The Awakening by Lena

The Awakening
by Lena

 

 

Rachel Vincenti loved the high she got from pushing her body to its limits. Endorphins were her drug of choice. She admitted to enjoying the admiring glances she received from other women, some of whom would give a weeks salary for a chance to bed her, but it was the sense of confidence and wholeness with her body she really desired.

Her work- out buddies never understood why a woman who looked like Rachel, never had a steady girlfriend. They had assumed she was gay, since it was a predominantly lesbian gym, but they never saw her out with the same woman more than two or three times. No one could seem to get close to the enigmatic beauty. Most often she was seen out with her best friend, Tory, the auburn haired owner of the gym, who always seemed close by whenever some woman’s advances became too much for the tall, dark haired woman, with the almond shaped black eyes.

Rachel was on her favorite machine, leg pressing 500#’s, loving the feel of the burn in her thigh and calf muscles. The sweat made her long limbs shine with vitality. Meg admired her at a discreet distance, walking on the treadmill, trying not to trip over her own two feet as she became entranced by rippling muscles. ‘God, she’s beautiful. Look at her move. I gotta meet this woman.’ Meg was new to the neighborhood. Having finally decided she’d be more comfortable living among her own kind, she’d moved to the mostly gay and lesbian neighborhood off Rue Esplanade in old New Orleans. It was a new and wonderful freedom. ‘I wonder if she’s attached? Guess I’ll never find out if I don’t talk to her.’

Rachel got up and stretched her powerful leg muscles, with relief. She then went to work out her biceps and triceps, enjoying the perusal of the petite, shapely blond on the treadmill. ‘She thinks I don’t see her watching me. I wonder if she likes to dance? Well, I could just walk up and ask her.’ Rachel mused as she walked up to the treadmill and rested her long arms over the hand rail and gave the little blond a sexy smile.

“Hey, my name’s Rachel. What’s yours?”

The little blond was so taken aback by the woman’s boldness, she nearly tripped off the treadmill. Rachel whipped around and caught her before she fell unceremoniously upon her arse.

“Whoa, hold on. I gotcha.” The powerful woman grabbed the diminutive one around the waist with one arm and pulled her in close to her sweaty body.

‘Oh God, can a person die of embarrassment? Now, she’s holding me. Geesum Petes! I must be turning ten shades of red. I can feel my ears burning. But, it feels so good to be held by this woman.’

“Thank you. I’m so embarrassed. You Ok?” The blushing woman asked.

“Yeah, I’m fine. Are you alright?” She looked amused.

“Only my pride is hurt, I’m afraid. Ummm, You can let go of me now.”

“Oh. Sorry. Let’s try this again. I’m Rachel.” The statuesque brunette held out a long elegant hand.

“Meg. Pleased to meet you, Rachel.” Meg took the proffered appendage and looked into her deep dark eyes.

‘Those eyes. They’re the color of the ocean. I could drown in them.’ Rachel mused.

“Whew, I really need a shower. Would you like to go get a cup of coffee with me at the True Brew after I get defunked?” Rachel smiled, hopefully.

“That would really hit the spot. I need to shower too.” The blond grinned happily as they both walked into the locker room and took separate shower stalls.

Rachel brought her terry robe into the shower with her. She didn’t want her naked body seen. That was a rule of hers that she’d never broken. She tried not to ogle the other women who had no such hang ups and walked around the women’s locker room naked as the day they were born without a care in the world. It bothered her. That was something she reserved for private intimate moments. After showering, she retrieved a change of clothing and went into a dry stall to get dressed.

Meg left the shower stall wrapped in a towel, retrieved a change of clothing and went back to the stalls to change. She’d always been a little shy about being naked in front of strangers. She was pleased to see that her new friend seemed to be that way to.

Feeling refreshed and energized, the ladies proceeded to walk to the coffee shop.

***

Rachel opened the door for her new friend and got her order, then went up to retrieve two mocha latte’s.

“So tell me about yourself. You from New Orleans? What kind of work do you do? Do you like to dance?” Rachel wiggled her eyebrows suggestively and grinned.

“Well, let’s see. I am a native of Covington, Louisiana, I have a PHD in Psychology and yes, I love to dance.” Meg smiled and blushed.

‘God, she’s so cute.’ “Would you like to go dancing with me?” Rachel asked hopefully.

“I think I’d like that a lot. When would you like to go?”

“How’s tonight? We could go eat at La Peniche and then dancing at Ruby Fruit Jungle.” Rachel sipped from her cup.

“Oh, well, tonight? I guess that would be alright. I don’t have any clients to see in the morning. Ok, just let me go home and change, then I can meet you at the restaurant for about 1930.”

“No sense in us both driving. Do you live around here? I could pick you up. I live straight across the neutral ground from Whole Food Grocery.”

“Yeah, actually, I walked too. I live on N. Dupree.” Both women smiled at the fortuitousness.

“Then I’ll pick you up, say around 1915. Let me walk you home so I’ll know the house.” Rachel held the door open for her friend and they walked in companionable silence, just enjoying the scent of sweet olive in the air.

***

“You didn’t tell me anything about you. What do you do?” Meg asked.

“Well, there’s not much to tell. I have a Master’s Degree in Nursing. I do mostly Health and Fitness Education in Hospital based diabetic programs, High School Health and Safe Sex programs and I teach a Health and Fitness course at Tory’s Gym. It’s not all that exciting, but it’s needed and the Hospital Corporation I work for pays handsomely. I still work PRN at Charity’s Emergency Room. It keeps life interesting…..to say the very least.” Rachel remarked.

“What do you like doing the most?”

“I like lecturing to the fifth and sixth graders in my sex education classes. I hope to educate them before they can be taken advantage of.” Rachel’s face turned sad.

Meg thought to pursue the subject further, but they’d reached their destination. “Here we are.” Meg smiled, indicating her home.

“Oh! Ok. I’ll pick you up at 1915 then. I’m looking forward to it.”

“Me too. See you later.”

***

The women enjoyed their meal and light conversation about their favorite music and movies. They laughed at the latest Hollywood gossip

over who’s sleeping with whom and who has the best boob job. Meg found the silly topics a nice break from her usually heavy fair and Rachel’s sense of humor wickedly witty.

Rachel asked for the check and both women reached for it. “Oh no, I asked you out, remember?” Rachel raised an eyebrow at her companion.

“Rachel, let’s get one thing straight. I pay my own way. We are equals. If you want to pay for your own meal and I’ll pay for mine, that’s fine. Gosh, I don’t mean to sound insulting. It’s lovely that you want to pay for me. And, I may need you to at some time. But, I can afford to pay for myself tonight. Ok?” Meg looked stubbornly into Rachel’s eyes.

The tall brunette raised her hands in surrender. “Ok, ok. We’ll go dutch. If that’s what makes you happy. You pay for yourself and I’ll pay for me. Not a problem.”

The women paid their respective bills and got up to leave. Rachel reached for the door to allow Meg to pass through. “Um, is it Ok if I hold the door for you?” Rachel looked down at her date with a grin.

“Yes, you may. I confess I like your chivalry very much.” Meg grinned back.

“Why, thank you ma’am. It’s my pleasure.” The women walked out onto the sidewalk into a star filled evening.

“It’s a beautiful night. Would you like to walk off some of that meal?” Rachel asked.

“Sounds like a plan. How far is it to the club?” Meg let Rachel take her hand.

“Only about six blocks. Not far. Do you mind me holding your hand?” Rachel asked almost sheepishly.

“No….. It feels nice. You are a nice woman, aren’t you, Rachel?” Meg asked sincerely.

The taller woman blushed, feeling her ears burning. “I hope so, Meg. At least about some things I am, I guess…..So you’re a shrink, huh?”

Meg chuckled. “Yep. Want to try out my couch?” ‘God! I can’t believe I said that.’

“Is that an invitation?” Rachel chuckled as she raised a dark eyebrow under her bangs and grinned lasciviously. Seeing the “deer in the headlights look” on Meg’s flushed face, Rachel decided to let her embarrassed date off the hook. “You never know where we might end up….. So, where do you practice?”

“My office is just off Rue Esplanade. It’s not far from the gym. I love the convenience.”

“Beats the hell out of driving way across Lake Pontchartrain in all that traffic. Here we are.” Rachel opened the door for Meg and they were virtually deafened by the sound of dance music permeating the atmosphere.

“Do you want something to drink?” Meg yelled into her date’s ear over the pounding music.

“No, thank you. I came here to dance. Let’s hit the floor.” Rachel pulled her partner onto the dance floor and let all of her inhibitions disappear.

The women laughed and moved to the music, enjoying the connection between mind, body and rhythm. Rachel felt goose bumps on her arms as her spirit rose and she became one with the music.

“God, she’s beautiful, so graceful, like a panther. I wonder if she’s as dangerous.” Meg lusted after the dark woman, who moved with such abandon. “I wonder what it feels like to hold that body. If they’d just play a slow song, I’d find out. Maybe I could pay off the Deejay.”

Meg had a plan that she was sure would get her what she longed for. When the music stopped, Meg fanned herself with her hand and blew hot air through pursed lips. “Whew, I’m thirsty. That was quite a work out.” She smiled at her partner.

“Can I get you something to drink…, or is that too butch.” Rachel gave her a knowing grin.

“That would be great. How about a glass of ice water and a peach wine cooler. I’ll catch the next round. Ok?” Meg gave her a knowing grin right back.

“Ok. This is about the cheapest date I’ve been on in years.” Rachel laughed as she battled through the bodies to get to the bar.

Meg took the opportunity to work her way over to the Deejay. She slipped him a twenty dollar bill and told him to play some slow songs.

“Like what?” The orange haired youth asked.

“Crazy” by Patsy Cline. Everyone has that CD. And how about some KD Lang. You know, romantic. If you do this for me, there will be more cash where that came from. Do we understand each other?” Meg gave the youngster a “no nonsense” glare, then walked off to find her date.

“There you are. I was wondering where you ran off to.” Rachel handed Meg her drinks and they grabbed an empty table.

“I had some business to attend to, if you know what I mean.” Meg grinned.

Thinking that she’d run to the bathroom, Rachel just nodded.

“What’s that you’re drinking? It looks yummy.” Meg asked.

“A Mimosa. I get my vitamins and booze all wrapped up in one.” She held her drink up proudly.

“You are a health nut. Aren’t you?”

“Yep. I admit it. I think I am addicted to endorphins. But there are worse things to be addicted to.” Rachel put on a serious face.

“Yes, I can vouch for that. I deal with my client’s addictions daily. Some have lost everything that mattered to them because of their addictions. It’s tragic. At least you are addicted to something that improves your quality of life.” Meg raised her wine cooler in a toast. “To healthy addictions. Maybe I could get addicted to broccoli. What do you think?”

“I think I have some great recipe’s I could loan you.” Rachel smiled and winked at her new friend.

“Oh boy, you are disgustingly healthy.” Meg rolled her eyes and took a big gulp of her drink, when the piano intro to Patsy Cline’s Crazy came over the loud speakers.

“Ooooh, I love this song.” Meg stood up and took the Mimosa from Rachel, then held her larger hand in her own. “Dance with me, Rachel.” As Meg looked down into dark pools, a stab of desire ran through her belly to her groin.

“Love to.” Rachel followed the petite blond onto the dance floor. She took Meg’s right hand and gently curled it into her left, then wrapped her right arm around the small of her partner’s back and held her close. Slowly and gracefully she moved to the music, her smaller partner following her lead effortlessly. ‘God, she feels so good against me, so right. It’s like our bodies were meant to be together, moving as one.

Meg’s left hand rested upon a well muscled shoulder as her partner’s chin lightly brushed against her temple. The smell of the dark beauty was making her head spin. Tilting her chin down, she was able to enjoy the cleavage she’d felt gently brushing against her. ‘I think I died and went to heaven. She is just so perfect. I want to kiss her. I just hope she doesn’t reject my advances. I don’t know hardly anything about her. But I do know she likes to be dominant. I hope not so dominant as to reject my making a move on her. Well here goes. Sink or swim, Marguerite.’ Meg looked up, surprised and delighted to see the eyes looking down at her filled with the fire of desire. ‘Oh yes, this is a good thing.’ The little woman ran her left hand up behind her partner’s neck and gently pulled her down so their lips nearly touched and their breath mingled. A soft, warm tongue licked full lips then pulled back, running a wet trail down a succulent neck, stopping at the pulse point to suckle gently.

A ripple of pleasure ran through every fiber of Rachel’s being, enjoying the ministrations of her partner’s tongue. “She is making me so aroused.’ Rachel leaned down and captured moist lips, tongues explored, as their arms wrapped around each other, their bodies gently rocking back and forth to the music. When they came up for air, the music had stopped and they just stood their, swaying, gazing into each other’s eyes. The spell was broken when a hard bass rhythm came pounding over the loud speaker. Rachel broke into dance and Meg followed along with her.

The two new friends danced and cuddled and kissed till exhaustion forced them to call it a night and walk back to Rachel’s car. On the drive home, Rachel held Meg’s hand on her own thigh, rubbing and tracing the small blue veins under the skin. Meg gazed up, studying her profile, her high cheek bones, aquiline nose and strong jaw. She was a handsome figure for sure, but there was a gentleness there. Almost a vulnerability. She was an interesting character. And, possibly the most sensuous woman Meg had ever encountered.

Stopping in front of Meg’s house, Rachel jumped out and ran around the car to open the passenger door for her. ‘Yes, I could get used to this.’ Taking the smaller woman’s hand, she helped her out of the car and walked her to the front door.

“I had a great time tonight, Meg. Can we do it again sometime soon?” Rachel asked shyly.

‘She’s blushing. I don’t get it. So many contradictions in her personality.’ “That sounds like a plan. What about tomorrow night. That’s if you are fee.” Meg smiled.

“I’m covering for a friend at Charity’s Emergency Room tomorrow evening, but what about going roller blading with me in the morning? That’s if you are free.” Rachel asked hopefully.

“Perfect. It will have to be pretty early, though. My first appointment is for 1130.” Meg replied staring up into smiling almond eyes.

“Don’t you eat lunch? You work the strangest hours.” Rachel looked puzzled.

Meg laughed. “Sure, I eat lunch. Most of my clients work. Inevitably one will only be able to see me on their lunch hour, which varies from 1130 to 1330. So I’ve planned my day in such away that I can be available for them. I eat before I go to work. I’m usually booked from 1130 to 1830. I have a lite supper, then work on my case files. It’s worked out really well for me. I can go work out in the Gym every morning, if I can drag my butt out of bed, or run my errands. I like it. I’m not much of a nine to five type.”

“I’m impressed. That was a smart move. I like a person that can improvise. So, you want to meet me at Tory’s gym at 0800? We can go skating in City Park, then get breakfast at the City Park Coffee House. How’s that sound?” Rachel beamed.

“Sounds great, except for one little detail.”

Rachel frowned and furrowed her brow. “What’s that?”

“I don’t own any in line skates. In fact, I haven’t been on skates since High School, so you’ll have play teacher.” Meg smiled sheepishly.

“Oh, is that all? Don’t worry. Tory has a whole slew of roller blades she keeps on hand at the gym. I’m sure she’ll have a pair that will fit you. So, meet you tomorrow morning?” Rachel was relieved.

“Tomorrow morning it is. I look forward to my first skating lesson. I just hope I don’t break anything important, like my neck.” Meg laughed.

“Don’t worry. I promise, you won’t break your neck. You might bruise your butt, but your neck? Not a chance.” Rachel giggled as Meg grimaced and rubbed her soft round buttocks.

Rachel had an uncontrollable urge to hug her new friend. ‘She’s just so cute.’ When she pulled away, Meg’s expression had changed from amusement to desire.

Rachel just stood there gazing into sea-green pools. ‘Gosh, she’s got the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen. I could gaze into them for days.’

Meg couldn’t look away. She wanted this woman in her bed, but didn’t want to chase her away by jumping her bones. “I’ll see you tomorrow, then.”

“Um, yeah tomorrow….. I want to kiss you again.” Rachel stated as she moved closer to her quarry.

“Please……” Meg stood on tiptoe to meet the much taller woman half way. Their lips met ever so gently. Rachel left her lips, then placed little butterfly kisses upon her forehead, cheeks, eyes and nose as her hands stroked her long golden locks. ‘I’d better get out of here while I still can. You don’t really know her yet. Don’t get careless.’ Rachel placed a sweet kiss on her date’s moist lips, then pulled away and waved goodnight.

***

Meg slept soundly, dreaming of a dark, dangerous looking woman screaming in ecstasy, firm breasts heaving under her sweat soaked body. She would have some difficulty keeping her hands to herself today.

Rachel fought to awaken from her recurring nightmare. ‘Come on Rach, you know you can trust me. I wouldn’t hurt ya. I promise. Just put your hand there. It feels so good. I can make you feel good too. A well muscled teen age boy took a little ten year old girls small hand and placed it on his penis, which was sticking out from his jockey’s . His khaki uniform pants were crumpled on the floor of his bedroom. Oh, yeah, that’s right. Now, rub it…..’ The dream changed locations. She was a little older, young breasts had begun to bud and wispy pubic hair lightly covered her sex. The teen aged boy had more body hair and his penis had grown to an impressive size. He forced the naked, squirming, begging eleven year old girl onto the cold tile floor of his parent’s bathroom. ‘I’m not gonna hurt you, Rach. Don’t you want to make me feel good. I want to make you feel good.’ The molester claimed as he held her shoulders down, kissing and sucking her undeveloped breasts. She kicked and fought, but he was much larger and stronger than she. ‘Feel me, Rach.’ A large calloused hand pulled her small hand to his penis and moaned when she wrapped her fingers around his girth. ‘I’m gonna fuck you, little cousin. I’m gonna make you feel so good.’ He climbed higher on her body, rigid with terror, and placed the tip of his penis at her virginal sex and he pumped. His arousal was so great that he ejaculated shortly after tearing her hymen. She screamed and cried in pain, fear and humiliation as he fell upon her The scene changed again to the floor of the bathroom in her parents’ home. ‘Oh God! What’s happening. Aye, aye, aye it hurts!’ The young dark haired girl sat on the toilet and rocked herself, holding her lower abdomen, moaning at the painful cramps that seemed to last for hours. Then, the pain having subsided, she curled upon the bathroom rug and fell into an exhausted sleep. When she awoke, the blood between her thin legs had nearly dried, but the evidence of her miscarriage lay still on the floor, not more than two inches in length, it’s little black eyes and nubs, where there would have been arms and legs, discernible through the blood. “NOOOOOOOOOoooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Rachel shot out of bed like a canon ball and ran to the bathroom of her cottage to throw up. Beads of sweat peppered her forehead and chest. “Shit! What the hell brought that up. I haven’t had that nightmare in a long time. Fuck! That bastard is still haunting me. Why can’t it just go away? That was thirty years ago, for Christ sake!” Rachel brushed her teeth and walked into the living room, picking up her guitar from it’s stand. She began playing a classical piece requiring great concentration to keep her mind off the past.

***

Meg arrived at the gym twenty minutes early. She had hoped to get the chance to chat with Tory and get to know her better. She figured her chances with Rachel would improve if her best friend approved of her.

She was surprised to see that her friend had arrived before her and was working out, a sheen of sweat making her body glow in the flourescent lighting.

Rachel attacked her weights with a passion, trying to defuse the anger she’d been feeling since her nightmare. She’d learned many years before to get her anger out in a constructive manner. Pushing her body had always worked for her. She ran on the elevated jogging track until she was exhausted. The exertion cleared her head and gave her the sweet buzz she craved.

Meg watched her new friend in absolute awe. ‘She’ll kill herself. I’ve never seen anyone push so hard. It’s like she’s got the devil himself chasing her. What is it with that woman.’

Meg got on the treadmill until Rachel was ready to join her.

“Good morning, cutie.” Rachel said as she practically vibrated with energy, her tank top saturated, sweat dripping from her chin and nose. “How’s about a great big hug.” The taller woman threatened, wiggling her eyebrows, an evil grin gracing her angular features.

Meg ducked away from her predator and ran to hide behind Tory, who’d been enjoying the show. “Oh no, you two.” Tory held a hand against each woman’s chest, preventing them from moving any closer to her. “Rachel, go take a shower. You reek! Meg, you go try on those skates on the counter.” Tory looked from one woman to the other, her expression letting them know she would brook no playing this morning.”

Rachel winked at her quarry. “Yes, mother. I never get to have any fun.” The dark haired beauty stuck out her lower lip and loped to the showers.

“God, she’s adorable when she does that.” Meg exclaimed.

“Yes, she is. Sometimes I wonder if…..”

“Wonder what?” Meg searched Tory’s eyes for the answer, but the older woman looked away.

“Nothing. Try those skates on. I have work to do.”

Rachel returned quickly in her biking shorts and a clean tank top. “Hey, Tory, you have any knee and elbow pads we can borrow. I’ll bring them right back.”

“Sure, they’re in the storage closet hanging on the wall rack….. Y’all be careful. Don’t break anything important, ok.”

“We’ll be careful. And, thanks for the loan.” Meg said.

The women collected their things and headed out of the building.

Rachel walked up to a shiny cherry red 1964 Mustang. “Wow! Rachel, is this yours? It’s beautiful! Where’d you get it?”

Rachel opened the passenger door for Meg. “I found it about five years ago and have been working on it every since then. I had a rental car last night cause my neighbor was putting the new CD player in for me. He’s a body man and had to make some small adjustments to the dash to accommodate the more modern sound system. I’m afraid I don’t have all the original parts to the engine, so modernizing a few things wasn’t an issue. It’s not, technically, a classic, except to me of course. She’s my baby.” Rachel slipped onto the black leather seat and stroked her stick shift as if it were her lover. “Just listen to her purr. There’s one thing I can say about Cherry that I can’t say about many other areas of my life. I get back exactly what I put into her. She’s always responsive.” Dark eyebrows wiggled as she winked at her amused passenger.

“So “Cherry” is my competition?” Meg asked.

“Nope. Cherry has no competition.” Rachel responded cockily.

***

Meg bravely tackled roller blades on concrete, holding onto Rachel’s hand for balance. She found it all very exhilarating, but her calf muscles were screaming at her to stop. She did not complain. The last thing she wanted was to have Rachel think she couldn’t keep up with her. Who ever bagged this dynamo would have to be quite the athlete.

Rachel finally took pity upon her protege and helped her out of the skates and treated her to a mocha latte’ and croissant before returning her and the skates to Tory’s gym. “That was fun Rachel. Let’s do it again sometime.” Meg said with enthusiasm.

“Yeah, it was fun. I hope you didn’t over do it, though. You’re new to this kind of thing.”

“Nah, I’ll be fine. I’ve gotta run home and get a shower before work. Would you thank Tory again for loaning me her skates?”

“Sure….. Umm….. Look, Tory has an open house party the first Saturday of the month, which is this Saturday. She has music and dancing, free food, and soft drinks. However, you bring your own booze. Tory doesn’t like drunken women. Anyway, I always help out and I wanted to invite you to come. It’s kinda “uptown casual” attire.

You’ll be surprised at all the local celebs that show up. Women you never dreamed were gay. I’ve had some very interesting conversations at these shindigs. It’s women only, of course. She always advertises in the Gambit and Times Picayune’s Friday entertainment pull out section.” Rachel had to stop and take a breath. It was suddenly very important to her that Meg come.

“Ok. Sounds like fun. What time should I be here?”

“The party starts at 2000. But, if you want to help us get set up, you could meet me here about 1830 or 1900.” Rachel said.

“I’d love to help out. I’ll be here early then. Thanks for asking me. I look forward to it.” Meg turned to leave when Rachel called her attention back.

“It just dawned on me that I don’t have your phone number.” Rachel ran to the business counter and retrieved a pen and pad. She wrote her phone number down and handed it to Meg. Meg took the pad and wrote her home, work and cell phone numbers down for the beauty she so much wanted to know better.

“See you Saturday.” Meg walked away, feeling all was right with the world.

***

Both women dressed to impress the other. They were each aware of their mutual attraction and how much they wanted to act upon that desire. Rachel decided to play it by ear. She wanted to be sure the adorable little Psychologist was worth the tremendous emotional and spiritual effort and energy it would cost her to maintain the relationship once it got intimate. She depended upon Tory’s judgement in these matters and was grateful for the opportunity for her friends to spend more time together. It was important to her that the woman she might be becoming involved with and Tory like each other. She was the only one in the world Rachel really trusted, the only one who gave her unconditional love and acceptance. The only real constant in her life for the last twenty-five years. Although there was only a few years difference in their ages, Tory was both mother and friend to her, her protector and advisor. She alone knew all her secrets, all of them.

***

“Hey, I really appreciate you helping out like this. We usually wear ourselves out before the party even gets started. The only way Tory can afford to do this every month is if she doesn’t hire any help. Help is always on a volunteer basis and, needless to say, that usually winds up being me and Tory.” Rachel said as she dragged the weight benches against the wall.

“Oh, I don’t mind at all. I think it’s great that y’all do this. What a great opportunity to meet interesting people and for Tory to make new clients.”

“Yeah, it’s really worked out well for her.”

“And you? I bet you’ve met a veritable bevy of beauties through these little soirees.” Meg grinned and winked knowingly at her friend.

“I’ve met a few really interesting women. And I’ve gone out with a few of them once or twice, but nothing serious. It’s more of a group thing for me. I enjoy spending a little time with the group and then I go back to my “Cherry”.” Rachel wiggled her dark eyebrows and winked.

“I must admit, Rachel Vincenti, you are an enigma to me. I just can’t figure you out.” Meg shook her head.

“Must you figure me out, Meg? Can you just take what I can give and leave it at that.” Rachel was suddenly very serious and looked like she might cry.

Meg felt her heart break at the look in her friend’s gently pleading eyes. She quickly walked up to Rachel and embraced her. “Awe, Rachel, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything by it. We’ll take it slow. I know we’ve only been seeing each other a week, but I do care for you and I love being with you. You’re my friend. You can depend on me. I didn’t mean to push your buttons just then. Forgive me?” Meg batted her long blonde lashes at Rachel and the big brunette’s heart just melted.

“Forgiven. Now help me move this damned bench. I feel like a pack mule.”

At 2000, the gym filled with chic, elegant women of every persuasion. Most of those new to the monthly soirees flirted blatantly with Rachel, but to no avail. Those who’d attended before knew it was a waste of time and energy. She obviously enjoyed the attention and gave as good as she got, but then just walked away or included as many other women into the conversation as possible. She danced every dance and with sometimes more than one woman, but the rare slow dance was reserved for a certain long haired blonde beauty. It was then that she felt that safe warm fuzzy feeling she was beginning to associate with Meg. It just felt right to be in her arms, to nuzzle her neck and to kiss her sweet lips.

‘God, I want this woman. I want to give her pleasure beyond her imagination. I want to love her. I think I already do.’ When the romantic ballad ended, Rachel took Meg’s small hand and led her through the guests up to the jogging track, which was also covered with women, some just talking, some mostly groping. She pulled a key from her hip pocket and unlocked the only door up there. Quickly she pulled Meg through and locked the door behind her.

Meg’s heart beat wildly as she allowed herself to be led through the murky darkness. Suddenly the room filled with dull light from a goose necked floor lamp that Rachel turned on. “Where are we?” Meg looked around at the rather large studio with its sofa and huge overstuffed chaise lounge, kichenette and wet bar. There was an entertainment center with TV and stereo, which was being pumped into the gym. The ceilings were ten feet high with several drop ceiling fans. One wall was all windows from floor to ceiling that led out onto a balcony. “This is really nice. I like the feel of it.” Meg said.

“This is Tory’s hiding place. She controls the sound system from here. Mostly, she just lives here instead of going home. I actually live in Tory’s house. She hasn’t been able to stay there for more than a couple of days since Claire died. Too many memories. Which is the same reason she can’t sell me the place. Their bedroom hasn’t been touched in two years. Even her clothes are still in the closet. I know she goes in there sometimes when I’m at work. I know the scent of her cologne. But, I’ve never mentioned it. She asked me to give up my apartment and move in her house, so I did. I love it. At least she lets me pay her rent and help around the Gym to compensate her.” Rachel walked over to the entertainment center and lifted off a 5X7 photograph of Tory and a petite short haired blonde in shorts and a t-shirt sitting on “Cherry”, holding hands and smiling for the camera. “This is Claire. They were together for sixteen years. I’ve never known any two people to be so in love, so totally devoted to each other and their life together.” Rachel was unaware of the tears leaking from her eyes. “Sometimes I think I’m the only reason Tory didn’t kill herself after the cancer took her lover. She knew I needed her. I don’t know what life would be like without her. And, I don’t want to find out.” Rachel carefully put the frame back where she found it.

Rachel felt Megs arms circle her waist and her small, warm body hugged tightly against her back. “I’m so sorry. That must have been a nightmare for you both. I’m sure you cared very deeply for Claire too.”

The weeping woman turned around and buried her head in the smaller woman’s neck as small, gentle hands stroked her long dark hair, whispering words of comfort.

When Rachel was able to compose herself she looked at Meg and giggled, shyly. “This isn’t exactly what I had in mind when I brought you up here….. I’m sorry I spoiled the mood.”

“Please, don’t be sorry, Rach. This is the first time you’ve really let me into your heart. I feel honored that you trust me enough to let your defenses down….. Thank you.” Meg cupped her friends still damp cheek. “Why don’t you go wash your face. Do you have any make up with you. You look like you’ve been crying and I know you don’t want to upset Tory.”

“No, shoot! I didn’t expect to need a repair job.” Rachel smiled.

“Not a problem. I brought my purse in the trunk of my car. I have some translucent powder, eye shadow and lip gloss that will perk you right up. Be back in a jiff.” Meg turned on her heel and headed for the door.

“Meg, please ask a couple of the girls to go with you. Ok?” Rachel asked.

“Sure. Be back in five minutes.” She winked at her friend as she slipped through the door.

***

‘Holy Smokes! It’s standing room only down there. Where’s Tory?’ Meg perused the crowd of women below the track she stood upon until she gave up trying to spot her new friend. ‘Well, I’m just gonna run out to the car and back. With all these people around, who’d bother me?’

When Meg walked through the downstairs, she thought about the woman waiting for her, who only asked her to do one little thing for her. ‘Alright, alright, I’ll find someone to watch for me.’ Meg spotted two women chatting by the front door and approached them, asking them to accompany her as she ran to retrieve her purse from the trunk of her car which was parked just at the turn of the block. The two women didn’t want to disrupt their flirting and agreed to watch her from the door.

Meg thanked them and walked briskly down the sidewalk. She was unaware that the two women, whose assistance she’d engaged, had quickly returned to planning the rest of their evening together, disregarding their promise to watch out for the petite woman, who was a stranger to them.

‘Well, her five minutes are up.’ Rachel had washed and dried her face, fixed herself and Meg a cup of coffee from the kitchenette and was beginning to be concerned. The dark haired beauty walked out onto the jogging track and searched the crowd below her for her friend. She didn’t see her, but did notice the two women talking in the front doorway. She quickly ran down the stairs and maneuvered over to them. “Hi, Kris, have you seen a little woman, really cute with long blonde hair? She had on a kind of teal colored silk shirt.”

“Sure. She went to get something out of her car and we were waiting for her…..” It had just occurred to her that the little blonde had not yet returned. “Oh, Rachel, I’m sure she’s fine…..”

Rachel didn’t wait to hear anymore. She ran passed them toward Meg’s car, calling out her name, the two women slowly tagging behind. She reached the automobile, whose trunk was still open. A cold lump filled her heart with fear as she turned in a circle, straining her eyes to see any sign of her friend.

“MEG…..? MEG ANSWER ME. WHERE ARE YOU?” Rachel shouted frantically into the night. She stood as quietly as she could, trying to hear any sound over the thumping of her heart.

Meg heard her friend nearby and new she had to make enough noise to draw her attention. The hand held against her mouth was dirty and she could smell the stench of beer and cigarettes on the breath of her attacker. The knife he held to her throat cut into her delicate flesh. She pushed herself back against the outer wall of the gym to escape further damage.

It was an impulse really. She just forced her mouth open as wide as she could, twisted her head as far as she could and bit down with all the strength her terror gave her. Her attacker yelped in pain, releasing his hold just long enough for Meg to scream “RACH!!!”

Rachel heard her and ran like a bat out of hell toward the sound. She saw him, standing with his body pressed against Meg and she felt a rage like she’d never known before. She didn’t really think how she would stop the man, she just dived on him, pulling him off of Meg with incomparable strength. Meg slid down the wall weak with fear and relief.

Rachel grabbed the assailant by the front of his shirt and, using all the leverage her superior height gave her, slammed his head into the old brick wall, over and over again, experiencing an almost orgasmic thrill at hearing his screams.

“Rachel, stop!!! You’ll kill him.” Meg yelled in panic at the horror before her eyes and managed to pull herself to her feet, leaning against the wall for support. She reached out and grasped her friend’s shoulder, effectively breaking her concentration. “RACHEL!!!” The distraction was all the assailant needed to break away from the enraged woman’s grip and run away holding his bloody head in his hands.

Rachel turned back toward her prey and ran to catch him. “NOOOOOooooo!” Rachel screamed as he ran away, far out of the reach of her anger. Meg started screaming for someone to call the police. The two party guests had already assessed the situation and were heading back for help.

Meg turned back down the alley and limped in the direction her friend had run and stopped short at seeing her standing still, head facing downward, her right hand pressed underneath her right breast.

“Rach? Rach, you ok?” She could hear the sirens racing down Esplanade. “The police are coming. Rachel…..? You’re scaring me.”

The tall beauty did not turn around, but seemed to sink slowly to her knees.

“OH, GOD!!! RACHEEELLL!!!!!” Meg ran to her stricken friend and caught her as she listed back toward the pavement. Meg rested Rachel’s upper body upon her lap and gasped in horror at the blood oozing across her white silk blouse like some macabre Rorschach test.

***

“What’s up with all the sirens?” Tory ran to the front doors of the gym as two women came running towards her screaming as they ran.

“CALL 911, CALL 911.”

Tory turned back inside and dialed the phone as the two women plowed through the doors.

“What happened!?!” Tory demanded.

“Some guy attacked the little blonde and Rachel’s beating the shit out of him.” The words rushed out of their mouths and into Tory’s heart.

“911, may I help you?”

“Need an ambulance at Tory’s Gym on Rue Esplanade.”

“Mam, what happened?”

Tory had already handed the phone to one of the two witnesses and ran out of the doors with her first aid kit as fast as she could run.

Meg held her friend, applying pressure at the wound beneath her right breast. She had slowed the bleeding down a little, but she knew it didn’t look good.

“Please Rach, please don’t die.” Meg said as she gently kissed Rachel’s forehead. “Why didn’t you let him go? Awe, Jesus, Rach, why didn’t you just let him go?”

Rachel looked up into Meg’s eyes which were filled with pain and took a deep enough breath to speak. “Because I don’t want you to hurt like I do, Meg….. I love you.” Huge tears fell from the weakening woman’s eyes as she took another deep breath, wanting desperately for this special woman to understand what only Tory had ever understood. “He hurt me Meggie. I don’t want to hurt anymore.” A violent coughing fit racked Rachel’s body, showering her friend’s blouse with tiny dots of red foam.

“RACHEL!?!” Tory slid to the ground next to her best friend and assessed the damage. “Awe, shit! Don’t try to talk, baby. Your lung is punctured. There’s an ambulance on the way.” Tory said and made a pressure dressing, applying it tightly under her friend’s ruined blouse.

Rachel had another coughing spell and more evidence of her sucking chest wound spewed onto both her friends. “Sorry, I ruined your party.”

“Shut the fuck up, Rachel.” Tory placed her finger on her friend’s bloody lips.

“She needs her head elevated more so she can breathe.” Tory helped Meg lift the limp weight high against her chest. The police had arrived and were interviewing the two witnesses as the ambulance drove up and the EMT’s jumped out with the stretcher on wheels.

Meg explained to the EMT’s what happened as they called in her stats to the E.R. at Charity Hospital. “Miss, we need to treat your injuries too.”

“Well you can just do that on the way to the hospital cause I’m not leaving her.” Meg insisted.

“Are you a family member, mam?” The other EMT asked, totally devoid of expression.

“She’s her sister.” Tory jumped in. She new the rules and new how important it was to Rachel for Meg to be with her.

“Go with them Meg. I’ll meet you there after I clear everyone out.” Tory squeezed the younger woman’s hand and ran back into the gym.

***

The emergency room doors burst open as the stretcher carrying Rachel Vincenti rolled through. The EMT’s were met by the trauma team, who immediately transferred her to trauma room #1, where they were joined by Dr. Robert Marino. Report was given as the trauma physician did a physical assessment. He’d already informed the Director of Nurses that the on-call operating room staff needed to be alerted, as well as Dr. Larimer in Pulmonary. Troy had called ahead and made sure everything was in readiness. Every minute would be precious if her best friend were to survive.

Rachel was immediately hooked up to humidified Oxygen and a pulse oximeter was taped to the middle finger of her left hand. “Get her typed and cross matched for six units of packed red blood cells, I need a central line and an 18 gauge peripheral line. Start an IV of one-half normal saline wide open and a plasma expander, whatever’s within reach. What’s her vital signs?” Dr. Marino communicated to his staff.

Tory ran into the trauma room in time to hear her friends vitals and cringed.

“BP 90/40, Respiration 44, pulse thready and rapid. Patient is diaphoretic, pulse ox. reads 74% oxygen saturation.”

“Let’s get those portable chest films, a CBC, SMA22 and arterial blood gases. As soon as that’s done we’ll get her into the O.R.”

“Robbie, can you assist in the O.R. I trust you more than anyone with Rachel.” Tory asked, nearly desperate for her friend.

“I already planned to. I can’t stick through the entire surgery but I intend to be there to make sure everything is moving on the right track.

Try not to worry to much. We’ll take good care of her. If anyone can survive this, she can. Rachel is the healthiest creature I’ve ever met.” Robert Marino chuckled and patted his old friend on the shoulder, wanting to comfort her.

“Robbie, there was a young woman with Rachel. Do you know where she is?” Tory wanted to fill Meg in on the condition of their friend.

“No. But if you look at that schedule on the wall, you should find her.”

“Thanks….. for everything.” Tory kissed her friend’s cheek as she went in search of Meg.

“There you are. Are you Ok?” Tory asked, relieved to find Meg so quickly in the mass confusion of the ER.

“Yeah, just a few stitches in my neck and shoulder and some bruised fingers.” She tried to make a fist and winced. “Do you have any news on Rachel?”

“They’re prepping her for surgery now. She should be in the OR in about ten minutes.”

“I need to see her before she goes under.” Meg walked quickly to Trauma Rm. #1 and asked to speak to the patient.

“I’m sorry miss, but you can’t be in here.” One of the nurse’s turned to gently urge Meg out of the room, when Tory stopped her.

“For Christ sake, Evelyn, let them have a moment. It may help Rachel fight if she has more to fight for.” Tory said.

“You know the rules, Tory. And you are no longer on staff at this hospital.” Nurse Evelyn always resented her previous supervisor’s rapport with the patients and ER physicians. ‘She always thinks she’s better than everybody else. Damned dyke.’

Dr. Robert Marino heard the arguing and went to investigate. “Let’s break the rules. I said she could see Nurse Vincenti. Now give them a moment of privacy…..please.” Robbie smirked at his least favorite nurse as she walked passed him. ‘She needs an attitude adjustment.’

Meg walked quickly up to Rachel, careful not to disturb any of the tubes or wires and kissed her gently on her forehead. Rachel was panting for breath and in considerable pain. Her blood oxygen saturation had increased to 94%, but she still felt like she was in a fog. She looked into pained green eyes and reached for the bandages on her friend’s neck and shoulder, with a worried expression.

