No need to hurry. No need to sparkle. No need to be anybody but oneself.
- Virginia Woolf, "A Room of One's Own"
The petite woman slammed the door behind her, laptop tote slung over one shoulder, and trudged up the stairs. Muttering to herself as she climbed, she tossed the bag onto a sofa in her study and reversed direction. Entering the kitchen and making a bee-line for the coffee pot, she poured herself a large cup and sea green eyes closed behind tired lids as she took the first sip.
Short blonde hair looked a bit more askew than usual, testifying to an especially trying day, during which, on more than one occasion, the woman had made verbal threats to tearing it all out. Kicking off her shoes, she moved to the table and slid into a chair, resting her feet on the seat of another, wiggling her socked toes. Still in the slacks and blouse from work, it was tempting to change, but required too much effort. There wasn't a muscle in her body that wasn't sore? in fact, if she focused enough, she was sure her toenails were throbbing.
"Some days it just isn't worth it to get out of bed," she decided, with a heavy sigh. Of course, taking a full load of college classes for the second semester in a row as well as working on weekends and whenever she wasn't in class, didn't leave much time for her to be in bed.
This week, however, had been especially hard? Her boss had asked her to come in for more hours, her teachers had decided to dish out a few extra reading assignments, she'd had to spend a few hundred dollars she really didn't have to fix her car, and - here came another sigh - all of that stress had led to one hell of a blow up with her partner.
"I really should call her?" the young woman told herself, glancing up at the telephone, as if it might magically dial on its own if she stared hard enough. "That argument never should have happened." Drinking the rest of the strongly brewed coffee in three or four swallows, she stared at the drops remaining in the bottom of her cup as her mind drifted?
She'd come in cursing up a storm, slammed the front door behind her, and just stood in the entryway for a moment. Blue eyes watched her, and then, as she let out an exasperated sigh, six-feet of beautiful made its way towards the blonde.
"What's wrong, honey?" questioned the tall woman, gently. Being together for several months, she knew better than to take her into her arms just yet, though that was still her first instinct.
"The car isn't starting again," came the growled response.
"Do you want me to take a look at it? You've been out there all morning, love, you should rest for a bit. I'll go see what I can do." Before she could step foot out the door, however, the petite spitfire beat her to it.
Green eyes were ablaze. "No, I'll do it."
An eyebrow went up. "Maybe I could help."
The woman with dark hair sighed, softly. "You can let me, you know. There's nothing wrong with admitting that you need a little help."
"I'm doing just fine, thank you, I don't need any help!"
"If you're having trouble, I can?"
"No. I don't need your help, I said. I'll get it working myself."
As she turned to walk out the door, a hand on her shoulder restrained her, carefully. "Love, take a break for just a minute, please? I'd like to talk with you." Holding back the sigh of frustration, the blonde made her way to the couch and sat down. The taller woman sat beside her, and took a deep breath, wondering how to begin.
"You've been working too hard, and too long, Shay. You need a break. I think we should both just take a few days? just to ourselves," was the idea. "I've already talked to the manager and he said it would be fine if you took a little vacation, and I know your class break is coming up soon?"
While the gesture was appreciated, the blonde shook her head. "I can't, Jo. I need this job, and I need to use my time off from class to study."
The reply was a near whisper, but the hurt was loud and clear. "What about what we need?"
Shay frowned. "I am thinking about what we need! Do you think I work full time and go to school six days a week for the fun of it? We need the money, and if we're going to be able to really do anything, I need my degree. You just can't get by on a high school diploma."
Jo pretended that wasn't a slam at her lack of schooling. "We've been through this, honey. You don't have to be the only one supporting us. I can work, and?"
"You are not getting a job," Shay responded, cutting her off. "The doctor said?"
It was Jo's turn to interrupt. "I know what the doctor said. I was there, too, remember?" The woman was slightly irritated that Shay felt the need to remind her. "At any rate, it doesn't matter, because I start Monday."
Green eyes blinked, disbelieving. "You start what?"
"I got an office job. Derek put a good word in for me. I'm expected at eight in the morning."
"You took this without even discussing it with me first? I didn't even know you'd spoken to Derek, I didn't know you were looking for work. So much for open communication," the blonde spat.
"No, don't bother." She got to her feet. "I've got a car to fix. I'm sure you have things to do to get ready for your first day at your new job."
When she'd come back inside, finally having gotten the old bucket of bolts running, at least enough to get it to the mechanic's, Jo was nowhere to be seen. Shay was certain she'd walked out the back door, and expected her back by nightfall. When it came time for her to go to work, however, and there was still no sign of the tall woman, the blonde knew Jo was really upset.
