Subtext: Maintext, as far as I'm concerned. In fact, that's the whole point. This story concerns two women in a romantic relationship, and is mildly graphic (probably an R at the movies). If you are under 18, or this bothers you, or is illegal where you live, please leave now.
I would love feedback. (This is my first time, and I'm pretty nervous.) Please contact me with comments or suggestions at Sandakat@hotmail.com. Homophobic vitriol, however, will be jettisoned into electronic oblivion.
I would also like to thank my beta readers, Catherine and Gin for their invaluble help and encouragement and needed nudges.
3am. The paramedic call had come in, man down, smoke inhalation in a burning warehouse. Now in full arrest. Paramedics unable to intubate. CPR in progress.
Damn, this is getting to be a long night, thought the doctor to herself, glancing up to the wall clock while opening the intubation tray. Selecting a tube, she inserted the stilet, lubed the end with KY jelly and put the straight blade on the laryngoscope and snapped it open to check the light. Typical, she thought bitterly as the bulb stubbornly remained dark. Tightening the bulb did the trick and she relaxed slightly and surveyed the room. Two nurses and the EMT were ready and waiting.
The respiratory therapist arrived just as the ambulance burst in. A huge soot covered black man lay on the gurney, his arm dangling limply off the side. A paramedic at his head held the mask on his face and was bagging him as they rolled. A second paramedic ran beside the gurney as one firefighter steered the feet and one stood on the bottom rails, riding and doing CPR. All reeked of smoke and had lines of soot covered sweat running down their faces and necks.
"Sorry we couldn't intubate, too much smoke. We scooped and ran. Got the line en route." They swung him onto the ER gurney. "He's had two rounds of epi and two of atropine."
"Vitals on scene?" Dr. Rene Covington grabbed her tube and laryngoscope as the respiratory therapist took the Ambu and the EMT took over CPR. The firefighters quickly melted out of the room.
"Bradycardic, with a faint pulse. He became asystolic on the way in."
She nodded to the respiratory therapist, who grabbed the Ambu and moved out of the way while the nurses attached the cardiac monitor. Pushing some wayward blond bangs behind her ear, she slid the laryngoscope into his mouth. She couldn't see anything. No, the light was working. His mouth was filled with soot. Where were the damn cords? There. She pushed the tube through and inflated the balloon on the end of it. "OK, bag."
The respiratory therapist attached the bag to the ET tube and she listened as he forced oxygen into the man's lungs. "Good breath sounds".
Glancing at the monitor, "Hold CPR, what's his rhythm?" A flat line rode across the screen. "Continue CPR, one epi, one atropine." A nurse hurried to give the meds while the other charted drugs and time.
She felt for the pulse at his groin. OK, good pulses with CPR.
She looked for the paramedic. "Down time?"
He consulted his clipboard. "We found him about 2:45, he became asystolic about 3:00."
Dr. Covington glanced again at the clock, 3:20am. She checked his pupils - fixed and dilated. "Hold CPR. Rhythm?"
"Still asystole, Doc," answered the nurse.
"Keep pumping, one more round, one epi and one atropine."
Ten minutes later, nothing had changed. "OK everyone, lets stop here. Time of death 3:30am. Thank you all for trying."
Everyone stepped back and stopped. The respiratory therapist unhooked the Ambu bag, turned off the oxygen and left the room without a word. The EMT went to find a shroud bag and the two nurses grabbed the chart to finish filling in times, meds and vitals.
Dr. Covington stood looking quietly at the man they'd tried so hard to save. The man's work shirt had been cut off but he still had on the gray work pants with the thin stripe down the legs. She guessed he was in his mid fifties. Probably the night watchman, caught and disoriented in the smoke. He couldn't get out and collapsed.
Suddenly, the hairs and her arms and the back of her neck stood up, like a chill breeze wafting by. She felt eyes on her back. Spinning around, she fell into the palest pair of blue eyes she'd ever seen.
The firefighter was standing at the back wall of the room. It was the same one who'd been doing CPR on the way in. Rene hadn't realized the firefighter was a woman.
Her tall frame leaned tiredly against the wall, her muscular arms crossed loosely over her LAFD navy tee shirt. Her yellow turnout coat, which dangled from one hand, and pants were grayed with ash and soot and her de riguer red suspenders were twisted where they rode over her shoulders. Her black hair was tied in a pony tail which was caught up against the back of her head in a small clip.
She'd obviously just washed her face. A few shining drops still sparkled around the edges of her bangs and neck. Her eyes stared at Rene out of dark, tired sockets.
"Didn't make it?" she asked.
"No," Rene shook her head, as much to break the connection with those eyes as to answer. She rubbed the back of her neck, which still tingled.
"Pretty much dead when he got here?"
"Yeah. But we gotta try. Sometime those asphyxial arrests will come back quick with oxygen, if we can get them fast enough. We gotta try, for his wife and kids, too." She waved at his palid hand with it's gold ring on the fourth finger.
"OK." She stood up to leave.
"Good fire?" Rene didn't know what made her ask, except that firefighters usually didn't hang around, especially at this hour. They wanted to go back to their fire, or back to bed. This woman was delaying the engine company. Why? And those eyes.
The woman grinned, displaying a dazzling array of fine white teeth. "It was great fun. We were inside doing knockdown and cleanup. The fire was pretty much out." Well, that explained why she could take this time. "Then I stumbled across him, and you know the rest."
"Well, you guys gave it a good try."
A head peeked around the corner into the room. "Hey, let's go!"
She nodded at the other firefighter. "Gotta go," she smiled at the doctor. "See ya ‘round."
"Uh, yeah, see you."
The woman turned and walked out, throwing on her turnout jacket as she went. Rene got a glimpsed of ‘Pakadios' stenciled on the back under ‘LAFD' as she left.
Dr. Covington shoved one of her hands into the pocket of her lab coat while the other rubbed her neck again. Funny, that tingling was gone now. Chalking it up to stress and late night, she strolled back to the nurses station and grabbed the four charts of the patients waiting to be seen. Let's see, belly pain, belly pain, febrile kiddie, and ankle pain for six months. She noted the time. At 4am. OK. Goody. "Let me know if we get any family of the burn victim, OK?" she asked the charge nurse. "Sure Doc," trailed behind her as she went to evaluate the next patient.
Dina Pakadios rubbed her forearm as she sat in the jumpseat of the engine now making its way casually back to the station. Nope, no burn. That tingling she'd felt back at the hospital had been a strange thing. Probably too much smoke and not enough sleep. Funny, it was gone now.
Back at the station, she wandered into the kitchen, searched for some ice tea, and debated whether it was worth trying to catch two hours of sleep before her AM relief came in. Sitting down on the bench of the picnic table that served as their dinner table, she pulled over yesterday's Times and proceeded to stare at the metro section.
"Hey Pakadios." A tall blond, crew cutted surfer boy of a firefighter, Ray Bowen, strutted into the kitchen. Not her favorite person, he had a penchant for harassing most of the guys smaller than him and all of the women. His opinion of himself as hero and all around stud hovered somewhere between astronomical and ridiculous.
Without lifting her head, she raised an eyebrow in his general direction.
"Trying to make time with the Doc?" He grabbed a coke out of the refrigerator. "She is really cute but I don't know if she's your type. She was looking pretty interested last time I was there."
"Oh, get over yourself," chimed in the engineer, Jose Saavedra, as he joined them. "She's just really friendly, like. She talks to everyone, makes you feel special. But I ain't seen her give no special attention to no one."
Dina stood up. "Maybe I will get a few hours sleep." She pushed past the smirking Ray.
The next day, at the crack of 4pm, Dr. Rene Covington blearily dragged her carcass out of bed and into the bathroom. She splashed water on her face and stared into the mirror. A wild tangle of long strawberry blond hair attested to a restless day's sleep, despite ear plugs and blackout shades. Sea green eyes stared back at her, red rimmed. She poked at the skin next to her eye, grimacing. Wrinkles already. These nights will age you quickly. Four in a row. Yuck.