Meg took her friend’s hand in hers and kissed it. “I’m alright. Just a couple of stitches. Thank you for saving my life.” Rachel looked like she wanted to say something so Meg piped back up. “Don’t try to speak.” Meg brushed dark bangs out of somewhat unfocused eyes. “I know you are hurting inside, Rach. But, right now we need to patch up the booboos outside. They’re going to take you into surgery now and make it all better.” The two friends grinned at Meg’s use of baby talk. “Now listen to me….., I love you, Rachel….. I need you. Do you understand what I’m saying?” Rachel nodded as a tear fell down her cheek and into her ear. “Good. I need you to be strong for me….., for us.” Meg struggled to hold back the sob in her throat. “I’ll be here when you wake up.” Meg leaned down and kissed her forehead, then rubbed her soft cheek with her own. “I love you, Rachel.” She whispered in the raven haired beauty’s ear, making her heart soar with joy.

“It’s time. Let’s get you all patched up.” Dr. Marino and his crew quickly rolled their patient out of the trauma room with IV drips and monitors.

Meg and Tory held hands as they watched the most important person in their lives rolled away, both painfully aware they may never see her alive again.

***

Both women sat in the waiting room just staring into space, when Tory finally spoke. “Meg, why don’t you let me call you a cab. I’m sure you have to work tomorrow. No sense in us both sitting here.”

Meg looked over at this new factor in her life and smiled. “I’ve got a better idea. Why don’t I buy us a cup of coffee and we get to know each other better.”

Tory grinned. “You got a deal, as long as you let me buy the next round.”

Meg nodded and they headed for the coffee machine.

The new friends sat in the empty surgery waiting room, telling stories and getting to know each other.

“Rachel and I met in high school. She was long and lanky, kinda awkward, like her muscles hadn’t caught up with her bones. People thought she was stuck up because she stayed to herself. But, we were thrown together on a research project and I got to know her. She was shy and insecure. But she was also smart. Anything that interested her, like English and physiology, she excelled in. Unfortunately, she had lousy parents. They never took any interest in her. They were too busy boozing it up and beating on each other. If it weren’t for her grandmother, Lord only knows how she’d have turned out. She’s a great friend and I love her like a sister. But, her family really screwed her up. And, not just her mom and dad…..”

“What do you mean by that?” Meg was intrigued.

“By what?”

“Not just her mom and dad screwed her up. What did you mean?”

“Look, Meg, there are some things you should hear from her. It’s not my place. I wish I could say more, but she….. Well, I just can’t betray her trust. I hope you understand.” Tory looked absolutely sick.

“I do….. Tory, Rachel said some things when I was holding her out there on the pavement. I asked her why did she have to fight the bastard. Why couldn’t she have just let him go? She said she didn’t want me to hurt the way she did. Then she said in this childlike voice, “He hurt me, Meggie. I don’t want to hurt any more…..” Meg rubbed the tears from her cheeks with the back of her sleeve. “What did she mean by that, Tory? If anyone knows, you do.”

Tory shook her head and stood to pace the room. Then stopped at the wall and leaned her forehead against the cool surface. “Oh, my poor Rachel. She should tell you all this herself. It’s not my place.”

“Damnit, Tory. I can’t help her if I don’t know what’s going on in that beautiful head of hers. She was in such horrible psychic pain, that she nearly beat a man to death.”

Tory spun around to look at Meg. Shocked by what she’d just heard. “What are you saying?”

“I’m saying that, if I hadn’t been there to restrain her, she would have killed that man. She just kept beating his head against the brick wall, over and over, screaming, “No, not again, not her, leave us alone”. I was terrified. I’ve never seen such rage before.”

“Oh, my God….. Forgive me Rachel.” Tory let out a sigh of resignation and sat down beside Meg. She looked up to heaven as if in silent prayer and poured out her heart.

“Like I told you before, Rachel’s parents didn’t give her any attention, but she has and older cousin who sure did. He was six or seven years older than her and lived just down the block. She tagged along with him like a puppy. He was her hero. He was the neighborhood bully and she was his little mascot. Everyone in her grammar school thought they were brother and sister. They have the same coloring and he use to walk her to school. She totally idolized and trusted him. He gave her the attention she was starved for and his parents tried to give her the affection that her parents never did.” Tory stopped to take a sip of her cold coffee before proceeding with the story. “When Rachel was ten years old, her cousin began molesting her. He really fucked with her head, telling her if she told on him no one would believe her and they’d send her back where they got her from and she’d have no family anymore and have to be with strangers. You see Rachel was an adopted child. Unfortunately, in those days, the follow up by social services wasn’t very thorough. Anyway, he kept telling her that he was the only one who loved her and he just wanted her to make him feel good.” Tory grimaced, a look of disgust on her face.

“That bastard! How could anyone do that to a child!?!”

“He didn’t just do it once. He caught her several times over the next year. You see their grandmother had become seriously ill and their parents were with her most of the day. So Rachel was place under Joey’s supervision. Like keeping the canary in the protective custody of the cat. The last time it happened, he had her on his parents bathroom floor. She has nightmares about lying on her back on ice cold tile as he forces his dick through, tearing her hymen and ejaculating. It was the first and only time, that she’s been able to recall anyway, that he ejaculated into her. Well, you know the old saying, “It only takes once.”

“My poor Rachel. Pregnant at eleven years old? How did her parents take it?” Meg kept shaking her head and rubbing her tired eyes.

“She never told them. She miscarried on the bathroom floor at her parent’s home. She was all alone and scared out of her mind. She didn’t even know that she was pregnant. Christ, she was just a little girl. She was more interested in horseback riding than in boys.”

“Jesus, Tory, didn’t anyone help her?” Meg started to cry anew.

“Not a fucking soul. Her grandmother died during all this and that pretty much took the attention of all the adults. Her grandmother was the only one in her life she could depend on. She did tell a neighbor, but nothing came of it. I guess they either didn’t believe her or just didn’t want to get involved.

They tell kids these days to go straight to their parents or the police. They tell them what inappropriate touching is and that not all adults tell the truth or have to be obeyed. She didn’t know any of those things. The damage to her psyche is very deep. She still has nightmares. She’s never had a successful long term intimate relationship.”

“That’s so sad. She’s an incredibly beautiful woman.”

“Yes, she is, both inside and out. And there have been a whole slew of women, and men, who’ve tried to bed her. She might take a woman out to dinner or dancing, maybe to the zoo, if she likes them a lot. She’s even had sex with some of them once or twice, until they want to reciprocate and she runs away. So, knowing how she is, she tries mostly to do things as a group. It’s safer for everyone that way. We do a lot of stuff together, too. We’re really the only family either of us has left. My partner died of cancer two years ago.” Tory looked away and took a deep breath.

Tory turned back toward Meg. “You are different. I’ve never seen her take to anyone like she has to you. She wants to be with you all the time. I think she really loves and trusts you. Maybe, you can break through and help her with her intimacy issues. Your being a Psychologist may give you a better insight into her needs. With you she can let her inner child out to play. I’ve rarely seen her do that with anyone other than me and Claire. For all her physical attributes and her vast nursing knowledge, she’s still that same frightened and betrayed little girl. It breaks my heart sometimes when I see the pain on her face as she watches mothers with their children. If things had been different, I think Rachel would have settled down with a nice woman and raised a couple of rug rats. Life has cheated her, Meg. She deserves so much better.”

Meg reached out and hugged Tory, both women crying on the other’s shoulder. “Thank you, Tory. Thank you for telling me. I want to make her happy. I know you have risked her trust in you and I appreciate it.”

**

Both women jumped to their feet when Dr. Marino entered the waiting room with a huge smile on his beard stubbled face, a small geekish looking Dr. Larimer by his side.

“She made it through the surgery just fine.” Dr. Marino announced.

“Oh, thank God!” Meg hugged Tory.

“What can we expect in her recover?” Tory asked.

“Well, it’ll be a tough road for the next few days. We had to crack one of her ribs and cut her a good bit to get where we had to go. She has a chest tube, 69 stitches and a dozen staples. She’s gonna be really pissed at how long it’ll take before that shoulder will work right again. We’ve replaced two units of PRBC’s and she’s on her third transfusion right now. I’ve ordered one more after this. She lost a considerable amount of blood. She’ll be going to ICU for a couple of days when she leaves recovery.”

“She’s gonna be alright, though?”

“I think she has a fighting chance. Umm, I’m sorry I didn’t catch your name.”

“Meg Poche’. I’m Rachel’s friend.” Meg shook hands with her friend’s savior.

“Hi, Meg, I’m Robbie Marino. I work prn with Rachel in the E.R. and this is Dr. Larimer. He’s our excellent Pulmonologist. As I was saying, the next forty- eight hours are crucial. There are many possible complications, the worst being an embolism. We’ve ordered heparin shots and IV antibiotics to prevent infection. Lord only knows what was on that knife. A lot depends on Rachel’s state of mind, but you seem to be the best medicine for that.” Robbie grinned at the exhausted little woman.

Meg blushed and thanked both doctors. “When can we see her?”

“I’m afraid you’ll have to wait til she reaches the ICU and they are very strict about upholding visiting hours.”

Meg’s face fell. “Please, there must be some way I can see her.”

“Well, we may be able to help you get in the ICU for more than just a visit. After all, a patient in Nurse Vincenti’s condition certainly would require sitters round the clock. You and Tory can alternate shifts.” Robbie winked at his new friend. “I’ll be sure to write an order to that effect and I will name you both as her assigned sitters. Now I have to get back to the E.R. Dr. James came in for a few hours to cover for me. I suggest one of you goes home and gets some sleep. Rachel won’t be coherent enough to know what planet she’s on for a few hours. The other one can take first shift when she’s transferred to Intensive Care.” Robbie and Dr. Larimer left, feeling pleased and proud.

Meg and Tory hugged each other again, each saying a silent prayer of thanks. Meg was the first to speak as she released her embrace and headed back toward the coffee machine with Tory close at her heels.

“I think Rachel needs us both to be here when she wakes up. Then, we can discuss shifts. How’s that?” Meg said.

“I think you’re right. Why don’t we go to the ICU waiting room. They usually have a couple of recliners in their. We can nap til she’s transferred. I’ll tell the receptionist to let us know as soon as she comes up.”

“Now I know why Rachel admires you so. You’re one smart cookie.” Meg chuckled. “Let’s go put our feet up.”

***

“Oh, God.” The words slipped out before Meg could stop them. The psychologist took in all the tubes, wires and noisy contraptions that were attached to the pale, dark haired woman in the fully automated bed. ‘She looks so battered and frail. I should have let her kill the bastard. Ok, girl, suck it up. She doesn’t need you falling apart on her.’

Meg pulled a chair up to the bedside and took Rachel’s hand. “Rachel? Rach, it’s me, Meg. Can you hear me?”

Rachel’s eyes fluttered open, and followed the voice to it’s source. She couldn’t concentrate for all the anesthesia she’d been given, but she was aware of the golden haired angel calling to her.

Tory sat on the arm of Meg’s chair and leaned toward her best friend. “Hey, Rachel, it’s me, Tory, and Meg. We’ve been waiting for you to rejoin the living.”

Rachel’s bleary eyes slowly focused on the two people most dear to her heart and smiled.

“Do you know who we are?” Tory asked.

Rachel nodded her head, then feeling her hand kissed, searched out sea green eyes and tried to speak.

“Meggie?” Rachel whispered weakly. Feeling the scraping of her chest tube, her breath hitched in pain and eyes widened at the creepy feeling of having some fifth appendage hanging out of her side.

“Shush, now, baby. You have a chest tube and a lot of stitches and staples going around your right shoulder. So, take it easy on yourself.” Tory said.

Rachel’s eyes registered the information and she nodded. Then she gently tugged on Meg’s hand, signaling her to come closer. She tentatively took a deeper breath to speak. “Meggie, did you say you love me?” It was barely a whisper, but Meg heard every word.

“Yeah. I did and I do love you, Rach.” Meg nearly choked on the knot of emotion in her throat as she kissed the hand she still held.

Rachel smiled. “Me too.” Then fell fast asleep.
part 2
“Where are you?….. I can’t find you.” She strained to see through the thick fog any landmarks that would point the way home. But, the mist seemed to engulf everything it its wake. Off in the distance she heard the lilting sound of a woman’s soft, gentle voice. It comforted her, offering shelter. “I’m here. Come back to me, Rachel. I’m here.” She followed it.

“Who are you?” Rachel called into the thick white miasma. She had to move with caution for there were many barriers to her progress, but she kept following the voice she knew would be her haven. She struggled to crawl over the rocks and boulders blocking her path, their sharp edges cutting into the tender flesh of her hands and knees. Her body began to shiver as the cold, moist mist covered her naked form. Still, she valiantly trudged on into the unknown, on towards the woman’s beckoning voice.

“A light!” There off in the distance a light was shining through the fog. Rachel ran toward it. She was almost there when SUDDENLY THE GROUND OPENED, the chasm sucking her down, down, down…

“NOOOooooo!” Rachel awoke with a start, yanking on her shoulder and throwing herself into a world of pain.

Tory was asleep in the bedside chair, covered with a blanket, her stockinged feet resting upon the bed. Her friend’s distress awoke her instantly.

“Aye, aye, aye!” Rachel writhed in agony as Tory tried to comfort her. Meg had just walked into the room and, quickly assessing the situation, sent Tory for the nurse as she took Rachel’s face gently in her hands.

“Rachel, look at me. Breathe deeply. Deep breath in…and out… That’s it. Deep breath in…and out… You’re ok….. Just don’t try to move that shoulder. They had to cut through the muscles and crack one of your ribs. That’s why it hurts like hell. Your pain shots coming. Meg leaned down and kissed her friend’s forehead. “Better?”

“Yeah.” Rachel whispered, as tears of pain slowly slipped down her cheeks.

Meg stroked her friend’s forehead until the nurse appeared with 75mg demerol/50mg of phenergan and administered it via her IV line.

The release was nearly instantaneous as Rachel’s eyes unfocused and her thoughts went to a petite woman with long blonde hair.

“Meg?” Rachel’s eyes scanned the bandages poking out from Meg’s shirt collar. “You Ok?”

“Yeah. I’m good. Thanks to you. I’ve just got a few stitches and some bruised knuckles.” She smiled warmly.

Rachel reached for her friend’s hand and kissed the swollen digits. “You sure, you’re Ok?”

“Sure, I’m sure. Rest now. I’ll be right here.” Meg squeezed the hand that was gently holding her’s as Rachel’s eyes closed and she fell into a peaceful sleep.

***

She felt a weight upon her left ankle and opened bleary eyes to see what it was. Tory was sitting close by with her feet up on the bed, reading Alix Stokes’ Mended Hearts, a tear slowly trickling down her cheek. Rachel took advantage of her friend’s distraction to test her body parts before causing a replay of the pain she’d experienced earlier. ‘Don’t want to do that again.’ She tentatively wiggled her fingers and toes, then her hands and feet. ‘So far so good.’ She was able to bend her left arm at the elbow, but realized her right arm was restrained, pulling the covers away with her left hand, she found her right arm in a sling that was strapped to her body with a wide ace wrap, which also served to support her chest tube in place. Rachel rolled her eyes and thought to herself, ‘You really did it this time, ace. They must have had to do some serious damage to wrap you up like The Mummy.’ The frustrated woman sighed.

“Hey, you’re up. I didn’t know you were such a cheap drunk. You’ve been asleep for four hours.” Tory put her book down and pushed the chair closer so she could hold her friend’s hand.

Rachel tried to talk but her mouth was too dry so she pointed to the water pitcher on the over-bed table.

“Oh, water? Let me get a straw….. There you go. Not too much. It’ll make you nauseous.” Tory helped her friend drink then sat the water within easy reach of her left hand.

“Where’s Meg?” Rachel asked quietly. She was very aware of the sickening feel of the chest tube when she tried to speak.

“She had to see her clients. She should be back any time now. Do you think you could eat something?”

Rachel made a face as her stomach flip flopped. “Oh, man. Tory would you tell that nurse to lower my pain med dosage, I feel like my head is full of cotton.”

“Sure. I’ll go talk to her. Anything else I can do for you?”

“Yeah, don’t worry so much. I’m Ok.” Rachel grinned at her best friend.

Tory grinned back and nodded then walked out to the nurse’s station. The auburn haired woman met a certain petite blonde who was getting a progress report from the nurse. “Hi, Tory, how’s our patient doing?”

“She’s feeling lots better after her nap. But, she doesn’t want to eat for me. Maybe she will for you.”

“I’ll get right on it.”

“Look I’m going to leave you two alone for an hour or so. I know you’ll miss me terribly.”

“Every minute you’re away we’ll think longingly of your return.” Meg bowed her head in mock subservience. “See you later, then.”

***

“Golly, I don’t blame you. This food’s awful.” Meg laughed as she made a face over the meatloaf she’d deemed unfit for human consumption.

Rachel chuckled and her eyes widened as pain shot through her chest, her left hand trembled as she grasped the edge of the bedside table.

“Ok, tiger. I think it’s time for another pain shot.” Meg said as she placed her hand over Rachel’s and rubbed it gently until it relaxed. With her other hand she pressed the nurse’s call button and requested the pain meds.

After Rachel received her injection, Meg stayed at her side, stroking her arm, until she fell asleep.

***

“Hi, sleepy head. Boy, you’re an exciting woman.” Tory laughed at her drowsy friend.

Rachel tried to clear her mind as she searched the room for the object of her affections. “Meg?”

“She had to go to work for a while, she’ll be back in time to eat supper with you. The nurse says they’re getting you up to a chair for that feast.”

At that news Rachel felt her anxiety rising. She reached for the water and drank her fill, aware of the hunger beginning to gnaw at her belly. Tory heard the rumbling of her younger friend’s empty digestive tract and suggested they have a snack of cereal and fruit.

As the friends enjoyed their snack, Tory decided she had to tell Rachel about breaking her confidence to Meg.

“Rachel, I need to tell you something and I want you to promise me you will hear me out and try to put yourself in my place. Ok?” Tory asked solemnly.

“What is it Tory. Whatever it is can’t be that bad.” Rachel looked into her best friends eyes.

“I had a long talk with Meg while you were in surgery. You really frightened her. She said that you beat that man’s head against the wall with such rage that if she hadn’t been able to physically reach you when she did, you’d have beaten him to death.”

Rachel straightened as much as she could and glared at her friend. “If you’re expecting me to apologize for protecting my friend, then you’ll have one hell of a wait….. For Christ’s sake, Tory, he had a knife and was going to rape her. What should I have done, slapped his hand. I should have killed the bastard so he couldn’t hurt any one else. I won’t apologize for that. Not now, not ever.”

“Rachel, you chased an armed assailant, who was no longer a threat to you or Meg. That was foolish and nearly got you killed.” Tory stomped around the bed in frustration. She took several deep breaths, knowing that she hadn’t even touched upon what she wanted to discuss.

“Meg was upset about something else…., something you said as she held you waiting for the ambulance.”

Rachel racked her brain trying to remember, but it was all a blur. She felt fearful of this revelation. “What did I say?”

“Well, when Meg asked you why you couldn’t just let the bastard that attacked her go, you said it was because you didn’t want her to hurt the way you do……” Tory looked down and appeared to be studying her shoes for a long moment, then she looked up into the soft brown eyes of her best friend. “She said that your voice developed a childlike tone and you said. “He hurt me, Meggie, I don’t want to hurt anymore.”

Rachel looked away as if she’d been slapped.

“Oh, baby….. I’m not telling you this to hurt you. Believe me. I wouldn’t purposely hurt you for anything. You are my best friend, my family. But, you need help dealing with this. I know you’ve had counseling now and then, when things got really bad. I know you’ve learned how to channel most of your anger through working out at the gym. But, here you have the chance to have real love. Meg loves you, baby. She asked me what was going on and I felt it was time to…..”

“You told her about Joey!?!”

“Yes. I did.” Tory looked at her feet.

“Everything?” The dark haired beauty felt sick to her stomach and thought she might lose the sparse contents thereof.

“Yes. Everything. She understands, Rach. She is a therapist and deals with victims of sexual abuse all the time. If anyone can help you, it’s Meg.”

Rachel just stared at the weave of her, typically thin, hospital blanket, trying hard to cover herself with a hard outer shell for protection from the barrage of soul searing revelations her friend was hitting her with. She felt her hopes and dreams dashed. She knew the kind of happiness she’d allowed herself since Meg came into her life was too good to last. She’d held such hope for their love. But that was before. Before she became just another client, an interesting case history. The raven haired beauty couldn’t halt the tremors in her chin as the tears rolled down her cheeks.

“I want you to leave, Tory….. And….. please don’t come back for a while, huh. Tell Meg, I’d rather deal with all this when I am feeling better if she wants to contact me at that time.” Rachel’s voice was cold as she turned off her heart.

“Oh, baby, please don’t do this. She loves you and only wants to understand. Don’t shut her out. I know you feel angry and betrayed. But, for the love of God, you nearly killed a man Rachel. Can’t you see how important it is that you …..”

“I loved her. I have never felt quite what I feel for Meg. I really thought we could….. That she’d understand and be able to adjust….. But now….. Just go away, Tory. Please….”

“Ok. I’ll be back to help them transfer you to the chair for dinner.”

“No….. Don’t come back.” Rachel said adamantly as she closed her sad brown eyes, dismissing her old friend. Tory nodded her head and slowly walked away.

***

“Tory’s Gym. May I help you.” Tory answered the phone anxiously as she hadn’t heard from Rachel for over twenty four hours.

“May I speak to Victoria Boyce, please. Charity Hospital Intensive Care Unit calling.”

“This is she. What’s wrong with Rachel?”

“Ms. Boyce, this is Nurse Willis. I am calling because we have been having difficulties with Ms. Vincenti. She is noncompliant with her treatment and has been refusing to eat. I’m afraid her condition is becoming quite serious. She cries most of the time and refuses to speak with the Doctor. She yells at anyone who dares approach her. Dr. Marino suggested we contact you. Is there a family member who can talk with her or perhaps her Parish Priest? She simply must eat and accept our care or we cannot be responsible for her condition.”

“Yes. I understand. Someone will be there within the hour. Thank you for calling.” Tory hung up the phone, her heart in her throat. She looked up in her address book and called Meg’s office. Maybe Rachel would listen to her.

***

“Good afternoon, Dr. Poche’s office.” The receptionist answered.

“May I speak with the doctor, please? It is rather important.” Tory said.

“I’m sorry. The doctor is with a client at the moment. May I take a message and have her return your call?” The receptionist was pleasant and efficient.

“Ok. Just please make sure she gets the message as soon as possible. Have her call Tory Boyce at…..”

“Oh, Ms. Boyce, I do apologize. Dr. Poche’ said that I was to interrupt her if you called. Can you hold on just a moment, please?”

“Sure.” Tory breathed a sigh of relief.

“Hello, Tory? How is she?” Meg asked anxiously. Ever since Tory told her about Rachel’s reaction to the knowledge that Meg knew all her secrets, she was concerned about the repercussions.

“The hospital called me. She’s not eating, Meg. Nor is she complying with her treatment. They want someone to come fix the situation and the way Rachel feels about me right now, I thought it might be counterproductive for me to go…..”

“So, you want me to?”

“Yeah. I think you might be able to get through to her. Will you try?” Tory asked.

“Of course, I will. Give me a moment to rearrange my schedule and I’m there.”

“Meg, will you call me as soon as you can with a status report. I am worried sick here.”

“Sure. As soon as I know anything solid, I’ll contact you.” Meg hung up the phone and instructed her secretary to rearrange her schedule, there was a family emergency and she’d be gone for the rest of the day.

***

Rachel’s nightmare had returned. It was always the same. The horror of being totally powerless against Joey’s physical and psychological abuse of a defenseless little girl. She wondered at the little life that ended on a cold bathroom floor. She knew part of her had died that day too. The memories now haunted her every waking and sleeping moment as she wondered, in her dazed existence, if life was worth the struggle and pain. She cried in desolation.

Meg stood in the doorway, watching the woman she loved. Rachel was not yet aware of her presence as she still had her eyes closed with tears running down her cheeks. ‘She’s in so much pain. Why won’t she let me help her? I know I can if she’d just let me in.’

“Hey, Rach, you awake?”

Rachel’s sad dark eyes flew open at the sound of Meg’s soft voice.

“I hear you’ve been giving the nurses around here a rough time. Wanna talk about it?” The petite blonde slowly approached the bed and pulled a chair close so she could touch her friend’s left side.

“I’m not your patient, Dr. Poche’.” Rachel stated, her voice full of ice.

“Of course, you’re not my patient. You are my very dear friend, the woman I hope will soon be my lover. But that’s not gonna happen if you die in this place….. Why are you doing this? I hate seeing you suffer. Don’t you know that?” Meg took Rachel’s hand and kissed it, then pressed the palm against her cheek. She couldn’t help the tears that leaked from her sad sea-green eyes.

Rachel felt the dampness against her hand and finally looked over at the woman who held her heart. She felt her very soul twist into a painful knot at the sight before her. She gently rubbed her palm against Meg’s soft cheek. “I loved you…..so much. It hurts to lose that dream. Please…..”

“Why do we have to lose that dream, Rachel? I love you. I want to be with you. Why can’t we have that?”

Rachel looked away again. “Isn’t it considered bad form to sleep with your clients. I’m surprised at you, Meg. I would have thought better of you.” Her words dripping venom.

Meg stood suddenly and began pacing the room. “Let’s get a few things straight, shall we. YOU ARE NOT MY PATIENT!!! I AM NOT YOUR DOCTOR!!!”

Rachel’s eyes widened at the unexpected vehemence in her friend’s voice.

“Do I think you need help dealing with what Joey did to you…..? Yes, I do.”

“Stop.” Rachel begged softly. Meg didn’t seem to hear her.

“And, I know just the therapist to do it. She’s an older colleague of mine, with a great deal of experience and success in treating childhood sexual abuse and violence cases.”

“Stop….., please.” Rachel felt like she was being whipped with the buckle of her father’s leather belt. Her head tossed back and forth on its pillow. Each word from her love’s mouth another lash against the tender flesh of her soul. Meg still didn’t hear her as she paced the room spouting the virtues of Dr. Erica Morgan PhD.

“She also deals with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. After you get discharged and get your strength back, I’d like us to go see her and get started on a treatment program…..”

“Stop it….., Stop it….., JUST…..STOP IT!!! You don’t get it, do you? I don’t want to try therapy again. You don’t know what you’re asking of me. I just can’t live in that nightmare, 24 hours a day for the off chance that I might be able to accept being on MY BACK FOR YOU.” The tears streamed down her face, physical and emotional pain contorting her features.

Meg grimaced at her words.

“I CAN’T LIVE LIKE THAT….. I won’t.” Rachel’s outburst had caused the pain in her chest and shoulder to flare up and that combined with her psychic agony was overwhelming her. She looked away and squeezed her eyes shut as she pulled desperately on the mattress with her left hand and pushed down on it with her feet. She wanted nothing more than to be able to jump from her bed and run away.

Meg pressed the nurse’s call button. The nurse had been eaves dropping a bit on their rather loud visit, and quickly responded with the pain shot her patiently sorely needed.

Rachel’s body was becoming accustomed to the pain meds so the shot didn’t knock her out, but took the edge off of the pain and helped calm her racing mind.

Meg returned to the bedside chair and gently stroked her friends forehead and hair. ‘I did this to her. Good Lord, how selfish am I to do this to her. She’s so loving. She risked her life for me because she didn’t want me to suffer this agony that she is reliving right before my eyes.’ “Forgive me.”

Rachel was trying to breathe through the pain as it slowly left her body.

“Please, forgive me, Rachel. I’m so sorry. I’m such a selfish woman. I thought I was thinking about what’s best for you, when I was really only thinking about what I want. I can’t bear to see you suffer like this. I don’t want to be the cause of it. I’m not going anywhere, Rachel. Whether you do or don’t eventually decide to pursue therapy again. I’ll be right here by your side….., if you’ll have me. And, I certainly don’t mean as your therapist. I just want to be your lover….., your friend.” Meg’s own tears spilled down her face.

Rachel felt a ray of hope lite upon her soul as she reached her left hand behind a golden head and pulled it onto her shoulder, allowing her to rub the stricken woman’s back, offering comfort and returning her love. “I love you too, my Meg. But, I need you to accept me as I am, at least for a good while, then we’ll see what happens. You never know what the future will bring. So, let’s start over, shall we.”

Meg nodded her head, not wanting Rachel to relinquish her hug.

***

Rachel improved quickly over the next two days. She’d forgiven Tory and it was mutually agreed upon that the subject was not to be broached again. Her appetite had returned and it was her friends’ job to sneak in her favorite treats. She started physical therapy to increase the range of motion of her right shoulder and the strength of her arm. It wasn’t fun and Rachel always needed a short nap to recuperate afterwards. The chest tube was removed, to Rachel’s great relief, allowing her much more freedom of movement around the room. Dr. Marino kept her in ICU, instead of transferring her to the med/surg floor. He saw no reason to have her moved twice since he’d decided she could go home as long as she was in Tory’s care. After all, she had her own personal nurse under the same roof. He ordered PT to come to her home as well as home health, to help with her activities of daily living, for two weeks. Her pain meds were switched to pill form and he kept her on oral prophylactic antibiotics. Meg was instructed on her wound care and her med schedule for when Tory was at work. Confident that he’d covered all the bases, Dr. Marino discharged his patient into her friends’ capable hands.

***

Rachel was worn out by the drive back to her cottage and the climb up her front stoop left her very short of breath and a little dizzy. Meg and Tory each had one side of her to help support as they slowly maneuvered her into bed. Meg immediately retrieved one of the new pain pills and a glass of water for her friend, who was in obvious need of one.

“What else can I do to make you more comfortable, Rach?” Meg asked as she removed her friend’s Reeboks and slipped her long legs under the blankets.

“I just want to sleep right now, Meggie.” Rachel was able to respond through clenched teeth at the throbbing pain in her shoulder and side.

“Ok. I got you a bell. If you need anything, it’s right here on the night stand, just give it a ring and I’ll come a runnin.” Meg smoothed back damp bangs from her friend’s forehead, where she placed a chaste kiss. “Sleep now. I love you, Rachel.” But her friend was already out.

***

Rachel awoke three hours later happy to be in her own bed, but missing her best canine friend. She looked over to her night stand and picked up the phone, she lay the headset down upon her belly so she could dial Dr. Marino’s home phone number.

“Hello. Marino residence.” Rachel recognized the voice as her friend and her doctor’s lover.

“Darren?” Rachel was shocked at how weak and strange her voice sounded to her.

“Yes.” He wasn’t sure he recognized the rasping voice at the other end of the line.

“Darren, It’s me, Rachel.”

“Rachel? How are you feeling, darling? Sandy and I have been so worried about you.”

“I’m getting there. How’s my baby girl? Has she missed me?”

“She’s been an angel.” Darren reached down to pet the head of a very attentive sandy yellow dog with one blue eye and one soft amber and a pink stripe up her nose, looking much like what she was, half Siberian husky and half yellow Labrador retriever. “Haven’t you girl. It’s your mama. You want to say Hi to your little girl here?”

“Oh, yeah.” Rachel waited for a sign that the phone was close to her dog’s ear. “Hey, Sandy. I missed you. You’re my good girl.” The dog’s ears perked up as she whined in her excitement.

“Boy, she knows who her mama is.” Darren chuckled. “Are you ready for her to come home? Or would you like Robbie and I to keep her a few more days. She’s no trouble. We’ve enjoyed having her.”

“How about bringing her home tomorrow. I’m a little out of it today. I really appreciate everything you guys have done for me. I don’t know how to thank you.” Rachel felt the sting of tears behind her eyes.

“What are friends for, girl? Don’t you worry about anything. We’ll keep Sandy for you. I’ll call tomorrow and see if you are ready for her to come home. Ok?”

“You’re great. Thanks, Darren and thank Robbie for me. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” Rachel hung up the phone just as Tory walked in to check on her.

“Who was that?”

“Darren. He’s gonna bring Sandy home tomorrow if I’m up to it.” Rachel’s entire face lit up with joyous anticipation.

“I wonder if Meg knows she has some stiff canine competition for your affections. Has she met Sandy yet?”

“Nope. Not yet. But I’ve always thought of Sandy as a keen judge of character. So, I’m sure they’ll get along famously.” Rachel thought about that for a moment. “I hope.”

Tory sat on the bed next to her best friend and brushed the bangs out of her eyes. “You need a hair cut.” Tory grinned.

“I need a hair scrubbing!” Rachel made a disgusted look.

“Hold on. I’ll be right back.” Tory hopped off the bed and ran into the bathroom.

“Yeah. Like I can go anywhere.”

Tory returned with a water glass, comb, towel and a pair of scissors. “Alrighty. Now, lets get those bangs out of your eyes, then I want you to eat some supper for me. Ok?” Tory proceeded to play barber.

“That’s a deal….. Meg at work?” Rachel asked, flinching at the feel of a few eyebrows being sacrificed with her bangs.

“Yep. She said to tell you she’ll be back first thing in the morning. She’s going to go visit her house and do laundry. That poor kid’s exhausted. I hope she gets to bed early tonight and quits worrying about you for a while.”

“Tory will you hand me the phone please?”

“Sure.”

Rachel dialed her friend’s number and smiled when she heard the voice she loved on the answering machine. She waited for the beep, then spoke her message. “Hi, Meggie. Rachel here. I want you to eat a healthy dinner while you do the laundry, then go to bed early and sleep sweet so I can work you unmercifully tomorrow. Love you. Bye Bye.”

***

“There’s gotta be a way. Come on, Meggie, please, please, please! My hair hasn’t been washed in nearly a week. It’s grossing me out. Look, I could sit on the floor next to the tub and just lean over it and you could use the water pitcher from the kitchen to rinse the shampoo out.”

“Rachel, Dr. Marino was very specific about not getting your stitches wet.”

“We won’t get the stitches wet that way and we can double up a towel and set it over my shoulder for extra protection. Whatta ya say, Meg? Please.” Rachel gave the reticent little blonde her best puppy dog face and finally got her way.

“Ok. We’ll give it a try. Just let me put some towels on the floor for you to sit on. We don’t need you catching a chill. I’m going to get the supplies to change your bandages while we’re at it. Might as well kill two birds with one stone.” Meg turned on her heel and went to retrieve said items. She didn’t see the look of panic on Rachel’s face.

Rachel sat comfortably on her bed of towels as her friend shampooed her long lustrous locks, then rinsed and shampooed it again, gently massaging her scalp. Rachel was in heaven. She could have sat there all day and enjoyed this semi erotic, totally sensuous experience. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. The smaller woman squeezed the water from Rachel’s hair and then dried it some more with a towel.

“Come on, lady, hold on to the tub and I’ll help you back up on your feet.” Having successfully maneuvered her tall friend to sit on the side of the tub, she proceeded to use the hair dryer to remove the rest of the moisture from the now clean dark mane.

Meg placed a towel on the toilet seat so that Rachel could have some comfort as her wound care was performed. After directing the raven haired beauty to sit, she reached for the hem of the oversized t-shirt that covered her friend’s upper body and pulled it gently over her head, leaving her in only boxer shorts. Then she reached for the clasps of the extra wide ace wrap that held her right arm firmly in place and covered her chest completely. Rachel flinched and Meg noticed she no longer gave her eye contact and her posture had become stiff.

“Rachel? Honey, what’s wrong?” Meg took her friend’s chin in her hand and gently turned her head until they were looking warm brown into sea-green. “Would you feel better if I gave you a towel to cover your chest with?” Meg reached for a towel and handed it to her friend. “You know I will have to expose you. I’ll be as quick as I can, then you can cover yourself with the towel. Ok?”

Rachel nodded. “I feel pretty silly.” Rachel looked away in thought, then returned her gaze to Meg’s. “I just kinda pictured the first time you saw me…..” Rachel raised her left hand in a sweeping motion over her body. “It would be under more romantic circumstances. You know, a little moonlight and roses. Not stripped from the waist up because I need you to do my wound care.”

“Rach, if I had your body, I’d be parading it all over Tory’s Gym, just to watch the women swoon.” Meg laughed then leaned down to place a chaste kiss upon her friend’s soft lips. “Now, the sooner we get this unwrapped, the sooner we’ll be done.” Meg completed Rachel’s wound care, trying hard not to ogle her full firm breasts. Rachel had an impressive figure for a woman of any age, but for a woman nearly 45, it was gorgeous. ‘She’s really taken excellent care of herself. It’s a shame, she’s going to have this huge scar now. All because of me.’ Meg sighed, which didn’t go unnoticed.

“What’s wrong, Meggie?” Rachel pulled her attention away from the floor tiles she’d been counting, to inquire about her friend.

“It’s just. If you hadn’t been trying to protect me, none of this would have happened. I’m so sorry, Rachel. This is all my fault.” Meg pulled her friend’s right arm into place between her tempting breasts and wrapped the restraining ace bandage around her chest, tying not to brush the nipples that had hardened to the cool air. Once the clasps were in place, she slipped a clean t-shirt over Rachel’s head.

“None of this is your fault, Meg. You and I were victims of an evil man. Don’t you dare take the blame for this. You understand me?” Rachel spoke adamantly.

Meg nodded and looked down with sad eyes. “Now, help me up. I could do with a pain pill and a short nap. Ok?”

***

Rachel awoke and immediately called Darren to arrange for the return of her canine buddy. Then she carefully got out of bed and went to use the toilet.

After emptying her bladder, she tried to pull up her boxer shorts. She tried and tried and tried until finally calling out for Meg to help her.

Meg came running through the bathroom door, expecting to see Rachel sprawled out on the tile floor in agony, but instead saw a red faced, dark haired beauty cursing under her breath, her boxers half way over her right hip.

“I couldn’t pull my pants up by myself. Shit! This is so embarrassing.” Her face showing her frustration.

Meg breathed a sigh of relief and chuckled. “I don’t mind helping you pull your pants up, Rachel. It’s not a big deal.”

“But, what am I gonna do if no one is here, walk around with my hiney hanging out?”

Meg paused and smiled, thinking how much she’d enjoy that sight. “Don’t you have any night gowns long enough to cover your bottom? Then you wouldn’t need to wear any under pants.”

Rachel thought about that as she allowed Meg to soap up a cloth and wash her hand.

“Yeah, I do. I got it as a gift a long time ago but never wore it. If you’ll look in the bottom drawer of my high boy, it may be under all those slips and stockings.” Rachel pointed.

Meg pulled out a long black gown and held it up for Rachel to see. “Is this the one?”

“Yeah, that’s it. It’s prettier than I remembered it.” Rachel took the garment and draped it over the chair in her bedroom for later use.

***

Meg and Tory took turns being with their friend, Tory taking days and Meg the nights. Tory still found it painful to sleep in her own home. Although she stayed for the first two nights, the rest she handed over to Meg. Rachel was home alone most afternoons, which was becoming a time she looked forward to spending with Sandy in peace and quiet, her canine buddy the only one around to admire the long black night gown which was her uniform when there was no one around to help her get her jockies off and on.

Meg and Sandy became fast friends, reinforcing Rachel’s faith in Sandy as a good judge of character.

The physical therapy was going well and soon Rachel’s right arm would not need to be restrained. She was looking forward to being able to do more for herself, like pull her own shorts up and bathing without depending upon her home health aide. She developed a whole new respect for the indignities her patient’s had to suffer.

***

She felt the cold tile against her bare skin. Fighting to push Joey’s much larger muscular body off of her, she screamed in pain and fear as his penis ripped through her hymen, semen leaking down between her buttocks.

