It’s a Small Uber World After All
Orlando BardCon Round Robin
This round robin story was originally written for the 2003 Orlando BardCon, which was held at Walt Disney World. From the BardCon Staff: At the conclusion to Orlando BardCon 2002, our attending bards were asked if they would like to participate in a Round Robin story, wherein each participant would write a chapter that tied into the characters that preceded and also followed. The premise was simple - get your characters to Orlando Bardcon 2003.
PARTICIPATING BARDS: D, TNovan, Taylor Rickard, ROCShadow, SX Meagher, LJ Maas, Carrie Ryan, at3Sparky, FlyBigD, Jenah, Mavis Applewater, Vada Foster, Texbard, Stoley, Verrath, Cruise, Trish Kocialski, Sam Ruskin, Archangel, KDarblyne, and Melissa Good
“Are you sure about this?” the taller woman asked her companion.
“I think so,” the second woman answered. “I followed the directions you gave me.”
A dark brow rose. “Well, it should be interesting at the very least.”
The bard laughed. “I like the idea. C’mon,” taking the warrior’s hand. “There are people here I want to meet and talk to and....”
The brunette woman followed her companion’s urging and stepped through the door, chuckling softly. “I get the idea, Little One. Let’s go.”
by TNovan & Taylor Rickard
Charlie sat at his desk, going through his mail as usual in the afternoon. Most was expected communications with the various bankers and investors he worked with regularly. But one was a bit unusual. The handwriting was clear and delicate, a woman’s hand, no doubt. And it was addressed from somewhere in Florida. He grew more and more excited as he read her letter.
He walked into Rebecca’s sitting room, where she was going through some old trunks of her brother Andrew’s, looking for anything that could be adapted for Darby, who was growing like a weed.
As he walked in, she looked up at him. “Darling, can you possibly get a tailor to move down here? I swear I cannot keep that boy in clothes right now. I think he is growing as fast as a new colt.”
Charlie laughed. “I will see what I can do, darling. In the meantime, I believe you and Mrs. Carter are doing a fine job with what you have to work with.”
“Thank you, dear, but having a dress maker do his clothes, rather than a real tailor, is a bit of an embarrassment for our oh-so-appropriate eldest son.”
Charlie sat down on the davenport beside her. “On a different subject, dear, I just got a letter I had been hoping to get for a long time. You remember talking about setting up a breeding program for quarter horses and warm bloods in addition to our thoroughbreds?”
“You mean me setting up a breeding program if we can get the right brood stock?” She could not resist teasing him a little about which one of them actually ran the horse farm.
“Yes, dear.” That line had become one of Charlie’s stock responses.
She smiled at him. It was taking time, but she was managing to get her bull-headed General properly trained. It was, she thought, rather like training a high-spirited stallion.
Charlie, as usual, ignored Rebecca’s condescending look and plunged into the news that he had. “I have found someone who is willing to sell a breeding pair of Andalusians, from the old Spanish stock that was brought into St. Augustine when the Spanish originally settled Florida.”
“Well, they are great stock, hearty, strong and with lots of solid Barb’s in their stud book. I thought that we could cross them with our Godolphin stock and either get stronger Quarter Horses or improve our Warmblood lines.”
Rebecca laughed at him. “And they are beautiful and fast, and you cannot resist your desire to win the Gold Cup every year.”
Charlie had the grace to flush at that. “Well, yes, there is that. But you must admit, the more race winners we produce, the higher the price we get for our horses. I look at it as a necessary investment, dear.” He tried to look righteous and businesslike, but failed.
Rebecca stood and started putting various garments and miscellaneous items back into the trunks, laying bits and pieces aside for Darby. “You know, I am not particularly comfortable with buying stock sight unseen. I suppose this means that we will have to send either Tarent or Albert down to Florida.”
Charlie cleared his throat. “I, um, had thought that you and I might go ourselves.” He looked down at his knees and brushed imaginary dust from his trousers. “You know, we only had a few short days of honeymoon, dear, and, um, well, it is supposed to be beautiful in Florida – wild and natural. And you have said you would like to see other parts of the country, so, I, um, well, I would like to go together and make this something of a holiday for the two of us.”
Rebecca looked at him, thinking he had lost his mind. “But, Charlie. What about the children? I have not been away from Buddy and Andy since they were born, and Suzanne is still so in need of mothering. Not to mention how Em reacts every time you go away. Remember how difficult she was for Richard and Elizabeth when we went to Washington for just a week? And I cannot imagine how long it will take for us to get to Florida and back.”
Charlie looked up at her. “Rebecca, dear, the boys will be fine. Tess and Ginny can handle them. And Darby can look after Suzanne – he has all his life. I think our Em is big enough now to understand that we will come back – and this time, unharmed. I can even ask Mrs. White and Jocko to stay here at the house with them while we are gone, though I am sure the servants will take good care of them. Elizabeth and Richard are less than two miles away, if anything were to happen. And Beulah has the house in perfect order. I am sure they can live without us for two or three weeks.” He said all of this in a rush, having rehearsed it before hand, since he knew exactly how she would react. “Besides, darling, you and I have had no time together, just the two of us, for several years. I miss being the center of your world, darling.” A little blackmail never hurt.
It worked. Rebecca smiled, walked over, and wrapped her arms around him. “Charlie, dear heart, you are the center of my world. Were you not the one who said we should have a house full of children? I would have been happy if it had just been the two of us for the rest of our lives.” She settled into his lap. “Please, do not misunderstand, I adore our children. But if they had never come into our lives, I would have been happy with just you, sweetheart.”
Charlie walked out of the railroad master’s office, smiling to himself. The private parlor car he had ordered from the Pullman Company in Chicago was on its way and he had made arrangements for a horse car as well. In fact, as far as he could tell, his plans were well on their way to being complete. He would be able to tack his two cars to the regular train from Culpeper to Richmond. There, the cars would be moved over to a regular train from Richmond to Charleston. Another change would take them to Savannah and then on to Waycross, Georgia, where a final change would put them on the Southern Railway to some little town called Orlando.
At each stop, he had made arrangements to stay for a day or two; train travel in the late 1860’s was still hot and dirty. The soot and cinders from the big wood burning engines would get into everything not tightly sealed. So a rest at a nice hotel, a big tub and a bed that did not sway with every joint in the rails would be welcome, especially since his hip and thigh could not stand the constant motion very well. He had also made arrangements for a suite for them at what his friend Mr. Astor assured him was a lovely hotel in Orlando, a splendid spa and resort that could be positively compared to the great hotel in Saratoga Springs, New York, called the Grand Floridian. Treating Rebecca to some of the comforts that their income could buy was something Charlie always enjoyed. He rode home with fantasies of pleasant evenings, good food, and tender nights rolling through his mind.
Charlie walked into the bedroom. Tomas had finished packing his case, including daywear, evening clothes and riding attire. It all fit into one good-sized grip, with his riding boots in their own case, which were neatly set by the door. Rebecca and Lizbet had the entire room torn apart, with, Charlie thought, every single garment Rebecca owned strewn all over the room. They would look at one dress, comparing reticules, parasols, shoes, and jewelry to first this outfit, then to another. He cleared his throat to attract attention, as both were so absorbed by this obviously earthshaking challenge that they had not noticed him enter. “Rebecca, dear, the train leaves tomorrow promptly at 8:00 am. You will be ready?”
She looked up, one lock of hair falling over her face from where it had come loose. “Of course,” she snapped. “Which do you think looks better, the ashes of rose with the garnets or the mist green with the raw emeralds?”
Charlie’s eyes glazed over. “They are both lovely. I will be in my library if you need me.” He beat a hasty retreat. Packing for a trip was clearly almost as bad as preparing for a wedding.
Entering his library, he found Darby in his usual place, curled up in a window seat reading. What was less usual was that Suzanne was curled up next to him. Emily was also ensconced in the library, sitting in Charlie’s chair at his desk. It was obvious from the look on her face that she was well into a first class pout, and perhaps, with an audience, settled in for a full-scale conniption. Charlie’s chin sank onto his chest. Why was a trip, a simple little trip, such a major event for all of the women in his family? Thank God Buddy and Andy were too young to really sulk.
“Hello, children. What brings all of you to my library this afternoon?”
Darby looked up and shrugged, then dove back into his book.
Suzanne looked at Charlie with sad eyes, and cuddled back into Darby’s side.
Emily glared at him, but said nothing.
He walked over to his desk, and lifted the five year old out of the chair. Settling in, he set her on his lap and patted her back. She sat there, stiff as a ramrod. “You promised.”
Charlie’s eyebrows rose. “I promised what, Imp?”
“You promised you would not go away.”
“I promised I would not die. I go away regularly – and I come back just as regularly, Imp. Why is this different from going up to Washington for a day or two?”
“You are going away, you are taking Mama with you and you will be gone for a long time. How do I know you will come back?” She was still stiff as a board and clearly more angry than scared. “And you are not taking us with you.”
Charlie thought for a moment. “Well, when I go to Washington, I always come back. And I always bring a present for each of you, do I not?” He scratched her back, something she always loved. “What makes this different?” The offer of a bribe often helped ease things with Emily.
“You are going away for a long time.”
“Well, I suppose that means I will have to bring you back something especially nice.”
“Why not take us with you? That would be especially nice.”
“Because Mama and I have business to attend to, and having a brood of children would be inappropriate, Imp.”
“We could be good.”
“No, Imp. Not this time. When you get bigger, I will take you on a trip, but not yet.”
“I want to go now.” The conniption was on its way.
“No, Imp. You have to stay here and look out for Buddy and Andy.”
“Tess and Ginny look after Buddy and Andy. I want to go now.” The lower lip was coming out, and her voice was rising.
Charlie looked at his daughter and raised one eyebrow. “If you want to have a conniption, go ahead. But I do not bring back good presents for bad little girls. You will stay here, you will do what Miss Wilson tells you, and you will be a good girl.” Charlie realized he had just doomed the new governess to a miserable three weeks. But that is why he paid her a good wage.
Emily sat and thought for a few minutes. Punishing Papa for leaving or foregoing a nice present – it was a hard decision. Finally, grudgingly, she said, “I will be good.” She looked up at him, her eyes slanted. “It better be a good present.”
Morning came none too soon for Charlie. All he wanted to do was to have things get back to a calm, non-conniption ridden pace. Rebecca had finished packing, finally. Emily had gone to bed the night before, finally. Suzanne had been pried from Darby’s side, finally. He watched as Tomas and Reg loaded the carriage with Rebecca’s four trunks and three hat cases, his grip and boot case, and one case each for Tomas and Lizbet. He wondered to himself if she had simply packed everything she owned.
The trip to the railroad station was uneventful, which Charlie deemed a blessing, since the departure from the house had been fraught with wailing from Em, tears from Suzanne, a lot of long suffering looks from Darby and a more than a little misty eyed Rebecca giving her children a last hug each before they left. With a little luck, the new parlor car from Pullman would have enough elegant features to distract Rebecca from the pain of leaving her children for the first time.
The train pulled in on time, and they quickly loaded the baggage onto the car. As the train pulled out, Rebecca and Lizbet put both men to work arranging things conveniently, so that Rebecca could select what she wanted for each layover without having to tear the whole car apart each time. Charlie and Tomas looked at one another, signed in unison, and went to work.
The trip to Richmond was relatively uneventful. Charlie and Rebecca watched the scenery, chatted, and played cards for most of the time, stopping to enjoy the cold lunch that Sarah had put up for them. Sweet ham on biscuits, potato salad, cold fried chicken, and delicate peach tarts were welcome, and washed down with tea prepared over the small burner that was built into the parlor car’s pantry. They made it to Richmond by late afternoon.
Richmond had not been as damaged as many of the towns and cities in Virginia. It withstood the siege well, and had rebuilt quickly after the war. Charlie and Rebecca adjourned to a lovely suite in the Linden Row Inn, and took a walk down Monument Avenue to stretch their legs after the train ride.
All along the boulevard, construction was progressing, both on new houses and on a series of memorials for the heroes of the confederacy. Charlie shook his head as Rebecca commented on the various statues along the way. “It seems clear that Richmond is not going to forget its place in history as the capitol of the confederacy for a long time.”
“Yes, I agree. I wonder just how hard it will make things in the coming years, for I fear that the aftermath of the war will last far longer than most expect.”
“Dear, I can only hope that reasonable men, like you and Richard, prevail, and that those obnoxious folks like Mr. Stevens and Mr. Sumner, who tried to impeach President Johnson, do not.”
“I fear they will, dear. All we can do is hope.”
Dinner that evening was very pleasant. Being here on the James River, with access to the Chesapeake Bay and all of the wonder seafood there made it special. Charlie missed the fresh seafood he had grown up on, and savored a plate of raw oysters as his first course.
“I have always suspected you of being able to eat anything, dear.” Rebecca eyed his plate with the large, gray blobs resting in their own shells, warily. “This proves it.” She delicately tasted her melon with paper-thin ham slices.
Charlie smiled cheerfully. “You should try them, dear. They are absolutely delicious.”
“They may taste delicious, but I cannot manage to overcome the slimy look. And someone told me that you have to eat them live.” She had a slightly greenish look to her as she considered the consumption of anything alive, even something so obvious far down the evolutionary scale as this blob of shell-bound stuff. “You will be sure to brush your teeth and gargle before you kiss me, dear.”
The rest of the trip was relatively uneventful. They stopped in Charleston for two days, visiting with Charlie’s cousin Edouard and gathering their resources for the journey into the wilderness that was much of Florida. They passed through the great switching yard in Waycross Georgia and then plunged into the pine forests that grew on either side of the great St. Johns River.
They traveled through mile after mile of long leafed pines and scrub oaks, broken by great Cyprus forests and periodic glimpses of the second largest north flowing river in the world.
“Charlie, where in the world are you taking us?” Rebecca was bored with traveling. She wanted to be wherever it was they were going.
“I talked to Mr. Astor when he was in Washington last month. He said that the area around the St. John’s River was beautiful and that we would find it to be excellent horse country. I am afraid that he also said it was in the middle of nowhere.”
“Dear, we have found nowhere. Now, where is the middle and how long will it take to get there?”
Charlie just smiled. There was nothing else he could do.
Finally, after two very boring days of train travel after their layover in Waycross, they pulled into a little, one room, white washed train station with a large sign that read “Orlando, Home of the House of Mouse.”
Charlie and Rebecca stood on the platform while Lizbet and Tomas unloaded their baggage. A few minutes spent with the stationmaster made sure that Charlie’s two train cars were properly stowed on a side railing, to await their return home.
They stood and waited. The arrangements they had made included having a carriage from the hotel pick them up at the station. No carriage was in sight. Charlie paced. Rebecca just sat, happy to be out of the swaying car, and longing for a cool drink and a bath.
After about a half hour, another train pulled into the station. Two women, both dressed in trousers, disembarked, along with their luggage. Women dressed in trousers! What a shocking thought that they would travel like this. Charlie and Rebecca looked at one another.
“Dear husband, did you tell me that there was some kind of writer’s conference going on at this resort we are staying at?”
“Um, yes, I believe there was some mention of it.”
“Do you think that perhaps these two oddly dressed women are part of some sort of extreme social movement – like the women in England who are starting to campaign for the right to vote?”
“Perhaps. But, dear, however, um, unusual they may be, we should still be polite.”
Charlie and Rebecca walked up to them. Charlie doffed his hat and bowed, like the gentleman he was, and Rebecca smiled at them.
“Good afternoon, ladies. I am General Charles Redmond, and this is my wife, Rebecca.”
“General, I’m Jennifer Heart, and this is my friend, the author Kristen O’Rourke.”
“A pleasure to meet you both.” Handshakes were politely exchanged all around.
“I notice, ladies, that you are unescorted. I am expecting a carriage shortly to take us to our hotel. I would be more than happy to provide you with a ride to your destination.”
The taller woman responded. “Thank you, General, but I don’t think that will be necessary. We are staying at the Grand Floridian, and expect a shuttle by shortly to pick us up.”
“Oh, the Grand Floridian. We will be staying there as well,” Rebecca chimed in. “I understand it is the very picture of elegance, from what our friends have told us.”
At that moment, a strange wagon, fitted with seats up front and a luggage platform at the rear, all covered with a brightly colored, striped and fringed canopy, pulled up to the station. A young man, dressed in boots, khaki pants and a matching short-sleeved belted jacket, and a pith helmet jumped down from the driver’s seat. “Sorry to be late, folks. There was an alligator that decided to sun herself on the road and we had the very devil of a time getting her to move. The horses just refused to move until we convinced the ’gator to go back into the pond.”
The four guests standing on the platform looked at one another with various expressions of concern. What had they gotten themselves into?
The General and his wife intrigued Kristen. The blonde felt a connection to them she couldn’t explain. Maybe is the resemblance between him and Jenn, she thought. Kristen looked at each one of them trying to find what drew her to the General but failed.
“Kris, our ride is here,” Jenn said, bringing Kris out of her musings. The author smiled at her friend and noticed the wagon waiting for them. She was used to the area and the service because of the many times she’d stayed at The Grand Floridian. Still, this kind of ride was new to her.
“Well General, I guess we’ll be sharing a ride after all.” Kristen was amused at the way the General and his wife were looking at the wagon. “Don’t worry about a thing, Ma'am. The hotel is all your friends have told you about and more,” she said.
Kristen winked at Jenn as they got inside the wagon. The taller woman stuck her tongue out at the feisty blonde.
Rebecca smiled as she watched the interaction between Jenn and Kris. She liked these outspoken women in trousers. Maybe this trip would teach her a thing or two. She was looking forward to that writers’ convention to see what sort of people attended.
The General stayed back to make sure all of Rebecca's belongings were loaded into the wagon. It wasn't an easy task. Charlie made a note to himself: a good tip for the driver.
They got inside the wagon and started their way to the hotel. Kristen was deep in thought as she remembered how she arranged to get a room with only a king size bed. She used the excuse of the hotel being full because of the convention. All in all, it is going to be a very interesting couple of days, she thought, trying to hide her smile.
You are such a naughty girl O'Rourke; making up excuses to get Jenn in your bed, the voice admonished her.
Hey now, everything counts in love and war. I need to make her see how good we are together. Kristen was convinced she could make Jenn realize they belonged together. These days were like perfect timing.
Jenn was observing everything around her. She wondered where the General and Rebecca had come from. They looked so out of place. The accountant smiled at that thought. It’s not like I'll fit in during the convention, either. Kris is the writer here not me. Jenn watched the relaxed expression on her friend's face. It was obvious Kristen's thoughts were far from being there. I’d give anything to know what's going on inside her head.
“You’re here to attend that writers’ convention?” Rebecca asked curiously, bringing Jenn back from her musings. Charlie smiled at his wife. He knew how curious she could be. He loved that about Rebecca. This trip would be a completely different experience for both of them.
"Well she's here for the convention. I just came to keep her company," Jenn said pointing at Kristen, as she was still deep in thought. The dark haired woman wondered why they were staying in a hotel when Kristen owned a wonderful villa situated very close by.
The author had convinced her that it was a must to stay in the hotel in order to experience the whole convention feeling. That comment had made Jenn laugh. ‘Convention feeling' huh? Well, I guess I'll find out soon enough, she thought.
The General was also curious about these two oddly dressed women. At the same time he felt so at ease with them, especially the blonde. Maybe her looks; so similar to Rebecca's it had a soothing feeling for him. He wanted to know more about them.
"So... General, what brings you here?" Jenn asked.
"Well, business I must say, but being so far from home I wanted to bring my lovely wife with me and take a little time for ourselves. We never had a proper honeymoon." Charlie answered as he wrapped his arm around Rebecca.
The young author joined the conversation. "Is your business related to the book industry or are you're not planning to attend the convention?" Kristen asked. "It’s going to be a wonderful event from what I gathered. Maybe you'd like to join us there."
"Well our business is horses but maybe we can take some time and check out the convention as well. What do you say, Charlie?" Rebecca looked pleadingly at her husband.
The General cleared his throat and looked elsewhere. He knew it was a lost battle. One look from his wife and he'd agree to anything. "We'll see love. Let's check the hotel first,” he said.
Kristen was trying hard not to laugh. He is so busted. She has him wrapped around her little finger. Who is he trying to fool? she thought. I wish one day to have Jenn look at me that way. The blonde sighed.
Rebecca felt the need to push a little further. "Awww Charlie, please. I want to know what this convention is all about," she said. "Look how nice Kristen and Jenn are. I'm sure we will have a wonderful time.”
"Oh well, darling. I guess we can do that. We are here to spend some nice time together," the General said, expecting a big smile from his wife. He wasn't disappointed. Rebecca smiled broadly.
"Thank you, my love," Rebecca said and kissed her husband's cheek.
Kristen and Jenn were witnessing it all. They exchanged looks and it was very hard to keep from laughing. A General blushing wasn't something very common to see.
"Now you see who really wears the pants in that household," Jenn whispered.
"Shhhhh, they could hear us. God, they are so cute together. It’s like a match made in heaven," Kristen whispered back. Both of them giggled as they were still looking at the tender interaction between the General and his wife.
Just then the driver let them know they'd be at the hotel in ten minutes.
"How long are you planning to stay here?" Charlie asked.
Jenn looked at Kris as she had no idea how long they were staying. She just noticed how she didn't care as long as they were together.
"We are booked here for four days, although the convention only lasts one full day. I wanted to take things slow and rest a little." Kristen said. "We've been working too much lately. Some rest and relaxation won't hurt," the blonde added.
"Good. Maybe one of these nights we can have dinner together, my treat." The General wasn't ready to say goodbye to them. He wanted to get the chance to know them better.
"I guess that could be arranged." Kristen said as she looked at Jenn with the same expression Rebecca had looked Charlie not long ago.
"Yeah, I think is a wonderful idea." Jenn agreed, feeling her cheeks hot as her blush deepened.
Both Rebecca and Charlie had matching grins on their faces.
Busted was the only word in Kristen's head.