That had been on Sunday morning, and here it was Friday evening, and the blonde had had no contact with Jo. Although worried, she knew Jo's mother would call her if anything happened. She hadn't had a chance to call her, really; at least, not at what would be considered a decent hour. Now, though, it was scarcely seven-thirty, and that phone was looking like an awfully good idea.
Getting to her feet, heading towards the phone, Shay paused when there was a knock on the door. Deciding the phone would have to wait until she could dismiss whoever was at her door, the blonde opened the front door easily.
"I thought about calling? but then figured I'd just come over, and I saw your car in the drive, so I knew you were home from school, and?" Jo was rambling and she knew it. She always did that when she felt nervous, and at the moment her nerves were making some quite impressive Boy Scout worthy knots in her stomach.
Shay reached out and took her hand. "Come in," she urged, leading the tall woman to the couch. "I was just about to call you myself."
Silence fell for a heartbeat, and then Jo noticed the tears. "Honey? Hey, what's wrong?" she asked, concerned, following her instincts this time and gathering the small blonde in her arms.
"I'm sorry," came the choked response, and Jo kissed the crown of her head. "I'm sorry we fought and I'm sorry I got upset, and I'm just sorry."
In spite of herself, Jo smiled softly. "Shay, love, I know. I'm sorry we fought, too. I should have talked to you about the job, I'm sorry I kept it from you. I just knew you'd get upset and try to talk me out of it."
Shay sniffled a bit. "I only want you to be careful," she admitted, quietly. "The doctor said not to overexert yourself, and I worry about the strain you'd be putting on your heart? I just don't want to lose you, Jo, not any sooner than I have to."
Jo hugged the smaller woman to her tightly. "Oh baby, I'm not going anywhere. I'm not going to leave you for a long time yet, all right? I promise."
"I'm sorry I got so angry about you helping me with the car."
A strand of blonde hair became an object of gentle attention as Jo chose her words. "I know you're used to doing things on your own, Shay, and I know some of that is due to my being sick and being unable to help. But I can help, now, and I want to. I love you, all I want is to be with you every moment of my life, whether we're cuddling on the couch or getting all greasy working under the hood of your car," she smiled.
The blonde returned the smile, softly. "I love you, too. I missed you this week," she confessed, and Jo agreed.
"But, Shay? you work so much and you're always studying, I don't see you much as it is, not just this week. I miss you? and I miss us." Jo took a steadying breath, hoping they could get all this sorted out without going into another argument. "That's why I suggested a few days off? and I offer that again this weekend? In fact, love, it's not just an offer. I spoke with your boss and the teacher of your Saturday class? They both know not to expect you in tomorrow."
Seeing the look on the blonde's face, Jo held up her hand. "Before you get mad, sweetheart, please listen. I need this time with you, and I know you need it, as well. Your long hours are running you ragged, I know you need a break. And honestly, this frantic schedule hasn't been very forgiving to our relationship, either.
"I have everything taken care of; you don't have to worry about a thing. Please, let me do this. Don't say no," the tall woman pleaded, evenly.
Taking one look in the sapphire eyes she loved, Shay didn't take a moment to even consider her answer. "Yes, honey. I think it's a wonderful idea. As long as you promise we aren't rock-climbing or white-water rafting or anything of that sort."
Jo laughed. "I promise, sweetheart, just a nice, relaxing vacation."
"You're right, I think we could use one of those," smiled Shay, her green eyes lighting up in a way that Jo hadn't seen in too long.
"So? tell me about your job," prompted Shay, and Jo felt the last of the uncertainty leave her. They would be all right. With her working, Shay would be a little less stressed, and they'd have more time together. Whatever time she had left, she wanted to spend it just like this? the woman she loved in her arms, holding her just as tightly? smiling as a single tear of joy left its mark on her cheek.
* * * * *
Jo parked the car and removed the key, silencing the reminder beep by cutting off the headlights, sighing at the compromise she and Shay had reached earlier in the day. They'd spent the morning at a small restaurant, enjoying a leisurely meal and the closeness of the cozy little building, gone to see a movie in the afternoon, and then visited a local theater for dinner and a play. After all that, Shay made Jo promise that if she got to drive to the hotel that evening, she wouldn't carry in any of the luggage. Jo knew none of the bags they'd brought were anywhere close to heavy, but she agreed, knowing it would make the blonde feel better.
Now, the tall woman stepped out of the car with ease, turning in time to see Shay remove the final bag from the trunk and close the lid.
"All right," said Shay, taking all three bags in her hands at once, "let's go." The two walked side-by-side until they reached the front door, where Jo stepped forward and held it open. Shay smiled at her as she passed, and Jo winked back. The playful mood was a great way to begin the night.
As Shay set the bags down, Jo signed in and called for the attention of the man behind the desk, who seemed very involved in his basketball game.
"Jo Donney," she told him, and he grunted, retrieving a room key and a map from the cubby-holes behind him.