‘What…..? What was that?’ Meg knew something had jolted her awake. She listened in the darkness…… ‘There!’ Rachel’s screams reached her friend’s ears and she bolted out of bed and ran to help her.

The dark haired beauty was writhing on her bed, covered in sweat, a look of misery on her lovely face. She’d kicked the covers off in her struggle to remove her phantom rapist from her body.

“Oh, no.” Meg had never seen her friend in the throws of one of her nightmares and she was appalled at the vision before her. She bent over her friend, both hands on thrashing shoulders, calling her name.

Rachel felt the pressure on her shoulders and in her dream, Joey had her pinned down as he lay upon her. The terrified woman pulled her long legs to her chest and kicked out, throwing Meg’s much smaller body across the room and heavily into the mahogany dresser. The action brought a jolt of pain to Rachel’s already irritated shoulder, awakening her.

She was disoriented. Something was different. She heard sniffling and a groan coming from near the foot of her bed. She pulled herself to the edge to see what it was and felt her heart wrench in her chest at the sight of her friend curled into a tight ball, crying.

“Meg? Shit!” Rachel slid off the foot of the bed to her friend’s side. “Meg, honey. Are you alright? What happened?” Meg nodded as she tried to collect herself. Her physical pain was not nearly as bad as the emotional pain of being attacked by this woman she loved so much. She shook uncontrollably and found herself unable to move.

Rachel pulled herself back up on the bed and got to her feet, quickly turning on the lights, then returning to her friend’s side. “Meg, what happened?” Rachel asked as she assessed the trembling woman’s body for injuries. “Meg, can you tell me where you’re hurt? I need to know, honey.”

Meg took a deep breath and was able to calm her nerves enough to communicate. She leaned back on her knees and looked up into her friend’s worried eyes. “I’m Ok. I just tripped and bumped my head and my shoulder on your dresser.” Meg reached back to touch the bump on her head and cringed at the stickiness that attached to her fingers.

“You’re bleeding, Meg. Let’s go into the bathroom so I can get a better look at it. What were you doing in my room at this time of night?” Rachel pulled herself up by the bed and then reached down to help her friend to her feet. She was still shaky and had the strangest look on her face. They walked into the bathroom in silence and Meg sat on the toilet seat so Rachel could tend to her wound.

“That’s quite a bump, but the cut is tiny. It’s just that the scalp bleeds so much. It’s scary. So what were you doing in my room?” Rachel feared she wouldn’t like the answer. She reached for the wound care kit on the toilet tank and handed it to Meg to open and told her what to hand her as she first wiped the blood out of her hair with a wet wash rag, then cleaned and disinfected the wound. “Let me look at your shoulder.”

Meg pulled her t-shirt off over her head, grimacing at the pain. Rachel looked away from the exposed breasts of her friend. Meg saw her discomfort and held the t-shirt in front of her, which instantly seemed to comfort Rachel. “You’re gonna have a hell of a bruise there. If it swells up more, we might need to ask Robbie to look at it. How’d you hit your shoulder so hard by just tripping?” Meg looked away and racked her brain for what to say.

Rachel kneeled in front of her love, placing her large hand upon the other woman’s knee. “Come on, Meg. Tell me what really happened.”

Meg let out a long sigh and looked into soft worried brown eyes. “I heard something and it woke me up. I listened for a minute and heard you screaming and ran in to help. You were having a nightmare. I never realized what one of those does to you. You were in agony. I placed my hands on your shoulders to keep you from thrashing anymore then called to you, trying to wake you up but you must have thought I was Joey and drew back your legs, kicking me into the dresser.” Meg watched as her friend’s gentle features turned to stone.

She reached out and rubbed Rachel’s arm, offering comfort. “I did this to you?” Rachel asked, her voice low, barely a whisper.

“Yes….. But, you didn’t know what you were doing. I shouldn’t have touched you while you were so frightened. I should have known better. I’m sorry Rachel.” Meg continued to stroke her friend’s arm.

Rachel stood up and looked directly into the bathroom mirror over Meg’s head. “I want to see that therapist friend of yours. Please call her in the morning and set it up for tomorrow or as soon as possible. You should go back to bed now and get some rest.”

Meg was concerned by the total lack of emotion in Rachel’s voice. “Rachel, are you sure you want to do this now. We can wait…..”

“WE CAN’T WAIT!!!” Rachel exploded as she pulled her arm away from Meg’s touch and stomped into the bedroom. “I hurt you. For God’s sake, Meg, I could have killed you and not even known it. I can’t let that bastard run my life anymore. He’s not just hurting me now. He’s making me hurt you….. I love you, Meg. I won’t take chances with your safety….. That’s if, of course, you still want to do this with me. If you don’t, I’ll understand.” Rachel looked down at her feet, afraid of being rejected by the woman she loved.

“You listen to me Rachel Vincenti. I’m with you all the way. You’re never getting rid of me. Got that.” Meg pronounced as she walked up to the distraught woman and hugged her tightly.

Rachel kissed the golden head, being careful not to touch her wound and whispered. “Got it….. Maybe we should let Sandy in to sleep with me tonight. I know Robbie said it wasn’t a good idea with such a large wound, but I think the emotional comfort is more important at the moment, don’t you?”

“Yeah. I think you’re right. I’ll go let her out of the kitchen. She’s probably missing you too.” Meg kissed the taller woman’s collar bone as she rubbed her strong back with her small hands. ‘I wish it was me you wanted to have in your bed tonight.’ Meg sighed as she released her love and went to free Sandy.

Rachel crawled into bed with her canine buddy, stroking Sandy’s soft fur and proceeded to pour her heart out to the one soul she trusted implicitly. After a good cry and endless cuddling, the raven haired beauty fell into a peaceful sleep.

***

“Can she meet us in City Park?” Rachel was anxious about her first session with the therapist.

“I don’t know. But, I can call and ask her.” Meg said.

“Good. Thanks.” Rachel pushed her food around her plate with her fork. Breakfast was her favorite meal of the day, but this morning it held no appeal for her. “And, I want you to be there. I want you in on this from the start. And….., I want your word that when I say I’ve had enough, then that’s enough. Ok?” The tall beauty looked into her friend’s eyes with apprehension.

“Ok.” Meg gave her a reassuring smile as she reached across the table to clasp her hand.

***

The women met in front of the New Orleans Museum of Modern Art.

“I want to thank you for agreeing to meeting us out here, Dr. Morgan. I just feel more comfortable talking about this stuff where I can move around and not feel trapped.”

“Well it’s a bit unorthodox, but it’s a good excuse for me to get out of my office. It’s a treat really, getting a chance to enjoy the great outdoors. Let me tell you a little bit about me. I find most of my patients want to know my qualifications for treating them. I have a PhD in Psychology. I have specialized in childhood sexual abuse and violence cases for the last twenty some odd years. I also have an undergrad degree in Chemical Dependency Counseling. I have done a good bit of work with Gestaltists and behavior modification. I’m a native New Orleanian and am a lesbian. I’ve been in a committed relationship for eighteen years. My partner works with children who’ve been victims of sexual and physical abuse. They are the lucky ones in a sense. I deal mostly with adults. Those children who slipped through the cracks. Any questions?”

Rachel and Meg looked at each other and then at Dr. Morgan. Both women shook their heads in the negative.

“So, let’s get started. I want you to tell me how your sexual abuse is effecting your life right now. Later, we’ll go into all the gory details of your childhood.” The therapist smiled with a glint of humor in her blue eyes.

Rachel was surprised. It wasn’t what she’d expected. All her other therapists had started out wanting to know the story of her life from her first memory. She thought she liked this approach much better.

“Shall we walk ladies?” Rachel gave a forward motion with her left hand and started off away from the other visitors to the park.

The tall beauty looked at Meg and Dr. Morgan, took in a deep breath and began. “I have nightmares. It use to be only once in a great while. But, since I met Meg, its been more often and last night….., I hurt Meg.” Rachel’s eyes filled as she looked over at her love. “I didn’t mean to….. She heard me screaming in my sleep and came to help me. I lashed out and kicked her across the room.”

“That was not your fault, Rach. I’m a therapist. I should have known not to touch you until you were awake.” Meg jumped in, wanting to ease the distraught woman’s pain.

Rachel vehemently shook her head. “You were just trying to help me and I…..”

“Ok. How else does it effect your life today?” The therapist interjected before they got off in the wrong direction.

Rachel looked away from her companions. “When I have sex, which is none too often. I have to really want some one, I mean really want them. I have to be the instigator and I have to have total control. Gosh, this is hard…..”

“Take your time, Rachel.” The therapist said.

“I have to be dominant….. On top.” Rachel shook her head and blew a frustrated breath through pursed lips. “I can’t let them touch me….. down there….. I can only come by humping my partner’s thigh, if I can come at all. Usually, I get really excited by making them have an orgasm and then after they’re gone, I pleasure myself.” Her face was scarlet with humiliation. Rachel spotted a bench nearby and quickly walked over and sat down heavily. She held herself tightly with her good arm as tears leaked from her eyes that she squeezed shut. “I don’t wanna be that way with Meg. I want to let her love me….. I love her. GOD!!! I hate feeling so weak and helpless.” Rachel jumped up from the bench and walked away from Meg, fearing she’d try to touch her and she couldn’t bear that right now.

“What happens when your partner lies you on your back?” The therapist asked, showing no reaction to what Rachel said.

“I feel vulnerable, like a victim. My heart beats fast and I want to run away.”

“A panic attack – would you say?” Dr. Morgan inquired.

“Yeah. I guess so.” Rachel had never named it before.

“Any other areas of your life that are affected?”

“Not that I’m aware of.”

“Let’s start walking back, shall we.” Dr. Morgan suggested.

“Rachel, I think you should tell her about when I was attacked.” Meg said.

“Oh yeah. Well you’ll have to help me with that. I don’t remember things too clearly.”

“Why don’t you try to tell me and Meg can fill in the blanks.”

“Alright.”

The two friends related the events in detail to the therapist as they walked back to the Museum and planned their next session.

***

Rachel was exhausted both emotionally and physically when they got back to the cottage. She laid down and tried to sleep but her mind wouldn’t turn off. Meg stayed in the kitchen, fixing lunch for them and giving her friend the space she needed. The therapist had suggested that they do some intimacy exercises. It should be as nonthreatening as possible. Rachel might accept a frontal massage while lying on her back or whatever would put her in a position to accept Meg’s dominance for a short period of time. Even allowing Meg to walk her through the house blindfolded. The decision was up to them. Deep in thought, she hadn’t heard Rachel enter the kitchen and jumped when she felt a hand land litely upon her shoulder.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you.” Rachel pulled her hand away as if she’d done something wrong. Meg turned and grabbed the retreating appendage and pulled it around her shoulder as she slid her arms around Rachel’s waist and held her tightly, careful not to cause her any pain.

“I like it when you touch me. And, I love holding you.” Meg purred into Rachel’s neck.

“Robbie’s coming over this afternoon to check on my progress and see if I can leave my arm free….. So, I don’t see any reason why we can’t start trying those exercises the therapist gave us tomorrow. If that’s Ok with you?” Rachel looked sheepishly at her love.

“Sure. But, how do you feel about it?” Meg looked into her soft brown eyes.

“Scared……” Rachel took a deep breath. “But if it will help, I’m all for it.” Rachel leaned her upper body back away from Meg’s and kissed her on the forehead. “I love you, Meg. I want so much to be able …..”

“I know. Me too.”

***

“You have the most amazing recuperative powers I’ve ever seen.” Doctor Marino said as he removed the last of the staples from Rachel’s shoulder. “I see no reason to continue restraining your arm as long as you keep up with your physical therapy and don’t hyper-extend or lift anything over 6lbs. for the next two weeks. I think you’ll be able to work the ER in about a month. Why don’t you discuss that with your physical therapist. Of course, you can teach your classes again in a few days. Just give yourself the chance to get your energy level up.”

“Thanks Robbie. I never realized what a handicap losing the use of a limb is.”

“Just don’t over do it. Meg, I’m leaving her in your capable hands.”

“I’ll do what I can. Thanks for everything. I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t been there to help her…..” Meg’s sea green eyes filled with tears as she pondered life without her love.

Robbie pulled the petite blonde into his arms for a friendly, comforting hug. “That, my friend, was my great pleasure. I’m rather fond of our hero here.” The new friends smiled at each other.

“Hey Robbie, can I take Cherry for a spin?” Rachel’s eyes sparkled with anticipation.

“I don’t see why not. If you experience any pain or lack of coordination in you right arm or shoulder, give me a call and DON’T SPEED! The NOPD have a pin up of you in Traffic Court.”

“Do not!” Rachel whined petulantly.

***

The two friends spent a relaxing evening playing chess and enjoying a couple of cool Mimosas that Rachel made with fresh squeezed orange juice. They laughed and shared anecdotes of their college days and the dreams that they’d made come true and those yet to be achieved. Meg was careful to avoid the subject of Rachel’s abuse. She was loving this quality time together and didn’t want anything to spoil it.

After agreeing to continue their game at a later date, they cleaned up and washed the dishes together then bid each other sweet dreams, reluctantly retiring to their own sleeping quarters, Meg alone with her patient files and Rachel with her four legged companion at her side.

***

After her physical therapy, Rachel took her first hot shower since the night of the attack on her friend. ‘This is heaven.’ She thought as she felt the shampoo rinse down her back. She had some difficulty washing her hair but managed to tolerate the stiffness in her still sore shoulder. After drying off, she wrapped her tall frame in a terry cloth robe. She headed for the kitchen where she was certain Meg would be fixing them a hearty breakfast

Meg was setting the plates on the kitchen table and stopped to admire the vision before her. ‘How can she look so sexy even with her hair dripping wet in an old robe?’ “Morning.” Meg gave her friend a lascivious grin.

“Morning.” ‘Is that lust I see in those gorgeous eyes? Oooh yeah.’ Rachel walked around the table and wrapped her arms around her love’s waist from behind, crushing her breasts against a well muscled back. The thrill of this simple contact went right through her belly and awakened her arousal. “Mmmmm, you feel so good to me, Meggie.” Rachel nuzzled Meg’s neck, burying her nose is her fragrant hair, causing her love to shiver.

“You ARE feeling better this morning.” Meg purred as she leaned back further into Rachel’s body.

The feel of Meg’s back rubbing against her tender breasts increased Rachel’s arousal and she lifted her hand to tilt Meg’s face, capturing her lips. She licked them gently until Meg opened to her and her tongue entered the warmth of her mouth in exploration.

Meg groaned as the feel of Rachel’s kiss and her warm body pressed against her’s ignited her passion. She longed to touch her, but was afraid to push too far. She turned in Rachel’s embrace, needing more contact. She deepened their kiss, tongues dueling for dominance. Rachel hungered for Meg’s touch, to touch her soft skin and to hear her moan in pleasure.

“Let’s take this to my bedroom.” Rachel growled into Meg’s ear as she gently took her hand and led the way. They stopped beside her bed and again Rachel kissed her deeply, moving large hands over firm soft buttocks, pulling her pelvis against her own, desire shooting between them. Meg’s hands seem to move of their own accord to separate Rachel’s robe then cup the weight of each breast, gently rubbing her palms over the aroused nipples. Rachel took a ragged breath as her knees became weak. She gently maneuvered the object of her desire to lay upon the bed as she carefully settled her length over her, resting her forearms on either side of a Meg’s head. Meg spread her thighs to accept the slim hips of her partner, groaning in pleasure at the feel of Rachel’s dark hair rubbing against her golden curls.

“Awe, shit!” Rachel rolled off of the object of her desires and sat up holding her shoulder, rocking herself back and forth as she groaned in pain.

“Rach, you alright?” Meg sat up on her knees next to Rachel, afraid to touch her and make her misery worse.

“Put too much weight on my shoulder. Damnation, but that hurts.” Rachel was aware of small gentle hands pulling her rob down to her waist and palpating the area around her incision, which was now a bit puffy and very sore. “Any bleeding?”

“No. No bleeding. But it is getting a little swollen. I think we’d better ice it and get you a pain pill. We can continue this when you’re healed up a bit. Don’t want to do any permanent damage do that gorgeous body of yours.” Meg kissed Rachel’s shoulder as she scooted off of the bed and slipped into one of Rachel’s oversized t-shirts as she went into the bathroom to retrieve a pain pill and some water.

“God, I’m sorry Meg.” Rachel said as she rearranged her robe and took the proffered medicine. “That didn’t go exactly as I’d hoped.” She gave a shy grin.

“It’s Ok, Rach. Really, it is. Don’t beat up on yourself. I can wait.” Meg said over her shoulder as she went to the kitchen to get the ice pack from the freezer and wrapped it in a towel.

“Here, now lay down while I apply this to your back….. Well, take the robe off. I can’t ice down your shoulder through all that material.” Meg helped Rachel pull her arms through the sleeves of her robe and couldn’t help admiring the long muscles and luscious breasts of the woman she loved.

Rachel watched Meg looking at her and found she enjoyed it. It rekindled her passion. She reached out with her left hand and gently pulled on her t-shirt until she was able to rest her head on Meg’s breasts. She breathed deeply of her scent and purred. “I still want you, Meg. I want you so much.”

Meg pulled the t-shirt off over her head and with both hands pulled Rachel’s face into her heaving breasts. “I want you too, my love, but you’re hurt.”

“We’ll work around that. I can’t wait anymore. I don’t want to wait” Rachel stated as she gently took Meg’s pink nipple into her mouth and suckled as her left hand rubbed and squeezed a firm soft buttocks. Meg groaned out her arousal as she straddled Rachel’s thigh, pushing her own into the older woman’s sex. Rachel responded by taking more of the breast into her warm mouth and sliding her hand around the back of Meg’s buttocks and into the wetness of her lover’s desire.

Meg’s breath hitched at the intimate contact. She gently pushed her lover away from her breast. “I need to kiss you Rachel.” Meg stated as she used her two hands to tilt Rachel’s face up to accept her homage. As the smaller woman explored her lover’s mouth, her thigh continually stroked the dark woman’s silken sex, making her tremble with need.

Rachel’s head was filled with the scent of her lover’s sex. She had to taste her. She needed it now. Separating their lips, Rachel let her body slide down the side of the bed till she was kneeling on the floor between Meg’s legs. She briefly rested her head against golden curls as she used her left hand to stroke between swollen lips then she used the same hand to lift and separate Meg’s labia, revealing her very engorged and throbbing clitoris, all pink and hard. She took a deep breath of her musk, which shot daggers of desire through her own sex then ever so gently took the engorged member into her mouth, lathing it with her tongue.

“Oh, God….., Rachel….., Uh……….uummmm……….uh………..ah…………AAAAHHHH!!!!!” Meg lost the ability to form words as she pumped her sex into her lover’s mouth and exploded in ecstacy.

Rachel lapped up as much of Meg’s juices as she could before her lover lost the ability to stand and slid down her body and onto her own knees in front of her. To Rachel’s surprise, Meg claimed her lips in a deep passionate kiss, then broke away briefly. “Spread your legs and straddle my thigh, Rachel.” Rachel did as she’d been begged and pumped as her lover

leaned back to admire her body. Small hands cupped her breasts and stroked the aroused nipples with her palms. She then lifted one to her waiting warm mouth and suckled it as if for sustenance.

Rachel’s eyes closed as the suckling sensation pulled at her very depths. Her passion was soaring to greater heights and she needed Meg’s sweet deep kiss NOW. Her left hand on Meg’s firm buttocks increased the contact between her sex and Meg’s well muscled thigh. “Kiss me….. Oh, God!!….. Meg!!!…… I’m gonna come!!!!”

Meg looked up into the eyes she loved, the pupils dilated, nearly obliterating the soft brown with her passion. She quickly lifted herself to capture Rachel’s sweet lips, her hands replacing her mouth pulling on the erect nipples. Rachel began to buck erratically as her orgasm over took her. Meg wrapped her arms around her lover’s back to support her, allowing her to ride the waves of her climax to fruition. Once Rachel appeared to be sated, Meg stood up and leaned down to help her lover onto the bed and under the blanket. The combination of her orgasm and the pain med exhausted her.

“Sleep now, my love. I’ll wake you when supper is ready.” Meg kissed the dark head. “I love you, Rachel.”

“Love you too, Meggie.” Rachel whispered as sleep swept her away.
part 3
“Yes, Hi, Nora. It’s Rachel Vincenti ….. I’m feeling like getting back to work. Thank you for asking. You have any teaching contracts I can take? ….. Mmhmm, I’d love to do some diabetes education programs for pediatric patients. I’ll set them up according to age group, and make sure the parents or guardians are notified. It’s important that they participate….. Sure, I can drive. I’ll come by in the morning to give you copies of the teaching plans and sign the contract. OK? ….. Great. See you in the morning then. Bye.” Rachel set the phone down on her desk, then logged on her computer. She was deep in thought, typing up the last of her treatment plans for Children’s Hospital, when Meg walked in her bedroom door.

“Hey you, I didn’t know you were up.” Meg felt puzzled, watching Rachel working at her desk, looking focused and efficient.

“Hi, yeah, I’ve been up for awhile.” Rachel hit the print button and turned to face her lover. “I have a contract with Children’s Hospital to organize and implement a diabetic teaching program. And, I’m just printing the plans now. Should be very interesting aaaaannnnd demanding, working with parents and guardians. It’s like trying to teach old dogs new tricks. I’ll enjoy the kids though.” Rachel turned to pick up the copies she’d printed out. “There are so many new methods of monitoring blood glucose levels and methods of insulin administration. It’s always fascinated me. There’s new stuff out every day.”

Meg didn’t know how to react to Rachel’s going back to work so soon. She’d not given it any thought, although she supposed she should have. “So, you’re going back to work soon?”

Rachel heard the slight trepidation in Meg’s voice and turned away, busying herself with the printouts. “Yes, tomorrow, actually. I have to present my teaching plans in the morning, so I’ll be pretty busy the rest of the evening trying to get the materials organized.” She turned back to look at the woman she knew she loved, but just couldn’t deal with right now. “You do know I have a career waiting for me, Meg. I can’t sit around and play with you indefinitely.” She tried to smile to soften the blow she feared her words were causing.

“Of course, of course, I’m glad you feel well enough to resume your life, just exactly the way you left it.” Meg hoped her meaning was clear. “If you are hungry, there’s a tuna casserole and fruit salad in the fridge. I’ll be packing up my things. I don’t see any need for me to stay here. I’ll go home and get back to my life too…..” Meg clenched her jaw to bite off the angry words that were threatening to escape. “I’ll see you later then.” She smiled and made a tiny wave with her hand, which remained at her side.

“Yeah, later. And, thank you for taking such good care of me. I really appreciate all you’ve done. You know that, don’t you?”

Meg nodded. “You’re welcome. Glad I could be there for you. Don’t over do it, OK?”

Now, it was Rachel’s turn to nod. “Yeah….. OK.”

Meg turned and walked from the room, stunned at the scenario she had just participated in.

Rachel turned back to her computer, swallowing hard to stop the tears that stung her eyes. ‘You’re a fool. You know that? A stupid fool. You’re throwing away the best thing that ever happened to you because you’re a fucking coward!’

Moments later Meg knocked on Rachel’s bedroom door, surprised to find it closed.

“Yes.” Rachel called.

“May I come in?”

“I’m working, Meg.” She knew, with one glance, Meg would know she’d been crying. “Don’t forget you have an appointment with Dr. Morgan on Friday at 12:30. I left her number on the refrigerator.”

“Thanks. I won’t forget.” Rachel wiped at the tears trailing down her high cheek bones.

Meg could hear the tears in her friend’s voice. ‘She’s crying. Why can’t she let me help her? She’s running away from me, from us. I hope she keeps that appointment with Ricky. Maybe she can succeed where I’ve obviously failed her.’

***

Rachel had no time to think about her personal life. For the past two days, she had dove into her work. She enjoyed the feeling of total confidence and professionalism. This was her forte. Her career had always been her security blanket. She knew just who she was and what was expected of her, and she did it better than most.

It was noon Friday, when reality slapped her in the face. ‘Rachel, it’s time to face the music. Just get your sorrowful ass out to that Park, and tell Dr. Morgan what a son of a bitch you’ve been to Meg after all she’s done for you.” Rachel sighed as she put Cherry in gear and headed to her rendezvous with the therapist.

“So, is Meg meeting us?” Dr. Morgan asked as she shook hands with Rachel.

“No.” Rachel frowned, her heart pounding in her chest.

“Do you want to talk about it? You seem upset.”

“Can we walk?” Rachel asked as she quickly turned away.

“Whatever will help.”

The two women walked in silence for a few minutes. Then Rachel opened up.

“We had sex….. It was amazing sex. I’ve never been that aroused in my life.” Rachel’s eyes were focused on the past as she held herself, her arms beneath her breasts.

“I thought you were going to take it slow, do the intimacy exercises and learn to trust her in due time. That was the plan.”

“Yeah, well, I didn’t wait and now I’ve hurt her.” Rachel bowed her dark head in shame.

“How did you hurt her Rachel?” Dr. Morgan was becoming concerned for her friend’s physical safety, but tried hard to keep her professional face on.

“I pretty much told her I was going back to work and wouldn’t need her anymore….. I couldn’t face the feelings. I…..I didn’t know if I could do it again….., you know….., let her love me that way, so I got scared and hurt her….. I’m a coward.” Rachel sat down on a nearby concrete bench, her hair blocking her face, hands wringing in her lap.

“Rachel, do you want to be able to let her love you?” Dr. Morgan asked as she covered Rachel’s worrisome hands with one of her own.

“More than anything.” Tears streaked from her sad brown eyes. “I had a dream after we had sex.”

“The same nightmare?” Dr. Morgan didn’t move her hands from Rachel’s.

“No. This one was different….. It was awful.” Rachel found it difficult to talk passed the painful lump in her throat.

“How was it different?”

“It was the exact same dream, except I wasn’t the victim. Joey was molesting Meggie and all I could do was watch. I couldn’t help her. She was calling out to me, begging me to make it stop.” Rachel sobbed. “Oh God! But, I couldn’t move. I was powerless to stop him from hurting her.” Her tears were coming in wrenching sobs now, so Dr. Morgan removed her hand from atop Rachel’s, and placed an arm over her shoulders to offer comfort. She was surprised when the formidably built woman leaned her head upon her shoulder.

“Let it all out, Rachel. It’s good to cry. Let it all go. I’ve got you. You’re safe.” Ricky Morgan offered her client the support she needed, feeling they’d made quite a breakthrough.

Rachel continued to sob and gratefully took her therapist’s offered left hand in hers. “Awww, Meggie….., I’m sorry. I couldn’t stop him. I tried.” Rachel groaned in agony.

“It’s not your fault Rachel. None of it was your fault. You were only a child. You must stop taking responsibility for what you had no control over. But you must take responsibility for your behavior as an adult.” Dr. Morgan stated, gently.

Rachel nodded her head as she accepted a tissue from the ever prepared therapist. The tall beauty wiped her eyes. “I need to talk to Meggie about how I’m feeling, and let her know that I love her….. And, apologize for being such a chicken shit.” Rachel grinned.

“That would be right.” Erica Morgan gave her client’s shoulder a little squeeze. “How about you bring Meg on your next visit, say Tuesday, same time, same place.”

“I will. Thanks.” Rachel gave a grateful smile.

“You are very welcome.” Dr. Morgan helped her client to her feet. “Talk with Meg. And, don’t neglect your health. You look exhausted.”

“Thanks. I think. I’ll see you Tuesday, Doctor.”

***

Rachel drove Cherry through City Park, thinking of how to apologize to her friend for running away from her, from their love. The candy apple red, 1964 and 1/2 Mustang glided out of the park and down Rue Esplanade to Tory’s Gym. It was too early for Meg to be home from her office, and Rachel was feeling the need of her best friend’s companionship.

“Well, hey there, stranger. What have you been up to the last few days? Don’t you listen to your messages anymore? I was getting worried about you. But, then I figured you were in good hands with a certain little blonde.” Tory rambled as she continued stacking the towels for her clientele to use.

“I’ve been busy with a new contract. Sorry, I didn’t mean to avoid you.”

“You’re back at work, already? I thought you and Meg would want to take as much time as possible to get to know each other better.” Tory stopped what she was doing to take a closer look at her friend. “Something’s happened. Are you alright….? Rach….? Come on, now…., you’ve been crying.” Tory locked the door and turned the Open sign around to Closed. She took her friend’s hand and led her up the stairs to her apartment. They entered her kitchen, and Tory poured them both a cup of coffee with chicory from the pot that was always brewing her favorite beverage. She sat them down at the dinette table, and they both put their feet up on a vacant chair. “So, start talking.”

Rachel filled her friend in on her fears and how poorly she’d handled herself. “Gosh, it was awful. I pretended like nothing happened, like I just had to get back to work. You know, Ciao baby, don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. I was a complete jerk. I just woke up terrified from that damn dream again…..” Rachel took a ragged breath and the tears hung on her long lashes. “But this time he was attacking Meggie and ……and I was helpless to do anything about it….. Nothing, just watch it happen…..”

“So, you got scared and ran to your work, where you feel safe and confident. I get the picture. So what now?” Tory asked.

“Now, I go crawling back and beg her forgiveness.”

“Are you going to hang in there this time? You know you can’t keep running away from her when things get hard. You either stay or you go. She deserves to be treated better.” Tory got up and walked behind her best friend, placing her hand on her friend’s shoulder. “I love you, Rachel. Nothing is more important to me than your happiness. Meg is offering you an incomparable gift. Take it. Let her help you, baby.”

“I’ll try harder, Tory. It just scares me sooo much.”

“I know, baby. I know.” Tory leaned down and kissed Rachel’s dark head.

***

The doorbell rang, pulling Meg’s attention away from the files she was working on at her coffee table. ‘Who could that be?’. Meg looked through the peephole and quickly opened the front door, but, left the screendoor locked.

“Hi. Sorry I didn’t call first. Are you busy?” Rachel managed to ask.

“Umm, no. I was just doing some paper work. You want to come in?” Meg offered.

“Yes, please. If it’s alright,” Rachel stammered.

“It’s alright.” Meg opened the screen door. “Would you like some coffee?”

“Please.”

Rachel followed the petite blonde into the kitchen, trembling ever so slightly with fear as Meg busied herself with the porcelain coffee pot, and set a sauce pan of water on the stove to boil. “So, how’s work going?”

“Great. I enjoy working with the kids. The parents….well, they can be a trial.” Rachel was becoming more comfortable. Work was always an easy and interesting subject for her.

The two friends sat uncomfortably, avoiding each other’s eyes, wondering what next to say. The silence went on painfully until Rachel could no longer take the stress.

“I’m sorry.” Rachel’s voice was barely a whisper, her throat constricted with emotion.

Meg looked into pain filled brown eyes. Rachel searched her friend’s face for any encouragement, then continued.

“I know I have no right to expect you to forgive me and if you want me to, I’ll leave. But, I swear to you Meg, I’ve never loved anyone like I love you, and if you’ll give me another chance, I promise I’ll do whatever you and Dr. Morgan want me to. I just want to be able to be with you in every sense….. Jump right in wherever you see an opening, cause I’m dying here.” Rachel joked, but her expression was filled with fear and hope.

Meg noticed the water simmering in the sauce pan and walked over to the stove. “It hurt, you shutting me out. I won’t deny it.” Meg poured the hot water into the coffee pot and listened to it drip.

“I’m so sorry, Meggie.” Rachel shook her head. “I guess this is it then….. Thanks for taking care of me.” Rachel stood up to leave, her heart breaking. “See you at the gym some time.”

“Wait….., Rachel, don’t go.” Meg turned to look at her lover. “Did you mean what you said? You’re willing to do whatever therapy Dr. Morgan recommends?”

Rachel felt a ray of hope warm her heart. “Yes, anything. I just don’t want to lose you Meggie. And, I don’t want to go on always feeling like I’m on the outside looking in. I want to be a stable loving partner, your partner, your lover. If you’ll have me. I know I don’t have any right to ask you to go through this with me. I don’t even know if I’ll be able to overcome my past, but I swear I’ll try.” Rachel studied her lover’s sweet face, looking for any sign of rejection.

“I love you, Rachel. And, I promise to be there by your side every step of the way. But, you have to promise you won’t shut me out ever again.” Meg said with tears in her eyes.

“I promise. My next appointment with Dr. Morgan is Tuesday in the park. She expects you to be there too. Will you go with me?” Rachel asked hopefully.

Meg approached her friend, wrapping her arms around her waist, and rested her blonde head upon her ample breast. “Of course I will.” Rachel smiled, and held her lover close to her heart. Meg looked up into the warm brown eyes that she loved. “I think we should refrain from having sex until Dr. Morgan and we think it’s appropriate. OK?”

Rachel’s heart sank, but she knew Meg was right. “OK.” The tall, raven haired beauty leaned down and gently kissed Meg’s forehead and held her tightly. “How’s about that coffee?”
part 4
Rachel continued to see Dr. Morgan once a week in City Park, spending the rest of the week working at Children’s Hospital a few hours a day and covering the ER at Charity on as many evenings as her still healing shoulder would tolerate. She and Meg worked out each morning at Tory’s gym then gave each other a “nonsexual” deep muscle massage before walking over to True Brew for breakfast. Rachel wanted to go roller blading, but Meg convinced her that the damage a fall would do her at this point in her recovery would far outweigh any benefits. Rachel missed the endorphin rush she’d learned to count on in pushing her body to its limits. She decided taking Meg dancing would be a happy compromise. The only problem might be controlling her libido. Dancing, especially dancing with Meg, always made her randy. They had both agreed to not have sex until they and Dr. Morgan felt Rachel was ready.

The women danced and laughed until the wee hours. They figured they’d paid the Deejay’s college tuition with all the tips given him to play slow, romantic music so they could grope each other in the dark. “Rach…., down girl.” Meg stated as she removed a long questing hand from her buttock. “Come on, Tiger.” Small hands tugged on the tall dark woman’s shirt collar. “Let’s go home before we give these kids a show.” Rachel nodded and tried to get her eyes back in focus. Her heart was pounding in rhythm with her sex.

“My place or yours?” Rachel panted.

“Me to mine and you to yours. We have an agreement. Remember?”

The tall woman groaned out her frustration. “Yeah, I remember. I’m going to talk to Dr. Morgan tomorrow and tell her I need to make love to you…..really bad.” She pulled the object of her desire into long, strong arms.

Meg giggled and grinned. “I sure hope she feels that we’ve made enough progress with our daily massage treatment to take that next step or I’m gonna need to invest in Duracell.”

Rachel gave Meg a chaste kiss at her doorstep, then headed back to her quiet home and furry canine companion. ‘Oh yeah, Dr. Morgan and I are gonna have a little talk in tomorrow’s session.’

***

Rachel stated her case to Dr. Morgan and awaited her response. “I’d like you to join a therapy group I run for women survivors of childhood sexual abuse. It meets on Mondays and Fridays.”

“Oh.” She was not expecting that. To her Dr. Morgan had completely changed gears and drove right into a dark and frightening tunnel. “Will we still have our sessions on Tuesdays, here in the park?”

“Yes. I think utilizing both therapeutic methods together is appropriate at this point in your progress.”

“Good.” Rachel nodded and sighed. “Can Meg attend with me?” She asked anxiously.

“Not all the sessions, but most. I’d prefer that you attend some on your own. Let’s just play it by ear right now. Why don’t you invite Meg to Friday’s session. I’d like you to come to my office at 1830. We usually have a cup of coffee before we start the session. It helps everyone to relax a bit…..” The dark head bowed as she sat staring at the hands folded in her lap. “Rachel, I know you’re scared. That’s normal. Don’t let your fear stop you from doing what you need to do for yourself. This has to be for you. It can’t be for Meg or Tory or anyone else. You won’t be asked to do anything you’re not able to do.”

“I’ve never tried group therapy. I don’t know how to talk to strangers about my problems. I mean….., what if I fail? What if I run away and slam the door on y’all? …..I’m scared spitless, Ricky.” The tall beauty watched as her fingers trembled.

“I’m sure you are; that’s normal. Believe me, everyone in that group had the same fears. Being afraid is alright, but running away is not. Are we clear on that?”

“Yeah. You’re coming in loud and clear…..No running.” Rachel looked up with moist brown eyes into the sympathetic orbs of her therapist. Getting up from the park bench, she took a few deep breaths, thanked Dr. Morgan and headed for Cherry and the freedom of the open road.

***

The wind blew through long dark tresses as she sped down the causeway over Lake Pontchartrain in her candied apple red classic mustang. The 29 mile bridge provided her a panoramic view and a feeling of complete freedom, stripping away the strain and stress of the day. Reaching the North shore, she turned around and headed back to New Orleans and the woman she hoped to spend the rest of her life with.

***

Rachel peered in through the screened door and called out to Meg. “Meggie, dawlin, you home?”

“Be right there.” Meg called out from the kitchen. The petite blonde dried her hands on a dishrag and hurried to unlatch the screened door and invite her girlfriend into the little shot-gun house. She pulled the much larger woman into her parlor by the hand and hugged her tightly to her bosom. “Missed you….. How was your session today? Did Ricky give us her blessing?” Meg wiggled her eyebrows.

“Dr. Morgan wants me to join a therapy group for survivors of sexual abuse.” Rachel blurted out. “They meet on Mondays and Fridays. You can come to some, but not all, of the sessions. She said to invite you to come with me on Friday…..”

“Hey, hey, hey, slow down, Rachel.” Meg placed her hands on Rachel’s chest, then took her hand and led her toward the rear of the house. “Come on in the kitchen and I’ll drip us some coffee then we’ll sit down and you can tell me all about Ricky’s plans.”

Rachel fidgeted in her chair, watching the object of her affections busy at the old Magic Chef stove. She admired the soft, long golden hair, the strong back that tapered to a tiny waist then flared out to soft round hips. She followed down the well muscled yet slender legs, then back up again. She found a warmth building in her belly as the desire to touch and stroke the woman before her grew. She stood and walked up behind her, wrapped long arms around her partner’s waist as she nuzzled her neck. “Mmmm, you smell delicious.” Rachel purred. She moaned with pleasure as the little woman in her arms leaned back against her, bent her head back and nipped her chin. Rachel’s right hand slid up her flat belly, between firm breasts and pet the exposed neck. She kissed Meg’s jaw, cheek and temple, then rubbed the fuzz on the soft cheek with her own. “Turn off the stove and kiss me.” Rachel instructed and Meg obeyed with haste. She turned into the loving arms of her beloved and accepted soft lips. The kiss was slow, each woman relishing the texture and taste of the other. “I’ve missed this more than I can say, Meggie.” Rachel confessed, holding her beloved’s face in her two hands, gazing adoringly into green eyes that mirrored her own.

“Me too, love….. God, but you feel good to me.” Meg exclaimed as she explored the body before her. There was such contrast between the hard lean muscle of the long arms and the ever so delicate softness of the ample breasts. The little woman smiled at the shiver her touch provoked. An insistent hand pulled her toward luscious cleavage, which was all the encouragement Meg needed. She wrapped her arms around Rachel, pulled her closer and buried her face in the sweet smelling flesh. Running her tongue into the valley between her lover’s breasts sent both women’s ardor soaring.

Rachel took in a shaky breath. “Let me…..”

Meg let her tongue run the length of Rachel’s cleavage one more time then raised her head in query. “What is it, love? What do you need from me?”

Strong arms pushed her lover away from her warm flesh, gently, so she could look into her eyes. “Let me make love to you, Meg. I need to have control. Please!” Rachel beseeched.

Meg gazed into dilated pupils and gave a slight nod, somewhat afraid of what might come.

