Just leave her alone or you might need a body cast.”

He still seemed unfazed at the threat from the overprotective friend as he finished his food and took a long swig of water.

Jane returned to Erin’s side as the guide moved to get them started again.

“Is everything okay?” asked the blonde when she saw the uneasy expression on her friend’s face.

Jane slipped into an easy smile, the one she always felt when looking into those green eyes. “Just fine. Let’s go.”

The tall woman’s attention was always equally divided between the beauty of the land and the beauty at her side. She offered water, snacks and smiles that bathed the Irish author’s heart in glowing affections.

Although her grandmother’s words from the night before rang in her head, Erin was determined to spend the day in uncomplicated joy. And she was achieving her task quite nicely.

She had finally gone to bed, the night before, after several hours of contemplation. The answers she sought were just within reach, but she finally decided that only time would bring them to her.

Erin had showered and changed before walking into the room that she shared with the dark haired woman. She stopped just inside the doorway to watch the long form languishing in the oak colored bed. The warmth of the evening allowed the absence of blankets across the endless legs that shot out from the red sleep shorts. One of those legs was bent and the knee stuck out over the far side of the mattress. A long, thin foot capped by five perfectly shaped toes involuntarily twitched in the night.

A small, dimly lit lamp was left on the bedside table to illuminate the way in the darkness. Erin’s eyes traveled up the sleeping body in earnest appraisal as she crossed the short distance to the bed. While there was a deep physical desire simmering in Erin’s belly, the true emotions that were sparked, etched the loving smile onto her face. As she stood at the side of the bed, the upper body, also clad in red, caught her rapt attention. The flat stomach, hidden under the thin material, rose and fell to the gentle rhythm of life. One breath leading to the next, coinciding with a beating heart. A loving heart that had bared its unconditional truth to a hurting counterpart. A lonely heart that reached out in the darkness for companionship. A brave heart willing to risk being broken at the chance of forever.

Erin doused the light with the flick of her wrist, eased herself onto the mattress and settled onto her side, also forgoing the blanket. The dark head unconsciously turned in her direction, but slept on soundly. Lips grazed the smooth forehead before joining her in slumber.

****

The stalker still managed to do a fair amount of leering at Erin as they continued on. Jane didn’t want to make a scene and ruin everyone else’s peace, so she devised another plan to whip him up side of the head with a major clue. He always managed to stay in back of them, for obvious reasons, so as they neared a rocky slope, she lagged behind the rest of the group. And of course Erin stayed by her side. Jane took Erin’s hand to help her up the large stone covered hill. Once they reached the top, she never let go. She waited just a moment then pulled the back of the smaller hand to her lips.

Scottie pulled himself over the top edge just in time to see the show. Erin reached up to caress the smiling face and his eyes nearly popped from their sockets. Some indiscernible noises escaped his throat and he scrambled passed them, stumbling on a half buried tree root. He fell flat on his ass, stirring up a cloud of dust.

Erin realized the reason for his reaction and a slightly disappointed look drew over her face.

Jane just looked down at the fool and asked him, very calmly, “Having a problem Scottie?”

Without a word, he disgustedly got to his feet and ran off to the rest of the group.

Jane was quite satisfied with the outcome of her plan until she looked down to see a frown. “Hey,” she lifted the face to meet her gaze. “Ignore him. He’s just an ignorant idiot.”

The blonde head nodded. “I know. I know. It’s just…when I was blind I didn’t have to see that.” She started off down the trail, the hand still firmly in her grasp. “Although that was definitely the only good thing about being blind.”

Jane gave a comforting squeeze. “Did someone hurt you…because you’re gay?”

“No,” she answered immediately. But upon a slow review of the previous summer, Erin amended her answer. “Well…yeah I guess he did.”

A shiver ran down Jane’s back. “What happened…if you want to tell me?”

“It’s long story, but…” She proceeded to tell an abbreviated version of the sorted and disgusting tale of Ethan Tyler.

“Sounds like you were able to take good care of yourself,” Jane said when the story was over.

Erin smiled. “Yeah, I was proud of that.”

“You should be. And I know you always will be able to. But I would really like to be around to make sure you never have to.”

Erin tried to hide a knowing grin. “Like today.”

“You knew?”

“Yeah. I just try to ignore his type, but…it feels really nice to have someone care enough to want to protect me.”

“Well you know how much I do care. And I always will.” Jane kicked away a small pebble with the tip of her shoe and looked away sheepishly. “Um…it…actually this isn’t the first time I…ahh…was being over protective. The night at the pub, back in Dublin, I…almost slugged your cousin.” Jane gave a mortified blush at her confession. “I’m sorry.”

Erin lifted their joined hands and played with the long fingers. “Don’t be sorry. But please don’t ever slug anybody because of me. This hand wouldn’t look very good in purple.”

They looked at each other with matching grins. Jane turned over the smaller hand and noticed a small mark at the base of Erin’s right thumb. Her smile changed to a curious frown. “How did you get that?” she asked.
The blonde looked down to see what her friend was talking about. Her hand trembled just a bit and she eased it out of Jane’s grasp. “Oh, it’s, nothing,” she said without meeting the questioning eyes. “Shouldn’t we catch up to the others?”

* * * *

After lunch they departed from the tour group to do some exploring on their own. They traversed several short, but interesting trails before arriving at an overlook that spanned across one of the smaller lakes. They stood there side by side soaking in the view and breathing the clean air.

Jane tapped Erin on the arm. “I’ll be right back,” she said and slipped away to a point they had passed a few yards back.

About ten minutes later, Erin heard her name called. She turned around and her jaw dropped open. Her green eyes laughed and her body soon joined in. “Are you serious?” she asked approaching her friend. “Where did you get that?”

Jane stood off to the side of the trail with a huge grin on her face. “From a place back there,” she said. “They were renting them. So I figured why not.” She looked down at the red item she supported in her hands. “But they only had one like this. Are you game?”

Erin smiled at her impetuous friend and gave her several short headshakes. “Why not,” she finally said.

Jane handed Erin the black helmet, then reached up under her own chin to fasten the strap of the blue one she had been wearing all along. They carefully mounted the bicycle built for two and after a slightly shaky start they finally found a rhythm and off they went back down the trail for more sightseeing.

They peddled for an hour down the well-worn path that had seen many a shoe, tire and hoof in its lifetime. A dozen varieties of trees and plants lined the way and they had fun trying to identify them from their lesson earlier in the morning.

They slowly made their way across the Gap of Dunloe, appreciating that ancient glaciers had carved out the dramatic mountain pass. The boulder-strewn gorge was a perfect example of Mother Nature’s impeccable artistry.

Several times during the long ride, Erin found herself staring at the long back in front of her. Only the need to keep a firm grip on the handlebars, kept her from her ever-increasing desire to touch that expanse of bone and muscle and any other part of that body that happened to be within reach. Erin’s heart was falling hard and fast and her brain, although still several paces behind, was closing the distance. Her life was slowly slipping back into the place she had been just over a year ago, only this time she was the reluctant one, allowing fear and guilt to command her moves. One more step was all she needed and she was determined to take it before she left Ireland.

* * * *

Darkness had well set in by the time they got back home. They tiptoed in the front door to find Kathleen snoozing on the couch, in front of the television.

“Grandma,” whispered Erin, rubbing a hand down the elderly woman’s arm.

A tiny squeal and some mumbling escaped from between her slightly parted lips.

Jane covered her grinning mouth, not wanting to embarrass the woman she had come to care a great deal about.

Erin bit back her own smile as she tried to wake the sleeping woman again. “Grandma, its me, Erin. Wake up so you can go to sleep.” The absurd sentence brought more silent chuckles to the younger ones.

Finally the white head sprang forward. “What? What?” The knitting needles and half completed garment fell to the couch beside her as she shuffled to straighten up.

“You can go to bed now Grandma,” said Erin with a kiss to the older woman’s cheek. “We’re home safe and sound.”

“And what makes ya think I was waitin up fer you?” she asked with as much of a false indignant tone that she could muster at such a late hour. “There was a very interestin movie on the tele. The time just got away from me.” She looked up through the glasses perched on the end of her nose at the two youngsters standing before her sporting affectionate grins. “All right, all right.” She smiled herself. “Now off ta bed with ya. Tomorrow is another long day.”

Since Erin and Jane both were in the same dust covered state and dead tired, they decided showers could wait until the morning.

Jane returned from changing in the bathroom to find her friend already in bed, but not asleep. She let out an audible yelp of pain when she sat down on the bed.

Erin shot up from her pillow. “Are you alright?”

“Yeah,” said Jane through clenched teeth. “It’s my lower back, it’s just a little stiff. It’ll go away once I can lay down and relax my body.”

Erin took the dark haired woman by the shoulder and guided her face down on the bed. “Let me help you massage those knots out.”

The deer in the headlights look went unnoticed as Jane moved her face away from the low light to the darkest side of the bed. She felt the slight body settle onto the backs of her thighs and those small hands go to work on her sore muscles. Her physical desire soon faded into overwhelming relief from the pain as Erin gently, but firmly kneaded the tight flesh. God, those hands are talented. Jane’s eyes popped open. Did I say that out loud? After a pause she thought, I guess not. But I sure hope that someday I can.

Erin continued with her healing touch, fulfilling the desire she had lived with all day. The muscles began to relax under her fingers and subconsciously the medicinal touches became sensual caresses. Her body swayed sending faint shadows moving across the far wall.

They were both lost in the moment and only when Jane felt the thighs grind against her, did she snap back to reality. “I…I think you should stop now, Erin,” she suggested nervously.

Erin pulled away as if burned. “God, I’m sorry,” she said, falling to the bed beside her friend.

“You took away my pain. Thank you.”

Erin couldn’t look at the blue eyes. She sighed heavily. “I hate myself for teasing you like this.”

Two long fingers pulled the blonde head around. “Hey, don’t ever say that. You didn’t do it on purpose. You’re not that kind of person. Your body was just reacting.” Jane wiggled her eyebrows wildly. “So was mine.” She received the desired effect when they shared a giggle. “Please don’t let this make you pull away from me.”

Erin reached up to clasp the hand that was still on her face. “I won’t. I promise.”

* * * *

The next morning, once showered and dressed, Jane and Erin retrieved the wrapped gifts they had hidden in their luggage. They held the brightly colored boxes behind their backs as they snuck down the hall where they heard Kathleen singing in the kitchen.

Erin stepped up to her grandmother and kissed her cheek. “Good morning Grandma.”

“Mornin Dear. Sit down, breakfast will be up shortly.” She turned to place the white, china teapot on the table. The youngsters sat on opposites sides of the table, staring at her with conspiratorial grins. Her eyes bounced from green to blue. “All right,” she said. “what are ya up to?”

They pulled the presents out from under the table. “Happy Birthday,” they said in unison.

She put a surprised hand to her bosom. “Oh my,” she sighed. “I haven’t celebrated a birthday in six years.”

“Then it’s about time you do,” said Erin. “Sit down and open your presents.”

Kathleen stepped back and turned off the oven then returned to her seat. “This is so special, but ya know ya shouldn’t have.” The trembling hands pulled the white ribbon off of the big, rectangular box then ripped away the multicolored paper. She discarded the lid, pulled back the tissue and let out a gasp at the sight of the blue and green, woolen cape. She fingered the heavy material. “Is this…?”