All of the sudden the wagon started to move violently and all the occupants were shaken. It passed as quickly as it started.
Kristen landed on Jenn's lap as Rebecca was sitting on top of a very surprised Charlie.
"What happened?" all asked at the same time.
Just then two women on bicycles were approaching the wagon. "Everybody ok here? Does someone need help?" the taller one asked.
Jenn was the first to respond. "I guess we are all right. What happened?"
"I think an alligator came out of the pond and the horses freaked out. The wagon lost a wheel." The other woman said.
The General reacted at that moment. "Where are my manners? I am General Charles Redmond, and this is my wife, Rebecca," he said.
Kristen took upon herself the introductions this time. "Thanks for coming to help us. I am Kristen O'Rourke and this is my friend Jennifer Heart."
The taller of the two women stepped closer to shake the hand offered as she said. "I'm Ryan O'Flaherty and this is my partner, Jamie."
All of them exchanged handshakes as they processed the information. Kristen wondered if she was the only one to notice the meaning of the word 'partner' when Ryan said it.
by SX Meagher
"Damn, I feel like I've been up for days," Jamie said, yawning loudly. "What time did we get up?"
"We got up at 8:00, but since our bodies are on California time – I guess we've been up since 5:00 a.m. That's a little early, even for me." Ryan stretched her long frame across the bed, then snagged a pillow and placed it under her head. "I think it's time for a nice, long nap."
The young blonde woman lay down, then snuggled up next to her partner and started to perform a nice, slow massage on the skin of her belly. "Nap, huh?"
"Mmm ... a little lower, please." Ryan turned to face Jamie and gave her a sexy grin. Her white teeth were exposed, and her eyes narrowed a bit when she took the smaller hand and slipped it into her shorts. "Don't you think this is the perfect time to reconnect a little? It feels like it's been weeks since we've been ..." She tilted her chin and gave her partner a deep, long kiss, exploring her mouth with an unhurried thoroughness.
"Unh ..." Jamie groaned. She returned the kiss with equal passion, letting herself savor the clean, fresh taste of her lover's mouth. "I can't think of anything I'd rather do," she said. Her hand popped out of Ryan's pants, and she quickly sat up. "But I can think of something we have to do."
"No, not yet," Ryan pleaded. "We don't have to be on time!"
"Honey, what's the point of coming all the way to Orlando if we're not going to be on time?"
"How many guests are invited?" Ryan asked. "A couple of hundred?"
"Statistically speaking, the odds of our being missed are very, very small."
"Nice try, Ryan, but it doesn't take a mathematical genius to calculate that the odds of my mother missing us are very, very high."
"Good point." The brunette leapt to her feet and dashed for the bathroom. "If you're a good girl, I'll let you join me in the shower."
"You're the one who talked me into getting all sweaty," Jamie complained. "And not in the fun way, either."
"Oh, getting back on a bike was just the way to get our blood moving," Ryan said. "Although I'd like to get your blood pumping in a more horizontal way later on."
"It's a date, babe. If we have to make nice all day with the very proper Smith family, I'd better get some hot lovin' to make up for it."
"You? You're related to 'em," Ryan complained.
"Get a move on, O'Flaherty. The faster we go, the quicker we leave."
"Now you're talkin'. I know the best part of this day will be once we're back in this room." The happy smile that covered her face gave testament to how fervently the brunette held this belief.
Their demanding schedules had prepared them well for getting dressed in a hurry, and the young women were ready to go in just under forty-five minutes. They stopped by Jamie's mother Catherine's room, with Ryan knocking firmly and announcing, "Room service," in a strange, polyglot accent.
Catherine Evans was used to her daughter-in-law's sense of humor, and she called out, "Just leave the tray outside. I'll add a small tip to the bill."
Ryan rolled her eyes and asked Jamie, "How can I have any fun if I can never pull her chain?"
"She's too smart for both of us," Jamie decided, smiling when her mother opened the door. "Hi, Mom. Ready?"
"I am," Catherine replied. She beckoned the pair inside, then looked carefully at the young women and gave a wide smile of approval. "You both look so lovely, girls. And Ryan finally has a chance to wear her summer outfit. Florida is just the place for you, honey."
"Yeah," the brunette said, "but then I couldn't wear my winter outfit. If it ain't one thing, it's another." Ryan's reticence to spend money on dressy clothing was a long-running joke with the Evans women, neither of whom shared Ryan's phobia.
"You look great, too, Mom. Very summery and elegant."
"Thanks, honey. It's nice to be able to wear something so light at this time of year. I was beginning to tire of my spring wardrobe."
"There aren't enough days in the year for you to run through your closet," Ryan teased. She sat on the edge of the couch and asked, "Do I need to be prepped before meeting these folks? Jamie tells me they're a little tightly wrapped."
"That's an understatement, Ryan dear." Catherine tilted her head in thought and said, "The Smiths are, as you know, my father's side of the family. We didn't socialize with them much, mostly because my father didn't like to socialize with anyone who didn't play golf, sail or go deep-sea fishing. My mother never warmed up to the Smiths, so we saw them mostly at funerals and weddings. Like today," she added.
"Give me the rundown," Ryan said. "Who's who?"
"The bride, Reese, is the daughter of my father's youngest brother, Williams and his wife, Carson. Carson is Williams' second wife, and she's significantly younger than he is. He has children that are older than I am, but Reese is just a little older than Jamie."
"Did you say William?" Ryan asked.
"No, dear, Williams. It's a family name."
Rolling her eyes, Ryan said, "I should have known. What is the connection between having money and having a last name as your first name?"
"Gee, I don't know, Siobhán Ryan O'Flaherty," Jamie teased. "It must be a sign of pretension."
Ryan gave her partner a tickle and said, "Fine, the current tally is Evans women two, O'Flaherty none. Now are we ready to go? Remember, the faster we go, the faster we leave."
"Not looking forward to this, Ryan?" Catherine asked, knowing the answer.
"I prefer weddings where everyone is barefoot, drunk and dancing."
"Two out of three isn't bad," Catherine said. "You might have a good time, after all."
The threesome got on the elevator, and just as the doors began to close, a voice called out, "Hold it!"
Jamie pushed the button, and the doors opened to a tall, curly-haired, middle-aged woman. Her T-shirt read, "Xena and Gabrielle are doin' it," and she nodded her thanks to Jamie as she settled in the back corner of the elevator. The elevator made four more stops on the way to the lobby, and each stop added a few more lesbians. Even Catherine was able to detect the phenomenon, and she gave Ryan an impish smile as a pair of women entered, wearing matching T-shirts, shorts and fanny packs and sporting identical haircuts.
When the elevator reached the lobby, all of their fellow passengers turned to the left, while Jamie and Catherine turned to the right. A quick grab of Ryan's waistband stopped her from following the other women, with Jamie laughing at Ryan's pathetic whimpering. "I wanna go with them," she moaned.
"You don't even know where they're going," Jamie said, laughing heartily.
"Don't care. It's gotta be more fun than this wedding."
Catherine smiled. "Now, dear, just give it a try. If you're having a horrible time, you two can go lie by the pool. No hard feelings."
Ryan stopped trying to wriggle away from Jamie's hold and turned to face her mother-in-law. "I'm just playing," she said. "I'm happy to go to the wedding. No matter how bad it is, being with you and Jamie can make anything fun."
"That's the spirit," Catherine said. "We'll have fun no matter what."
They made it to the service just in time, finding seats in the back of the church which was nearly filled to capacity. The ceremony was one of the grandest that Ryan had ever attended, with so many bridesmaids and groomsmen that she lost count. "How many people are in this thing?" Ryan asked.
"I think she has every one she's met in the last six years in the wedding," Jamie whispered.
Ryan looked around, admiring the opulent stained-glass windows. "This is a very pretty church. I hope they have good music; I love to sing along."
Jamie patted her leg and gave her a warm smile. "Any singing will be done by pros, honey. I think you're gonna have to stifle your creative impulses."
"Mmm ... maybe they'll have karaoke at the reception," the brunette mused.
Jamie gave her a look, expecting Ryan to have a goofy grin on her face, but the brunette seemed to be completely serious. "If they have karaoke,” Jamie said, “I promise I'll sing something scandalous. You can choose the song."
"My choice?" Now Ryan's face lit up, and Jamie knew the brunette would be occupied for the duration of the service, thinking of the most embarrassing song the machine might carry.
They returned to the hotel for the reception and had been in the room for quite a few minutes before Catherine spotted anyone she knew. "That's my father's sister, Emily. Goodness, I haven't seen her in years. She lives in Bermuda and rarely comes back to the States."
"Bermuda, huh?" Ryan asked, "I bet there's some good snorkeling there."
"There is, but you'd drown yourself if you had to spend much time with Emily," Catherine warned. "Here goes." She marched over to the stately, elegantly put-together woman and said, "Aunt Emily. How are you?"
"Catherine! It's been years!" The older woman seemed genuinely glad to see her niece, and she quickly turned her attention to Jamie. "Why, Jamie Evans, I can't believe how you've grown!"
"Yes, Aunt Emily," Jamie said, smiling. "I'm twenty-one now. All grown up."
"Oh, you still have a lot of maturing to do," Emily said. "My boys are in their fifties, and they're still getting into mischief."
Uh-oh, Ryan thought, sounds like another branch of the family that summers at the Betty Ford Clinic.
"This is Ryan O'Flaherty," Catherine said. "Ryan, this is my aunt, Emily Stewart."
"Pleased to meet you," Emily said, her plastic smile in place.
"My pleasure," Ryan said, matching the older woman's smile in percentage of artificiality.
"How are things in Bermuda, Aunt Emily?" Catherine asked.
"Oh, you know how it is in a place like Bermuda. The weather is to my taste, but whenever people from the Southern Hemisphere make up the majority, you have to tolerate a certain ... indolence," the older woman said. "They don't have the Protestant work ethic that I'm used to."
Catherine gave her aunt a tense smile and said, "You could always live in Europe, Aunt Emily."
"Oh, no! I can't stand all of the rain and cold weather in England. And the other European countries are so ... Mediterranean."
"It is a problem finding the right place to live, isn't it?" Catherine asked. "Oh, there's Uncle Williams. I must say hello."
"Come back and talk to me," Emily said. "You have a foreign-born maid, don't you, Catherine? I could use some advice on how to get things through mine's thick head."
"Oh, I look forward to it," Catherine said. She led the younger women away, muttering, "Work ethic, my ass! That woman has never known an honest day's work in her life!"
"Mom," Jamie soothed, "we're swimming in foreign waters now. Just remember that it's very temporary. We'll be on our way back home tomorrow."
Catherine stopped and took a breath. "You're right, honey. I just think of how much I used to be like these people, and it embarrasses me."
"You're not like that any longer, Mom. That's all that counts."
"I suppose so, dear." Catherine gave her daughter a smile and said, "All I can do is try to have some empathy for how empty life is when you focus on the material side of it to the exclusion of emotional connections. I should feel sorrow for these people, not just anger."
"That's the ticket, Catherine. They're missing out on so much. It's hard to believe you could live in Bermuda and have nothing but complaints about it."
"Ryan, should Aunt Emily make it to heaven, she'll drive St. Peter mad with all of her grievances. She could try the patience of all of the saints!"
"What's your uncle like?" Ryan asked. "Is he as bad?"
"Only in some ways. He was always my favorite of my father's family, but he has his own issues."
"Can't wait," Ryan said, wrinkling her nose.
They approached a silver-haired man in a gray, striped morning coat and Catherine said, "Uncle Williams?"
The man turned, and when he faced them, they saw that he was wide-eyed with anxiety. "Oh, Catherine," he said, sighing heavily. "Forgive me, dear, but I'm having a hell of a day."
"Oh, I don't know what's wrong with the people who run this hotel, but they've scheduled some kind of freak show right down the hall. Everyone is sure to notice, and it'll ruin Reese's big day! Carson has been throwing a fit for the last half hour, and if I don't get her calmed down, there's going to be a scene!"
"Where is she?" Catherine asked.
"The last time I checked, she had some employee by the ear. They were right outside the side door." He signaled with his head, looking helpless as he did so.
"There's no need for the two of you to have so much stress today," Catherine said. "Let me go see if I can help."
"Oh, Catherine, you have no idea how much I would appreciate that." He rolled his eyes and said, "Marrying a younger woman isn't all it's cracked up to be. No one tells you that no matter how old they get, they're still twenty-five years younger than you are! When I'm ninety, she'll be a spry sixty-five!"
There's no way you'll see ninety, and on the off chance that you do, Carson will have moved on to greener fields, Catherine thought, but wisely kept her thoughts to herself. "I'll see what I can do. Jamie, Ryan, do you want to come with me?"
"Yes!" both women answered simultaneously.
"Oh, Jamie, how rude of me!" Williams said. "Please forgive me for not even acknowledging you."
"That's all right, Uncle Williams. I can see how stressed you are." She took Ryan's hand and said, "This is my partner, Ryan O'Flaherty."
"I'm glad you could come," Williams said, shaking the tall, young woman's hand. "I hope you enjoy yourself."
"I'm sure we will," Ryan said, smiling.
As the women walked away, Williams tilted his head and wondered, Is Jamie a lawyer? Who brings her business partner to a family wedding? He shrugged and thought, I'll never understand young people!
Catherine approached the enraged mother of the bride, watching in amazement as Carson harangued the man she was speaking to. To get a little space, the man was trying to back up, but Carson was having none of it, leaning into him like a dog on the end of her leash. "If you want to be paid for this event, you'll make sure that my guests don't have to consort with a bunch of badly dressed lesbians." She said each of these words in a loud tone, dropping her voice only on the last one.
"Mrs. Smith, we've been through this before. There's nothing I can do about your views regarding our guests. I still can't see how the other gathering impacts negatively on your event."
"My guests are some of the most socially prominent people in Orlando," Carson said. "This is a formal event, and everyone is dressed exquisitely. The women down the hall look like they're going to some sort of lesbian wrestling match!"
The man looked like he was at the limit of his patience. "There isn't a person in the hotel who has violated our dress code, Mrs. Smith. The fact that you don't approve of some of our quests is a personal problem that I can't rectify."
"Personal problem! A personal problem!?!" She took in a breath, and just before she let it out, Catherine stepped in.
"I'm sorry to intrude, but maybe I can be of some help."
Carson turned and immediately tried to regain her composure. "Oh! Catherine, you can't imagine what's going on here."
"Williams told me what's going on, dear. I have a lot of experience in dealing with situations like this from all of my charity work, Carson. We're always having misunderstandings with the hotels we deal with. This is such a big day in your life ¾ why don't you go back inside and let me try to help resolve this. I'm sure Reese needs you."
"Oh, my Reese is so distraught," Carson moaned. "Her wedding is being absolutely ruined."
"Go on in," Catherine urged. "Take care of Reese. I guarantee we can reach some sort of accommodation."
"You're a life saver," Carson said. Turning to glare at the man, she said, "We're not paying another dime for this fiasco. We'll see you in court!"
As the woman stormed away, Catherine said, "I'm so sorry for that display. My name is Catherine Evans, and this is my daughter, Jamie, and her lover, Ryan."
The man's eyes opened wide, and he extended his hand, "I'm Chris Anderson, and I'm the manager of special events at the hotel. Mr. and Mrs. Smith are more than a little angry, as you saw, but there's really nothing I can do about the situation."
"We just arrived, but it sounds like my relatives are going ballistic because of a lesbian event down the hall. Is that correct?"
The man sighed. "I have no idea what the sexual orientation of our guests is. I can't imagine why it matters."
"Knowing my family, it's partially sexual orientation and partially social class," Catherine said. "They don't like much diversity in any area."
Chris smiled, asking, "Are you sure you're related?"
"Yes, we're related," Catherine said, "but I've had the benefit of having my mind opened in the last year. Jamie and Ryan have helped to make me a more well-rounded person." She shrugged and added, "We're only here for the weekend, so I don't think the girls can work their magic on the Smiths."
"Will you try?" Chris asked, looking hopeful.
Ryan cocked her head and asked, "Where is the event that has the Smith's upset?"
"It's all the way at the end of this hall. That's part of the problem. There are a number of people standing outside of the event, and all of the Smith's guests have to walk past to reach the wedding."
"Is there another door that's closer to the wedding?"
"Yes, but it's not the most direct route. The valet parking is right next to the far entrance."
Ryan looked at Jamie and said, "We can figure out a way around this. Let's go take a look." The four of them walked to the far end of the hall, noting the large sign in front of the event that was causing the contention. "Bardcon?" Ryan asked Chris. "What's a Bardcon?"
"I'm not sure," he answered. "All I know is that the Smith's don't want their guests to have to walk past it."
"We can handle this, Chris," Jamie said confidently. "You can go take care of your next calamity."
"Are you certain?" he asked.
"Not to worry," she insisted. "This is a simple problem with a simple solution."
He gave her a funny look, but took her at her word, shaking each of their hands before he answered his constantly ringing beeper.
"I hope you have a solution," Ryan said, "'cause I'm still working on it."
"I think I know where Jamie's going with this," Catherine said. "And I think it'll work." She turned to Ryan and said, "If my guess is correct, you'll be back in your usual clothes faster than we thought."
Ryan turned and started for the elevators, once again pulled up short by Jamie. "Not that fast, sport. We have a little work to do first."
"I knew it was too good to be true," Ryan said, a dramatic faux pout on her face.
Twenty minutes later, the plan was in full swing. Jamie was stationed by the front door, just next to the valet parking stop. If the people who emerged from an arriving car were expensively dressed society members, she approached them and asked if they were there for the Smith-Westwood wedding. If so, she escorted them along the outside of the building, past the lovely lake, and handed them off to Catherine, who was waiting by the door next to the wedding.
Conversely, if the guests were average-looking people, who looked like they knew how to smile and have fun, Jamie sent them right in, telling them that Bardcon was being held in the first event hall.
Ryan was stationed halfway down the hall, in charge of keeping the Bardcon guests from straying down the hall towards the wedding. She was wearing her friendliest smile, so none of the people she encountered seemed to mind her gentle direction.
A pair of well-dressed women approached, and Ryan was just about to ask if they were looking for the Smith-Westwood wedding, but there was something about them that made her change her question. "Can I help you find something?"
"We're looking for a pay phone," the taller of the pair said.
"Oh, there's a bank of phones right by the front door. They're the closest ones."
"Thanks," the woman said. She gave Ryan a look and asked, "Do you work here?"
"No," the brunette admitted, "I'm just hanging out. Are you attending Bardcon?"
"Yes, we are," the attractive blonde woman replied. "Aren't you?"
"No, I wish I were, even though I don't know what it is," Ryan said.
"Pardon?" the blonde asked.
"I'm attending a family wedding, and your group looks like a lot more fun."
"It is fun," the taller of the couple replied. "It's a fiction convention."
"I couldn't help but notice there are a lot of lesbians in the group," Ryan said. "Is it lesbian fiction?"
The blonde smiled and shook her head. "Not at all ... uhm ..."
"I'm Ryan." The young woman extended her hand in greeting.
"I'm Torrey, and this is my lover, Taylor. The focus of the convention is fiction written about certain TV shows. I suppose that lesbians make up a disproportionate percentage of the fans, particularly of ‘Xena, Warrior Princess.’"
"Oh ..." Ryan nodded her comprehension. "I always meant to watch that one."
Taylor spoke, saying, "It was a great show. Some of the people here have written stories based on the series ... and some are quite well known." She cast a fond glance at her partner, and Ryan caught the look that Torrey sent back.
"Are you a writer?" Ryan asked Torrey.
Taylor spoke first. "She's a marvelous writer, Ryan, but this isn't her genre. Maybe you've heard of her ... Torrey Gray?"
Ryan shook her head, saying, "Unless you've written math or biology textbooks, I'm sure I'm not familiar with your work. But my partner is an English major, and she's aware of the world at large." She chuckled at her own joke, then picked up a hotel notepad. "Would you write your name down? I don't want to screw it up."
Torrey nodded agreeably and did as Ryan asked. "Here you go. You two should stop by if you have a chance. It's a fun group."
"I'm sure Jamie, my lover, would be very interested. How long does it last?"
"It's only today, but it should continue until about 5:00 p.m.," Taylor replied.
"Thanks. Thanks a lot," Ryan said. "Maybe this trip won't feel like such a waste after all."
Catherine and Jamie walked down the hall and spotted Ryan leaning against a massive potted plant. "I think we're finished," Catherine said. "The reception started almost two hours ago, and I can't imagine that we'll have many more arrivals."
"Things have been slow down here," Ryan said. "But I have a little surprise to add to our itinerary if you're in the mood, Jamie."
The green-eyed blonde immediately perked up. "Surprise?"
"Yep. And that means that I'm not ready to tell you what it is. You have to wait until the reception's over."
"For services rendered, I think you've earned a reprieve," Catherine decided. "Let's go say goodbye to the happy family, and you two can go wherever you wish."
"Now you're talkin', Catherine. My energy level is picking up already."
Almost immediately they encountered Williams and Carson, the couple looking moderately happy now that their guests had been properly escorted. "Catherine," Williams said. "You were positively brilliant!"
"Oh, Catherine, you saved the day," Carson agreed. "We're finally able to relax and enjoy ourselves."
"It was our pleasure," Catherine said. "Don't mention it."
"Nonsense," Williams said. "The three of you made this day one to remember for us."
"How did you manage to control that mob?" Carson asked.
"It was hardly a mob," Jamie said, narrowing her eyes. "Just a bunch of people who are fans of certain kinds of fiction."
"I tried to shoo some of them away, and they were remarkably rude to me," Carson said. "Did you fare better with them?"
"Yes, but that stands to reason," Jamie said, smiling thinly.
"Really? Why's that?"
"I speak lesbian," the blonde said, earning smiles from her mother and partner and puzzled looks from her other relatives.
At 11:00 that night, Ryan opened the door of their room, dropped the card key on the dresser and fell face first onto the bed.
"Tired, sweetie?" Jamie asked.