"An' you?" he questioned, glancing at Shay.
The blonde smiled as gently as she could towards the little man. "I'm with her," she replied, and he looked up at Jo again. Frowning for a moment, Shay was worried he'd make some sort of comment, but then saw the look Jo was shooting him. Shrugging, he wisely turned back to his game, paying them no mind as they walked out.
When they reached the room, green eyes looked at Jo expectantly, waiting for her to open the door. The woman simply stood there for a few moments, looking at the blonde beside her, fondly.
A fair eyebrow was raised as Shay dropped the bags and placed her hands on her hips. "Jo? Are you going to open the door, or are we going to stand here all night?" came the soft teasing.
Jo smiled, and leaned forward, kissing the woman lightly on the tip of her nose. In one fluid movement, before Shay could stop her, she swiped the card and pushed the door open a few inches, scooping the smaller woman into her arms and spinning them around once. With Shay still in her arms, laughing softly, she used her hip to open the door completely, and walked in the room, gently laying the blonde on the large bed. Jo kissed her deeply, and then whispered, "I opened the door."
Shay laughed, and then tried to look upset. "You know you're not supposed to do things like that, Jo," she said, shaking her finger at the tall woman.
"I'm not supposed to treat the woman I love with surprises she deserves?"
The blonde blushed softly and smiled warmly. "You end up wearing yourself out and you're going to be in trouble?"
It was Jo's turn to raise an eyebrow, and she did so as a slow smile coursed across her lips. "With you, love, I think I like being in trouble." Getting to her feet, she retrieved the bags and placed them just inside the door next to the small table, pushing the door closed with her foot. Walking back towards the bed, she continued, "And I have every intention of wearing myself out?"
Wrapping her arms around the petite blonde, Jo pulled her close and kissed her neck lightly, smiling to herself when Shay arched her neck, silently encouraging her to continue. Nuzzling the spot just beneath a delicate ear, Jo felt Shay change position, and soon they were laying together, Jo on her back with Shay pressed close to her side.
"Jo, are you sure you can??"
Jo interrupted gently as Shay kissed her shoulder. She'd been expecting this; anytime Jo came anywhere near exerting herself in any way, Shay would wait and make sure. Usually Jo mustered a nod and a smile and continued loving on the delicate skin? This time, however, she looked into the green eyes gently.
"Shay, I told you once that I wanted to spend my life loving you, remember?" A nod was her response, accompanied by a small smile. "I meant that, honey, for however long my life may be. My heart might be sick but I promise you, my feelings for you are strong as ever. More than anything, I love you. If I can't show you that love?"
Shay understood, and gently kissed Jo's temple. "So your heart wants to love me? Let's see if your body can keep up," she grinned, and kissed the woman she loved with all the passion in her soul.
Their lovemaking was slow and gentle, clothes carefully removed and each hand guided by the devotion of their relationship, with a tenderness that seemed to only be possible in the imagination. As with every time before, the only words spoken were murmured promises of warmth and strength, of forever. Time ceased to have meaning as the waves of beauty rolled over them both, bathing them with a light that was shining still when they fell into a quiet sleep.
Shay awoke an hour later, feeling the cool sheets and the gentle movement of Jo's hand as she ran her fingers through her short blonde hair. Opening her eyes, she smiled, an expression that grew when Jo's eyes sparkled down at her.
"Hi," said Jo, softly.
"Hi," echoed Shay. "How long have you been awake?"
"A few minutes. I've been enjoying watching you sleep," she admitted, and Shay snuggled closer. "Thank you."
That made Shay pause. "For what?"
Jo kissed her forehead. "For going with me on this vacation, for being here? for being you, and for loving me."
"All very much my pleasure," was the soft answer. "Thank you for arranging this, honey. I've had a wonderful time."
"And you've relaxed?" Shay nodded. "Good," Jo replied.
They cuddled for a few more minutes, before Jo announced she was going to chase down some breakfast, as Shay's stomach was making loud demands to be fed. That was when Shay pointed out that it was two o'clock in the morning.
"Oh." Jo blinked, startled. Then, she grinned. "No problem. I'll be right back, love." Before Shay could ask where she was going, Jo threw on some clothes and rushed out the door, barely remembering to grab the car keys as she left.
Shay shook her head fondly at the woman's enthusiasm, curling up with the recently vacated pillow, thinking back to the first time she'd met Jo?
She'd been taking advantage of a free Tuesday, her only morning class having been cancelled. Finding a coffeehouse that didn't seem too busy, she ordered something with a good dose of chocolate, found an empty table, and pulled out her book. Her coffee arrived a few minutes later, and as she lowered the book to reach for the drink, her breath caught in her throat when she realized she wasn't alone. A woman with dark hair had taken a seat in the booth opposite from her.