“Yes,” said Erin. “Made from the fine wool you work so hard for.” She knew that the older woman didn’t own any clothing that had come from her flock and when she and Jane had visited the village up the road, after their trip to Blarney, she knew just what to purchase. “I know it’s too hot to wear now, but that time will be here soon enough.”

Kathleen leaned over and hugged the blonde. “Thank ya Dear, but that wasn’t a hint ya know. I wanted ya ta get somthin fer yerself.”

“I did,” Erin confirmed. “I also got ones for Mom and Bridgett, for Christmas presents.”

Jane held out her much smaller gift box. “This one is from both of us.” Erin had insisted, knowing that Jane had wanted to get something, but had no idea what. “Happy Birthday Kathleen. I won’t ask how old you are, but what ever your age you don’t look it.”

“Thank ya Jane, but I am proud ta have been born in the year 1920. I could write a history book all on my own, but I’ll leave the writin to my talented granddaughter.” She opened the flat, square box and lifted out the picture frame made from Irish blackthorn wood. Inlaid in each corner were coins minted in the birth years of her husband and each of her three children. She ran her fingertips over the copper and silver colored currency as her eyes misted over.

“I noticed that you like to display a lot of photos, so we thought this would be useful,” said Jane.

“That I do Dear, that I do.”

Erin squeezed the elderly arm. “I thought you might enjoy this too,” she said handing her a big yellow envelope.

Kathleen opened it in silence, still a little emotional at the previous gift. She slowly pulled out the contents and smiled brightly. “Aye this is perfect. Tis goin right in here,” she said inserting the photo into her newest picture frame.

“What is it?” asked Jane.

Kathleen winked at her granddaughter as she turned the picture to toward the dark haired woman.

Erin saw the apprehension quickly fill the blue eyes, but that slowly faded. It was an eight by ten color photo of Erin and Jane standing together by the Derrynane bay. They were looking at each other, not the camera. Unbeknownst to Jane, Erin had asked a kindly old man to snap the photo of them.

Jane looked up to her smiling friend, knowing full well that it was a very important statement. It was a gift to her as much as to Kathleen, because the photo would soon reside amongst the other family photos. Erin was declaring Jane as a part of her family.

* * * *

As a part of the birthday celebration, Erin and Jane took Kathleen on their boat trip around the Skelligs, a group of inhospitable pinnacles of rock rising out of the

Atlantic, located about eight miles off the coast of Ireland.

Setting sail from Valentia Island, the small cruiser navigated the slightly choppy waves out to its first destination. From a distance, the Skelligs looked like floating pyramids of sandstone, but as they came into closer view, they became rugged and uninviting, but definitely picturesque.

With its steep cliffs and sheer ledges providing homes for thousands of seabirds, such as puffins, gulls and gannets, Little Skellig covered seventeen acres in the middle of the ocean waters.

The vessel stopped for several minutes allowing for photographic opportunities before skirting around the smaller island and heading off to the main attraction.

Erin pulled her red slicker closed to protect her shirt, as the wind sent a spray of ocean mist up over the rail where she and Jane were standing. The taller woman used a gentle touch to flick away some droplets that had landed near her favorite green eyes. After holding each others gaze for just a moment, they turned their attention back to the bluish, green water and its small white caps. A flock of gulls flew over the port side, heading back to their nest sight. Their united song of freedom filled the air in an instant and then faded off as they made land once again.

“Look there!” shouted Erin excitedly, pointing a finger straight ahead and down.

Jane followed her direction and a smile came to her face as she and several other passengers watched the pod of dolphins playing along side of the ship.

“They’re beautiful and so graceful,” said the blonde author.

The group laughed as one of the ocean mammals breached the water and flipped in mid air, before torpedoing back into the deep blue.

Before boarding the boat, they had learned from the guide that the cliffs descended underwater for 165 feet, providing a habitat for not only the dolphins, but for giant basking sharks and sea turtles as well.

As Erin and Jane watched the playful creatures, Kathleen sat at a nearby table, watching them. She could tell that her granddaughter’s sorrow was being washed away with each passing day and that Erin’s heart was opening up to the charms of the dark haired woman. She wanted nothing more in the world than to witness Erin’s happiness. The Leprechaun’s whisper had told Kathleen to guide her granddaughter back to Dublin to meet her destiny. And as she smiled, eyes twinkling at the sight of the happy couple, she thanked the Lord that the whisper had come around for a wonderful purpose on this occasion.

As they got closer to the big island, they could see that just off shore, the puffins, with there colorful, orange beaks and wild, yellow, head feathers were riding the waves like little surfers.

The boat soon docked at the small pier on Skellig Michael, the larger of the islands, and two-dozen passengers disembarked. In comparison, Michael covered an area of forty-four acres, twice the size of Little Skellig. Several people immediately started the long climb to the ancient monastery high in the cliffs, but most, including Erin, Jane and her grandmother milled around the mossy areas on the lower ground hearing more of its history from the tour guide.

Mentions of the two majestic outposts were scattered throughout ancient folklore and early Christian history. The earliest reference found, dated back to around 1400 BC. The monks of St. Fionan’s monastery spent their simple lives fishing, praying, tending their gardens and studying.

After answering a few questions, the guide sent them off, informing them of the departure time. Kathleen declined to make the seven hundred step climb, but urged the younger ones to go exploring. They only relented when another elderly woman came over and introduced herself. Kathleen assured them that she and her new acquaintance would keep themselves occupied exchanging stories.

They shucked off their thin, nylon jackets and with a deep breath, Erin and Jane started the climb up the steep, one thousand year old stone stairway. Communication was kept to a minimum as they trudged farther up the hillside.

Reaching the halfway point, they stopped for a much needed breather.

Erin settled herself on top of a rocky perch and guzzled from the bottled water they had brought. Passing it off to Jane, she remarked, “Those monks must have been in really good shape.” She looked back down at how far they had come and then up at the distance they still had to go. “I can’t believe they did this twice a day.”

The dark head nodded in agreement. “Especially carrying baskets of fish and supplies.”

Erin scooted to one side and patted the empty space beside her. Jane took the seat, leaving them touching from shoulder to thigh.

“Did you ever wish you could travel back in time?” Erin asked absently.

“I’m sure I have. If you believe in reincarnation, you might have just been one of those super monks or a Celtic warrior, or…”

“I traveled.”

“What do you mean traveled? Where?” Jane asked, genuinely interested.

The conversation paused as two other visitors trekked up the stairs beside them.

Erin continued. “I’m not sure really. I just know I traveled around the world…on foot…sometimes horseback. And I wrote…a lot.”

Jane smiled and nudged the shoulder next to her. “Just like now. I bet you were a famous…what did they call authors back then, whenever then was?”

“Bard,” Erin answered quickly. “Of course that was just one lifetime. Hard telling how many different people I’ve been. But that’s the only other life that I’ve had…feelings from.”

Jane just wanted to feel things from the life she had before she was injured. But she was also thankful for that in some way because it brought her to the point she was at now. And it was leading her to a promising future with the woman beside her. Jane stood up and reached out a hand. “Let’s go bard. Or by the time we reach the top, we’ll have to turn right around and come right back down.”

Erin let herself be pulled to her feet and into the taller body for a quick hug. With a rejuvenated spring in her step, she hopped onto the next big, flat stone.

They covered about twenty steps more when Jane commented, “You know I might just need another massage tonight.” Somehow she knew it would be okay to play around with Erin in this way. It just seemed so natural.

With pursed lips, Erin looked up at the sparkling eyes. “Well, I think you’d better ask my grandmother this time,” she said teasingly and ran up a few more stairs and around a corner.

“Aw come on,” whined Jane, loudly enough for here friend to hear. She gave a crooked smile and followed.

They finally reached the top of mountain and began searching around the monastery. To be honest, if you didn’t know what it was, you’d never have guessed. A lot of it was worn away by ages and ages of wind and weather, but the most interesting structures were the individual cells that the monks lived in. Jane and Erin reverently entered one of the smaller, stone, beehive shaped huts. The interior was rectangular in shape, built in such a way as to not let any rain enter between the stones.

The dark haired woman lay down a stone slab, what she assumed was used as a bed. “Those guys must have been really short or else they liked sleeping with their knees in their chin,” she said, demonstrating such a position.

Erin turned around and laughed at her contorted friend. “Well, not even every man is a six foot Amazon.”

“I hope not.” Jane wiggled her raised feet. “Talk about your back problems.”

The blonde giggled some more. “Come on shorty.”

Together they explored what had been the main church area. They sat on a rocky pew facing the ocean and just watched as the waves rolled and the whitecaps danced. After several moments of peaceful solitude, Jane felt a hand on her arm. She turned to find a solemn face.

“Would you mind if I wanted to be alone for just a little while?” Erin asked quietly.

Jane brought her hand up to cover the one on her arm. “No, of course not. Take as long as you need. I’ll be right here.”

Erin gave her a slight kiss on the cheek as she stood to walk away.

She only went about twenty-five feet and stopped at the waist high wall, still overlooking the water.

Jane tried to find interest in something else, but her eyes kept being drawn back to the petite figure standing so close, yet so far. She wanted to give her friend her privacy, but human curiosity went on overtime. What happened? We were having such a good time. She tried to think back over everything that had happened that day, every word she had said, every expression she had given, but nothing out of the ordinary came to mind. She stared at the ground by her feet, deep in contemplation. After a few more minutes she closed her eyes and snorted in disgust at herself. Well, don’t we have a big head. It doesn’t always have to be about you, does it? She opened her eyes again and watched as a small bug of some kind scurried around the tip of her shoe and disappeared beneath the dirt. If she wants to tell me about it she will. Maybe she’s just sad to be leaving tomorrow. Or maybe…

“Are you ready to go?”

The voice startled her from her thoughts and her dark head popped up. “Yeah.” She took the offered hand and rose to her feet to face the woman whose wind blown hair lay across her eyes. “Are you okay?” she asked as she pushed back the unruly, blonde wisps.

She was very relieved at the smile that slowly appeared a few inches beneath the emerald orbs.

“Finally, I think I am.” Erin hugged the tall woman, putting her head on the strong shoulder. “Come on, let’s go home.”

* * * *

The mid-morning flight was crossing the Atlantic, on its way back to the states. The jumbo jet was nearly full to capacity and the flight attendants were kept very busy fulfilling the requests of some demanding passengers. Two tall glasses of orange juice had been delivered about fifteen minutes into the flight and were slowly sipped. Jane read the newspaper she had picked up at the airport before take off and Erin jotted down a few notes for her novel on the scratch pad she always carried with her. At one point Jane tried to sneak a peak at the scribblings, but they were snatched away and she received a soft swat on the arm in playful admonishment.

It had been a tearful departure from the little cottage in the valley. Many rounds of hugs had been exchanged among the trio before the rental car pulled away.

“Jane, please keep in touch. I want ta know how ya are gettin along.”

“I will Kathleen, I will. I have your granddaughter’s friendship; I’ll be just fine. Take care of yourself.” Jane carried the luggage out to the car, giving Erin a private moment to say good-bye.

The author turned misty eyes to her beloved grandparent. They embraced long and hard. “I’m gonna miss you Grandma. I wish we didn’t live so far away.”

“I know Dear, but I belong here. However, I could be talked into visitin sometime soon. Maybe there’ll be a special occasion on the near horizon.”

