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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
At least one good thing came out of my visit to the gypsy's clinic-that bitch of a doctor told me to call Emily about the seizure. She picked up the phone and dialed. It is the perfect ploy to get more drugs. She listened to the list of options and finally heard a real voice. "Dr. Bank's office, this is Cindy, how may I help you?"
She's too damn perky. "This is Amanda Lawson; I need to speak with the doctor immediately...this is an emergency."
"If it is an emergency, you should call nine-one-one."
"Listen, I'm not calling nine-one-one; I had a seizure, and the doctor told me to call Dr. Banks immediately."
"She's with a patient right now."
"I don't care, I need to speak with her right now!"
In her past dealings with the woman, Cindy knew that reasoning was beyond her comprehension. The doctor told me that if she ever calls in an agitated state that I should advise her, and that is what I'm going to do. "Just a minute."
Amanda tapped her fingers nervously as she waited. The pain was accelerating beyond anything she had ever felt before. I don't think I'm going to make it.
"Amanda, how long ago did you have this seizure?" Emily asked.
She bent her head back and sighed loudly in relief. "I don't know...about two hours ago...around eleven I think."
"Are you injured?"
Yes, I need drugs. "No, I went to a clinic, and the doctor there said she saw no outward signs of injuries. They didn't have the proper diagnostic tools to fully evaluate me and told me to call you immediately."
"Which clinic and what doctor?"
"Oh, I don't know, an Indian woman...Sun something or another. The clinic was on Hearst Street I think."
"Yes, I think that's it."
"While I call Dr. Lapahie, I want you to call for an ambulance, and I will meet you at the hospital."
"I can drive myself."
"No, you call an ambulance, is that clear?"
I'm not calling any stupid ambulance. "Sure. I'll see you there." She hung up, grabbed her keys and noticed that her hand was trembling. "It's the pain; it has to be the pain."
"I don't need that," Amanda whined. "I've been poked and prodded enough today."
"Well, get ready because you have more coming your way." Dr. Banks opened the door and waved for Amanda to go through.
"Fine, but I need to tell you I am in tremendous pain right now."
"Have you taken your medication?"
"Well, I can't give you anything more until the tests are run. Try to hang in there."
Amanda just shook her head. "Do I have a choice?"
"No." Emily's voice had softened. She knew the day hadn't been easy for her patient-the phone conversation with Sun Lapahie confirmed that...
"Well, to be perfectly frank, Emily, I think she needs a good kick in the butt, so she will stop feeling sorry for herself and get on with her life," Sun said.
Emily laughed. "Sun, I doubt that either you or I could go through what that woman has endured and not feel exactly as she does."
"Care to enlighten me?"
"Have you ever had a patient whom you can't help? One whom you know is basically healthy and will live a long life, but there is nothing you can do to stop his or her suffering."
"You've run out of options?"
"The only thing I have left is an Intrathecal Pump Implant, and I won't do that unless she tells me it is what she needs."
"I guess I was harder on her than I needed to be," Sun said. "I see so many here who don't have the advantages of the health care that Amanda does, and it makes me jaded at times."
"Having a good health care plan doesn't mean that the patient doesn't deserve compassionate treatment, Sun." Emily felt protective of her patient. "If I could share Amanda's story, I think you would regret your words about her. We've all been there where the patients just seems to push all the wrong buttons, but we need to remind ourselves that they are in need of our skills as doctors. Amanda is just trying to cope with the raw deal that life has handed her. Underneath it all, she is a wonderful person, and that is what I tell myself when she makes me want to scream. Bottom line...she needs my help."
"I'm glad you're her doctor."
"We didn't find any indications of chronic seizures or any damage done from the one you had." Emily removed her glasses. "I think it was an isolated incident probably brought on by stress, and the medication you take."
"So you don't think it will happen again?"
"I doubt it."
"What about the high blood pressure the other doctor talked about?"
"We'll keep an eye on it. If it is okay with you, I will speak with your internist, so he will know what happened. That way he can monitor it when you see him."
Amanda closed her eyes and said, "I need more pain meds."
Emily narrowed her eyes and looked long and hard at her patient. "I thought I just gave you a prescription not too long ago."
Amanda focused her clear blue eyes on the doctor. "I know; but the pain...it has been really bad lately."
The doctor sighed. "I will give you enough to last two weeks."
Amanda's eyes widened. "But..."
Emily held up her hand. "Then you will have to come see me for another two weeks' worth."
"That is the only way, Amanda."
"Oh, all right."
"I will check tomorrow to see if you have made an appointment."
"Don't worry, I will make it first thing in the morning."
"Good. Would you like me to drive you home?"
For the first time since arriving at the hospital, Amanda smiled. "No thanks, I think I can manage."
"Then, I will at least walk you out to your car."
Amanda nodded. "I'd like that."
Raphaela stood, pulling herself up to her full height. "Very funny. I walked, but now I am questioning the wisdom of that."
"You walked? That has to be a good five miles. A broom would have been quicker." She saw Raphaela standing steadfast. "Move aside, and let me unlock the door. No sense standing out here and getting eaten up by mosquitoes."
"Are you going to allow me inside, too, or do you think I have special potions to keep them away?" Raphaela, surprised at the vitriolic response from Amanda, smiled inwardly for she actually did have a good combination of natural ingredients to ward off the stinging insects. From her discussion with Sun, nothing had happened at the clinic that her doctor friend would classify as unusual.
Amanda frowned. "I wasn't going to leave you out here if that's what you think." She blew out a breath. "Look, it has been a really long day, and I need to get inside so I can take one of these." She held up a white pharmacy bag and jiggled it. "Come in or don't, it is up to you."