Rachel didn’t hesitate. She lifted her lover onto the kitchen counter and kissed her passionately, deeply, commandingly. Meg felt trembling fingers unbuttoning her blouse as a hot mouth latched onto her neck. The blouse was discarded and she leaned back, offering her bare breasts to Rachel’s admiring gaze. Long fingers ran teasingly over her nipples, hooded brown eyes watching the areola contract and the nipples grow. Meg’s breathing hitched as she became more and more aroused. The dark head leaned in and it’s hot tongue lathed the plump flesh. Rachel moaned her own arousal. Lifting Meg’s breast and taking the nipple into her warm mouth she suckled upon her. Meg held the dark head in place with both hands, whimpering her encouragement. Rachel raised her head to address her lover. “I need to taste you, Meggie, help me get your shorts off.” Meg nodded her agreement, then raised her buttocks so they could slip them off. Rachel looked at the object of her lust, she pet the soft curly hair that guarded her partner’s sex and breathed deeply of her scent. “You smell so good.” She purred, then quickly slipped her arms around Meg’s bottom and positioned her legs over strong shoulders and rubbed her face in her partner’s nectar. She licked and sucked the clitoris before her.

“Oh God, Rachel! Oh yeah!” Meg panted as her sex was being devoured by her lust filled partner. Rachel was inspired by her lover’s verbal responses and entered her with two long fingers and pumped into her. She reveled in the power she had over her lover’s passion. The feeling was intoxicating. Rachel’s own clit throbbed as she felt her lover’s vagina rhythmically contract around her fingers. She slipped her tongue under the hood of Meg’s engorged clitoris and separated strong fingers as she pumped, increasing the pressure and the pleasure of her lover’s climax. Meg screamed out her release, unbearable pleasure shooting through every fiber of her being, her vision faded as all the blood in her body was called to her center. The small body trembled and quaked as Rachel lowered flaccid legs. Powerful arms pulled Meg’s buttocks to the edge of the kitchen counter, allowing Rachel to mount her partner’s thigh, pumping with all her might, desperately seeking release. The once beautiful features contorted with need. Her head flew back, teeth clenched as she came powerfully upon Meg’s flesh.

Rachel sucked air deeply into her heaving lungs and rested her head upon her lover’s shoulder. “Are you all right? Did I hurt you.” Rachel asked, fearing she’d been too rough with her much smaller lover.

Meg smoothed back Rachel’s hair and kissed her flushed cheek. “I’m fine, love. You didn’t hurt me. Why don’t we go take a soak together, and you can tell me all about this therapy group. OK?”

Rachel buried her face in Meg’s hair, embarrassed and confused by her aggressive behavior. “Can I take a rain check? I need to go. I…um…I’ll call you later.” Rachel kissed Meg’s cheek and hurried out the kitchen door, leaving her lover alone and naked on the kitchen counter.

“Well that went well…..not.” Meg shook her head, hopped down from the counter and went to draw her bath, deciding it was better to leave Rachel alone to work out her thoughts.

***

Rachel wiped the sweat off her face and chest as she gulped down a jug of water she’d retrieved from the refrigerator, then poured the remainder in her dog’s bowl. She’d taken Sandy to City Park and run until she just couldn’t run any more. She tried not to think about sex, Meg or Joey, just concentrated on the pavement beneath her pounding feet. She couldn’t understand her sexually aggressive behavior toward Meg and it bothered her deeply. The thought of possibly hurting or frightening the woman she loved was anathema to her. She decided the best thing to do until Friday’s group session was work. At least there she felt safe and secure in her decisions and her actions. She couldn’t say the same for her private life. After calling the hospital and volunteering to work Wednesday and Thursday on the 3-11 shifts, she took a long hot shower, crawled into bed and hit the disconnect button on her phone. ‘I just can’t deal with her right now. Ok, so I’m a coward. And, this is news? I just took what I needed and ran like the pervert I am. I don’t deserve her to love me. She’ll realize that someday soon and she’ll leave me. I can’t blame her. She deserves so much better than to be with someone as sexually fucked up as I am. Oh Christ! I don’t want to think about this anymore.’ Rachel went to the medicine cabinet and took out a bottle of ambien. She took ten milligrams with a glass of water then quickly crawled back into bed, knowing the sleeping tablets would help in her escape from her thoughts, but not her dreams.

***

“NOOOOOO!!!” Rachel sat up, reaching for the bedside lamp to chase away the terrifying images of her nightmare. Tears streamed down her hot face as she fought to slow her racing heart. “Oh God! Oh God! Meggie, I didn’t mean it….. Awww, no….. I’m sorry….. I didn’t mean it.” Rachel sobbed into her pillow as the nightmare replayed in her tortured mind. She reached for the phone and pressed the reconnect button then Meg’s speed dial number. She trembled in fear as she waited for the soothing sound of her lover’s voice.

Meg looked at the alarm clock as the phone shook her from the case history she’d been reading. She closed the file, wondering who died. Usually, when she got a call this late, it was bad news of some sort. “Hello?” Meg got no response, but listened intently to the sound of a woman’s whimpering on the other end of the line. “Hello? Rachel, is that you?” The whimpering turned into sobs and Rachel hid her face in the pillow, unable to get her emotions under control enough to speak. Meg got out of bed and ran to the kitchen to look at the caller ID box. It was her lover who was in such terrible distress. She took the portable phone back into her bedroom as she began to dress. “Rachel? I’m coming over. Just hold on, baby. I’ll be there in five minutes.” Rachel nodded her head and hung up the phone.

Meg ran up onto the front porch of Rachel’s cottage and let herself in with her key. The only light was coming from the bedroom; Meg ran in. The sight that greeted her broke her heart. Rachel lay in a fetal position sobbing into her pillow, holding tight to her mid-section and rocking to comfort herself. “Oh, Rachel, baby.” Meg crawled onto the bed and pulled the suffering woman into her arms. “I’m here. You’re safe. He can’t hurt you.” Meg pet her lover’s face and arms, cooing words of love and comfort. “What happened, Rachel? More nightmares?”

Rachel nodded and tried to breath passed the pain in her chest the wailing had caused. “I…..I hurt you….. Oh, God…..” Rachel’s chest heaved and her face crumpled in agony. “I’m so sorry. I couldn’t stop myself. I’m a monster.”

“Rachel, what are you talking about? You’ve never hurt me. You’d never hurt me. I know that.”

“In my dream, Meggie. In my dream I…..I…..I raped you!” Rachel blurted, then turned away from her lover. “I was Joey. It was me forcing myself on you, slamming this huge phallus into you til you tore, screaming for me to stop, to stop hurting you. Oh God….., I’m a monster!!!” Rachel went to leave the bed but her lover’s arms stopped her and pulled her close.

“You are not a monster! You are the sweetest most loving woman I’ve ever had the great pleasure to know. Joey should pay for what he did to you, is doing to us. It breaks my heart to see you suffer this way. If I ever get my hands on that bastard, I’ll kill him.”

“No, Meggie. Please, don’t say that.” Rachel turned to look into her partner’s eyes. “It scares me to hear you talk that way. He might hurt you and I couldn’t live with that.”

“I’m sorry, love. I didn’t mean to upset you more.” Meg said, soothing Rachel’s fears and stroking her tear streaked face. “Look, I want to move in for the next few days. I think we need to face this together. Obviously the thought of joining this therapy group is bringing up some heavy fears…..”

“Wait. There’s more….. I came.” Meg’s face reflected the fact that she didn’t understand. “In my nightmare, I raped you and I…..I had an orgasm. That’s what woke me up.” Rachel turned away from her lover. “I got off on raping you. I’m no better than he is.”

“That’s just not true, Rachel. Your memories are messing with your head. You have to deal with it to free yourself of its control. It’s going to be hard, but together we can do it. I know we can. I have faith in us.”

Rachel smiled wanly and got out of bed, walked into the living room and opened the liquor cabinet. She fixed herself a bourbon and coke in a tall iced tea glass and went to sit out on the back deck. She sat on the chaise in her t-shirt and drank herself numb.

Meg watched from the door for a few minutes then decided it was best to let the woman sulk. She had good reason. Returning to the bedroom, she cleaned up, changed the linens and went to bed, praying to all the angels and saints to protect her lover from herself.

***

“I’m worried about her state of mind, Tory. You didn’t see her. She’s coming apart at the seams. She never came to bed last night. When I got up this morning she was still sound asleep on the back deck. She just drank until she passed out.”

“Where is she now?”

“She’s at work. I was finally able to get her up and bathed before I left for my office.”

“She won’t be home til late. I’ll invite myself over for breakfast and have a heart to heart with our girl. Now, it’s time for your kick boxing class, so you’d better get into those sneakers.” Tory patted Meg on the back and went to attend her clients.

***

Meg showered and dressed in a long night shirt she picked up at her house and sat down at the kitchen table to work on her client files. Sandy sat at the little woman’s feet, waiting for his mistress to come home. Several hours passed, Meg finished all of her notes and preparations for the next day’s clients. She looked up at the clock to see that it was 2330 and her lover should be arriving home soon. She put the tea pot on the stove in hopes she could spend some quality time with her but it was not to be. At 0100 Meg finally gave up, turned the lights off and crawled into bed.

“Hey, gorgeous… How sweet. You wait up for me?” Rachel slurred from the bedroom door as she looked hungrily upon her lover’s body. “I went out with some of the girls after work for a drink at Ruby Fruit Jungle. Now that’s a bunch of wild women… Did you miss me?” Rachel began taking off her clothes and walked into the bathroom to turn on the shower.

“Yes, I did.” Meg called out.

“Did what?”

“Miss you. I was getting worried.”

Rachel stopped and hung her head a moment before responding. “I’m sorry, Meggie. I should have called to let you know I wouldn’t be coming straight home. I never meant to worry you.” The tall, rather inebriated woman stepped into the shower.

Ten minutes later, Rachel passed through the bedroom, wrapped in a terrycloth robe, toweling her hair dry. “Good night. Sweet dreams.”

“Where are you going?” Meg inquired in confusion.

“To get some sleep. See you in the morning.” Rachel responded without even looking at her friend, who sat dumfounded upon the bed.

***

“Morning, Glory.” Tory bellowed as she threw back the curtains, letting in the early morning sun. “Rise and shine.”

“Ugh….., Go away.” Rachel groaned into her pillow, pulling the covers over her head.

“Nope. You’re fucking up your life and I’m here to kick your lily-white ass.”

A deeper groan came from under the bed linens. “Can you kick my ass later. I think I’m gonna be sick.” With that a dark form darted from underneath the bed linens into the bathroom with predictable results.

Tory stood over her best friend, holding her hair as she retched into the toilet. “Oh yeah. That’s attractive.”

When no more would come up, Tory handed Rachel a damp towel and walked out and into the kitchen, where Meg was anxiously waiting.

“Is she alright?”

“This isn’t going down in the annals of history as one of her better days, but she’ll live. Gonna have a hell of a hang over though. Woohoo! Better she than me.” Tory grinned. Meg blanched, inspiring the auburn haired woman to pull her into a warm embrace. “Come on now, Meg. She’s a big girl and what she did was stupid and self destructive. She knows it and we know it. Now, she has to pay the devil his due.”
part 5
Rachel went to work in the ER after spending most of the day nursing her hangover and apologizing profusely to her lover for being an ass. ‘I swear, dear Lord, if you get me through this shift, I will never drink another Hurricane from Patti-O’s for as long as I live.’ She solemnly prayed. ‘I will never give my lover cause to worry, or puke to mop up again. Just please keep my head from exploding and my dinner in my belly till I can get out of here and crawl in bed with the angel of mercy waiting for me at home.’ Her meditation was interrupted by the opening of the trauma doors and the hustling of the EMTs through with a writhing, bloodied form lying upon their gurney. ‘Well, here we go.’ Rachel took a deep breath and kicked into high gear.

The next eight hours flew by as the ER received trauma after trauma, from car accidents to gunshot wounds. Life in the ER was never dull.

When her shift ended, Rachel covered her soiled uniform with a clean white lab coat, jumped into Cherry and headed home to Meg, relieved that she had no work on Friday, except to attend Dr. Morgan’s group therapy session. She groaned at the thought, but determinedly pushed it away. “I will NOT let my fears run my life!” Rachel proclaimed, squaring her shoulders and forcing her mind to concentrate upon the desirable little blonde in her bed. She turned on her car stereo to the Golden Oldies channel and sang along, “Oh, yeah! I gotta woman…way across town…she’s good to me…Oh yeah! I got me a woman…way across town…she’s good to me…Oh yeah!” as she raced home to her lover, her heart filled with hope for the future.

***

“Yes, I will. I’ll call you as soon as she gets home. Thanks for being here for her, Tory. I don’t think we have to worry about a repeat performance. I’ve never seen anyone so contrite in my life. She cooked lunch, cleaned the dishes, washed our clothes, mopped the kitchen floor and scrubbed the toilets all before leaving for work at 2 p.m. Oh my stars, you should have seen her….. Speak of the devil. I just heard Cherry pull up. She’s home. I’ll talk to you tomorrow, Tory. Thanks again.”

“Don’t mention it. Just, take good care of my girl. She’s all the family I’ve got.” Tory said.

“I will. I promise. Good night.”

“Night, Meg.”

Meg put the phone down and went to the front door to greet her partner. She opened the door and peered out at Rachel’s smiling face. “Hey lady.”

“Hey yourself. Can I come in or am I still in the dog house?”

Meg giggled. “You’re forgiven. Come in here and give me a hug.”

Rachel grinned from ear to ear and swooped her lover into her strong arms, spinning her until both women fell onto the sofa too dizzy to stand upright. They giggled like a couple of school girls until Meg noticed the odor emanating from her lover’s uniform. She held her nose and squinched up her face, indicating her displeasure.

“What? …..It’s just a little blood, betadine, urine, and emesis.”

“Oh, gross! Laundry room, go! …..And, take a bath, will ya!” Meg directed.

Rachel laughed heartily. “Ok, ok, I’m going. Geesh, some people.” She went to the laundry room, stripping her clothes off as she approached and throwing them into the washing machine to clean, then traipsed back through the living room naked as the day she was born.

“RACHEL?!? What are you doing?” Meg exclaimed, eyes wide. Her partner stopped short to look into sea-green eyes.

“I’m going to take a shower so I will no longer offend your finer sensibilities. Isn’t that what you wanted?”

“But, you’re naked!”

“Of course I’m naked. I don’t usually wear formal attire to bathe, madam.” Rachel wiggled her eyebrows and proceeded along her way.

Meg stood flustered, at a loss for a smart retort. A moment later, a dark head peaked out from the bedroom. “Would you care to join me?” She asked hopefully.

The question took her totally by surprise. Her insecure lover had never before made such a request. She didn’t know how to respond at first, not wanting to cause anymore emotional trauma. But, feeling this to be a sign that her partner was really trying to overcome her fears, she decided to take the chance. “Are you sure about that?”

“Sure, I’m sure.” She smiled, sweetly.

“In that case, I’d love to.” Meg wiggled her eyebrows at her lover and began removing her own clothes as she quickly walked through the bedroom and into the bath.

The couple took turns soaping up the sponge and washing those hard to reach places for one another. When they were finished with that, they took turns washing each other’s hair. Rachel had to sit on the side of the tub for Meg to reach her dark mane. “Good golly, but that feels wonderful, Meggie.” She moaned with pleasure as her partner lovingly massaged her scalp and took the opportunity to assess how well her shoulder was healing.

“Your incision is swollen, love.” Meg palpated the area, getting a hiss in response. “You’ve been over doing it, working so many hours.”

“Yeah, I know. I’m taking the whole weekend off.”

“Good girl. I’m glad you’re being good to yourself for a change.”

“Have I really been that bad, lately?” Rachel asked, contritely.

“Yep. At least for the past week or so….. I can’t tell you how relieved I am that you’re getting a grip on this whole group therapy thing….. Do you realize that this is the first time you’ve let me help you bathe since your surgery? And, it’s the first time you’ve ever pranced around nude for my enjoyment….. I am very impressed. I’d say you are making great progress. And, I am reaping the benefits.”

Rachel blushed and felt a sudden urge to grab a towel and cover herself, but she fought it. She knew how much Meg was enjoying their intimacy and she was determined to overcome all of her fears that presented a barrier to their happiness. “I’m still not totally comfortable with my body, but I know you are and I’m trying…..”

“Shhh, I know, Rach. And, I know how hard you are trying. Facing your fears is awfully difficult, but you can do it. You are doing it. I am so very proud of you, love.” Meg kissed the top of her partner’s dark head. Then reached for a dry towel. “Here, let’s get you warm and dry before you catch a chill.”

***

The women lay in bed, holding hands and talking about their hopes and dreams for the future until fatigue pulled Rachel into a deep and peaceful sleep.

Meg awoke at 0700 with a heavy feeling across her chest and an incessant tickling of her left ear. She opened her eyes to see her lover’s left arm and leg strewn across her body with Rachel’s head resting in the curve of her neck, breathing into golden hair causing it to flutter against the owner’s ear. She hated waking her peacefully sleeping friend but nature was screaming for her to make a visitation to the porcelain altar. She tried to gently extricate herself and was pleased when Rachel just rolled over and continued lightly snoring.

While showering and drying her long blonde hair, Meg thought of ways to keep Rachel’s mind off the therapy group they’d be attending this evening. ‘I wish we could make love all day, but that might create more anxiety than not. Next best thing she loves to do is work out, so the gym and a good massage should pass the morning. Of course, that’s what we do every morning. What can we do that’s special, that will relax her…… The Zoo in Audubon Park.’ She went to the bathroom window and opened it, checking the weather. ‘Perfect. Not too warm and not too cold. You never know what you’re gonna get this time of year in New Orleans. I could take her for a nice long walk in the Zoo and a late lunch. She’d like that. Right now, I think I’ll fix us breakfast and let her sleep in.’

Rachel stood just inside the kitchen, quietly admiring the little blonde at the stove. She smiled at how cute Meg looked with her Saints T-shirt on and, she suspected, nothing else but her Bugs Bunny slippers. Her smile turned into a lascivious grin at the thought. She snuck up behind the object of her desire and gently wrapped long arms around a slim waist hugging her against full breasts. She nuzzled into golden hair and moaned her pleasure.

“Mmmmm, good morning….. Sleep well?” Meg inquired.

“I honestly never remember sleeping better than I did with you in my arms last night….. God, but you’re good for me, Meggie….. Thanks for sticking with me.”

“My pleasure. But, you have to let go of me or I’m going to burn this 5 star breakfast I’ve been slaving over all morning.”

“Whoops, OK.” Rachel released her lover. “What have we got here?”

“We have French toast, Spanish omelette and bacon. Would you serve the orange juice and milk from the fridge, please ma’am?”

“Sure thing. Mmmmmm…mm, it smells heavenly. What did I ever do to deserve you? You’re beautiful, smart, successful and you can cook too? I’m just about the luckiest woman in New Orleans.”

“Just New Orleans?”

Rachel walked up behind the irate little woman and kissed her cheek. “Did I say in New Orleans? I meant the universe.”

“That’s better. Now grab a couple of plates. Breakfast is served.” Meg and Rachel ate their feast while flirting and teasing each other. They both treasured this respite from the stress that had plagued their growing love.

***

“Hey li’l bit, you wanna join the morning kick boxing group since you’ll be tied up tonight?” Tory asked Meg, who was busy rubbing out the sore muscles of Rachel’s long legs.

“Kick boxing? You’ve been taking kick boxing?” Rachel asked, surprised she was unaware of the fact. “How long have you been doing that?”

Meg blanched. For some reason she didn’t want Rachel to know that she’d been taking kick boxing ever since she was attacked outside of the gym and her love had nearly been killed. “Just a few weeks. I really enjoy it. Great exercise.”

Rachel turned over to face her partner. “Why?”

“What do you mean ‘Why?’?”

“I mean, you never struck me as someone who would like any kind of violent…..fighting type…..”

“Rach, let me explain….. I was really thrown by what happened to us. Then when Tory told me about the kick boxing class that the gym would be hosting, I jumped at the chance to do something for myself that would empower me, make me feel less of a victim.” Meg looked into worried brown eyes, longing for a glimmer of understanding.

Rachel sat up and heaved a deep sigh. “I understand that, Meggie, I do, really. I just want you to promise me that you won’t put yourself in any danger because you think you can handle yourself now.” She looked deeply into sea-green orbs. There was something there that worried her. She wasn’t sure what. But, she wanted to support her lover in whatever was important to her. “OK?”

“OK. I promise not to turn into some peewee vigilante out searching for bad guy butt to kick.”

Both women laughed at that. “OK, Xena, Warrior PeeWee, go kick some butt.” Rachel quipped.

“Hey, but don’t hurt anyone. You’ll make my insurance premiums go up.” Tory piped in and plopped down next to her best friend. “How ya doin today?”

“Tor, I feel great, light, like a great weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. Now, if I could just stop my shoulder from throbbing…..”

“Did you hurt it working out this morning?”

“No. I only worked my lower body today. Lifting the patients in the ER got me. I think I’m gonna have to call Robbie and have him take a look at it if it doesn’t start feeling better by Monday. I’m taking the weekend off to rest it and Meg is watching me like a mother hen…..”

“Let me take a look at it….. Oooh, yeah, got some swelling and a little bruising there. Bet that smarts.”

“Yep.”

“Here, let me put a hot pack on it for a few minutes and see if it helps any.” Tory hopped up to retrieve the item as Rachel turned to watch her lover, who proved a formidable opponent on the mat.

“She’s something. Isn’t she?” Tory stated upon her return. “I’ve never seen anyone take to that so fast and with such acumen.”

“Tor, why didn’t you tell me she was taking kick boxing?” Rachel asked as she continued to admire her partner.

Tory sighed, positioning the hot pack over her friend’s shoulder and covering it with a towel. “She asked me not to. She thought you might react just the way you did.”

“I don’t like it. I’m afraid for her.” Rachel couldn’t hide the catch in her throat.

“I know, baby. But you have to let her do what she needs to do. You of all people know how headstrong Meg is. She won’t do anything stupid.”

“I hope you’re right.”

“Of course, I’m right. Now, keep this on till I come back. I have another client.”

“Sure.”

Meg’s class finally disbanded and she rejoined her partner. “Whew, I need a good scrubbing.” She proclaimed as the sweat dripped from her nose and chin. “I’ll shower, then we can take a ride over to the Zoo. Would you like that?”

“Yeah, the Zoo sounds great, but we should pass by the house and get our sweaters. It’s suppose to get cooler as the day goes on.”

“All taken care of. I packed them this morning. I’d hoped you’d say yes.”

“That’s my girl….. How’s about some company in that shower?” Rachel wiggled her eyebrows.

“Why, Miss Vincenti, you’re just full of surprises, aren’t you?”

***

Rachel let the spray from the shower head massage her sore back and shoulder as Meg finished washing her hair. “Gosh, that feels so good. Wish we had a shower head like this at home.”

Meg paused at the inference that Rachel’s home was their home. She liked the warm feeling it gave her. “We can pick one up at Home Depot today. They’re fairly expensive, but if it helps with your pain, then it will be worth it. Besides, there are some fringe benefits to having one of those babies.”

Rachel looked innocently into her lover’s eyes. Then, the light of comprehension shown and a grin slowly spread across her beautiful face. “You’re so bad.”

Meg ran her hand from Rachel’s long, elegant neck, down between her ample breasts to her curly, soft bush. “I love the way you feel. You’re so soft. And, I love the silver tips of your pubic hair. It reminds me of a winter’s morning.”

The tall beauty shivered at her lover’s touch, then stopped short. “Winter’s morning? Well, I like that. Instead of hot sex, my mons reminds you of the cold chill of a winter’s morning.”

“That’s not at all what I meant, Rach.” Meg was totally taken aback by this reaction.

Rachel stepped out of the shower, wrapping a towel around her dripping form. She walked over to the mirror and disrobed, staring intently at her body. She touched the silver at her temples and the laugh lines around her eyes, then stroked the slightly lose skin at her throat and winced. Her hand reached down and swiped the droplets of water from her mons and stared at the barely graying curls there and sighed. “I hate getting older.”

Meg walked up behind her with a towel wrapped around her torso. “Hey, it beats the alternative.”

“It’s not funny.” Rachel pouted as she covered herself.

“What’s wrong, love? You’ve never worried about getting older before. Why now?” Meg asked as she pet Rachel’s dark head.

“It just dawned upon me how much older I am than you. Look at you, nary a gray hair nor wrinkle. You’re so young and beautiful. Oh, I realize I’m just a kid at heart and will probably never really grow up. But, that won’t stop my body from continuing to sag, gray, and becoming decrepit.”

“Hey, I happen to love that decrepit old body of yours. Our age difference has never been an issue before and I don’t know why on God’s green earth you want to make it one now. So, cut it out. You’re just looking for something to worry about. Besides, there are any number of women at this very gym that would give a month’s salary to get up close and personal with that bod.”

“Yeah?” Rachel turned to look at her lover.

“Don’t get any ideas, Tiger. You’re mine and I intend to utilize my new found kick boxing skills on any one who gets too close. Got it?” Meg gave her partner a mock intimidating glare.

“Got it.” Rachel took Meg into her arms and kissed her sweetly. “I love you, my Meggie.”

Meg felt the tears burning the backs of her eyes and took a shuddering breath. “I love you too, Rachel.”

***

The Zoo was fun and the women enjoyed the cool, crisp fall air. Rachel bought an ice cream in spite of the chill. “How can you eat that?” Meg asked in awe.

“What can I say? I like ice cream.”

“But it’s 50 degrees out here.”

“And your point would be?” Rachel retorted as she licked the chocolate and mint treat.

“Oooooh, look!” Meg pointed to a huge group of pink Flamingos against a backdrop of maple and sycamore trees whose fall foliage caused a cornucopia of colors. “Look at all the different colors. I wish I had a camera.”

“Wow. That’s awesome. Let’s go see the exotic birds exhibit.” The two friends locked arms and proceeded to enjoy the sights.

The women walked and giggled at the antics of the animals until they both had to give in to their gnawing hunger. “How about you letting me buy you a late lunch. We can eat anywhere your heart desires.” Meg said.

“Anywhere?” Rachel asked hopefully.

“Anywhere at all. Where would you like to eat?”

“Little Tokyo on St. Charles Avenue. I want Sushi! Yeah!” Rachel yelled. Sushi was her all time favorite food.

“Awww, that’s gross.” Meg complained.

Rachel put on her best pouty face. “You promised I could eat anywhere I wanted. Anyway, you don’t have to eat sushi, too. They have tempura and teriyaki and steaks…..”

“Ok, ok. We’ll eat at Little Tokyo. But, next time it’s Ruth’s Chris Steak House.”

Rachel grinned and danced a little jig. “I’m gonna have fresh salmon, barbecued eel and uni.”

“Yuck!”

“How can anyone like the taste of a woman and not like sushi? I just don’t get it.”

“I’m sorry, my love, but eating a woman won’t give me worms. Excuse my bluntness.” Meg spouted.

Rachel’s eyes got round as saucers. “Worms? Yuck! That’s gross!”

“My sentiments exactly.”

***

They enjoyed their dinner, Rachel forgetting all about worms and such. After having a hot tea to wash down the meal, it was time to head for Dr. Morgan’s office and their first group therapy session.

Meg noticed the slight tremor in Rachel’s hand as she placed the key in the ignition. “Rach, why don’t I drive?” Meg offered.

It took Rachel a moment to process what her friend said then, looking down at her hands, she nodded. “Good idea.” She switched seats with her partner and took a deep breath, trying to force down her meal, which was threatening to make a return engagement.

“Here.” Meg reached for the Tina Turner CD and slid it in the car’s stereo. “Let’s sing. It will help keep our minds off what we have no control over.”

Rachel nodded and they both broke into song along with their favorite singer. Their voices were loud and strong, if not melodious and pleasing, and they enjoyed themselves despite their trepidation concerning their destination.

“Here we are.” Meg stated as she pulled in front of the parking meter. “Let’s do it.” The little blonde jumped out of the Mustang and ran around to open Rachel’s door for her. She reached in and offered her hand to her lover, who sat stock-still, staring out the windshield at nothing. “Come on, Rachel. You can do this. Just take my hand and hold on to me….. Hey, I love you….. Please, Rach.” Meg quietly beseeched the terrified woman. Rachel looked down at the proffered hand and slowly took it in her own. “Good girl.” Meg stated as she helped her partner to her feet and walked slightly ahead of her into Dr. Morgan’s office, following the signs up the steps to the conference room where the session would be held.

Rachel allowed Meg to lead her, barely aware of her surroundings, to a love seat in a slightly shadowed area of the room. “Would you like some coffee, love?” Meg asked. The grip on her hand tightened and Rachel shook her head “No”. “Ok. Try to relax. Take slow deep breaths.” Meg encouraged.

Dr. Morgan observed Rachel and Meg’s entrance and the look of terror on her client’s face. She excused herself from the conversation she was participating in, feeling her presence was needed elsewhere. “Hi there. Glad you made it. How are you doing Rachel?”

The tall woman stood abruptly at the sound of her therapist’s voice. “I’m here.” Was all she could say. The butterflies in her stomach were making her fear that she’d have to make a break for the lady’s room at any moment.

“That’s half the battle, Rachel. All you have to do is sit and listen today. I’ll introduce you, but you don’t have to say a thing if you don’t want to. I do ask that you remain throughout the session and please do speak up if you feel you can.” Dr. Morgan said, gently, keeping her hand upon Rachel’s forearm. “Is that OK with you?”

“Yeah….. That sounds OK.” Rachel looked up briefly into Dr. Morgan’s sympathetic eyes, then sat down as abruptly as she’d stood. Meg looked at her old friend and smiled. Ricky smiled back and nodded in understanding.

“Well, let’s begin, shall we.” Dr. Morgan announced. Everyone took the seat they were accustomed to. There were sofas and over-stuffed chairs to keep the atmosphere casual and warm. “We have a new member with us today. This is her first time ever in group therapy, so she’s just as nervous as you were on your first days. Let’s welcome Rachel and her partner Meg.” Dr. Morgan pointed out who was who. She expected no acknowledgment from her client. She was not disappointed. Rachel could feel herself blushing as her ears began to sting. Her first impulse was to run out of the door and never look back, but the constant pressure of Meg’s hand holding hers and the soothing rubbing of a small hand upon her thigh kept her seated.

The session went by in a blur of comments and very familiar scenarios. Rachel was in awe at the similarities between her experiences and emotions and those of the other women in the group. By the end of the session, she didn’t feel quite so isolated, quite so alone in the world. ‘Maybe this was a good idea. Maybe they can help.’ Rachel thought to herself as she got up the courage to look around the room at the faces of her peers, for that was truly what these women were. ‘Amazing, they all look normal to me. They could be anyone’s mother, sister, teacher, doctor. They don’t look different at all. Some are even smiling and seem happy to be here. I guess I’ve got an awful lot to learn.’ Rachel began to relax and really take in what was being shared.

Before Dr. Morgan ended the session, she asked Rachel if she wanted to share with the group. The tall dark beauty felt her heart pounding like the hooves of a racehorse in her chest and her mouth went dry, but she was compelled to speak. She cleared her throat and looked around the room at the faces of the women present. “Yeah…..uh…..thanks, Dr. Morgan. Thank you all for being here. It’s been quite a revelation. I guess there may be hope for me yet.” She smiled sincerely. “I don’t know how to talk about what happened to me. But, maybe I can learn, huh? I think maybe I can….. Well, I guess I’ll see y’all Monday night.”

“Very good. I hope to see you all here on Monday night. Thanks for coming. Anyone want to go for coffee and beignets?” Dr. Morgan ended the session and a few of the women stayed behind to speak with their new group member and offer encouragement.

“Hi, I’m Patsy. Some of us like to hang out at Café’ du Monde after our session. Would you and your friend like to join us?”

Rachel looked at Meg who squeezed her hand, offering encouragement. “Sure. We could use a hot cup of cafe au lait. I’d like to hear more about how the group dynamics work. If you don’t mind talking shop.”

Patsy chuckled. “Not at all. That’s what we’re here for. To help each other.” Rachel smiled timidly. “Let me introduce my friend here. This is Ellen. She doesn’t talk much until you get some caffeine in her. Then, you can’t get her to shut up.”

“Hey, I resemble that remark.” Ellen quipped, then pushed Patsy toward the exit. “See y’all in a few.” Both women waved as they walked out of the door.

Rachel looked at her partner, laughed, and pulled her into a hug. “I like them.”

Meg hugged her back. “Me too. Let’s get to know them better.”

“I’d like that….. It’s gonna be OK, isn’t it?” Rachel quietly asked.

Meg looked up into the eyes she loved. “It sure is.”
part 6
Rachel let herself and Meg into the gym with her key. “Hey Tory!” Rachel called out.

“Where could she be?” Meg asked. “You don’t think something’s happened to her, do you?”

“Tory! Where are you!?!” Rachel called again, but got no response. “Meg, you stay here by the phone. If I’m not down in five minutes, call 911 and then get outta here.” Rachel instructed and picked up an empty bar from the weight bench.

“No. Rachel, let’s call the police. I’m scared.” Meg urged.

“I don’t want to freak her out if she’s just overslept. Don’t worry, I’m in no hurry to meet my maker….. Just, please do what I asked.”

“Ok…… But, be careful.” Meg said as she picked up the portable phone and walked to stand by the exit.

Rachel scampered up the steps to Tory’s apartment. She approached the one door and listened intently. She thought she heard the sound of running water, but wasn’t sure, so she quietly opened the door and stepped inside. The large room was dark except for scented candles, which burned in strategic locations. It smelled of apple-cinnamon and pine. There was a small ceramic Christmas tree, white with green lights, sitting upon the coffee table with pictures lying about it. Rachel could hear the shower running and realized Tory hadn’t heard them call. A glance at the pictures before her clarified the situation. Tory had been remembering past Christmases with Claire and was probably in pretty bad shape. Rachel looked at the bathroom door and quickly went back the way she came.

“Is she alright?” Meg asked.

“She’s in the shower. I don’t think she heard us come in.”

“Oh…..I guess she did just over sleep.” Meg stated a bit perplexed at the uncharacteristic behavior.

“No. I think it’s more complicated than that.” Rachel said as she returned the bar to the weight bench. “There were pictures of Claire all over the place. I think she’s really bummed right now with Christmas coming….. Look, I’m gonna go talk to her. Do you mind opening up down here?”

“No. Not at all. Go…See if you can help.”

Rachel nodded and went back up the stairs.

***

She could still hear the water running in the shower behind the closed bathroom door. Becoming concerned she decided to knock. “Tory? Tory, it’s me, Rachel. You alright in there?”

Tory groaned, not wanting to face her best friend. She just wanted to be alone in her misery.

“Tory? Come on girl, answer me.” Rachel held her ear against the door but heard no response.

“Dammit, Tor! You answer me or I swear I’ll break this door down.” Rachel banged her fists against the solid wood structure.

“Go away.”

“No….. Tory, I know you’re hurting. Please, let me help….. Please, Tor.” Rachel begged. She heard nothing, then decided to get the door open. She went into the kitchenette and retrieved an ice pick. She plunged the tip into the round hole in the door knob, popping open the lock, and opened the door. What she witnessed broke her heart. Her best friend sat in the corner of the shower stall nude, hugging her knees to her chest, hot tears mixing with the now cold spray.

Rachel hurriedly shut off the shower, grabbed a towel and wrapped it around the shivering body. “Come on, Tory, help me get you out of here.” Rachel beseeched her friend, who turned away from her, but allowed herself to be helped to her feet. Leaning heavily on the taller woman, Tory shuffled numbly to the sofa and let herself be covered in a blanket. “Here, you’re freezing.” Rachel said as she pulled Tory into her strong arms and rubbed her body through the thick material.

Tory turned her head into her friend’s chest and sobbed out her grief. “Why’d she have to die, Rachel? She was a good person. She never hurt anyone in her whole life.”

“I know, Tory. I know. If I could bring Claire back to you, I would….. I know she wouldn’t want you to suffer like this. She’d want you to find someone to share your life with.”

“I don’t want anyone else but Claire. I’d feel like I was cheating on her.”

“All your wife ever wanted was for you to be happy, Tory. I’m sure she still does. I don’t believe the essence of Claire is gone. She’s still here watching over you. And if you’d just give her the chance, she’d send you someone to love, someone to make you happy again.”

Tory nodded and dried her eyes on the blanket. “Maybe some day. I guess it’s just gonna take time….. Look, why don’t you go downstairs and help Meg. I’m gonna try to compose myself. I’ll be down later.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah. I’ll be Ok. I promise.”

“Alright. But I’ll be back up to check on you later.”

***

Lunchtime rolled around and the couple closed the doors so they could chow down on the pizza they’d ordered. “I had no idea what went into running this place. I’m starved.” Meg stated before biting off a large peace of their spinach, garlic and cheese pizza.

“I’d better go up and check on her after we eat. She’s so depressed. I’m really worried about her state of mind.”

“You don’t think she’s capable of hurting herself, do you?”

“Normally, I’d say ‘No’, but things have changed. Since I have you, maybe she thinks I don’t need her to be here for me as much as I did.” Rachel said.

“Now, you’re scaring me. I think I’ll go have a talk with Tory myself.”

“That would make me feel better.”

***

Meg knocked on the door. “Hey, Tory. It’s Meg. May I come in?”

“Entre.”

Meg entered and was relieved to find her friend fully clothed in her oversized white sweats, standing at the window, drinking coffee and admiring a framed photograph. The petite blonde walked up to take a look at the photo of another petite blonde, but this one with short hair. She was dressed in blue jeans and a brown leather bomber jacket with candy striped mittens. Her head was soaked and she was covered in snow and a huge smile.

“Where was this taken?” Meg inquired.

“City Park at the Celebration in the Oaks three years ago. You would never have known she was sick that night. Christmas was always her favorite time of the year, especially when the snow machine was turned on and she could frolic with all the kids. She’d be wet from head to toe, then we’d go home and crawl into the hot tub with our hot punch and sing Christmas Carols ’til we were hoarse….. God, I miss that.” Tory smiled and lovingly ran her fingers over her wife’s image.

“It sounds magical.” Meg placed her hand upon Tory’s shoulder.

“It was…. She was…. Every Christmas morning, I’d find a single, long stem, white rose on my pillow. She said it symbolized the purity of our love and the promise of the new year.” A tear escaped and trickled down her cheek.

Meg found her own cheeks wet with emotion. “I’m so sorry, Tory. I wish I had known her.”

“Me too. She always prayed that one day Rachel would find her soul mate. She’d be so pleased.” Tory smiled and hugged her friend. “I guess I’d better get down there and relieve Rachel before she hurts that shoulder again.”

***

“Thinking about Tory?” Rachel asked across the dinner table to her uncharacteristically quiet partner.

“Yes. It’s so sad. I’ve never known loss like that. I….. I don’t know how I’d survive if I lost you…..or if I’d even want to.” Meg frowned.

“You would. I know you. You’re strong, Meggie.”

“What about you?”

“Aww, geesum petes, Meg, can we talk about something else?” Rachel huffed.

“OK. Why don’t we take Tory to Celebration in the Oaks tonight? That seemed to be a very important tradition in her marriage and I think she’d appreciate it.”

“Now, that’s a great idea. I’ll give her a call. You know what?” Rachel stood up to collect their dinner dishes.

“What?”

“You’re pretty special.” Rachel leaned down and kissed her partner.

“You’re not so bad yourself.” Meg grinned. “You go call Tory and I’ll wash the dishes.”

“OK.”

***

“Good grief! That’s a hard headed woman.” Rachel exclaimed.

“What? Did she turn us down?” Meg asked.

“She tried to but I out whined her.” Rachel said, causing Meg to nearly drop the pot she was scrubbing.

“I can hear it now. You two are a pair. So, what’s the plan?”

“I told her we’d pick her up in an hour.”