“I don’t know about that Grandma, but…” Erin turned to look at the raven-haired woman standing by the car. “I’m gonna be okay now. Coming here has worked wonders for my soul.”

****

Aside from her writing, Erin was kept quite busy for the first hour, playing peek-a —boo with a two year old, who was a few seats ahead of them. After she had smiled and waved at the little brown haired girl the first time, the game was a foot. Two big brown eyes would slowly peak over the back of the tall seat and Erin would give her a silent boo. The giggles were heard as the head ducked backed out of sight, only to return a few seconds later.

Jane watched and laughed as the antics continued on.

The child had finally slipped off to a nap giving Erin a break from playtime.

“You’re really good with kids,” said Jane as she stretched in her first class seat.

“Yeah,” Erin said wistfully, but with a smile. “They are pure innocence and joy, really needing only one thing in the world…love. Love is the provider, the teacher, the playmate, and the confidant. Children are incredible.”

Jane didn’t want to dash the happiness on her friend’s face. She hoped what she was about to say would be accepted in the best way and would not be a reminder of things past. “You will be an incredible mother. And any child of yours will have the best life that money could never buy.”

Jane reveled in the grin she received and matched it when the small hand slipped into hers and interlaced their fingers.

The hands remained clasped as Erin napped, the minutes turning into hours, and until the in-flight movie had started.

As most of the other passengers were occupied with the slightly entertaining piece of film making, Erin and Jane concentrated their attention on each other while Erin gave her friend an in depth, verbal tour of the ranch and her plans for its future.
Just after the attendant had made the latest rounds, offering the amenities, Jane finally got up the courage to bring up the subject that had been on her mind since they had boarded the plane. She cleared her throat softly. “Erin, I noticed that you took off your ring.”

The blonde looked down at their joined hands and to the faint tan line around her finger. She nodded solemnly and swallowed. “Yes. I did it yesterday when we were at the monastery. That’s what I was doing when I went off by myself, making peace with that part of my life.”

“I hope you didn’t feel like I was pressuring you to do that.”

Erin looked up with a tiny smile. “No, it wasn’t you. It was just time. I was finally able to put Jamie where she belongs now, in a corner of my heart and in my fondest memories, but not in my future.”

* * * *

Bridgett entered the bustling LA airport and made her way to gate seven, where her sister’s plane was about to land. After a fifteen-minute wait, she finally spotted Erin through the heavy crowd. The smile on the author’s face was a welcomed sight.

Erin ran up and hugged her sister. “I missed you, Brig.”

“I missed you too, but it certainly looks like you had a very good time.”

The sisters moved off to the side of the over crowded area, near some huge windows.

“I did. I really did,” said Erin. “I met a new friend. She’s come back with me to work at the ranch.”

Bridgett smiled widely. “I’m really glad to see you happy again, Sis.” The smile flickered as Bridgett looked down at the purse slung over her shoulder. “I…ah…”

“What is it Brig? Is something wrong with the kids or Brad?”

“No! No everyone is fine. It’s just…I found something that I thought you’d want to see. But maybe I shouldn’t show you now.
I don’t want to make you sad again.

The blonde brows wrinkled. “Why would it make me sad?”

The red head fidgeted with her hands for several seconds before she reached just inside her tan purse. “Do you remember the picture I snuck of Jamie?” she asked nervously. “The one I gave to that artist to carve the sea shell that I gave you for Christmas.”

Erin nodded.

“I…I tracked him down and he still had it in his file.” She eased the small photo from under the flap.

Erin tried to swallow the lump that had suddenly formed in her throat. Her heart beat against her chest double time and she licked her dry lips. “That’s a picture of Jamie?” she asked in a whisper, looking at the white backing of the photo.

“Yeah. Are you okay to look at it?”

The blonde head nodded imperceptibly. “I think so.” I know what I said Jane. But I just have to do this. Please forgive me.

Bridgett slowly handed her the picture.

Erin closed her eyes and clutched it to her chest as the noise in the room faded to a dim murmur. She took one deep breath before turning it over.

Her eyes were glued to it for merely two seconds before…”Oh my God,” she whispered. The world spun in her head and she dropped to the ground at Bridgett’s feet.
Chapter 11
“Erin!” Bridgett called out as she dropped to her knees and put her purse under her sister’s head.

“Erin!” rang out another voice from the crowd. Jane plowed her way passed the curious onlookers and came to her friend’s side. “Who are you?” she asked the red head tersely. “What did you do to her?” She knelt down and smoothed the blonde bangs from the unconscious woman’s forehead.

Bridgett rubbed Erin’s limp hand. “I’m her sister,” she explained. “She just fainted. Who are…?” She looked up for the first time and was dumbstruck when her eyes landed on the tall woman’s face.

Jane looked over at the mute woman. “What’s wrong?” she asked, but quickly turned her attention back to Erin.

The red head’s mouth moved, but no sound came out.

The noises around her began to get clearer in Erin’s fogged brain. She heard Jane urging her to open her eyes and when she did, there were those endless blues hovering above her. Her strength suddenly flew back to her and she popped up and planted a hard kiss onto the startled woman’s lips.

Bridgett had finally recovered from her own lesser amount of shock. She stood and moved off to one side, trying to disperse the crowd that had gathered. Some of them had already fled at the sight of the same sex public display of affection. She also sent away the medical team that had arrived so quickly.

Erin finally pulled back from the kiss and just buried her head into Jane’s neck. Her body shook with heaving sobs.

Jane soothingly rubbed the back beneath her hands. Her own body was twisted to one side and it was painful, but she didn’t care at that moment. All that mattered was finding out what had happened to the woman she loved and fixing it. “Erin, what is it? What happened?”

The author could only answer with more breathless convulsions. Jane’s white shirt soon became wet with the flood of tears as she rocked the small body in her arms.

Bridgett stepped back over, still not believing her eyes. She reached down and grasped her sister’s shoulders. “Erin let’s get off the floor and go over there and sit down.”

The blonde was barely able to pull herself away from the tall woman long enough to stand. She didn’t remove her hand from around Jane’s waist all the way over to the long row of wooden seats.

They sat down and Jane was confused as she studied the smile that was now plastered across Erin’s face. “Can you tell me what just happened?” she asked, brushing away the remaining tears.

Erin kissed the back of the hand she was clutching and nodded.

Bridgett took the seat next to the grinning author. “Erin, you don’t really think…”

Without taking her eyes from the tall woman’s face, she answered her sister’s unfinished question. “I know it’s true Bridgett. And I can tell you a dozen different reasons why.”

“But Sis, I agree this is an incredible coincidence, I was even fooled for a minute, but…”

“Would someone mind explaining things to me?” said Jane, wide eyed and totally confused. “What is this all about?”

Erin pitched her head to one side. “This is my sister, Bridgett Nelson.”

They nodded to one another as she introduced herself. “Jane Sims.”

Erin impulsively hugged the tall woman again before she tried to explain. “I’m sorry I scared you,” she said as she caressed the soft face. “I fainted when Bridgett showed me a picture.”

“A picture?”

Erin nodded. “I told you that I had never seen Jamie because I was blind when we were together and we thought that they’re weren’t any photographs of her either. But Bridgett…she found one.”

The blue eyes softened with compassion. “Well, I can imagine how upsetting that was for you. I’m sorry.”

Erin giggled happily. “No. It wasn’t upsetting at all. It was the most wonderful thing.”

Dark brows drew together, trying to make sense of the conflicting things she was hearing. “I don’t understand.”

Erin reached for the photograph that her sister had taken back. She looked at it again and then at the woman sitting next to her. There wasn’t a doubt in her mind. She placed it in the tall woman’s hand. “This is Jamie.”

Blue eyes drifted with natural curiosity to the small picture she held. Once they landed on the chiseled face, they widened. She couldn’t help but notice that she resembled the dark haired woman in the photo. There was a great difference in the length of their hair, but it was the unmistakable color of coal. The eyes, the height; it was all there…but… “You think that…?” She looked up at a grinning Erin. “…I’m her…that this is me?” Jane squeezed her eyes and turned away from the smile. She couldn’t bear to see the disappointment that she was about to deal out. “Erin…it’s not…I had some reconstructive surgery on my face after the accident. It’s just…” She felt the soft fingers under her chin pulling her back. She opened her eyes to see the still happy face.

“It’s not a coincidence.” She brought their joined hands to her chest. “I know it with all my heart.”

* * * *

They were in Bridgett’s vehicle heading toward the mountain ranch before Erin began to explain the reason she was so certain. “First off, don’t you think it would be an even greater coincidence that the surgeon just happened to make you look exactly like Jamie Sheridan, rather than us finding our way back to one another?”

She shrugged. “I suppose.”

“Okay. Now consider this. You yourself said that you felt like you were guided to Ireland to find out who you were. How else would you explain how drawn to one another we were, how we became so close, so quickly? How we fell in love in just a few days.”

Jamie’s head jumped up at that statement. “What did you just say?”

Erin stared deep into her eyes. “I said that I love you.”

The dark haired woman sighed. “But do you only love me because you think I’m Jamie?” she asked hesitantly.

“I know now that you are Jamie. But I did fall in love with you when we were still in Ireland. I was just afraid to admit it.” She could still see the hesitation written across the furrowed forehead. “Okay, how about some hard facts? When were you found in that farmer’s field?” She had never asked before for details about Jane’s accident, not wanting hurt her new friend. But if only she had…

That was a date firmly etched in the tall woman’s mind. The first day…or the last day, however you look at it that she lost everything. “January seventh.”

Although Erin had known what the answer was going to be, it didn’t stop her heart from fluttering. “Bridgett was with me when
I lost contact with Jamie on the phone. What was that date Brig?”

The dark green eyes glanced into the rear view mirror to meet the curious blues looking back. “January seventh,” she confirmed.

“And in what part of the world were you found?” Erin asked the woman beside her.

Jamie let out a deep breath before answering. “China.”

The smile widened. “Bridgett?”

“The private plane, in which Jamie had been a passenger, crashed in Asia,” she said very formally.

That tone was starting to anger Erin, but nothing was going to sway her attention from her lover. “Jamie, those are not all coincidences. That would be totally impossible.”

Jane tightened her hand around Erin’s. Her heartbeat pounded in her ears when she let herself even consider the possibility. “Could we really have found each other again?” she asked in a heart aching whisper.

Erin closed her eyes, but couldn’t hold back the tears of joy. She was certain before, but hearing Jamie ask that question, clinched it in her heart. Jamie was more concerned with their connection than with her own identity. Their souls were back together…forever.

Once they re-opened, Jamie stared into the green eyes that stared back and she saw the depth of love that resided there. But was it for her or because of a mistaken identity? God, I want this to be true, she thought. I already love her…from the minute I laid eyes on her. Suddenly arms were around her neck and words were whispered in her ear.

“I love you. I missed you so much.” Erin pulled away and placed a small kiss on her lips. She put her forehead against Jamie’s. “God how could I have forgotten that kiss. I didn’t really…but I think…I know I was afraid to even consider…”

Jamie dropped her head back, the confusion still running rampant. She raised her fingers to rub her throbbing temples.

“Do you have a headache?” asked Erin.

“Yeah. I get them quite often.”

“We’ll be home soon. Then you can get some rest.”

* * * *

Jamie had fallen asleep and her head was back against the seat of Bridgett’s car. All the questions and the reasonable answers had been put aside for the moment.