When Raphaela stepped inside the house, she noticed it was as neat as a pin from the hallway to the immaculately clean kitchen. Doesn't Amanda ever make a mess or cook? Then she saw the discarded medicine containers on the floor. "Exactly what do you take Amanda? I might be able to help you."
Amanda eagerly popped the pill into her mouth and drank the contents of the glass she had just filled. "It usually takes thirty minutes to work. I need to get this into my system before the meds they gave me at the hospital begin to wear off." She saw the surprised look on Raphaela's face. "Yes, I was at the hospital all afternoon." Changing the subject will track her away from what meds I take.
Raphaela gave Amanda an understanding look as she casually walked over to the counter and the new containers. With her back to the woman on the pretext of looking out of the kitchen window, she saw the labels and grimaced at the powerful medicines. She noted the overgrown plants and lawn and remembered the woman's words about her gardening skills. "Not much of a gardener anymore, I see." From her angle, all she could see were some straggly flowers and shrubs. I bet it was once a beautiful place.
Amanda flipped on the radio. Because of the shot of Demerol she received at the hospital, her pain had abated somewhat, and she was more lucid. "I used to garden...Gwen said it was the best in the county. You should have seen my roses, and the vegetables seemed to grow themselves." She shrugged. "It is in the past now."
She heard the words of a song on the radio and was lost in them...Can you hear my thoughts? Does your heart recall the day we met? She brushed a tear away. "Not much of a story is it?"
The voice of the singer continued to hold her attention. Never to leave me...a look, a gesture, a kiss for you seared my soul forever. Will you remember me now that I'm gone from you? Will I ever see your face again, or are you gone for all time to another place? Seconds, minutes, hours tick by without you by my side. You have gone on alone and left me behind. Will you wait for me in eternity? You shared my heart, my love...you're inside my soul for lifetimes yet undone. Now that you're no longer here...will, you forgot you ever loved me?
"You know, I know Gwen died in the accident," she said. "The second question I was going to ask the spirit was if it would be okay to love again."
Taken aback at the candid comments, Raphaela didn't know what to say. Amanda's personal life really wasn't any of her business, and the admission confused her. Then she recalled Amanda's insistence at the session that 'it is me.' Maybe this is as good a time as any to find out what she meant...particularly after my discussion with Grand-mère. "I was wondering why you think I'm someone important to you, Amanda. You keep mentioning something along those lines."
Silence permeated the room as the soulful sounds of Norah Jones began to fill the crevices. Amanda made her way to her recliner. "Please sit down," she said as she motioned to the chair next to hers-Gwen's chair. Raphaela noticed her eyes took on a distant look as if she were in another place and time. Finally, she looked directly into Raphaela's hazel eyes. "When we first spoke on the phone, I recognized your voice. To my knowledge, I had never spoken to you before; but I knew the tone and the inflections." She pursed her lips and sucked them inside biting hard as if to wake up. She spoke again, "Then, when you opened the door that first time I knew it was you."
Raphaela blinked rapidly at the confession. I've had this kind of experience with some of my closest friends. That's why I was attracted to them. Old souls traveling the same path are the easiest explanation for most people. Unfortunately, I didn't pick up the same vibe from Amanda. What do I say to her? "There can be a perfectly rational explanation for that, you know. It's something to do with the impulses from the brain catching up with optical nerves." Oh, no, where did I dredge that up? It's pathetic!
Amanda felt a wave pass over her and knew the meds were kicking in. For a moment, she closed her eyes and went with the feelings in her body. Amanda gave the woman next to her an easy smile. "Sounds interesting, but as I found out today my brain is functioning perfectly." She looked away for a moment then gazed at Raphaela again. "I can't explain it, and I'm not sure I want to, but I know you. I am sure I have always known you. I could feel it when you held me during the seizure...I should have been unaware, but I knew you were there, and I wasn't afraid." She shrugged. "Where are my manners? I don't entertain much. Would you like something to eat? I have some nice cod that can be unfrozen in a jiffy."
Raphaela, stunned by the confession but amused by something else, was unable to prevent herself from chuckling. Soon she couldn't stop herself from laughing out loud.
Creasing her eyebrows, Amanda looked at the woman who seemed to be having quite a time laughing. Maybe one of her spirits told her a joke. Partially offended, she asked, "Did I say something funny?"
Finally getting the laughing fit under control, Raphaela smiled warmly at Amanda. I'm glad she didn't get all huffy over my laughing. "I'm sorry, Amanda, but seriously, unfrozen cod in a jiffy? You know, I traveled around Europe growing up, and in some parts of the world, a jiffy takes on a whole new meaning. Anyway, that's gutter talk, and I came here to ask if you wanted to come over for dinner this evening. It would allow my grand-mère and me the chance to make amends for your previous terrible experiences in the house. I can assure you that we'll make it as comfortable an evening as possible for you. No unwanted or unannounced guests." She winked at the mention of guests. "What do you say? If tonight isn't good, we can do it tomorrow or anytime you name."
Amanda started to smile but stopped. What do I say? "It has been a long time since anyone has asked me to join them for dinner." She thought for a moment. "What type of wine do you like?"
With a beaming smile, Raphaela stood up as she spoke, "I don't drink, but my grand-mère loves full-bodied French claret. How about eight? That way you will have time to take a nap after your busy day."
"Eight sounds fine," Amanda said with trepidation. It was a step forward and that scared her. Then she chuckled. "Would you care to ride home on that broom, or shall I give you a lift?"
With a smile that lit up the room, Raphaela shook her head. "I appreciate the offer, Amanda, but you're wiped out, and I know there's a bus due around the corner in a couple of minutes. Relax...and Amanda, I'm glad you've accepted the invitation. My grand-mère has some wonderful entertaining stories...I promise you'll enjoy yourself. See you at eight. I'll let myself out." She left so rapidly that Amanda was unable to respond.