She wandered back into her bedroom and rummaged in a drawer, finally pulling out a well worn tank top on the back of which was printed ‘Detroit, where the weak are killed and eaten', and a pair of obnoxiously multicolored cotton shorts. Tank top in October, humph, she thought with a sneer.
Rene Covington had been living in LA for only six months. At 28 years old, she'd already been out of her residency for over two years. Through much luck and more charm, she's gotten into a special program that gave her both BA and MD in six years instead of eight. She'd done her residency in Detroit, and then stayed on as staff to teach students and residents. After 11/2 years, she'd gotten fried on the systemic abuse of those she was trying to teach and had quit to work as a "doctor in the pits" in a community hospital.
Coming from a suburb of Cincinnati, she was ready to try something a little warmer and a lot different than the Midwest. LA sounded perfect - warm winter, nonhumid summers, the ocean and all kinds of different people.
So here she was, working nights in an inner city ER. Her medical Spanish was improving rapidly and she could distinguish between three or four Asian dialects. She enjoyed the nurses and the other doctors and was getting to know the cops, paramedics and firefighters that would come by the department.
She'd lucked into sharing a three bedroom house in Torrance, that almost had an ocean view (it was just over the hill, up the block). Erin, her roommate, was working her way through USC film school as a bartender. They'd turned into great friends, aided especially by their weird work hours.
By and large, life was good. But days like today, after a string of nights, tended to find her less than cheery.
She shuffled into the kitchen. Coffee? Shower? Coffee? Shower? She stared at the coffee pot, which stubbornly refused to make itself. Coffee first or shower first? Too many choices. Coffee. She pulled the coffee out of the freezer, ground it and poured enough for a full pot into the coffee maker and filled it with water. As it started dripping, she opened the cabinet door. Shit, no clean mugs. Is the dishwasher clean or dirty?
The kitchen was of modest size but was fairly new. It had a functioning, if loud, refrigerator, a microwave and dishwasher. Large cabinets, stained a dark oak color, lined two walls with a large window over the sink occupying the third wall. It stared directly out to their neighbor's house, 15 feet away. So it stayed permanently covered with an unbleached cotton curtain they'd bought at Home Depot. The counters were tiled in gray and white with a black border, and were well occupied with a toaster oven , a radio, multiple cutting boards and a rack with a few bottles of wine resting hopefully in it.
Rene bent over to look at the sign on the dishwasher. It was simply a piece of lined paper with "clean" on one side and "dirty" on the other, held in place by two refrigerator magnets which advertised an antipsychotic and a pain killer, respectively. Thankfully, today, it said "clean". Erin must have run it before she left.
She emptied it, leaving out one mug with KCRW Public Radio LA imprinted in bold, happy letters on it. A cup and a half later, the doctor was feeling more human and it seemed that both eyes were definitely pointing in the same direction for the first time. "OK, shower, then breakfast. Grabbing the cup, she ambled back into the bathroom.
Over her breakfast of microwaved leftovers and the last of the pot of coffee, Rene contemplated the remains of her day. 5:30 already. Great day. Well, at least I'm off for two more. Wednesday night, not much on TV. She glanced at the calendar which was hung by a nail on one of the cabinets. It was covered with a complicated mishmash of Erin's class and work schedule and Rene's schedule. Erin's working ‘till midnight, could drop by, or read, or clean the house. She shook her head. Not housecleaning. News, then go visit Erin. Decision made, she plopped full length onto the couch with her head on the armrest.
OK , news. She clicked the remote. Channel 4, newswoman with bad hair and permatanned weatherman, or channel 8 - white guy with bad hair and obnoxious sportscaster, or channel 11 - one black newsman, a latina newswoman and an oriental sportscaster? She settled on the multicultural news.
His name was James Stokes. He'd been 56. Night security for the warehouse. The fire had started in a corner on the far side from the security booth. The place had filled with smoke so quickly that he'd become disoriented and was overcome before he could find his way out. It was the third warehouse fire this month. Police were looking for a serial arsonist, now a murderer.
So, now she knew. He'd still been John Doe when Rene's shift had ended. The police hadn't even come into the ER yet.
She lay there through the national news and was finally forced off the couch when, about halfway through Wheel of Fortune, she began to feel that her brain was falling out of her ears and pooling on the floor
The place where Erin bartended was in downtown LA, in the business district, surrounded by high rise banks, hotels and offices. The clientele tended toward after work suits and traveling businessmen with a few tourists and post theater folk thrown in. People watching was around a B+ level. Rene was an inveterate people watcher, and hanging out where she knew the employees kept her safe from unwanted advances.
Finally dressed in a pale denim shirt, black jeans and sockless Sperry topsiders, a legacy of her Midwestern past, she hopped into her venerable Honda Accord and headed off for the 405 freeway. A small fender bender on the Harbor freeway delayed her slightly, but soon she was negotiating the ever changing streets of downtown. Miraculously, a parking space opened up about a block from the bar, and she was in shortly after nine.
The place was packed tonight. Rene made her way down the length of the long bar, through the masses of sitting, standing and schmoozing humanity. She pulled up a stool at the very end of the bar, near the long dark hallway that lead first to the bathrooms, then to a small alcove with a phone, and finally to a fire exit into the back alley.
"Some convention in town," Erin leaned over and yelled into Rene's ear.
Rene grinned at her. "Good for people watching. Check out the guy in the gray suit with the purple tie. I give him an 8.5 for effort." Erin studied the unfolding drama carefully. "But he only gets a 6 for approach. Scoring potential, I'd say, about a 3." They giggled.
Rene was content to sit, sipping a beer, as Erin got busy again. Luckily, no one was hitting on her. It seemed she'd effectively seated herself outside of the shark pool.
"Erin, hold my seat, gotta pee." Her roommate nodded, concentrating on pouring a beer.
She got off of her stool, made a right into the hallway, and went past the men's room to the ladies. As she pushed the door to go in, the feeling of a cool breeze blew across the back of her neck, raising the hair on her neck and arms. Strange feeling again, she noted.
"Look honey, don't you want to spend some time with us?" a man's voice rumbled from the phone alcove as Rene emerged from the bathroom.
"Just back off buster, I just want to make a phone call," an annoyed female voice answered.
"Just one kiss, baby," slurred a second male voice.
"I said back off."
Oh, this doesn't sound good. Rene stopped and peeked around the corner. Two large men, both well over six feet, looking like ex football players, had blockaded a woman into the phone alcove. She was tall, herself, and stood, surprisingly, with her arms crossed over her chest. Aggravation, not fear, showed on her features. Blue eyes glared narrowly at the men.
She seemed familiar. Rene couldn't place her, but she knew that she didn't like the situation, even if the woman looked calm and in control.
One of the men stepped closer. He was only a few inches now from her face. "Oh yeah, you gonna stop us?" He started to reach for her.
"Melinda, there you are. We've been looking for you." Rene stepped between the men, who spun to stare at her in surprise. "Come on and join us." The doctor reached in and grabbed the woman by the wrist, pulling her out past the two men. "How did you get in past us?" She hauled her out of the hallway back to the bar. "There, I think that's done." She dropped the wrist and stared up into the pale blue eyes which looked down at her with some amusement. "You're the firefighter in the ER last night. Pakadios wasn't it?"
The dark haired woman shook her head and laughed, "You're Doctor Covington. It took me a minute. I could've handled those guys."
"Well, this way was painless and bloodless. Besides, how was I to know? It looked like a bad situation."
"True. Thanks for rescuing me. By the way, why did you call me Melinda?"
"It's the first thing that came to mind. I don't know your first name. I'm Rene, by the way." She stuck out her hand and found it engulfed in a firm grasp.
"Dina. It's just that I had a great aunt named Melinda. I'm supposed to look a lot like her and that's not a common name." She shrugged. "No big deal."