"I was tired at 10:00 a.m. Now, I'm exhausted."
The energy was pouring off Jamie, and she bounced a little on the bed. "I'm so energized! It was so much fun being with all of those women who are creating their own publishing opportunities! How cool is that, Ryan?"
"Way ... way ... cool," the brunette mumbled against the bedspread. "I'll dream about how cool it is."
"Hey, I thought you were going to rock my world tonight," Jamie reminded her. "Where's my hyperactive sweetie-pie?"
"Leave a message, and she'll get back to you in the morning," Ryan replied. "The activity, hyper or otherwise, has been drained out of your sweetie-pie. I think the three hour dinner did it. Lesbians talk too much."
"I think I'll go meet up with the girls down in the bar," Jamie said. "They know how to have a good time."
Ryan's dark head lifted and one eyebrow rose.
Smiling, Jamie stood and undressed, then began to work on her limp partner's clothes. "I suppose I'd rather be with you than a bunch of strangers." She leaned over to remove Ryan's shorts, tugging them off when the brunette lifted her hips. "You're low-energy, but you're mine."
"Low energy, huh?" Ryan asked, a little bit of the natural sparkle coming back into her eyes.
"That's my tiger," Jamie said, lying down next to her.
"I don't know if I can manage tiger status, but I've got a little energy left for a good cause."
The blonde batted her eyes becomingly. "Am I a good cause?"
"You're the best there ever was, Jamers. Now let's stop talking and start kissing. Time is of the essence."
"I love a woman with a sense of purpose," Jamie said. "Especially when the purpose is me."
“Whoops! C’mon... there’s something else I wanted to show you here.”
“This is amazing. So crowded, so busy,” the bard commented as she looked around the airport terminal. “People used to really travel this way?”
“Oh yes. It was quite popular, and the fastest way to get around in this day and time.” A hand on her arm made her stop and look down. “What is it, Little One?”
“Those two women.... they look very familiar.” The blonde gestured towards a couple that had stopped at the baggage claim to pick up their bags.
“Do you remember your history? The tall woman is Taylor Kent, a well-respected artist. The smaller woman is her partner, best selling author, Torrey Gray. They are on their way to a showing at the National Gallery here.”
“Oh, can we go? Please?” Green eyes looked beseechingly up into electric blue. The warrior smiled down fondly at her bard. “Please? You know I adore her work.”
“Sure, love. Let’s go.”
“I love this place.”
Now the brunette laughed out loud. “I know. We come here every time we visit the capital city. C’mon. I think Taylor’s exhibit is set up....” She took the smaller woman by the hand, and they walked toward the slowly gathering crowd. The warrior was brought up short by a tug on her hand. She raised an eyebrow in mute question.
"Am I seeing things?” The blonde head nodded in the direction of two other women who bore striking resemblance to Torrey and Taylor. A snippet of conversation floated back to them.
“Brooke, this is just the nicest surprise. I mean, I am looking forward to going to Bardcon, but this... I have always wanted to visit the National Gallery. And having the opportunity to meet Taylor Kent....”
The rest of the conversation was lost as the couple walked out of hearing. A blonde eyebrow twitched into place. “Bardcon?”
“We’ll get there eventually, Little One. Let’s go see the exhibit.”
by LJ Maas
“Do my hips look big in these slacks?”
Taylor Kent craned her neck in order to look at her own reflection in the hotel’s full-length mirror. She turned this way and that, seemingly ignored by the blonde-haired woman seated on the sofa.
“Hey, I’m being shown in the National Gallery, what do I have to do to rate some attention around here?”
“Argh!” Torrey cried out at the television set. Turning to Taylor the blonde-haired woman said, “Play some defense and throw a football.”
“Ahh,” Taylor replied with an understanding tone. She walked over to where her partner was watching the TV and seated herself on the arm of the sofa. “You’re watching the Bears, eh?”
She didn’t receive a response. Torrey had already turned her attention back to the game.
“Son of a--“
“Well look at them! Pathetic bunch of mother--”
“Why is it that you hardly ever curse, but the minute the Bears’ game comes on you use language that would make a marine blush? Honey, it's just a game.”
Torrey glared up at her partner. "Bears' games are never just games."
"Sorry," Taylor replied, rising and trying to hide the grin on her face. She knew better than to tease her lover about her Chicago teams, but she just couldn't help herself some of the time. Torrey took it all so seriously.
"Hey, come on, give me a hand," Taylor said as she crossed the room to stand before the mirror again. "We have to get going if we're going to make it on time and I still can't decide what to wear. Now answer me. Do my hips look too big in these pants?"
Torrey was so intent on watching the television set that she answered in a more distracted fashion than she intended. "They look as big as they do in everything else you wear."
Torrey realized the way her words had sounded just a moment too late, in that split second after she uttered them. She pulled her attention from the TV and looked over to find her lover glaring down at her. One of Taylor's eyebrows arched high up into her dark bangs as she crossed her arms in front of her chest.
Torrey mustered up an innocent expression. "I guess, being a writer and all, I could have phrased that differently, huh?"
"I didn't really mean it the way it came out you know." Torrey apologized as she moved closer to Taylor.
Torrey reached Taylor and slipped her arms around the taller woman's waist. "Maybe I could do something to...you know...make it up to you?"
Taylor couldn't keep a straight face any longer. She smiled and reached down, placing a quick kiss on the tip of Torrey's nose. "I'll make you a list...for later." She winked and both women laughed easily.
"Besides, you look magnificent, just like you always do," Torrey said.
"Oh yea, suck up now."
"Well, it's true."
"Okay, I believe you. What do you say we get going to the Museum now?"
"Lead on McDuff."
"This place is incredible, Stretch." Torrey said, indicating the outdoor sculpture garden that was a part of the National Gallery.
"Yea, now tell me what they want with my stuff here."
"I don't know, maybe they got tired of the garden gnomes."
Taylor looked down at her partner. "Perhaps you're uncertain as to your role in this conversation."
Torrey laughed aloud, squeezing Taylor's arm as she did so. "I'm sorry, honey, just teasing. You and I both know that you're the artist of the decade and the National Gallery merely showed good taste in inviting you to create a permanent exhibit."
"That's better," Taylor replied and offered a lopsided grin. "It's happening again," she added as she stared at something over Torrey's shoulder.
"A couple over there staring at us."
"Honey," Torrey began through light laughter. "We've both had our pictures plastered everywhere in D.C. this week. We're bound to get that a bit."
"It's sort of unnerving, though."
"Because people are staring at you?" Torrey asked in disbelief. "I would have thought you'd be used to that by now."
"No, because they're the second, obviously lesbian couple that I've seen in D.C. this week--“
"I'll call out the militia."
"Very funny. I meant to say that I find something odd about they way they look. They each look like...well...us. You know, in a weird sort of way."
Torrey turned, but the couple in question had already disappeared inside the Gallery. She attempted to put Taylor at ease, knowing the tall woman's nerves were simply on edge because of the excitement of the day.
"Maybe we've started a trend. Tall dark woman fall for incredibly gorgeous, not to mention well built, intelligent blonde."
"You forgot to mention humble, too."
The two women laughed together, walking arm in arm around the various outdoor exhibits.
"Hey, let's go inside and find one of those restaurants. I'm starving," Torrey eventually said.
"Gee, what a surprise," Taylor shot back. She glanced around nervously, however, just before she and Torrey re-entered the museum.
"God, what a day!" Taylor kicked off her black pumps the moment they entered the spacious room. "I swear, next time I have to get dressed up I'm going to pull that eclectic artist thing and wear tennis shoes with my suit."
"I hear you, but you were fantastic today, Stretch. I'm proud of you. It's quite an accomplishment to be asked to display work at the National Gallery." Torrey gave the taller woman a hug. "Do you feel like you've finally made it?"
"Thanks, Little Bit, but I think that happened when you and JT moved in with me." Taylor returned the affection.
"You always know just what to say," Torrey replied in a sleepy voice.
"Tired?" Taylor asked after she noticed Torrey's stifled yawn.
"Yep. I think I'd like nothing better than a nice hot shower right about now."
"Nothing better?" Taylor reached down and kissed her lover soundly.
"Hhmm...well, it may not be number one, but it's up there."
"Go on," Taylor laughed. "Take your shower and relax. How about if I order room service and we eat dinner in the room tonight?"
"Ooh, great idea. Don't forget dessert." Torrey called back as she entered the bathroom.
"Oh, I've got something you can eat for dessert," Taylor responded.
"Well, we don't have to..." Taylor looked up in confusion as Torrey returned to the sitting room.
"No, I mean oh no, I left my laptop sitting on the front seat of the car."
Taylor took one look at the expression on Torrey's face and moved to where she'd kicked off her shoes. "Okay, I'll be back in a few minutes."
"You're a sweetheart. Thanks, Stretch."
"Yea, yea. Go take your shower. I'll be back in a few." Taylor kissed Torrey, grabbed the keys to the rental car, and left the room.
It took no more than ten minutes for Taylor to locate the wayward computer. She stopped at the desk just to check if they'd had any messages before heading back upstairs.
Taylor didn't hear the water running in the shower when she walked into their hotel room. "Tor?" There was only silence in response. "Tor?"
Taylor cautiously moved into the bathroom. She noticed the water had been turned off, but the curtain was still pulled around the large tub. "Tor? You in there?"
"Thank God!" Torrey's voice came from behind the shower curtain. "What took you so long?"
"Hey, are you okay?"
"Well, that's sort of hard to explain..."
Taylor pushed the curtain back to find Torrey on her knees in the tub. The rest of the sight was almost too much to believe. "What in the world did you do?" Taylor asked, losing the battle not to laugh.
"What the hell does it look like?" It was apparent Torrey was a step past irate.
"Well, it looks like you've got your hand stuck in the drain." More laughter.
"You're a friggin' prodigy. That's exactly what happened, and quit laughing!"
"Well...I mean...what...Jesus, Hon, how did this happen?"
Taylor reached over and grabbed a large bath towel. She did her best to wrap it around the kneeling woman. She got down on her own knees and bent over the edge of the tub, examining Torrey's hand. The blonde had somehow buried her hand into the drain all the way up to the wrist.
"How on God's earth did you get it in there in the first place?" Taylor questioned.
"My hand was all covered in soap. I think it just slipped right in."
"Well, there's the answer then. We'll just cover your hand in soap again, twist it around, turn on the water and then--"
"No? What do you mean no?"
"We can't twist anything and we most certainly can't turn on the water."
Taylor leaned back, seating herself on the floor and running a hand through her dark hair. "Okay, Hon, you've lost me here. Why don't you start at the top and tell me what the heck happened."
"You're going to think I'm insane."
Taylor merely arched an eyebrow. "It ain't looking' real good for you now."
"Har har. I was all soaped up and somehow..." Torrey looked at Taylor with a sheepish expression. "Well...my ring fell off."
"I told you not to wear that anymore until we got it resized," Taylor responded.
The ring had become a wedding ring of sorts for the pair. Taylor had bought it many years before she and Torrey became a couple. She had originally meant it as a friendship ring, with Taylor wearing an identical one, but over the years, it came to mean something more to the two women.
Torrey had lost a few pounds since moving to California and her ring began to loosen until it actually fell off one day. She refused to be without the piece of jewelry, even to have it sized. She realized now that she put that off one day too many.
"So, the ring is gone and your hand is stuck. That's okay, Little Bit."
"Well...it's not exactly gone."
Taylor looked down at Torrey's hand, then back into her lover's face.
"You're holding on to the ring down there, aren't you?"
Torrey shrugged and smiled self consciously before allowing tears to fill her eyes.
Taylor softened at the sight, as she so often did. "Okay, okay, Hon. We can figure this out, don't cry, okay? You can let go of it. We'll have someone make a ring just like that one."
"It won't be the same."
"Torrey, be reasonable."
Taylor huffed out a long breath. She never could resist when Torrey used that old nickname.
"All right, I'll call the desk and see if they can get a plumber up here. Let's see if they can offer any advice. Do you know how embarrassing this is going to be to explain?"
"Excuse me?" Torrey indicated the towel that covered her body.
"Oh yea, well, I'll get your robe before I call."
"Ya wanna tell me one more time how this happened?"
"No, I do not!" Torrey responded.
Taylor could see that the confused plumber's disbelief over the whole situation, coupled with Torrey's growing frustration, made for a potentially volatile combination.
"Look," Taylor began. "She can't relax her hand without losing her grip on the ring she has a hold of. We need to get into the pipes some way and get the ring. Is that possible?"
"Well, I guess. It might be possible to go in from the room below, but there's guests there and I'd need special permission..."
"Just point me in the direction of whoever I need to talk to," Taylor said.
Half an hour later, Taylor stood before a large door. It was the room on the floor below theirs. She had been standing there for nearly five minutes. She had no idea what she could possibly say to these people to make it sound as though she was even the tiniest bit sane.
"Hi, I'm Taylor Kent and a funny thing happened to my wife during her shower. Oh, no...that doesn't sound too damn crazy. Okay, I guess it's now or never..."
She knocked on the door and a young woman pulled it open. Taylor seemed just as surprised as the stranger. This was the blonde that Taylor had seen at the National Gallery, one of a pair of women who had stared at her oddly enough to make her feel self conscious. One of the reasons that the pair had caught the artist's attention was that the woman before her looked like a younger version of Torrey. The feeling unnerved Taylor a small bit.
"Oh my God!"
Taylor whirled around to see what was behind her at the young woman's exclamation.
"It's you," the stranger exuberantly bubbled.
Taylor realized that the girl had simply recognized the artist. She figured that charm was the way to go, considering her request.
"Taylor Kent, and you are?" Taylor asked with a smile.
"Me? I'm...uhm...oh, geez. I'm uhm..."
A tall brunette suddenly appeared behind the blonde and she and Taylor arched an eyebrow at one another at the same time. It was an uncanny sort of déjà vu moment for them both.
The blonde turned to glare at the brunette. "Brooke!" She turned back toward Taylor and extended a hand. "Sorry, I'm Samantha Moleson and the humorous woman behind me is my partner, Brooke Gordon. I was just a little thrown. We love your work and we just saw you this afternoon at the National Gallery."
"Thanks, I always appreciate meeting a fan," Taylor lied. "Gordon? Aren’t you in a band?"
"Used to be...drummer. I work on the other end of the music business now. I own a recording company."
"Yea," Taylor nodded. "Anti...uhm...gravity?"
Brooke arched one eyebrow once more. "Anti-Zero."
“You don’t exactly look like the type to have heard them.”
“Actually it was my daughter,” Taylor replied.
"So, there was something you needed?" Brooke asked impatiently.
"Brooke...manners," Samantha reminded her lover. "What can we do for you Ms. Kent?"
"Uhm, yea, that."
It took nearly five minutes for Taylor to explain her dilemma. By the time she had finished, the two strangers just looked at one another.
"So, what do you want us to do again?" asked the brunette in a halting tone.
"Nothing, we just need your room for a couple of hours. Go have dinner, my treat."
"And come back to a torn apart bathroom?" Brooke questioned.
"I swear, if this works out we'll give you the suite we're in...anything." Taylor ran her fingers through her hair. "Look, I know how insane this sounds, and if it was anything else, but it's our wedding ring. I just can't disappoint her...not for this."
Brooke looked down at the blonde beside her and knew exactly how the older woman felt. "Okay, give us ten minutes."
"Thank you. I won't forget this."
"Not when you see how much this one can eat, you won't," Brooke chuckled as she jerked a thumb in her partner's direction.
"See anything yet?"
Taylor leaned over the plumber, effectively hiding anything the man might have seen in the tall artist's shadow. He looked up at the woman in exasperation.
"Maybe you could be more of a help if you was upstairs with your friend," he said.
"No, I'm good."
"She might need something...you know some help as soon as I get this pipe off. You could just...well, like be a moral support."
Taylor was silent for a moment. "Actually, she's the one that sent me down here to bug you instead of her."
"Uh huh," he replied. “It’s working.”
"Okay, okay. I'll go in the other room. Holler as soon as you get close, all right?"
Taylor walked into the other room and settled into a chair before rising only a few moments later to pace the floor. She wished she could be doing more, but frankly, simply staying out of Torrey's hair was probably help enough at this point.
She sat down once more and noticed the program and map from the National Gallery. It made her think of the young couple that had reminded her so uncannily of she and Torrey. Taylor looked around and located a large pad of paper and a pencil sitting on the desk. She began to sketch the couple from memory, which was easy, since seeing them had been rather like looking in a mirror. She finished the drawing and signed it, thanking the two women once more. Taylor rose and slipped the drawing inside the Gallery program.
"Just about there," she heard the plumber shout from the bathroom.
Taylor rushed in just as the man lifted apart the section of pipe directly underneath Torrey's hand. As the artist kneeled down beside the pipe, she and the plumber both heard an amazing string of curses echo down through the pipe.
It was all in the timing as the sound of a metallic ping rang through the pipe. Taylor placed her hands under the open pipe and heartbeats later, Torrey's ring, a little worse for the wear, landed neatly into the artist's cupped palms.
The plumber remained silent, still looking up as though he could see Torrey in the room above them. "She's got a bit of colorful language in her, don't she?"
Taylor couldn't help but smile. "Uhm...she's a writer," she said in the way of an apology.
Torrey examined her newly sized ring in the dim light over their airline seats.
"If you keep looking at it that way I'm going to get jealous," Taylor said without raising her eyes from the book in her hand.
"Oh, hush," Torrey admonished. "I'm just happy...and impressed."
"Impressed?" Taylor stopped reading and placed the book in her lap.
"Yes. You went through an awful lot of embarrassment to get this for me, Stretch."
"Only for you, Little Bit. Only for you."
"I have to remember to thank those girls if we see them at the Con. I feel like I only got to meet Brooke and Sam for a few minutes and they had to hurry off."
"Did you notice anything...oh, I don't know...odd about them? About the way they look?"
"Odd? No, I can't say as I did. Why?"
"Oh, no reason. I just have a feeling this convention is going to be...interesting."
"Me, too. I can't wait. Next stop…BardCon."
by Carrie Ryan
“Sam, I can’t believe that out of all the places we could have gone for dinner in Washington DC, you insisted on the Hard Rock.”
Brooke had been teasing her wife since the moment they had been seated at the restaurant hours before. They now walked around the Nation’s Capital taking in all the sights as the sun began to sink lower in the sky.
“Well, what can I say, honey? I loved all of the museums and the different exhibits you’ve shown me but you know I’m a Rock-N-Roll kind of girl. Besides, I’ve never been to one so I wanted to see what all the fuss was about,” Sam replied with a twinkle in her green eyes as she held on tighter to her wife, just enjoying the closeness.
One dark eyebrow found its way into Brooke’s hairline as she knowingly glanced at her wife as they started across the street to the hotel entrance.
“Oh... is that the reason? So, you’re telling me that the fact that there was an autographed Anti-Zero snare drum hanging above our booth had absolutely nothing to do with it?”
A small blonde head nodded once in affirmation. “That too!”
Brooke stopped once they were in front of the hotel as Sam continued towards the door. The taller woman could only shake her head and laugh silently as she watched Sam walk away.
Brooke was brought out of her musings at the sound of her wife’s voice. Quickly, she found her way back to the blonde’s side as she simply replied, “Yes, Dear.”
“Well, at least the bathroom’s back in one piece,” Brooke mumbled as she entered the room and began to prepare herself for bed.
“I told you not to worry about it. I mean really, Brooke... Did you honestly think that Ms. Kent wouldn’t have it taken care of? You worry too much, Hon.” Sam turned the volume down on the television and followed the grumbling woman into the bathroom. She stood with one shoulder against the doorjamb as she watched Brooke wash her face.
The older woman shrugged her shoulders.
“Maybe. Speaking of....” She looked up and into Sam’s eyes reflected back in the mirror. “You certainly seemed pretty excited to meet her earlier.”
“Well, of course I was! She’s a fantastic artist.”
Brooke indifferently shrugged her shoulders.
Small fingers worked their way through short blonde tresses. “Oh, come on, you Fuddy Duddy. I saw you admiring her work earlier. Admit it.”
Sam held her chin up high knowing her lover could not dispute the truth.
Brooke hung up her washcloth and grabbed her toothbrush and toothpaste. After a moment of silence she looked once again into her wife’s refection. Toothbrush in hand, she threw her hands up in defeat. “Okay, I admit it. It just...” she paused momentarily, looking for the correct term to describe her earlier actions. “Shocked me to see her standing at our door. I guess for a moment I thought she was flirting with you.”
Sam’s sudden burst of laughter filled the room.
“Flirting? Really, Brooke. Come on, Honey, she wasn’t flirting with me. Ms. Kent is a very happily married woman. As a matter of fact, she’s married to one of my favorite authors, Torrey Gray. And don’t even try and tell me that you didn’t get a kick out of hearing that her daughter is a fan of yours.”
Sam didn’t miss the smile that lit up Brooke’s face. She walked up behind her and wrapped her arms around the tight stomach, pulling gently on the naval ring under her fingers. “You’ve still got it, Honey.” Sam stood on her tiptoes to kiss the brunette’s cheek. She started out of the bathroom, leaving Brooke to finish up, but not before pinching a firm rear end on her way out.
Sam giggled as she continued out of the bathroom, enjoying the feel of the thick, clean carpet beneath her small feet. She walked over to the bed and turned down the covers as she prepared herself for bed.
“You know,” Sam raised her voice to be heard over the running water in the adjacent room. “I don’t think I ever thanked you earlier.”
“Thank me? For what, Baby?” Brooke asked around a mouthful of toothpaste.
“For bringing me with you and showing me around. Brooke, I really appreciate it”
“Well, Baby... you really had to come with me. I mean... Janet can easily show up at any of these shows over the next couple of nights to see how well you’ve handled the promotions for this tour. If she’s not happy with what you’ve done, she could hold you back from graduation.”
“I know,” Sam sighed as she crawled into the queen-sized bed.