How does she know the bus is around the corner and leaves in a few minutes? She shrugged. Must be one of those gypsy things. Her eyes closed, and she entered into an easy, light sleep.
When she walked into the bathroom, she saw various items from the medicine cabinet strewn on the floor. Carefully bending over, she began picking up a tube of toothpaste, a plastic aspirin bottle, Q-tips, saline solution, and a few other items. Looking at the fractured image of her face in the mirror, she shook her head. "You have to get a grip, girl." Then she thought of the night to come and smiled.
She reached into the shower and turned on the water before she sat on the bench in the stall. Soon her body had a thick layer of foamy soap as her mind once again drifted to the upcoming dinner. She rested her elbows on her knees and buried her face in her hands. "What am I doing?"
"You are letting Gwen go," a strong voice answered.
Like a shot, that she didn't know she was capable of, she stood up and slowly opened the sliding shower door. "Who's there?" The bathroom was empty. "I really think I'm losing my mind." She slid the door closed, sat back down and squirted shampoo into her hand. I can't let Gwen go.
"It is time to move on, Amanda."
"Now, I know I'm going batty." She massaged her head vigorously trying to wash the voice away. I don't think I can make it on my own.
"Sure you can. You've already started on that road, and if it doesn't work out, you can always come back here and hide some more."
Amanda stood up and let the water flow over her head and body before turning off the water. A small smile curved around her lips. "Raquel, that's your name, right? Thank you for your advice, and I will take it under advisement." She towel dried her hair and felt bereft that the voice did not respond.
With a bright smile, the man turned and looked at her. "Yes, there are. What are you looking for?"
Smiling back in kind, Amanda said, "I was thinking of claret."
"Hmm, do you want domestic or French?"
"French, I think."
The man reached for a bottle. "This Chateau Moulin de Peyronin is classic claret. It has smooth tannins; I think you will appreciate its subtlety."
Amanda took the bottle. "Wow, this is pricey."
"That depends on whether you are compact car or Mercedes kinda gal."
She smiled and put the bottle in a small hand basket. "Thank you. Now, what are you looking for?"
"Something special for my wife, she just got a promotion."
"That is something I can help you with." She moved down the aisle to the German wines and picked a bottle. "I spent two years in Germany near Trier- this particular winery has never disappointed me."
The man took the bottle and raised his eyebrows. "I'm a Mercedes kinda guy. Thank you," he said as he turned to leave.
At the checkout, she chatted with the young girl behind the cash register. When she returned to her car, a warm happy feeling began permeating her. I actually interacted with people, and I was nice-kinda like my old self. A genuine smile filled her face as she placed the wine in the seat and thought about having dinner with the women who had mysteriously come into her life.
Initially, she hadn't been happy about her grand-mère's insistence that they ask her to dinner. But, the more she thought about it, the more it made perfect sense, and frankly, she was looking forward to the evening. You could count on one hand the number of times she'd had anyone home to dinner-and those had been school friends when they were working on a paper. Not once had she brought someone home for the simple pleasure of doing so, not even her dear friend Sun whom she cared a great deal about. When she'd gone over to Amanda's, she had considered the dinner merely something she would attend, so she could keep her grand-mère happy. Now...now, I'm not so sure. In fact, there was more than a normal bounce in her steps when she was going home.
Half an hour later, she pampered herself as much as time would allow and carefully chose clothes that didn't give her the gypsy look. If necessary, she could hold her own in the dress department, but she found the garments that were classical and timeless were the ones she preferred. Tonight, I'm going to try to get Amanda completely at ease for no other reason than she deserves a little enjoyment and peace from her worries and pain. If we succeed, who knows how many more times it will take Amanda to get back on her feet? And, it will be worth it.
The Spanish style chicken she had prepared was cooking slowly, and if the aromas around the house were anything to judge by, it would be delicious. Then, she heard her grand-mère calling. She entered the bedroom and saw Luminitsa had not yet dressed for dinner. Amanda is due in ten minutes.
"You're not dressed, Grand-mère, is anything wrong?" Concern flooded the younger woman's face as she pressed a gentle hand to her grand-mère's forehead.
"I'm perfectly well, Ray. Don't worry yourself so. I'm very tired, and if you wouldn't mind, I'd really like just a snack for dinner, and then I'll go straight to sleep." Luminitsa eyed her granddaughter. I've seen that suspicious look before. "Before you say anything, Ray, no, this wasn't planned."
Raphaela rolled her eyes. She loved the old woman deeply, but on occasion, Grand-mère had things arranged only to leave her to sort it out at the last minute. Now, as she peered closely at her grand-mère, she saw the fatigue etched in the weathered, yet beautiful face. "I'll give Amanda your apologies, although she was looking forward to your stories. Why don't I make up a little of the chicken dinner for you while you get ready for bed? I will bring you a tray once you're settled in."
The beaming smile she received told her its own story. "You may tell Amanda that she can call anytime, and I will relate any story she wants to hear. It is, after all, one of my most treasured pastimes."
Raphaela left the room and heard a car drive up and stop, not on the street as on previous occasions, but in the drive. A faint smile crossed Raphaela's lips as she quickly made her way to the door and opened it before Amanda was even out of the car. With a warm smile, she waved at the woman who exited her car with a brown paper bag in hand.
"Hey, how did you know I was here?" Amanda said as she reached the door. Smiling mischievously, she waggled her finger at Raphaela. "Did you read my mind?" When she saw the look on Raphaela's face, she laughed.
"No, I don't read minds, but I'm sure if I worked hard enough at it I might." Things are working out just as we hoped. "Come on inside; dinner is almost ready." A sudden thought struck her. "I hope you're not vegetarian." Raphaela waited anxiously for the answer. Things can go array without my even trying.
It felt good to laugh again, and Amanda took the opportunity to do it again. "No! Me like meat," she said in her best cavewoman imitation. Holding out the bag she said, "I have it on good authority that this is excellent claret."