"Rats, lost my seat." Rene looked over at Erin, who saw her, shrugged and held up her hands. "Oh well, no biggie, we'll stand. How'd you get yourself in that predicament anyway?"
Dina was dressed in jeans and a white polo shirt with sneakers. Her long hair hung down in a single braid. Not the usual hunting attire in this bar. Although, Rene noted, the white shirt beautifully highlighted the bronze of her skin.
"A friend was supposed to meet me here but apparently he flaked. I was going to call him when those goons trapped me."
"Boyfriend?" Now what made me ask that? "Sorry, none of my business."
"No, no. A friend who wanted to cry about problems with his boyfriend. I suspect they've reconciled." They both grinned. "So, where's your group?"
"Huh?" Rene was clueless.
"The group, the "we" who've been waiting for me to join you?"
"Nope, just me. I'm hanging out with my roommate. She's tending bar. I had a night off and I was bored."
"Well, then, let me buy you a drink for saving me."
"Sure, I'll take a dark, whatever they have on tap."
"Yeah, my favorite, too. Back in a minute." She eyed the crowd between her and the bar, "maybe two."
As she made her way through the masses, Rene reached her hands over her head and waved. Erin caught her movement, then her glance. Rene waved two fingers with one hand and pointed at Dina. Erin grinned, nodded and winked.
The doctor studied the firefighter as she fought her way to the bar. Underdressed for this place as she was, she still stood out. Rene estimated her at nearly six feet tall. While slim, her close fitting jeans revealed a musculature at least equal to her well defined arms. Nice butt, she mused to herself, then mentally slapped herself on the hand. None of that now.
Dina was back sooner than expected. The throng had simply parted to let her through. One look from her had done the trick.
"Here you go." She handed Rene her drink with a small lopsided smile. "I guess I still owe you one. Your roommate wouldn't let me pay."
"Well, you got through a lot faster that I would've. I seem to become invisible to people in a crowd. And, I always get carded at any other bar," she added wistfully. "How'd you get them to move?"
Dina shrugged. "I guess I have many skills." She took a quick sip of her beer as a sudden electric thrill ran up her back. Rene, she noted, had a strange puzzled look on her face.
"Yeah, just had a strange feeling. It's gone now."
Dina raised an eyebrow but decided not to pursue it. "You do look pretty young. How long have you been a doctor?"
"Oh god, everyone asks that." She pushed a lock of hair out of her face and tucked it behind her ear. "I've been out of my residency for a little over two years." Dina looked at her blankly. "I've been out of med school six years. I'm not a kid." She added with an edge creeping into her voice.
She stared down into her beer and took a deep breath. "Sorry about that. I'm just a little fried on ‘You're too young to be a doctor, dearie', and people looking past me for the real doctor." Shaking her head, she looked up again and met Dina's eyes with a smile. "So, how about you? How long have you been with the fire department?"
"Three years," came the terse reply.
Rene looked expectantly into her face, but nothing more came. OK, I'm gonna have to carry this conversation. "That's not very long. What'd you do before that?"
It had seemed an innocuous question, but Rene was dismayed when Dina's face suddenly shut down. Her eyes became cold.
"Sorry." Rene held up her hands. "Bad question. I'm just nosy. You don't have to answer."
Dina looked down momentarily, then stared back into Rene's eyes, a lopsided grin growing slowly. "No, that's OK. I had a studio. A kick boxing and martial arts studio. It, uh, didn't work out. So, I decided to go into a line of work that was still very physical."
Realization dawned on the doctor. She blushed. "I see what you mean about handling those guys earlier. I feel pretty silly."
"Don't. Not many people know that." She drained her beer, found an empty corner of a table and set down the glass. "Well, I've got to get up early tomorrow. I better go. Tommy's obviously a no show." She turned to leave.
"I hope I didn't upset you." Rene stood, holding her glass with both hands. Green eyes searched out Dina's face.
The firefighter turned back. Something in the voice had rung with a sincerity she hadn't heard in a very long time. The doctor, she realized, was actually concerned that she'd disturbed her. She met and fell into the green depth of those eyes. Ancient eyes. The thought flashed by. And something very familiar and warm. She wanted to lean in and stay there. No. She tore herself away.
"No. I just don't like to think about it. It's OK. But, I do have some stuff to do early." She paused but couldn't think of anything else to say. "See ya round."
"Yeah." Rene stared at the parting crowd as Dina made her way out. What happened there? A door had opened into time. For just a second she'd felt the weight of centuries reaching through to her in a shade of glacial blue. She'd wanted to reach in and pull it back, to keep it close. Always. Then it was gone, and so was the woman.
Rene wove her way back to the bar and put down her glass. "I'm heading home. See ya."
Erin was busy cleaning and racking glasses between pulling out bottles and mixing drinks. "She's a looker. Watcha think?" she found the time to say, looking inquiringly at Rene.
"Yeah," she said thoughtfully, "But I don't know… There's something different in there. Catch you later."
She fought her way to the door, fending off a few groping hands, and stepped out into the cool night air. Funny, she thought as she walked quickly to her car, that strange tingling is gone again. She pulled out, aiming for the freeways home.
With both hands in a white knuckled death grip on the steering wheel, Dina leaned forward and tried to negotiate surface streets home. "Goddamn changing street construction", she muttered as she tried again to make a left, only to be met with another concrete barrier and an arrow labeled ‘detour' pointing back the way she'd come. Finally, she gave up and made three rights, over a series of blocks which wrapped her under and over two freeways - she didn't know or care which - and ended up south on Figueroa. She relaxed a little, leaning back in her seat, but still mentally cursing the vagaries of city council construction financing and the idiocy of putting a subway under a city that regularly shakes at its roots. As she made her right onto Olympic Blvd., a straight shot to her apartment, she ran her hand over her forearm and was surprised to find that the electrical feeling she'd had since walking into the bar was completely gone.
Finally home, she lay in bed, hands behind her head, and stared at the ceiling waiting for sleep. Dr. Covington's look of concern kept intruding into her thoughts. Well, that was pretty brave of her to step between those guys. How many people would do that for a stranger? I should thank her better. Yeah, next time I see her. I can always stop be the ER. … She is cute, really cute. She grinned to herself, turned on her side and finally fell asleep.
The dream started as they all did: She was in her gi, in her studio, practicing alone. A door opened to a lush land of tall, leafy trees and wide, grassy meadows. As she stepped through, her clothes changed. This time, though, she wasn't in the leathers that she'd become familiar with, she was in a simple linen shift. She vaguely remembered that she'd buried her weapons near here. Shouting near by made her duck into the bushes. Slavers had rounded up a group of the local women and were getting ready to take them away. ‘Not my concern.' She turned to leave, but her attention was caught by the small blond who stepped out in front of the others.
"Take me, let the others go."
The slaver grinned evilly at her. "Nice try. We'll take you and anybody else we want." He reached for his whip. "It's never too early to start training a slave girl."
She grabbed the whip, she couldn't help herself. The girl reminded her so much of her younger self. Before the darkness fell over her soul.
Of course the fight didn't last long. That group of ruffians couldn't stand up to the Warrior Princess. After, the girl was so excited. But wanting to come with her? Ridiculous.
Of course, she followed. Xena knew she would. And she managed to save her from the mob in her mother's inn, without lifting a hand. That's when Xena felt the change start to stir. The girl, Gabrielle, wanted nothing from her but friendship, and to learn about the world. Maybe she could learn from her, too. So, she let her stay.
"You know, where I'm headed there'll be trouble." She tried to warn her.
"Then why would you want to go into that place?"
She gave the only possible answer. "That's what friends do. They stand by each other when there's trouble." Gabrielle knew she had the warrior there.
"All right, friend."
The dream ended, as they always did: she stepped through the door, into the crowded ER. Once again in her scrubs, lab coat in place, Dr. Covington reached over to get the next chart.