Peace.

Quiet.

It was all relative. The peace she had found just two weeks before, in the form of a new friend, was now, at the same time doubled and torn apart. Even with all the revelations, a doubt was still lodged at the back of her brain as to her true identity. How would Erin react if somehow the joyous discovery turned out not to be true? What would happen to them then?

The quiet inside of the luxury car was a dichotomy to what was happening in her slumbering head, as a dream played out at the edge of her brain. She saw faceless figures, pacing nervously. She heard voices lifted in anger, but couldn’t make out any of the words being shouted. She knew she was one of the two people arguing, but her eyes wouldn’t see the other person. The discussion escalated and she turned and walked out. The frustration of the emotion she was feeling in the dream and the turmoil that her conscious mind was experiencing was overwhelming.

Jamie’s eyes flew open and she jerked from her sleep.

“It’s okay,” said Erin. “Everything’s okay, it was just a dream.” She raised the hand she was holding and placed a kiss on it. “But this isn’t.”

Jamie gave a halfhearted smile and nodded.

“What is it Sweetheart?” asked Erin. “Aren’t you happy about how things turned out? I thought you wanted…us…”

The timber in that voice broke Jamie’s heart. She pulled Erin tightly to her body. “Yes, I do want there to be an us. I just…even if it is true, how can I be Jamie Sheridan without her memories?”

Erin reached up and tapped the side of the dark head. “Jamie Sheridan wasn’t just in here. The essence of Jamie Sheridan came from here.” She laid her hand over the other woman’s heart. “And that hasn’t changed.”

They soon arrived at the ranch. Jamie craned her neck to see out the side window, as they went under the big sign proclaiming Sheridan Stables. They pulled up in front of the big, white house that didn’t look a bit familiar to the tall woman. Erin reluctantly let go of the hand she had clutched for the last two hours. She watched as Jamie got out of the car and slowly took in all of the surrounding sights. There wasn’t a flicker of recognition about anything, only bewilderment.

Jamie heard a dog bark and she turned to see a big golden retriever barreling off the front porch, heading straight for her. The dog stopped at her feet and waited patiently for her hellos. Jamie bent down and cautiously patted the furry head. The touch was cold and impersonal and the animal was very dismayed.

Erin walked over and stopped to their level. “This is Artemis. I think she was expecting a little different greeting.”

Jamie took in the big brown eyes that held a sad quality. “But it’s been six months. She still remembers…me?”

Erin pulled the dog’s face around and received several doggie kisses. “Of course she does. The two of you were great playmates,” she explained. “But she liked it when you played rough. It will just take her a little while to get used to you…being back…like this.”

Jamie cringed at her choice of words.

“I’m sorry,” said Erin. “I didn’t mean it like that, it just…”

She was stopped with a shake of a dark head. “No. It’s okay. I understand. And it will take a lot of getting used to…for all of us.” Jamie looked back to the dog and reached out with both hands, scratching behind both ears and the two wrestled for several seconds.

Erin watched with a huge smile as once again a tear made its way down her cheek. She soon broke up the playtime. “Okay you two.” She reached down and helped the tall woman to her feet. “Let’s go inside and I’ll show you around.”

Bridgett had busied herself taking in the luggage and processing the unusual turn of events. She had, on several occasions, leveled Jamie with a very chilly stare. And she hadn’t said a personal word to the stranger since they had gotten in the car.

Half an hour later she sat in the kitchen drinking tea that her sister had brought back from Ireland. Erin practically danced through the door and poured herself a flavorful cup.

“Where’s Jane?” asked Bridgett.

“Jamie is looking around up stairs to get herself acquainted. Then she said she was going to take a shower to relax a little. She has a lot of back problems.” Erin saw the red head nod. “You haven’t said much since you picked us up, Brig. What’s going on?”

“Don’t take this the wrong way, Sis, but I almost wish I hadn’t found that photograph.”

“Don’t say that!” Erin yelled with rage in her voice. The intensity soon dissipated when she realized that the situation had them all nervous and exhausted. “Bridgett, I will be forever grateful to you for that. But why?” she asked as almost an afterthought.

“Erin, I…I don’t want to see you hurt, the way you were in the last six months. Don’t you remember what happened to you? We almost lost you. I don’t want to see you slip back into that fantasy world by trying to turn this woman into Jamie.”

“She is Jamie!” Erin slammed the heavy mug down onto the counter top, the tea sloshing all over her hand. She turned away and took several deep, calming breaths. She certainly understood her sister’s concern, but she knew there was no way of convincing her or anyone else just why she was so certain that the woman upstairs was indeed Jamie Sheridan. The author finally took the seat next to Bridgett and took her hand. They had always had such a close relationship. Bridgett had always been so much more than just a big sister, she was a mentor, a listener…a best friend. “Bridgett, you have to trust me on this. It is the truth. I have a second chance to be with the person I love most in the world. And Jamie has a second chance to live. I know she loves me. I have her back.”

“I hope so Erin. I hope so.”

* * * *

Jamie came down the stairs just as Erin stepped in through the front door. The tall woman had spent the last few minutes just exploring the upstairs rooms. Although she had never lived in that house, she had visited it on many occasions and the house was full of their personal items, which she might have recognized under different circumstances. But it was still a strange experience. “Where is your sister?” she asked, taking a seat on the tan couch that had resided at the beach house.

“She had to get home,” Erin answered, taking the seat next to Jamie.

The inevitable tension of the situation was back in full force. Jamie felt like she was stuck in limbo again; afraid to go forward, unwilling to go back. Back before Ireland that is. The last two weeks of her life had been nearly perfect, but now she didn’t quite know what everyone was going to expect of her. And there was still that 1% doubt that she couldn’t shake.

“Jamie, what’s wrong?”

The blue eyes remained fixed to the dark carpeting at her bare feet. She shrugged a shoulder. “It’s just…not exactly…what I’d imagined, being here I mean.”

“I know this must be scary for you. But that’s what I’m here for, to help you through this and to help you get your life back. And this is your life, your dream.”

Jamie jumped up from the couch. “I…ahhh…need some water.” She pointed toward the back of the house. “The kitchen is through there you said?”

Erin nodded.

Jamie returned a few minutes later with the big yellow dog on her heels.

Attuned to the uneasiness floating around the room, Artemis stood between Erin and Jamie, who was just standing in the doorway. The dog’s tongue flopped out of one side of her mouth as she looked back and forth between her humans.

Erin could see the proverbial eggshells gathering on the floor as the minutes of silence slipped away. Finally she’d had enough. She stood slowly and approached Jamie, stopping only to give the dog some long overdue attention.

The tall woman sipped her glass of water as she watched the playful duo.

After a few minutes, Erin found herself actually tiptoeing across the room where her friend…lover…everything stood leaning against the doorframe. “I could go fix us something to eat,” she suggested. “Are you hungry?”

“No. Not right now. But you go on.”

Erin started to move toward the kitchen, but stopped near Jamie’s shoulder. “You still don’t believe it, do you?” she asked, staring at the wall across from her.

Jamie stepped over a few feet and set her glass down on a side table that held a small lamp and a pad and pen. “I believe everything that you said and I know for you it’s the absolute truth. But I just wish…”

“You think it’s all circumstantial and you want some solid physical proof.”

The dark head nodded sadly. “Yes. Without my memories, I need that proof, for both our sakes.”

“And if we can’t find anything and your memories don’t come back, you’ll never know if I love you or if I love you because I think you’re Jamie.”

There was no response, but the answer was loud and clear.

Erin turned down the hall and went on to the kitchen.

The situation had become far more difficult than it should ever have been. Finding herself had been the single most powerful desire the dark haired woman had known since she woke up in a hospital bed so many months ago. But this new revelation was a double-edged sword. Her desire to be with Erin had replaced her need to discover her identity. But suddenly she could have both. All I have to do is accept this. I can be Jamie Sheridan. She ran frustrated hands through her damp hair as her thoughts continued. Right up until the day I might remember who I really am. That would… A loud crash disrupted her musings. “Erin?” She jumped up and headed to the kitchen, running head on into the little blonde that came barreling down the hallway. “Are you all right?” she asked, taking the smaller woman by the shoulders and doing a visual inspection for injuries.

“I’m fine, I just dropped a pan.” Erin took the hand from her arm and pulled the taller woman into the living room. She turned to face her very seriously.

“Erin what’s going on?”

“I know where to find the proof you need.”

Jamie audibly swallowed and asked with a reserved, excitement, “Where?” Whichever way it turned out, she knew they could at least move on.

Erin took a deep breath. “Jamie had a birthmark. A small patch of raised skin in the shape of a crescent moon. It was on the inside of her right shoulder blade.” Before anything else could be said, she stepped behind the tall woman and took the hem of the white t-shirt in her hands. There was a hesitation and the dark head turned slightly. Erin looked up at the profile. “I need you to promise me that when I show you that the birthmark is there, you will, without a doubt, finally accept that you are Jamie Shea Sheridan.”

“I promise,” slipped through trembling lips.

Erin inched the material up, revealing the long, thin, pale scar running down the center of the otherwise perfect back. She would spend a lifetime trying to ease the pain associated with that injury, but the immediate question had to be answered as she reached the sight where the mark should be. One more lift and the mystery was solved. Erin leaned in. “Welcome home,” she whispered against the birthmark that she had traced with sensitive fingertips so many times before.

Jamie turned within the arms that suddenly encircled her. Their lips met in a thunderous kiss of desire, passion, love, relief and happiness. “I love you so much,” she said.

“And I missed you so much. Don’t ever leave me again. I love you.”

The minutes ticked away as they stood there holding one another. Their world was whole once again. Their love was a shining light that broke the darkness of solitude. And a future of hopes and dreams was back on its proper path.

A bark interrupted the cherished moment.

They both laughed, swearing they could see a smile on the golden canine’s face.

They brushed away the last of the joyful tears from each other’s face. “I’m hungry now,” said Jamie.

Erin’s voice dropped to its lowest possible range. “So am I,” she said with a suggestively wiggling eyebrow.

Jamie licked her lips and blushed. “I…um…meant for food.”

“Oh.”

One blue eye winked. “At least for now.”

Erin took her by the hand again and back to the kitchen they went. “Just so you know,” she said. “I don’t plan to let you out of my sight for…” She titled her head thinking of a number. “Forty or fifty years.”

“Sounds perfect to me.”

* * * *

Later that evening, Erin sat on the back porch watching Jamie riding Teegan around the corral. She’d asked for some time alone and Erin certainly understood, but she just couldn’t stay away. She’s here Erin. She’s not going to leave again. But if you don’t give her some space, you might just push her away. After her little mental scolding, Erin pulled the photo from her pocket. The smiling face was looking off to the right and Erin wondered what Jamie was seeing and thinking at that moment. She said a silent prayer that the photograph even existed given her partner’s aversion to cameras. Erin remembered back to the time when she found out why.

It was just three days after Christmas and Erin was sitting in front of the fireplace enjoying her peaceful life.

Jamie had just gotten home from her shift at the limo company and she had traced the smell of the hickory logs to the den. “Hi Sweetheart,” she said dropping down on the couch next to her blonde lover. They engaged in several wonderful kisses before Erin asked how her night went. Jamie gave the usual answer. She then noticed something clenched in Erin’s fist. “What have you got there?”