“Why so long? She’s only five minutes from here.” Meg asked, drying the last of the dinner dishes.

Rachel walked up behind her partner and wrapped her in loving arms. “So I’d have time to do this.” She spun Meg around and kissed her ever so gently. Then, taking the face she loved in both hands, kissed her again, entering the warm recesses of her mouth. Meg moaned out her pleasure as she sucked in her lover’s tongue. Small hands reached up and tangled themselves in silky dark tresses. Rachel’s hands softly slid down Meg’s neck and shoulders, then around to cup firm buttocks and pull her closer to her need. Meg pulled away, panting for breath. “Take off your pants for me, love.”

Rachel removed her pants, her heart galloping, as Meg ran for a towel and set it down on the sofa. “Sit on this.” Rachel gladly obeyed as she watched her lover remove her own pants and straddle Rachel’s lap, spreading her legs wide and breathing deeply of the mingling scents of their arousal.

Rachel was intrigued by this new position that allowed her mouth easy access to Meg’s soft breasts. She hurriedly removed the barriers to their charms. Taking a plump breast in her hand she licked it all over and suckled upon the nipple, sending jolts of pleasure directly to her partner’s sex. “Oh God….. Rach….. Let me touch you, baby. I need to feel you.” Meg pleaded. She knew her partner liked to have control, but tonight she needed to express herself and her own desires.

Rachel released the breast she’d been enjoying and looked deeply into her partner’s dilating pupils. Seeing the need there, the decision was easy. She took Meg’s small hand in her much larger one and brought it to her mons, her eyes never leaving her lover’s. Tilting her pelvis and spreading her legs wider she offered herself to her soul mate, who was so deeply touched that she felt the sting of tears behind her eyes. Gently, Meg pet her partner’s mons, enjoying the softness of her graying hair, then she ran her fingers through it and down into the nectar that flowed below. “I love you, Rachel.” Meg grabbed Rachel’s hand and pressed it against her own hot center. “I need you… inside.” The little woman panted. She was now on sensory overload. Her only conscious thought to pleasure her lover. She entered Rachel’s vagina and pumped her hand in rhythm with her own hips. “Oh, Rachel, you’re so soft, so warm and wet….. Kiss me,…. please.” Rachel took her free hand and wrapped it behind Meg’s neck and pulled her into a deep, searing kiss. Tongues slid together and probed and tasted, sending their ardor higher. Meg knew she wouldn’t last much longer and desperately wanted to be inside Rachel when she climaxed, so she increased the pressure on her clit and the speed of her pumping as she used her free hand to slide beneath Rachel’s blouse and squeeze her already erect nipples as she sucked upon her probing tongue. She sensed the familiar shudder of her lover’s body, signaling her impending climax and her heart soared with joy. She released Rachel’s tongue to avoid injury as she allowed her own release to flood her senses.

Both women burst into happy tears as their orgasms receded. Meg held her lover close and let her cry, knowing what it must have cost her emotionally to allow Meg control over their lovemaking. “Thank you, Rachel. Thank you, my love.”

When Rachel was able to speak, she said, “Thank you, Meggie. I’ve never felt anything like that before. You are so good for me, baby…. I love you.” She stroked her lover’s tear streaked face and leaned in to tenderly kiss bruised lips. “Oh, how are we on time?”

Meg looked at her watch. “Fifteen minutes to spare. I suggest we both hop in the shower and get a move on. That’s if either of us can still stand.” Meg giggled as she gingerly lifted herself from her lover’s hand.

***

“What’s up with you two, tonight? You’ve been cooing at each other like a couple of teenagers.” Tory quipped.

Her friends just grinned and hugged each other again.

“Oh brother. You two had a roll in the hay after you talked to me on the phone, didn’t you?” Tory shook her head and threw her arms up in exasperation.

Rachel nodded and blushed. “And, it was incredible.”

“I’m happy for you. Now, can we change the subject? You’re making my blood sugar go up.”

Rachel chuckled. “Sure. Do you want to take the train through the park to see the decorations?”

“No. I don’t think so. It’s too chilly tonight. Why don’t you and Meg take the train and I’ll walk through the Meditation Gardens. Then, we can eat junk food and challenge each other on the bumper cars. Sound like a plan?”

“Sounds good to me. How about you, Meg?”

“Fine with me.”

“Great. I’ll meet you two at the concession stand in thirty minutes.”

***

The gardens were covered in green, red and white lights. The soft sweet scent of the flowers tickled Tory’s nose and pulled at her heartstrings. ‘God, Claire would have loved this. How can all these roses be blooming in the cold? They are so gorgeous, so many colors.’ She looked at a large bed of white roses, all in full bloom, covered in sparkling lights, when her attention was distracted by the form of a petite woman in a brown leather bomber jacket, jeans, a red Santa hat with a gold bell on the end and candy striped mittens. Her heart raced and a warmth spread through her chest then she felt her world spin out of control.

“Hey, lady, you alright?” She heard a young voice ask, but it was far away. “Mom, I think this lady’s sick.” The young boy called out to his mother as he looked worriedly at the woman holding on to the garden gate, taking deep breaths and shaking like a leaf in the cold wind.

“Miss…..Miss, do you need some help….. Etienne, run over to the reception table and get the security guard.” The child’s mother commanded as she wrapped strong arms around Tory’s slim waist, offering the support of her own body.

“No….. No, wait. I’m alright. I just haven’t eaten and got a bit lightheaded. I’m sorry if I frightened you. I’m alright now.” Tory composed herself and smiled sweetly for her rescuers. She pet the young boys head, who could not have been more than 10 years old. “You’re a fine young man Etienne. Thank you for trying to help me.”

“You’re welcome….. Merry Christmas, lady.”

“Merry Christmas, Etienne…. You should be very proud of him.” Tory said to the mother of her young hero.

“I am. Are you sure you’re alright?”

Tory looked around for the figure who’d upset her so. “Yes, yes. I’m fine.”

“Are you here alone?”

“My friends are riding the train through the park.”

“Would you like to walk through the gardens with us? It’s just the two of us and we’d enjoy the company.” The mother sincerely invited.

Tory thought for a moment as she looked deeply into the sparkling blue eyes of this very kind woman, then held out her hand. “I’m Tory Boyce and I’d be honored to join you and you too, Etienne.” She noticed the strength and warmth of the hand that returned her greeting.

The woman looked deeply into hazel eyes and stuttered a bit. “Jenny. Um…..That’s my name, Jenny.”

Tory smiled at her new friend’s discomfort and spoke softly. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Jenny.”

“Hey, Mom, there’s Terry from school. Can I go play with her?” Etienne asked, excitedly.

“Ok, but listen to Mrs. Jackson.” Jenny waved at Terry’s mother and motioned that she was sending her son over to her for a while. Mrs. Jackson waved back and nodded.

“Thanks, Mom.” Etienne said and ran to greet his friend.

“He’s beautiful, Jenny.”

“Thanks. Do you have any rugrats at home?” Jenny inquired as she began walking along the garden path.

“No. My partner and I talked about it for years, but we were so into each other and starting our own business that time got away from us.”

Jenny felt her hopes sink. She’d felt very attracted to the auburn haired woman. “Is your partner riding the train?”

Tory sighed and closed her eyes tightly, holding back her tears. “No. Claire died of cancer over two years ago.”

Jenny felt awful. “I’m so sorry, Tory. I didn’t know. This time of year must be so hard for you.”

Tory could only nod her head and continue walking.

“Since I divorced Etienne’s father, I’ve been too busy with raising him to devote my energies to anything or anyone else.”

“Did you love him?” Tory asked impulsively.

Jenny stopped in mid step, taken aback by this question from a veritable stranger.

“I’m sorry. That was out of line.”

Jenny didn’t know why but she was compelled to answer the question. “No….. No, I didn’t love him. I didn’t know what love was. I did what my family and friends expected. I was born and raised in a small Cajun town, Big Mamou.”

Tory broke into laughter. “You’ve gotta be kidding.”

Jenny laughed along with her. “No, it’s true. It’s not far from New Iberia. I know, every one thinks the name is a scream…. But, anyway, Big Mamou is a small, mostly Catholic, French town, where you were expected to get married and raise a bunch of kids. You didn’t have sex before marriage and you certainly didn’t consider alternative lifestyles. So, I married my high school sweetheart, got pregnant on my wedding night and shortly thereafter realized that I was different, or nuts or something because sex with my husband was a bore. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what all the fuss was about. But, I had my son to make me happy and he did for a long time, until he started school and I had time to devote to me and my marriage. Long story short, I became miserable, began reading a lot trying to educate myself and decided to do it right, signed up for classes during the day, while Etienne was at school, and eventually got a degree in education. That was considered acceptable if a woman just HAD to go to college. It also gave me an excuse not to have sex with my husband. I was just too tired from classes and studying, cleaning and cooking. I got a teaching job nearby and saved all the money I could to start over somewhere far away from the life I had there.”

“That was very brave of you.” Tory said. She was fascinated by this woman’s story of self- discovery.

“Not really. It was a case of self-preservation. I don’t want you to think that Lucien beat me or was cruel in any way. He just couldn’t give me what I needed. He was perfectly happy with our life. It really hurt him when I left. I got a good attorney from the big city and with my education and job security, was able to get custody of Etienne. His dad gets him every other weekend and we work out the summers to everyone’s schedule. I’d say we’ve done a good job of putting our son’s needs first. We’re as close to being friends as we can be.”

“I’m impressed. That’s not easy to accomplish. I’ve seen a lot of couples break up and become bitter enemies.”

“That would have hurt our son and neither of us want to do that. So, enough about me. Tell me about you. What’s this business you and Claire started?”

“It’s Tory’s Gym on Rue Esplanade. It’s a woman’s gym. No men allowed. The ladies feel free to let it all hang out, so to speak. I was a nurse and got heavily into women’s health issues, and was always into body sculpting as was Claire, so we decided to start our own gym and offer classes in both areas. Rachel, my best friend, teaches the health classes. She has a master’s in nursing, and I do most of the personal trainer stuff. We also have kick boxing and some martial arts classes.”

“Wow. That sounds great. I’d love to come by and check it out.”

Tory really perked up. “You would?”

“Sure, I would. I am interested in all the above. Sounds like a terrific place for me. Do you think you’d have time tomorrow to show me around? Etienne’s going to spend the weekend with his dad and I’ll have a lot of free time with school being out next week for the holidays.” She said with real excitement in her voice.

She’s really interested. She’s not just being polite. “I’d like that very much, Jenny. I have some clients early in the morning, but then I’ll be free. How about you come by at 10:00 a.m. and I’ll give you the grande tour and then we could, maybe, go have coffee at True Brew. Does that sound good to you?” She asked shyly.

“It’s a date.” Jenny quipped.

‘A date? Wow! A date.’ Tory smiled and nodded her head.

“Umm, I have to meet my friends in a couple of minutes by the concession stand. The line to take your picture with Santa is just across the path from it. Would you and Etienne like to come with me to meet up with them and get your picture taken?” The auburn haired woman asked, anxiously.

“Sure. I think Etienne just might have a list to give Santa in his pocket. He comes prepared.” They both laughed and went to collect him.

***

“Geesum petes! It’s freezing! Who’s bright idea was it to take the train around the Park, anyway!?!” Rachel exclaimed as she shivered and blew on her bare hands.

“I believe that was a mutual decision, my love. But, the lights sure are beautiful.” Meg said, sticking her hands further in the pockets of her suede football jacket and pushing as close to her partner as she could. “I can’t wait to get a cup of hot chocolate.”

“Sounds good to me. I wonder how Tory is doing? I hope she’s not too lonely by herself.”

“I know. I was thinking the same thing. I wish she’d at least consider dating someone. Lord knows she has a bevy of beauties to choose from at the gym, but she won’t give them the least bit of encouragement. I think they’re all scared of her. She can pull that intimidation act off a little too well.” Meg remarked.

“Maybe we should sit down with her tonight and have a little talk.”

“Ok. Let’s invite her over for coffee and some of that pumpkin pie my Mom sent me.” Meg suggested.

“Oooooh, I forgot about that. Sounds yummy for my tummy.” Rachel rubbed her belly.

Meg chuckled. “You are so easy.”

***

Tory and Jenny sat as close to the space heater in their little corner of the covered concession stand as they could get to drink their hot chocolate and eat their steaming hot pizza. Etienne was wearing most of his slice on his face, but that didn’t phase him a bit. He was enjoying it.

“There they are.” Tory said, standing to wave her friends over.

Rachel and Meg noticed their friend and pointed to the line they were eager to join.

Tory signaled her understanding and sat back down to enjoy the company of her newfound friends.

“So tell me about your friends.” Jenny said, wiping a bit of sauce from the side of her mouth.

“That’s my best friend, Rachel, the nurse, and her partner, Meg, who’s a therapist. I’ve known Rachel since she was nothing but arms and legs. You’ve never seen a gawkier teenager.”

“Well, she’s filled out nicely, I’d say.” Jenny grinned.

“Yes, I guess she has.”

“What kind of therapist is Meg?”

“Psychologist. Or as Rachel likes to call her “the shrink”. Those two were made for each other. I’ve never seen Rachel so happy as she is with Meg. That little woman’s really worked miracles.”

“Why do you say that?”

“It’s a long story. But, suffice it to say that Rachel has been one of the “walking wounded” for most of her life. Meg came along and has been helping her heal.”

“Rachel is a very lucky woman. Not everyone is so blessed.”

“She knows it too. She treasures their relationship.”

Rachel and Meg walked up, placed their food and drinks on the table, then walked right up to the space heater.

“You two found the train a bit chilly, did you?” Tory laughed.

“It’s not funny. I almost put my hands…..” Rachel noticed the little boy at the table and stopped before placing her foot firmly in her mouth. “Inside my pants to keep them warm.”

“Good save.” Meg whispered.

“Rachel, Meg I’d like you to meet my new friends. This is Jenny and her son Etienne, my hero.”

“Your hero? How’s that?” Rachel asked, concerned.

“Your friend here had a weak spell and my son came to rescue the damsel in distress.” Jenny explained.

“You had a weak spell? Tory, are you ill? Do you need us to take you home?” Rachel stood up and went to her best friend’s side, tipping her head up to assess her pallor and pupils, with an index finger on her carotid artery, feeling for any irregularity.

“Cut it out, Rach. I’m fine. I just needed to eat something.” Tory complained.

“Tory, you’ve never had a weak spell in your life. You’ve always been strong as a bull.” Rachel stated.

“I don’t know if I like being compared to a bull, thank you.” Tory quipped.

“Oh, you have more in common with a bull than just brute strength. Such as, you’re bullheaded.”

“Rachel, go sit down and behave yourself.” Tory demanded.

Her tall friend reclaimed her seat next to Meg and pouted.

“So, Jenny, tell us all about yourself. Where do you live, what do you do, are you married….” Meg piped in.

Tory rolled her eyes and sighed but Jenny just laughed out loud. “I like your friends, Tory.”

“Momma, can I go see Santa Claus now?” Etienne asked.

“Soon as I wipe some of that pizza off of your face and hands. Excuse us ladies. I’m gonna bring him over to the little boys room to wash up. We’ll be right back.” Jenny took her son’s wrist to keep him from touching his clothes with his dirty hand and went to clean him up.

After she left, the friends had a talk. “Ok, now what really happened, Tory?” Rachel demanded.

“I don’t know. It was the strangest thing.”

“What was the strangest thing?” Meg asked, becoming concerned herself.

“I was walking through the gardens and admiring this huge bed of white roses when I saw her.”

“Saw who?” Meg asked.

Tory looked from one concerned face to the other. “Claire.”

“Wait a minute. You think you saw Claire?” Rachel was shocked..

“No. I don’t think I saw her. I saw her standing there smelling the flowers. White roses were always her favorite.”

“But, Tory, that’s not possible. Claire’s dead.” Rachel stated.

“I think I know my wife when I see her. It was Claire. She had on the same clothes she wore the last time we came here together.” Tory was getting irritated that her friends didn’t believe her.

“Ok, Ok, let’s say you did see Claire. Why would she appear to you now?” Meg posed.

“I don’t know.”

“Did she say anything to you?” Rachel asked.

“No. She didn’t even look at me. She just smelled the roses and then I felt real dizzy and started to black out. I grabbed on to the wrought iron railing of the gate and the next thing I remember is hearing Etienne calling to me. I looked up and she was gone.” Tory began to cry and Rachel felt like a heel at not supporting her friend.

“Don’t cry Tory. I believe you. Maybe Claire just wanted you to know that she’s with you at her favorite time of the year. Maybe she knew how much you miss her at Christmas and didn’t want you to be sad.” Rachel offered.

“Yeah, maybe that’s it.” Tory agreed as she wiped her tears away with her napkin. She looked up and saw Jenny returning with a much cleaner little boy. “How would you ladies like your picture taken with Santa Claus?”

“Are you kidding? Rachel can’t wait to pull Santa onto her lap.” Meg giggled.

“Why’s everybody always picking on me?” Rachel complained.

“Come on, Charlie Brown.” Meg teased.

“Right behind ya, Daddy-O.” Rachel quipped.

“Oh, brother.” Tory chimed in.

After everyone had their picture taken with Santa and phone numbers were exchanged, the new friends bid each other a good night and hurried home to their warm beds and sweet dreams.

***

Tory sat on the futon sofa bed, listening to her favorite Christmas music and placing photographs in an album she and Claire had bought for just that purpose, but never got around to. Each picture brought back a sweet memory and more tears. But, these were tears of joy and gratitude for having had her partner and lover in her life.

She finished the album and set it upon the coffee table where her little ceramic Christmas tree was lit. Smiling, she lovingly touched it. ‘I remember when you surprised me with this tree. I was so touched that you made it yourself. It’s like having a piece of you with me.’ Tory got up and walked to the window, looking out at all the Christmas decorations on the historic homes. “It’s beautiful out tonight with all the lights and garlands. You’d enjoy this….. It was you tonight. I know it was. Why’d you come back, my heart? What do you want to tell me? I know you are watching over me….. Claire, I miss you so much. Please, I don’t want to be alone anymore.” Tory said to the picture of Claire she held so dear. The picture of her at Celebration in the Oaks in her brown leather jacket, covered in snow.

***

Tory’s morning dragged by as she anticipated Jenny’s visit while working with her usual Saturday morning clients. Finally, 10:00 a.m. rolled around and Jenny’s slim form appeared in the doorway. Tory hurried to greet her and take her coat and hat. She stood there admiring her. It had been too dark to really get a good look at her the night before. ‘Wow! She’s beautiful.’ Tory thought. She perused the short blonde hair, pale porcelain skin and baby blue eyes. She let her eyes wonder down the slim, swimmer-like physique, the small breasts, flat tummy and long legs. It was almost adolescent. She wandered back up to the knowing smile on the lovely face. ‘Dazzling. What a great smile. It makes her eyes crinkle up on the sides.’ Tory blushed at getting caught admiring her new friend. “Come in and I’ll give you the nickel tour.” She hung up Jenny’s things and then proceeded to show her around.

After the tour and detailed instructions on the use and benefits of each piece of equipment, including the hot tubs, with whirlpools, Tory asked Rachel and Meg to mind the store so she could take Jenny out for coffee and a light lunch.

“You have a great place there, Tory. You should be very proud of what you’ve been able to accomplish.”

“I am. So, would you like to join?” Tory asked.

“Is that your sales pitch?” Jenny chuckled.

“No. I’m just so nervous I don’t know what I’m saying.” Her cheeks blushed nearly the shade of her auburn hair.

Jenny reached across the small table for two and pat Tory’s hand. “You don’t have to be nervous with me, Tory. I already like you.”

Tory’s head popped up. “You do?”

Jenny chuckled again and smiled warmly. “Yeah, I do. In fact, Etienne is going to be in our church’s nativity play this week and I wondered if you’d like to go with me to see his theatrical debut. He plays a shepherd. He’s really excited.”

Tory’s heart felt all warm and fuzzy. “I’d love to.” She responded before she had time to think and change her mind.

“Good. And, I’d love to, also.” Jenny said as she pat her friend’s hand one more time, then sat back and sipped her cappuccino.

Tory smiled, then her expression changed to one of puzzlement. “You’d love to what?”

“Join your gym.”

“Oh. Great. When do you want to start?”

“How’s today? But I’ll need a personal trainer. I wouldn’t want to hurt myself. Do you have any suggestions?” Jenny asked coyly.

“Well, um….I have the 10:00 a.m. spot available. That’s if you don’t mind taking instruction from me.”

“I wouldn’t mind that at all. Why don’t we go back to the gym and get started?” Jenny suggested.

“Great!” Tory exclaimed with just a touch too much enthusiasm, causing both women to burst into laughter.

***

“How’d it go at the gym today?” Meg asked while perusing the last of her client files.

“Ok, I guess.” Rachel responded as she emptied her gym bag directly into the washing machine.

“Why just Ok? Did something happen?” Meg wondered at the dejected sound in her partner’s voice.

“No. Not really. It’s just that…..I don’t know, Jenny was there again today monopolizing all of Tory’s time and tonight she’s going to see Jenny’s little boy in some church play.”

‘Whoops. Time for damage control.’ Meg took a deep breath and asked her sulking lover to join her in the kitchen, where all serious discussions took place.

“What’d I do wrong?” Rachel asked.

“You didn’t do anything wrong, love. I just want to talk about Tory and Jenny. Has Jenny done anything to make you dislike her?”

Rachel shifted uncomfortably in her chair. “No…..”

“This is the first woman Tory has shown any romantic interest in since Claire died. She seems to be a nice, educated, family oriented type of person. I think it’s great that she’s come into Tory’s life and that she seems to be interested in our friend. That’s what we’ve been praying for, isn’t it?”

“Yeah…. I guess I’m just being selfish. It’s like she doesn’t even know I’m alive anymore.” Rachel pouted.

“That’s not true, Rachel. She loves you more than anyone else in this whole wide world. She’s just enjoying herself and her new feelings for Jenny. She still loves you.”

“I know.” The dark haired woman picked at her fingernails and tried not to cry.

“Rachel, love. I know your relationship with Tory is a very special one. You see her as a parent and she adopted the role of your guardian many, many years ago. And, just like when a child with a single parent feels jealous when that parent finds a partner, you are feeling jealous of Jenny. It’s totally normal, Rachel, and it will pass as you get to know Jenny better. I promise.” Meg encouraged.

“I feel like a shmuck. I hate being so emotionally dependent. I just don’t know how not to be.” Rachel started to cry, breaking Meg’s heart. She knew her partner was totally confident in her professional life but still fragile when it came to her personal relationships. Despite the great strides she’d made through therapy, she was still a frightened little girl inside.

“Oh, my love, don’t cry.” Meg jumped up and pulled Rachel’s head to her breast and rubbed her back, offering comfort. “You’re doing so well in therapy. I see you grow day by day. I know it’s hard for you to see it, but I certainly do and so does Tory. We are both so very proud of you. It takes real courage to face your fears, especially ones like you’ve had to face, and to overcome them.” Meg continued rubbing the distraught woman’s back, then she kissed her head, resting her cheek upon the silky dark tresses. “You’re my hero, Rachel. You are my hero.”

***

Jenny and Tory applauded wildly when little Etienne walked out on the stage in the school gymnasium. He didn’t have any lines, but he found his mark and looked quite handsome in his robes. ‘At least he didn’t have to come out in that stupid sheep’s costume.’ Tory thought to herself. After the play, they all went to Café’ du Monde for hot chocolate and beignets.

“You were awesome, Etienne. Aren’t you glad you didn’t have to wear the sheep costume?” Tory said.

“Yes, ma’am. Robbie said it itched him something fierce.” Etienne giggled.

“Poor Robbie.” Jenny piped in.

The threesome enjoyed their treats and talked at length about the play and what was on the Christmas list Etienne gave to Santa.

Soon Etienne’s eyes began to droop, exhausted from all the excitement and his Mom decided it was time for all good shepherds to go to sleep. Tory lifted the little bundle into her arms and walked beside her companion toward the car.

“Oh, darn, would you put Etienne into the car and turn on the heater? I forgot to do something. I’ll be just a minute. Here are the keys.” With that Jenny trotted back the way they came.

Tory was a bit confused but did as she was bade. The car was nice and crispy when Jenny returned with a Cheshire cat grin on her face. “What was that about?” Tory inquired.

“It’s a secret.” She leaned over and kissed Tory’s lips, tenderly. “You’ll find out soon enough.”

Tory was pleasantly surprised at this show of affection and didn’t know what to say, so she just smiled. Her smile was still in place when they pulled up in front of the Gym and Jenny hopped out of the car to open the door for her.

“Thank you. But, it’s not necessary to open doors for me.”

“Let me. I like doing little things for you. It makes me happy. OK?”

Tory thought for a moment. “Ok.”

Jenny took Tory’s hand and walked her to the door. Taped to the door was some brightly colored paper. “What in the…..” Tory couldn’t imagine what it was. Before she could reach it, Jenny had carefully removed the tape and held the paper in her hand.

“It’s from me. I wanted someway of expressing to you how much our friendship, how much you mean to me. I realize we haven’t known each other very long, but I want to get to know you better and maybe you could grow to care for me too.”

“I do care for you, Jenny. I really do want to get to know you better. It’s just that I….. well I’ve never dated anyone at all since I lost Claire. It would have felt like I was cheating on her.”

“Tory, I have the utmost respect for what you shared with your wife and would never presume to impose upon your memories of her. I just want the chance for us to make memories of our own.” Jenny ran her left hand up Tory’s arm and around her neck, pulling her into a tender kiss, then gently teasing her lips with her tongue, begging entrance there. Tory felt a shiver of arousal and opened to her. Their kiss deepened and both women moaned in unison. All too quickly, Jenny pulled back, then gave Tory a chaste kiss on her hot cheek.

“Merry Christmas, Tory, and may all your New Year’s dreams come true.” Jenny handed the paper to the slightly flushed woman, then hurried back to her car and sleeping child. Both women waved as she drove out of sight.

“Wow. That was incredible.” Tory said, then looked down at the papers in her hand and gently opened them to find a single, long stem, white rose.
part 7
“Good morning. sunshine. How are you this lovely, brisk, morn?” Meg asked as she continued brushing her golden hair.

“Tired.” Rachel moaned, stretching out her long luscious body. “I feel like I got hit by a truck.”

Meg frowned and sat next to her lover, feeling her forehead with her hand. “You feel cool.”

“Oh, I’m not sick, sick. Just pooped out.” Rachel complained, rolling her head onto Meg’s lap and hugging her around a slim waist. She’d worked a double on Christmas day and was too tired to even exchange gifts with her lover when she arrived home after midnight, totally exhausted. After a quick, hot shower, she crawled into bed, kissed Meg tenderly and fell fast asleep.

Meg ran her hand through long dark tresses. “You’ve spent a lot of emotional and physical energy the past two weeks. I think you need a break from therapy, Tory and Jenny, and the ER. I was going to ask you about this any way…..so….., what do you say to spending New Years weekend with my family across the lake? Mom’s been champing at the bit to meet you. You monopolized the conversation yesterday.” Meg leaned down and kissed Rachel’s shoulder.

“That’s suppose to be less stressful?” Rachel turned to look into bright green eyes.

Meg chuckled. “Well, yeah, actually. My family’s very cool. They’ve known I was gay for the last ten years and probably a long time before I ever came out to them. They really do just want me to be happy.”

“Can’t relate…..” She sighed, heavily. “I wouldn’t know how to act…..” Rachel sat upon the opposite end of the bed from Meg, wondering what to say. She didn’t want to disappoint her lover, but the thought of facing Meg’s family scared her. She’d be so far out of her element.

“You said you didn’t sign on for next weekend. Come on. Rach. You worked a 16 on Christmas day for Christ’s sake! Don’t I get ….”

“I offered to replace a nurse who has children, Meg. I do that every year. That has nothing to do with you.”

“It has everything to do with me….. Dammit, Rachel! These holidays are important for me to share with you and the rest of my family….. You’re a part of my family now….., the most important part. I suppose I’m being selfish. And, I do understand your giving another nurse the opportunity to be with their family at Christmas. As much as I wanted to spend Christmas with you, I knew how much it meant to you to give of yourself, so I tried not to complain. But, I will not give up New Years, too. This has always been a big family weekend. It’s important to me, Rachel.” Tears streamed down the petite blonde’s face as her hurt feelings overcame her control.

Rachel felt like a first class heel. She’d offered her services for every holiday since she could remember. It was her way of giving and made the holidays less lonely for her. It had never crossed her mind to spend the holidays with Meg’s family. She was lost in uncharted waters and was feeling a bit overwhelmed, and Meg’s tears were breaking her heart. ‘Gosh, I’ve been so insensitive to Meg’s needs and she’s been nothing but considerate of mine. I can be such a jerk.’ Rachel walked around to face Meg and reached a trembling hand to wipe away the trail of tears. “I’m so sorry….. I didn’t realize.” She pulled her lover into her long arms. “I can be so thick, sometimes. Forgive me, Meggie….. Do you really think your parents will like me?” Rachel asked with apprehension.

The blonde head on her shoulder nodded and sniffled. “They’ll love you just like I do.”

“That’s kinky.” Rachel joked, causing both women to break into giggles. “Hey, let’s exchange gifts. Ok?”

“Ok. I’ll go make us some coffee while you get freshened up and I’ll meet you under the tree.” Meg smiled brightly.

“Are you insinuating that I am less than fresh?” Rachel said in mock complaint.

Meg shook her head. “Nope. I’m saying your breath reeks!” The little blonde ducked out of her partner’s arms and ran for the kitchen with Rachel hot on her heels. The much taller woman was able to grasp the slim waist of her prey and spin her around breathing hot, odorous breath into her face. Meg squealed, “That’s so gross!” Rachel just laughed, letting her go and jogged to the bathroom to take care of business.

Meg was sitting on a pillow under the Christmas tree, running her fingers over the colorful wrapping paper of one of the gifts with her name on it. She shook it gently, but couldn’t figure out what on earth could be that heavy. ‘Maybe it’s a new scanner for my computer.’ She thought.

“Now, you’ve gone and done it. It’s probably in itty bitty little pieces and the store won’t want to take it back.” Rachel stated, unable to hide the grin on her beautiful, fresh scrubbed face.

Meg’s heart went into her throat, and then saw her partner was pulling her leg. “Can I open it now?”

“Sure.” Rachel pulled another pillow off of the sofa and plopped down, enjoying the childlike glee on Meg’s face.

Meg ripped into the package, tearing at the paper and tape that held the box closed. Her eyes widened and she yelled her excitement, pulling out a shiny new pair of in-line roller skates in the colors of the rainbow flag.

“Yes! They are gorgeous, Rach. Thank you. I can’t wait to try them out.”

“They should fit. I stole a pair of your sneakers and brought them with me.” Rachel’s face shone with joy at Meg’s excitement.

“Now, my turn.” Rachel pulled a gift from under the tree and held it for a moment in her lap. She wanted to savor this moment in her memory. The 10″ X 10″ box was inordinately heavy. She raised it in her hands and began to shake it.

“No! Geesum Petes! Don’t shake it. Just open it, already.” Meg exclaimed, a look of panic on her face.

Rachel paled a bit and gulped, then nodded her head and carefully removed the wrapping so not to disturb the contents anymore than she had. “Wow! A camcorder. I….. I don’t know what to say, Meggie. That’s….. Wow!” Rachel’s face lit up. “We can take pictures of your family when we visit this weekend. But, first you’ll have to teach me how to work it.”

“It’s easy. The salesman taught me. I got the one with the least amount of bells and whistles.”

“Smart lady.” Rachel reached for Meg and kissed her cheek. “I love it.”

There were two more gifts to open and the lovers sat side by side and reached for their respective presents. Meg’s was in an huge box that was suspiciously light weight. Rachel’s was eleven inches square. She was careful not to shake this one as Meg watched her with a threatening glare.

Rachel got her gift opened first and sighed as she pulled out a beautiful cherry wood frame with a photograph of the lover’s with Santa Clause which they’d had taken at Celebration in the Oaks. “Oh, Meggie, thank you. I’ll cherish it always.”

“You’re welcome….. What the heck!?!” Meg exclaimed as she opened her gift to find another beautifully wrapped somewhat smaller box inside. “Rachel, what are you up to?” Meg asked as she tore into the next box, simply to find another slightly smaller box within. “Youuuuu…..” Meg started laughing with delight as she tore into the next one and the next until she opened the last box and searched through tons of packaging peanuts to find a small red velvet box, only two inches square. She stared at it for a moment, her heart galloping in her chest. Then, looked up into the soft brown eyes of her partner, which were filled with love and a little insecurity.

“Aren’t you gonna open it?” Rachel urged.

Meg smiled and pulled her gaze from her partner to peek inside.

“Do you like it? I wasn’t sure….. I ummm….. Didn’t know what kind of jewelry you like and I just wanted to give you a symbol of my commitment to you and …..well….. I saw that antique Irish wedding band with the emerald while I was in the Quarter and it reminded me of you and the color your eyes turn when I make love to you…..” Rachel fumbled.

“I didn’t know that my eyes changed color like that.” Meg mused then returned her attention to the very special gift. Rachel removed the ring and slipped it on the ring finger of Meg’s left hand. She brought the small hand to her lips and tenderly kissed it.

“I love you, Meggie. I’m so grateful to have you in my life. You’ve come in and healed my soul. I promise to try and live up to your faith in me….. I know that my emotional growth is kinda stunted, but I’m learning thanks to you and Dr. Morgan. I don’t know that I’ll ever be the poster child for mental health.” Rachel tried to lighten the mood a bit. “But, with your help, I’ll do my best to keep learning and growing and not let my fears stand in my way.”

Meg blinked the tears from her eyes and pulled Rachel’s larger hand to her own lips and kissed it tenderly. “That was so beautiful. You have the soul of a poet. And, I think you are very brave. It takes great courage to conquer demons like yours….. You’re my hero, Rachel. You are part of my soul and I love you more than words can say. I’ll wear your ring with great pride….. Thank you.”

“Merry Christmas, my Meggie.” Rachel leaned in and kissed sweet lips with all the love in her heart. Meg returned the kiss, crawling onto her partner’s lap and wrapping her arms around an elegantly long neck. The kiss deepened with Rachel sucking upon Meg’s tongue, sending a tingling of arousal straight to both women’s sex and stoking the fire in their bellies. “Mmmmm…..bed….. Let’s….mmmm…..mmmove…..” Rachel tried to speak, but the passionate assault on her mouth made that difficult. Meg got the idea and stood up, pulling her lover along with her to continue in the comfort of soft linens.

Rachel pulled Meg’s lightweight sweater over her blonde head, then smoothed silky locks. “You are so beautiful.” With trembling hands she slipped her own sleep shirt off and stood before her lover in all her glory.

“You’re not so bad yourself.” Meg ran her fingers between Rachel’s ample breasts, marveling at how the dark areola tightened and the nipples elongated and hardened. “Magnificent. I love looking at your body react to my touch.” Meg blushed slightly at her own boldness.

Rachel’s breath caught in her throat, a surge of arousal hitting her like an electric current passing through to her very soul. She struggled with the urge to ravish her lover and take control, knowing her partner was enjoying herself.

Meg reached down and slipped off her jeans and panties and came closer to the object of her desire. She stood a precious few inches from Rachel, reaching out to touch the scar that started beneath her lover’s right breast and followed it around her scapula. “It’s looking much better, love.”

“Huh?….. Oh….. Yeah.” Rachel mumbled, thoroughly entranced by the pleasure she was feeling.

Meg’s hands cupped the full breasts, thumbs rubbing the tips of near painfully tight nipples. “I love you, Rachel.” Warm lips kissed the soft mounds then licked a trail through their cleavage and up to a tempting collarbone. Rachel ran her long fingers through Meg’s hair and gently pulled her close.

“Oh, Meg….. Let me love you, baby…..” Rachel pleaded, running her long arms down a shapely back to cup and caress her firm buttocks and pull into her need.

“Mmmm, yeah.” Was all Meg could say as her mouth went dry and blood rushed to her nether regions.

Rachel leaned over to suckle upon her partner’s sweet neck. Her right hand traveled down a well muscled thigh then up between her legs to the nest of soft curls where lay the heart of Meg’s desire.

She slid long fingers between the swollen folds and moaned at the proof of her lover’s arousal. “Oh God…..” Rachel’s need soared as she kissed her way down Meg’s quivering body and lay her dark head against damp curls, the scent of her lover filling her senses.

“Rach, I’m gonna fall.” Meg moaned as she backed up to the bed and lay down. Rachel followed, grabbing a pillow and instructing Meg to lift her buttocks. She positioned the pillow under shapely hips and eased between strong legs, licking and kissing the soft tender flesh of inner thighs, then spread the folds of the sweet labia and ran her tongue along the length of Meg’s engorged sex.

“Oh, yeah….. Right there…. Oh, Rachel…..” Meg muttered in the delirium of passion.

Rachel smiled as Meg’s nectar flowed, knowing it was all for her. She licked and nipped her swollen labia, then latched upon the throbbing clitoris, suckling as if for nourishment.

“OH, YEAH….. I’M GONNA…..” No further sound was heard as Meg’s orgasm stole her breath away and she bucked into Rachel’s mouth.

Rachel held on to the soft hips, battling to keep sucking the little nub in her mouth, prolonging her lover’s pleasure. Only after her lover lay motionless did she release her hold and lay her head upon the heaving belly.

“I think I had an out of body experience.” Meg giggled. “Good Lord, Rachel. You send me places I’ve never even dreamt of.”

Rachel kissed the tender skin of Meg’s belly button and grinned. “My pleasure.” The lovers lay like that until the smaller woman regained her composure and Rachel’s need inspired her to pull the pillow aside and slide up the sweat-slickened body. She attempted to straddle her lover’s thigh when Meg pushed her gently away.

“No….. Rachel, I need to taste you….. Please.” Meg pleaded, as she cupped her dark head and looked deeply into the eyes she loved.

Rachel nodded and rolled off of her partner, willing to open herself up and to fight the fear. Meg saw the “deer in the headlights” look and quickly thought of a way she could allow her lover more control. She slid off the side of the bed, beckoning Rachel to follow. Positioning her partner on the edge of the bed Meg proceeded to kneel between impossibly long legs. Rachel immediately felt her anxiety dissipate as Meg reached up to claim bruised lips and laid a trail of kisses and licks over her breasts and down her quivering abdomen into the greying patch of moist curls, breathing deeply of her arousal. “Trust me, Rachel. I love you. Open to me, my love.” Meg beckoned. Rachel spread her legs wide and tilted her pelvis allowing Meg access to her treasure. “Oh, yeah.” The petite woman gazed lovingly upon the offering before her. The gift she was being given was so precious it brought tears to her eyes. She gently parted the delicate folds, licking and nipping the engorged flesh. She sensed Rachel relaxing, enjoying the pleasure of Meg’s ministrations. Breathy moans floated down to Meg’s ears and Rachel’s hips pumped ever so gently. She could tell by the swelling of the labia and the constant trickle of delicious nectar that her lover’s time was at hand. She rested her forearms on trembling thighs as she suckled upon her throbbing clit.

Rachel used one hand to hold Meg’s head in place as she leaned her weight upon the other. Deep groans turned into whimpers as her whole body shuddered with release. Meg didn’t stop suckling until Rachel pushed her away from her over- sensitive sex. The little blonde immediately wrapped her arms around her lover and kissed her tenderly, trying to convey in that moment all of the love she felt in her heart. Rachel’s face crumpled as she held on tightly and cried out her emotional release. Meg held her, cooing words of love and devotion.