Raphaela glanced at the brown paper bag and gave Amanda a wink of appreciation. "My grand-mère is going to wish she wasn't so tired tonight."
"She isn't going to join us?" Amanda truly liked the old woman and was somewhat sad that she wouldn't be having dinner with them. This means it will just be Raphaela having dinner with me. The thought, in a strange way, frightened her. "I'm sorry to hear that, I hope she hasn't been taken ill because of our session today."
As they walked further into the house, Raphaela showed her to the dining room. Since Luminitsa's stroke, they no longer used the small cozy room, which was much to her chagrin. "No, she's just tired. Sessions like yours take it out of her, which is why she doesn't do it full time anymore. I can assure you she isn't ill. When I tell her she's missing out on the wine bought especially for her, she'll be upset." Raphaela stopped and thought for a moment. "I'm taking her dinner to eat in bed before we have ours, and I think a glass would go wonderfully with her meal. If you'd like, you could take her a glass while I dish up her plate. She'll love you for it."
Warmth crept into Amanda's being as she thought of the older woman smiling as she brought her the glass of wine. Flashes of her own grandmother flickered for a moment making her smile inwardly. "I would be honored to take her a glass. She is a special woman, and you're so lucky to still have her in your life." She shrugged. "I lost both my parents several years ago and my grandmother at least a decade before that."
The confession had Raphaela reeling for a few moments. Something significantly has changed in this woman...almost akin to the Jekyll and Hyde story. "You never lose anything, especially people you love. They are always with you and today more so as you've remembered them. I'll let you uncork the wine and let it breathe for a few minutes. The glasses are in the cabinet to your left, and my grand-mère's bedroom is the second door on the right. I'll be in the kitchen," she said pointing to an open door. "Sing out if you need me. Dinner will be ready in about fifteen minutes, so don't let Luminitsa spellbind you with any of her stories." Raphaela winked and left the room.
As she watched the woman leave, Amanda realized she hadn't given her a corkscrew, so she did the only thing she could. "Raaaaphaeeeelaaaaa," she sang out. "Where can I find a corkscrew?" She finished her song with the flourish of a falsetto.
From the kitchen, laughter echoed around the house as Raphaela bent over in hilarity. Amanda Lawson is fun, and I'm even more pleased that she agreed to the dinner invitation. Barely able to talk, she finally managed, "In the drawer of the hutch with the glasses. Did anyone tell you never to audition for the opera?"
It was Amanda's turn to laugh. That felt good. Then, she couldn't resist. "Yes," she sang out before she found the corkscrew and opened the wine.
Raphaela popped her head inside the room and said, "Good, you're far too talented as a comedienne," before disappearing back into the kitchen.
Comedienne, indeed. While she waited for the wine to breathe, Amanda looked around the room and smiled when she heard Raphaela humming in the kitchen. With new eyes that saw the furnishings for the first time, she was impressed with not only the quality but also the quiet ambiance. The furniture was country French. The rich tones of the cherry wood with hand painted designs accented the contours, and what she suspected was hand-carved detailing. Several excellent Renoir and Monet prints adorned the walls along with a couple of magnificent portraits of a young woman who looked a lot like Raphaela. She didn't recognize the artist but intended to find out who it was. She stood and gazed approvingly at her most favorite Renoir-The Bathers. How apropos. Deciding that the wine had breathed enough, she poured a generous portion into the glass and headed down the hallway to Luminitsa's room. Tapping softly on the door, she waited.
"Enter, my dear, enter." Luminitsa's voice rang out.
Slowly and with some trepidation, Amanda opened the door and saw the older woman sitting up in her bed. "Raphaela said you might like a glass of wine." She saw Luminitsa's eyes light up. "I suspect she meant a small glass, but I thought you might enjoy a bit more since I understand claret is your favorite." She moved closer to the bed and handed the woman the glass.
"Oh, you lovely girl, that looks delicious. How are you my dear? We were worried about you." The older woman took the glass and sipped on the blood red liquid with relish. Her eyes rolled as she allowed the flavors to integrate with her senses.
Amanda had never really taken in Luminitsa completely and gazed at her intently. She could tell the woman had been, and still was, quite attractive. Her body appeared to be failing just as she saw her own grandmother's deteriorate with age. But, a fire in the dark eyes that told Amanda the woman's mind was strong and alert. "I...I wanted to ask...hmm...never mind, it wasn't that important." She felt blood rush to her face and was sure her cheeks were bright red.
With a charming, yet teasing twinkle in the eye, Luminitsa inclined her head slightly. "Don't be shy, Amanda, ask away. Ray isn't here, so you can ask about her if you want."
A genuine smiled filled Amanda's face. "It is nothing about your granddaughter," she said as she felt her face grow even hotter. "Although I must admit, she has made me smile and laugh today, which I really liked...it felt good." She sucked in a breath. "At our session this morning, did you see the face of the being you were communicating with?" Her eyes focused on the old woman. "I've been seeing someone in my dreams and...well..."
Luminitsa didn't answer immediately. She sipped her wine and she savored it and the question. "Raquel is a lovely creature, wouldn't you say? She might remind you a little of my granddaughter, except they are so different. You do share one thing with Raphaela, which is extraordinary."
"And that is?" Amanda asked.
Luminitsa placed a hand on Amanda's arm. A far away look in her eyes appeared as she answered, "You have the same spirit guide. Ray doesn't always heed her spirit guide-she prefers the herbal medicine side of our gift and often ignores other signs. That is a detriment to her at times. Raquel will guide you well, Amanda."
She pursed her lips. "Raquel came to me earlier while I was showering. It was as though she could read my thoughts, and I could swear I heard her voice, clear as a bell, speaking to me. How can that be?" she asked. "I don't understand...mostly, I don't understand why Raphaela and I share the same guide. I didn't think that happened."