Erin smiled and let the chain dangle from her fingers. “Did I tell you how much I love this?” she asked.

The golden locket swayed, hypnotically before the blue eyes. “You’ve mentioned it once or twice.”

“I think it’s time we filled in at least two of these spaces,” said Erin. “I know a great photographer…” she stopped when Jamie left her side rather abruptly. “What’s wrong?”

“I just thought…we could wait until…I mean you can’t even…”

“See them?”

A sledgehammer hit Jamie in the stomach at her crass choice of words. She hurried back to the couch and pulled Erin into a hug, cursing the footprints on her tonsils. “Sweetheart, I am so sorry. That was very insensitive of me.” A hand caressed her cheek.

“I forgive you and I am willing to wait until I can see again…on one condition. Tell me why you hate having your picture taken.” She felt Jamie stiffen again. “What ever it is Honey, don’t be afraid of it anymore.” Erin curled her fingers around Jamie’s and waited.

With a small sigh and a shudder Jamie began the story. “I had been planning to runaway from my foster parents for a while. But I needed money. I told you about the counselors they sent me to. One was this man, in his forties I guess. Of course I never mentioned my plan to him, but one day he asked me if I would like to make some money. I realize now how stupid I was to even think about saying yes. But I did. He said he was a photographer and he was putting together a book. He asked me if I would model for him. I went to his house one Saturday, dressed like he had asked. He took some pictures in one room that he had turned into a studio. Then he said he wanted to take some more in a different room.”

When Jamie paused, Erin’s heart began beating against her ribs, afraid of what she was going to hear.

“Like an idiot, I followed him. There were a bunch of rugs and pillows thrown on the floor and a curtain was drawn across one wall, but I knew there was no window there. He took about three more pictures when the phone rang and he left to answer it. I started looking around and curiosity got the better of me. I pulled back that curtain and what I saw scared the hell out of me. The wall was covered with photos of girls around my age, some even younger. But they were all…naked. And they looked terrified.
I could only stand there imagining what horrendous things he had done to them. It was terrifying, but it was too much of a shock. I couldn’t even run. A few minutes later he walked back in and I tried, but it was like I was paralyzed. He said that if I told anyone what I saw he would kill me. He was in my face snarling at me and then I started to get angry. Suddenly we heard a siren coming down the street and he loosened his grip on my arms. I pulled away and kicked him where it hurt the most. Of course I never told the Matthews, not that they would have believed me. I ran away a few days later and I’ve never told anyone about that, until now. I’m an adult and it shouldn’t still bother me…but…””

“Oh Sweetheart, it doesn’t matter what your age; that was a very traumatic thing that happened to you. I’m glad you shared that with me and now that I understand, you don’t ever have to put a picture in here.”

“No! I won’t let him take away something you want, something I want to give you.” She fingered the golden locket. ” When I bought this, I thought I could handle it.”

“Like I said Sweetheart, I don’t ever want you to do anything that makes you uncomfortable.”

“But I want to do this. And now that I have told you, I think I can as long as you are there with me.”

“What are you thinking about?”

Erin jumped and the photo flew form her hand.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.” Jamie took the chair next to her and retrieved the photo.

“That’s all right. But I think I have to apologize.” Erin nodded back toward the barn. “I know you wanted to be alone, but…I just…I spent all those months not being able to see you and now that I can…” She actually blushed. “I’m making up for lost time.”

Jamie smiled and took her hand. “You don’t have to apologize. I never want to be that alone. And looking at the most beautiful woman in the world has certainly become my favorite pastime.”

They spent the next few minutes just sitting quietly side by side as the twilight landed over the ranch.

Jamie broke the silence a while later. “Erin, I need to ask you something.”

“Okay.”

“I…ummm…I overheard you talking to Bridgett in the kitchen, earlier.”

“Jamie we have the proof now, it’s…”

“No. That’s not what I’m talking about. I need to know…would you tell me what she was talking about when she said that they had almost lost you.” Even in the pale light, Jamie could see the blood drain from the author’s face. She quickly reached over and took both hands in hers. “What ever it is, it’s okay. If you can’t really talk about it I’ll understand. But I would really like to know. I need to know what you went through. We need to help each other.”

Erin lost herself in the compassionate blue eyes. She thought about the memory she had just had, about the courageous confession Jamie had made to her. Erin had to follow that example and share her story. Perhaps it would help them both heal or perhaps it wouldn’t, but whichever, it needed to be done. She nodded slowly.

Jamie gave her a small kiss on the cheek. “Thank you Sweetheart.”

“Before I do this, you have to promise me that you won’t feel guilty. You had no control over what happened.”

Now Jamie was really scared about what she was going to hear, but it wasn’t going to stop her. They would face the truth and their fears together. “Okay, I promise.”

“I couldn’t face your death. I couldn’t accept it. I moved out here from the beach and fell into a total fantasy world. A world where you were still alive, you were just on an extended trip. I even carried on imaginary phone conversations with you. But that world crumbled on what was supposed to be our wedding day.

Bridgett and her mother had tried to keep her occupied, offering to take a trip, inviting her for a day of shopping, etc…but Erin wouldn’t go for any of it. She had a wedding to prepare for. She woke up the sunny morning of April 14th and went about caring for the horses and Artemis as usual. She was all alone on the sixty-acre ranch, having given the two employees the day off.

After lunch she had showered and put on the dress Jamie had gotten her for Christmas. She fussed with her hair and added the just right touch of make-up. She had to be beautiful for her soon to be spouse. A bouquet of expensive orchids had been delivered to the house that morning and she carefully took them from the packaging. Erin inhaled their scent and gently fingered the delicate petals. She smiled brightly at the two tiered wedding cake decorated with purple and yellow flowers that sat in the center of the table, surrounded by dozens of plates and silverware. Erin giggled and looked around to make sure that no one was peaking in on her. She swiped the tip of her finger across a small area of white icing and gave it an experimental lick. “Mmmm, that’s’ good,” she said to the empty room. Her smile took on a slightly evil quality as she pictured Jamie with cake smeared all over her mouth and then getting to lick it off. “I can’t wait to feed my wife this delectable desert.” Erin took one last look around and smoothed out her dress. “I think that’s everything,” she said. “Let’s go Artemis, she’s waiting for us.”

The dog happily followed her human to the barn. Erin carefully stepped through the stable, stopping to say hello to Teegan and Simeron on the way.

The electric golf cart bounced across the field for almost half a mile before coming to a stop. Erin got out and straightened her dress again. She grabbed the flowers from the seat beside her and turned, expecting to see her beautiful lover waiting for her. “Jamie, where are you? I know you like to play games, but can’t we wait until the honeymoon.” Erin moved toward the small grove of trees. “I know where you are.” She giggled. “You can’t hide from…” Erin stopped suddenly when she came around behind one of the old oaks. There was the gray, stone marker carved with the simple words,
Jamie Shea Sheridan

April 11, 1971 – January 7, 2001

Beloved partner and friend
Erin looked down at her fancy dress and her stomach wretched. She fought to keep the stinging bile from seeing the light of day. She tossed down the flowers in her hand, the flowers she herself had ordered the day before, but that she had not remembered doing so until that moment. “Oh God!” she whispered sickly. ” What am I doing?” Erin dropped to her knees and her face soon became drenched with tears as the pain of Jamie’s death hit her like a speeding train. She sat there for just a few seconds with her arms clutching her burning insides. She rocked back and forth, hating herself, hating the world…hating Jamie. “I can’t do this! I can’t do this again!”

Erin jumped up and started running. It didn’t take long for her high heels to get caught in the soft earth and she went tumbling, her right hand landing on a stick puncturing the fleshy part of her palm just below her thumb. That pain didn’t even register as she brought her hand up and watched the blood drizzle down her arm.

Erin kicked off her shoes after the minor distraction and she took off again. Her hose lasted just seconds as the scratchy grass and hard clumps of dirt ate through them.

The sun began to set, taking with it the heat of the day. No matter how hard she tried, Erin couldn’t out run the intense pain. She knew Jamie would never again be by her side, never hold her hand and she would never feel the warmth and safety as she slept in her lover’s arms all night long. All those things filtered through her mind as her feet hit the ground carrying her through the maze of trees, but no closer to home.

Suddenly a lake came into sight. Erin stopped. Her heart beat against her ribs, but that was not it’s greatest hurt. Her lungs felt seared as they worked triple time taking in the oxygen. Every square inch of her body and soul was wracked with unbelievable pain and she just wanted it to end…she just wanted oblivion.

Her aching and bleeding feet took one step after the other down the grassy embankment. Erin pushed aside the tall cattails and moved forward as the water rose to her hips…to her chest…to her neck. One final step took her beneath the water line and she sank easily into the depths. The cool liquid cradled her body as the darkness enveloped her soul.

Artemis had finally tracked down her human, but her scent stopped at the shore. The dog barked and barked, edging closer. Just as she was about to jump into the water a blonde head broke the surface. Frantic hands waved and splashed, fighting to stay alive. Erin’s fingers scratched and clawed against the muddy bank and she managed to just keep her head out of the water. Just as exhaustion was about to pull Erin back into the murkiness, the dog chomped down on the collar of her dress and planted four paws in the mud. Artemis held tight until Erin regained enough energy to crawl completely out of the water, where she collapsed into unconsciousness.

Erin awoke to total darkness, but she knew she was still alive. Warm doggie breath assailed the side of her face and a long rough tongue soon followed. “I’m okay Arte, I’m okay.” Erin tuned on her back and the soft twinkles high above caught her attention. Soon she began to shiver as the chilled mountain air began skimming over her damp body. Artemis began barking, drawing Erin’s gaze. The dog ran over to the tree line and stopped, she looked back begging her human to follow.

Erin knew she was in danger of freezing to death, not so much from the temperature itself, but from a combination of the wet clothing and the condition her body was in. She managed to pull herself to her hands and knees and slowly crawled into the brush. She scooted in under a high bush and pulled her aching body into a fetal position. Artemis instinctively stretched out beside Erin, protecting her from the cold and from the night. Several totally absurd thoughts passed through her mind as sleep invaded her confused world.

Erin spent the most miserable night of her life, after having had the second most miserable day of her life. She awoke the next morning feeling numb. But as she trudged back to the spot where it all began, every ache and pain, coupled with every breath made her aware of life. She wasn’t quite sure what had saved her from drowning in that lake, but she was happy that it had.

Erin slowly approached the tombstone. She knelt down, ignoring the hurt and placed the discarded flowers on top of the stone marker. She smiled sadly. “I love you Jamie. And I will see you again…someday.” She placed a kiss upon her fingertips and touched the name one last time.

Erin looked up and saw tears pooling in her lover’s eyes. “I started seeing a grief counselor and slowly my life regained some semblance of order. After much soul searching, I finally came to the conclusion that I didn’t want to die that way…because I didn’t want you to hate me for giving up.”

“God Erin, I…” Jamie’s voice always became very scratchy when she very emotional.

“You promised,” Erin reminded her.

“I know. It’s not guilt, I just can’t stand the thought of you hurting so much, almost…”

“But I didn’t. And you didn’t. We both went through six months of hell, but that’s all over now. We’re here, together. Right now that’s all that’s important.”

* * * *

After watching half of, what Jamie was informed was one of their favorite movies, the dark haired woman noticed Erin yawning. “I guess you need to get some sleep.”

“You’re not sleepy?” Erin asked.