It was several moments before Rachel was able to speak. She sucked air into her lungs with great effort. “We did it Meggie….. You made love to me and I….. I came for you….. Awww, Meggie….., it felt so good…..to just let go knowing you’d be there to catch me.” Rachel took in a deep quavering breath as she cried into her lover’s golden hair.

“I love you, Rachel. Thank you for trusting me.” Meg stroked her lover’s back until she calmed. “Come on.” Meg stood and crawled onto the bed, pulling Rachel along to lie in her arms. “You know what the greatest present was I got this Christmas?” Meg asked, kissing the top of Rachel’s dark head and drawing figure 8’s between her shoulders.

Rachel sniffled and shook her head. “No. What was it?”

“You, my love.”

Rachel’s tears started anew and they held on tightly to each other until falling into a restful sleep.

***

The couple fell into their normal routine of early rising, a light breakfast, the gym and then coffee at True Brew. They added roller blading in City Park to their exercise program, starting slowly to not chance re-injuring Rachel’s shoulder. Then they would wash up and head for their respective jobs. Meg worked later than usual to catch up on all her patient files so she didn’t have to bring work home. She wanted to devote all of her time at home to cultivating the fragile trust Rachel placed in her in their lovemaking. Now that she had tasted of her lover’s passion, she couldn’t get enough of her. The rush she felt when bringing her to orgasm was a heady, intoxicating aphrodisiac. She was well aware of how emotionally fragile Rachel could be and stopped several times during her day to send up prayers of thanks to God and to ask him to help her lover through this period of transition in their relationship.

The days passed quickly and the nights, filled with passion, were a blur. Rachel’s schedule kept her from worrying too much about meeting Meg’s family and since her therapist was away for the holiday week, she could avoid thinking about it all she wanted.

Friday, Rachel arrived at Children’s hospital in time for lunch, which was spent with her patients and their families selecting appropriate menu items to fulfill the dietary needs of the child with type A, juvenile diabetes. She then lectured as they ate. After checking the patients’ glucose levels for the last few days, then making entries in their charts and on the care plans, she left for Fortier High School to give a presentation on safe sex.

‘Wow, tough crowd. Those kids looked at me like I couldn’t find my ass with both hands. I’ve got to get to them younger. Before the peer pressure does.’ Rachel sighed, revved Cherry’s engine and headed for Tory’s gym to teach a class on nutrition and health. .

The day passed quickly, but then Rachel came home to two overnight cases waiting at the door. Reality struck in the pit of her stomach and she groaned.

“Stop that. You’re not going to be executed. You’re just going to meet my parents. Now come take a shower with me, so we can hurry up and leave before the Causeway bridge gets too congested.” Meg took Rachel’s briefcase from her hand and led her to the bedroom. She helped the taller woman out of her blazer, slacks and silk blouse then hung them up before turning the shower on and stripping herself. The lovers soaped up their buff puffs and lovingly cleaned away the day’s grime and stress, enjoying the intimacy and tenderness afforded them and forgetting all about the night ahead. Meg washed Rachel’s hair for her and both women exercised great self-control when drying each other to not take their ministrations where time did not permit them to go.

Rachel stood behind Meg on the front stoop as the door opened revealing the smiling face of a well tanned, short haired, slightly older looking copy of Meg. The warmth of her smile helped relax Rachel’s racing heart.

“Happy New Year! Come in, come in. You must be Rachel. I’m so glad to finally get to meet you. My daughter speaks very highly of you.” Marguerite Poche’ grasped Rachel’s hand in both of hers.

“Pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Poche’.” Rachel greeted.

“Please, call me Marguerite. Let me take your coats and you two go find your father.” Meg took her partner’s hand and led her into the family room where she was sure she’d find her father watching the replays of the Saints/Rams game. ‘He just sits there sipping his beer and growling at the screen. It’s really sad.’

“Hi Daddy.” Meg said as she leaned over the sofa and kissed her father’s cheek.

The sandy haired, medium build man didn’t take his eyes off the screen. “Hi punkin….. Just wait ’til tomorrow. The Saints are gonna kick your asses.” He yelled at the big screen TV.

“Dad, I’d like to introduce you to my girlfriend, Rachel.” Meg said.

Her father hopped up from the sofa and spun around to greet the dark haired beauty. “Hi. I’m Ben, Meg’s dad.” The rather handsome man in his late fifties shook Rachel’s hand enthusiastically. “Do you like sports, Rachel?”

Rachel grinned. ‘Now here’s some common ground.’ “Yes, sir. I sure do.”

“Come sit down. Meg why don’t you get yourself and your friend a cold drink and come join us.”

“You’re gonna turn me into a football widow like Mom.” Meg chuckled as she walked behind the large soda fountain that ran the length of the far wall in the spacious den.

Marguerite Poche’ entered the room at that moment. “Ben, I don’t want you monopolizing Rachel’s time with football. I’d like to actually have a conversation if you don’t mind.”

Ben sighed as he hit the mute button on the TV. “Sorry, ladies. I tend to get a bit carried away with our boys. But, the Saints are in the play-offs! I guess all those Novenas you said paid off.” He patted his wife’s hand.

“I’m happy for you, Dad. And, I promise not to bother you during the game tomorrow…., especially if the Saint’s are losing.” She said aside to Rachel. “It could get rough around here.” Rachel snickered and took a seat next to Meg on the sofa.

“So, when are Gaston and Kathy arriving?” Meg asked her parents.

The doorbell rang. “Speak of the Devil. That must be your little brother now.” Marguerite said as she went to answer the door. The couple entered with their luggage and greeted everyone before going to the kitchen for a hot cup of coffee.

“What does your brother do, Meg?” Rachel inquired.

“He’s a General Practitioner like Dad. He’s being groomed to take over the practice when Dad retires….. And, when will that be?” Meg posed the question to her father.

“Don’t hurry me. I’ve got a few good years left….. Rachel, I hear you’re a nurse. What area of medicine do you like best?”

“I love the ER. But, I can only take it in small doses now.” She smiled self-consciously. “The older I get, the longer it takes my body to recuperate. I also like patient education. That’s what I do mostly.” Rachel took several long swallows of her cold drink. She felt her energy waning and tried to boost herself to keep up with her partner.

“That’s how I met Meg’s father.” Marguerite chimed in. “He was doing his ER rotation at Charity Hospital and I was in my ‘I’m gonna save the world’ phase.” The older woman chuckled at herself. “I was a bit of a maverick nurse, always had to be in the trenches. I got addicted to the adrenalin rush. Having the skills and confidence to save a patient from the “jaws of death” is pretty heady stuff.” Marguerite mused. “But Ben took me away from all that. He was soooo handsome, compassionate and skilled. We clicked right away. Next thing I know I’m trading my stethoscope for a baby carriage and my Nursing career for nursing our babies.”

“Awww gross, Mom.” Meg blushed and made a face.

“Wow, I didn’t know you were a nurse. I work at Charity.” Rachel stated, very impressed with her lover’s mother. “It would be hard for me to give up the ER completely. You’re right. It’s like an addiction.”

“I help out at the office three days a week and golf as often as possible while I wait for grandchildren.” She wiggled her eyebrows at her children.

Gaston piped in. “Speaking of which, I have an announcement to make.” He stood, chest out, shoulders back. “Family…., Kathy and I are pleased and proud to be the first to make you grand parents….. We’re pregnant!” He bellowed with glee.

“Oh, my Gawd! Oh, my, Oh, my. Congratulations!” Marguerite pulled her son to her and hugged him tightly, then reached for her daughter-in-law and hugged and kissed her. “Congratulations. That’s great news.”

“That’s my boy! Congratulations, son. Come give old gramps a hug, Miss Kathy.” Ben slapped his son on the back and shook his hand then hugged his daughter-in-law gently.

Rachel was enthralled by the dynamics before her, caught up in the excitement of the moment. She looked over at her partner when she noticed Meg hadn’t jumped into the fray. She was confused by the tears silently slipping down her sweet face and wrapped her long hand around her lover’s much smaller one, offering the warmth of her touch.

Meg swiped at her tears and looked into worried brown eyes, smiled and kissed her cheek. “I’m gonna be an aunt.”

“You’ll be a wonderful aunt, Meggie.” Rachel said as both women got up to congratulate the ecstatic couple. Rachel ran for her new camcorder to record the event for posterity.

The family spent the rest of the evening planning out the baby’s future.

Rachel found it harder and harder to stay with the conversation as her exhaustion pulled her down like lead weights on her limbs and eyelids. Meg noticed her partner’s poorly hidden yawns and bid her family good night as she pulled her partner to her feet.

“Hey Gaseous. Would you, please, bring our bags up to my room?” Meg taunted her brother.

“Sure, pygmy. I wouldn’t want you to strain your itzy bitzy self.” Gaston quipped.

The women took turns washing up and changing for bed. Rachel wanted to stay awake to talk to Meg about her reaction to her brother’s news, but sleep enticed her as soon as her head hit the exquisite 300 thread count linens. Meg slipped in beside her lover and spooned into her back, kissing a soft shoulder and joined her in the land of sweet dreams.

Shortly after sunrise Meg awoke and shuffled to the bathroom to take care of business. She returned to find Rachel still snoring softly and decided the opportunity to sleep in with her partner was too rare a gift to pass up.

Two hours later the couple was jostled awake by a soft knock at the bedroom door. “Rise and shine, girls. Breakfast is almost ready.” Marguerite called as she continued down the hallway to the stairs.

“I’ll rise, but I refuse to shine.” Was Meg’s retort. She stretched and luxuriated on the soft sheets. “Rachel, time to wake up, sleepy head.” Meg patted her partner’s behind.

Rachel moaned and rubbed the sleep from her bleary eyes. “What time is it?” She asked.

“Ummm, it’s 0900 and breakfast is almost ready. You sure slept well last night.”

“I did?” Rachel rumbled as she struggled to her feet.

“Like a log. Hey, you Ok, love?” Meg asked, concerned by her partner’s uncharacteristic lethargy.

“Yeah. I just need a shower to wake me up.” Rachel grabbed her robe and headed for the bathroom.

“Want some company?” Meg asked with a lascivious grin on her face.

Rachel’s face lit up, then fell. “What about your parents?”

“They know I bathe. Been doing it for years.” Meg walked up to her partner, wrapped her arms around her and kissed her chin. “Come on. I’ll scrub your back and wash your hair for you.”

“Mmmm, sounds lovely.”

***

“Morning, Mom.” Meg said

“Morning, Mrs. Poche'” Rachel chimed in.

“Good morning, girls. Did you sleep well?”

“Too well. I feel like I have jet lag.” Rachel said. “Your house is very comfortable.”

“Thanks. That’s a lovely compliment. Help yourselves to a cup of coffee. Gaston went to pick up Gram. He should be back any minute now. So, we’ll wait for them to join us for breakfast. What are you two planning for today, walking, golf, riding, foot ball, a boat ride…..?”

“Mom, it’s 25 degrees out there. I don’t think a boat ride. We’ll probably go roller blading before the game starts and you and I become football widows. What do you think, Rach?” Meg said.

“Sounds good to me.” Rachel responded as she pulled a chair out for Meg at the breakfast table.

“So, what did you get for Christmas?” Marguerite asked.

“Rachel gave me some great roller blades and this ring.” Meg held the ring up for her mother to admire.

“Oh, that’s beautiful, Meg. Um…, isn’t that an Irish wedding band, honey?” Marguerite inquired as her eyebrows rose.

“Yes, ma’am, it is. It’s a symbol of our commitment to each other and I think it’s the most perfect gift.” Meg gushed.

“Well, you two must be pretty serious. What are your intentions toward my daughter, Ms. Vincenti?” Marguerite teased.

Rachel was flustered for a moment, not knowing if Meg’s mom was being serious or not. She decided to just be honest. “I love your daughter and I intend to keep on loving her. I hope to someday make her as happy as she’s made me.” The tall beauty blushed furiously but held eye contact with Marguerite Poche’.

Meg walked up behind her partner and wrapped her arms around Rachel’s shoulders. She kissed her head and rested her cheek against soft hair. “You make me very happy, Rachel. And, I think my Mother was pulling your leg. But, thank you for your admission. I love you, too, very much.”

Rachel closed her soft dark eyes, aroused by Meg’s voice and touch. She could feel her ears burning as she blushed furiously.

“You are so damned cute when you blush like that, tiger.” Meg teased her too.

“Is there a nice rock I can slink under? The women in this family are going to take some getting used to. I hope I have better luck with your grandmother.” Rachel sighed.

“Well that all depends. How are you at playing cards? I’m a gin rummy enthusiast, myself.” Meg’s grandmother stood in the archway between the kitchen and den with a Cheshire cat grin on her wrinkled, round face. Her sea-green eyes twinkled with mischief.

“Gram!” Meg whooped and ran into the old woman’s arms. “Gosh, I’ve missed you so much.”

“I’ve missed you too, little bit. Haven’t you grown any yet?”

“Gram, I’m 32 years old. I think I’ve passed my growth spurt.” Meg explained.

“I suppose you’re right. I just wish I could stop shrinking. After all, I’m only 75. By time I’m 80 I’ll be two feet tall. It’s disgusting. You’ve got to have guts to get old, girls. It’s not for wimps.”

Meg wrapped her arm around her grandmother’s petite but proud shoulders. “Rachel, I’d like you to meet my grandmother, Mrs. Maggie Gravolet, a great cook and cardshark.”

Rachel stood and shook Maggie’s small hand, surprised at the strength of her grip. “It’s a pleasure to meet you Mrs. Gravolet. Meg has told me so much about you.”

“Myyyyy….., but you’re a big gal and good looking, too. You be good to my grandbaby.”

“Yes, ma’am, I will.” Rachel blushed again.

“Hi, Mom. Glad you were feeling up to joining us.” Marguerite kissed her mother’s cheek and gave her a big hug. “Now, let’s eat.”

Gaston pulled out a chair for his grandmother and his wife then sat between them, giving him a solid buffer between himself and his older sister who liked to tease him unmercifully.

Breakfast conversation concentrated on the upcoming rematch between the Saints and the Rams, the baby news and what festivities were planned for Gaston’s thirtieth birthday the following day.

“So, you were a New Year’s baby?” Rachel said.

“Yep, I always thought all the hoopla and fireworks were for me.” Gaston chuckled.

“So, that explains why you were such an egomaniac.” His sister chimed in.

“Meg, quit picking on little brother.” Maggie admonished.

“Grams, you have to admit, Gaston has always been the most competitive, vain, jock…..”

“That’s enough, missy. Tomorrow is your brother’s birthday and until midnight on said day, we will all pretend that we can tolerate him.” Ben piped up with a mock serious expression.

Rachel broke into giggles, followed by Meg, Marguerite and Kathy.

“Oh, now that’s nice. My own wife gives me no respect. I’m just a red headed stepchild around here.” Gaston pouted.

“Well, you are red headed, but I’m afraid your father and I have to claim you as our own beloved progeny.” Marguerite sighed, dramatically, causing everyone at the table to break into peals of laughter.

“Mom!” Gaston exclaimed.

“That’s enough. Don’t tease the boy. Gaston, finish your breakfast, dear.” Maggie commanded and the entire table went quiet as everyone enjoyed the meal.

After breakfast Rachel and Meg helped clean up the kitchen, while Kathy was given coffee duty and set the pot, cups and saucers on the large, round cocktail table in the den.

“Mom, Rachel and I are gonna try out our roller blades on the black top roads around here. We should be back in time to catch the second half of the game.”

“Ok. Just be careful. There’s more traffic in the neighborhood now than when you were living at home.” Marguerite warned.

“Umm, Mom, that was less than a year ago. It can’t have changed that much.” Meg retorted.

“Well, just be careful. You keep an eye on her Rachel.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Rachel agreed.

The couple bundled up in layers, grabbed their skates and walked out on the front porch to change into them.

“Geesum Petes, it’s cold out here.” Rachel complained.

“Yep. 25 degrees is cold. Come on. The more we move around, the warmer we’ll get. Race ya!” With that, Meg took off down the black topped road, which was lined with oaks and willows in the country-like setting. In spite of the large, expensive homes, the neighborhood still maintained a rustic feel to it. The lots were two to four acres and the homes either faced the bayou or the golf course, affording each some privacy. Meg headed for the public launch where she knew they’d find benches to sit upon and hot drinks in the coffee machine. She had slipped several quarters in her pocket for just that purpose.

Rachel easily caught up with her friend, but since she had no idea where they were heading, she didn’t pass her, but skated around her, proving her superior prowess to Meg’s chagrin. “Show off!” Meg griped.

“You’re just mad because I’m sooooo good.” Rachel laughed, throwing herself into a short coughing fit.

“Hey, you Ok?” Meg slowed down and looked at her partner.

“Yeah, I’m fine. It’s just freaking cold out here.”

“Follow me. I know where there’s some hot chocolate with my name on it.” Meg continued to skate toward the launch area.

“Wow, this is really nice. I could get use to this.” Rachel said as she admired the landscaping. It had the ambience of the elegant old south with its great live oaks draped with Spanish moss, weeping willows, huge pines covered in wisteria and confederate jasmine. Everywhere you looked were camellias, especially pink perfection. Everything bespoke of grace and beauty.

“Yeah, I always loved it here. It was a great place to grow up. Lot’s to do outdoors, that’s if you could tolerate the mosquitoes, snakes and gators.” Meg shook her head.

“Gators? There are alligators in that bayou?” Rachel winced.

“Yep. Very disconcerting when one is water skiing.” Meg stated.

Rachel shuddered. “On second thought. I think I’ll stick to the city.”

“You big wimp.” Meg goaded.

“Am not.”

“Are too.”

“Am not.”

“Are too.” Meg hopped up on her skates and took off back toward home with Rachel hot on her heels.

“Am not!” She yelled, bringing on another short fit of coughing, which her partner couldn’t hear as she was skating as fast as she could out of Rachel’s reach.

The women sat on the front porch, changing out of the skates and into their sneakers.

“Hi Gram, did you miss us?” Meg asked as she leaned over the sofa to give her grandmother a wet kiss on her cheek.

“Sure did, little bit. Meg, you’ve been sweating. You two had better go upstairs and freshen up. Then come enjoy the game. The Saints are winning.” Maggie said.

“You’re kidding. They are? Daddy?”

“Yes, ma’am. HOT DAMNED! That’s my boys!” Ben exclaimed as the pass was completed.

Meg took Rachel’s hand and led her upstairs to the shower.

“Those boys have more lives than a cat.” Rachel shook her head as she pealed her sweaty clothes off and joined Meg under the rejuvenating spray. Soft brown eyes gazed into sparkling green, “Hey gorgeous. Want to play around?”

Meg ran her eyes over the impressive physique of her lover then ran her small hand across her broad chest and down between her tempting breasts. “Oh yeah. You are my favorite playmate.”

Rachel gave her a look of mock indignation. “There are others?”

Meg grinned, slyly. “Well, there was Johnny Baccich, Ray Queen then Charlene Jacaway, but she moved away in third grade. I was devastated.”

“You are so bad.” Rachel griped as she took the small woman in her arms and kissed her deeply. “Did any of your other playmates kiss you like that?”

“Ummm…nope.” Meg pulled Rachel back down and gave as good as she got. Rachel’s hands followed the flow of water down Meg’s shapely arse and squeezed and kneaded the flesh she found, then slid down to her knees, licking and sucking every inch of flesh that came within reach of her hungry mouth. She reached for the body wash and rubbed the foam over Meg’s torso, thighs and between her parting legs. Her partner held onto strong shoulders to keep from melting into a heap of quivering flesh. Rachel smiled, enjoying the power she had over her lover. Then she foamed the soft round curves of her behind and let the spray from the shower wash the soap away before she parted Meg’s labia with her long fingers and sat back on her heels to watch the already aroused woman’s reactions to her ministrations.

Meg’s eyes rolled back and her lips parted in ecstacy as she relished the attention her sex was receiving.

“Look at me, Meggie. I want to see you come.” Rachel beseeched her lover.

Meg opened her eyes and gazed down into the slightly dilated pupils of her partner. Her legs began to tremble as she became more aroused. Rachel’s hand was covered in nectar and she ran her fingers through the labia and around the engorged clit. She moved her fingers faster, knowing Meg needed release. Her partner moaned and began to pump her hips, begging more contact and Rachel complied rubbing three fingers directly over the little nub in a strong circular motion. Raising herself high on her knees she wrapped a long arm around Meg’s body and washed her left nipple with her tongue and mouth. Meg locked her knees as wave after wave of pleasure rolled over her. Rachel kept her fingers lying upon her lover’s clit as she held her up until the trembling woman was able to stand on her own.

Meg began to laugh at what just happened in her parent’s house and in the old bathroom she’d once shared with her little brother.

Rachel stood to her full height. “And, what’s so funny?”

Meg composed herself. “Gaston and I use to bathe together with our pet turtles in this very same tub. How weird is that?”

“So which was more fun?”

“Ooooh, now let me think about that for a moment…..ummmm… Oh yeah, I know, being made love to by the most beautiful woman I have ever known.”

“Good answer.” Rachel smiled down into eyes filled with love for only her. Her heart swelled with pride and tenderness.

Rachel started washing herself as Meg looked on in disappointment. “I wanted to do that.” She whined.

“I know, but we’re using up all the hot water. Let me finish washing and we can move this to the bedroom.”

“Oh, well, if you put it like that. Sure.” Meg washed Rachel’s hair for her and they both rinsed off and dried themselves before moving to Meg’s bedroom locking the door.

Meg opened Rachel’s robe and gently cupped her right breast and kissed the tip of the dark nipple. She kneaded the left breast, then alternated between two. Meg was not happy when Rachel pushed her away and covered the objects of her lust. “I’m sorry, Meggie, but I think I must be coming down with a cold. All I want to do is sleep. I need a little nap and some Echinacea.” Rachel sighed, feeling guilty that she couldn’t respond to her lover’s touch. That’s how she knew she was sick. Every time she’d get a little feverish, her ability to respond went right out the window.

Meg had suspected her partner wasn’t feeling up to par. She tried to hide her disappointment. “Sure, love. You take a nap and I’ll bring you some Echinacea and orange juice.”

“I’m really sorry, Meggie.” Rachel kept apologizing as she slipped on a sleep shirt and heavy socks.

Meg tucked her in and kissed her slightly warm head. “I’ll be back in a jiffy.” She threw on her sweats and slippers and ran down to the kitchen to retrieve the necessary items, then whispered to her mother, who was comfortably ensconced in a lap rug on her recliner, watching the football game with interest. “Mom, Rachel and I are going to take a nap. She might be coming down with a little cold and I’m going to give her some Echinacea and orange juice.”

“That should help, dear. I’m sorry she’s not feeling well.”

“She’ll be fine. I’m sure it’s just a little cold. Maybe this will knock it out before it gets a hold on her.”

“Maybe it will at that.”

Rachel swallowed down the pills and juice and fell into a deep sleep with Meg at her side. Meg waited until she was certain her partner would not wake up before she went downstairs to watch the end of the game with her family.

Rachel awoke with a jerk and looked around the room, trying to figure out what had awakened her so abruptly. Her ears perked up at the yells and whoops wafting from the den. Rachel quickly dressed and went to see what all the noise was about.

“What’s going on down here? You start celebrating New Year’s Eve without me?” Rachel jibed.

“WE WON!!! YES!!!” Ben whooped as he pumped his fist in the air.

“We won? …..We won? …..THE SAINTS WON!?!” Rachel looked into Meg’s twinkling eyes as a light bulb went off and she lifted the little woman in her arms and spun her around the room. “Woohoo!”

“Rachel, put me down. You’ll hurt yourself.” Meg complained as she giggled with glee.

“Awesome game, Dad. Whew, man!” Gaston exclaimed. “Let’s celebrate. Let’s all crawl into my Suburban and drive down the River to watch the bonfires and fireworks display tonight. My treat.”

Meg shook her head. “Gaston, that whole show is free to the public, you cheapskate.”

“Yeah, but I’ll pay for the gas and the hot punch.”

“Oh, gee, thanks. You are too generous, your gaseousness.” Meg curtsied to her brother dripping with sarcasm.

“I’ve never been to the bonfires.” Rachel interjected.

“It’s huge. You’ll love it.” Kathy said.

“Ok then, it’s settled. We’ll take a nice ride and see the bonfires. But first, I’m hungry.” Ben said.

“I can fix that. Who wants a po-boy? We have oysters and jumbo shrimp to fry or if you like, I can boil a few for the diet conscious….. Rachel, what’ll it be?” Marguerite asked.

“Oh, I think fried oysters on French with hot sauce, mayo and mustard would hit the spot.” Rachel offered.

“Make mine a …..”

“Half oyster, half shrimp with butter and lemon….. I know that one by heart.” Marguerite nodded to her daughter.

“I hate being that predictable. Am I that predictable?” She queried her lover.

“I refuse to answer that on the grounds that it’s too cold to sleep alone tonight.” Rachel grinned and ducked out of the way of Meg’s swatting hand. “Hey, Miss thing, it’s a long walk across the Causeway bridge.”

“You wouldn’t dare.” Meg glared at her partner, who was feeling her oats.

“Cherry’s my baby and she’s very sensitive…..”

“Who’s Cherry? What are you two talking about?” Gaston jumped in.

“Cherry is a 1964, candied apple red, Mustang. Her pride and joy and my one serious competition for Rachel’s affections.” Meg answered.

“Ho, ho, ho, I beg to differ, my dear. Cherry has no competition.” Rachel snickered.

“Where’d you hide it? I’m sure I would have noticed such a treasure when we drove up.” Gaston asked.

“You don’t think Rachel would leave Cherry out in the weather, do you? Heavens forbid! She’s all comfy and warm under her tarp in Mom and Dad’s garage.”

“That’s just because the stairway wasn’t wide enough to bring her up to your room.” Rachel piped in.

“See what I mean.” Meg retorted.

“Rachel, you have got to let me take her out for a spin.” Gaston stated.

“Hah! That’ll happen.” Meg quipped.

“Oh, please.” Gaston made puppy dog eyes at the tall woman. “Pretty, pretty, pretty please.”

Rachel was taken aback. She never let anyone else drive Cherry and she was not going to set a precedent today. “I’ll tell you what I’ll do, Gaston. I’ll take you out for a spin myself.”

Meg’s brother pouted.

“Told ya so.” Meg rubbed it in.

Rachel shrugged her shoulders. “Sorry, but nobody drives Cherry except me. Not even Meg.”

“Not even your own mother?” The young man goaded.

Rachel’s face took on a somber expression. “Especially my own mother.”

Meg jumped in. “Come on y’all, let’s eat. Glad to see you are feeling better, Rachel”

“Yep. I feel like I could eat a horse.” Rachel stated as she bit into her po-boy with gusto.

***

Ben undid his belt buckle and unbuttoned his pants. “Awww, Marguerite, I ate too much of your good food, dawlin.” Everyone at the table concurred that they were miserably full. “I need a nap before we head out. Let’s say we meet back here at 2030. It should take at least an hour to get to the bonfires from here. We’ll still get there in plenty of time.” He looked toward his wife. “Care to join me, my dear.”

“You girls don’t mind cleaning up the kitchen, do you. I feel a long shower coming on.” Marguerite looked into her daughter’s eyes and winked, causing Meg and Rachel to look at each other with wonder.

“Is your mother a psychic?” Rachel whispered to her lover.

“Sometimes I wonder about that myself.” Meg shook her head.

The couple sent Kathy and Gram to lie down as they cleaned the kitchen and then went upstairs to catch some sleep themselves.

***

The drive down the river to the bonfires took nearly an hour and a half, but the awesome sight before them made the trip worthwhile. Rachel had never seen a fire so huge and so well controlled. The colors in the flames and the delicious heat radiating from it were intoxicating. She grabbed her camera.

The family pulled out the folding chairs they’d brought along and several thermoses of hot coffee and cocoa and got as close to the warmth of the flames as the gathering crowds would allow. It was well below freezing but they found a spot where the breeze brought the fire’s warmth along with it.

All types of people gathered around, arriving in cars, trucks, buses, pirogues, skiffs and steamboats down the river. The atmosphere was festive. Music was played and Christmas Carols were sung with a tinge of sadness at seeing the season come to an end. Rachel and Meg held hands, sitting as close to each other as their chairs would allow. They sang along and looked adoringly in each other’s eyes. “How are you feeling, love?”

“I’m good. That nap and the Echinacea did the trick, I think.” Rachel responded. “Come on and dance with me, Meggie.” Rachel urged and she pulled her partner up and two stepped to a familiar old Cajun folk song, Jolie Blanc. The lover’s danced to the zydeco every dance until the fire works display began. The river boats came alive with color and sound as they answered with a display of their own. Everyone watched in awe and delight as the New Year was brought in with explosion after explosion and streams of multi colored rockets. It was all gotten on film.

“Happy New Year, my Meggie.” Rachel said into her lover’s ear.

“Happy New Year, Rachel. I love you.” The women kissed and hugged, as everyone around them seemed to do the same.

***

“Come on, Gram, I’ll help you to your room.” Meg offered, and put her arm under her grandmother’s for support. The very tired old woman accepted her assistance and sighed with relief when she lay down for the night. “Night, Gram. I love you.”

“Good night, little bit. I love you too. And, I like your lady friend very much.” Maggie patted her grandchild’s rosy cheek.

“Thanks, Gram. I can’t tell you how much that means to me, to both of us. Now, you rest. You’ve had a long day.” Meg leaned down and kissed her grandmother’s cheek, then left to find her partner.

“Wow, that was awesome.” Gaston said as they put the folding chairs away and brought the empty thermoses to the kitchen to be cleaned.

“It was that.” Rachel responded and yawned for the tenth time. “I’m beat.”

“Me too.” The little blonde walked up behind her partner. “Let’s go to bed.” Meg kissed her family and wished them all a Happy New Year and a good night.

The couple washed their faces and brushed their teeth, changed into nightshirts and were asleep by time their heads hit the pillows. Meg spooned in behind Rachel and dreamed of the future with the woman she loved.

***

Meg woke up and looked at the clock on her bedside table. It was almost 10 a.m. and her bladder was screaming for relief. She slipped out of bed, quietly, so as not to awaken her partner and went to take care of business and freshen up a bit. It was twenty minutes later when she returned to find Rachel still asleep, more than lightly snoring. She slipped in beside her and was taken aback by the heat radiating off her lover’s body. Somewhat alarmed she tried to wake her up.

“Rachel….. Hey, Rachel, it’s time to get up, sleepy head.” Meg said as she rubbed an exposed arm. “Come on, Rachel. I need you to wake up for me.”

Rachel groaned as blood shot brown eyes fluttered open and she rolled onto her back to look into worried sea-green orbs.

“Good morning, glory. How are you feeling?”

Rachel took a breath to answer and let go a deep, painful cough. She winced and held her side until she could speak. “I’m sick.”

“Yeah, I noticed. I want to take your temperature. I’ll be right back.” Meg hopped off of the bed and retrieved the thermometer from the bathroom medicine cabinet. “Under your tongue. That’s a good girl. Do you need to visit the potty?” Meg talked to her as if she were a sick child. Rachel nodded and Meg assisted her to the bathroom and back to bed.

“102.5 degrees. Yep, you’re a sick puppy. I’m gonna get my Dad to take a look at you.”

Rachel groaned, again, and pulled the covers over her head.

Meg returned in a few minutes with a breakfast tray, Tylenol and Robitussin DM, followed by her father and his medical bag.

“Hello there young lady. I hear you’re under the weather this morning.” Ben said as he pulled the small bedroom chair up to face Rachel, who had the covers pulled up under her chin. “Now you are going to have to let go of that cover, so I can listen to your breath sounds. Meg told me about the damage to your lung and we don’t want to cause any more.

Meg sat upon the bed and encouraged her terribly embarrassed lover to release the covers. “Dad’s a good doctor, Rach. Let him do his job. Ok?”

Rachel let go of the covers and took hold of Meg’s hand as she tried to stifle another coughing fit. Ben placed his stethoscope on her chest and listened to all the lung fields, then helped her to sit up and listened to her lungs through her back. “You’ve got a good bit of congestion building up in that right lung. The left is much clearer. I don’t think what you caught was a cold but a respiratory infection from one of your patients. I’m going to give you a shot of Celestone now. Are you allergic to any medications, like Penicillin?” Ben asked as he drew up the injection.

“No. Not that I know of. I’ve taken Penicillin before with no problem. You’re giving me the viscous Penicillin?” Rachel asked.

“I’m afraid so, Rachel. You know it’s going to hurt a bit, but we have to stop the infection now. Ok?” Ben explained, a look of compassion on his handsome face. He administered the Celestone. “After we do a sputum culture and sensitivity and a throat swab, I’ll know exactly what antibiotic we need for this specific bug. Until then, the viscous Penicillin is our best bet. My office isn’t far. I should be back in less than thirty minutes.” He excused himself to retrieve the Penicillin and sterile containers for the specimens he needed to send to the lab for C and S.

“Rach, I don’t like the sound of this. Are you going to be alright?” Meg asked.

“Sure. I’ll be fine after I get the antibiotic and some rest. Don’t worry. Your dad’s a good doctor. Are those Tylenol for me?”

“Oh yeah. I forgot. Here.” Meg handed her two Tylenol and a glass of water. There was a knock on the door. “Come in.” Meg called.

Marguerite entered the room with a sympathetic smile upon her face. “Hey there. I hear you’re a bit under the weather. I spoke with Ben. He’ll be back in about twenty minutes. Can I get you anything?”

“No ma’am. Thank you. You and your husband, your whole family, have been more than kind.” Rachel said. Her eyes were getting heavy and she had an irresistible urge to lay back down and sleep.

“OK. Why don’t you try to sleep while we wait on Ben? Meg, can you help me in the kitchen for a moment?” Marguerite motioned to her daughter as she left the room.

Meg followed her mother to the kitchen and sat down over a cup of hot coffee. “Meg, I think Rachel should stay here until we know what we’re dealing with. I’d feel better knowing we did everything we could to protect her from further damaging her lung. From the injuries you described, she is very lucky to still be with us.” Marguerite explained.

Meg looked into her Mother’s kind eyes and back up toward the staircase that led to her ailing lover. “Do you really think it’s that bad? I mean, she’s going to be alright isn’t she?” Meg’s eyes began to sting with unshed tears.

Marguerite reached across the table to hold her daughter’s hand. “Meg, honey, I don’t mean to frighten you. In this case, it’s better safe than sorry. Your father and I want to be certain that we’ve done everything we can to ensure Rachel’s safety. That’s all. I know how much you love each other. It’s plain as day. Will you talk to her about staying at least until we know what we’re dealing with and can treat her. We just want to help, Meg.”

“Thanks Mom. I’ll talk to her.” Meg said. ‘This should be an interesting conversation.’ Meg grimaced and sighed. ‘Kind of like that old Chinese curse, ‘May you live in interesting times’.’
part 8
The dark haired woman heard the scream and charged toward it. She could see the dirty clothes of the man that had her friend pinned to the old brick wall in the alleyway behind Tory’s gym. He had a knife to her throat, a thin line of blood slid down, staining the beautiful silk blouse. Rage and fear filled Rachel’s heart and soul. She had to save Meg. With all her strength she pumped her powerful thighs and dove for the assailant, but the air around her became thick. Like running through a bog, her legs sucked down by some unseen force. The harder she struggled to reach her friend, the thicker the quagmire that held her. The frantic woman watched in horror as the filthy vagrant forced Meg to the ground. Screams of fear and pain filled her head, “Rachel, help me! Please, help me!” The terrified little blonde called out to her.

“Noooo, don’t hurt her! Meggie! Awww, God! Noooo, Don’t, please, don’t hurt her….. MEGGIE!!!”

“Hey, Rach, I’m here, love. Wake up. You’re having a nightmare.” Meg soothed her thrashing lover.

“Meggie?” Rachel felt frightened and confused. Weren’t they just in the alleyway? She rubbed her eyes and tried to get her breathing under control as her heart galloped in her chest. A gentle hand stroked the fevered brow and a soft voice spoke to her until she calmed. “I must have been dreaming….. It was so real. We were back at Tory’s and that bastard had you, but I couldn’t reach you in time. It was like the earth was sucking me down and I couldn’t move. I couldn’t do anything but watch and hear your screams.” Rachel stopped as a coughing fit took her breath away and tears stung her eyes.

“Take it easy there, Tiger. It was just a nightmare brought on by your fever. I’m here, Rachel. You did reach me in time and we are alive and happy, if one of us is less than well for the moment.” Meg patted her lover’s red cheek. “Let me take your temperature again. You feel awfully hot to me.”

“I need to pee.” Rachel complained.

“Can you make it to the loo alright?”

“Sure.” Rachel scooted off the bed and took a few steps before the room tilted and she had to hold onto the wall to anchor herself.

Meg saw it coming. The beautiful face drained of color and the normally graceful stride looked more like a wino’s shuffle. The little blonde was at her partner’s side offering support before Rachel could hit the ground. With the help of the wall, she was able to steady her well enough to continue the trek to the bathroom and back.

“Rach, do me a favor, will ya?” Meg panted.

“Sure.” Rachel croaked through her ever-increasingly sore throat.

“Don’t get out of this bed without help. You’re gonna hurt yourself.”

“Ok.” Rachel agreed, then allowed the thermometer to be placed under her tongue.

There was a knock at the bedroom door. “Are you two decent?”

“Come on in, Daddy….. I’m taking Rachel’s temperature. She’s getting weak. Almost took a header trying to walk to the head.” Meg joked and her father chuckled. “102.3 degrees. Well that’s some slight improvement.”

“What has she taken to lower her temperature so far today?” Ben asked as he prepared the viscous Penicillin injection.

“I gave her two Tylenol about an hour or so ago.” Meg answered, helping Rachel to get more comfortable under the covers.

“Alternate the Tylenol with Advil every three hours until the antibiotics take affect….. Rachel, I want you to roll on to your belly for me.” Meg helped her turn over. “That a girl….. Now, when I say so, take a deep breath for me…..”

“Yeow! You said when you said so.” Rachel complained as Ben forced the thick injection deep into her muscle.

“I didn’t want you to tense up. Now, all done. I’d stay on my belly for a while, if I were you. That’s quite a knot.” Ben dropped the syringe into the small sharps box he brought in with him and pulled the chair up as close to Rachel’s head as he could. “I need a sputum specimen from you. You know how to use this specimen container, I’m sure.” Rachel nodded. “I also need to swab your throat.” Ben prepared the long sterile cotton swab then took Rachel’s chin in his hand. “Meg, turn the lamp shade so I can see Rachel’s throat.” Ben looked closely at the reddened tissues and the small white pustules beginning to form. “Mmhm. Now, young lady, I hear you have a lovely singing voice so repeat after me…ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah.” Ben went up and down the scale and Rachel mimicked him, allowing him the space he needed to get a clean swab of her throat and escape before she could bite down on it. Her chest heaved with a violent fit of coughing. The struggling woman grasped the specimen jar and forced it open, coughing up an impressive specimen for Culture and Sensitivity.

“Oh, that’s attractive.” Meg said as she grimaced, rubbing her partner’s back.

“Good girl. I’m going to call the lab and see if my pal, George, is working today. He’ll run these through for me right away.” Ben said as he picked up the phone and dialed Lakeview Regional Hospital’s lab.

“Hey Georgie, it’s Ben Poche’. How’s life treating you?”

“Happy New Year, bud. Life’s treating me just fine. The Saints are in the playoffs and Jack owes us twenty bucks a piece and all the beer we can drink at the poker game Friday night. Aaah, life is sweet, my friend.” The director of the medical lab fairly glowed. “Now, I know you didn’t call me to chat, so what can I do for you?”

“I have some specimens I need a stat C and S on. Can you slip me in?”

“It just so happens that things are a bit slow so, if you can get them to me now, I should be able to expedite matters. Of course this is going to cost you.” George teased.