Brooke shut off the bathroom light and walked back into the bedroom area of their room. She began to pack up their bags so they could leave for Atlanta in the morning, leaving out only what they would need when they awoke. “Honey, don’t worry about it. You did a fantastic job with all the promotions. Last night’s show in Fairfax went off without a single hitch. For what it’s worth, the band loves everything you’ve done. And so do I.”
Sam smiled as she looked up into honest blue eyes. The nervousness she felt surrounding the beginning of the tour as well as her pending graduation began to fade.
“Well, they do seem like a great bunch of guys. Unfortunately, they can’t give me my final grade. Tell you what... why don’t you hand me the map and the rest of that stuff so I can go ahead and highlight our route to Atlanta?”
“That’s my girl,” Brooke replied, relieved that Sam was beginning to relax a bit. She picked up all the various paperwork off of the desk that included their program from the National Museum as well as a road atlas and Line Of Fire’s tour program which held all of the dates for the first leg of their East Coast tour. She turned out the light over the desk, grabbed her briefcase and walked over to the bed to hand the requested materials to her wife.
“Here you go.”
Brooke sat cross-legged on the opposite side of the bed and began searching through her briefcase. Holding up three different colors of highlighters, she asked, “Which color do you want?”
“Brooke, look at this!”
Brooke’s attention shifted from the briefcase in her lap to the penciled sketch in Sam’s hands.
While searching through the stack for their map, Sam came across the drawing left for them as a “thank-you” of sorts.
Brooke was struck speechless as she gazed on at what was obviously, her and Sam. The detail was amazingly accurate and she didn’t even want to begin to think of how long it probably took the artist to draw. A simple “Thank you” was neatly written above the unmistakable signature of Taylor Kent.
The record exec placed her briefcase on the floor, taking her eyes off of the drawing just long enough to look at the blonde’s face.
“Oh my God, Brooke. Isn’t it beautiful?”
The brunette’s gaze never left Sam’s face as she replied, “Yes.”
Sam looked up as no further commentary came forth from the woman at her side. Their gazes locked for several moments before Sam gently placed the drawing on her nightstand and turned out the light. Next, she grabbed the remote and turned off the television before leaning over and turning off the light on Brooke’s side as well.
The only illumination in the room came from a single moonbeam shining through a small crack in the thick burgundy curtains and straight onto Brooke’s face. Sam didn’t even try to stop herself from leaning forward and claiming the lips under hers. Long arms wrapped around and began to trace soft patterns across a small back. After several leisurely moments, Brooke pulled back slightly and let her eyes focus on the emeralds above hers.
“What do you say we plan the rest of our trip in the morning?”
Sam’s smile was brighter than anything Brooke had ever seen as she replied by kissing her lover again. She rolled Sam over onto her back and supported her own weight on her forearms as she continued to thoroughly kiss the woman who had stolen her heart months before. Brooke pulled back slightly as she stared down into her lover’s glazed eyes.
“You know, Darlin... I hate to spoil a perfect moment but I have a confession to make.”
“Oh yeah? What’s that?” Sam asked as her hands found their way into the inky black tresses cascading over her like a curtain.
“During all my travels with the band, there was one thing that I grew to dislike more than anything.”
“What’s that, Babe?”
Blue eyes lit up, mischievously. “The smell of new concert t-shirts,” she replied as she indicated the band t-shirt Sam had acquired the night before.
Sam looked down at the shirt she wore and then returned the playful look on her wife’s face. “Well, that’s easy to fix. I was thinking that it would look better thrown on the floor anyway.”
Before long, the t-shirt as well as any other thought was gone and forgotten.
“What do you suppose those two ghost busters were doing in DC, Baby?” Brooke asked.
Sam shifted in the seat, wondering if it was too soon to stop at a rest area. “I dunno. You got more of a chance to talk to them than I did. I can think up some real PR possibilities though.”
“Did you get their names?”
The blonde smiled mischievously. “I did better. I got their cards. Dr. Aeron Malone and BJ Taylor. They have all the contact information.”
“Way to go, Baby. Ya done good.” The dark-headed woman gave Sam a big grin.
“Thanks, honey.” The blonde’s face mirrored Brooke’s expression perfectly
“Would you care for another round?” the young waitress asked as she made her way to Brooke and Sam’s table.
“Yes, please. Two Coronas with extra lime and another water please,” Sam replied as she fished some money out of her pocket to pay for their drinks.
A slightly larger hand was placed over hers to stop her actions. “That’s okay, Sam. This round’s on me.” The brunette with the warm green eyes quickly paid the waitress before she made her way back to the bar.
“Thanks, Janet. But you really didn’t have to do that.” Sam finished the remaining contents of her glass, as she looked first to her wife and then at the woman sitting across from her.
Janet waved off her student. “Nonsense. Let’s just say this is a congratulatory round. Compliments of your favorite PR professor.” Janet tipped her bottle back to drain the last of her beer before placing the empty bottle back on the table.
Green eyes looked up into smaller eyes of a similar shade. “Huh?”
“You’re my only PR professor,” Sam pointed out.
“So, see? I have to be your favorite then.” The two shared a laugh as Brooke tried unsuccessfully to stifle a yawn.
Sam reached over and ran a hand across her lover’s jean clad thigh. “You okay, Babe?”
Brooke vigorously rubbed her eyes before finishing her own beer. “I’m fine. It’s just been a long day. Aren’t you tired yet? You know you’re going to need all the rest you can get, Sam.”
“I’m fine, Honey. Really,” Sam tried to reassure her partner who seemed to be worrying about her even more than usual lately. She had decided weeks ago that she should just get used to it since Brooke showed no signs of letting up anytime in the near future. “Brooke, we can go if you’d like. I know you’re tired.”
“I’m fine, Baby. Really.”
It had been an extremely long drive to Atlanta from Washington DC and Brooke had driven the entire way, choosing to let Sam get as much rest as possible. She only received one speeding ticket in the process for her trouble thanks to her ever-present “lead foot”.
They had shown up mere moments before Line Of Fire went on stage and were unaware of Janet’s presence until after the show when Brooke’s long time friend found her way backstage to the surprise of her Sam. After quite the interview session between professor and student, Janet informed her that she had accomplished all the requirements needed for the upcoming graduation.
Now, the three women sat in a local bar to celebrate Sam’s success.
“Sam, are you sure you wouldn’t like a beer or a glass of champagne to celebrate? I don’t normally make it a habit to drink with my students but, I’ll make an exception in your case.”
Sam smiled but politely declined the older woman’s offer. “No thanks, Janet. I’m fine with my water here.” Sam looked over at Brooke and smiled as she felt a loving caress against her abdomen.
Before long, the waitress made her way through the throng of bodies back to the table and placed their drinks in front of them and then clearing away the empty bottles and glasses. After she had walked away, Janet resumed the conversation.
“So, where to now?”
“Well, the guys have a gig in Mayport tomorrow and then one in Orlando at the end of the week.” Sam looked over to Brooke who nodded her head in confirmation as she grabbed her beer bottle.
“Yeah. But we’re going to drive straight through to Orlando,” Brooke stated as she took a healthy swig of her beer.
“We are?” Sam asked, wondering why the change in plans. Brooke looked over at the surprise evident on her wife’s face.
“Yeah. I figured since Janet showed up tonight, we’d go ahead, continue down tomorrow, and spend the rest of the week. You’ve worked so hard on all of this, I thought you’d like to enjoy a few days of downtime and go hang out with a big mouse.”
“Disney? We’re going to Disney?” Sam asked in amazement. The smile on her face informed Brooke that she had made the correct decision. The only answer she gave Sam was a smile. Before she knew what was happening, a very excited blonde was in her lap showering her face in kisses.
Brooke couldn’t help but laugh at Sam’s enthusiasm. “Well, Darlin’ I’m glad you approve.”
“Approve? Are you kidding? I love it! And you. Thank you, Brooke.”
Janet watched for a few moments as the newlyweds shared a few kisses. She wasn’t too concerned for the two considering that everyone in the bar was heading towards the stage area to watch the drag show that was about to begin. When she thought that she had been forgotten, she cleared her throat.
“Hi... thank you. Remember me?”
Brooke balled up her cocktail napkin and tossed it at her friend as Sam returned to her own chair. Janet easily caught it and placed it on the table.
“So are you staying on the Disney site when you get to Orlando?”
“Yeah. I called and changed our reservation to extend it a few days when I went to the restroom earlier. Good thing I called when I did too or we’d have been in trouble. There’s some convention going on there this weekend. Bardcon or something like that.” Brooke shrugged her shoulders, not really sure if she heard the hotel clerk clearly.
“Bardcon? What in the hell is a Bardcon?” Janet asked aloud as she looked across the table.
“Shit if I know. It’s just a Bardcon.” Brooke answered, not really knowing what to give as an explanation.
“Bardcon. Damn. Maybe you should crash it.” The beer seemed to start having an effect on Janet as she started mumbling aloud to herself.
“Uh... yeah. So what’s going on here?” Brooke asked Janet as she nodded her head towards the stage.
Janet turned around as the house lights dimmed a bit, signaling the beginning of the show.
“Well, I overheard a conversation in the hotel elevator. They were talking about a drag show going on here tonight. So I figured what the hell? I’ve never seen one and got kind of curious. I guess some of the kings and queens are staying at the hotel. I overheard them mention something about Buffalo.”
“The animal?” Sam asked with a hint of amusement, knowing that if the alcohol was starting to affect Janet’s senses, it would drive the older woman nuts.
Janet rolled her eyes. “No, Silly... Buffalo, New York”
“They have buffalo in New York?”
Janet was speechless as she looked first at Sam and then over at Brooke. “And you live with her? Willingly?”
Brooke’s only answer was a smile and a tilt of her beer bottle as the first queen took the stage.
Brooke, Sam and Janet had become so engrossed in their conversation that they had missed the star performer of the evening and before long, the house lights were coming up signaling the end of another night. They remained at their table and continued their conversation as everyone else quickly left the bar.
“If you are not a king, a queen, or sleeping with a king or queen... please find your way to the nearest exit, quickly. Thank you.” A powerful voice came over the house p.a. system to the laughter of some of the other performers.
While Brooke continued her conversation with a now tipsy Janet, Sam looked up to where all the laughter was coming from. She noticed some of the performers from earlier in the evening as they stood at one corner of the bar. There was one person, in particular, that she did not recognize.
Standing in the middle of everyone at the end of the bar was someone easily as tall as Brooke with short black hair that looked almost blue when the light hit it a certain way. She’d have thought this person to be a finely dressed young man in the tailor made suit until she noticed that she answered as someone called the name “Taryn”.
Sam gasped when she noticed a smile and sharp blue eyes light up as a smaller woman with red-gold hair walked towards her.
Brooke abruptly cut Janet off when she heard Sam gasp.
“What is it, Baby? What’s wrong?”
Sam pointed towards the bar. “What do the two of you see over there?”
Brooke and Janet turned their attention towards the couple standing at the end of the bar in the middle of their friends.
“A couple. What about it?” Janet couldn’t see what the big deal was.
“You have got to be kidding me. And I’m the sober one!” Sam couldn’t believe she was the only one to notice.
Brooke placed her hands on Sam’s shoulders and began to massage them lightly. “Baby, calm down. Now, what is it?”
Sam rolled her eyes before looking over at Brooke. “Brooke, if that woman over there had blonde streaks in her hair, she’d look just like you did four years ago when you were in Anti-Zero.”
Brooke, as if in reflex, ran one long hand through her long dark tresses.
“No, Baby. You’re just tired. She looks nothing like me”
Sam looked at Brooke in disbelief. She knew who this “Taryn” person looked like. After all, she was the one who was the massive Brooke Loran fan. Even though her wife was the former Brooke Loran, she knew her eyes were not deceiving her.
She was brought out of her musings as the waitress came up to the table and informed them that the bar was now closed. As Brooke held out her jacket, Sam noticed the brunette’s companion leave to go into the restroom.
“Brooke, honey... could you let the waitress know that I had to run to the restroom real quick. I guess I had too much water.” Sam looked sheepishly up at Brooke and then apologetically to Janet.
“Of course. We’ll be right here waiting for you.”
Sam smiled and started towards the bathroom as Janet resumed the conversation. As she got closer to the crowd at the end of the bar, she barely missed walking into the woman who had walked out just moments earlier.
“Oh, excuse me.”
The two women looked at each other for a moment before laughing at the same time.
“I’m really sorry,” Sam apologized for almost colliding with the woman.
The other woman smiled warmly to let her know there was no harm done. “That’s okay. You looked a bit preoccupied, so I think I stepped out of your way just in time. Are you all right?”
Sam shook her head as if to clear it. “Yes, thank you. I’m sorry.” Sam extended her hand in greeting. “Hi, I’m Sam.”
The other woman took her hand and shook it. “Rosalind”
“Actually, I was trying to get a closer look at your friend. She reminds me of someone.” Sam nodded her head at the woman in question.
Rosalind followed her gaze. “Who? Taryn?” She noticed Sam’s nod. “Who does she remind you of?”
“My partner, actually. Well, she would remind me of her if she had a few scattered blonde streaks through her hair. Her name’s Brooke. She was a drummer a few years back for Anti-Zero.”
“Anti-Zero? Now there’s a name I haven’t heard in years. Brooke Loran is your partner?”
Sam nodded her head and pointed Brooke out to Rosalind who looked first at Brooke and then over at Taryn with obvious adoration and love in her eyes.
“Now that you mention it... I guess T would kind of resemble her. I dunno... she’s always just looked like Taryn to me. Hang on.”
Before Sam knew what was happening, Rosalind was calling the taller woman over. In three long strides, Taryn was standing in front of her looking back and forth between Rosalind and herself.
“Taryn, this is Sam. Sam, this is Taryn.” For the second time in as many days, Sam’s hand was encased in the hand of some woman who resembled her wife.
“Hello, Sam. Nice to meet you. I see you’ve met Ros...” Taryn shook Sam’s hand and then slipped an arm around Rosalind’s shoulder.
“Sam just wanted to meet you and get a closer look. Apparently, you look a bit like her partner, Brooke from Anti-Zero,” Ros offered as an explanation as she pointed out Brooke for Taryn’s own observation.
“That’s pretty interesting. But, honestly, I don’t think we look a thing alike. Wait a minute... Didn’t she used to have blonde in her hair?” Taryn pointed out as she brought her eyebrows together in slight confusion.
“Taryn, I said a bit, not identical.”
“Well, I think I look like your partner,” she whispered in a small ear.
“And don’t you forget it!”
Once again, Taryn offered her hand to Sam. “Well, Sam, it was a pleasure meeting you but I need to go pack up my gear.” Taryn smiled before giving Ros a kiss on her cheek and walking backstage.
“Thanks, Taryn. Nice meeting you too,” Sam called after the taller woman before turning to look at Ros. “Well, thanks for satisfying my curiosity. Brooke thought I was a little nuts when I mentioned it to her. Thought Taryn looked nothing like her.”
“Well, I can see why you would think so even if T can’t.”
“Thanks. At least I know I’m not the only one.” Sam laughed a bit before she heard Brooke’s voice.
“Honey? You ready?”
Sam turned back to Ros and extended her hand. “Well, I better get going. I need to get that one in bed. Thanks again. It was nice meeting you, Ros.”
“Nice meeting you too, Sam.” Ros shook the offered hand and then followed her own tall, dark and gorgeous backstage.
Brooke stood at the table with Janet as Sam walked back over and wrapped small arms around her waist.
“Feel better?” Brooke asked her wife with a hint of amusement in her blue eyes.
“I never made it to the bathroom. I almost ran into Ros and we started talking.” The trio made their way out of the bar and across the parking lot to Brooke’s truck.
“Ros?” Brooke asked as she opened Sam’s door and helped her into the truck.
“Yeah. She’s here with Taryn,” Sam answered as if that explained everything.
“Taryn?” Brooke helped Janet into the backseat. The three were staying at the same hotel so it was pointless for her to take a cab. Brooke shook her head from side to side as she climbed in the driver’s seat.
“My little social butterfly. What do you say we get you to sleep and then to Orlando before you make anymore friends?”
The last thing Janet heard before dozing in the back seat was an “Ow!” caused by a playful smack to Brooke’s upper arm.
BJ looked over at her partner Aeron. The doctor seemed enraptured of the drag show that was going on around them in the bar. BJ was glad that Aeron had agreed to come to Atlanta with her to visit the family, though after her family’s reaction to Aeron, she wasn’t sure the doctor could say the same. The ghostbusters were staying with BJ’s older sister Buffy. Buffy shared BJ’s blue eyes, but other than that was taller, blonder and plumper than her younger sister. After putting up with her family’s antics, the brunette was more than ready for a night on the town. Since she was not about to leave poor Aeron to the interrogation skills of her older sister, the good doctor was now being exposed to Atlanta’s hottest drag show.
Aeron, for her part, seemed to be having a great time. She was feeling no pain, if the empty glasses in front of her on the table were any indication. Since Atlanta was the brunette’s hometown, Aeron was not the designated driver instead for the evening she got to play designated drunk.
“Ok, now is this a girl or a guy?” shouted Aeron over the music, waving in the general direction of the woman on stage.
“Guy,” shouted back BJ. She sipped her coke, amazed at the talent displayed in front of her. “It’s a drag show. All the women you see up there are men, and all the men you see up there are women.”
Aeron still looked confused. “Why do they do this? I think some of the women up there are very beautiful and I’ll have to take your word for it that they are really men.”
BJ shrugged. “It something that they like to do. It doesn’t bother me one way or another, and I like the shows. I’ve never tried to analyze it.”
The drag queen’s number ended and she finished picking up the tips the patrons had thrown on the stage. The MC came out and announced the next act. Not listening, BJ and Aeron were distracted by the laughter coming from another table.
“Hey, isn’t that....” started BJ before Aeron interrupted with “That’s Brooke and Sam!” BJ grabbed her friend’s arm and pulled her back down into her seat. “Where are you going?” hissed BJ.
“To go say hi,” said a confused redhead.
“They are here with friends. Let’s leave them alone and if they see us, they can come say hi. Brooke and Sam may not want to be bothered.” Responded BJ.
“But they seemed really nice when we bumped into them in DC?”
“Look, you told me yourself that Brooke Gordon is some kind of hot shot in the music industry, right?” asked the brunette.
“Right,” confirmed Aeron with a question in her eyes.
“So, she is probably inundated with people bugging her all the time for favors and passes and record deals and the like. So don’t you think she and Sam can have one night out to have a good time with their friends without groupies bugging them?” BJ gave the redhead a pointed look.
“Yes,” replied Aeron sheepishly.
The brunette’s reply was lost in the screams from the audience as the next drag king took the stage. This one was taller than most, standing at probably close to 6 feet. The most striking thing about the king was his eyes. They were probably the most piercing blue that BJ had ever seen. The king started his routine, the whole time his eyes were focused on a small strawberry blonde in the front row. BJ glanced over to see Aeron’s reaction to the show. The red head was sitting there with an unabashed look of lust on her face. BJ blinked in surprise. She had really never thought of the doctor as having a sex drive. While it was fine that Aeron be fuel for the ex-officer’s fantasies, it was unacceptable that the woman have her own... fuel. BJ could feel her own face getting red in response to the look on Aeron’s face. The doctor sensing eyes on her tore her gaze away from the gyrating figure on stage to catch the bodyguard’s stare. Aeron looked away in embarrassment.
BJ reached across the table and put her hand on the doctor’s arm. “It’s ok Aeron. You are supposed to feel this way. My god, that’s pure sex rolling off that king!” the brunette reassured her friend.
Aeron looked up to see if BJ was serious. The brunette reassured her with earnest blue. “Honest. Even the guys are turned on, and listen to the women scream. It’s ok.”
The doctor looked around at the crowd, noticing that BJ was right in her assessment, then looked back at her friend and grinned.
“He is hot. I wonder what he looks like out of drag?”
BJ shrugged, “Who knows. I bet if we hang around, we can find out.”
“Cool,” commented the redhead as she settled back to enjoy the rest of the show.
“Just remember,” warned BJ. “I brought you, so I get to take you home. No picking up strays. I refuse to try and explain an extra body in the room to my sister.”
After the show, the two hung around after the ugly lights came on. When asked what the ex-officer meant by that, BJ explained to the red head about drinking, dark lighting, and the whole ‘tequila sunrise’ situations. The doctor blanched and stepped closer to the brunette’s side. Aeron even went so far as to grab onto her arm when some of the more aggressive patrons started eyeing the redhead like a hunk of meat. Before they could get a chance to see the wonderful drag king out of drag, a bouncer came and pretty much shoved them out the door. Brooke and Sam were not swept up in the rush, so BJ and Aeron never got to say hi to them.
The two walked down to the car and BJ unlocked the doors by remote. As they passed underneath one of the parking lot lights, the brunette noticed the unhealthy color the red head had turned.
“Aeron, are you all right?” she asked.
Aeron shook her head no in response and started looking around for a bathroom.
“They won’t let us back inside,” warned BJ.
Aeron ran over to some bushes by the side of the parking lot and lost most of the alcohol she had consumed in the last hour. BJ sighed and walked over to her friend and pulled back her hair. “Ok, we need to figure out what your limit is so you don’t do this, ok?” The red head gave a shaky nod as she spit the taste out of her mouth. “Do you want to stick with beer or the hard stuff. I think your problem tonight was that you were switching back and forth.” BJ reached into her pocket and found a fast food napkin and handed it to the doctor. Aeron used it to wipe her mouth and slowly stood up. “Are you done? Is it safe to put you in the car? Buffy would kick my ass if you stunk up her car. She would think I’m not taking care of you,” teased the bodyguard.
Aeron smiled weakly and nodded her head. “Yeah,” she replied softly.
The two started over to the car and almost ran into another couple that was leaving. BJ looked up, startled from where she was watching Aeron’s face for signs of further regurgitation. The apology lodged in her throat as those piercing blue eyes that so transfixed her on stage caught her.