Jamie’s trembling hands gave away her answer. “I’m not sure.” She chuckled. “Boy that sounded silly didn’t it? If I don’t know, who would?”

She followed Erin up the stairs and into their room.

Erin went to turn down the bed. “You can have the bathroom first,” she said.

Without even thinking, Jamie pulled out the exact dresser drawer that had always held her clothes. Erin had unpacked for her earlier and put her things away in the same drawer.

Erin watched with a smile, but said nothing. She knew they were in for some difficult times, but like they had always promised each other, they would do it together.

Jamie returned from washing the layer of corral dust from her skin and hair. Erin was already in the bed with her eyes closed and Jamie hesitated for just a second. The easy banter that they had fallen into over dinner was now replaced by a strange insecurity.

Green eyes drifted open and took in the tall figure.

Jamie looked away from those eyes and sat down with her back to Erin. “I…uh…I don’t…” She shook her head. “We’ve been sleeping in the same bed for the last five nights, but suddenly it’s a little awkward.” She pulled the covers back and slid her long legs under as her head came to rest on the pillow.

“Jamie, we slept in the same bed for almost five months,” Erin reminded her.

“But I don’t remember any of that.” Jamie took a breath. “Were we this shy with each other at the beginning?”

The author laughed. “No. Shyness was never a problem with us. There were other things to overcome…but let’s talk about that some other time.” She turned on her side and folded her arm under her head. The strong profile beside her soon turned to face her. Erin cautiously lifted her hand and rubbed the arm closet to her. “Jamie, I don’t expect anything from you that you aren’t ready to give. But there is something I would like to do, if you feel comfortable.”

“Okay, what is it?”

Erin scooted closer and placed her head against her favorite shoulder and cuddled against the long body. “Is this all right?”

Jamie closed her eyes as her arm snaked around to return the caress. “This is wonderful.”

“This was always my favorite time of day, just to be close to you and feel your warmth.” Erin inhaled deeply. “Smell your clean, fresh scent and hear your heartbeat.”

“I’m guessing it was on my list of favorites too,” Jamie said with a soft smile. She traced Erin’s arm with her fingertips, relaxing them both.

The blonde snuggled in a little more. “I won’t rush you into a physical relationship. It has to be awkward not remembering being with anyone in the past.”

Jamie stared at the dark ceiling as a memory did come to her. “Erin?”

“Mmmm?”

“I don’t want to hurt you. But I don’t want there to be any secrets between us either. It didn’t really matter before, but now…you need to know.”

The green eyes opened, but she didn’t move. “It’s okay, Jamie. Whatever it is, you can tell me.”

“There was a nurse at the center, the one I mentioned several times. Well, we became good friends. I hadn’t really given any thought to that part of my life until… I mean…” Jamie let out a frustrated sigh. “About two weeks before I left, Lia was helping me with my physical therapy. Afterward, she decided I needed to do something fun. We went to a small lake that was near by and went for a boat ride. I actually managed to have a nice time and I think I may have even smiled once. Then we went to her apartment for coffee and one thing led to another and I…spent the night. It only happened that one time,” she rushed to say. “I mean I felt like I was betraying someone…and I…and I was. I’m really sorry Erin.” A small hand landed on her chest and rubbed soothingly.

Erin finally looked up with a gentle, loving expression. “Sweetheart, I’m not mad. How could I be? In fact I guess I have to thank her for allowing you to make that discovery about yourself. As long as she respected you and treated you with tenderness.”

Jamie nodded.

“But I am glad you told me.”

Jamie breathed a sigh of relief. “Me too.”

Erin listened to that heart beating. She just couldn’t wipe the smile form her face and the happiness from her soul. “This is all just so incredible,” she whispered against the red shirt beneath her head. “Thank you for coming back to me.”

“We both need to thank what ever or who ever made this happen.”

Erin’s eyes had drifted shut as she said that silent thank you. “Once you get your memory back, every thing will be perfect,” she mumbled to Jamie.

A few seconds passed before the dark haired woman had another thought. “Are you still awake?” she asked quietly.

“Yeah.”

“You don’t have to thank Lia for anything.”

“What do you mean?”

“Even if I had had no clue what so ever about my orientation, I would have known the minute I laid eyes on you. Because I truly fell in love with you at first sight. I love you Erin.”

The author’s bright smile broke through the darkness like a beacon. She caressed the side of Jamie’s face and leaned in for a lengthy and passionate kiss. “I love you, Jamie Sheridan.”
Chapter 12
A face twitched as the sun’s rays reached through the sheer curtain, disturbing sleeping eyes. The body turned away from the intruder, but the other senses teamed up to awaken the slumbering woman. A songbird serenaded from the tree just outside the window and goose bumps were raised along the uncovered arm as the air conditioning popped on. But by far the strongest sensation was the heavenly smell of coffee.

Hands reached up to rub tired blue eyes. The long body stretched, feeling no pain for once. That brought a little smile to the face that bore sheet marks across the right cheek. Jamie tested her muscles again, with a slight twist and was still pleased with the results. That movement brought her around to face the clock where she jerked in surprise. Ten thirty blinked at her and she blinked back making a quick mental calculation. “Eleven hours,” she said to the empty room as her head fell back into the pillow. She had slept for eleven peaceful hours.

The space next to her was cold, she realized when her hand drifted over. Erin must have gotten up a long time ago. Jamie knew the long flight, coupled with the emotional turmoil of the previous day had led to her extended sleep time. But it was a new day and a new life other than the one, which just two days ago, she had expected to be living. But just the thought of that beautiful, green-eyed face brought a smile to hers. I guess it’s time to go down there and find out who Jamie Sheridan is…was. Whatever I find out, I know who I will be.

Erin flipped the last fluffy pancake over onto the stack already nine cakes tall. She turned off the griddle and reached for another plate for the perfect slices of crispy bacon. She whistled happily as she finished at the stove and set the plates onto the table

Jamie came down the back stairs just as Erin was pouring the orange juice.

“Perfect timing. Good morning Sweetheart,” said Erin, giving Jamie a quick kiss. “I hope you’re hungry. It’s the first time in a long time that I felt like cooking and my skills might be a little rusty.”

Jamie silently took a seat at the round table, but made no move toward the food. She watched as the stream of hot, dark liquid was poured into her cup.

Erin poured her own coffee and sat down with a slight hesitation. “What’s wrong?” she asked. “Don’t you like pancakes?”

Jamie met the concerned green eyes. “No…I mean yes. It smells wonderful.” She confirmed it with a smile. “It’s true isn’t it?” she asked wondrously. “I woke up feeling great, but then as I was getting dressed, I had this horrible sensation that it was all a dream. But it wasn’t?” She asked for one last confirmation.

Erin grabbed the long fingered hand. “No Sweetheart, it’s not a dream. You are here Jamie, with me.”

After a few giddy giggles they dove into the delicious breakfast. Halfway through the meal, Jamie’s curiosity had reached its peak; she just couldn’t wait any longer. “Erin, I’m going to be asking you a lot of questions about…me. I know you won’t be able to answer a lot of them, but I do need to ask.”

“I understand, Honey. What do you want to know first?”

“Okay.” Jamie nervously twirled the fork between her fingers. “Where are my parents?” When she saw Erin look away, a sinking feeling hit her gut.

Erin looked back with a compassionate expression. “I’m sorry, Sweetheart. Your parents died when you were ten.”

No tears fell from the blue eyes. She couldn’t exactly mourn what she didn’t know. A blank look just fell across her features.
“I guess that explains why no one came looking for me,” she said quietly.

Now it was Erin’s turn to be hit. She swallowed the food around the lump that had suddenly formed in her throat. She just sat there for a long time, staring at the almost empty plate, unable to meet her partner’s gaze. “You’re hurt because I didn’t come after you, aren’t you?” Without even waiting for an answer, Erin threw her napkin down in disgust and jumped up from the table.

Not sure just what had occurred, Jamie jumped up and followed her to the back porch. She could tell Erin was crying and she pulled her into her arms. “Don’t cry please. I’m not mad at you. I didn’t mean it that way.”

The smaller woman sobbed. “I should have. I should have found you, been by your side to help you through all that pain.”

“But you thought…”

“No!” Erin pulled away. “No, I didn’t want to believe it. And I didn’t. When they said they couldn’t find your body…a part of me just knew you were still alive. But then when I lost touch with reality and I was afraid for my sanity and…I finally had to accept it.” She sighed and closed her eyes. “But even then I just couldn’t let go of that last bare thread. In Ireland, I should have known…I should have, especially after we kissed. How could I not have known?” She finally opened tearful eyes. “I’m sorry.”

“There is no need for you to be sorry.” Jamie drew Erin back into her arms again and soothed her trembles. “I am just so glad that we found each other again. Everything has turned out okay. And I’m so sorry that you had to go through that pain. But I’m also glad that you were willing to go on with your life.” She took Erin’s face between her hands. “Because that is what I would want.”

They kissed through salty tears.

“I don’t want to talk about that now,” said Erin. “Because we will be together.” Another kiss. “…until we are very old.” Kiss. “…very gray.” Kiss. “And very wrinkled.” A final kiss. “Nothing would ever dare separate us again.”

Jamie smiled down hoping to illicit a similar response. She got her wish. They went back into the house still holding onto one another. “I guess I was an only child then huh?” she asked absently. The body beside her sighed heavily. “Okay, I think that’s all the questions I’ll ask for today,” Jamie said with just a touch of humor. A hand softly landed on her stomach.

“No Jamie, you have to know. I just…it just hurts to be the one to have tell you these painful things.”

The dark head nodded.

“You had an identical twin sister. Her name was Jordan. But she died when she was five.”

Jamie silently absorbed that fact as they finished the meal. Once done, she took the breakfast dishes and began putting the left over food into the disposal. Erin gathered the other utensils and brought them to the sink. They stood elbow to elbow performing the morning chore as Erin continued.

“You were born in Missouri. Your birthday is April the eleventh. That makes you thirty now. Your parents were Michael and Amy. You loved them very much and had a very happy and normal childhood. You fell in love with horses when…”

* * * *

Erin knew it would be a few days before Jamie could even begin to feel like she belonged there. She thought that Jamie should learn about herself just a little at a time so she wouldn’t become overwhelmed. And the tall woman agreed. That included meeting Erin’s family. The blonde had asked her sister not to say anything to anyone except to her husband Brad, about Jamie’s return. That was her responsibility. That topic came up the next day as they were riding around the property, trying as always to find any little thing to jog Jamie’s memory.

“I agree that I should take it slow,” said Jamie. “But I really think we should get together with your family, soon.”

“They’re your family too Jamie.”

The blue eyes scanned the landscape ahead as she thought about that. “Yeah, I guess they are.”

Erin smiled. “But I want you to be sure. Who knows, maybe you will remember something about them when you see them.”

“I know I don’t want to hide away. Besides, if the rest of your family is anything like your grandmother…” Jamie smiled fondly. “…I think it’ll be just fine.”

“Well, nobody is like her, but Mom is great. But you’ll find that out for yourself. Okay, how about we do this? You made your doctor’s appointment for Friday morning right?”

“Yeah.”

“So while you are there, I’ll go and tell my parents in person. Then I’ll have everyone come over to Mom and Dad’s house and you and I can go back there Friday afternoon.” Erin also had a very special plan for the weekend that involved their beach house. But she was going to keep that part a secret.