Rene bounced out of bed at ten am the next morning, feeling great. Erin's door, she noticed as she passed by on the way to the kitchen, was still closed. Her first class today was at one, so she wouldn't be up for another hour.
The doctor stared out of the window as the coffee brewed. Perfect, blue sky. She clicked on the radio and turned to the news station. Great, low 70's, mild breeze, clear all day. I'm going for a bike ride.
Still in debt to her eyeballs from her student loans, her road bike had been her one great splurge since coming to LA. It was cheaper than therapy, she thought to herself as she checked the tire pressure and lovingly lubed the chain.
She was dressed in padded bike tights. Even though she hated lycra, she like being able to feel her parts after the ride. A faded white tee shirt, padded fingerless gloves, a bright green helmet with blue and red highlights (it'd been the most sedate she could find) and scream-in-the-streets yellow bike shoes completed the outfit.
Still don't know why they call them "clipless pedals". She fitted the plate screwed onto the bottom of the right shoe over the small spring loaded pedal and snapped it in with some difficulty. Now, what is the problem? She twisted it out with even more trouble. The other side clipped in and out with no problem. I'll bring it in tomorrow and get it checked. I just want to ride now.
She managed to get the right clipped in again and took off, puffing up the hill. As she crested it, Rene came upon her ocean view. It was the kind of fall day that made it all worthwhile. A wondrously clear sky met the ocean at a horizon that stretched from Palos Verdes all the way to Malibu. She could even see the buildings of Santa Monica. Catalina Island, frequently not visible in the haze, seemed to have sailed over and put down anchor just off the coast.
Yay! She coasted down through the quiet neighborhood aiming for the Strand. I'm gonna do the whole thing today. The doctor rode down the final hill and turned onto the Strand, a sidewalk/ bike path that ran along the edge of the beach all the way from Torrance to Santa Monica - 25 miles one way.
Boy, it's really empty today. There were only a few joggers and rollerbladers on the path. The beach was occupied by a very few surfers and the occasional hand holding couple. Three small boys were playing fort on the empty life guard stand.
Yippee! She crouched down into the handlebar drops and pedaled. Not like the old ten speed. With that thought, she shot north wondering if Baywatch would be filming today at the far end of the ride.
Dina steered her pickup into a space in the beachside parking lot in Manhattan Beach. It'd seemed that she'd been all over the planet, running errands, all day. Why isn't anything within walking distance of any other thing? She'd finally ended up here after picking up a retirement gift, that she'd been volunteered to get, for one of the chiefs.
Her running clothes lay stacked on the passenger seat. She'd thrown them in thinking that since she was going to be all the way down here, she might as well run near the water. She changed in the public bathrooms on the pier, threw her clothes back in the truck, and stood momentarily deciding which way to go. A mental coin toss came down heads. OK, north. She took off, jogging on the Strand.
Rene was getting pretty tired, her odometer read 38 miles. Let's see, about 15 to go. They hadn't been filming and she'd only stopped for a minute to get some water. In the off season, Venice Beach had been more unsavory than usual, and she'd really pushed to get past there. Less than halfway back, she was feeling the strain. I'm past Dockweiler, next the energy plant, then Manhattan, Hermosa, Redondo and home. Not so bad. Right?
The bike path ran about 20 feet above the beach in front of the energy plant. A rock retaining wall rose from the sand to the edge of the roadbed. A few small boulders lined the edge of the road, more as a reminder than as a barrier.
Rene reached up to wipe the sweat out of her eyes and didn't see the small, jagged pothole just ahead of her. Sharp rocks tore a gaping hole, as her front tire slammed down into it, then sent the bike careening directly into a small boulder.
"OH shit!", she yelled as the back of the bike flew up sending her over the handlebars and head first into the rocks below. Her head and right shoulder smashed against a rock. Momentarily stunned, she slid limply into a space between two rocks. It was the pain in her right knee that brought her back.
She opened her eyes, seeing only the rock immediately in front of her face. She was lying tightly wedged, right side down, between two boulders. Her left arm and leg were free but her right foot hadn't released from the pedal and was still attached to the bike, which was caught, somehow up above her. The right knee was being very painfully torqued over a rock.
Well, at least my neck doesn't hurt. Thank god for the helmet. She reached with her left hand and felt the shattered remnants of the helmet, which was still strapped to her head. God, my knee hurts. She tried to unclick the foot, but couldn't twist it. No good. Can I get out of here? She flailed with the left hand but couldn't reach anything to pull up on. Her right arm was trapped and any movement made it feel like her leg was being torn off. OK, I need help. Wonderful. I haven't seen another soul since Venice. She thought of the various homeless folk and gang members who'd been hanging out. They seemed reasonable about now.
"Help! Is anyone up there? Help!" Oh, super, now there's that damn tingling feeling again. "Help!"
The rhythmic build and crash of the water captured Dina hypnotically as she ran along the beach. A trio of pelicans skimmed the waves, daring the breakers. Seagulls stood in flocks watching the ocean as if awaiting some message from the deeps.
She moved swiftly up the beach, past the empty lifeguard stands and waiting volleyball nets. To the marina and back, that'll be about 12 miles, OK. Decision made, she rounded the turn and came up the slight incline toward the power plant. A, now familiar, electrical sensation sprang from the base of her neck down both arms. Her stride faltered momentarily. Whoa, what is this?
It was faint and seemed to come from somewhere ahead of her. Squinting, she saw what looked like a bike thrown awkwardly onto the rocks.
"Help!" Now she was sure. Picking up speed, Dina ran over to the bike and, leaning against a boulder, peered down the rock wall.
"Help!" Rene was becoming desperate. Her right side ached and she was ready to chew off her leg just to stop the pain in her knee. She flailed again with her left hand and felt it caught in a sure, strong grip. "What the, who?"
"I got you", came a familiar voice.
"Dina?" Gingerly, she turned her head to the left and looked up, catching a glimpse of crystal blue. "How'd you…where? Nevermind. I'm so glad to see you. Help, please."
Dina let go of Rene's hand and surveyed her predicament. The bike was jammed up against two rocks and Rene's attached leg was bent between the two, then over another. She dangled down to the point where she was wedged.
"Get my foot out of the shoe first. I gotta get the pressure off my knee.
"You'll slide down further."
"I don't care. I can't get up until I'm out of the pedal."
Dina reached under and found the Velcro straps to the shoe. She undid them and eased the doctor's foot out.
"Yow!" Her leg free, she slid down, wedging herself tightly. "Urk." Having her face up against the rocks made breathing difficult.
"I'm going to pull you up. It may hurt."
"OK here goes. Dina scrambled over and down the rocks to Rene. Grabbing her left arm with both hands, she pulled Rene up.
With a terrible scraping sound and a muffled scream, her head and shoulder popped free. The taller woman reached down again and placed the doctor's left arm around her neck. She tucked one arm under Rene's shoulders and one under her knees and lifted the helpless woman up off of the rocks. Carrying her carefully, she picked her way up over the wall and set Rene down, sitting, on the pavement.
Rene hugged her right leg and rocked back and forth crying softly. It had already swollen to double its normal size. "Thank you, thank you. How did you know? How did you find me? Thank you."
"It was purely accidental. I'm never down here. Coincidence." She added somewhat wistfully, "I knew I'd see you again. This just wasn't what I'd expected."
Her tone made Rene hold still and look up into her face in puzzlement. Bright red scratches marked her right side of her face.
"I mean, I was going to thank you better about last night and those two guys. But I thought it would be in the ER."
"Well, I think you more than paid me back for that and the drink. I was afraid I'd never be found." She paused, considering. "How am I going to get home? My bike is wrecked."
"I'll help you to your car. Where is it?"
"Back at my house. I rode out here."
"I'll drive you. I'm parked in Manhattan. We'll get you to the first street and I'll get the truck and pick you up there. It's only about half a mile."