There was a tentative knock on the door, and it opened as Raphaela peeked her head in. "If you two have finished talking about me, I'll bring in your dinner, Grand-mère." She entered the room and smiled at the sheepish look she received from both pairs of eyes. "Ah, so you were talking about me, shame on you both." Laughing, she placed the tray on her grand-mère's side table and leaned in to kiss Luminitsa's cheek tenderly.
Raphaela was so close that Amanda could feel the heat of her body. "We weren't talking about you really...it...it was more about me." Embarrassed, she looked away and was fearful that she'd see the two women trade knowing glances. She didn't know if it was the close proximity of Raphaela, Luminitsa, or the combination of them both that suddenly made her feel vulnerable. Taking a step backward, she tried to ease away from the women.
Raphaela felt the atmosphere change distinctly and gave the older woman an imperceptible nod before wishing her goodnight. She turned to Amanda with a friendly, but not over-powering smile and said, "Amanda, let's go eat, I'm hungry...what about you?" She stood at the threshold of the door and gallantly waved Amanda through. Before closing the door, Raphaela gazed fondly upon her grand-mère who was completely absorbed in not only the delicious meal but the wine, too. After Amanda and I finish dinner, I'll bring her a smaller refill as a nightcap. "I'll be back to check on you, Grand-mère, and wish you a good night later." Luminitsa looked up, smiled, and waved her granddaughter away with the flick of her fork. Raphaela smiled indulgently and followed Amanda to the dining room.
With a sparkle in her eyes, Raphaela replied. "You don't need to explain yourself to me, Amanda. I'm an open book-anything you want to know about me I'll gladly share. Of course, it means that there has to be a reciprocal agreement." Pointing to one of the dining chairs, she said, "Please sit, Amanda. Tonight, I'm going to treat you to one of my great-grand-mère's recipes, she was Spanish you know." By leaving the room to collect the dishes and serve their meal, Raphaela gave Amanda no time to dwell on what she perceived to be a problem that didn't exist.
Amanda blinked and shook her head at Raphaela's words and let a small smile crease her lips. How did I get so lucky? She watched the doorway with anticipation of what was to come. "It sure smells good," she called out.
Raphaela brought out the meal and placed it on the table. "Please, help yourself." Smiling at the generous portion Amanda took, Raphaela commented. "Looks like you're hungry."
The blush on her cheeks didn't stop Amanda from digging into the chicken. "Hmm, this is wonderful. Your great grandmother must have been a wonderful cook."
"Yes, she was."
Five minutes later, they were enthusiastically eating the scrumptious meal. Both women enjoyed the food so much that there was little in the way of chatter between them.
Raphaela looked across the table and remarked, "I'm sorry I didn't ask you sooner...would you like me to pour you a glass of the wine you brought?"
Amanda finished swallowing a mouthful of the best chicken she had ever eaten and placed her fork on the plate. "I'm not much of a wine drinker, besides with the meds I take it wouldn't be a good idea." She smiled broadly, as she picked up her water glass and sucked out the few remaining drops. "Actually, I was wondering if you were ever going to ask if I needed more water." A mischievous smile played around her lips. "I thought maybe only allowing your guest one glass of water was some weird gypsy custom. Had I known that, I would have rationed it better." Amanda couldn't stop the broad grin after seeing the horrified look on Raphaela's face.
"I'm sorry, Amanda. You must think I'm horrible hostess." She couldn't hide the red creeping along her cheeks. Then she noticed the sparkle in Amanda's eyes and realized she was teasing her.
"I was only joking," Amanda said as she finally gave into laughter.
Raphaela, too, succumbed to the need to laugh and soon they were both dabbing the tears from their eyes. What had happened wasn't very funny but proved to be a wonderful icebreaker. To Raphaela's surprise, the woman who arrived at their home only days earlier in a state of desperation was now emerging as a witty and charming woman. It is amazing. I wonder though, is it all a sham for the evening and for my benefit. "You're on to us gypsies, Amanda," she said with a grin "Why not get your own, and we can make it our very own custom...the guest gets her own refills. What do you think...shall we do that?" she replied with a twinkle of her own in the eyes.
"Sure, why not," Amanda eked out through her laughter and tears. She watched as her dinner partner brought her glass to her lips and lost it again. She took a deep breath and blew it out slowly as she tried to control her laughing fit-it didn't work. Finally, she said, "I'm sorry, I don't know why I think that is so funny. If you will excuse me, I will go to the kitchen and get some more water for myself."
Reaching over, Raphaela placed a gentle hand on Amanda's and felt the warmth and softness of the skin under her fingers. The experience of how pleasant it was to touch Amanda was not something she expected, and she removed her hand quickly. "No, let me."
"But, I thought..." Amanda looked down at her hand that still tingled from the brief contact with Raphaela.
"I was only teasing you; besides, you can fetch your own water next time." Raphaela stood up. "I'll be right back. Laughter is a wonderful tonic, isn't it?" Raphaela felt her senses responding to Amanda in a way that was foreign to her. I like the way it makes me feel. As she placed the water in front of the woman, she caught Amanda's eyes and asked, "Where did you meet Gwen for the first time?" She saw a hint of sadness and added, "Look, I'm sorry, that is way too personal of a question to ask." She spied the full water glass. "You can throw that water at me if you'd like."
"And, waste the water I finally got? Not a chance." Had anyone else asked her that question, Amanda would have instantly fallen into a deep depression, but she felt the need-no want-to tell Raphaela everything. "I taught English Literature at the university, and Gwen asked if she could audit my class." She smiled at the memory. "I remember her knocking on the doorframe of my office. When I looked up, I saw this angel in green scrubs standing there. After that, it was history as they say." She watched for any adverse reactions from the woman across from her and saw none. "I loved her from the first moment."