* * * *

Over the next couple of days Jamie spent the time getting to know the ranch hands and just coming to terms with the idea that she owned everything within sight. Well, Erin actually owned it, but she had promised that she would add Jamie’s name to the deed just as soon as the legal aspects were cleared. Their lawyer advised them that they would need at least three notarized affidavits attesting to Jamie’s true identity before any other legal documents could be signed. Those would be taken care of as soon as the rest of the family was informed of her return.

* * * *

Jamie reached into the box, sitting on her desk, and pulled out another stack of notes written in her own handwriting. Erin had saved the small pieces of paper, the charts, the graphs and the pages that Jamie had printed from the Internet. Even though the counselor had encouraged Erin to do so, she couldn’t throw out any of Jamie’s possessions.

As Jamie read over the written notes, everything made logical sense, but there was still nothing familiar about the specific ideas. They were thoughts and plans she had had for the ranch and things she had wanted to accomplish. Well, at least I know what to work on now, she thought.

She took a sip of the lukewarm coffee, promising herself to go and get more just as soon as she looked at the next piece of paper, but then it became the next one…and then the next…and then…

She hadn’t wanted to bother Erin, because she knew the blonde was in her upstairs office working on her book. Erin had been spending every minute with Jamie, trying to bring back what was lost. But Jamie was glad that her companion had finally taken some time for herself. She wanted to be supportive. And she was proud of Erin’s accomplishments.

The tall woman got up and stretched her stiff muscles. She had learned that even small movements during times of inactivity would lessen the pain in her back. She had also realized that the tension she had been feeling about her lost identity had added a lot to her discomfort. Since she had been home with Erin though, she had been able to cut back on the amount of medication she had been taking. Jamie smiled as she stood at the window thinking. And Erin’s massages certainly have been helping too. The insistent blonde had been administering her healing touches several times a day. Between Erin’s hands and her lips, Jamie was being well taken care of.

But the frequent and sometimes sensual touches hadn’t gone any farther. Erin always eased off when she heard Jamie’s breathing increase and felt her skin warming up. Jamie knew there was no lack of desire for either of them and she had come to the conclusion that Erin was waiting for her to initiate more intimate contact.

And why hadn’t she?

Back in Ireland, the desire had almost overtaken her on several occasions. And now that she knew she was Erin’s lost lover there shouldn’t be anything standing in their way. But maybe that was it. Lost was the operative word. Erin had memories of the two of them making love, of all those very special times they had shared in passion. Jamie didn’t. Maybe she was afraid of disappointing Erin. Except for the one night Jamie had stayed with Lia, for all intents and purposes she had no other sexual experience. And even then she had mostly been on the receiving end.

Jamie went back to the desk and stood over the box of notes, her heart and her mind still wrestling over the apprehension of making love with Erin. She shuffled through the stack of papers and her hand brushed against a piece of satiny material tied around a cylindrical object. She pulled it out and her brow furrowed. “What in the world?” She gave a small tug on the red ribbon and it tumbled to the desk. The rolled up papers opened in her hand. Each of the four tan colored sheets had several lines of unevenly spaced printing on their textured surfaces. Since they were among her possessions, Jamie assumed that they belonged to her so she proceeded to read them. The first one was untitled.

There was a time, my whole life in fact

When a voice whispered in my ear

Not a name or a place or any words

But the feeling was very clear

Someone waited to fill my heart with love

My spirit with joy

To set my passions aflame

I bided my time, existing just well

Until the moment you came

In a burst of time, an explosion of light

I knew it had arrived

My time to be complete again

My time to be alive

You are my love

You are my heart

My joy, my very soul

Together we are

Together we move

Together we will be

I once was half, but now am whole

Since you, I became we

And the simple word everything

That’s what you are to me

She moved on to the next one entitled, ‘I See’.

I see, not with eyes, the smile upon your face,

The visions blue

Skin so bronze

And hair of silky night

Your hand in mine illuminates my darkened way

And banishes the fright

You give me hope

Fulfill my dreams

Bring the rainbows to my eyes

I see the world within your voice

That whispers in my ear

Jamie paused in her reading. “Erin must have written these…to me,” she said, easing her body down into the black leather chair. After another moment to let that thought sink in, she read on.

I see your love

I see your strength lying beneath a tear

I close my eyes the day is through

And in a beautiful, magical dream

That’s where I see you

Jamie smiled as she traced the slightly crooked letters. “I wish I could hear you read these out loud. You are a romantic Erin Casey. But that’s always been obvious from the first time we met.” She slipped that sheet of paper to the back of the stack and started one called Summer Night.

A summer’s night

Dreams on wings

A laugh, a butterfly

A song of love

A lilac breeze

Together you and I

A sunset shared, one from the heart, the other from sight

That’s how it was one summer’s night

When first we met, but then again no

We have been since long ago

The twilight saw you leave

From my side you did depart

A gentle touch, a soothing voice was imprinted on my heart

The beginning of forever

I knew that it was true

My longtime prayer was answered

In the beautiful form of you

Step by step on a rocky path

We stumbled, but never fell

Love was there to guide us

Hand in hand

Heart to heart

Leading us to a future bright

And it all began on a simple summer night

Jamie could feel the true love, the pure emotion that had been pored into each and every word. She had no doubt that Erin loved her. But the poems, the carefully chosen words written by an unseeing hand spoke to her in glaring tones as to the depth their love had reached and in a heartbeat quelled her lingering fears.

The blue eyes drifted down to the last one of the bundle. They widened a little bit more as she scanned each new part. She reached up to feel suddenly dry lips as the internal heat ruddied her face. Those words, while still written with the greatest of love, dripped with sheer sensuality and the erotic syllables painted an all to vivid picture. Her tongue snaked out to lick those parched lips as she whispered the last few sentences, which seemed to be the tamest.

Touching you is

Brazen

A sultry spark of skin on skin

And nerves alight with fire

Kissing you is

Spicy

A taste of lips leads deeper still

The dewy heat of a panting breath sends the fire higher

Loving you is

Ecstasy

A rhythm found by thrusting hearts

Probes the deepest recesses of the soul

You carry me on gentle wings

To heights otherwise unknown

Then cradle me with whispered words

And I know that I’ve found home

* * * *

That evening Jamie walked into the bedroom to find Erin standing at the corner window. The blonde had one hand flat against the glass pane, her index finger absently rubbing against the smooth surface. Her head was leaning against the window frame and her gaze gently flicked from one twinkling star to the next.

Her profiled expression seemed content to the dark haired woman, who stayed just inside the doorway studying the quiet author. She watched as the breeze, from another opened window, ruffled the sheer, aqua colored robe Erin had draped around her shoulders. The flowing material revealed the shapely, moonlit silhouette of the petite woman to interested eyes. Jamie’s heartbeat increased as she stood their admiring and her thoughts murmured the words of the poems she had found earlier.

A small sigh from across the room nearly broke her heart. Jamie quickly pushed away from the door casing and her bare feet shuffled across the tan carpeting. She slipped her arms around the smaller woman, grinning as she felt the body snuggle back into her. Jamie rooted through the shaggy blonde hair until she found a delicate ear. “I love you,” she whispered. Jamie felt the smile that appeared on her lover’s face.

Her thumbs began to rub over the soft, flat surface under her hands. The fluttering she felt mirrored her own. Her long fingers moved down and around to caress the slightly flared hips as her lips found purchase on the strong tendon of the neck that was suddenly exposed to her attentions. When Jamie’s teeth joined the fray, she heard a sharp gasp of air pulled in through clenched teeth.

Erin suddenly turned to face her tall lover. One look at the adoring features and the eyes glowing with desire was all it took. She reached up and pulled Jamie’s face to hers. The firey kiss that ensued singed sweetly as they drew air from one another’s lungs and quickly passed it back. Their bodies were crushed so closely that not a drop of water could have slipped between them. But the steam created by their passion settled in a dewy harvest in spots yet uncovered.

Jamie slipped the wispy material from Erin’s shoulders as her swollen lips kept finding new and interesting tastes and textures. She pulled back just a touch, only to breathe and to make a husky request. “Show me how to love you. Tell me what you like. Where do like to be t…”

“Shhh. Your body knows.” Erin panted, sending her warm breath against her own fingers and the lips she hushed. “Don’t think, just feel.”

The silk that had covered Erin’s body was soon gone and immediately joined by jeans and a denim shirt in a pile on the floor. The soft sheets felt cool against damp, heated skin as two bodies, lost in time, began moving in the night.

“You are so beautiful,” Jamie whispered. After many soft, languishing kisses, Jamie’s long digits began dancing in the field of gold, testing the waters, while her lips and tongue slowly savored every inch of skin that she could reach. The enjoyable sounds she coaxed from her lover did strike a cord in the hidden part of her memory. Her nerve endings did somehow recall the textures of velvet and satin, the mounds and valleys that liked to be lightly stroked or heavily teased. It all worked together bringing her partner the greatest physical joy any human could know. When Jamie heard her name screamed at the pinnacle of Erin’s excitement, she knew that her body had finally joined her heart in coming home.

Erin flipped their entwined bodies and wasted no time in getting re-acquainted with the length of muscle and skin beneath her. Jamie’s unique scent of arousal wafted into her senses urging deeper caresses and many, many more kisses to spots long missed. The green eyes watched, with rapt attention, every twitch and flutter that came from the beautiful body she touched. Even though they had made love many times, she never had the absolute pleasure of watching Jamie, as she loved her. The sight was utterly incredible and it brought tears to those eyes as she whispered, “I love you.”

The sounds of love harmonized as the impassioned souls climbed again together, each second of touches pushing them closer to the edge. They wore each other’s skin, their hearts beat in the other’s chest and they crawled inside the other’s soul. Then with one more breath and a final touch, an explosive instant sent them both falling into each other’s arms; the safest place on earth.

For Jamie it was their first time. And for Erin, the first time all over again.

* * * *

The dark haired woman waved Erin down as the blue SUV turned the corner in front of the professional building in downtown LA.

“Hi Sweetheart,” said the blonde as Jamie got in the car. She received a kiss to her cheek. “What did the doctor say?” she asked, easing back into the heavy traffic. “Did you like him? I know this was your first appointment with him, but I want you to have the best, so if he’s not competent or if he’s rude we’ll find someone better.” When she didn’t get a response by the next red light, Erin turned to see a huge grin staring at her. “What?”

“It feels so good to have someone care about me this much. I love you.”

Erin had to put her attention back to the road when the car behind them honked. “I love you too. And I care more than I could ever put into words. So what did he say?”

“He said that I’m doing better then I should be. But that’s what Doctor Kim said too. That’s the only reason he released me when he did.”

“I’m certainly glad to hear that. But,” Erin said with a half hidden smile. “…that’s not the only reason. He had a little help from…someone in that decision.” Erin once again thanked whatever force had brought them together. “Is there any other physical therapy that you can take to strengthen your back?”

Jamie let out a slightly disappointed breath. “It will never be a hundred percent. And right now it’s just about as good as it’s going to get. But he did say that I could start a light exercise program at home. I just need to get some equipment.”

Erin pulled onto the highway, heading for her parents house in Brentwood. “You’ve already got the equipment. It’s back home in the garage. You were very much into physical fitness when we met and of course you brought it with you when you moved in. I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of them either.”