“S-s-sorry,” she managed to stumble out.
The strawberry blonde patted her friend’s stomach in a reproachful manner. “Taryn, stop. You’re scaring them.” She turned to the two ghostbusters. “That’s ok. I can see you were just concerned for your friend.”
The taller woman grinned sheepishly. “Is your friend all right?” she asked.
Aeron, who had been studying the taller woman intensely, blurted out. “You’re him! That really hot guy, I mean girl, I mean...” she trailed off.
The smaller woman laughed. “Don’t worry... my boy flusters a lot of people.”
“You were really good up there,” commented BJ. “I was floored by your performance.”
“Yeah!” added Aeron “What she said!” was slurred out.
“Thanks,” replied Taryn.
“I’m Rosalyn,” said the smaller woman. “And this is Taryn. If you are ever in Buffalo, come see the show.”
“I’m BJ, and my friend with the alcohol problem here is Aeron. We’d be glad to see your show if we are ever in Buffalo.” Aeron tried holding out her hand, but didn’t quite have the coordination required to remove it from around BJ’s neck. Instead she wound up whacking the smaller woman in the back of the head.
“Ouch! Ok princess, its time to get you to bed.” She turned her attention back to the couple in front of her. “It was nice to meet you. If you are ever in San Jose, look us up.” She fished around in her pocket and dug up one of Aeron’s cards. “We’d love to see your show if you ever come out to the Bay Area.”
“Good night,” waved Rosalyn as BJ half carried Aeron to the car. “They seem really nice.”
Taryn was studying the card that BJ had given her. “They investigate the paranormal. Think we should introduce them to Rae?” she asked with a mischievous smile.
“Only if they show up on our doorstep. You know how these things work. Only if they are meant to be,” answered Rosalyn. “Now come on, I have to show you how much I loved your show.”
Aeron groaned slightly as consciousness forced itself upon her. She smacked her lips a couple of times trying to dislodge the awful taste in her mouth. She noticed her pillow moving in a slight up and down motion and realized that the pounding in her head was actually her pillow’s heartbeat. She slowly turned her head to the left and looked up at her sleeping bedmate. BJ was lying on her back, right arm curled around the redhead’s shoulders. Her left arm was flung out over the edge of the bed. The part that was truly interesting was the small boy quietly filling his aunt’s hand with shaving cream, while a small girl stood off to the side, impatiently holding a feather.
The little boy saw Aeron watching him and placed his finger over his lips in a sign for quiet. Aeron looked up at a bit of motion in the doorway and saw BJ’s sister Buffy standing there using sign language to direct her children. She motioned for Aeron to extract herself before little Megan attacked her aunt with the feather.
Aeron slowly lifted BJ’s arm and slid out from under it. She then stuck her pillow in her place when the bodyguard started moving around. BJ settled back down and pulled the pillow closer to her. The two kids almost spoiled the whole surprise by snickering, but a sharp hiss from their mom quieted them down. The red head slowly backed off the bed and quickly removed herself to the adjacent bathroom. She had just shut the door when she heard the yell from her friend and the screaming laughter as two little troublemakers raced from the room.
“Buffy! Your kids are dead!” screamed BJ.
“I swear I had nothing to do with it,” protested Aeron. “I was in the bathroom, being hung over.”
BJ sat at the kitchen table, glaring at everyone. Tom, Buffy’s husband, hid behind his newspaper. The two instigators shared a chair next to him and kept giggling at their favorite aunt. Buffy was manning a skillet in the kitchen, making omelets for everyone.
“She’s right, Barbie,” BJ gritted her teeth at the nickname. “Your girl had nothing to do with it. She was an innocent bystander,” asserted Buffy.
“Oh, and how big a hand did you have in this?” questioned BJ.
Buffy turned to face her sister, her identical blue eyes twinkling. “Who do you think gave them the idea, trained and armed them?”
The newspaper gave a noise that sounded suspiciously like a laugh as it rattled.
“Tom,” warned BJ. “Did you help?”
“I leave the kid’s education in the fine art of revenge to their mother,” responded the paper. “I’ve met my mother-in-law. Buffy is much, much better at dealing with sneak attacks, guilt trips, and general nastiness after growing up in that household.”
“Tom! Was that a disparaging remark about my saintly mother?” questioned Buffy.
“Yes dear,” responded Tom meekly.
“Good. You have been well trained.”
“I’m sorry that you had to meet the wench,” said Buffy to Aeron. “I think you two make a great couple.”
BJ choked on her coffee. Aeron merely smiled.
“I’m serious. If you can get that one,” and the blonde pointed a spatula at her choking sister, “to settle down, you too can hold grandchildren over her head.”
The brunette’s choking intensified. Aeron started pounding her back.
“We haven’t had the child talk yet,” explained the doctor. “We are still pretty new at this couple thing.”
“You can say that again,” wheezed BJ. Aeron was merely pretending to be BJ’s girlfriend to upset the uptight Mrs. Taylor. After having the invitation to stay with the matriarch rescinded once Mrs. Taylor found out that Aeron was a woman, the two quickly took up Buffy’s offer to stay with her family. The middle sister, Bambi, was a platinum blonde copy of her mother and had refused to let her kids even see their aunt outside of the one forced family meal.
“Well hurry up. Dad will definitely come around if there are grandchildren and mom might have to learn to be civil,” commented Buffy as she turned her attention back to the eggs. “How long can you guys stay before you have to be in Orlando?”
“We have to leave tomorrow. I hope to get in a visit to Disney World. Aeron’s never been and I have a navy buddy that works there now. She said we could stay in one of the hotels there as long as we don’t mind putting up with a convention.”
“What’s the convention?” asked the paper. One brown eye peeked out as Tom checked to see if BJ’s anger over the shaving cream had abated.
“BardCon or something. I have no idea what that is. Jessica said I’d fit right in though,” responded BJ with a puzzled expression.
“Must be your natural charm,” quipped Aeron.
“Oh I like her BJ. If you break up, I might have to disown you and adopt her,” laughed Buffy.
BJ rolled her eyes. “Can we get this show on the road? I want to see the Coke factory!”
The two women prepared to leave for the airport with two very upset children clinging to their legs.
“Don’t go,” cried Megan gripping Aeron’s leg tighter. “I love you,” she declared with all the certainty a six-year-old can posses.
“Please Aunt BJ. Stay longer. You and Aunt Aeron are my favorite Aunts.” Exclaimed a upset Tommy.
“Like you have a big pool to choose from... me or Aunt Bambi,” muttered BJ. She knelt down and hugged the sniffling child. “Look, you guys can come see me out in California, ok? It’s not like I live overseas anymore. Aeron has a big house and everyone can stay there, ok?” BJ met her partner’s eyes over his head to confirm this statement. The red head nodded her agreement, and knelt to hug the crying Megan.
“I would love it if you guys would come visit us in California. I even have a pool at my house.” BJ groaned at this little tidbit that Aeron let slip.
“I hope you don’t mind Christmas guests,” she said to the doctor as both kids ran screaming excitedly to tell their parents that Aunt Aeron had a pool and said that they could come visit. The bodyguard picked up the two rolling suitcases and made her way down the stairs to the car. Aeron picked up their backpacks, making sure that Skeeter was safely tucked in his usual spot. Skeeter had not made much of an appearance this trip for the fact that he didn’t really like kids. They had a tendency to grab him and drool all over his fur.
As Aeron left the room to follow her partner down the stairs, Buffy pulled her aside in the hallway.
“I just want to let you know you are always welcome in my house. The changes you have made in my little sister are incredible. She really loves you and so do we. Don’t let what my mom says bother you at all. We don’t like her and we’re related to the woman.” Buffy grinned. “Welcome to the family, sister” and gave Aeron a big hug.
Aeron gave the blonde a big hug back, and brushed at her watering eyes. “Thank you. I haven’t really had a family for a long time. This means a lot to me. Especially since you are BJ’s favorite sister.”
“Pshaw. Look who my competition is, Bambi. The walking, talking Barbie doll,” joked Buffy.
Aeron laughed. “What was your mother thinking?”
“I could tell you, but then I’d have to wash your brain out with soap to erase the images.”
“AERON! LET’S GO!” bellowed BJ from the front door.
Aeron gave her newest sister one more hug. “Thanks for everything.”
“I think that was the quickest de-bunking I’ve ever seen you do,” commented BJ to the doctor as they sped towards Disney World and a quick three day vacation.
“It was a fake; I knew that going in. By doing it this fast, we can have 4 days at Disney world!” Aeron was trying to coax extra speed out of the rental car. The Avis desk had been out of the Institute’s usual class of cars and had stuck her with a Dodge Intrepid. Normally, Aeron didn’t have a problem with the larger cars; but this one seemed to have been given a 4 cylinder engine instead of the 6 that it required to move above 45 miles an hour.
BJ started to retort when she was thrown against her seat belt when Aeron slammed on the brakes and brought the car to a screeching halt. All around them was the sound of squealing breaks and crunching cars. She looked over at Aeron to see if she was all right, to find her partner gripping the steering wheel with white knuckled hands and her eyes tightly closed.
“Aeron,” said BJ, “Are you ok?”
The doctor opened one eye to see what she had hit. Miraculously, she had missed the car in front of her by inches, and the car behind had partially pulled off the road to avoid hitting her. She opened both eyes and looked at the brunette with her mouth making a big O shape. Traffic seemed to be stalled, and BJ unbuckled her seatbelt and got out of the car. Around her, other drivers were shakily getting out of their cars and checking damage.
Angry shouts drew her attention further down the highway as two drivers started exchanging blows as well as insults. She started running towards the altercation with the intentions of breaking it up. A taller form passed her as she stopped to dodge around two cars that had kissed bumpers. The form resolved into a very tall woman with dark hair that jumped into the middle of the altercation. She shoved the two men apart, sending one to his rear, and the other went bouncing off the hood of a car.
“Break it up,” she said with an authoritative voice.
“Fuck you bitch,” sneered the man on the ground.
“That’s Special Agent Bitch to you,” the woman said as she pulled out her badge. “Now I suggest that everyone calm down and wait for this mess to get cleared up by the highway patrol. How far ahead is it to the original accident?”
“About a mile,“ said a woman from her hiding spot behind one of the cars. “We have been sitting here for a while and traffic was slow, anyway because of the construction. This man was talking on his cell phone and hit us from behind.” She pointed towards the man on the ground.
“Tony,” called a woman from behind her. “I’m going to start looking for injuries. Can I trust you aren’t going to pound on some one?”
“Sure Megan,” replied Tony. “I’ll just shoot them.”
BJ watched this exchange with interest. There was something familiar about these two women but she just couldn’t put her finger on it.
Aeron came running up. “BJ, are you ok?”
“Yeah, Wonder Woman stopped the fight before I even got close.” BJ waved in the direction of the where the tall woman was standing over the gentleman on the ground.
Aeron looked closely at the FBI agent. The woman must have felt her scrutiny, because she turned around and peered at Aeron over the top of her sunglasses. “Yes,” she purred, “Is there something I can help you with?”
Aeron was shocked at the woman’s eye color. “You wouldn’t happen to have any sisters, would you?” she asked.
“No,” came the curt reply before the woman turned her attention back to the man on the ground.
A strawberry blonde came running up. “Tony, I need the keys to get into the trunk. I need my bag.” The FBI agent handed over her car keys to the smaller woman. In doing so, she pushed back her jacket enough to reveal the gun holstered under her arm. The man on the ground became very co-operative.
“Can I help?” offered Aeron.
“Sure,” replied the blonde. “Do you have any medical experience?”
“None what so ever, but I take direction well.”
The blonde smiled, her nose wrinkling between her eyes in a very endearing way. “My name is Megan, and tall, dark and glowering is Tony.”
“My name is Aeron, and my friend there is BJ." Responded Aeron, pointing towards where BJ was glued to Tony's every move. BJ studied the way Tony employed her intimidation techniques with a look akin to a child's at Christmas. Aeron could see BJ mimicking the taller woman's stance and body posture; she almost burst out laughing when she saw Tony place her hands on her hips and then BJ echo the movement right down to the facial expression.
“Oh, that looks bad,” Olivia commented to Karla, as they drove across the overpass above lines of stalled traffic. The brunette took a swift glance out the window, before returning her attention to the road.
“No worse than the Big Dig at home,” Karla answered. “Maybe we should put in a bid to do the PR work on Orlando’s traffic problems,” she added with a grin.
“No work! We are here for vacation,” Olivia said as she replayed the scene in her mind. Something about those women she had seen standing in the road was familiar. Then she shook her head. It would come to her. It always did.
“Oh my, love. What happened?”
The couple looked at the snarl of traffic, not missing the two travelers on the overpass as they saw the commotion on the road.
“Accident, probably,” the warrior answered thoughtfully. “They were a regular occurrence in this time and place, especially but that mode of transportation.”
“Then why travel that way? Why not travel the fast way?”
“Lots of reasons. This was how all the local traveling was done... like for going to work and such. Though a lot of families used it for their recreational traveling as well.”
The bard’s eyes were focused on a small group of women standing to one side talking together. She looked back at the warrior. “They seem to be fairly relaxed, given the situation.”
The brunette smiled fondly at her companion. “Of course. They are all headed to the happy place.”
Green eyes lit excitedly. “Really? Do you think we’ll see them there?”
The dark head nodded. “I’d almost count on it.” They watched for a moment longer until flashing blue and red lights came into view. “C’mon. We’ve got some more things to see before we get to BardCon.”
It seemed like a good idea, at the time. Now, there's a phrase for ya. The perfect description of both hind sight in action and the difference between theory and application in one tidy package, it's a saying everybody's heard and probably even said, once or twice. Take Teddy, for instance.
Like most people, she'd had her fair share of hit and misses, where bright ideas were concerned, and, like some people, she'd learned enough from her mistakes, over the years, to recognize a half-baked notion, when she heard it. The down side was, like most people, this didn't necessarily mean Teddy was immune from getting a wild hare, every once in awhile. Far from it. Like everybody else, sometimes when something came along that was just too good to be true it was just too good to pass up.
Case in point, after waiting for what seemed like forever for Holly to clear her calendar, Teddy was about to give up on them ever getting to spend a romantic weekend together, when she received a call from her cousin Max, aka Big Daddy, who had apparently just gotten off the phone with Holly and had some serious concerns about her current state of mental health. Or as he put it, "That girl sounds like she's one step away from taking a long walk off a short pier and something ought to be done about it." Which translated into, Holly was too stressed for his liking and he expected Teddy to fix it. Just how she was supposed to do that, he didn't say. What he did say, however was, "You better get that girl's mind off work and get her relaxed, 'cause I want her as sweet and smooth as your Mama's banana puddin', by the time I get down there for the grand opening, no matter what it takes."
And, just like that, Teddy was handed the one way ticket to Hollyville she'd been waiting for. Because, when Max said no matter what it takes, that's exactly what he meant. He didn't care what Teddy had to do, he wanted Holly calm, cool and collected, when he got there, whether she wanted to be calm, cool and collected, or not.
Well, needless to say, it didn't take long for the wheels to start turning and, before she hung up the phone, Teddy was thinking up ways to reduce Holly's stress level. It's also needless to say that most of her initial ideas had to do with them getting hot and bothered between the sheets. Then, about the time she got done doing her "I gotcha now" happy dance around the living room, reality began setting in and with it came some cold hard facts.
For one, although Max had given her his blessing to do with Holly what she would, so to speak, the time frame he'd set only gave her six days to do it in. And, two, with the Paradise so close to its grand opening, there was no way Holly was going to agree to take a couple of days off, even with Max's blessing. So, unless she planned on shooting the woman she loved with a tranquilizer gun and tying her to the bed, which another blonde she knew would've enjoyed, but didn't fit into Teddy's vision of a romantic weekend, the chances of her getting any anytime soon were as slim to none as they were before Max called.
Of course, none of this is to insinuate Teddy had any intentions of giving up. Not by a long shot. Once she had her ticket, she was gonna get it punched, one way or another. All she had to do was figure out how to get Holly away from the resort for a couple of days, without Holly knowing that's what she was doing. Fortunately for Teddy, this wasn't the first time she was gonna have to be sneaky. As a matter of fact, sneaky was one of the things she did best and, with a little help from her friendly neighborhood James Bond wannabe, aka Rolando, it wasn't long before she had a foolproof plan to, not only get Holly away from the Paradise, but to get her off the island, entirely.
Thus, the proverbial wild hare was born and, foregoing the details of how Teddy managed to talk Holly on board Frank's sea plane, it was sufficient to say that when the blonde found out the supposedly quick jaunt around the island was going to be made via Orlando, Teddy was lucky Frank had gone through so much trouble to rearrange his flight schedule on such short notice, because it meant he wasn't in any mood to get caught in the middle of a cat fight.
Otherwise, when he landed at the Piper Shoals to refuel and pick up two more passengers, the tall brunette might have been missing some important body parts, like her head. As it was, though, with Frank sending the plane into a spin every time Holly started to raise a ruckus, Teddy survived to reach her old stomping grounds. Whether she'd still be alive, when the plane took off again, on the other hand, was as yet to be seen.
"Feet don't fail me now." Jumping out the co-pilot's door, as the plane coasted to the dock, Teddy hit the ground running.
"Oh, no you don't." Lunging for the passenger door, Holly pulled on the handle. "Grrrrrr. How do you open this thing?"
"Always the same thing." Rolling his eyes, Frank flipped the switch to cut off the engine. "Nobody ever reads the instructions." He sighed, then slipped his arm between the seats, to point at the door. "Read the label."
"What?" Looking down at the handle, Holly saw a white label just above it, with the word 'pull' in big red letters and an arrow aimed at the ceiling. "Oh." She said, yanking the handle upward, instead of outward this time. Click, went the latch, out swung the door and out popped Holly, followed by a maniacal laugh, as she took off like a shot. "Ha! You're mine now!"
"Uh oh." Hearing the tale tell sign of an irate blonde in hot pursuit, Teddy kicked it into overdrive for a home stretch sprint to the dockside terminal. "Look out! Comin' through!"
Holly, who was in a less discriminating mood, took the more direct approach to clearing her path. Running like a woman possessed, or, in this case, pissed, she gave everyone fair warning with an angry "Outta my way," before plowing through, like a bull in a china shop, all the while keeping her eyes on the fleeing brunette. "You can run, but you can't hide!"
And with those parting words as inspiration, Teddy burst through the terminal doors.
"Hey, watch where you're going." Sam frowned at having nearly been run over.
"Sorry." Teddy mumbled, as she skidded to a halt and bent over to catch her breath. Then, looking up, to give the woman an apologetic smile, she did a wide-eyed double take. "Aaaaa! How'd you," she started, then looked again. "Whoo, ya had me scared there, for a second."
Doing a double take of her own, Sam shook her head. "Can't be."
“Hey," laying her hand on the blonde's shoulder, "if ya had Lizzy Borden on your ass, where would ya hide?"
Sam blinked, blinked again, then shrugged. "The men's restroom?"
Suddenly, Teddy's eyes lit up. "Thanks, I owe ya one." She said, making a mad dash for the other end of the room.
"No problem." Sam waved and was about to turn around, to rejoin her partner at the lunch counter, when the doors burst open, yet again. "Hey, look where you're . . ." Face to face with a very close facsimile of what she'd looked like in her late twenties, she skipped the double take and went straight for the throat. "Okay, now it's getting weird."
"Where is she?" Growling at the room, in general, Holly gave the woman closest to her the once over, but since she wasn't six feet tall, blue-eyed and brunette, she quickly discounted her as her intended victim and continued her search, which didn't take long. Scanning the room, she spied Teddy trying to do the old hide in plain sight routine, at the counter. "Aha! There you are!"
Shaking her head, Sam watched the blonde storm away and waited for the inevitable.
"Hey!" Hauled off the stool from behind, Tina spun around in time to duck a right cross aimed at her head. "Whoa! What are you doing?"
"Beating you to a bloody pulp, that's what." Holly stated, in no uncertain terms, and, drawing back for another wallop, frowned instead. "You're not Teddy."
"No, I'm Tina." Straightening to her full height, she put her hands on her hips. "Nice of you to notice."
Lowering her arm, Holly stepped back for a better look. "Wow, that's really weird."
"What is?" Tina asked, caught off guard by the intensity of the perusal.
"You look a lot like somebody she's looking for." Sam chuckled, as she strolled up behind her counterpart.
"How do you know?" Turning as she asked, Holly did a double take. "Whoa."
"Ummm, I know the feeling." Sam nodded and held out her hand. "Lizzy Borden, I presume?"
"Lizzy Borden? No, I'm . . . wait a second." Her eyes narrowing to slits, Holly put two and two together and came up with a rat. "Where is she?"
"Where's who?" Tina asked.
"Teddy." Holly growled.
"Who's Teddy?" Asking again.
"The other you." Sam replied, patting Tina's shoulder.
"Oh." Tina nodded and sat down on the stool. "I'm lost."
"Don't worry," Sam smiled, "I'll explain it later."
Making a show of folding her arms across her chest, Holly added an arched eyebrow to her otherwise unamused persona. "So, how do you know Teddy?"
"Down girl." Sam chuckled. "I'm happy with the one I've got. Yours I met when she nearly ran me down coming in." She said, gesturing over her shoulder, at the entrance.
"Oh." Somewhat mollified, Holly put her eyebrow back down. "So, where is she?"
Taking he turn at making a show, Sam put her hands on her hips. "That depends on why you want to beat her to a blood pulp?"
"Because she's a lying, conniving, kidnapping little weasel, that's why."
Sam did her blinking thing again. "What?"
Holly rolled her eyes and, unfolding her arms, she pointed at the empty stool next to Tina. "Sit, this is gonna take awhile."
Half an hour later, Holly strolled into the men's room. "All right, I know you're in here; so you might as well come out."
"It's okay, I'm not mad, anymore."
"Really, I'm not. I've thought it over and you were right."
"Okay, so maybe I didn't think it over. Sam and Tina said you were right and I agreed with them."