"Um, can I help you?" she questioned, uncertainly, eyeing the stranger carefully.
Bright blue eyes danced as the woman smiled. "I don't know, I was just going to ask you the same thing." Seeing Shay's confusion, she continued, "Do you always sit at other people's tables?" Not seeing the light bulb of understanding appear over the blonde's head, she pointed to her own book, which was on the table near the wall, and then to her jacket, folded on the seat.
Shay blushed. "Oh, I'm sorry!" Gathering her book, she continued to mumble apologies as she grabbed her drink, but a gentle hand on her arm kept her from getting to her feet.
"I didn't mean for you to leave," the woman said, quietly. "And I didn't mean to startle you when I sat down. ? All right, so maybe I wanted to tease you a bit," she confessed, with a small grin. "But you can stay. I wouldn't mind some company." Realizing she had begun to rub the soft skin beneath her fingertips, Jo removed her hand quickly and added, "That is, if you want to stay."
The blonde smiled, and moved her book and coffee to one end of the table. Reaching across, she extended her hand and introduced herself. "Shannon Payne."
Deciding instantly she liked the woman with the emerald eyes, Jo said, "Jo Donney." Their hands remained joined for a few more seconds before either of them noticed, their eyes locked and hearts beating to the rhythm of eternity.
Withdrawing her hand first, Shay asked, "So? is Jo short for anything?"
A dark eyebrow was raised and for a moment, Shay was afraid she'd already offended the woman. "I'm not short at all, thank you very much," came the response, and Shay couldn't help but roll her eyes, as Jo laughed.
The two had talked and laughed well into the afternoon, walking out of the coffeehouse at three-thirty as if they'd known each other for a lifetime instead of just six hours. Jo learned that Shay was working on her bachelor's degree in business, only had contact with her parents on birthdays or holidays, and worshipped chocolate the way most people worshipped their deity. Shay found out that although Jo had decided not to go to college she was extremely intelligent, worked the night shift at a local supermarket, and discovered that "Jo" was, in fact, the name written on her birth certificate.
By the time five o'clock rolled around and Jo had to get ready for work, she'd already managed to slip in a few hints about seeing Shannon again, but was disappointed that Shay hadn't seemed to pick up on any of them. She didn't mention anything about getting together again, something Jo wanted very much.
"I'm glad you stayed," said the tall woman, as she walked Shay to her car after they'd eaten lunch.
The blonde smiled. "Me too." Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out the receipt from her coffee that morning and wrote her phone number on the back, handing it to Jo, following it with a casual, "I don't have any classes on Wednesdays."
Jo didn't think it was possible for her to smile any wider than she did that moment, placing the slip of paper into her wallet. Hugging the blonde to her gently, she placed a quick kiss on her lips and walked to her own car. As she was about to buckle her seatbelt, the sight of Shay walking towards her drew her attention, and she rolled down her window.
"Yes?" she drawled, smirking.
Shay looked slightly nervous and extremely determined as she leaned her head in the window and kissed the woman properly. Pulling back after a few moments, she told her, "You don't just kiss me like that and walk away." With that said, she smiled and turned away, leaving a stunned Jo sitting in her car, a happy grin painted on her face all night.
Shay chuckled at the memory. She'd been nervous as hell walking up to Jo's car, and she hadn't even known what she was going to do until she was doing it. While friendly and outgoing, she normally wasn't the type to be so bold when it came to displaying affection, especially making the first move. But with Jo, she just couldn't help herself.
The door opened and the blonde was brought back to the present, where Jo was carrying a large plate of food and balancing two Styrofoam cups.
"Where'd you get all that?" questioned Shay, smiling when she noticed chocolate doughnuts somewhere in the pile.
"There's a little store that's open twenty-four hours, I saw it on the way in last night," explained the woman, bringing the food to the bed. "They don't have much, but I got what I could." Bagels with cream cheese, doughnuts, coffee cake, blueberry muffins, orange juice and coffee constituted Jo's definition of "not much".
Shay kissed her gently. "Thank you, sweetheart." Breaking off a piece of bagel, she offered it to the tall woman, who took it with a small smile. Shay knew the bagels, muffins, and orange juice were for Jo, since the woman ate as healthy as she could. And yet, Jo remembered Shay's sweet tooth, and got the doughnuts, coffee cake, and coffee as well, especially for the blonde. Just because the doctor had told her eating healthier might help her heart didn't mean Shay had to follow the diet, and Jo made sure she knew it.
"Do you know what I got to thinking about after you left?" mentioned Shay, as the two continued to feed each other.
"How we met."
Jo laughed. "That was a great day," she smiled, and Shay agreed. "I was sure you never wanted to see me again, up until the time you gave me your number. You sure know how to make a girl wonder."