Too battered to protest, Rene curled up around her knee again and mumbled, "Thanks. It's going to be a long walk." She pushed herself up, all of her weight on her good leg. Gingerly, she put her right leg down. "Yow!" She fell back down as the leg crumpled out from under her. "I think my knee's really screwed up." She looked up. "You don't have to do this. Just go and call 911. The paramedics can come and get me."
"No. I'm not going to do that. I'll get you back. Put your arm over my shoulder. I'll help you up." She crouched down in front of the doctor. Rene sighed and reached up, putting both arms around Dina's neck. The firefighter put her hands under Rene's arms.
"Now push up." She stood up smoothly, pulling the shorter woman easily to her feet, and then onto her toes. Rene lost her balance and fell forward against Dina.
They stood for a long second, staring into each other's eyes, as an unfamiliar feeling of the rightness of this enfolded them. It was a single arrow, shot from a great distance, but pierced both hearts. Then it was gone. Both blushing, Dina bent slightly and settled Rene onto her foot.
"Uh, thanks." The doctor dropped her arms. "I guess we should head back." Her head swam slightly from the impact of the sudden emotion and the feel of Dina's warmth against her. She tried putting her weight on the right foot again and quickly bent it back up. "I'm going to have to hold you and hop. You still sure about this?"
Dina'd never been so sure of anything. Don't know what hit me. But I want to find it again. "Yeah, sure."
"OK then." Rene wrapped her right arm around Dina's waist. The taller woman grabbed her under the arm. "My bike."
The firefighter let go and scrambled onto the rocks and lifted the bike back over. "Looks like you taco'd the front tire. The rest looks pretty good." She placed it over her shoulder.
Hopping and half carrying, they slowly made their way back. At the first street, Dina left Rene and ran the last mile to get her truck. Rene sat, exhausted, wrapped around her hurt knee. Her whole body ached and she could feel her right eye swelling shut where she'd slammed it. But her mind was spinning. What was that. God it felt… It felt like the last piece of the puzzle fitting in. It felt like hot cocoa on a cold day. It felt like finding something so important that you couldn't possibly search for it. I wonder if she felt it too? Besides, she looked pretty good in those little running shorts. Nice legs.
Lungs burning, Dina ran, pushing herself to get back as fast as possible. She could still feel Rene's body against hers. Wonder if she felt it too?
Rene came out of her reverie to find Dina standing over her. She smiled. "Sure."
Dina helped her up and hopped her over to the truck. "Hang on." She lifted the smaller woman into the front seat.
"You just picked me up."
"Uh huh." Dina threw the bike into the back of the pickup and closed the shell.
"You carried me over the rocks."
"Wow. You're pretty strong." She grabbed the firefighter's arm as she slid onto the seat and started the engine. Leaning over, she looked straight into her eyes. "Thanks again. I really mean it. Not many people would do that for an almost-stranger. I ruined your run. I've screwed up your day… Thanks." She sat back.
*Not a stranger.* Where did that come from? "Stop thanking me." She gave a lopsided grin. "Besides, I owed you, remember?" Backing the truck into a driveway, she pulled out, going up away from the ocean. "Give me directions." Dina glanced over and saw Rene tentatively poking at her knee. "Maybe we should take you to the ER."
"Oh, no. Well, maybe. I suppose I should get this checked. Drop me off at home. I'll get over there."
"You can't drive."
"My roommate. No, she's at school. It can wait. What are you doing?"
Dina had turned the car toward the hospital. "What's it look like?"
"I'm being kidnapped." A pause. "OK, at least I'll know the people. Maybe it won't take all night."
They pulled up at the ambulance entrance and buzzed for admittance.
"Don't you know this is the ambulance entrance? Go around to the front." The nurse took a second look. "Oh my God, it's Dr. Covington. Get in here. What happened?"
The doctor hopped into the ER and collapsed into a wheelchair. "I went two rounds with some rocks and lost. My knee is a mess."
She grabbed the firefighter's arm as Dina moved toward the waiting room mumbling something about waiting for her there. "No, stay with me. I'll need the moral support. You'll see."
The nurse rolled her to the only empty bed and helped her onto the gurney.
"Dr. Chaney's really swamped this afternoon. I'll order your xray and get him to you as soon as he can." She left and closed the curtain.
Rene turned to Dina. "Now you'll see what I meant."
News of her arrival spread quickly throughout the department. One by one, everybody from the nurses to the registration clerks felt obligated to stop by, say hello, check out just how bad she looked, and to offer an opinion. These ranged from sympathy to lewd speculation on the true cause of the injuries. The doctor handled them all with equal politeness and dignity, even the most obnoxious. She smiled down at the firefighter. "See?
Dina was amazed. "These are your coworkers? I would've told them to go to hell."
"They're actually doing it because they like me. If they didn't, I'd be sitting in the waiting room instead of in a bed, believe me. Besides, they're going easy on me with you here. One more thanks to you." She squeezed Dina's shoulder and smiled.
The firefighter smiled in return.
The xray tech came to get her. Dr. Chaney came in shortly after she'd returned.
"Hey Keith. What'd I do to myself?"
"Well, you didn't break your leg. Let me look at the rest of you." He quickly examined her battered face and right side. "These feel OK?" He poked gently at her ribs.
"Now I'm going to stress your knee. Nice shoe, by the way. Ready?" He held her knee and slowly pushed it back and forth and rocked it side to side.
"Yeow. Uh, lateral stress really hurts."
Dina resisted the urge to grab her hand only with an effort of will.
"Well, it seems stable. You know the drill - knee immobilizer, crutches, no weight bearing, follow up if not improved, and so on. Need a ‘script?"
"No thanks. I've got from last time."
"I'll send in the EMT. Oops, sorry, it's Jerry. So, take it easy, please, and I'll see you, I guess, next week." He patted her hand and walked out.
"Thanks, Keith," she called after him.
Jerry, the EMT walked in with the immobilizer, a foam and Velcro affair that strapped onto the leg like a soft cast, and the crutches. He was in his mid thirties, but looked much older, with a pockmarked face and greasy black hair. A faintly rancid odor seemed to follow him and to linger slightly after he'd gone.
"Hey Doc, lost a fight with the boyfriend?" He started to put the immobilizer on her leg. "I would never leave any marks on you like that." He tightened one strap and slid his hands up to the next one.
"Jerry, just leave. I can do that and adjust my crutches."
He tightened the second strap. "But Doc, I was told to do this." He reached for the top one.
She sat up and grabbed his wrists. "Jerry, I said to leave now. Just remember, I'm a doctor. I know many wonderful ways to cause great pain. And, my friend here, she's trained to kill."
Dina took her cue and stood up from her stool. Crossing her arms, she glared down at him.
Rene smiled sweetly and released his wrists. "Get out of here."
He gulped up at Dina and scurried out.
Rene finished the last strap and adjusted the crutches. "I feel like I need a shower now. He gives me the creeps. I owe you another one."
Dina helped her off of the gurney. "No prob, my pleasure. I was getting ready to hit him anyway." She realized that she had been, too. Something made her want to protect the doctor. She wanted to carry her out and hold her close, to take away all the pain. The emotion fit her like a new style of clothing - it was very strange but it was something she thought she'd get to like very much. Given the chance, she thought dourly.
"Thanks everyone." Dr. Covington leaned on her crutches and gave a wave as they walked out.
It was well past dark by the time they made it back to Rene's house. Rene hobbled in and directed Dina, with the bike, to their "storage room", actually, the third bedroom. It was piled high with boxes and all manner of sports and camping paraphernalia and was almost unnegotiable.
"Just dump it anywhere," she sighed. "Come on into the kitchen. You've met Erin."
Her roommate was standing at the sink, stuffing a sandwich into her mouth. She gave a wave. "Gotta run to work."
"Erin?" Dina raised an eyebrow.
Erin put down her sandwich, turned and put her hands on her hips. Drawing herself put to her full five foot two, she stared fiercely into the taller woman's face.
"Erin Aidan Caitlin Ramirez. Got a problem with that?"