"Who's Sam and Tina?"
Smiling, Holly leaned up against one of the sinks. "Sam's the blonde you almost ran over and Tina is the brunette I almost decked."
"What ya wanna hit her for?"
Rolling her eyes, Holly let out a sigh. "Why else? I thought she was you."
"I know. I know, but that was before we started talking."
"About you and why you're kidnapping me."
"I'm not kidnappin' ya. I'm gettin' ya to relax."
"Oh, is that what you call it?"
"Somethin' like that."
"Uh huh and, just out of curiosity, you couldn't think of any other way to do it, without taking me off the island?"
"I see. So, am I that bad, or are you losing your sneaky touch?"
"I'm that bad?"
Nodding to herself, Holly sighed again. "Okay, so, what's this great relaxation cure all Orlando's got that you apparently can't get on the island?"
"Home? I thought you were from Miami."
"Heaven forbid." came a disgusted snort, as Teddy stood up to peek over the top of the stall door. "I only transferred down there in high school, so I could go to work for Max."
"Ooooh." As the fog cleared, Holly pushed off the sink and walked over to the stall. "So, you're originally from Orlando, huh?"
"Born and bred."
"Uh huh and what, pray tell, would we be doing in Orlando, if I don't decide to have you arrested for kidnapping, that is?" She asked rather haughtily.
Smiling more to herself, than anything else, Teddy slung her arms over the door. "Oh, I dunno. We could sit on the porch and wave at the cars goin' by. That's real popular with us southerners, ya know."
"Mmmmm, is it, now?"
"Yep, we like wavin' at yankees, especially. Makes 'em nervous."
Holly banged on the door with a laugh. "Get out of there."
"And if ya smile? They'll look at ya, real funny. Like you're up to somethin'."
"It's the truth."
"I don't care. I'm not waving at cars."
"Because it's not natural."
"Not natural? Now, hang on one doggone minute. Just where the hell are you from, to be callin' wavin' unnatural?"
"Chicago, what's it to ya?"
"Chicago?!" Grabbing her chest, Teddy flung herself against the wall. "You're a... you're a yankee!"
"Get out the door."
"Lord have mercy, what's my Daddy gonna say for me bringing home a yankee?"
"Why... I'll be excommunicated, or worse... I'll... I'll be branded a... a...a yankee lover. Lord, what am I gonna do?"
"Frankly, Scarlet, I don't give a damn, but, if you're not out that door in two seconds? You're gonna have my footprint branded all over your butt."
"So, does that mean you're not gonna have me arrested?"
"On one condition."
”While we're in Orlando, we have to go to the BardCon."
"BardCon? What the hell is that?"
"A convention for bards."
"Okaaay and we're goin' because?"
"Because it sounds a lot more fun than scaring the tourists."
"Hey, don't knock it, til you've tried it."
Sam smiled as she watched Holly walk toward the restrooms. “I’m so glad they’re going to make up.” She placed a hand on the lunch counter, spun her stool around, and faced Tina. “Aren’t you?”
“Yeah. The little blonde sure has a temper, though.” Tina rubbed her chin. “She almost caught me with that punch.”
“Nah.” Sam shook her head. “She never had a chance. You still have terrific reflexes.”
Tina leaned forward until she was practically nose-to-nose with her partner. “Still?”
“You know what I mean. I... you....” Sam lost her train of thought as she gazed into beautiful blue eyes regarding her from such close proximity.
“I think,” Tina said in a low, sexy voice, “you just love happy endings.”
“Absolutely.” Sam murmured as she closed the short distance between them, drawn in by those eyes... those lips....
Both women’s heads snapped up. The waitress was standing behind the counter, frowning and tapping her pad with her pencil. “Will there be anything else?”
“Umm... no.” Tina pulled some bills from her pocket and put them on the counter. “At least, not right now.” She winked at the waitress, took Sam’s hand, and the couple sauntered out of the terminal, barely containing their laughter until they got out the door.
“Did you see the look on her face?” Tina chuckled, deactivating the BMW’s alarm with the remote as they approached the car. “I bet we’ll be the most interesting customers they have in there today.”
“I’m not so sure about that.” Sam opened the passenger door. “Who knows what the next person entering the men’s restroom is going to find!”
That thought sent the pair into gales of laughter.
Tina went around to the driver’s side of the car. She started to get in, but stopped abruptly when Sam shouted, “Wait!”
“What is it?” The tall woman began scanning the parking lot for any sign of danger.
“There.” Sam pointed toward the terminal building. “I need you to stand over there for a picture.”
“You can’t be serious. You want a photo of where we stopped for a bathroom break?”
“Yes!” The musician rummaged through her backpack and got her camera. “It turned into much more than that, didn’t it?”
Tina had to agree. A simple detour in search of a place with decent facilities had somehow ended up with seaplanes buzzing overhead, a stranger throwing punches, and advice to the lovelorn. But, she had learned early on that when Samantha was involved, just about everything turned into more than one usually expected. And it made life pretty damn interesting.
She posed for the picture.
Still joking about what might be happening inside the terminal, they climbed back into the car, retraced the route to the highway, and merged with the traffic on I-4.
Sam aimed her camera at the large Disney World sign up ahead and took a snapshot. “This was such a wonderful idea.”
“What... buying five rolls of film?” Cause it sure looks like we’re going to need them.
“Noooo.” The blonde playfully slapped at Tina’s arm. “Going away for the weekend. It’s our very first vacation together.”
“Kind of makes it extra special, doesn’t it?”
“It’s already extra special because I’m with you.” Sam grinned and raised the camera, taking a picture of the driver’s profile.
Tina rolled her eyes at the mushy comment, though deep down she loved it. “How about getting out the information Vivian gave us? I don’t remember which exit we’re supposed to take for the hotel.”
“Okay.” Sam pulled the large Tropical Storm paperback from her backpack. Tucked inside the cover was an envelope with the directions and Disney tickets. “Let’s see... it’s going to be the next exit, then stay to the left and there will be signs for the hotel.”
Tina maneuvered the car into the far lane so she would be prepared to exit. “We’ll check in and find out the shuttle bus schedule for The Magic Kingdom. You want to go there tonight as well as Sunday, right?”
“Definitely! Tonight we can go on a few rides and see the parade and the fireworks display and....”
“Hold it.” Tina interrupted. “Before you get totally carried away, don’t forget we need to get up early tomorrow for that BardCon thing.”
“Of course I haven’t forgotten!” Sam affectionately patted the novel on her lap. “Maybe I’ll be able to get Melissa Good to sign my book... and there’s supposed to be a bunch of other people going who write these kinds of stories, too. Isn’t it exciting?”
“Hmm. I liked that book. It might be cool to meet the author.”
Sam smiled. That was as much of a ringing endorsement as her reserved partner was likely to express. When Tina first broached the subject of a Disney vacation, Sam suggested Memorial Day weekend so they could also attend the Bard event. At the time, Tina seemed uninterested in the convention, but had agreed to go.
“Here we are.” The accountant turned the BMW into the circular drive in front of the hotel, parked, and popped the trunk lid. Several employees immediately descended on the car. One opened Sam’s door and another began emptying the trunk of luggage. A third hurried to Tina’s door and made arrangements with her for valet parking.
The women went into the upscale lobby, got their keys from the registration desk and rode the elevator to the tenth floor. An employee was to bring up their luggage and shuttle schedule shortly.
As soon as Tina unlocked the room, Sam rushed past her, eagerly investigating every nook and cranny. “Wow. This is really fancy.” She admired the view of the huge lake and surrounding gardens from the window. “I LOVE it!” Green eyes shifted to the quiet form standing in the center of the room. “Did you choose this place?”
“Umm... yeah.” Tina shrugged and tried, unsuccessfully, not to blush. “Only the best for my girl.”
Sam ran the few steps needed to reach Tina and hugged her. The momentum pushed the surprised woman backwards. Fortunately, she landed on the luxurious king-sized bed with her arms full of Samantha Whitwell.
“Nice catch,” the musician smirked. “I was right when I said your reflexes were still good.”
A knock at the door startled them both.
“Who is it?” Tina called out as she untangled herself from Sam and stood up.
“Bellhop. I have your luggage, Ma’am.”
Tina went to the door and let the young man in.
He carried in the bags, set up the luggage stands he removed from the closet and laid a suitcase on each. Taking a brochure from his coat pocket, he handed it to Tina. “Here’s the shuttle schedule, Ma’am.”
Sam was trying not to laugh. But between the red-faced employee who kept sneaking glimpses at her sprawled on the huge bed and Tina bristling every time he said ma’am, it wasn’t easy. He managed to get his tip and back out of the room, only tripping once.
Tina scowled at the tiny print on the brochure and tossed it to Sam. “Why don’t you see when the next shuttle leaves?”
“Okay.” Sam turned on the lamp next to the bed and perused the schedule. “There’s one departing in twenty minutes. Do you think we can make it?”
“Sure.” Tina pulled her hair back into a ponytail, put on a FSU baseball cap, and picked up her backpack. “I’m ready.”
The blonde scrambled off the mattress and grabbed her toiletries bag from her suitcase. “Give me five minutes, Mellekas... five minutes.” She dashed into the bathroom.
They ended up just making the shuttle.
The short ride in the small air-conditioned bus was pleasant and in no time at all they were dropped off at the entrance to the theme park.
They joined the stream of people heading for the turnstiles and had their tickets ripped in half as they passed through. “Let’s save these.” Sam put the stubs in her backpack and smiled up at her companion. “Souvenirs.”
Tina looked at the bright smile, the face glistening with cocoa-smelling sunscreen, and the tousled blonde hair hanging over a Mickey Mouse visor. I won’t need any souvenirs to remember this day. “What would you like to do first?”
“Let’s walk around and find one of those booths that sell Mickey Mouse shaped ice cream.” The musician stood on her tiptoes but was unable to see anything beyond the crowd of people around her. “Then we can decide what we want to do after that.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
They wandered around the park, ate their ice cream, and enjoyed a few of the attractions.
“Oh!” Sam pulled Tina toward an ominous-looking building. “The Haunted Mansion!”
“The parade is going to start soon...”
The blonde beckoned for the taller woman to bend down so she could whisper in her ear. “It’s REALLY dark in there.” A gentle nibbling of the earlobe followed the words.
What parade? “Let’s go!”
Thankfully, the line wasn’t too long and soon the pair was standing inside an octagonal room among a large assemblage of tourists. Suddenly, it became pitch black and the attraction began with a loud clap of thunder. Sam pressed against Tina’s side and a long, protective arm encircled her.
The group listened to an eerie introduction before being directed into the next area where they were seated, two-by-two, in moving cars.
Tina and Sam snuggled close together and held hands as they rode through the diverse assortment of gloomy, menacing rooms. As they neared the end, there was a mirrored wall that allowed the people to see themselves, along with a comical-looking ghost that was superimposed in their car for a few seconds.
“Look, T!” Sam pointed at the reflections of the cars preceding them. “See the ghosts?”
“Yes.” Tina felt the hairs on her neck stand on end. What’s going on here?
Sam gasped and stared at the reflection in front of them.
Two female ghosts hovered above the car. One had dark, flowing locks and wore an old- fashioned, billowing white shirt. The other had long, blonde hair and wore a cropped, sleeveless white top. Both had on black pants and black boots with silver buckles.
In spite of their odd attire, the resemblance to the couple in the car was unmistakable.
The spirits floated down and spoke softly to their respective look-a-likes. “Take care of her.”
“Always.” Sam and Tina responded in unison.
The car exited the Haunted Mansion and the safety bar released.
Neither woman moved.
“Ladies?” The Disney employee who was waiting for them to disembark looked at the dazed duo with concern. “Are you all right?”
“Uh... yeah.” Tina got out and offered Sam a hand.
On somewhat shaky legs, they started walking away from the attraction.
“I’ve never seen ghosts like that in there before.” Sam’s voice trembled a bit. “You saw them, too, didn’t you?”
“Who do you think they were?”
“I don’t know.” Tina put a hand on the blonde’s back and steered her further from the building. “They looked like pirates.”
“They looked like US,” Sam added. And unless I’m completely losing my mind, they TALKED to us. “This sure is turning out to be an unusual weekend, isn’t it?”
“Indeed.” Tina glanced over her shoulder and was relieved to see that, at the moment, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. “It certainly is.”
“That was amazing,” the warrior commented as they moved back out of the attraction. “I love that ride, but I don’t remember seeing those particular ghosts before.”
“No,” answered the blonde, shaking her head. “Neither do I.” She looked around again, noting the beautiful, clear day and the uncanny resemblance several couples had to one another.
“I like it here,” she continued. “So much to see aside from the gathering.”
“I know, Little One. Let’s go see what the hold up is from keeping everyone else from getting here.”
by Mavis Applewater
“I mean it. No work,” Olivia stressed as she looked over at her lover.
“Hey, I’m not really back in the game anyway,” Karla protested, as she watched the traffic carefully. “Just a little consulting until the shop gets on its feet.”
“Fine, but in the meantime we’re on vacation,” Olivia chastised her, knowing that the wheels were already spinning in the brunette’s head. “How are you feeling?”
“Much better.” Karla grumbled. “I can’t believe you did that.”
“Hey, wasn’t flying much easier this time?” Olivia reasoned.
“You drugged me,” Karla fumed as she felt the traffic slowing.
“It was just a teensy weensy muscle relaxant,” Olivia defended herself as her lover cast an icy glare over at her. “I had to get you on the plane.”
“I don’t like to fly, but that’s no excuse to slip me Valium,” Karla said with a snarl.
“Honey, sweetie, love of my life, you were freaking out. I had to do something.” Olivia tried to explain as she hid her smile. She knew Karla didn’t like to fly. She had learned that when they first started working together and she picked the tall dark beauty up at the airport. She was pale as a ghost, shaking and clutching Howard’s, (her cat) carrier like it was a life preserver. After seeing the aftermath of Karla traveling by airplane, the small blonde thought she was prepared for enduring the trip with her lover. She was mistaken. It wasn’t that Karla simply didn’t like to fly, she was out and out terrified of the concept.
It started from the moment Chase picked them up to drive them to the airport. Karla was tense and moody. It wasn’t uncommon for Karla to be cranky when she first got up in the morning, but she usually chilled after she got her morning fix of caffeine. Then Chase, with her usual tact, made a snide comment about why she and Karla weren’t living together yet? Things went downhill from there.
Once they were at the airport Karla’s mood went from tense to sheer panic. It didn’t take long for the small blonde to fit the pieces together. She snuck off and made a quick call to California. She prayed that his phone was still connected. Thankfully, Harry had paid his bill that month. “Harry?” She pleaded into the telephone. “I hope I haven’t wakened you,” she apologized, in deference to the time difference, but she was at her wits end. Karla had begun muttering about not going on the trip.
“Blondie! How is my kid treating you?” He said with a chuckle. “Don’t worry about waking me I haven’t been to bed yet. So what’s wrong?”
Relieved that she had not disturbed Karla’s father, whom she adored, in spite of all his quirks, Olivia said, “I have a real problem.”
“Let me guess, she’s almost six foot tall and thinks her cat understands her.” He laughed. “What did my little Skyler do now?”
“Well, it isn’t so much what she did, as what she is about to refuse to do.” Olivia began to explain. “We are supposed to fly down to Orlando, and by the way she’s acting, I don’t think she’s getting on the plane.”
“Right, the wedding. How many times is that woman going to get married?” He started to ramble and Olivia feared that she was losing him. “Harry, focus, she scolded him. “I really don’t care if we miss the wedding or not, but this is our first trip together, and I would really like it if she actually came with me.”
“Slip her a Mickey.” He causally offered.
“Excuse me?” Olivia choked in surprise.
“Give her something to smooth out her rough edges,” Harry explained.
“Where am I supposed to get something like that?” Olivia gasped, doubting that Harry’s suggestion was a good one. “Hey, what about a Valium?”
“Cool.” Harry agreed. “Where’d you score that?”
“I twisted my ankle a couple of months ago,” she explained. “The doctor gave it to me, but I never took it. I think the bottle is still in my makeup case.”
“You didn’t take it?” Harry responded with horror. “What a waste.”
Olivia chuckled. “Never mind, you old reprobate. Thanks for the help.”
She hung up the telephone and quickly searched the makeup case she had a habit of tossing everything into. “Please work,” she prayed as she removed one of the pills from the bottle. “Oh, Karla?” She called to the brunette who had begun to pace nervously.
“Olivia I don’t think we should go,” Karla said as she approached the smaller woman. “I mean my mother’s weddings aren’t really a lot of fun.”
“Look, a Dunkin’ Donuts.” Olivia pointed out.
“Coffee?” Karla beamed.
“I’ll make a deal with you,” Olivia offered. “You get into that very long line at the check-in counter, and I’ll get us some coffee.”
“I’m serious; this trip is a bad idea.” Karla protested.
“Hear me out,” Olivia cut her off. “We have another two hours before the plane takes off. If by the time they call us to board the plane you still don’t want to go, then we won’t.”
“Really?” Karla inquired with a hint of suspicion in her voice.
“Yes, really,” Olivia lied smoothly. “Just get in line and I’ll get the coffee.”
“I hate lines.” Karla grumbled as she took their luggage.
“Among other things,” Olivia whispered under her breath as she made a mad dash for the coffee stand.
By the time they were in the air, Karla was completely looped. She went to order a cocktail from the stewardess when Olivia stopped her. “I don’t think you should,” the blonde fearfully cautioned her.
“Why?” Karla yawned.
“Because it won’t mix with the Valium I slipped into your coffee.” Olivia sheepishly confessed.
“Excuse me?” Karla glared at her, and Olivia merely responded with a shrug of her shoulders and a tiny smile. “You evil little blonde.”
Olivia turned to her about to explain her actions when she noticed that the brunette had fallen asleep. “Thank you, Harry.” She sighed with relief. “She’s going to be pissed when we land, but at least I got her on the plane.”
Karla released a heavy sigh as the traffic came to a stand-still. She looked over at her lover who had put on her sunglasses and was looking around at the sights. ‘I still can’t believe she drugged me. Then again it was the best flight I’ve ever endured.’ Karla thought, her lips curling up in a smirk. Olivia could take her from zero to sixty without batting an eye. The brunette had been looking forward to the trip. Not so much her mother’s wedding; those were old hat by now. But when they discovered that Olivia’s parents were going to be in the area at the same time, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to take their first vacation together. Plus with BardCon going on at the same hotel they were staying at, Karla could feed her need for good books and maybe meet some of her favorite writers.
The entire trip seemed like a dream come true until she was standing in the middle of Logan Airport and the panic set in. The thought of being trapped in a tin can suspend thousands of miles in the air terrified her. The entire concept was just unnatural to the normally strong willed woman. She was just about to bolt from the airport when Olivia sidetracked her with a cup of coffee. Karla often forgot her lover could be just as strong willed as she was. “I still can’t believe you drugged me,” Karla muttered, as Olivia sighed with exasperation.
“Let it go,” Olivia chastised her. “We’re here aren’t we? Of course getting home will be another adventure.”
“What were you thinking, taking advice from Harry?” Karla continued to grouse. “You know how I feel about taking drugs.”
“Please let it go,” Olivia pleaded wearily. “I do know. But Karla, what I don’t get is why you are so afraid to fly? When there’s a spider in the house, I’m the one climbing up on a chair whining like a baby, and you’re all butch about it. So why is getting in an airplane such a huge hairy deal?”
“Being that far off the ground is just wrong.” Karla tried to reason with the little blonde who was laughing. “What?”
“It’s just that you’re so tall.” Olivia laughed again at the look of confusion on her tall lover’s face. “Never mind I’ll just add it to the growing list of things I’ll never understand.”
Karla groaned. She knew there was something besides her reluctance to fly bothering her lover. It was the wedding, and Karla’s lack of enthusiasm, and their living arrangements. How could Karla explain just how closely the two were connected? Olivia’s parents had been married for an eternity; she had no idea what it was like having a new father every few years. “You must be excited about seeing your parents,” Karla finally offered in an effort to ease the growing tension.
“I can’t wait,” Olivia responded excitedly. The blonde’s smile could always melt Karla’s heart. It was one of the first things she noticed about the small blonde. Perhaps not the very first thing she noticed, she mentally noted, as her eyes drifted to her lover’s breasts. “Watch the road,” Olivia scolded. Karla’s eyes obediently returned to the road as her companion referred once again to the map in her hand. “We want to take the next exit. I wish Mom and Dad were going to be down here longer.”
Karla glanced again at the small blonde who was now staring out the window. She decided that maybe for the holidays, they could drive down to Chapel Hill so Olivia could spend Christmas with her parents. Of course, it all depended on whether or not the small flower shop she had opened was finally showing a profit or not. As she crept towards the exit she mentally reviewed everything she knew about Olivia’s parents. They had been married forever; her father had been a career naval officer until they were blessed with Olivia very late in life. ‘Shouldn’t be a hardship meeting them since, unlike my mother, they seem to accept her lifestyle.’ Karla reasoned as she felt the beads of sweat forming on her brow. ‘What if they don’t like me?’ She panicked. “What is the name of the restaurant where we’re meeting them?” Karla inquired in an effort to distract herself.
“Chuck’s Wagon.” Olivia said with a smile.
“No, really?” Karla said in disbelief.
“Really,” Olivia confirmed.
“Chuck’s Wagon?” Karla repeated. “What kind of place is it?”
“It’s a themed restaurant.”
“Why would you parents want to meet us there?” Karla asked in confusion.
“Daddy knows I just love those kinds of places.”
“Tell me you’re joking?” Olivia shook her head no. “I’m meeting your parents for the first time in a cowboy restaurant? Where everyone says, ‘Howdy,’ and I’ll be forced to order something like a Chuck Burger?”
“Yes, Ma’am,” Olivia said with a drawl. “Y’all need to lighten up.”
“Y’all? Did you just say y’all?” Karla choked. “You know, you’ve been doing that since we picked up the rental car.”