Shay opened the orange juice and offered some to Jo, chuckling. "You thought you were just so sly, saying things like, 'So, how often do you visit the coffeehouse?', or reminding me three times that you only worked nights so you had the days free and might be able to meet me after my classes," she quoted, as Jo shrugged.
"Hey, you can't blame me for wanting to see more of you. I still can't get enough," she professed, nuzzling an exposed shoulder. Taking the food and setting it to the side, Jo began trailing kisses along Shay's collarbone, nibbling gently. When Shay closed her eyes and simply enjoyed the touch, Jo grinned evilly and slid her hands under the sheet. Her hands found skin and she easily ran her fingers down tender sides, tickling the small blonde quickly.
Shrieking, Shay laughed and squirmed, trying to get away from the merciless hands that were too fast for her to catch. After a minute, Jo stopped the tickling and switched to gentle caresses, letting Shay regain her breath only to steal it again with a fiery kiss.
Shay pulled away slowly, and gently smacked Jo on her arm. "You think kissing me like that is going to get you out of trouble for tickling me," she accused, and Jo grinned.
"No, I know it is."
"You're lucky I love you so much or you'd be in for it right now," threatened Shay, and Jo kissed her ear.
"You're right, I'm very lucky." Knowing Shay wasn't truly mad at her, Jo pulled the woman close and they cuddled some more, pulling the covers up to ward off the rising sun.
Trailing her fingers through the dark hair of the woman she loved as Jo laid her head on her chest, the lovers hiding from the world under two sheets and a comforter, Shay spoke quietly, "Do you remember the first time you called me Shay?" Jo paused for a moment, and then nodded, not at all surprised when Shay hugged her even tighter. It was another day neither of them would ever forget.
I want to spend the rest of my life loving you? The words echoed in Shannon's head, still hardly able to believe that Jo had spoken them just a short time before. They had been joking about finding a U-Haul, and Jo had suddenly grown quite serious.
"Shannon? I know we've only known each other for a few weeks? and this might be moving really fast for you, but I want you to know that I love you. It's all right if you don't feel the same, and I don't expect anything between us just because I've said I love you," she clarified, making sure Shay knew she was true in her feelings, it wasn't just the pull of sharing a warm bed with the woman that had her talking. "I just? I've never felt anything like this with anyone before, and I wanted you to know."
Shay was silent for a moment, and then smiled. "I know," she said, gently. "I love you, too, Jo."
Jo smiled and tenderly kissed her forehead, looking into her eyes as she swore, her heart taking over her tongue so she almost didn't realize she was speaking, "I want to spend the rest of my life loving you." Shannon had simply hugged her at that point, the two content to hold each other for a while.
Now, Jo was messing with Shay's stereo, trying to find a song they could dance to. Landing on a station playing jazz, Jo stilled the dial for a minute, and danced around the room with all the enthusiasm she could muster, doing her best impression of swing dancing, which had Shannon in a fit of laughter.
"You are crazy," she chuckled, when Jo stopped prancing about. The tall woman paused for a moment, and then slowly turned to face Shannon, her face pale. Shannon frowned, concerned by the emotions she saw flickering behind sapphire eyes.
"Jo, what is it?"
Swallowing, Jo gasped, "Shay?" before she crumpled to the floor. The blonde rushed to her side, and the look Jo gave her was filled with such fear, she grabbed the phone and dialed 911, pleading with Jo to be all right, assuring her that help was coming. A single tear, carrying pain and confusion, traveled from clouded eyes as Jo moved into unconsciousness.
Jo kissed the blonde's shoulder gently, knowing what Shay was thinking about. "Hey," she said, softly, "I'm here, honey. I'm all right."
"I could have lost you, just after I'd found you," murmured the woman, and Jo nodded slightly.
"But you didn't," she reminded, and kissed her shoulder again. "I'm not going to leave you for a very long time, love, not if I have any say in it."
Shay seemed to accept this with a nod.
"All right," decided Jo, "enough of these thoughts. Come on, let's do something."
The blonde looked at her lover carefully. "Just what do you have in mind?" she questioned, and Jo grinned. "Uh-oh." The smile grew.
Thirty minutes later, after convincing Shay that what she had planned was completely safe, Jo pulled into the parking lot and told the blonde she could open her eyes. Emerald eyes glanced around, confused for a moment as to where she was and why Jo had brought her there? and then she spotted the coffeehouse.
Seeing the smile that told Jo she'd done a good job, the dark-haired woman got out and opened the door for the small blonde, explaining, "This is where we met? nine months ago today." Shay glanced up and gave her a look that Jo couldn't have interpreted as anything less than love.
"Come on," she urged, softly, taking the petite hand in her own. The table they'd shared so long ago was open, and the two women sat side-by-side. Ordering their drinks, Shay recalled how nervous she'd been when Jo had invited her to meet her mother at the same coffeehouse just two weeks after they'd started dating.