"It must be wonderful to have found someone you can love like that. I can't say I've ever been that fortunate. I envy you, Amanda, to have all those wonderful loving memories," Raphaela replied as she twirled the stem of her water glass.
Amanda looked intently at the woman and noticed just how beautiful she was. "It is inconceivable to me that you have not found love." Maybe she has been waiting for someone special. Again, she looked at Raphaela, and she felt the same way she did after the seizure when the woman held her. "Maybe you are waiting for someone special." She shrugged as she continued to hold the gaze. "Maybe you've already found the right someone." The vision of Raphaela hugging the doctor flashed into her mind, and she released the gaze.
Raphaela replied, "They say that everyone has another half, someone who mirrors his or her soul. They also say that you'll know that person when you meet him or her. Did I tell you my grand-père was a trapeze artist? He saw my grand-mère in the audience and knew instantly she was the one...he was fifty feet in the air at the time." A trickle of light laughter accompanied the story.
The sound of Raphaela's laughter was oddly familiar to Amanda. "I think that sometimes we can see that person, but we try to ignore what is evident to everyone else around us. There are so many stories in literature in which a character stares across a room at someone he or she doesn't know. As if in a dream, the character can pick up on a story the other person doesn't even know he or she is telling." She looked deeply into Raphaela's hazel eyes. "Sometimes it is imagination; other times it is one heart speaking to another."
A warm smile appeared on Raphaela's face as she listened to Amanda. In many ways, she speaks just like Grand-mère. "You and my grand-mère must get together over coffee one day and trade thoughts. I think you'll be infinitely surprised at how alike you think and feel about life. I'm the more practical one in the partnership, or that's how my grand-mère views me. Practical isn't so bad, and it helps others. I don't want to spoil the mood, Amanda, but did you find what you were looking for today?"
Amanda heard the question but focused on the word partnership. "You're lucky you have your grandmother. It's sad to be alone." She stared at her plate. "People have so many good intentions and promise to be there for you, but in the end, they forget you...forget their promises." She lifted her eyelids. "Not that I blame them. They all had lives of their own to live." Although her words should be those of someone who is sad and depressed, she was neither. "In answer to your last question, I don't know if I found what I was looking for, but I know something has definitely changed." A playful yet serious look crossed her face. "Would you like to go to Starbucks with me sometime? You never know, we may have similar thoughts, too." She winked then looked hopefully at Raphaela.
With a burst of laughter at the audacious pick up line, Raphaela nodded. "Sure thing, I have a free lunchtime on Friday when Clara comes over to clean the house. I usually do a full day at the clinic, and she takes care of my grand-mère. Besides, how did you know I love Starbucks? Oh, don't tell me," she said holding her hand against her forehead. "Next you're going to say the type of coffee I love. Right? And they call us mind readers...tsk, tsk," Raphaela replied. "I hope you've left some space for dessert. I make a mean apple and cinnamon pie." Still chuckling, she stood, collected the plates, and left for the kitchen and the final course of the meal.
Amanda watched her leave then stood up and stretched. After picking up some cutlery and other utensils, she followed Raphaela into the kitchen. She stood quietly and watched as the woman placed the dishes in the sink then moved down the counter to the waiting pie. She took in the motion of Raphaela's hips, back, and shoulders that were broad and definitely proud. Her body reacted, and she had to look away for fear that the woman might pick up on her thoughts. "Um...I brought these out for you," she said holding up the items.
Without turning around, Raphaela replied, "Thanks, you didn't have to do that, but I appreciate it. Would you do a favor for me and take a glass of wine to my grand-mère? I thought she might like a nightcap." She looked at the wall clock. "She might be sleeping now, but with her you just never know. Oh, a small glass please, or I'll have her singing through the night, and she, believe it or not, is worse than you!" This time Raphaela did turn and winked to take any sting out of her comment. The look she saw in Amanda's eyes confused her but sent tingles down her spine.
She caught me; I know it. I bet she read my mind. Amanda felt her cheeks heating up as she said, "Sure thing." She moved toward the wine bottle on the counter. "Might as well just take the bottle and pour some in the glass she already has." She reached for the bottle and her hand brushed against the soft skin of Raphaela's arm. "Sorry," she said refusing to make eye contact. It has been a long time, but I still remember what being turned on feels like. "I'll be right back." At a speed that surprised her, she left the kitchen.
Surprised to hear her name, Amanda slowly pushed the door back open-the old woman appeared to be fast asleep. She took hold of the doorknob and began to pull until she saw a light creep in the room from a break in the curtains. Gradually, it moved across the room until it shone only on the old woman.
"Amanda, the one you seek holds your life in her hands. Trust and she will keep you safe."
"What? Who?" she said as her eyes fixed on Luminitsa who did not move.
The light began to recede and soon the only illumination in the room came from the hallway lights. Amanda sucked in a deep breath. Raquel, I know you can read my mind. You've given me too many cryptic messages already today. Please just let me enjoy the evening with Raphaela.
Amanda tried to shake Raquel's words from her head the entire walk back to the dining room. One look at the woman who waited for her erased all thoughts of anything but Raphaela. "Yes, she was snoring softly." She spied the dessert and licked her lips. "That looks really yummy."
"Thank you. Eat as much as you want. I hate to admit this, but I'll probably have seconds-this is my favorite." Raphaela placed the platter in the middle, positioned a piece of pie on each of their plates, and handed the cream to Amanda.
Pouring the cream over the pie, Amanda felt her mouth react to the sight. She cut a generous piece and brought it to her mouth. "This is marvelous."