“Happens,” Olivia muttered.
“You have an accent,” Karla teased her.
“One I spent a great many years trying to lose,” Olivia pronounced her words very carefully. “It’s hard enough being blonde withoutthe drawl; no one took me seriously, so I lost my accent.”
“I think it’s adorable,” Karla said in a sultry tone.
Olivia undid her seat belt and slid across the seat, “If you play nice, Skyler, I’ll show you some real southern hospitality later,” she drawled hotly into the brunette’s ear before placing a playful nip on the sensitive lobe.
“Yes, Ma’am.” Karla squeaked out as she gripped the steering wheel tighter.
“Pull in there,” Olivia instructed her.
Karla looked up and her jaw dropped. “My God, it’s a huge covered wagon,” she said as she looked up at the building that was designed to look just like a covered wagon from the old west.
“I love it,” Olivia said as she climbed out of the car, her enthusiasm plain in the look on her face. But when she stepped into the heat of the day, she slowed down a bit. “Wow this heat is a bit much.”
“I know,” Karla agreed as she stretched out the kinks in her tired body.
“I still can’t get over seeing palm trees everywhere,” Olivia exclaimed as she led Karla over to the entrance of the restaurant. Karla simply rolled her eyes. “What?” Olivia grumbled as they stepped inside a large wagon wheel doorway.
“Nothing. It’s just that I grew up California. Coming to Boston and seeing snow was strange for me. Of course I had to wait two winters for that to happen.”
“You were absolutely adorable, making snow angels and sticking snow down my pants.” Olivia laughed. “So you’ve never been to Disney World before?”
“No,” Karla responded as she looked around the crowded restaurant that looked more like a barn dance than a place to eat. “I’ve been to Disneyland. I still don’t understand why mother chose to get married here. Probably ran out of places on the west coast.”
“How many times has your mother walked down the aisle?” Olivia inquired as she strained to see over the bustling crowd in an effort to find her parents.
“I’m not entirely certain,” Karla reluctantly admitted.
“Maybe this will be the one?” Olivia suggested hopefully.
“I gave up on that wish by the time I reached twenty-one,” Karla grumbled as a large woman dressed in a skirt puffed out from far too many petticoats, and wearing a small red cowboy hat approached them.
“Well howdy!” The chubby woman bellowed as if she was calling in the hogs. “Welcome to Chuck’s Wagon! Care to set a spell?”
“They make you say that don’t they?” Karla said sympathetically.
“Why yes, Ma’am,” the woman continued. The broad smile that she wore appeared to be painted on her face.
“We’re meeting people,” Olivia quickly interrupted before Karla had the opportunity to torture the poor woman any further. “The Davenport party.”
“Well, sure as shootin’ they’re right over yonder,” the hostess informed them, pointing toward the bar in the far corner of the room. “If you’ll just mosey along this-a way.” Her petticoats made a swooshing sound as she turned to lead them toward a small table in the bar where the Davenport’s were waiting for them.
As they approached the couple whose faces lit up at the sight of the blonde beside her, Karla asked quietly, “Sweetheart, what do they know about me?”
“Who?” Olivia asked as she stopped and brushed her blonde bangs out of her eyes.
“Your parents, what did you tell them about me?” Karla blurted out.
“That I love you,” Olivia reassured her as she took Karla’s hand in her own.
“Oh?” Karla responded with a goofy grin. Her silly grin grew as she allowed Olivia to lead her across the restaurant.
“I should warn you though, Daddy can be a little overprotective,” Olivia whispered as they neared the older couple.
“Huh?” Karla’s normally tanned face whitened perceptibly.
“You should have asked Chase about it this morning, instead of biting her head off.” Olivia chuckled. “Daddy threatened to skin her alive if she didn’t stay away from me.”
“What?” Karla choked as Olivia released her hand.
“Mommy, Daddy!” The blonde squealed as she rushed over and was engulfed in her parents embrace. Karla briefly saw her life pass before her eyes when she looked up and down Mr. Davenport’s massive frame. She could see that Olivia had gotten her small stature from her mother. Mr. Davenport on the other hand looked like a bear, and by the cold murderous stare he was casting in her direction, Karla knew that the man didn’t like her.
“Mom and Dad, I want you to meet my partner, Karla James.” Olivia made the introductions flanked on either side by her parents. “Karla, these are my parents, Beatrice and...”
“Captain Davenport, U.S. Navy,” Olivia’s father finished for his daughter.
“Ma’am,” Karla greeted the small woman with gentle handshake. “Sir,” she greeted the Captain with a firm no nonsense handshake. She could tell by the slight smile that the large older man approved of the greeting.
“Drink, ladies?” The bartender inquired.
Karla’s first reaction was to order a double anything, but as her eyes scanned to the two glasses of lemonade sitting in front of the Davenports, she quickly thought better of it. “No, thank you,” she politely declined, noting that once again the Captain gave a slight smile of approval.
Silence descended upon the group, as the Captain and Karla seemed to be sizing one another up. Thankfully, the hostess finally led them to their table. Karla continued her staring match with Olivia’s father while the blonde and her mother chatted away. “So, Karla is it?” The burly man began in a dry tone.
“Yes, sir,” she carefully responded.
“How did you meet my little angel?” He inquired.
Karla’s eyes flew open as Olivia started to choke on the water she was sipping. Karla’s hand flew out and began to rub her lover’s back in an effort to calm her. Before she could respond to the innocent question, a man in faded jeans with leather chaps and a gaudy plaid shirt came to a stop by their table. “Howdy, folks. I’m Rodeo Bob, and I’ll be your server this evening,” the buff blonde man informed them.
“You all right there, Angel?” The Captain inquired as Olivia started to breathe on her own.
“Fine, Daddy,” she squeaked out. “Water just went down the wrong pipe. Let’s just order, okay?”
The group ordered quickly, with the Captain’s stern gaze never leaving Karla. The brunette held her own her gaze firmly on the older man’s eyes, only wavering to Rodeo Bob when she realized he was paying far too much attention to her lover. “So, I believe I asked you a question?” The Captain asserted after the annoying waiter left.
Karla was tempted to give in to the anger growing inside of her and tell the pompous man the truth. ‘Well you see Sir, I picked your angel up in a bar and took her back to her hotel room and had hot sex with her all night long without bothering to ask her what her name was. That ought to give you an aneurysm you cocky old buzzard.’ Karla silently chuckled. “We met on a business trip,” the brunette offered instead, as her lover blew out a sigh of relief.
“So, you are in PR game as well,” he noted with a hint of approval.
“Not anymore.” Karla corrected him. “I quit and opened a small flower shop almost two years ago.”
“A flower shop?” He responded with a scowl.
“Daddy,” Olivia cautioned him.
“Now, now my little angel, we are just talking.” He gently offered as he tickled his daughter under her chin. “I just want to get to know your friend a little better. So you quit a lucrative position to sell daisies?” He directed towards Karla as Olivia groaned and buried her face in her hands.
“Yes,” Karla responded dryly.
“I don’t think you do,” Karla snapped. “I wasn’t happy doing what I was doing and I couldn’t be with Olivia while I was her boss. So I quit.”
Karla felt slightly relieved as the icy glare he was casting at her dimmed slightly. Rodeo Bob returned with their meals. Once again the ‘cowboy’ started paying far too much attention to Olivia. “I’m fine,” Olivia grumbled as she brushed the waiter’s hand aside. The Captain and Karla both glared at the man, who retreated once again in the direction of the kitchen. The Captain returned his attention to Karla.
“So what brings you two gals down to Florida?”
“My mother’s wedding,” Karla explained as she played with her dinner.
“Renewing their vows; now that is admirable,” the Captain said, pleased with the concept. “You should be proud of your parents.”
“Not exactly,” Karla hedged.
Rodeo Bob returned to refill their water glasses. Karla felt her anger growing as he continued to pester Olivia. “What do you mean?” The Captain persisted.
“My mother isn’t marrying my father.” Karla explained as she suddenly felt like she was on a sinking ship without a lifejacket.
“Well these things do happen, I suppose,” Olivia’s father muttered as his attention turned to Rodeo Bob.
“She’s from Los Angeles, dear,” Beatrice supplied, as if that was all the explanation necessary.
“Your parents are divorced then?” The Captain pressed.
“Not exactly.” Karla grumbled.
“I think we have enough water, son.” The Captain snapped at the clueless waiter who continued to smile while his hand came to rest on Olivia’s shoulder.
“That’s it,” Karla snapped as she slammed her fork down, startling everyone at the table. “First, get your hand off of her,” she snarled at the stunned waiter. The server snatched his hand back as if Olivia were on fire. “Now unless you want to start riding side saddle, Partner, you won’t touch her again.” Rodeo Bob paled as Karla rose from her chair, glaring at the frightened man her six foot frame was towering over. Rodeo Bob finally understood how much doo-doo he had just stepped in and scurried off. “Are you all right?” She gently asked her lover as she sat down.
“Yes, thank you.” Olivia responded with a smile as she took Karla by the hand.
“Now I believe you wanted to know about my parents?” Karla calmly continued as she returned her focus to the Captain. “No, they are not divorced; they were never married.” She didn’t miss the disapproving look the Captain offered in response. “It isn’t something I like talking about. But Harry is a good, albeit misguided man, who changed after the war. And yes, I traded in my corner office to be with your daughter who is a hell of a lot more important to me than a fat paycheck.”
Olivia gave her hand a tight squeeze as she smiled proudly up at her. Karla blew out a heavy breath as she waited for the ax to fall. The hearty laughter of Olivia’s parents was the last thing she expected. “You were right Angel, she’s a real spit-fire,” the Captain said with a chuckle.
“Okay what just happened?” Karla asked as she stared at Olivia in confusion.
“What just happened is called meeting the in-laws,” Beatrice said
“Uh huh.” Karla stammered slightly still not fully grasping the situation. A board -room full of angry clients in a down market she understood and could handle, but this situation left her at a complete loss.
“Karla, someday, if and when the two of you are blessed with a little angel of your own, you will understand,” the Captain offered in a gentle tone.
‘Kids! They’re talking about us having kids?’ Her mind screamed as her heart raced and her palms began to sweat. “I’ll try to explain as best I can,” the Captain continued in the same gentle tone. “Ever since I could remember, boys, and then women, have been following my daughter around like she was the last shot of bourbon at closing time. Now it is my duty to protect her. And by the way you handled that cowboy wanna be, I can see that you feel it is your duty as well. And as much as you say you quit your job to make yourself happy, I can see you did it to make my little girl happy. And she is, and that is all I can ask or hope for.” Karla felt her heart warming as the words sunk in. “But if you hurt her, Rodeo what’s-his-name won’t be the only one riding lighter in the saddle, if you get my meaning,” he added coldly.
“Sir, yes sir, Captain.” Karla choked out as his eyes bore into her for a brief moment.
“Dwight.” He corrected her with a warm gaze and smile.
“Dwight?” She coughed out in an effort to keep from laughing.
“Problem?” He snarled.
“N-No sir, I mean Dwight,” she stammered.
“Good. Now let’s eat our chow before it gets cold,” he instructed them as he gave Karla a wink.
“I can’t believe I was so nervous about meeting them,” Karla said with a sense of relief as they headed towards the restaurant’s exit. “Your parents are terrific.”
“I can’t believe you two stepped in the dance hall,” Olivia said, laughing.
“Hey, your mom’s a great dancer,” Karla quipped as something caught her eye. She stood in front of the display for a moment. She felt a shiver as she looked at the wall that had been painted to look like a cave.
“What is it?” Olivia asked with concern.
“I don’t know. I thought I saw something.” Karla explained as they continued towards the doorway. “Oof,” she said as someone collided into her.
“Sorry, Ma’am,” the dark haired woman muttered in apology as she tipped her hat. She felt the shiver returned as the tall dark woman dressed in chaps brushed past her tugging, a small blonde woman behind her.
Karla continued to stare after the duo as Olivia studied the roadmap she was holding. “You okay?” Olivia repeated as they stepped back out into the heat.
“I just thought I saw someone I recognized only I don’t know from where,” Karla tried to explain. “The tall gunslinger I bumped into.”
“That happened to me earlier when we were driving,” Olivia said as she took the car keys from her lover’s grasp. “Come on, time to head towards Disney World.”
“I can’t wait. All the rides, breakfast with Tigger and BardCon” Karla said with a chuckle. She knew her partner was a kid at heart, and this trip was worth being drugged just to see the look on her face. She would never tell Olivia that, of course.
“And your mother’s wedding?” Olivia tossed out as they climbed into car.
“Yeah, that too.”
“Josie, where are we?” Rebecca’s voice quivered as she looked around the strange surroundings.
“Certainly doesn’t look like any saloon I’ve ever been in,” Josie answered as she scratched her head in wonderment. “Last thing I recall was the storm that hit us on the way to Charles’ place. We ducked into that cave we found.”
“I remember that,” Rebecca responded as her eyes continued to dart around. “The wind was terrible so we moved to the very back of the cave and then the lightening came. The last thing I remember seeing was that bright flash of light.”
“Me too,” Josie said slowly as her mind tried to grasp what had happened to them.
by Vada Foster
Josie turned to watch the couple they had run into as they first entered this strange establishment, and at that same moment, the tall brunette also turned back and their eyes met for a moment. It was like looking in a mirror, the tall gunslinger thought. “Rebecca, do you think they could be the ones my Grandmother told us about?”
Rebecca also turned around to look more closely at the duo who were now making their way out of the restaurant. “I suppose they could be. She did say they would be ‘like us.’ I thought she meant women who... love other women,” she blushed slightly and averted her eyes, still a bit awkward with discussing something which only a few months ago had been completely unknown to her.
Josie grinned a bit at her partner’s discomfort. “Well, Sprite, they sure look like they were cut right out of the same cloth as us, so I would say that is what Grandmother meant. And they were holding hands, so I am pretty sure they are like us in more ways than one.”
“Then we’d better not let them get away.” She took Josie’s hand and the two women hurried toward the door, unaware of the looks and stares they were getting from the patrons who thought they must be part of the show in their quaint western wear.
When they burst into the light of day, both women stopped dead in their tracks, their mouths slowly dropping open as they got their first real look at the world of the future. Not only was it like walking out into a blast furnace, but machines that looked a bit like small locomotives hurled down the avenue in front of them at speeds no train had ever achieved, even running downhill with no brakes. One of those juggernauts slowed and pulled into the asphalt covered field that surrounded the building they had just left, and Rebecca unconsciously stepped back a few paces as it drew closer to them. Josie’s hand fell to the gun on her hip; if the machine did not stop on its own, she would take out the driver before it reached them. But it made an amazingly sharp turn and continued down a path where other machines like it were sitting neatly between white painted lines. It was toward that area that the other couple of women were going, so Josie tugged at Rebecca’s hand and led her in that direction.
“Excuse me, Ma’am!” Josie called out, but it seemed the women were out of earshot, or chose to ignore her. They opened the doors of the machine that apparently belonged to them, and the small blonde was already inside. In another few moments they would be gone, if their machine was capable of the speed of the others they had seen. Josie drew her gun from its holster, and glancing around, she fired two shots into the air toward the strip of water that ran behind the big covered wagon shaped building.
“What the hell?” Karla had been about to slide behind the wheel when she heard what appeared to be gunshots. She stood and looked over the roof of the car and saw the two women from the restaurant hurrying in their direction. The taller one was holstering a gun, which explained the source of the gunshots, but not the why. Olivia opened her door and was about to step out when Karla said sharply, “Stay in the car. That woman has a gun.”
Olivia paused for a moment, but she remembered the feeling she got from the two approaching women when the foursome collided in the restaurant, and she knew instinctively they meant no harm. “They’re not going to hurt us. I think she was just trying to get our attention.” She climbed out of the car and waited for the clones of herself and Karla to reach them. In the dimly lit building she had not been as sure of the resemblance as she was in the bright sunlight. If she did not know better, she would swear she was adopted, and the small blonde in the gingham dress was her twin sister. And the tall drink of water with the guns looked enough like Karla to fool her own mother, she thought. She studied the woman in the black outfit, whose legs seemed to go on forever, and whispered to Karla, “Babe, we gotta get you some cowboy boots.”
“Ha ha,” Karla said dryly. But she had to agree, there was something very appealing about the androgynous look of the gunslinger. She started mentally noting the woman’s attire for her next Halloween costume. Crossing behind the car, she came to a stop beside her partner, and waited for the women to reach them. “What is it you want?” Karla’s tone was curter than she had intended, and it brought the blonde woman up short. The gunslinger drew her brows together in a frown at the tone, but before she could say anything, Olivia smiled and stepped between the two glowering brunettes.
“Pay no attention to her. She’s been huffy ever since I drugged her to get her on the airplane.”
“What’s an air plain?” Rebecca asked. From the sound of her voice, Olivia was certain she truly had no idea what an airplane was. Karla on the other hand was beginning to think they were being pursued by whackos, and was about to suggest subtly to Olivia that they leave these women to their delusions.
“You really don’t know?” Olivia asked. Rebecca shook her head. “It’s a...flying machine that takes people from one place to another. You can go from California to New York in less than five hours.”
Now it was Josie’s turn to begin to wonder if they had done the right thing in trying to hook up with these crazy women. She could not stifle the laugh that erupted from her at the thought of a machine that could actually transport people through the air. And cross the country in less than half a day? Impossible! “Pull the other one,” she said.
“I’m serious” She turned to her lover and said, “Karla, let’s take them by the airport and show them some planes coming and going. Seeing is believing. Oh, and I’m Olivia, by the way. And this is my partner, Karla.” She grasped Rebecca’s hand to shake it and was surprised by the firm grasp the little blonde had. She turned to Josie and held out her hand, but the tall gunslinger glanced at Karla and hesitated a moment before taking it in her own. “It’s okay, she won’t bite,” Olivia said with a laugh.
“Before we put them in the car and go running all over Florida with them, don’t you think we might want to find out what it is they think we can help them with?” Karla was feeling less apprehensive than she had been when they first met the oddly garbed women, but she was still not certain it was a good idea to let them get too close. She looked at the gunbelts draped around the black clad woman’s hips and swallowed audibly. Guns, for God’s sake! Nobody wears guns unless they’re cops or criminals. And this woman did not look like any cop she had ever seen. A bit like Sharon Stone in that movie, maybe. The hair color was wrong, but Sharon had beautiful blue eyes too, didn’t she? What was the name of that movie? Not important. Focus. She put her stern face back on.
“I’m Rebecca, and this is my...” she rolled the word around in her head for a minute before she continued her sentence, “partner, Josie.”
“Have we met before? Those names are awfully familiar,” Olivia said, but Rebecca shook her head.
“Not likely. You see, we don’t live in this...place. Or time.”
Karla had been trying to place the names as well; she was certain she had heard them before. Suddenly it came to her. “The Western Chronicles! I knew I had heard those names before. I get it; you’re dressing as characters from a book. I didn’t know Bardcon was supposed to be a dress up kind of shindig.” Josie and Rebecca looked at her with confused looks on their faces.
“There’s a book about us?” Josie asked, and at the same time, Rebecca said, “Bard con?”
“You had me going. I have to admit, the outfits are great, and the bit about the airplane...well, that was inspired. Blanks in the guns, right?” She reached out to remove a gun from its holster, and Josie’s hand was on her wrist before she even saw it move. The outlaw did not say a word, but moved her head slowly from side to side. When Karla withdrew her hand, Josie relaxed and dropped her own hand away from her gun.
Olivia’s mind just registered what Rebecca had said. “You’re not from this ‘time’? What does that mean?”
“I’ll tell you what I can, but do you think we could get out of the sun? I’m afraid Josie’s going to get sun stroke in all this heat.”
“Sure, of course. Let’s get in the car and we can turn on the air conditioning.” Karla shot her a murderous look, but Olivia was not about to let these women get away without hearing their story. With a sigh, Karla walked to the driver’s side and climbed in, turning over the engine and cranking the air up to high. Olivia opened the back door and motioned for Josie to get in behind the front passenger seat, knowing that she would need more leg room than Rebecca. Josie hesitated, but then she climbed in with a shrug. If Karla could do it, she could do it. The cool air that hit her made her sink into the seat with a sigh. “Come on,” Olivia took Rebecca by the hand and led her to the other side of the car. “It’s perfectly safe. Karla is a very good driver,” she assured her ‘twin.’ When Rebecca made no move to open the door, Olivia grasped the handle and pulled it open. By then the cool air had truly taken the edge off the heat in the car, and Rebecca fell gratefully into the seat.
“God, this feels wonderful!” she said enthusiastically. Josie’s head was resting on the head rest, her eyes closed in contentment.
“Mm hmm,” she murmured. It was like crawling into the ice house, only the seats were more comfortable. She could get used to this.
Olivia climbed in to the front seat and turned to look at the two women sprawled in the back seat. By all appearances, they had never experienced such a thing as air conditioning. She didn’t know why, but something about them made her want to trust them, despite the fact that what she had heard so far was more than outlandish. She smiled as she noticed Rebecca shyly grasp Josie’s hand and twine their fingers together. They made a beautiful couple; light and dark, yin and yang. Olivia reached for Karla’s hand, and bringing it to her lips, she kissed the palm of her hand. Karla smiled at her partner. “What was that for?”
“For going along with me on this. For trusting my instincts. Ah, hell, just for being you.”
“It’s your show. I’m just along for the ride. What do you want me to do?”
“Drive us toward the airport. If by the time we get there we aren’t satisfied that...they are legit, we’ll let them out and they can take a taxi to where ever they want to go. Okay?”
“You got it, baby.” She dropped the car into gear and backed out of the slot. At the first sign of motion, Josie and Rebecca’s eyes flew open and they sat up straight in their seats. As the car changed directions and began to pick up speed, Rebecca’s grip on Josie’s hand grew tighter.