"I was so sure she wasn't going to like me," admitted the blonde.
Jo smiled. "She loves you just as much as I do, sweetheart," she said, gently.
"I know, but that didn't stop me from freaking out before our meeting. I couldn't figure out what to wear, I didn't know if I could give you a kiss when I came in? I was a wreck," she chuckled.
Their drinks arrived, and the woman who brought them to the table made no attempt at hiding her stare of disgust when she realized the two were holding hands.
Jo snarled at her, "Something wrong?"
Shay put her hand on the angry woman's arm, comfortingly. "Jo?" she said, evenly, "let it go, love."
The young woman curled her lip at the pair, and Jo could see the muscles working in her jaw, knowing all too well what that meant. Slowly, she released Shay's hand and rose to her full height, glaring down at the girl.
"I suggest you think very carefully about what you are about to do, and swallow that," she spoke, her voice low. "Because if anything other than an apology comes out of your mouth, I swear you'll be eating your meals from a straw for a month." Eyes wide, the girl swallowed audibly. "Good. Now, let me catch you giving us a dirty look again."
Quickly, the girl left the couple alone, and Jo sat back down.
"Are you all right?" questioned Shay, concerned, and Jo nodded. "Are you sure?" She knew getting upset like that could be rough on the woman's heart.
Willing the anger to dissipate, and not ruin the remainder of their vacation, Jo took Shay's hand again. "Yes, love, I'm fine. I'm sorry?"
Shay shook her head. "It's all right, Jo. I just want you to be careful. If you hadn't said something I probably would have gone at her myself," she said, and Jo chuckled softly, trying to decide which would have been worse for the girl? and instantly deciding the green fire that blazed when Shay was angry was enough to put anyone back in line.
Putting the incident behind them, the two talked for a few more hours, Shay going through another cup of coffee before asking for the bill, which Jo immediately paid. Jo took the receipt before Shay could reach for it, and pulled a pen from her pocket. They'd been writing back and forth on a napkin for the past few minutes, feeling very much like love struck teenagers, but having a good time.
Writing a phrase on the back of the receipt, Jo turned it over and refused to let Shay read it right away. Reaching into her wallet, she pulled out a receipt from a previous trip to the coffeehouse, and showed that to her blonde love.
Shay smiled. "You kept this?" She recognized her own handwriting on the back, declaring her name and phone number.
Jo nodded. "Of course. It's never left my wallet since that day you gave it to me," she said. Her blue eyes sparkled with anticipation. "And I'm hoping you'll keep this one with you for a long time." Sliding the paper over to Shay, the blonde turned it over, quickly scanned the words, and looked up at Jo, not believing what she'd just seen. Carefully written were the letters that would forever be engraved in her soul, which read:
Will you marry me?
Jo waited anxiously for an answer, biting her lip as the expression on Shay's face wasn't easily understood. "Shay?" she prompted, after a moment of silence.
When the word registered, Jo broke out into an ecstatic grin and pulled the woman into her arms, hugging her tightly and whispering into her ear that she would cherish her forever. Shannon broke the hold just enough to softly kiss the lips of her love.
As they pulled back, the blonde caught the eye of the girl behind the counter, and looked away. Shay smiled gently at Jo and, deciding it would be best if they could be somewhere without all the hostile glances, said, "Let's go celebrate." In complete agreement, Jo let Shay drive home, their hands clasped tightly the whole ride.
Jo made certain that she carried Shay gracefully across the threshold when they got home, causing both of them to break into a wide smile.
"How long were you planning that?" asked Shay, once they had everything unloaded and were cuddled up on the couch.
"Asking you to marry me?" Shay nodded. Jo raised her arm and looked at her watch. "Hm? about an hour," she said, laughing. Seeing the look Shay was giving her, she added, "No, really, I didn't plan it at all."
Closing her eyes for a moment, Jo fell quiet, and Shay became alarmed when she heard the shortness of her breath. The blonde was getting up to run to the phone when Jo put a hand on her arm, eyes still closed.
"I'm fine," she said, slowly. "Just? tired all? of a sudden."
Shay moved up so she was holding the woman in her arms, trying to make her comfortable. "Palpitations, honey?" Jo nodded, the pain in her chest easing as her breath returned to normal.
"I didn't mean to scare you, love," she apologized, and Shay kissed her forehead.
"It's all right. Rest, Jo. We've had enough excitement for one weekend." Agreeing hesitantly, Jo curled up in the arms of her future wife and slept. Shay held her close, stroking the dark tresses and she willed her own heart to beat normally. It did scare her every time Jo had a close call; any arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat, could be life threatening for the woman, she knew. The doctor had explained that much to them after Jo's first episode?