Raphaela grinned at the expression on Amanda's face. She looks like an excited child. It would be so easy to just sit here and watch her changing features. She didn't want to be rude and began eating her pie slowly as she covertly watched Amanda. Amanda had polished off the first piece, and she offered her more, which the woman took with a delightful greedy expression. "When you come over for dinner again, I'll have to make you a pie to take home." She hadn't realized that she had spoken her thoughts aloud.
"So we can do this again? I mean, have dinner together?" Amanda asked.
With a surprised glance at Amanda, who looked as if she was sure she had heard incorrectly, she nodded. The expressions on her dinner companion's face made Raphaela want to reassure her by hugging her close. "Well, yes. We get on so well it would be a pity to let our new-found friendship disappear. Wouldn't you agree? I was actually thinking that if it's not too much of a liberty, once a week would be good. Or, whatever you want; I'll be happy whenever you want to venture over."
Amanda had to push her excitement down but was afraid that the grin on her face gave her away. I want to see her again and again. Although the thought sounded strange, it had the ring of truth, and she knew it was right. "Too much of a liberty...I think not. Perhaps it is not enough of a liberty since I was actually thinking of more often."
With a laugh, Raphaela shook her head. "Only if I give you lessons so that you can reciprocate one day. Frozen cod really doesn't do much for my palate." She caught Amanda's eyes and saw genuine happiness. This is good. No, it is great. If people only took the time with others, they might be surprised at how much they gain from that effort. She knew that today her grand-mère's instincts had been right on the button; and now she had a new friend, and one she felt as comfortable with as she did Sun. Then it dawned on her where she had seen the strange expression that Amanda had worn earlier in the kitchen-Sun. Sun looks at me like that before rushing away. Odd, really odd. "I'm going to put these in the sink. Would you like to choose some music for us to listen to?"
"Why don't I help you, then we can choose the music together."
"Sounds good to me," she said over her shoulder as she headed for the kitchen. "I have an even better idea; I'm going to provide us with another new tradition-we share the clean up duties. That way I won't get up in half an hour to clean up. I hate having dirty dishes around." Raphaela laughed self-consciously at her habit.
"Lead on." As Amanda followed Raphaela into the kitchen, she watched her hips sway gracefully. Feelings began surfacing that she had buried long ago. As they stood side by side doing the dishes, she saw the woman's nostrils flare slightly in what Amanda thought was more rapid breathing. We are close enough to touch, close enough to... Don't go there! You don't even know if she is interested in you that way. Still, she breathed in deeply and imaged that she was capturing the same air that had passed through Raphaela's lungs.
It was a strange sensation sharing this most basic of chores with another person. As Raphaela passed the clean dishes to Amanda, their fingers occasionally touched, and she felt a tingling sensation going through her nerve endings. It was disconcerting. Never had she felt this before, and she didn't know how to handle them. Where do I turn to find out what this means? Taking a deep breath, she could faintly smell the perfume that Amanda wore. Her sensitive nose picked up the differing scents that the perfume produced-the over-riding aroma of roses came to mind. "Hope you don't mind my asking, Amanda, but what perfume do you use?"
Taken aback by the question, Amanda didn't know what to say before stammering out, "Hmm, it's Design." She felt her body tremble as their shoulders briefly touched. She didn't know why the feelings were surfacing for Raphaela, but they were. With each breath and passing moment that she was next to the woman, they intensified and screamed for release. I know I have stood next to her like this before, but we only met a few days ago. "Do you like it?"
"Yes, it's made up of essences of my favorite flower-the rose. All done," she said drying her hands on a towel. "Thanks for your help; it made short work of that. Now, let's find out if we have similar tastes in music. I'll lead the way since the equipment is in another room."
"Another room?" A smiled played around her lips as she added, "My dear, Raphaela, are you going to show me your etchings?"
For a second, Raphaela was flustered and then realized that Amanda was teasing her. Gaining her composure quickly, she retaliated, "I could if that's what you want, but frankly, mixing herbs and logging them down on charts might not be your idea of etchings." She thought for a moment before adding, "Though I do sketch them, and according to some people, I'm pretty good. That's the talent part from my father. The room where we listen to music is just down the hall."
Amanda couldn't help herself and laughed. She was having a wonderful time and it was all thanks to the wonderful woman next to her. "Oh, then I'd love to see them, but first, may I use your bathroom?"
"Oh, I really am a poor hostess. You can tell I don't do this very often, can't you?" Raphaela pointed to the door to the left in the hallway. "The room where I'll be is opposite the bathroom. I'll go ahead and choose something relaxing."
Raphaela smiled as she went into the room. The fire in the fireplace was in need of another couple of logs to give it more life. The room was a small, cozy area that held a two-seat sofa and a recliner, with a coffee table between them. In the corner of the room was a mini music system that suited the diminutive size of the room. Looking at the rack of CDs, she carefully selected a music compilation of her favorite tracks of baroque music, which was a soothing safe bet. She adjusted the sound level so that it wasn't too loud but drifted around the room giving it an easy ambiance.
Closing the bathroom door, Amanda leaned against it and sighed. She could feel the tingles of pain start and wished that she had thought to bring her medication. I never thought I would be here this long, or that I'd have such a good time. Closing her eyes tightly, she willed the pain to stay away. "Please, just a few more hours," she whispered. A memory of a time years ago invaded her mind...
"Hmm, I agree. It has been a long time since I slept so soundly."
They walked hand in hand along the crest of a hillside overlooking Cayuga Lake when Amanda lost her footing and tumbled twenty feet down a rocky crevice. Gwen had tried to hold onto Amanda's hand, but the force of the fall caused her to let go. Scrambling down the side of the hill, she came to her lover lying among jagged bits of rock.
"Amanda, Amanda, don't move until I can check you out," Gwen ordered as she knelt down.
Amanda looked up and didn't know whether to laugh or cry. "How would you rate that fall? I think a ten is in order."