“Ok. What’ll it be?” Ben rolled his eyes.

“I think a nice fresh King Cake from Randazzo’s Bakery would hit the spot.” George smiled at the thought of the traditional New Orleans confection.

“My mother was right. The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” Ben laughed heartily. “I’ll bring one Friday night.” And, hung up the phone.

“Ok, young lady. I’m going to drop these off. I want you to take two Advil and stay in bed.” Ben told Rachel.

“Yes, sir.” Rachel said.

***

Rachel slept off and on the rest of the day and on into morning. Meg called Darren to ask him if he would keep Sandy for a few more days. He agreed, happy to spend more time with Rachel’s furry little buddy. “She’s great company for me right now. Robbie is doing the 11p to 7a rotation this week, so I’m glad to have something warm to cuddle up with at night. You tell Rachel to get well and not to worry about her baby. Sandy is in good hands at the Marino residence.”

“Thanks, Darren. You and Robbie are the best. I’ll give Rachel your message.”

“And, let me know how she’s doing. Ok?”

“Ok. We don’t really know what it is yet. But, as soon as we get the specimen results, I’ll give you guys a call. Thanks, again. Bye now.”

“Bye, bye, sugar.”

***

Rachel woke up near noontime with a sore back and a temp of 101.5. Her partner sat at her side reading a lesbian gothic novel. The exhausted beauty cleared her throat so she could speak. But it only served to cause a painfully deep cough. She held her side and grimaced.

“Hey, there. It’s time for your Tylenol and cough medicine.” Rachel took her medicine without a fuss, letting her partner know she still felt too lousy to fight. Rachel struggled to sit up and drank down a large glass of water.

“What time is it?” She croaked.

“Time for lunch. Mom’s fixing you her famous homemade veggie and chicken soup. Guaranteed to cure what ails you.”

“Meg, I don’t want your mom putting herself out for me. I’m perfectly capable of opening a can of Campbell’s at home.” Rachel stopped to catch her breath. “Is tomorrow Tuesday?”

“All day.”

“I need to call work. Hand me the phone, please.”

“Here ya go. I’ll be back with your soup in a few.” Meg walked to the door and turned around to observe her lover, then shook her head as she left the room.

***

“Was I right?”

“You were right. This soup is awesome. I haven’t had homemade soup since my grandmother was alive. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.”

“Good. You deserve it.”

“I do?”

“Yeah, you do. Rachel, my family want to help you, love. Please, let them.” Meg beseeched her partner.

There was a knock on the bedroom door.

“Come in.” Meg called.

“How’s the patient?” Dr. Poche’ inquired.

“Enjoying your wife’s delicious soup. You’re a lucky man.” Rachel rasped.

“Don’t I know it, too. Glad to see you eating. How’s the temp doing?” Ben asked.

“It’s gone down a lot. 101.5 degrees about 30 minutes ago.” Meg responded.

“That’s quite an improvement, but still too high. Now, I have something to discuss with you, Rachel. I just got a call from the lab. The preliminary report is positive for strep pneumonia.”

“Aww, shit!” Rachel moaned.

“Is that really bad?” Meg asked in alarm.

“It’s not good.” Rachel complained.

“The good news is that we caught it early. The bad news is Rachel will need IV antibiotics and respiratory treatments for a few days, which means she’ll have to be admitted to Lakeview Regional today. The sooner we get those antibiotics in her, the sooner she’ll come home.

The tall beauty groaned and shook her head in disgust.

“Can’t you treat her here?” Meg asked.

“I already looked into that, pumpkin. Insurance won’t cover any IV antibiotics unless they are administered in the hospital. Those are very potent and damned expensive.” Ben responded.

“Now, it’s only for a few days and your mother will stay with Rachel while you’re at work.”

“That won’t be necessary, Ben. I appreciate your generosity. But, I am a nurse and can take care of my…..” Another coughing fit took Rachel’s breath away, causing her head and chest to throb.

“I’ll call in your orders, then Gaston and I will help you down to the car.” Ben grinned and shook his head in amusement.

Rachel nodded, then fell back onto the soft linens, rolling her eyes in frustration. “I’m not a happy camper.” She groaned.

“I’ll pack your bag and call Tory.” Meg offered.

“Thanks. I’ll just lay here.” Rachel rasped.

***

Rachel fell into an exhausted sleep after being carted off to radiology for chest X-rays, then lab for blood work and finally to her private room and the rough sheets of the hospital bed. Meg sat on the convertible chair/bed talking on her cell phone to her secretary, rearranging her schedule to lighten her patient load for the rest of the week in order to be with Rachel every morning. Her mother would sit with her in the afternoons until Meg returned.

The Nurse and a Respiratory tech busied themselves hanging the IV antibiotics and an aminophyline drip to ease her breathing. Then, they hooked Rachel up to humidified oxygen at 2 liters via nasal cannula. Their patient slept undisturbed.

It was about an hour later, when the Respiratory Therapist came in to administer a treatment, that Rachel awakened. She looked around, taking in all the machines and tubes, then sat up in order to read the labels on the IV bags and the readings on the pulse-oximeter that was attached to her finger. She smiled in approval.

“Ms. Vincenti, I need you to put this in your mouth and take deep breaths for me.” The Respiratory Therapist instructed as she took Rachel’s vital signs and recorded them. Rachel took a few deep breaths resulting in a bone jarring coughing fit. “There you go. Let’s cough that up.” The therapist encouraged and began percussion upon her back

“Oh, God! That hurts!” Rachel complained loudly as a firm slap hit upon her sensitive healing ribs.

“Wait! Stop! You’re hurting her!” Meg jumped up and stood across the bed from the bewildered therapist. “Be careful of her ribs. She had two ribs broken a few months ago and your beating right on them.”

“Oh, my. I’m sorry. No one told me. Show me exactly where they hurt and I’ll avoid that area. I’ll make a note in your chart so this won’t happen again.” The nurse was red-faced with embarrassment. “I’ll go tell your nurse you need your pain med.”

“Thank you.” Meg breathed a sigh of relief as she sat next to her partner on the bed and rubbed her arm, offering the comfort of her touch as tears of pain slipped down her partner’s hot cheeks.

The therapist left them alone briefly, but returned with a look of frustration. “I checked your chart, Ms. Vincenti, but all you have ordered for pain is Tylenol or Advil. Your nurse is getting it for you.”

Meg shook her head, got up from the bed and flipped open her cell phone. She hit a number on the speed dial. “Daddy….”

The nurse returned in a few minutes with a shot of Demerol and Phenergan to be given slowly through the IV.
***

Rachel was awakened every four hours for her IV antibiotics and breathing treatments, leaving her tired and cranky. She gratefully accepted Meg’s tender kiss on her forehead, then watched as the petite blonde collected herself and left for work.

Marguerite rapped gently upon the door, then entered with a Tupperware container filled with aromatic soup and a bag filled with warm French bread. She struggled to balance her load with the collection of board games under her arm.

“Morning, Rachel. How are you feeling?” The older woman cheerfully inquired.

Rachel blinked the sleep from her eyes and swallowed, trying to speak through her painfully parched throat. Finally, she just nodded and grimaced.

“That good, huh? ….. Here we have a nice nutritious lunch for you. And, I brought some board games to keep us occupied til Meg can rescue you.”

Rachel watched her partner’s mother in disbelief.

“Do you play chess?” Marguerite asked.

Rachel nodded mutely.

“Good. Me too. I find it strangely stimulating and relaxing at the same time. Now, would you like to be black or white?”

Rachel opened her mouth to answer when she was halted by the older woman’s raised hand.

“Ah, ah, ah.” She waggled her index finger before Rachel’s eyes. “No speaking. Rest your voice, just shake your head “yes” or “no”. So, is black ok?”

The dumfounded woman nodded.

“Great. You set up the board while I pour us some of my soup.” Marguerite proceeded to pour the steaming concoction into a pair of Styrofoam cups and handed one to her charge. Rachel grinned as the warm broth soothed her raw throat.

“Mmmm, good. Thanks.” Rachel rasped.

“No, no, no. I do all the talking today. You rest.” Marguerite piped up.

Rachel nodded and smiled sheepishly.

“Now.” Marguerite scooted her chair close to the bed and lowered the over-bed table in order to more comfortably reach the chess game. “Why don’t I regale you with tales of Meg’s childhood while I cream your butt? Did I mention I was my high school’s chess champion of 1962?” The older woman winked as she opened with her Queen’s pawn.

Never one to backdown from a challenge, Rachel sat up as best she could to face her opponent.

Two hours later: “These two playground bullies used to pick on poor Gaston every day at recess. They made my baby’s life miserable until Meg saw him sitting on our front stoop crying his little heart out. Well, once she heard the story, she went into full “big sister” mode, walked him back to the playground, confronted those boys and beat the ever-loving daylights out of them. I’ll never forget the look of pride on both their faces as they marched into the kitchen covered in mud and blood. You never saw two happier children. Of course, I had to pretend to be shocked at such violent behavior. But all the time I was beaming inside. Needless to say, no one ever picked on Gaston again.”

Rachel absorbed Marguerite’s stories of Meg’s childhood with unmasked glee until the respiratory tech interrupted the older woman’s reverie.

“It’s time for your breathing treatment and CPT, Ms. Vincenti.” The technician bustled about the tubes, connecting the mouth piece and squirting the medicine into its receptacle.

Rachel’s eyes showed a glimmer of fear, which Marguerite immediately responded to. “Rachel, dear, what’s wrong?”

“My ribs. The CPT hurts my ribs.” Rachel quietly confessed.

“Where does it hurt?” Marguerite inquired and watched as the younger woman pointed.

“Is that from your surgery?”

“Yeah. They had to break a couple of ribs. They’re still healing.”

Marguerite read the name on the technician’s badge. “Joseph, when you perform CPT on Ms. Vincenti be careful of this area where she has had surgery recently.”

“Yes, ma’am. I see it right here on her chart. I’ll be gentle. And, if it starts to hurting ya too much, you just let me know. Ok?” The friendly technician agreed.

“You’re not from around here, are you?” Marguerite chimed in.

“No, Ma’am. I’m from Arkansas.” Joseph gave a big toothy grin.

Marguerite studied the still worried look on Rachel’s drawn face and made a decision. “Joseph from Arkansas, whattaya say we give my young friend here a pain shot before her treatment?”

The tech looked back and forth between the pale frightened face of his patient and the fiercely protective demeanor of her friend and quickly decided to err on the side of caution. “Sure thing. Be right back, ma’am.” He turned on his heel and scampered from the room.

Rachel looked into her new friend’s eyes, which reminded her so much of her partner’s, in awe. She saw only a maternal affection shining back at her. Not knowing how to respond she just smiled and whispered “Thank you”.

Rachel fell into a deep sleep after her pain shot and respiratory treatment, her warm hand held in Marguerite’s.

“Hey Mom. How’s our patient?” Meg whispered as she entered the hospital room.

“Shush…. She’s getting some much needed sleep…..”

Meg nodded and kissed her mother’s cheek.

“I’d say she’s had a good day.” Marguerite got up and began collecting herself.

Meg noticed the chess board and sighed. “So, I see you’ve found a common interest. Who’s winning?”

“I am, of course. But, she’s no slouch. Rachel is an honorable opponent. Very sharp.”

Meg beamed with pride. “Yes. She is. Thanks for sitting with her. It means a lot to me.”

Marguerite hugged her daughter and kissed her forehead. “You’re welcome. I’m happy to help. After all, how often do I, not only get to play chess but have a captive audience entranced by stories of my little girl’s rambunctious childhood.” She gave Meg a mischievous grin.

Meg groaned and rolled her eyes. “Oh, brother.”
part 9
“Morning, Glory.” Meg greeted her groggy partner.

“Euuuu. What’s been living in my mouth?” Rachel groaned, smacking her lips and poking out her tongue in disgust.

“I can help you with that.” Meg said as she raised the head of the bed, then scooted the over-bed table across her partner’s lap. “Here we have toothpaste and your toothbrush, mouthwash, floss and a glass of water. Oh, and you can spit into the emesis basin.” Meg stood tall with her hands held behind her back, a self-satisfied grin on her face.

“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?” Rachel smirked.

“I like taking care of you. I always wanted to know what it was like to be a nurse. Mom told me what to do for your morning care and I even arranged a bedside commode so you don’t have to drag those IV poles to the loo with you.” Meg bragged.

Rachel looked over at said item and blew hot air out of pursed lips. “Speaking of which…”

“Here, let me help you.” Meg assisted her partner to the commode then prepared a warm sponge bath.

***

“Ahhh, that’s better.” Rachel sighed as Meg tucked her back into bed.

“I enjoyed your Mom yesterday.” The patient stated, watching her makeshift nurse put away the wash basin and towels. “By time I get home, I’ll have enough scoop on you to keep me in bubble baths and massages til Judgment Day.”

Meg just hung her head with hands on hips. “You are feeling better aren’t you?”

Rachel grinned and wiggled her eyebrows. “Yep.”

“On that note, I have to leave for the office. Mom should be here any minute. You behave.”

Meg gave her partner a tender kiss on the forehead and left for work.

***

Rachel stared at the powdered eggs and cold grits the nurse’s aide placed before her. ‘Where’s Marguerite when I need her?’

“Is there something wrong?” The aide asked.

“I guess my throat is still a little sore. I don’t think I’m ready to eat . . . uh . . . that.” The patient stifled a groan and pushed the tray as far away as possible.

“Oh, I understand. I’ll see if the kitchen can send you up some broth.”

“Thank you.” Rachel snuggled down in the bed and slept.

***

“Hey there.” Marguerite greeted as Rachel wiped the sleep from her eyes.

“How long have you been sitting there?”

“Not long. You were sleeping so soundly, I didn’t have the heart to wake you. Feeling better this morning?”

“Yes, thank you.” Rachel looked around the room searching for the soup she’d come to think of as ambrosia.

“It’s in the microwave at the nurse’s lounge. I’ll go get it. Your nurse complained to me that you refused to eat your breakfast. Does your throat still hurt that bad?”

“Well, it does hurt, but not as much as eating that gruel would.” Rachel made a face.

“I see. Do you think you could possibly eat a bowl of my homemade soup? I wouldn’t want to cause you any discomfort.” Marguerite teased.

Rachel looked at the older woman with longing in her eyes.

“I’ll take that as a yes. Be right back.” Marguerite winked at her patient and left to warm up their meal.

The two women enjoyed a competitive game of chess as Meg’s mom regaled her young friend with more stories of merry mayhem caused by her adventuresome daughter. “I’ll have to show you our videos of the kids on Christmas. Some of my fondest memories are of Ben dressed up as Papa Noe`l handing out presents to two wide-eyed cherubs, one sitting on my Dad’s lap and one on my Mom’s. Those sparkling green eyes of theirs filled with wonder…” Marguerite’s throat choked with emotion.

Rachel studied her partner’s mother intently. She had no frame of reference for the pictures playing upon the screen of her imagination. Marguerite’s tears made her very uncomfortable. “Um…are you all right?”

“Yes. I’m fine. Just sentimental. That’s all. I miss those days when I could sit my babies on my lap and protect them from the big bad world. It’s so hard to let go, Rachel. But, you’ll find that out for yourself when you have your own.”

Rachel smiled wanly. But, then her eyes twinkled. “Next Christmas you’ll have a brand-new grand baby on your knee.”

Marguerite laughed giddily and clapped her hands together. “How about that? I’m gonna be a granny.”

“Congratulations.” Rachel offered.

“Thank you. But that’s enough talk. It’s almost time for your breathing treatment. I’ll go ask your nurse for the pain shot.”

“Thanks.”

As Rachel awaited the nurse, she thought about the vast difference between her upbringing and Meg’s. She hadn’t been able to relate to the fond memories Marguerite had shared with her. That fact made her very sad and she indulged in a rare moment of self-pity. Her thoughts were interrupted by the entering of the nurse with a syringe in her hand.

“Here you are. Call me when the shot takes effect and I’ll inform respiratory.”

Rachel nodded, already feeling the sweet buzz of the Demerol and Phenergan flowing through her veins.

Marguerite cleared the over-bed table and pulled a chair up so she could hold the younger woman’s hand during the painful ordeal of her respiratory treatment. Rachel held on tightly as she struggled to cough up the fluid that the drugs and CPT loosened, after which she fell into an exhausted sleep.

Meg walked into the room to see her lover snoring lightly, with her mother dozing in the chair beside her still holding a limp hand.

“Uh…Hi. I must have … What time is it?” Marguerite mumbled as she tried to get her bearings..

“Time for you to get home to Daddy. How’d she do today?”

“Really well. That congestion is starting to break up. Thank goodness. Don’t forget her shot.”

“I won’t.”

“Won’t what?” Rachel croaked.

“Forget to remind your nurse to give you a pain shot before your treatment. How are you feeling, sweetheart?” Meg asked as she brushed dark bangs from her lover’s forehead.

“Better, thanks.” Rachel smiled warmly at her partner..

“How’d you like to have a special visitor tomorrow?” Marguerite inquired.

Rachel looked puzzled.

“My mom might come with me. She wants to see for herself that you are getting better.”

“I’d like that.” Rachel answered.

“Good. Then, we’ll see you in the morning.” Marguerite left and Meg crawled onto the bed to hold her lover.

“Mmmmm, I’ve missed you.” Meg sighed.

“Me too.” Rachel breathed in the fresh scent of her lover’s hair and kissed her forehead.

“Tory called. She’s going to close the gym early so she can come see you tonight.”

“Yeah? I’ve missed the old girl.”

“Don’t let her hear you call her that.”

“Oh, I’m scared.” Rachel trembled in mock terror.

The couple stayed like that, cuddling in each other’s arms, until it was time for Rachel’s breathing treatment and she received her shot. Meg sat beside the bed holding her partner’s hand as the painful procedure was endured.

“Your congestion is really breaking up. Let’s get you on your belly over the side of the bed and try to cough some of that up.” The respiratory tech assisted Rachel, with Meg’s help, into position and proceeded to coach her in deep breathing and postural drainage. After a few short minutes in said position, Rachel released a deep, productive and painful cough, only the first of many. She grabbed the trash basket, which was within reach, coughing and retching until she was exhausted and breathing in hungrily through much clearer passages. The technician and Meg helped the struggling woman back to a sitting position, tucking pillows behind her back for comfort.

“What the hell is going on here?” Tory bellowed as she ran to her best friend’s side, pushing the shocked technician out of her way. “Jesus, baby, what are they doing to you in this place?”

Tory asked as she took in the tear-streaked red face and strained features.

Rachel raised her hand to stay her guardian’s tirade long enough for Meg to be able to fill her in.

“She had a very productive breathing treatment. Get me a wet washcloth, please.” Meg told Tory. The older woman obeyed, ran quickly to the loo, returned with a wet washcloth and handed it off to the younger woman.

“Here ya go, tiger. Take slow, deep breaths. That’s my girl.” Meg wiped the tears and spittle from Rachel’s flushed face. “You did great. Ya got up a bunch of that gunk.”

The patient smiled wanly and nodded, causing her sweat soaked hair to sway. “Hey Tory. Sorry to scare you like that.” Rachel rasped.

“Yeah, I’m sorry I over reacted. I had no idea you were this sick, kiddo. Why didn’t you tell me you needed me. I should have been here for you instead of at the gym.”

“I’m OK, really. It’s just these damned breathing treatments are rough. But, I have Meg’s mom here during the day. She’s been terrific. She plays chess with me.”

“I know you love that. Is she any competition for you?”

“You could say that. She was her college tournament champion.”

“Ooooh, I bet she slaughters your arse.”

“Well, I wouldn’t go that far.” Rachel chuckled causing a deep, productive cough.

Tory grabbed a hand full of tissue and pressed it gently against Rachel’s mouth. “Spit it out.” Rachel obeyed. “Atta girl.”

Meg handed her partner a cup containing mouthwash, which Rachel took gratefully. “That stuff is awful.”

“I’m sure it is.” Meg retorted. “Why don’t I let you two visit a while. I brought some of my fresh ground decaf. I’ll go ask the nurse if I can use their coffee pot. Would y’all like a cup?”

Rachel’s eyes lit up. “You are an angel of mercy, my love.”

“I’d love a cup. Thanks, Meg.” Tory piped up.

“Good. I’ll be back in a bit.”

“You’re one lucky son of a gun. Did you know that?”

Rachel grinned broadly. “I know. Speaking of lucky women, how is Jenny?”

“She’s great. Her son is keeping her very busy returning Christmas gifts. It seems he’s decided to be a great artist and wants all his toys returned for art supplies. Weird huh?”

“Interesting kid.”

There was a pregnant silence as Tory worked up the courage to say what had been on her mind for days. “I’m sorry.”

Rachel tried to make eye contact. “For what?”

“For neglecting you. . . I’ve been so wrapped up in Jenny that I have neglected my responsibilities to you and our friendship. I am truly sorry. I wouldn’t hurt you for all the tea in China. You know that, don’t you? I mean. . .because I want to spend more time with Jenny doesn’t mean I love you any less or that you’re any less precious to me now that I am romantically involved.”

Rachel couldn’t hide the tears as her face crumpled. Tory pulled the younger woman into her arms. “I wish you’d been there when I was growing up, Tor. I coulda used a mom like you back then.” She sobbed into her self-appointed guardian’s shoulder.

“I wish I could have been there for you then too, kiddo. I would have been so proud to have a daughter like you.” Tory pushed Rachel away so she could look deeply into her dark eyes. “I’m very proud of the woman you’ve become, baby. You’ve overcome the odds and grown into an intelligent, loving human being. I’m honored to think I might have had a little something to do with that.” She wiped the tears from Rachel’s cheeks with a tissue. “Now, tell me what brought all this on.”

“I’m just feeling sorry for myself. Today Meg’s mom, Marguerite, was telling me stories about

her childhood and all the great times they had over the holidays as a family and I just felt . . . like I missed out on so much that every child should have, you know? Every holiday turned into a drunken brawl at my house. People oughtta have to take some kind of test before being allowed to be parents.”

“You can say that again. But, think of all the wonderful holidays ahead with Meg and her family. You like Meg’s family, don’t you?”

“They’re just too good to be true. I find myself waiting for the other shoe to drop. I mean, why are they so nice to me? They don’t even know me.”

“Rachel, they love Meg and want her to be happy. You make her happy. And, besides, what’s not to like? You’re a very loveable creature.” Tory grinned and ruffled Rachel’s dark hair.

“I love you, Tory.” Rachel sniffled and hugged her friend tightly.

“I love you too, kiddo. And, I am very happy for you and Meg. You’ve come a long way from that gangly teenager full of fear and anger to the beautiful, successful woman you are today.”

“I couldn’t have done it without you. . . and Claire.”

“She loved you a bunch. I know she’s up there watching us right now.” Tory dried her own tears and continued. . . “I’d like for you to get to know Jenny. Do you think you could do that for me? She makes me so happy, Rach. I want you to like her and accept her as part of our little family. . . Could you try?” Tory beseeched.

Rachel nodded. “I’ll try. I want you to be happy Tory. I know Claire would want that too.”

Tory smiled broadly. “Good. After you get well, I’ll have y’all over for dinner and you and Jenny can get to know each other better.”

“Hey ladies, is the coast clear?” Meg asked timidly from the door where she held a tray with three steaming cups of coffee.

“Oooh, coffee. Yeah, we’re done.” Rachel sighed in anticipation of her favorite treat.

“We’re cool.” Tory said as she jumped up to help Meg with her load.

* * *

“Good morning, young lady. How are you feeling this morning?” Meg’s grandmother inquired.

Rachel wiped the sleep from her eyes, taking in the mouth-watering aroma of apples and cinnamon wafting from the steaming plate before her. She cleared her throat, relieved that it no longer hurt to do so. “Mmmm, better. Thank you. Ooooooh, that smells sinful.”

“It is. But, it’s good for you too. I thought you might enjoy something decadent on your last day of captivity.” The older woman said with a wink and a twinkle in her laughing eyes.

“I’m being discharged?” Rachel asked hopefully.

“I have it on good authority that if your chest X-ray, that the technician should be here shortly to take, comes back clear, you, my young friend, will be released into my granddaughter’s capable hands.” Maggie Gravolet leaned over and pat Rachel’s cool hand. “Now eat your baked apples before they get cold.”

Rachel smiled broadly and dug into the sweet concoction of apples, cinnamon, butter, brown sugar and pecans. While she ate, Maggie Gravolet busied herself packing Rachel’s belongings neatly into her overnight case.

“Mrs. Gravolet, please, don’t bother. I can do that,” Rachel complained.

“Gram.” The older woman stated as she continued to pack Rachel’s bag.

“Pardon?” Rachel wasn’t sure she’d heard right.

“Call me Gram, dear. You’re a member of our family now.”

Rachel looked at the older woman with distrust and bewilderment in her eyes.

The look wasn’t lost on Maggie Gravolet and she set the clothes she’s been folding aside and came to sit down next to the obviously perplexed younger woman. She lay her wrinkled hand upon Rachel’s and looked deeply into wide brown eyes. “What happened to make you doubt my sincerity, Rachel?”

Rachel looked away, desperately uncomfortable with this inquiry.

“Look at me, child. I never lie. You are very special to my granddaughter. Any fool can see how devoted you are to each other. . . Meg says your childhood was difficult.”

Rachel looked at her with fear in her eyes.

“Now don’t get your panties in a bunch. Meg didn’t divulge any deep dark secrets, just that you hadn’t spent any holidays with your family since you were a teenager and that you are in therapy and that is the extent of what I know.”

Rachel looked at the kind old woman wondering where she was leading.

“Rachel, family is so very important. And, not all families are connected by blood, but by love, devotion and loyalty. Believe me. I know this for a fact.”

Rachel looked down at her hands feeling very uncomfortable yet trying to absorb what her partner’s beloved grandmother was telling her.

“May I tell you a true story, then perhaps you’ll understand where my sense of family comes from.” Maggie patted Rachel’s hand again then sat back comfortably and began to tell her story as the younger woman continued to study her fingernails.

“I was born in the Irish Channel, the only child of Irish immigrants. My mother was a seamstress to the wealthy women of the Garden District. My dad was a welder and worked on the river. The work was hot and the days were long and hotter. He didn’t talk much, my father, and, like most Irishmen, he drank to excess. I can remember many an argument between my parents when he would come home late, smelling of “the drink”. She’d drag him to church on Sunday and he’d repent until the next Friday night rolled around. But, he loved her dearly. He even wrote songs for her. I’d hear him late at night singing and playing his old guitar. Once she saw a dress in the window of Maison Blanche and said how much she’d love to have it to wear for church and make all those old bitties jealous. My father worked day and night for a month to buy her that dress. We hardly saw him except on Sundays. I remember how my Mother complained that work was not as important as his family. He just begged her to understand how bad times were and he had to take the work where he could find it.”

“Mother worked on her birthday till her eyes were red and sore, sewing the tiny intricate stitches that made her so popular with the wives of the well-to-do. Then, she cooked our dinner and waited for Father to come home to her. I’ll never forget the look of astonishment and pure joy on her face or the tears that rolled down her cheeks as he surprised her with the very dress that she’d fawned over in that shop window. I remember how she held it in her hands with such reverence, showing me the fine stitching and feeling the fabric, soft as an angel’s wings. My mother gently set the dress across our couch then dived into my father’s arms, kissing and hugging him until his face was beet red with embarrassment at this show of affection in front of me. I think I was thirteen at the time. Then she said something I’ll never forget. She told him how much she loved the gift and appreciated the long hours of hard work that paid for it but that being with him was the greatest gift of all.”

“She died three months later of pneumonia. He never got over it. The best part of him died with her. He crawled into a bottle of whisky for months afterward, getting into bar room brawls, not eating and hardly ever looking at me. I guess it was because I resembled her. We had the same green eyes, blonde hair and cherubic face. Yes, I’m sure that was it. Anyway, I cooked and cleaned for him, then went to school. He still worked and supported us, but his heart was broken and nothing I could do would mend it. I had nobody, no family and no time for anything but housework and my studies. I felt desperately alone.

My one close girlfriend at school saved me from my loneliness. She invited me every chance she got to spend the weekend with her family on the bayou. She was one of the girls who boarded at my school, Ursuline’s Academy. My mother insisted I get a good education so I wouldn’t have to work so hard for pennies as she did. Anyway, my friend Angelique and I had fun playing make believe games, giggling about boys, helping with the chores and learning to bake all sorts of French pastries. Her mother was a gourmet and one of the warmest, most loving, charitable women I’ve ever had the pleasure to know.

Her name was Marguerite Gravolet and she became my surrogate mother, confidant and eventually my mother-in-law. You see, Angelique had three brothers, each one better looking than the next. I loved them all, but Gaston was special. He made it his business that I feel loved and that I belonged with his family. He and his parents came to every event at school I was involved in, whether Angie was or not. They went to the parent teacher conferences, helped me with my home work and listened for hours as I shared my hopes and dreams for the future ad nauseam. I decided I wanted to be a nurse. I wanted to help people like my Mother get well so they wouldn’t leave their little girls alone.”

Rachel listened now totally rapt up in the story Maggie was telling. Her heart was filled with compassion for the lonely, frightened little girl and was awed by the love and compassion of Angie’s family. “So what happened?”

“Well, I came home one day after school, let me see, it must have been just a month or two before graduation, to find my father had died in an accident at work. He had been drinking, lost his balance and fell into the river. The current took him away. They found his body two days later.” Maggie sighed and wiped an errant tear from her cheek. Rachel cried too.

“The Gravolets asked me to come live with them. I had no family and no money. I was so grateful. They treated me as there own and paid for my nurse’s training with the only stipulations being I keep up with my grades and be the best damned nurse I could be. They were my family and I know they loved me every bit as much as I loved them. You see, Rachel. Not all families are bound by blood. We were bound by love, loyalty, need and devotion. Then, of course, I fell madly in love with Gaston and the rest, as they say, is history.”

Rachel burst into tears. Maggie sat on the bed, pulled the dark head against her breast, offering comfort and understanding. Rachel cried inconsolably for many minutes as Maggie rubbed her back. “I don’t know what happened to you, child, but I do know that you are now a member of our family and your happiness is important to all of us, especially to my granddaughter. If ever you want to talk about it. I am here. I promise not to judge you or reject you. You can trust me. Please know that. You can trust me, Rachel.”

Rachel nodded and sniffled. “Thank you, Gram. Thank you so much for caring about me.”

The old woman grabbed a tissue and gently wiped the tears from Rachel’s cheeks. “I do care, child. As only a kindred spirit can.” Maggie kissed her cheek.

Meg bounced into the room, excited at the prospect of getting her partner home and into their own bed, when she was taken aback by the scene before her. “Hey, Rach, you OK honey?”

Rachel looked through bleary eyes at her love.

“Gram? Will someone tell me why Rachel is crying?” Meg begged.

Rachel sniffled and smiled through her tears, taking Grams hand in her two larger ones. “I’m just happy, that’s all. I always cry when I’m happy.”
part 10
Rachel sat upon the cold stone bench within the camellia garden, buried deep within her favorite coat, as she related her experiences with her partner’s family over the holidays to Dr. Morgan. “It was wonderful but really scarey at the same time. I didn’t know how to take them, you know? They were all so kind and charitable toward me, especially Gram. . . That’s Meg’s grandmother. She was amazing.”

“But you don’t trust them. You don’t trust their sincerity. Am I right?”

Rachel burrowed further into her over-coat. “Yeah, I guess I just have no frame of reference for them, for that whole “home and hearth” thing.”

“Did you enjoy it?”

“I guess so. . . Yeah, I did. I was surprised that Meg’s grandmother and I clicked so well. I felt a kinship with her.”

“Why is that?”

“I guess it was the story she told me about her life. She lost her family too, in just a different way than I did.”

“Rachel, your family is still alive.” Dr. Morgan responded, trying to keep her teeth from chattering.

“Not to me, they’re not. And, they don’t give a rat’s ass about me.” A shadow passed across dark features and brown eyes flashed in anger.

“You don’t know that. Things can change in, what is it now, nearly thirteen years?”

“Nothing’s changed!” Rachel bellowed.

“Ok, ok. Don’t get upset. I just want you to keep open the possibility that your parents may have gotten help just like you did. You’ll never know unless you contact them.”

“I told you that NOTHING’S CHANGED! Now leave it alone!” Rachel stood up and began to pace, swatting at the browning foliage.

“Be that as it may, we have an appointment for Friday before group. I’d like Meg to attend if she can.” Dr. Morgan looked up at Rachel expectantly.

She nodded. “I’ll ask her. See you Friday.” Rachel turned on her heel and walked toward Cherry.

* * *

“Rachel, sweetheart, what’s wrong? Did something happen in your session with Dr. Morgan today to upset you?” Meg approached her tense partner and wrapped her arms around a slim waist.

“I don’t want to talk about it. I’m going skating in the park. I’ll be back in an hour. Sandy, come.” Rachel extricated herself from Meg’s embrace, grabbed her skates and hurried out of the front door with her dog, letting the screen door slam in her wake.

‘What the Hell happened this morning?’ Meg pursed her lips, blowing out hot air in frustration.

* * *

“Hello?” The ringing phone disturbed Dr. Morgan’s nap, as she had fallen asleep in front of the fire in her favorite easy chair. An empty cup of herbal tea and the case histories she had been reading rested in her lap.

“Ricky?” Meg didn’t recognize the sleep-roughened voice.

“Yeah . . . uh . hum.” The groggy woman cleared her throat.

“Ricky, it’s Meg Poche’. Did I wake you?”

“Oh, Meg, hi. I must have dozed off. What can I do for you?”

“I’m worried about Rachel. She was upset when she got home from your session and just took off. Is there something I should know about, without breaking her confidentiality? I just need to know if she’s in trouble.” Meg asked.

“I don’t think she’s in trouble, Meg. You needn’t worry. I’m afraid I brought up her family and that upset her.”

“What about her family?” Meg was puzzled.

“Well, I wanted to make a point that in the last 13 years her parents may have gotten counseling or joined a 12 step program. That they may be totally different people today. She wasn’t willing to even entertain the possibility.” Dr. Morgan sighed.

“You know, I’ve never even thought about that. Do you really think it’s possible. I mean, I know it’s possible, but doesn’t it stand to reason that they would have tried to contact their only child to make amends to her if they had received help?”

“Of course it does stand to reason. I won’t bring it up again. I’m truly sorry that I did. I think I owe Rachel an apology.”

“I’m sure she’d appreciate that. I won’t tell her I called you. She doesn’t need to think I’m checking up on her. Thanks for sharing that with me, Ricky. She’s been working doubles at the ER this week to try and make up for all the hours she lost when she was sick. She’s over-tired and overwrought. I do believe she’s in need of some serious pampering before she goes back to work in the morning. She’s on the 7 am to 11 p.m. shifts tomorrow. Those swing shifts are the worse. At least I can make sure she eats and gets some sleep before I leave for work.”

“Sounds like a plan. Oh, Meg, I’d like for you to come to group Friday night. Can you make it?”

“I’ll be there. Thanks, again, Ricky. You’ve been a great help to Rachel, to us both.”

“My pleasure. I’ll see you on Friday. Bye now.”

“Bye, Bye.” Meg hung up the phone and headed for the kitchen to make her partner’s favorite buckwheat pancakes with maple syrup and bacon. “Let the pampering begin.”

* * *

“Ooooh, something smells good.” Rachel purred as she set her skates in the coat closet and followed the scent into the kitchen. Sandy sniffed the air and wagged her tail vigorously. “Sorry, girl, but no table food for you.”

“Made your favorite breakfast for lunch, since I’m quite sure you didn’t take the time out to eat breakfast before running to meet Dr. Morgan in the park after work this morning.”

Rachel looked sheepish. “Well, we had some last minute emergencies come in and I didn’t want to be late for my session.”

“I know. Would you like eggs with that?” Meg asked as she put the frying pan on the stove, already knowing the answer.

“Oh, yeah. How about two eggs over easy with hot sauce.” Her dark eyes sparkled.

“Coming right up.”

The two women ate in companionable silence, absentmindedly petting each other’s forearms and gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes.

“This is delicious, Meggie. Thank you.” Rachel said around a mouthful of pancakes.

Meg giggled at her partner’s gluttony. “You’re quite welcome. Now, do you want to tell me what had you so riled up this morning?” Meg rested her hand on Rachel’s knee.

“I’m sorry about that. It was something Ricky said about my parents maybe having changed and I wouldn’t know anything about it because I haven’t spoken to them in so many years. I think it’s a load of bull.” Rachel wiped her mouth with a linen napkin, then absentmindedly pet Sandy’s head that rest upon her lap in hopes of a fallen morsel.

“I agree with you. If they had changed, gotten the help they so obviously needed, they would have contacted you. You are in the book, after all.” Meg commiserated with her partner.

Rachel smiled, her dark eyes full of love. “I’m glad you understand.”

“I do. And, I’m sure when Ricky thinks about it, she will too. Now, why don’t you go take a hot soak and a nice long nap. I’ll be home from the office at around 1830 and I intend to spoil you rotten tonight. You’ll need your rest.” Meg smiled and kissed Rachel’s dark head, then gathered the dirty dishes to wash.

“Yes, ma’am. I can’t wait.” Rachel came up behind Meg and wrapped her long arms around her slim waist, whispering in her ear. “I love you, my heart. I can’t wait til you get home.” Rachel let long fingers roam over soft curves and moaned out her arousal.

“Down, Tiger. I have to go to work and you need some sleep. Just hold that thought.” Meg slapped wandering hands away.

“Party pooper.” Rachel pouted and headed for the bathroom as Meg grinned.

* * *

It was nearly 1900 hours when Rachel heard Meg’s key in the front door and she, and Sandy, hopped off of the couch to greet her. “Whatcha got there?” Rachel took the large flat box from Meg’s hands. “Mmmmm, that smells decadent.”

“It should. I stopped off at Louisiana Pizza Kitchen and picked up a large with everything on it.”

“You are an angel of mercy, my love. And, you’re pretty hot too.” Rachel grinned and wiggled her dark eyebrows.

“I’m gonna slip out of this dress and I’ll be right back. Would you pour us some Barq’s, please ma’am?” Meg said.

“Be glad to.” Rachel headed to the kitchen, breathing deeply of the tantalizing aromas.

The two women munched on their pizza, while chatting away about a dozen different subjects until Rachel surprised her partner. “I’d like to invite your entire family over Saturday after next for lunch and to watch the film I took at their house over New Year’s. Whatta you think?”

Meg’s face broke into a huge grin. “You mean it? You’d do that for me?”

“Not just for you. I’d really like to try being a member of your family. They made me feel so welcome, especially Gram. There’s a lot I can learn from her. She made me feel . . . I belong.” Rachel lowered her dark head as she felt the blush creep up her neck.

“That’s because you do belong, Rachel.” Meg hugged her partner. “Thank you. You’ve made me very happy.” The petite blonde looked lovingly into warm brown eyes. “Oh . . . wait a minute. I can’t do it on Saturday. How about Sunday?”

“What’s going on Saturday that you can’t rearrange?” Rachel looked at Meg curiously.

“I. . . um. . .have this thing I have to do at the gym. I thought you were working Saturday. What happened with that?” Meg tried to avoid divulging her secret.

“Nothing. I haven’t signed up for that weekend yet. And, I just thought we could spend some quality time together with your family. You sound like you’re trying to get rid of me.”

Meg looked alarmed. “No! It’s not that.”

“I thought you’d be happy.” Rachel was totally confused.

“I am.”

“You sure don’t act like it.”

Meg’s voice was contrite. “I’m sorry sweetheart. It’s just that I had plans for Saturday. Can’t we invite the family for Sunday?”

Rachel became suspicious. “What’s going on at the gym that’s so important you can’t cancel out?”