Jo was lying in the hospital bed, pale but awake, Shay holding her hand tightly, her mother sitting in a chair on the opposite side. Neither of them had left her bedside the entire day.
When the doctor walked in, the small talk between the three women ceased immediately, and they looked to the man for an answer.
"What we've found is congenital heart disease," he explained. "What that means is that you have a defect or a malformation of one or more structures of your heart. Although you've had it since birth, oftentimes symptoms don't appear until later in life, if at all. If the symptoms do occur, most often they include shortness of breath, chest pain, fatigue, dizziness, palpitations of the heart due to an irregular heart beat, and fainting? Which is what brought you here today."
"What caused it?" questioned Jo's mother, Betty.
"For most people, the cause is never known," the doctor admitted. "Drugs or maternal viral infections during gestation can increase the risk, but I don't see any of that in the medical history I have here."
"So what exactly is wrong with me?"
The doctor met her gaze. "From the tests that we've performed, my diagnosis is dilated cardiomyopathy, or DCM, a form of congenital heart disease. DCM is a condition which decreases the heart's ability to pump blood because the left ventricle, the main pumping chamber for the heart, is enlarged and stiff, which decreases the amount of blood pumped out with each beat. Over time, it can affect the other chambers of the heart, as well," he said, evenly.
"Why didn't I ever know anything was wrong before?"
"Like I said, many people have no symptoms at all, or have minor conditions and can live a normal life. Some people, on the other hand, develop symptoms which progress and worsen with the condition.
"What I'm going to recommend for you, Ms. Donney, is a change of diet along with medication to help control the arrhythmia. Also, limited exercise? no heavy weight lifting, period. Some aerobic exercise is permitted, but in moderation, and only to your tolerance?"
He continued speaking for a while, answering all their questions and going into detail about all of the medications. Shay listened just as intently as the other two, wanting to make sure she wouldn't do anything to put strain on Jo's heart, and taking mental notes so she could keep an eye on Jo to ensure she took her medications and followed her diet.
After the doctor left, Shay decided to let Jo rest for a while, and spoke with her mother out in the hall about Jo staying with her. It was quiet at her house, she said, and Jo would be sure to get plenty of rest. Shay would work to support them both, Jo would be comfortable.
Betty could see the woman cared for her daughter very much? perhaps even more than Shay herself realized at the time. So, it was agreed that when Jo was released from the hospital she would stay with Shannon. Betty was given a key so she could visit any time, and she called often to check up on her daughter, but knew deep down Jo was in good hands.
Jo had been surprised when she'd learned of the plans. "You know," she said, "I was only joking about that U-Haul." She was certain that, after scarcely a month of a relationship, no matter how deeply Jo felt for Shay, the blonde wouldn't want to stay with someone when their lifestyle was going to be such a hassle. Hell, it had surprised her a little when she came to and saw Shay by her side in the hospital?
It hadn't taken Shay too long to convince Jo that she was just as serious about their relationship. For whatever reason, despite the fact that they'd only been together four weeks, neither of them felt they were moving too fast. Everything they did seemed fitting, seemed to happen at the right time. From the first time they'd held hands, to the first time they made love, and every moment that was spent together, each woman realized the feeling of wonderful, the definition of perfect.
Shay kissed the top of the woman's head, Jo still sleeping quietly. She'd always held the belief that everything happened for a reason? and her reason for everything was held securely in her arms.
At some point that afternoon, Shay fell asleep alongside Jo, and awoke a few hours later to find herself alone on the couch. Looking around, she saw the tall woman sitting in a nearby chair, hands braced on her knees as blue eyes stared blankly ahead.
Shay sat up. "Jo? Are you all right?"
"I couldn't get my breath lying down, I thought sitting up might help," she explained, in short bursts that testified just how difficult it was for her to breathe normally. The blonde moved behind her and began to gently rub her back. Jo closed her eyes, and tried to calm her heart by sheer will.
"Honey, do you need me to call anyone?" Jo shook her head. The chest pain wasn't bad, she could hold out and her breath would steady again.
Sure enough, a few minutes later, her breathing was much more even, and the tall woman looked much more relaxed. Seeing this, Shay got up to get her a glass of water, hoping it would help them both calm down a bit more.
Jo watched the blonde walk into the kitchen, and took a deep breath. The pain in her chest was still there, but she was doing her best to keep from frightening Shannon any further, so kept her face as neutral as possible. It would pass soon enough? it always did.
Thinking some fresh air might help, Jo got to her feet when Shay came back in the room.
"Let's go for a walk," she suggested, and though green eyes seemed uncertain, Shay went to her side and took her arm gently as they stepped outside. The air was warm but the breeze was cool, and after a minute of comfortable silence, the blonde smiled up at her partner and told her the walk had been a good idea.