The firefighter eyed the dark haired, dark eyed, brown skinned, red freckled woman. She smiled down at her, "Nope, no problem."
"Good." Erin turned back to her dinner. "I may look like my dad, but, I get my temper from both sides of my family, Kilkenny and Ramirez. Got it?"
Rene stepped forward. "Oh, by the way, Erin, this is Dina."
Erin looked up again. "What the hell happened to you?"
"I met with some rocks. Dina found me and pulled me out. Really, I'm fine."
"Chingaderas bicycle. You should away from wheeled sports, girl. Your face is a mess. Break your nose again?"
The blond blushed. "No, actually, it's my knee this time." She caught Dina's puzzled expression. "I tried rollerblading when I first moved here. I fell and broke my nose. I had to work with two black eyes. You think I took some grief today, you should've heard my so called friends then."
The firefighter chuckled slightly and looked around. The living room, next to the kitchen, was done in early starving student. There was a beat up futon couch and a not even close to matching recliner. A TV set and VCR sat on a wooden crate at one end of the room. A few framed posters graced the walls. A large window formed most of the wall near the front door. It's curtain matched the kitchen's. The back wall was entirely occupied by two huge bookcases.
One had a few knickknacks, pictures of Erin's family, a few school and film books and lots of videos. The other was crammed tight with medical books and books on mythology. A few historical novels lay sideways on top of the others.
Dina walked over to the bookcases. "Nice collection. I have a few of these, too." She pointed to the mythologies.
"I've been reading them since I was little," Rene replied.
She crutched her way into the kitchen and came out holding a half dozen take out menus. "Hey, I've ruined your day. At least let me buy dinner." Sore and tired as she was, she didn't want Dina to leave. The was something undefinably comforting about her presence.
"Sure, I'd like that." Very much. I don't really want to go.
They surveyed the menus. "Italian, Thai, Mexican, Chinese, Greek, or burgers. They all deliver. Pick one."
"How about Chinese?"
"Fine. Just don't pick anything with squid. I can eat almost anything. For some reason, though, I can't abide squid."
Dinner came quickly. They demolished it, mostly in silence. Rene eating, to Dina's amusement, almost double the amount of her larger companion.
Where does she put it? She surreptitiously eyed the blond. The smaller woman was compact but sturdy. Round muscles, especially in her legs, were barely hidden under a layer of softness.
Rene felt herself being studied. She put down her chopsticks. "I used to do a lot of backpacking and camping. I'm a kind of hedonist and I refuse to scrimp on my creature comforts. My pack was always the heaviest. It makes for some strong legs." She resumed eating.
Busted. "I, uh, oh, OK." The firefighter blushed. That was smooth. At least she didn't seem to mind.
Dina cleared the table, with Rene directing. The doctor sighed as they moved into the living room. "Someday, I'll be out of debt and I can have real furniture. So much for the rich doctor myth." She sat down and winced. "I'm gonna have to take something for the pain. I'm really hurting."
"I'll get them for you, then I'll head home. They in the bathroom?" She didn't really want to leave. But, she couldn't think up a good excuse to stay.
Rene nodded. She took two of the pills that Dina brought for her and leaned back into the couch. "Thanks for everything today. I'm sorry I ruined your run and everything else." She didn't want her rescuer to leave, but she couldn't think up a good excuse for her to stay.
"Well, it certainly wasn't what I'd planned. I'm just glad you're all right. Rest, and, hey Doc, ice your knee, remember?" She let herself out and drove back to her dark apartment.
Rene picked up a chart and turned to go to bed 8. The door opening caught her attention. Setting the chart aside, she walked out into a dark, cobblestoned street.
Her ragged clothing was no protection against the cold. Shivering, she huddled against a wall. Across the way, the gasman was climbing his ladder to light the streetlamps. If she was going to eat today, she'd have to sell some more flowers. She glanced at the pitiful blooms. Small chance. It would be a doorway to sleep in and an empty stomach for her this night.
"Lady Catherine, let me call you a hansom cab. You shouldna be walking through this section."
"There are no cabs here. The driver will be hours fixing the carriage. I would rather walk."
Highbrow accents drifted toward her. Pushing some wayward blond wisps behind her ear, Margaret stepped away from the wall and looked down the street. ‘Small chance is some chance'. She hurried toward the voices.
"Buy a flower, lady?" She held up the flowers to the tall, raven haired woman in a fine, pale blue gown that perfectly matched her eyes.
"Get away, ruffian." She was shoved to the ground by a large man wearing livery. "Stay out of the lady's way."
"Robert, she's but a child. No need to hurt her." The lady bent over. "Are you all right child?", she asked. Then gasped as crystal blue eyes met green. "You…"
Margaret scrambled to her knees. "You're the one from the dreams. Oh, Mum, I've seen you before. Please help this poor beggar."
Lady Catherine stood, staring vaguely into space. "The dreams… What is your name child?"
"Margaret, Mum, lady. I could serve you. I could help… I'm not so mean or so young as I look…" She grabbed at the hem of the fine dress. "Please, Mum."
"Get away, beggar. How dare you touch the lady?" Robert drew back his foot to kick her.
"Robert, stop." The lady stepped between them. She crouched, eye level with Margaret. "The dreams. Yes, I have seen them as well. So you want to serve. What can you do?"
Margaret jumped to her feet, gesturing wildly with her hands, in her excitement. "Oh, thank you, Mum! I can clean, I can cook." She looked at her filthy rags. "At least I can when I'm cleaner. For you, lady. I can tell tales, entertain children. I'm very honest. I work hard. I…"
"Stop please." The lady laughed. "I will take you in. If you prove other than hard working and completely honest, I will have you whipped and sent back to the streets. Do you understand?", she asked the young woman, who nodded vigorously. "Robert, when we get back, I want her taken to be bathed and dressed and then introduced to Cook. She shall be her assistant."
Robert could only nod, open mouthed. Lady Catherine was not known to be one who took in strays.
"Let's continue home then. So, Margaret, let's hear one of your tales, one to entertain the children." The Lady turned and walked through a door which had opened in the wall. Dina reentered her studio, empty as usual and started to unknot her belt.
Rolling over, in sleep, she unconsciously wrapped her arm around her pillow, hugging it tightly.
Rene woke up thinking that the rocks had fallen on her and not vice versa. Many of them. The face in the mirror was a ghastly purple with scratches streaked across the whole right side. Her right arm and ribs ached today, too. Even thinking about the knee made her queasy, but it did seem a little less swollen.
OK. Breakfast, ice, drugs, call off sick, and back to bed. Which she did, in that order.
She emerged only long enough to have dinner in the late afternoon and to watch the news. There'd been another two arson fires, but no more deaths or injuries. Political posturing in Washington was status quo. Good, the world's still there. She went back to bed.
Wonder if Dina's at any good fires today? She sent a fleeting wish for safety winging toward the firefighter. Sure did feel good, remembering the press of her body. Too sore to delve any deeper into that, she fell asleep.
Dina finally forced her way into the shower after threatening bodily harm to the last two guys if they didn't let her in. Another spectacular warehouse fire. Her company had been assigned to the roof. Dragging hose all over the roof, while watching for fire breakthrough and for weak spots or holes, in the dark, for hours, had left her physically and mentally exhausted. Hate the roof. Don't like the thought of falling through, she thought as she rinsed off the ash and sweat.
She sucked down some reheated chili that they'd cooked hours earlier, but had never gotten the chance to eat, and crawled into her bunk in the station house dorm. Wonder how Rene's doing? Hope she's not too sore. Here's to her feeling better. She mentally sent a get well wish and smiled to herself in the dark. Actually, she felt pretty good. Better not go there. I don't even know if she's interested. A sense of loss fell over her like a veil. Maybe we could be friends. I could use a friend. The veil lifted slightly.
Rene rolled over in bed, with a groan, not quite awakening.
"Dr. Covington, come to Room 10, stat."