Gwen eyed the woman. "You must really be hurt 'cause joking is what you do when that happens." Gently she probed Amanda's lower body then her ribs and that made her yelp in pain. "Sorry," Gwen said as she lifted Amanda's shirt and examined the area. "Looks like you have bruised your ribs, but that's all, no fractures." Gwen had spent fifteen years working as an emergency room nurse and had seen her fair share of broken ribs, and she was certain that was not the case.
"I knew there was a reason that it hurts to breathe," Amanda quipped.
"Just lie still until I check out your arms, neck, and head." Carefully, she felt around Amanda's neck and shoulders then gently kneaded her head. "All seems to be okay there." When she picked up the left arm, her lover wailed.
"Ow, that hurts! Don't be so rough."
Gwen took off her light jacket, found a tree limb, and fashioned a support for the arm. "I think your arm is broken. Do you think you can make it back to the car?"
Sucking in deeply, Amanda replied, "Yes, I can do it."
"Good, that's my girl. I'm going to help you stand up. If at anytime you feel pain or think you can't do it, let me know."
"Sure," Amanda said trying to hold back the threatening tears.
"Hey, it's okay to cry." Gwen bent down and kissed Amanda's cheek. "Are you ready?" When Amanda nodded, she straddled the woman then reached under Amanda's arms before lifting her upright.
Fifteen minutes later, they were in the car heading for the closest hospital. Gwen looked over and saw Amanda's face contorted in pain. Reaching over she touched a hand balled up in a fist. "Relax, babe."
"You try to do that. It hurts Gwen!"
"If you do what I tell you the pain will go away."
"Yeah, right," Amanda scoffed.
"Just do what I say. First relax your hand." When she saw her fingers, extend she continued. "Now I want you to breathe in deeply through your nose, hold it, and then blow it out through your mouth." She watched as Amanda did as she said and smiled when she saw her yawn. "Good, you are relaxing."
"But, it still hurts."
"Now, I want you to concentrate on the pain and ask yourself if it is stronger than you."
Amanda frowned. "Hell, no."
"Good. Now tell the pain if that is as bad as it is going to get, it might as well go away."
When Amanda walked inside the room, Raphaela immediately noted the marked changes in the woman's features. "Hi, I've taken the easy route with this selection. Take a seat...the recliner is wonderful. I'll be right back."
Amanda sat in the chair and lifted the leg rest. Leaning her head back, she let her shoulders relax and was soon lost in the music that seemed to surround her. Her mind focused on challenging the pain so intently; that she really didn't know what was playing, but in a way, it soothed her.
Raphaela headed for her herb room, and within seconds, she had the required powders she needed and ground them together with her mortar and pestle. Satisfied that she had the correct mixture she noted what she had done, and then she slipped inside the kitchen. She placed her potion inside a glass, filled it with water, and stirred it briskly. As she entered the room, she saw Amanda in the armchair with a distinct look of pain on her face-I made the right call. "Here's my special version of a night cap for you. Drink this, Amanda. It's going to make you feel a little better."
Amanda opened her eyes and focused on Raphaela who held out a glass of what appeared to be water. The one you seek holds your life in her hands. Trust and she will keep you safe. The words echoed in her head as she took the glass and drank. "Thank you." She eyed the woman. "I guess you know."
Unsure of what Amanda was referring to, Raphaela blinked rapidly a couple of times and smiled. "You have a very expressive face. Why don't you relax for a while and then we'll call it a day? Let's face it, you've packed an awful lot into today, and right now your body is saying it needs some rest."
Grateful for Raphaela's understanding of her condition, Amanda stood up. She was face to face with a woman whom she knew but didn't know how or why. The only thing she knew for sure was that she didn't want to let her go. Moving a step closer, she pulled Raphaela to her and hugged her tightly. "Thank you for everything," she whispered.
It was a moment Raphaela would remember for the rest of her life. Lightening surged through her body as Amanda held her, and it was the most perfect moment of her life. This morning, Amanda was an annoying stranger, now she is...certainly a friend I know...have I always known her but refused to admit it? "Anytime, I'm here for you whenever you need me. Now, I think it's time for bed."
Amanda couldn't resist. "Yours or mine?"
Raphaela burst out laughing easing the tension that was growing in the room. "Next time, I might take you up on that offer. Right now, Ms. Lawson, it's time to go home and rest that body of yours. Although, I can make up the spare room if you'd prefer...it wouldn't be any trouble."
"As delightful as that sounds, I really do need to go home and take my meds." She leaned in and gently kissed Raphaela's cheek "I'll show myself out."
Raphaela shook her head. "Let me get at least one thing right as the hostess tonight...I'll show you out." After Raphaela opened the front door, she felt a keen sense of loss as Amanda stood on the doorstep. "Safe journey home, Amanda. Call me tomorrow, and we can arrange another...dinner." I almost said date. How stupid would that have sounded?
Amanda smiled. "What time do you get up? I like to call early."
Raphaela shook her head in amusement. "Is six too early for you?"
Not wanting to leave just yet, Amanda replied, "Not at all. Expect a call from me then. Maybe you can slip out for coffee...better yet...your grandmother should come with us."
The mention of her grand-mère made Amanda more endearing to her than she had already become. "Grand-mère doesn't travel far, but who knows? I'll mention it to her, though not at six...she's more a brunch type of person."
Amanda smiled, leaned in, and kissed Raphaela gently on the lips. "Until tomorrow." She turned and whistled all the way to her car.
Raphaela was so astonished at the feelings boiling to the surface when Amanda kissed her that she was unable to close the door until Amanda's car was totally out of sight. Finally, she walked back into the house, down the hall, and into the room that they had just occupied. She sank down into the armchair that Amanda had vacated and breathed in deeply smelling the perfume that still invaded the room. What is happening to me?