Before the words had completely passed by her lips, Shay was suddenly supporting all of Jo's weight, her hands moving of their own accord as she managed to keep the woman from totally collapsing. Lowering her to the ground as gently as she could, she screamed for someone to help them. The last thing Jo heard as her blue eyes fluttered closed was Shay's tearful plea with her to hold on.
* * * * *
Shay hung up the receiver softly, ending the conversation with Betty Donney. The woman said she'd be right there, jotted down the room number, and Shay knew it wouldn't be more than twenty minutes before she arrived at the hospital.
By that time, however, the blonde had a feeling it would be too late.
Walking down the corridor to the room where Jo had been taken, Shay stopped for a moment to sit down in a chair when her legs seemed to give way. The memories that assailed her thoughts were overwhelming and, picking up where her last memory had been interrupted by conscious thoughts, she allowed her mind to take her back once more?
Despite Jo's initial surprise, she was completely moved in to Shay's house within a few days after her release from the hospital, and Shannon insisted she rest as much as possible. Although her strength was returning quickly, and the difficulty to catch her breath didn't occur very often, Jo humored the woman as much as she could and took her time getting back on her feet.
That had been when the work had begun, as well. Shay had gotten it in her head that maybe if they could travel somewhere, get Jo away from everything for a time, she'd get better. Or maybe they could even afford a doctor that could find a way to cure her. Jo had tried to tell her that there was no cure, it was something she'd have to live with and they'd just have to be careful, something Shay didn't care to hear. She would find someone who could make her better? but that wouldn't happen with a part-time job and an associate's degree.
So Shay had set her mind to working as much as possible, taking as many classes as she could fit in her schedule to finish her bachelor's quickly, and ensuring Jo was well taken care of in any spare time. In the mornings before she left, she made sure Jo had all her medication, a healthy breakfast, and a phone nearby should she need it. If she had time, she stopped in at lunch to check on her, and called when she had the chance.
Once Jo had proven that she was feeling better, and able to get out of bed, which took a good week or two, she began cleaning house and such while Shay was gone. She'd keep herself occupied, doing household chores or even going shopping a few times, immensely enjoying seeing the smile on Shay's face when she came home to find dinner on the table.
Even with everything that Jo did to help out and show that she was feeling well, Shay's bright attitude had changed, and the tall woman knew it was because of her illness. The small blonde had dealt with everything on her own, with small communications with her mother, but that was it. Most every detail was seen to by Shay, of her own insistence, carefully and with great attention, until she was spread so thin it was tough for her to find happiness in the things she enjoyed? including the love of her partner.
That was when Jo had decided it was time for a vacation?
It was the vacation that had brought them closer together? if only for a short time, Shay knew. Their love had never suffered during her rigorous and demanding schedule, nothing could damage a bond that strong, but a distance had grown between them. The few days with nothing on the agenda except each other had been the cure.
We can cure love, an emotion, something we can't see or touch, she mused, as she rose and continued down the hall. But doctors - cardiologists, even - that spend years studying and learning can't figure out how to cure problems with the heart. No amount of money can change that?
Jo's right. I should stop working so much so we can have more time together? Her thoughts trailed off as she came to the room. The doctors and nurses had been working on her when she had gone to call Jo's mother, doing all they could? after nearly fifteen minutes, they stopped. Shay was told by the remaining doctor as he made his way out of the room that there was nothing more they could do, and they were all very sorry, and was there anyone she wanted to call?
Numbly, her eyes unfocused, she brushed past the man and entered the room slowly, walking until she was a few inches away from the bed. Shay couldn't believe it was just earlier that day when Jo asked her to marry her. It seemed like a lifetime ago. The strong woman with a sparkle in her eyes seemed to bear no resemblance to the pale form lying on the bed in front of her. For a moment, she just stared at her, her mind only able to focus on the shallow breaths that were becoming worse every second.
The words that the doctor had said when he'd first spoken to her spun about her head? "If help is immediate? chance of survival low? Sudden Cardiac Death? It won't be much longer?" It was all too much, and emerald eyes closed as she tried to stop the echoes. Her heart refused to believe that the "D" word had actually been said.
For the second time that evening, she sought out a chair and sunk into it easily, grateful for the seat, as the other alternative she'd been rapidly approaching was hitting her knees. The grave prognosis of the doctor weighed heavy on her shoulders, and even heavier on her heart; a load she didn't think she would ever lose.
With the silence of the hospital room overwhelming her despite the hum of the machines, the small blonde moved towards the woman she loved. "I will spend the rest of my life loving you," she whispered, more to herself than anyone else, as she knew Jo couldn't hear her. She took the woman's hand gently in her own, closing her eyes and lowering her head, placing a soft kiss on the back of Jo's knuckles as a single tear traveled slowly across her fair skin, soaking into the cold white sheet.