Meg got up and stood looking out the kitchen window over the sink. “I kinda joined the kickboxing team and we have final’s matches against Gold’s gym that day. You know, the Orleans Parish tournament championship competitions are being held every Saturday this month and I don’t want to disappoint the team.

Rachel got up and walked over to the couch and plopped down, mouth agape, staring at her partner. “You must have been at the gym every evening and Saturday that I’ve been at work.”

Meg nodded.

“When were you going to tell me, after you got your teeth knocked out? Yeah, I may have noticed that.” Rachel shook her head.

“I don’t know. I hadn’t thought that far ahead.” Meg looked sheepishly at her lover.

“So it was your intention to keep this competing thing from me?” She looked appraisingly at Meg, who looked away.

“What if you get hurt? What then, Meg? You are small. They’re not going to cut you any slack just because you’re cute.”

“I’m good, Rachel. Just ask Tory.” Meg beseeched.

“Oh, I intend to. I guess Tory wasn’t going to tell me either until after you got hurt?” Rachel jumped from the couch and paced the floor. “Why, Meg? Why is this so important to you, important enough for you to go behind my back? That’s so unlike you.”

Meg didn’t know what to say. She felt awful and ashamed, but still determined to fight.

“Well!?!” Rachel bellowed, losing her temper at being deceived and at Meg’s silence.

“I’m sorry.” Meg whispered.

“I’m sorry, too.” Rachel sighed, grabbed her keys and wallet. “We’ll talk about this later.” She stated, then stormed out of the door.

* * *

Rachel drove straight to Tory’s. It was nearly 9 p.m. The irate woman rang the bell at the rear entrance and yelled into the intercom when a familiar voice called down demanding who was ringing her bell “at this hour”.

“Open the door, Tory. We need to talk.” Rachel demanded.

“Rachel, is that you?”

“Yes, it’s me. Now, let me in!”

“Ok, Ok, but listen, Jenny’s here so behave yourself.”

“I don’t give a good god damn if the Pope’s up there. Just open the damn door!”

“Shit! Jenny, you might want to make yourself scarce. She sounds really pissed off about something and I have a pretty good idea what it is.”

Jenny got off the couch and grabbed her purse. “I was thinking how good some café’ au lait and beignets would taste about now. Would you care for some?”

Tory hugged her lover. “Sounds great to me. Better leave through the gym.”

“Gotcha.” Jenny kissed Tory’s cheek and trotted out of the apartment as Rachel burst in through the back door.

Rachel had built up a good head of steam and was ready to blow. She stood with hands on hips in the doorway. “How could you put Meg in danger? You’re supposed to be her friend.”

“I’m glad she finally told you.” Tory tried to appear calm.

“She only told me because she had no choice. I thought I made it quite clear how I feel about this kickboxing shit. But, I tried to be open minded. If it would make Meg happy to participate in the classes, then Ok. Now she’s competing in matches with people who have been doing this stuff for years, people who are bigger and meaner and can beat the crap out of her. What the Hell is wrong with you!?!”

“Well, if you would let me get a word in I’d tell you. Would you sit down a minute and let me say something please?”

Rachel sat down in an over-stuffed chair, breathing heavily and glaring at her old friend. “Ok. I’m listening.”

“She’s good, Rachel. I mean really, really good. It’s amazing to watch her with seasoned veterans of the game. She’s fast and nimble. They can’t lay a glove on her.”

“I can’t believe you’re defending this insanity.”

“You said you’d listen, so hush. She made the cut for the gym’s team. We have a big match coming up against Gold’s Gym. We can win if we have her, but that’s not what is motivating Meg.” Tory shook her head and took a deep breath. “Joey is on Gold’s team.”

The silence was deafening and Rachel began to visibly shake. “Oh God. . .” The dark woman rose to her feet. “Are you insane!?! He’ll hurt her. This is a nightmare . . .” Rachel began to pace, shaking the fists from her hands. “How could you do this to me?”

“Rach, please listen to me. Meg promised she’d tell you herself. That’s why I stayed quiet. We’ve watched all his matches the last few weeks and she can slaughter him. He’s slow and thick in the middle, now. He’s no match for her speed and agility.”

“You knew Joey was competing for Gold’s and told Meg?” Rachel looked hurt and confused.

“No! I had no idea. She had him investigated. It wasn’t until I saw the Team rosters that I recognized his name and age. I knew it had to be the same guy. That’s when I knew why Meg developed this sudden interest in kickboxing.”

Rachel sat down slowly. “She’s been planning this for months then. . . behind my back.” Tears filled pained dark eyes.

Tory sat on the arm of the chair and placed her hand tentatively on Rachel’s shoulder. “No, now don’t think of it like that. Try to see it from Meg’s perspective. She has a chance to have some kind of justice for what he did to the woman she loves, in a fair fight, just her and Joey. She’s not doing this to hurt you, but to avenge you.”

Rachel wiped at her eyes. “I don’t know, Tor. It’s a lot to absorb.”

“I’m sure it is. Please, Rach, think about what I’ve said.”

Rachel nodded and sighed.

“Does Meg know where you are? It’s getting pretty late. You don’t want to worry her.” Tory asked.

“I think she does.”

“Why don’t you give her a call and let her know you’re alright.”

“Ok.” Rachel sat on the coffee table and dialed her home.

Meg answered. “Rachel?”

“Yeah, it’s me. I just called to let you know that I’m at Tory’s and I’ll be home after while.”

“Are you alright? I’ve been so worried.” Meg asked as she rubbed Sandy’s soft fur for comfort.

“I had a long talk with Tory and I think I understand everything a lot better. I don’t like it, but I understand it.”

“Are you still angry with me?” Meg asked, timidly.

Rachel sighed heavily. “Look, I’m gonna work out in the gym for an hour or so, then I’ll be home. Don’t wait up. I need to get some sleep. Early shift tomorrow.” Rachel stated.

Meg tried not to let her disappointment show. “Oh . . . Ok. I’ll see you tomorrow night then.”

“Good night, Meg.” Rachel hung up the phone.

“Tor, can I use the gym for a couple of hours? I’ll lock up.” Rachel said just as Jenny entered the apartment with a bag full of treats.

“Oh, I thought . . . well, hi Rachel.” Jenny was afraid she’d walked in on something.

“Hi, Jenny. It’s Ok. I’m just going down to the gym for a little while. Y’all enjoy your evening.” Rachel rushed through the door and proceeded to work herself into an exhausted sweat.

* * *

Rachel came straight home from work. She canceled her second shift, finding her mind not on her patients but on the situation at home.

The two women looked at each other warily as Rachel entered the living room. “Hi”

“Hi” Meg didn’t know what else to say.

“I didn’t expect you’d be home so early.” Rachel said.

“I couldn’t keep my mind on my work. You’re home early too.”

“I know just how you feel. I canceled my second shift. I wasn’t much good to anyone.”

The two women looked shyly at each other.

“I need a shower.” Rachel walked to the bathroom, leaving Meg in a vacuum of emotions.

* * *

Meg stood over the stove scrambling eggs and frying bacon.

“Is that for me?” Rachel asked.

The petite blonde looked up from her tasks. “Yeah. I thought you’d be hungry.”

“What about you? Aren’t you eating?”

“No. I haven’t got much of an appetite today. . . Why don’t you get something to drink?” Meg filled a plate and set it in front of her partner, then sat across from her at the kitchen table.

Rachel ate in silence.

“How was your day?” Meg asked, trying to break some of the tension in the room.

“Confusing. I kept running what you’ve done over and over in my mind. I guess I should be flattered that my Knight in Shining Armor wants to ride in on her White Charger and slay the Dark Knight in defense of my honor.”

Meg grinned. “It’s something like that. I need this Rachel. I know it’s not the mature or even the Christian thing to do, but . . . I just don’t care. I want him to pay for what he did to you . . , to us.”

“What if he hurts you? How do I live with that?” Rachel put her fork down and rubbed her tired eyes in frustration.

Meg’s expression turned hard. “He won’t. I know I can beat him. I’ve studied him. I know his every move. . . Rachel, please try to understand.”

Rachel sighed, stood and took her dirty dishes to the sink to wash. “I do understand, Meg. Still I’m afraid for you . . , for us.” She turned around and stared into sea-green eyes. “But, I can see your mind is made up.” Her petite partner nodded. “Then, I want to be involved. If that’s Ok.”

“I’d like that. I have a match this Saturday morning. Will you come?”

“I’ll be there.”

“Ok.” There was a pregnant pause. “Um . . . Joey has a match Saturday afternoon at Gold’s Gym. Tory and I are going to study him some more. Would you like to join us?”

Rachel thought for a moment, then nodded. “Yes. I would.”

Another long pause as Meg sought out and then searched dark, veiled eyes. “Are you Ok with this?”

Rachel walked to the screened door, gazing out blindly. “Am I Ok that you kept something this important from me, that you went behind my back and involved my best friend in your scheme? No. I’m not. I hate that this has damaged my trust in you, Meg.” Her strong jaw clenched.

Meg jumped to her feet to approach her lover. “Oh, no, Rachel, you can trust me . . .”

Rachel held up her hands to ward off Meg’s words. “Obviously, that’s not true.”

Meg felt tears prick her eyes and nose.

Rachel sighed resignedly. “However, I meant it when I said that I do understand why you did it, why you feel you have to confront Joey.”

Meg sniffled. “You do?”

Rachel walked into the living room, with Meg close behind, and sat on the arm of the couch. “Yes, I do. I just wish you had come to me with the truth from the beginning.” She sighed and stared down at her hands.

Meg’s tears slid down her sad face. “I’m so sorry, Rachel.” Meg walked to the far end of the couch and curled up into the corner. “I was afraid to tell you. I knew you would try to stop me and . . . I need this.”

“I wouldn’t have liked it, but you are a grown woman and I don’t have the right to forbid you to do anything you feel you need to do. Just, please, don’t ever lie to me again.”

Meg wiped her eyes. “I promise.”

* * *

Rachel went to the gym to observe Meg in action. She was relieved at just how good her partner was in comparison to her teammates and awed at the amount of training involved. Meg jumped rope, worked the bags, lifted weights and sparred for hours.

In spite of all Meg’s preparations and obvious aptitude, the dark beauty’s innate fear of her tormentor continued to eat at her. Rachel looked forward to Friday’s group session to voice her concerns and clear her head of the doubts she still held about Meg. If she were honest with herself, she also wanted to punish her partner by “telling on her”. She knew it was childish, but she couldn’t help how she felt.

* * *

Meg sat quietly as Rachel expressed her anger and disappointment in her to the group. She felt embarrassed and a little angry at being held up to ridicule, but the other group members offered her emotional support as they “read Rachel’s mail” as to her motives for painting her partner as “the bad guy”.

Group member number one, “You say you can forgive Meg, that you understand why she did what she did. Meg swears she’ll never deceive you again. Do you believe her?”

Meg looked longingly into cold dark eyes, watching them soften and glisten with unshed tears.

“Yes. I do believe her.” Rachel responded.

Group member number two, “Then forgive her and stop trying to punish her. You have to let go and move on.”

Rachel’s eyes got big around. “Is that what I was doing, trying to punish you?” She looked puzzled for a moment, then reached for her partner’s hand. “God, Meggie, I’m so sorry. That’s exactly what I’ve been doing, isn’t it?”

Meg looked at their joined hands and felt hot tears roll down her face.

Rachel looked at the other group members. “I’ve refused to touch her, to hug her, or to even cuddle in bed at night. I know how much she loves that. I’ve taken that away from her.” Rachel looked into Meg’s eyes. “And, now I’ve tried to humiliate you in front of our peers and make you “The bad guy”. How childish is that?”

Meg kissed her lover’s hand. “But I am the bad guy here.”

“And you apologized and promised that I can trust you. I said I could forgive you, but I lied.”

Meg took a sudden deep breath, feeling her world crumble around her ears.

Rachel quickly knelt in front of the stricken woman. “No, baby, I don’t mean it like that. I didn’t really forgive you then. I wanted to make you pay for what you did to us. That’s not forgiveness. I’m sorry for punishing you like this. I do forgive you and I will trust you again. . . Can you forgive me for being a horse’s ass?” Rachel gazed into her lover’s eyes, reaching out to wipe away the tears from flushed cheeks. “Please, Meggie. I love you so much.”

Meg dived into Rachel’s strong arms and cried with abandon. “Of course I forgive you . . . I love you too.”

Dr. Morgan, “Well, I’d say we’ve had a successful session, ladies. Let’s adjourn to Café Du Monde.”

“If y’all will excuse us, I think my partner and I need to go home and make up for lost time together.” Rachel looked tenderly at her lover, then kissed her forehead. “Let’s go cuddle on the couch and watch sappy movies. How does that sound?”

Meg ran a trembling hand down her partner’s cheek. “Like heaven.”

* * *

Saturday’s match went well, with Meg effortlessly out performing her opponent. Rachel’s chest swelled with pride as her fears lessened.

Meg, Tory and Rachel ate a salad for lunch before heading to Gold’s Gym to watch Joey’s match. It would be the first time the adult Rachel would see her older cousin and the author of her nightmares.

Rachel stood in the shadows behind the bleachers where she knew Joey couldn’t see her. Meg watched her partner’s pulse thrum in her neck. “He looks so small. I remember him being much bigger and really strong.”

“You were a little girl then, Rachel. He is strong, though. But, he’s only about three inches taller than me.”

“He’s gotten so old.” Rachel didn’t know how to react. She searched her heart surprised to find she felt no fear only anger at what he’d stolen from her. She watched him move and judged Meg’s chances of beating him in the ring and smiled. His opponent punched him in his stomach, sending a thrill through her.

“She can handle him, Rachel. I wouldn’t allow her in the ring with him if I had any doubt.” Tory reassured her friend.

Rachel smiled at Tory and wrapped a long arm around Meg’s shoulders. “Let’s go home, Slugger.”

* * *

The following week Rachel worked the day shift so she could accompany her partner to the gym to show her support and to fulfill her need to reinforce their connection. She worked out with her until she tired, shocked to realize she couldn’t keep up with the little dynamo she used to skate circles around. Wiping the sweat off with a towel, Rachel leaned against Tory as she tried to catch her breath. “Am I getting old, Tor?”

Tory laughed. “No, not you baby. She’s just that good . . . um, and that young.” Rachel swung the damp towel and popped her best friend in the arse. Tory took off running with Rachel hot on her heels.

Meg yelled from the weight bench, “Go get her, Rachel!” causing all the inhabitants of the gym to start chanting Rachel’s name and clapping to goad her on. Rachel caught Tory and, lifting her best friend, politely plunging her into the Jacuzzi, shoes and all. The dark woman stood tall, laughing and pointing at the gym owner’s new “drowned rat” coif when a whirlwind of activity behind her gave her too short warning that she was about to join her. “Whoa!!!” She screamed as strong arms wrapped around her hips sending both she and her very sweaty lover into the warm swirling waters. Rachel popped up spitting and snorting water through her nose until she noticed Meg laughing with glee within arm’s reach. A feral grin formed on her beautiful features before she dived for Meg’s feet. With Meg’s feet firmly in her hands, Rachel moved backward in a circle, placing the struggling blonde at her mercy. Rachel laughed evilly as she pulled Meg’s right foot to her mouth, holding the left foot far enough away to prevent getting a kick in the nose. Still moving to keep Meg off balance, she took the extremely ticklish large metatarsal into her mouth, sucking and licking it and it’s mates until the helpless woman pleaded for mercy and threatened to pee in their shared water.

“Don’t you dare! Rachel, let her go! I swear if she pees in here you’re draining this pool and scrubbing it clean. You hear me!?!” Tory had pulled herself out of harm’s way and was watching the show.

Rachel thought for a moment, then released her captive. “Pay backs are a bitch, aren’t they Shortie?”

Meg fled from the water and ran for the loo.

* * *

Tory and Rachel rested their feet on the back porch railing, both having unbuttoned the top button of their individual slacks in order to breathe after wolfing down a ten ounce filet and baked sweet potato with cinnamon, butter and sugar, along with a large helping of creamed spinach each.

“Good golly, but that Jenny of yours can sure cook.” Rachel praised Tory’s girlfriend, who was in the kitchen with Meg cleaning up and retrieving the pot of coffee with chicory that had been brewing while they ate.

“Yeppers. I have to work out twice as much since I’ve been dating her. Those Cajuns know how to cook.” Tory smiled. “I don’t know what I did to deserve Jenny, Rach, but I’m so very grateful that she walked into my life and decided to stay.”

Rachel reached over and patted her friend’s shoulder. “I am too, Tor. And I’m sorry it took me so long to get to know her. She’s good to you and for you. I can see that now. How is the kid? Etienne isn’t it?”

Tory’s eyes softened and she grinned. “He’s great. I really like him and I think he likes me too. We have a great time doing the athletic stuff together that Jenny’s not too fond of. He loves baseball and roller blading. He goes fishing with his dad, so I don’t get to share that with him. But, I do get to take him swimming. That boy should have gills. I’ve never seen anyone so at home in the water before. I’m going to ask Jenny if I can get him scuba certified this summer. But, I’m waiting ’til she’s in a really good mood.”

Rachel smiled warmly at her friend. “You are a great parent, Tory. He’s a very lucky little boy to have you in his life. And, I know from whence I speak.” The women clasped hands and shared a tender moment.

“Hey you bums, coffee’s ready.” Meg called from the kitchen.

“Can we have it out here?” Rachel called back as her partner and Jenny both appeared in the doorway with coffee pot and tray of cups, saucers, spoons and condiments. “Awww, you two are going to spoil us.” Rachel looked longingly at the offering.

The four friends sat around, drinking coffee as Jenny and Tory told entertaining stories about Etienne. Rachel and Tory took off on a tangent about the beauty and benefits of scuba diving, paving the way for the question Tory would broach later, when they were alone.

After their company left, Rachel and Meg slid into a hot tub, Meg lying against her lover’s slippery breasts, luxuriating at the feeling of warm soapy water and the soft mounds that supported her. They talked about Tory and Jenny and how pleased they were with their dear friend’s chosen partner, especially Tory’s close relationship with Jenny’s young son. “I’m so happy for her. She’s always wanted kids, but Claire became ill before they could pursue having a family of their own. Did you see her face when she talked about Etienne? She absolutely glowed.” Rachel said as she washed Meg’s back.

“Yeah. That was too cute. I’m so grateful to Jenny for giving Tory another chance at happiness.” Meg responded.

“Have you ever thought about having children?” Rachel remembered the strange reaction her lover had when her brother and sister-in-law announced their pregnancy.

Meg was glad she was facing away from her sensitive partner. “I don’t worry about what I can’t have Rachel. It’s a waste of resources.”

Rachel didn’t know how to react to Meg’s rather cold statement. She continued to bathe her partner, sliding the sponge down one arm, then the other, kissing and licking an exposed neck and shoulder. “Why can’t we have children, Meggie? Is it because of my age? I mean, a lot of women raise children in their forties these days.”

Meg froze. “Are you saying that you want kids, Rachel? I mean, you’ve never mentioned kids before.”

Rachel dropped the sponge and wrapped her arms around Meg’s body, pulling her close. “No. . . I think if things had been different for me I would have wanted a house full, but I was so fucked up for most of my adult life that I never considered it a choice for me. I wasn’t parent material. But now . . . I mean, if you wanted to, I think I could try. That’s if you wanted to.” Rachel’s voice was tentative and insecure.

“What brought this on?” Meg inquired as she pet Rachel’s forearms.

“Well, I saw how you reacted to Gaston and Kathy’s baby news and I got the impression that maybe you were a little upset.”

“You’re perceptive, aren’t you?”

“Were you upset?” Rachel quietly asked.

“Yeah. A little. I decided a long time ago that being a gay woman I had a snowman’s chance in hell of building a stable, long term, committed relationship with anyone and that bringing a child into that kind of environment was not fair. I wanted my child to have the kind of home that I came from. It takes two to create that kind of stable, loving, nurturing environment. I had no illusions that I could provide that.”

“And, what about now?”

“Now?” Meg turned to sit on her lover’s lap and wrapped her legs around Rachel’s hips. “Now, I want to make love to you.” Small, gentle hands slid into the warmth of her tall partner’s sex, eliciting a moan of arousal.

“You’re avoiding the question.” Rachel complained.

Meg lifted a full breast to her mouth and latched onto the dark nipple.

“Oh, God, Meg.” Rachel’s eyes rolled back into her head and all discussion was forgotten.

* * *

“Good morning, lazy bones.” Meg greeted her partner as she filled their breakfast plates with buckwheat pancakes and bacon.

“You wore me out last night. Not that I’m complaining. I think all that working out you’re doing at the gym is definitely increasing your stamina. Ooooh, that smells good.”

“Sit down and I’ll serve you, my love.” Meg grinned and proceeded to do just that.

The lovers enjoyed their breakfast in relative quiet. When Meg got up the courage to broach the subject that had been on her mind all morning. She took a deep breath and began. “Rachel, about what we were discussing last night.”

“You mean raising a family?”

“Yeah. . . I don’t think I’m ready to discuss that. I’m very touched that you are willing to but I’d like to mull it over in my mind a while before we have that talk. Is that Ok with you?”

“Sure.” Rachel reached over and squeezed Meg’s hand. “Take all the time you need. Just know that when you are ready to talk, I’m here for you. I’ll always be here Meggie. I promise. And, in the meantime, we have our own little hairy baby to spoil.” Rachel said as she looked down at the furry head resting in her lap.

Meg raised their entwined hands to her lips and tenderly kissed her partner’s knuckles. “Thanks tiger.”

“Any time. But we have to get moving if we’re going stick to our morning ritual.”

“I’ll grab our roller blades.” Meg offered.

“I’ll warm up Cherry. I have my session with Dr. Morgan today. Would you like to meet me for a late lunch?” Rachel asked.

“Sure, but aren’t you going to work this afternoon?”

“No. I don’t want to miss your work out. Tell you the truth, I’m really enjoying the competition. It’s a whole different concept of fitness training than I’ve practiced all these years. But, I’ll catch on. I like that it’s not making you bulk up. You just seem to be stronger, faster and more agile then you were. And, the concentration you exhibit in the ring is down right spooky. We’d better get a move on. I have my diabetic education class at Children’s this morning before I go meet Ricky.” Rachel grabbed her keys and a water jug, then trotted out the door.

* * *

“Tell me how you are feeling about Meg’s behavior now.” Dr. Morgan instructed as she and her client walked amongst the camellias in City Park.

“I feel we’re past that. It’s amazing to me, but I totally understand why she did it and now that I’ve seen both she and Joey in the ring, I am confident that she’ll be fine. I’ll probably be a nervous wreck watching them fight, but that’s Ok too.” Rachel truly felt comfortable with the whole situation now.

“That’s good. I think you’ve done a fine job of working with your partner toward resolving what could have been a relationship breaking situation.”

Rachel stopped and looked at Dr. Morgan. “I’m totally committed to my life with Meg. There is nothing we can’t overcome as long as we’re together. I know that to be a fact.”

Dr. Morgan smiled. “Rachel. I am very proud of you. And, I think it’s time for us to cut back on our sessions. You have the tools you need to cope with your past and your future. I would like you to continue with the group sessions, though. Would you be comfortable with seeing me every other week for however long you need to?”

Rachel smiled with a touch of sadness in her eyes. “You’ve helped me so much, Ricky. I’ll always be grateful to you. And, yeah, I am willing to try this every other week thing. But, if I get panicky I can still call you for an impromptu session . . . ?”

“Of course, you can, Rachel. Call me anytime you feel the need.” Dr. Morgan answered and patted her back reassuringly.

“Great. Now, I’ve got to run. Gotta hot lunch date.” Rachel grinned and quickly hugged her therapist, then jogged to Cherry, feeling a strength and confidence in herself she’d never quite felt before.

* * *

Friday night came. Meg and Rachel spoke to Meg’s Mom and Dad on the two extensions of their phone until nearly 2100 hours. The whole family agreed to lunch on Sunday. They planned the menu to fit everyone’s diet, including Kathy’s, who’d been suffering from morning sickness and couldn’t tolerate their usual Cajun fare. The conversation was too short for Rachel’s needs and she paced the floor, from room to room afterward, trying to work off some of her nervous tension. She couldn’t stop playing out different scenarios of the pending bout in her mind’s eye.

“Get in the car. We’re going to the gym and work you til you drop.” Meg commanded.

“But you need to rest so you’ll be fresh in the morning.” Rachel complained.

“Oh, I intend to soak in the hot tub while you sweat, tiger.” Meg said, waggling her eyebrows. She picked up the phone and dialed Tory’s number. A very irritated voice answered.

“What!?!” Tory was very irate at having her love making interrupted.

“Whoa! Bad day?” Meg assessed the situation right away.

“Oh, hi, Meg. Um, I was busy. Jenny’s here.” Tory blushed.

“I figured. Look, we’re not going to bother you. We just wanted you to know that we’re coming over to use the gym. Rachel is about to climb the walls worrying about tomorrow.”

“Sure. Use your key. Just lock up when you leave. You’ll forgive us if we don’t socialize.”

“No problem. Please, return to what you were doing before Jenny loses the mood.” Meg giggled and hung up the phone.

* * *

The couple walked the elevated track to warm up their muscles, then broke into a brisk jog until their clothes were drenched with sweat. “Hey, tiger, want to join me in the hot tub?” Meg asked with a lascivious grin that was not lost on her tall lover.

“Sounds like a plan. I’ll race ya.” Rachel sprinted down the stairs as she removed her wet clothes with Meg close behind doing the same.

The women hopped into the warm, soothing water side by side. “Ooooooh, that feels soooo good!” Meg purred.

Rachel came up behind her partner, wrapping long arms around her and held a buoyant breast in each hand with great reverence. “It sure does.”

“Not me, the water.” Meg giggled.

“Oh, yeah, that too.” The tall, dark beauty turned her lover around, then peppered her face with tender kisses. “I love you, my Meggie. Be careful tomorrow.”

“I will. I promise.” Meg said before lathing tempting lips with her tongue, begging entry.

Rachel squeezed her lover’s buttocks as she invited Meg’s tongue into her warm mouth and got lost in the silky smoothness of it as it perused every surface therein. Both women moaned their pleasure, prompting Meg to cup and fondle Rachel’s full, heaving bosom. She pinched and twirled the hardening nipples, eliciting another, deeper moan from her lover that caused a sharp clenching in her southerly regions. Meg suckled upon Rachel’s tongue, knowing it would spur her arousal to new heights. Rachel turned and sat her lover on a convenient step so she could release her hands to prowl at will.

She pulled away from the torturous mouth and ran a trail of kisses down Meg’s jaw, into her ear, then latched onto her pulse point, sending further jolts of arousal to the small woman’s center. Meg let go of one breast, freeing her hand to trail down Rachel’s firm abdomen, through her pubic hair to play in slick folds. Rachel released Meg’s neck to avoid biting her as her own sex clenched and her pelvis pumped gently in anticipation. Meg took advantage of the freedom to lift Rachel’s oh-so-soft breast to her mouth and latch onto the jutting nipple and suckle as if for nourishment. “Oh yeah.” Rachel exclaimed as she began to throb and a tingling spread from her clit, as if there was a direct line there from her nipple.

Meg found Rachel’s engorged clit, placed it between her thumb and forefinger and proceeded to milk it as if it were a tiny penis. She slid the foreskin up and down the short shaft, pinching it occasionally to increase the stimulation as she continued suckling and fondling the delicious breast in her mouth. Rachel lost awareness of everything but the incredible feelings her lover was eliciting from her body. Her pelvis began to pump in earnest as her breathing hitched. Her hands ran through her lover’s hair, pulling her even closer against her so receptive breast. Loud moans of pleasure came from deep in Rachel’s throat, then she jerked, over and over again, calling out Meg’s name until her orgasm began to fade. She fell limp into Meg’s waiting arms, breathing roughly and repeating over and over “I love you, I love you.”

“I love you too, Tiger.” Meg replied as she comforted her lover, trying to ignore the intense thrumming of her own need. Rachel opened her eyes to see a tempting breast and licked it, making Meg jump. She then latched onto the nipple, sucking strongly knowing how aroused her partner had to be. Meg trembled and murmured encouragement. It didn’t take much. Rachel placed her hands under her lover’s buttocks again and lifted her to the edge of the hot tub, threw the short muscular legs over her shoulders and looked deeply into the eyes of the woman who owned her heart. She used one long elegant hand to spread the folds of Meg’s sex and ran her tongue through them. Meg moaned loudly and tilted her pelvis higher, encouraging Rachel’s attentions to her clit.
“Please, baby.” Meg entreated her partner, her need was so great. Rachel grinned and kept eye contact with Meg as she licked her clit first up and down then side to side. Meg’s lips parted and her eyes glazed over. Rachel was fascinated at how her lover’s features changed with arousal. But knowing she couldn’t play long, she covered the tingling bud with her mouth, sucking gently and laving the tip with her tongue. “Oh God, Rachel, just like that.” Meg said quite loudly. Rachel continued her ministrations on the bundle of nerves as Meg began to pump into her mouth. Nectar rolled down her chin as Rachel increased the suction and pushed her chin against Meg’s clenching vagina. A small hand grasped her hair, pulling her harder against her need as Meg screamed out in orgasm, bucking and lifting her buttocks completely off of the tile. After Rachel was sure Meg’s aftershocks were completely over, she lifted her shiny face and grinned broadly at her sated lover. “God, but you’re good at that, Tiger.” Meg panted.

“I aim to please.” Rachel said, lying her chin on Meg’s pubic bone.

“Let me congratulate you on your aim. Woohoo.”

The two lovers slipped back into the hot tub to wash off, then crawled out to dress when a loud, piercing scream assaulted them, coming from Tory’s upstairs apartment.

“Holy shit! And I thought you were loud. Tory must have had the world’s biggest orgasm.” Rachel chuckled and continued to dress when the door to the apartment flew open and a very naked Jenny ran out to the bannister.

“Rachel, come quick! Tory’s hurt!” Jenny yelled.

Rachel and Meg stood dumfounded at the sight of the very thin woman with her small firm breasts and curly blonde bush hanging over the railing. The words sunk into them both at the same time and they quickly ascended the stairs to see their friend writhing in pain on the floor, naked as a jaybird.

The couple knelt on either side of their friend. “What happened? Don’t answer that. Where does it hurt?” Rachel blushed.

“My back. Dammit, Rachel! I threw my damn back out again.” Tory yelled in pain and frustration.

“Ok. I can fix this. You know the drill. Lay flat on your belly.” Rachel helped Tory into position then looked up at Jenny, who’s bush was right at her eye level. “Jenny, for pity’s sake, put some clothes on.”

Jenny looked down at her body and turned beet red. “Oh mon dieu!” She quickly started dressing, allowing Rachel to concentrate on helping poor Tory.

“Hurry up, Rach. It’s killing me.” Tory pleaded.

Rachel carefully put one foot and then the other on her best friend’s low back and signaled Meg to stand nearby so she could hold onto her shoulder for balance. Then she slowly and deliberately walked up Tory’s spine. They all heard the pop as everything fell back into place, followed by Tory’s sigh of relief.

“Rach, you are a goddess. Thank you.” Tory said.

“You’re welcome. Now I have to go home and wash out my eyeballs.” Rachel groaned at having seen her parental figure and her lover naked.

Jenny piped up. “Thank you both, so much. I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t been here.”

Meg took Rachel’s arm and led her away. “You’re welcome, Jenny. We’ll see you here in the morning. I’m going to do a light work out before the big bout. Now, I have to put Rachel to bed. Good night y’all.”

“G’night.” Rachel mumbled, shaking her head and craving a tall, very strong drink.

* * *

Rachel wolf-whistled at the sight of her partner, dressed in the team colors. She wore a gai of royal blue with the rainbow flag colors down the outer aspect of her pant legs and top.

“You ready?” Tory asked her prize pupil.

Meg nodded and shook out her arms. “Ready as I’ll ever be.”

“Um . . . I think we should take my car. The way Rachel is bouncing off the walls, she might drive Cherry into a tree.” Tory suggested.

“Good idea.” Meg agreed and all four women left for Gold’s Gym.

* * *

The opponents bowed to each other then assumed an opening stance. Meg stared daggers into cold black eyes. The older man was thrown by her intensity. He jabbed, she swayed and bobbed keeping out of his reach. She used her superior speed and stamina to keep him moving, knowing he’d tire far before she would. Frustrated with his inability to make contact he swung high and she quickly entered his personal space with a kick to his solar plexus, pushing him off balance, following up with a round house kick to his ribs, then moving quickly out of reach.

Meg was intent upon her goal. She continued to bob and sway, baiting him to reach toward his left with his strong right jab. She spun with all of her might, laying a kick under his right arm, causing him to bend over in pain just enough for her to get under him and get in a few combinations and an upper-cut. Joey was forced to backpedal to escape the barrage of vicious punches Meg was landing. Her score was soaring and her victory seemed assured.

He was confused and shaken by this little woman’s skill and speed. He had accepted the match because he was sure a woman would be an easy win. Now, he was angry and desperate not to lose the match to a “little girl”. He charged forward, surprising Meg, pinning her in the corner of the ring. She couldn’t avoid the jab to her face. The protective headgear tempered the jolt that made her ears ring and brought moisture to her eyes. She ignored the pain and concentrated on assessing her options for escape before his greater size and strength overwhelmed her. Using her powerful thigh muscles, she jumped straight up and landed with all of her weight upon the arc of his foot, while protecting herself with her arms. Having successfully averted Joey’s attention from her for a moment, she scampered out of his reach, then jumped up again and landed all her weight upon the outer aspect of his right knee. He went down, then Meg spun into a round house kick, landing her foot firmly through his face mask and into his nose. Blood splattered all over her foot and the canvas. The match was called as Meg stood over her opponent, panting, pulse racing. She removed her mouth piece and headgear, then leaned down to look directly into bleary eyes.

“I want you to know who I am and why I’m here. You’re a child molester.” Meg spit out.

Joey’s eyes got big and he tried to rebuff the accusation through his aching, bleeding nose.

“Don’t even try. I know all about what you did to your cousin, Rachel. You have no idea what you took from her. She’s been paying all her life. I can’t change what you did, but I’ll be damned if you’re going to get off scot-free.”

Joey knelt on the mat, blood dripping off of his chin from his broken nose. Dazed, he watched as a dark blur flew over the ropes of the ring and grabbed the shoulders of his opponent. Rachel carefully studied the small cut in Meg’s eyebrow and the reddened area around her eye.

“You alright?” Rachel asked.

“I’m great!” Meg exclaimed.

“You’re gonna have a shiner by morning.” Rachel observed.

“I’ll wear it with pride, Rachel.”

The lovers looked at each other in warm understanding.

Recognition dawned on Joey’s face. “Rachel?”

His tall, strikingly beautiful cousin looked her nemesis in the eye and realized she felt nothing for the now insignificant creature bleeding before her.

“Joseph. You should get that looked at. I bet it hurts like the dickens.” She couldn’t help but taunt him.

The opponent’s coach climbed into the ring with a first aide kit and towels.

Joey glanced from one woman to the other, feeling there was something he should understand but his head hurt too badly to comprehend it.

“Oh, where are my manners? May I introduce my partner, Meg, who just rearranged your face in defense of my honor. Meg, I believe you’ve already met my cousin Joey, the pedofile, who molested me and nearly ruined my entire life.”

Meg grinned. “Yes. We’ve met.”

Joey’s coach, who had knelt by his side, washing the blood from his face, froze, then quickly backed away in disgust. “Creep!” She threw the towel in his face and left the ring.

Joey looked like a goldfish as his eyes got wide and he opened and closed his mouth several times without emitting a sound.

“Come on, Meg. Let’s go home.”

The couple crawled through the ropes and was greeted by Tory’s excited hugs. “Hey champ! You were awesome in there! Jenny and I want to take the two of you out to La Peniche for dinner tonight to celebrate. Now, go home and let Rachel take care of that eye. We’ll pick y’all up at 1900.”

Rachel and Meg looked at each other and smiled. “We’ll be ready.”

***

Rachel sat at the breakfast table, dressed and ready for the evening. Meg watched her as she played with a pencil, paper and calculator.

“What are you working on, tiger?” Meg inquired.

“Oh, hi. I didn’t hear you come in, slugger. How do you feel?”

“I feel pretty incredible.” Meg gloated and fell into her partner’s lap for a hug.

“I don’t know how you’re gonna explain that shiner to your family tomorrow.” Rachel mused.

“Me? I thought we were a team.” Meg groused.

“I’m chicken.” Rachel gave Meg her best pout and batted long dark lashes.

“Well, then, I’ll just have to tell them I’ve been taking kickboxing and got smacked. It’s the truth. And, as I have recently learned, honesty is the best policy. Right?”

Rachel smiled and kissed Meg’s tempting nose. “Right.”

“So, what are you working on?” Meg asked.

“Our finances. I’d like to make an offer on the house. I want it to really be ours, permanently. How do you feel about making that kind of commitment with me?” Rachel asked, looking deeply into Meg’s eyes.

“I love the idea. But, hasn’t Tory turned you down before?”

“Yes. But, things are different now. She has Jenny. I think she wants to make a life with her. I’m sure she wouldn’t want to start her new life with her new partner in this house. But, I sure do. Meg, I love you. I want to spend the rest of my life doing my very best to make you happy. We can’t get married in this state, but if we buy this house that holds so many memories for us, good and bad, then it would be like announcing to the world our commitment to each other.”

A tear slid down Meg’s face. “I love you so very much, Rachel Vincenti. I want this to be our permanent home, too, forever.” The lovers hugged each other tightly. “Now, let me help you figure out what we can afford, then we can give Tory our offer tonight.”

Rachel smiled through her tears, “Great!”

* * *

Dinner was spent celebrating Meg’s victory and discussing the smallest nuances of the battle. After everyone enjoyed their meal, Tory ordered a bottle of champagne.

“Rachel and Meg, Jenny and I have decided to find a place of our own, where we can raise Etienne and grow old together.” The last words were said with a wistful smile. “So, after much discussion, we’ve decided to ask if you still want to buy the cottage . . .”

“Yes!” Both women burst out. “That’s incredible. We were going to ask you tonight if you’d reconsider and sell it to us. We even have an offer all drawn up for you to look at.”

“That’s great! Let me see what you’ve got.” Tory said, taking the offer and reading it. “That sounds good to me.” She said as she handed the offer to Jenny. “I’m glad that you two will continue to live in the cottage. It holds very special memories for me and I’d hate not being able to visit.”

“You know that you and Jenny are always welcome, Tor.” Rachel said as she placed a loving hand upon her friend’s shoulder.

“I know.” Tory covered Rachel’s large hand with her own.

“I hate to be all sappy, but I’m just so proud of you, Rachel. Facing your demons took a special kind of courage. And, I’m forever grateful to you, Meg, for standing by my baby girl here while she struggled through her therapy. That took true love and devotion. Now, you two have a fighting chance at happiness and I couldn’t be more pleased.” Tory choked on her last words as tears stung her hazel eyes.

“Aw, Tor, don’t cry. I couldn’t have done it without you. You’ve been the only one who has always believed in me and loved me unconditionally. . . until Meg, that is.” Rachel gazed lovingly at her partner. “And now you’re giving us the opportunity to own the home that we love so much. I can’t thank you enough.”

“No thanks necessary, baby. You have always been a blessing to me. I don’t think I could have survived losing Claire without you.” Tory sniffled.

“And now you have a new love in your life. . . Thank you, Jenny, for making my dear friend here happy again. It’s about time.”

Rachel poured each of her friends a drink and raised her glass. “To new beginnings.”

Everyone joined in, “To new beginnings.”

 

 

The End

 

 

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