"Excuse me, I'll be right back." The blonde doctor said to the gentleman she's been examining. Pushing open the curtain, she stepped out into the desert of Mesopotamia.
They watched Jack drive off, leaving them alone.
"You were right." Janice looked at her tall friend.
Melinda seemed confused. "I was, about what?"
"We were both living in our fathers' shadows." She hated to admit it.
"Well maybe it's time we both step out into the world and show them what we can do."
"Together?" Somehow, the question was more important to her than one simple word could convey.
Suddenly unsure, the dark haired woman answered slowly. "Well, not if you don't want to." ‘Please want to. I want to.'
The blonde smiled. Melinda's tone had more than made up for the tentative reply. "C'mon." She clicked her tongue. "You can give me a hand." They began to heave their meager gear onto the battered truck.
Janice was content. Being with Melinda somehow made up for being a descendent of that irritating Gabrielle. If she and Xena had been so close, maybe she and Mel… ‘How can I feel this way already? I've only known her for a day. One day? Yeah'. Seemed like an eternity. Would Mel be interested? She'd have to charm her and see. ‘I can be charming when I want to be.' Grinning to herself, she clapped the fedora back onto her head. "C'mon Toots, better turn in. We've got a long drive to catch that plane tomorrow."
"Coming, Janice." Melinda turned and caught a flash of the blonde's grin before she turned toward the tent. ‘Wonder what that's for? What's she thinking?' The dark haired beauty following her friend decided she wanted to know more than just what she was thinking. She wanted to know everything.
Xena had left her with just enough to understand exactly what Gabrielle had meant to her, been to her. Now Janice… She could feel that way about Janice. Would the archeologist be interested? She could be very persuasive. ‘Southern wiles.' This would be fun. Smirking, herself, she followed the smaller woman through the tent flap and into the darkened studio.
Dina awoke with a start. Dreaming that deeply was unusual here at the station, in a dorm among 30 plus snoring, mumbling, twitching guys. It was still pitch black out. She peered at her watch, 4:30 am. Why would I dream about Aunt Melinda? Who's Janice? She let her thoughts drift back to the only time she'd met her great aunt.
It was the summer she was ten. She and her brothers had been farmed out to Great-Aunt Melinda's antebellum plantation for the summer while their parents tried to find yet another place for them to live.
Aunt Melinda had picked them up at the Greyhound station. Three children traveling alone, they hadn't been hard to pick out. The minute she'd seen Dina, though, she'd stopped, put her hand to her mouth and whispered, "Oh, my." Even at that age, the resemblance had been uncanny.
Dina and her two brothers were obviously related. All three were tall and had dark hair with similar features. But, the boys had their father's dark eyes and olive skin. The girl knew she had her mom's coloring, but, Mom's eyes were hazel. No one else's were blue. Except Great-Aunt Melinda. Dina loved her immediately.
The plantation had been child heaven - a huge house, that Melinda lived in alone, where they played endless hide and seek, an orchard where they could run and climb, and horses they could ride. They'd never each had a room of their own before. In the evenings, they'd all sit on the porch and watch the night fall as Melinda would tell them stories of the strange places she'd been and tales of ancient gods and heroes.
To the children, their aunt had seemed an old and venerable sage. Dina realized, now, that she had probably only been about 60.
"How come you're not married, Aunt Melinda?" Dina'd asked one evening as they sat rocking on the porch swing, while the boys chased fireflies on the lawn. Weren't all grown ups married?
Melinda's hand went to the locket she always wore around her neck. She hesitated, gaze unfocused, then answered softly, "Child, some people were only meant to love once in their lives. Sometimes two fit together so perfectly there's no room for anyone else, even after one is gone."
"Is that what happened with you?", the girl had asked solemnly.
Melinda nodded. "Killed in a cave in at a dig. Many years ago." She shook her head to clear the air. "But I have my niece and nephews to visit me." She gave Dina a hug. "So why do I need a husband?"
The older woman smiled. Holding the child to her, she rested her cheek on the girl's head. Softly, almost so low that Dina couldn't hear, she said, "Oh, but looking at you… I think you'll know this for yourself someday."
The girl sat up. "Do you have any pictures of your love?"
Melinda had looked a little flustered. "I think I do somewhere. I'll show you some other time, OK?"
The boys had come running up then to show off the fireflies they'd caught in their jars and the conversation had been forgotten.
Somehow, Melinda had never gotten around to showing her the pictures. Their wonderful summer had ended two weeks later when their parents had sent for them. They'd found a trailer park in Arizona that would rent to them.
Dina had clung, sobbing to Great-aunt Melinda.
"Hush, child", the woman had said gently, hugging her. "You'll come back. We can write to each other. We'll see each other again. Don't you worry now."
Dina'd written faithfully, and Melinda had answered. Her letters sometimes chasing them through two or three moves, but always catching up. She'd even called on Dina's birthdays.
Then, one day, a letter had come back to the child marked "undeliverable, addressee deceased".
Dina had gone berserk when her mother explained to her that her beloved aunt had died in a car accident a month before. They thought she was too young to tell.
So, twelve year old Dina had stormed out of the house and beaten up three older boys, just to make herself feel better. But it didn't. Not then, and not later.
Lying in the dorm, the sky now turning a fine pink with the approaching dawn, the firefighter still missed her aunt. Realization crept slowly across the lightening room and attached itself to Dina. She never did use a pronoun that night, or ever. God, I wish I'd seen a picture. I'm sure that's why I never did.
Janice? The dream had seemed so real. Related to Gabrielle, from the other dreams. They all looked like Rene. She shied away from that one.
I think I have more in common with Aunt Melinda than just looks. She smiled into her pillow, feeling the warmth of their connection over these empty 20 years.
"BRRRAAAAPPP!", came the alarm. Dorm lights came on suddenly, rudely jerking everyone from sleep. "Engine 145, ambulance 145, respond to difficulty breathing call. Address 732 south La Costa St.", blared over the loudspeaker.
Back to work, she thought slipping on her turnouts and climbing into the engine. She put on her headphones as the siren came on and the engine and ambulance raced out into the new day.
Better, thought Rene as she lay in bed and tentatively tried out all moving parts. Glad I called off sick today. She could almost recognize her face in the mirror, even though it was still an assortment of colors. The knee was much better. One more day on crutches, I think.
"Oh, it lives," Erin called out cheerfully as the doctor weebled into the kitchen. "You look much better. Coffee's made."
"Thanks, I feel much better." She grabbed a cup of coffee and threw some bread into the toaster.
Ring. "I got it." Erin dove for the phone. "Hey, Stuart," her face lit up. She covered the mouth piece with her hand. "It's him," she mouthed at Rene.
The blonde grinned and raised her coffee cup in salute.
"Sure, I'd love to come to the screening. When? Day after tomorrow, well…" She looked pleadingly at Rene, who waved her on. "Yeah, I can come. See you then." She hung up and hugged Rene. "I'll make it up to you."
"Have a good time, you've been waiting long enough for him to ask you out. I'll still go."
"Ask your big firefighter friend. She seemed interested."
"You think so? I don't know." She nonchalantly spread jam on her toast.
"Oh, Mija, you are so clueless! Of course. Who could resist you? Even if you are damaged goods right now."
"Fine, just fine. Girl, you are so good for my ego," she said facetiously. "I'll think about it. Right now, I'm going to take my beautiful self into the shower." She finished her toast and, getting up with as much dignity as possible on crutches, made her way to the bathroom.
Poor bike, she thought later as she surveyed the wreckage. It'll have to wait a few more days. Can't negotiate crutches and carry the bike. TV? Yuk. She passionately hated daytime TV. Can I drive? Gingerly, she put some weight onto her injured leg. It held. Yeah. I'll go and stare at the ocean for a while.
She sat in the sand, leaning back on her hands and watched the sandpipers run back and forth, playing tag with the surf. Funny dream, felt so real. Generally, she couldn't remember her dreams. Lately, they'd been very vivid. Not like dreams at all, more like memories. Janice, Janice. Why is that familiar? Then she remembered.