Jamie squeezed Erin’s leg in acknowledgement. “Guess I’m all set then. How did it go with your family this morning?”

* * * *

At Erin’s childhood home, Danielle bandied about the kitchen helping the cook prepare the welcome home dinner for Jamie. Her joyful tears had flowed for hours at the news of her other daughter’s return and at the utter joy she had witnessed on Erin’s face.

This was indeed a very special occasion and she was determined to make it happy and peaceful. That task had brought her to the large study and to the only person who could ruin the evening’s celebration.

She walked in to find him at his usual place, behind the big cluttered desk. He hardly heard her approach as he clattered away at his keyboard. Casey’s reaction to his daughter’s news had been one of silent shock, but the look in his gray eyes did not escape his wife’s attention. Nor their daughter’s, Danielle had suspected.

“Timothy.”

“Yes Dear,” he responded without looking up from the computer screen.

“I would like to talk with you about tonight.”

His typing stopped mid-word. “What about it?” he asked with a clenched jaw.

“Would you please look at me?”

His bearded face turned to her and he sat back, drumming his fingers on the armrest of his chair.

“Tim, I know you still aren’t accepting of this. But everyone else in this family is. I love Jamie and I am very happy that she has come back to us. I do want you to be there, to support your daughter if nothing else, but I am asking you to keep your expression neutral and your comments to yourself. Or you will lose Erin for good. I suspect this is your last chance.”

His response was to turn his chair to the wall. Her response was to walk out the door, hoping she had made him understand.

Within the hour Bridgett arrived with her family. The children clamored all around their grandparents, whom they loved immensely. Caitlin had to show grandma her new doll and Conner was so proud of his new baseball glove. He had saved up his allowance and had paid for it all by himself, he boasted.

They soon asked grandpa to take them to the back yard to see the fish in the koi pond. And when Tim had seen his daughter’s car pulling up the long drive, he was more then happy to do so.

****

Erin turned off the motor and looked over to see Jamie staring in awe at the huge mansion.

“You grew up here?” asked the dark haired woman.

The blonde leaned against the steering wheel and peered out to share Jamie’s view. “Yeah. But this is so not my style. It’s just so pretentious. It was always like living in a museum. You okay with this?” she asked after a pause.

Jamie finally pulled her gaze from the window and smiled nervously. “Yeah.”

Erin walked right in through the front door, knowing that it was going to be unlocked. She took Jamie by the hand and led her down the long, quiet corridor and then down a shorter hall. The big double doors to the family room were standing open and they could hear the chatter going on inside. She felt the hand begin to tremble and pulled Jamie aside before going in. “I know this is a little difficult for you,” she said. “But I promise you that everyone in that room loves you.” She cocked her head with a little frown. “Well except my father. But that has nothing to do with you,” she was quick to assure. “His problem is with me. He can’t get passed the idea that I’m gay. But just ignore him. Everyone else in there loves you. But not as much as me.” Erin reached up and kissed Jamie, passing on her strength. “I’ll be right by your side all night. If you need a break just let me know.” After receiving an affirmative nod, she continued on.

Erin stepped in first, knocking lightly on the door to announce their presence. Her eyes quickly scanned the room and she breathed a sigh of relief when her father was nowhere in sight. “We’re here.”

Jamie stepped in behind her sporting a timid, but brave smile.

Bridgett was the closest to them so she came up first. Erin let go of her hand so the dark haired woman could return the hug.

“I really am glad you’re back Jamie,” said the red head. “And I’m sorry for how I acted the other day. I was just…worried about Erin. She’s just so important to me and I didn’t want to see her hurt again.”

“I understand. She’s really lucky to have a sister like you.”

“And I am really lucky to have two sisters.” Bridgett pulled both of them into a hug.

“You know,” Erin said to Jamie. “Bridgett introduced us to each other last June. And I’m not sure if we ever properly thanked her.”

Bridgett put on her teasing face. “Well if you insist. I’m sure I can think of some way for you to thank me. Say maybe two karats set in white gold. I’m not all that hard to please.”

“I could beg to differ,” said the tall, brown haired man who stepped up behind Bridgett. “But I won’t if I know what’s good for me.”

Erin introduced the handsome man to Jamie. “This is Bridgett’s husband, Brad.”

He smiled charmingly. “It’s good to see you again Jamie. Welcome back”

She nodded slightly. “Thank you.”

The couple moved aside to allow Danielle her turn. She silently walked up to the dark haired woman and cautiously caressed the side of her face. The other shaking hand went to her own mouth.

Jamie was a little confused by the reaction, but a reassuring hand on her arm let her know everything was all right.

“I’m almost afraid to say anything,” Danielle whispered. “I’m afraid I’ll start crying again.”

Erin cleared her tightened throat. “It’s okay Mom. Go on and cry. God knows we have.”

Danielle opened the floodgates and then had everyone in the room shedding a tear as she hugged Jamie to her. “I thank God that you have come home to us Dear. I love you. My family is once again complete,” she said, now including Erin in the embrace.

The highly emotional scene was allowed to ease off as Danielle went to check on dinner and the Nelsons slipped away to check on their children.

Jamie took a deep breath and moved across the room to stand by the window. They really do love me. It’s so odd to hear that from people you’ve just met. But I don’t love them…yet. I care about them because they are Erin’s family, but that’s all. She paused to watch a ladybug crawling up the outside of the window glass. I’m sure…no I know that I will come to love them, even if I never remember them. She felt two familiar arms ease around her from behind. She genuinely smiled as the hands rubbed across her stomach and the soft cheek pressed into her back. “I love you Erin. Thank you for giving me a family.” Through her thin shirt, she sensed the warm exhaled breath and could just picture the smile she knew was there. Jamie pulled her lover around to face her and there it was. She didn’t need to hear the words. The message was loud and clear in those spring green eyes. But when those perfect lips formed the words, her heart nearly burst with happiness.

Arm in arm they walked over toward the couch. The doors leading to the patio suddenly burst open and in trotted the little curly headed four year old. She spotted Jamie and ran up to her, stopping about a foot in front of her. She waited for only a few seconds, hours to a child, before she thrust her tiny arms out to the side and exclaimed. “Aren’t you going to pick me up and spin me around like you always do, Aunt Jamie?”

Erin knelt down to the child’s level. “Caitlin. Sweetie, Aunt Jamie has a very big owie on her back and it would really hurt her to pick you up right now. You don’t want to hurt her do you?” The little blonde head shook from side to side. “You’re a good girl,” praised Erin.

Jamie quickly took a seat on the sofa. “Come here…Caitlin.” She was thankful that Erin had inconspicuously reminded her of the child’s name.

The little girl obeyed and she was carefully lifted onto Jamie’s lap. “How’s that,” the adult asked.

The child scooted around a tiny bit, making herself comfortable. “Good,” she replied.

Jamie was momentarily surprised when two small arms, not so gently, flew around her neck and squeezed.

Erin hid a laugh behind her hand at the wide-eyed expression on her lover’s face.

“I missed you Aunt Jamie.”

“I missed you too Sweetheart.” Jamie had to tell the adorable little girl a fib. Amnesia was too difficult to explain to a four-year-old mind.

“Mommy said that you went to heaven. Why did Mommy lie to me?”

Jamie’s eyes flashed to Erin for just a second before trying to explain. “Your mommy didn’t lie, Honey. She thought that was the truth.”

Erin jumped in to help and took a small hand in hers. “Honey, Aunt Jamie got hurt and was very lost. She couldn’t find her way back home.”

“I even forgot my phone number. But Aunt Erin found me and brought me back home.”

Caitlin hugged her, more gently this time. “You’re not going to go away again are you?” she asked.

Jamie rubbed the little girl’s back. “No Sweetheart, I’m not.”

More bodies soon came in from the patio and Conner went to join the reunion on the sofa. Bridgett and Brad went to poor themselves lemonade. And Timothy Casey went to a chair in the far corner of the room.

Jamie took notice of the slim, sandy haired boy standing in front of her. “Hey there slugger, how are you?”

Her choice of nicknames brought a bright smile to his slightly freckled face. “Fine,” he announced clearly.

Erin scooted over and patted the seat in between her and Jamie. “Sit down here, Conner.”

“How old are you now?” Jamie asked as he settled in between them.

“Eight,” he stated proudly. “I’m still doing karate Aunt Jamie. Will you come and watch me again?”

“You bet. Just let me know when.”

“I also played baseball and I hit a homerun,” he said, punching his new leather glove.

Jamie ruffled his hair. “Of course you did. Next year I bet you hit a whole bunch of them.”

Erin smiled openly and her eyes twinkled, watching the interaction between her lover and her niece and nephew. That was something that hadn’t changed, even if Jamie didn’t remember them. At first, she had been leery and a little fearful about being around the children, but it didn’t take long for her to become their tallest playmate. Two small, little fingers had six feet of adult wrapped tightly around them. And they were not above, unwittingly exploiting that fact from time to time.

The joyful atmosphere in the room was hampered by one gray cloud that hung over the corner. The dark eyes would look up from the newspaper from time to time and the salt and pepper moustache would bristle above pursed, unhappy lips.

“I thought you promised Mom.”

Tim looked up at his oldest daughter as he stood and went to the hidden bar near the window. “Would you like a drink Bridgett?”

“No Dad. I don’t need alcohol to get me through this evening.”

“Neither do I,” he insisted gruffly. “I just want it.”

Caitlin said something to send Erin and Jamie into a bout of loud laughter. Then Conner added his two cents, increasing the hilarity.

Bridgett smiled at the happy group. Tim didn’t. But Bridgett was surprised to see an almost sad look in his gray eyes. But then his jaw tightened again.

“Don’t say it Dad.”

He turned to whisper to her. “Don’t you realize what kind of trouble that can cause, what kind of anger that can lead to? What if your children were…I just don’t see how you can let them be exposed to that?”

She tried very hard to keep her voice calm and low. “To what Dad? All I see is two people who love each other. What is so wrong with that?”

“It’s dangerous.”

“What?” Bridgett shook her head in frustration. “Look Dad, I want Conner and Caitlin to learn unconditional love and tolerance. Those are qualities I happen to admire and want to instill in my children. And I think Erin and Jamie are wonderful examples of that. Unlike the example you have been setting for them.”

Timothy set his glass back on the bar. “Well, I can see my presence is no longer needed.”

“That’s your choice Dad,” Bridgett said as he walked away.

His heart ached and felt like it was being ripped in two different directions, as he got closer to the door. I suspect this is your last chance. His wife’s words echoed through his head and he stopped in the doorway. His barreled chest expanded as he sucked in a deep breath.

Bridgett saw him stop and she called her children over, leaving Jamie and Erin alone on the sofa. They smiled at one another and scooted closer. Erin had just taken Jamie’s hand when she heard him softly clear his throat. Her hand stayed put.

The absence of words was ended when he stepped forward. “Jamie…I’m glad you survived. Welcome to my home.”

The words were certainly not overflowing with elated emotion, but Erin really couldn’t have hoped for more after everything else that had transpired. Just the acknowledgement was enough for now.

Jamie looked at her lover, not knowing quite what to make of his declaration. Erin gave a slight nod and only then did she let go of the hand so Jamie could accept the one being offered in peace. “Thank you, Sir.”

Erin stood and hugged him. She whispered in his ear, “I do love you Daddy.”

“I love you too,” was all he could say.

 

Continued in Part 13

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