An uncle, Hubert Covington, from England, had come to visit them on his way to some business in Cincinnati. He'd taken one look at he six year old girl sitting and telling stories to her dolly on the floor and his mouth had gaped open.
"My god, James, she's the spitting image of Janice."
"We don't mention her name around here," her father had growled. "Unnatural woman…"
"Well, every family does have someone who's a little different. But she was your cousin and she's been dead a long time. Such a terrible way to die, trapped in a cave in. No need to hold onto the bitterness anymore, say?"
He'd gotten down on one knee and looked directly into Rene's eyes. "She's got her green eyes." He said to her father, who frowned seriously.
Rene looked back, marveling at his fine mustache.
"What are you doing, love?" he asked her.
"Telling a story to my baby doll."
"And what would that story be?"
"It's about a girl a long, long time ago who travels around and does good things and tells stories and never hurts no one."
"Hubert stood, "Well, she does have an imagination, that one."
"She's in her own world half the time, not like her sister…" The conversation had moved on then to other things.
So long ago, twenty-some years. Why remember now? Obviously, her subconscious was up to something. Didn't Dina mention an Aunt Melinda? Why should she put those two together? She stared at the endless blue of the sky.
Time to go home. I need a couple of aspirin.
The phone rang as she was walking in the door.
"Hi, it's Dina. I wanted to see how you were doing."
"I'm much better. I can put some weight on my leg. I think I'll be OK. Hey, how did you get my number?"
"Uh, Erin slipped it to me before she left the other night. Is that OK?"
Sneak, I'm going to kill her, or.. or.. kiss her. "Yeah, it's fine. I would've if I'd been capable of thinking the other night. How are you? I've been seeing the fires on the news."
"I'm fine. We were at a big one the other night."
"Um, Dina? Look, I've got two tickets to the new exhibit at the art museum the day after tomorrow. It's ancient Greek art, you know, urns and friezes and so on. I was gonna go with Erin. But she got a date, so she's flaking. And I owe you for the other day. I thought you might be interested in this stuff. I'd really like it if you came," Rene blurted out in a rush of words.
Rene didn't even hear. "You can say no, it's OK. I'm still going. I just thought maybe…" The answer caught up with her. "What?"
"I said sure. Love to go. You need tickets to go to the art museum?"
"In LA you do if it's a popular exhibit. Look, where do you live?" Dina told her. "It's on the way, I'll pick you up. What time?"
"I work tomorrow, so I'll need some sleep. How about 2?"
"I'm working tomorrow night, too. See you at 2."
"Glad you're feeling better. See you the day after tomorrow. Bye"
Rene drifted back into the kitchen, aspirin forgotten, realizing she was excited totally out of proportion to what had just happened. Don't even know what she… Although she had a determined inkling. But it's so hard to say, "Hey, I'm into women, what about you?" It just doesn't work that way, at least for me. She sighed. In Detroit it was so easy. You just asked, "Where do you go to dance?" There were only two "girl's" bars. Here in LA… You want leather, lipstick, biker, whatever. Too many.
She rested her head in her hands, elbows on the table and stared at the wall. Gotta think. She sat up suddenly. I wonder if she's into music? It's worth a try. A huge smile plastered itself across her face. It might work.
Dina hung up the phone, dazed. He heart was leaping ecstatically around in her chest. Her mind grabbed it and wrestled it back into place, along with the almost uncontrollable urge to dance around the apartment. But it lost the war with the grin.
Um, think I'll work out, run, make that a long run, and shower. Cold shower. What am I going to do until the day after tomorrow? Stop that. Real long run, real cold shower.
She walked into her workout room. The second bedroom had been set up with a mat and a few free weights. A full size punching bag hung from the ceiling. Pulling on some light gloves, she went through a routine of weights, then punching and kicking the bag until she was dripping.
Her mind had disconnected itself into a world of blonde hair, green eyes and smooth skin. Gotta be. Gotta be? How can I find out? Something will come to me. Great smile, so gentle with people, nice legs. Stop that!
It was a really long run and a very cold shower.
The shift the next night was the longest in Rene's life.
She was launched out of bed at noon by her alarm clock, and set a new indoor land speed record for showering, eating and dressing. Erin had left a note taped to the refrigerator, ‘Good luck', with a big, obnoxious, winking smiley face on it.
To you too, babe, she thought back.
OK, now… She surveyed her rack of cassettes back in her bedroom. This one and this and this. She grabbed about ten, brought them out to her car, and started cramming them into the glove compartment. This is laying it on a little thick. Oh well, subtle is not the point here. Lastly, she put in the museum tickets, and holding in the tapes with one hand, slammed the glove compartment closed with the other. OK, north on the 405, get off on La Cienega…
Melting happens fastest where there is friction. Dina lived at a crossroads of neighborhoods. Black met Korean met white met Hispanic. There was tension, but there were also many children with names like Jose Pak and N'Kwenge Feldstein. Oriental children called to their friends in Spanish and black kids looked out of startlingly green eyes.
Rene pulled up in front of one of a series of stuccoed duplexes, houses built in the 40s and lovingly maintained as the area went through it's changes. She rang the bell, admiring the small stained glass inset in the door.
"Hey, hi," she blurted out as the door opened almost instantaneously. Wow.
Dina had dressed in jeans and a very soft looking pale blue shirt. Her hair was free except for a small braid, into which she'd woven a thin blue matching ribbon.
"Hey, yourself." She stepped out, closing the door. "You look pretty good. The green of your face really brings out the color of your eyes. Does it still hurt?" She smiled and gently touched Rene's waning bruise, almost making her breathing stop.
"No, it's fine. I took a lot of grief about it last night. But, it feels fine. You know, when the doctor looks this bad, the patients don't complain about the wait. Maybe I'll cultivate a permanent bruise." She turned and limped to the car, Dina chuckling behind her.
They parked in the museum lot. Here goes nothing, thought the blonde, mentally crossing her fingers.
"Dina, could you get the tickets out of the glove compartment while I put on the knee imobilizer? I took it off to drive, but I still need it to walk." She got out and started fastening it over her pant leg.
"Sure." The firefighter reached in front of her and opened the glove compartment. Tickets and tapes cascaded out, over her knees and onto the floor.
"Sorry," Rene said, sheepishly. "I'm kind of a slob."
Dina bent over and started picking up the cassettes. A title caught her eye - Ferron, Driver. She started looking at the others in her hands. Chris Williamson, The Changer and the Changed, Meg and Chris at Carnegie Hall, Holly Near, Teresa Trull, Disappear Fear, Indigo Girls… There were others, but her eyes were blurring.
She looked up at Rene, standing quietly next to the car, with a slightly panicked look on her face. Dina smiled at the doctor. "Yeah, I have a few of these myself." She held up the Meg and Chris Anniversary tape. "My personal favorite."
"Cool." Rene felt her heart restart. Yippee! Question answered.
With trembling hands, they corralled and stored the wayward tapes.
The exhibit was divided by themes over a series of rooms - vases and urns, friezes, and statuary. They wandered through, looking at everything and reading the small identifying cards, walking close enough to occasionally brush arms.
"I always pictured Ares differently," remarked Rene, pointing to an urn. "I always saw him with longer hair and a beard."
"And leather rather than a toga," finished Dina.
Rene looked at her strangely. "Yeah."
They stopped at a plate. "Sacrifice to Aphrodite" read the blonde.
"No, she needs a lower cut dress."
"And frilly hair."
"She'd be kind of a space cadet." Rene faced Dina.
"She'd talk in Valley-speak," Dina filled in.
They continued on, examining and comparing, (Hercules? No beard, taller. Hades? Oh, no, he was definitely more handsome than that.) agreeing and laughing until, finally, they'd covered the entire exhibit. Still giggling, they headed back to the car, into the pinks and oranges of dusk, and the reds and whites of rush hour car lights.
Continued in part 2