Olivia noticed their growing unease. “It’s okay, really. Karla knows how to handle a car. You’ll be fine.” They seemed to relax somewhat, and began to watch the other vehicles and the scenery as they sped along the highway. “So, tell us what you mean about not being from this time?”
“We were in the Oklahoma Territory in 1891, and Josie took me to meet her grandmother, who is a medicine elder, and also an oracle, I guess you could say....”
The old woman sat across the camp fire from them, a pipe clamped between her teeth, the aromatic smoke blending with that from the fire. Rebecca studied her face; she could have been 50 or 150; the lines were etched so deeply into her weathered countenance. But her eyes sparkled with life and intelligence and a youthful enthusiasm that belied the passage of years. Josie and Rebecca were greeted at her door as if the old woman had been expecting them. And indeed, she had been. And the moment she saw the small blonde woman at her grand daughter’s side, she knew the vision she had seen many years ago was coming to pass. Now, sitting by the fire, the old woman took a deep breath and began to speak.
“Many summers ago, I saw a vision that my Sky Eyes would bring home another grand daughter to my camp fire. This grand daughter would have hair the color of summer wheat, and would hold the heart of my Sky Eyes next to her own. And this has come to pass. I must believe that the rest of my vision is also true.” Rebecca could not fathom how easily this woman had assessed their relationship, and accepted it and her into her family. After taking another long draw on her pipe, the woman continued. “I have seen the two of you on a vision quest that has taken you into a time far into the future, on the southern edge of this great land. Guides who, like yourselves, have come to this place for the same reason you have, will take you into their protection. They will show you the way to the convergence of many others who are like you. I cannot see the purpose of this meeting, but I believe it is important for you to be there.”
Josie and Rebecca looked at one another, both obviously confused. How could they possibly hope to go into the future? And even if they did, what would the odds be that they would be able to find the guides of whom the medicine elder spoke? The old woman reached into a pouch within the deer hide cape she wore and pulled out two very similar necklaces. Each of them held a small pouch bound with a strip of rawhide, as well as stones, bits of teeth, and other odds and ends that could not readily be identified in the limited light of the camp fire. The old woman studied each one for a moment, and then held one out to each of the women across from her.
“There are amulets and spices within these necklaces that will allow you to return home to your own time and place. A natural event will transport both of you there, when you are ready. Keep these on you at all times, so you will not be cast adrift in a time not your own. I only hope I am still among the living when you come back, to hear of your adventures in the world of the future...”
Josie took up the tale when Rebecca paused to drink from a bottle of water Olivia handed her. “We were holed up in a cave during a lightning storm. A bolt of lightning struck what must have been a natural chimney in the cave, and sent a charge right into the chamber where we were taking shelter. When we came to, the sounds of the storm were over, and we walked out of the cave...”
“And right into me, is that is?” Karla still sounded skeptical. Josie shrugged. She reached up to her neck and untied the bandana she wore, revealing the rawhide band that held the amulet her grandmother had given her. Rebecca loosened the top button on her dress and pulled out a similar necklace.
“Choose to believe it or not,” Josie said.
“I believe you,” Olivia said sincerely.
“Thank you,” Rebecca said. “If it means anything, I have to admit that, until we found ourselves here, I was a bit skeptical myself. But since Josie and I have been traveling together, I have learned to accept that what I might never have believed possible is in fact very possible.”
“Well, if all you say is true, you are about to see another “impossible” become possible,” Karla said, pulling the car to the side of the road. She pointed out the window to her right. “That’s the airport. See that great huge thing over there?”
“The one shaped like a silver bullet with...out-stretched wings?” Rebecca asked.
“That’s the one. Now watch it.” The plane in question was waiting at the top of the runway, apparently in line for departure. Karla knew that it should not be more than a few minutes before it was airborne. Sure enough, the whine of the jet engines picked up and the wheels began to roll. “Here it goes...now!” The nose of the plane pointed skyward, and both Josie and Rebecca gasped as it took flight like a gigantic bird.
“Voila! Zee airplane!” Olivia said, laughing at the expressions still etched on their passengers’ faces. “And there are probably upwards of 200 people on board. By this time tomorrow, they could be in New York, London, New Zealand, well, about anywhere in the world, really.” Another plane came in for a landing and the time travelers from the old west watched fascinated as it went from such a great speed to a stop in only a few minutes.
“They’ll never believe this in Oklahoma in 1891,” Josie said, shaking her head.
“Speaking of Oklahoma, do you have any idea what the...what was that word? Oh, right, convergence...what that was supposed to be about?” Olivia had an idea, but she wanted to know a bit more about what Josie’s grandmother had said.
Josie shook her head. “Not really. I got the impression she did not know more than what she said. She did say she saw mostly women, and that many of those women bore a resemblance to me and Rebecca.”
“Oh, and she said it was in a great ballroom, with chandeliers but no candles. I could not imagine such a place,” Rebecca added.
“I know just the place,” Olivia said. “And we’ll be going there next weekend. You’re coming with us,” she said with a note of finality, in case Karla might be thinking of objecting. The tall brunette simply rolled her eyes and put the car in gear. If they were going to have these...guests for several days, they needed to make arrangements for them.
Josie sat on the bed in their hotel room using the remote to turn the TV on and off over and over. Karla had insisted that they have a room of their own, and asked Olivia to arrange for it in her name, since the room they were already in right next door was in Karla’s name. Olivia briefly explained some of the amenities the room had; mini-bar, TV with HBO, a small safe, a bathtub with a shower, and the biggest bed Josie had ever seen. But the most fascinating thing to them was the TV, where images of people appeared and disappeared as if by magic at the touch of a button. Rebecca got as close as she could to the little box, and peered into the edges of it, but could see nothing but a sheet of gray. “Never mind,” Josie said, tossing the remote onto the nightstand. “This is another of those amazing things that they take for granted in this time. We’ll ask Olivia to explain it to us.”
“How about we try out that bathtub? She said you can get hot water just by turning a knob. That sounds heavenly to me. Want to join me?” She raised her eyebrow seductively, and began to unbutton her dress.
“Oh yeah,” Josie replied in a low sexy voice, causing goosebumps to jump out all over Rebecca’s body. The tall brunette began to peel off her own clothing. “Betcha I can beat you to the water,” she challenged.
Rebecca had already removed her dress, and she yanked her slip over her head quickly, then pulled off her shoes and stockings. Josie was still trying to get her boots off. “Hah!” Rebecca crowed as she vaulted into the small room a step ahead of her tall lover. Josie wrapped her arms around Rebecca’s waist and pulled her against her firm body.
“You win...again,” the tall gunslinger whispered into her ear.
“My winning streak started the day I met you,” the little blonde replied, turning in Josie’s arms, and kissing her lightly on the lips. Josie moaned as she felt Rebecca’s tongue begin to tease its way into her mouth.
“Oh, what you do to me, woman,” Josie said when Rebecca finally pulled away.
“And I want to keep doing it until we’re both old and toothless.”
“Deaf and blind,” Josie retorted.
“Freezing to death,” Rebecca countered, realizing that the air conditioning was a bit high, considering they were both naked. “Suppose you could figure out how to work that gadget so it’s a bit less arctic in here? I’ll get the water going.”
“I’ll try.” Olivia had showed her how the air conditioner worked, so she figured it should not be too difficult to adjust it. And she had showed Rebecca how to turn the water on, and which of the knobs was hot and which was cold. But she did not show her how to keep the water from running out of the little hole in the bottom of the tub. When Josie returned, she saw the small amount of water swirling around in the tub. “Shallow bath, isn’t it?”
“It’s running out that hole,” Rebecca grumbled.
“What about trying the shower? You flip that little thing up and water comes out of that...whatever that is.” Rebecca shrugged. They had nothing to lose. She pulled up on the lever and water came gushing out of the shower head. Unfortunately, it was cold, and when it hit her body, she jumped right out of the tub and into Josie’s arms. “What’s the matter?” Josie asked.
“C-cold water,” Rebecca replied, but by the time Josie put her hand under the stream to feel it, it had warmed up.
“Not now. Come on.” Josie climbed into the tub and helped Rebecca in.
Olivia rummaged through the drawers filled with what little clothes they had brought with them, holding up and then casting aside various items. “Too low cut,” she mumbled as she held up a sleeveless shirt which she knew would reveal a fair amount of cleavage. “Can’t see her going from that little house on the prairie outfit to this in one fell swoop.” The only thing she had not yet rejected was a tank top with the legend “Xena and Gabrielle are ‘doin it” on the front of it. She shrugged and set it out to give to Rebecca, who would only have to wear it until they could get someplace and buy her something more appropriate, she reasoned. She found the shorts that she had planned to wear with that tank top and some of her less risqué underwear, and put them in a stack on the bed. “Have you found something for Josie to wear?”
Karla tossed panties, a bra, a royal blue shirt, and a pair of white shorts on the bed beside the clothes for Rebecca. “She’ll have to wear my sandals; I don’t have any clean socks, so I can’t let her wear my shoes. I can’t believe we’re doing this; Olivia, they could really and truly be complete fruitcakes, you know. And how are they supposed to pay for the room, the clothes we’re going to take them to buy; whatever? I’m not trying to sound uncharitable, but this could cost a lot.”
“I don’t know, Karla. But I’m not worried about it. I can put everything on my credit card, and if they have no money, I’ll pay it off. Things will work out though. I feel it. There’s a...kinship I feel with them. I wish I could explain it.” She dug around in the floor of the closet until she found her spare pair of sandals and added them to the growing mound on the bed.
Three faint raps sounded on the door that connected their room with the one next door. Rebecca had told them to let her know when they were through cleaning up, and she would provide some more modern clothes for them to change into. Olivia opened their door and saw Rebecca’s face peering around the doorjamb. Olivia gathered the clothes into a bundle, handed them to the little blonde, who almost dropped them while trying to keep the towel wrapped around herself and hold the clothes.
“Thank you so much!”
Before Rebecca could close the door on her side, Olivia said, “Give us another knock when you’re dressed. We’ll take you out and get some clothes more to your liking, and maybe a bite to eat. Okay?”
“Sounds good. We’ll be ready in a few minutes.” The door closed softly.
“I don’t know,” Josie grumbled. She stood in front of the full length mirror on the closet door and looked at the scant clothes she wore. “I’d rather wear my own clothes. There’s no way I can wear my guns with these...bloomers on.”
“Josie, I think you need to leave the guns off. I mean, we have seen a lot of people, and not a one of them was wearing guns.”
“They weren’t wearing much in the way of clothes, either, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to go out in my long-johns.”
“Oh Josie, it’ll be fine. Everybody here seems to dress like this. And I trust Olivia and Karla to make sure we don’t end up with something too outlandish.” She stepped up next to Josie and looked at her own reflection in the mirror. “Who do you suppose Xena and Gabrielle are? And I wonder what it is that they’re doing?” Josie shrugged. She was sure their new friends would enlighten them on that subject as well, if it was something important.
“Well, I guess we might as well go over there. If we stay here much longer, I’ll talk myself out of going at all,” the tall brunette groused.
Karla opened the door when she heard the raps, and her mouth dropped open when the two western women walked into the room. She was reminded of the movie with Lily Tomlin and Bette Midler where they played two sets of twins born in the same hospital and then paired up with the wrong twin. It truly seemed as if she and Olivia had been reunited with long lost sisters. The phone rang before she could say anything, and she grabbed it. “Yes? Yes, this is Karla James.” She listened for a moment, a curious look on her face. “Okay, send him up.”
“What was that about?” Olivia enquired.
“They have a courier at the front desk with a package that he said I have to sign for personally. Did you tell anybody where we were staying?”
“Just Chase, but I can’t imagine what she would be sending to us. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see.” She walked slowly around Rebecca and then Josie, nodding her head in approval. “Perfect fit. It’s like those clothes were made for you. But we’re going to have to do something about those farmer’s tans. You’ll stand out like a sore thumb.” The only part of Josie and Rebecca that had any color at all were their faces and hands. They glanced at each other, and then looked down at their legs, which were indeed pretty white.
“Won’t they burn to a crisp if we take them out in the sun to get some color on their... er, white parts?” Karla asked.
“Oh, ye of little faith. I saw a Cop-A-Tan in a strip mall not more than a couple miles from here. We’ll put them in the Mystic Tan booth, and they’ll come out a golden brown that will last for about a week.”
“I wondered how you managed to keep that lovely tan all year round. I thought you must be out sunbathing in the nude every time I left the house.”
Olivia laughed. “I have to keep a few secrets from you. What fun would it be if we had no mysteries between us?”
Before she could reply, the doorbell rang and Karla went to answer. She came back into the room a few moments later with a paper wrapped package about the size of a shoebox. She tore off the wrapping to reveal a small wooden box that looked like an antique jewelry box. It was locked but looked as if it would not be too difficult to open. It was pretty heavy, and rattled when she shook it.
“Who’s it from?”
Karla looked at the carbon copy of the waybill inside the plastic envelope on the wrapping. “Becky... somebody, from Placerville, California. I can’t read that last name; it’s pretty faint, and a scrawl to boot.” She scowled. “I don’t know anybody in northern California. Wonder if this was delivered here by mistake?” She tossed the wrapping toward the wastebasket, and an envelope fell on the floor. Olivia picked it up.
“This might explain a bit more,” she said, as she lifted the flap on the envelope. It contained one sheet of paper and an old key, obviously the one that belonged with the box. Olivia began to read the note to herself.
“Read it aloud,” Karla asked, taking the key from Olivia and inserting it in the lock. But she was reluctant to turn the key until she knew more about what the box was for.
This box was given to me by my grandmother with strict instructions that it be delivered to you on exactly May 22, 2003, at the Grand Floridian Hotel in Orlando. She said it would be clear to you when you opened it who sent it and why. Unfortunately, she died before she could tell me, so my curiosity is killing me! Please call me and tell me what this was all about when you get the chance.
“It’s signed Becky, and has her phone number on it.” She flipped the paper over, but there was nothing else. “That’s it. Open the box. Now my curiosity is killing me!”
Karla inserted the key and tried to turn it, but the old lock was jammed. She was about to find something heavy she could hit it with when Josie held out her hand for the box.
“Let me try,” she said, accepting both the box and the key. She shook the box as if to dislodge whatever might be blocking the keyhole and blew into it. When she inserted the key, it opened fairly easily. She handed it back to Karla, who took it without a word. The hinge creaked as the box opened to reveal several pouches of various materials, and hand written letters. Karla picked out the most yellowed page of all and unfolded the paper.
“Read it aloud,” Olivia said, almost reverently. Karla cleared her throat and read:
You told me that my lucky 20 dollar gold piece was worth a lot of money in 2003. I thought you could use that and some less worn coins to cover what you spent on us. I will add to this over time so you can have rare coins from several time periods. This is my way of saying thank you for the hospitality and kindness you showed two strangers, one of them your friend.
Everyone in the room turned to Josie, who shrugged as if to say, it was the least I could do. Karla picked up a leather pouch and pulled the rawhide string that held it together. Ten 20 dollar gold pieces tumbled into her hand, all but one shiny and brand new looking. The mint dates on them varied from 1891 to 1905. The worn coin was indeed the same one Josie had offered her earlier that day, when they had stopped for ice cream before checking into the hotel. The coin had been given to her by her father in 1878, and she had carried it with her ever since. Karla would not even consider taking that coin. But obviously it planted the seed in Josie’s head to send something from the past that would be very valuable in the future. Karla held the old coin out to Josie. “I think you’re going to want to take this back to Oklahoma with you,” she said with a wink.
Karla handed the next letter to Olivia after glancing at the salutation. “It’s addressed to you,” she said. Her hands were shaking as she took the paper and began to read:
I wanted to give you something special, as Josie gave Karla her coin, to let you know how much we appreciated all you did for us. I had this necklace made and wrapped in a box one hundred years to the day before we met. Nice round number, don’t you think? And of course, I continued the tradition of including some rare coins I have been able to find. As I write this now, I know that in a hundred years I will see you open it, and it amazes me still. How it will get to you I don’t know, but knowing that it will makes me smile. Take good care, my friend.
Rebecca listened to the words she had written a hundred years before, and marveled at the miracles they had been blessed with. To have come into a future time was miracle enough, but to return to their own time and stand here today with the proof that the entire experience was not simply a dream that they both shared, left her truly speechless. Olivia withdrew a cloth bag from the box, and within it she found more gold coins, as well as several solid silver ones. There was also a blue velvet jewelry box, and opening it, she gasped at the beautiful necklace on a golden chain. It was the letters “OK” in gold with small diamond chips imbedded in it.
“Oh, Rebecca, it’s beautiful. I love it!” she exclaimed, drawing the other blonde into her arms and hugging her tightly. Tears formed in her eyes and dropped onto Rebecca’s shoulder.
Rebecca wrapped her arms around Olivia and hugged her just as tightly. “I’m glad you do. Let me help you put it on.” She relaxed her hold, and Olivia stepped away from her, holding out the necklace to her. Rebecca studied it as if to memorize the look of it for future reference. Then she fastened it around her friend’s neck. Olivia went to the mirror to admire it.
Karla set the wooden box on the table and walked to where Rebecca stood. She drew the smaller woman into a hug and whispered into her ear, “Thank you so much. I can’t tell you how much this means to her; I can tell just by the look on her face.” Rebecca smiled, a bit embarrassed by all the attention. It was not as if she had done something; well, she had, but not something that she could remember, because for her, it had not happened yet. Even though it was more than a hundred years ago. She was getting a headache just contemplating the mystery of it all when Josie reached into the box and pulled out the remaining packet, wrapped in brown paper. She held it out to Karla, who shook her head and smiled at her “twin.”
“You open this one,” Karla said.
Josie nodded, and carefully began to remove the string from the paper-wrapped bundle. It contained several stacks of paper money; two dollar bills, silver certificates, and other bills which must have been fairly rare. The mint dates on these were from early 1900 up to 1950. They all appeared to be uncirculated. Once again, their worth in today’s market was not something Karla could begin to guess, but she had no doubt it was a lot more than Josie and Rebecca would owe for the hotel and other odds and ends.
Josie opened the note that was included with the currency and began to read:
Dear Karla and Olivia,
My mother told me, from the time I was little, of her time in the future with the two of you, and with Josie, the love of her life. Because my trust in her was complete, I never doubted that what she said was true. I dutifully watched for rare and unusual currency to include in what must certainly be one of the oldest time capsules in history. I wish I could be there to meet you both, and to see my mother and my beloved Josie one more time as they were when I was a child. Please tell mother and Josie that I loved them every day of my life, and am grateful for the upbringing they gave me.
I have never been to Florida, nor to Disneyworld; it does not even exist yet, but through your words, Josie, I have an image in my mind of that magical place, and of the four of you enjoying it together. Olivia and Karla, thank you for being their guides in what I know was a sometimes frightening place for two people from a much simpler time.
My best regards to all of you,
Josie’s voice was barely a whisper as she read the words aloud, and she had to stop and take a drink of water before she could continue. Tears streamed down her face, but she made no effort to stop crying, for every one in the room was in the same condition. Rebecca threw herself into Josie’s arms and simply sobbed for several minutes before she was able to catch a breath and speak. “We’re going to have a daughter,” she croaked.
Josie nodded. “And grandchildren and great grandchildren, it seems. Becky is... named for you.” A fresh spate of tears spilled down her cheeks.
“That’s not all,” Olivia said softly. She held a newspaper clipping in her hand dated June of 1963 announcing the wedding of Josephine Cameron-Smith to Edwin Stanley McLeod. “I’ll bet she’s Becky’s mother. Both of them named for both of you. What a fantastic legacy.”
The high emotions of the previous day took their toll on all the women. They did finally manage to compose themselves enough to go out shopping, and to get Rebecca to climb into the Mystic Tan booth, which took a lot of cajoling. When she stepped out, no longer luminous white and apparently none the worse for the experience, Josie agreed to take her turn. And Friday was the day of Karla’s mother’s wedding, so they dropped Josie and Rebecca at Disneyworld, promising to call on the cell phone Karla pressed into Josie’s hand, to let them know when to meet them at the main gate.
“But I’m starving,” Rebecca said. “We have no idea when they’ll be back, or how long it will be before we get to eat.” They had been tramping all over the park since early in the morning, enjoying watching the people on the rides as much as the rides themselves. Josie flatly refused to go on the rides where people screamed and came out of their little cars soaking wet. That just could not be fun. And her legs were too long to drive the little cars, but Rebecca was able to squeeze in behind the wheel. Josie sat beside her in the passenger seat and pouted.
“Okay, can’t have you fainting from hunger in all this heat.” She looked around and spotted a food service place a hundred yards or so from where they stood. “Why don’t you go get something? I’m going to sit down over here for a while and give my poor feet a break.” The new shoes she had gotten had begun to rub the back of her heel, and she knew it would be blistered if she did not do something about it.
As she walked toward a bench that blessedly had some space on it, she noticed a face in the crowd that was familiar. She was surprised that Karla had not called to let them know they were there, but she figured it probably had something to do with the phone not working. She pulled it off her waistband and checked. Everything on that phone seemed to be in order. She waved to try to get her attention, but Karla was looking in another direction, so Josie turned to follow her. She called her name again when she was close enough that she was certain Karla could hear, but still got no response. Finally, she caught up with her and put her hand on her shoulder. “Karla, wait up. My feet are killing me so I can’t walk as fast as you can.”
Without turning, the other woman snarled,” My name’s not Karla, and if you have any plans for that hand in the future, I suggest you take...” She had begun to turn as she spat out the words, and when she spotted Josie she stopped abruptly and blinked a couple of times. “Well, I’ll be damned. Katherine told me she had seen someone that looked a lot like me a couple times in the park. Is Karla your twin sister?”
“No, she’s...well, we’re not related. It’s hard to explain. Are you in town for Bard Con also?”
“No, we’re here for our anniversary. And Katherine went to get something to drink. They call me Dean, by the way.”
“I’m Josie. And I’ll bet Katherine is a little blonde with green eyes about so high,” she held her hand up to about her chin level.
Dean scowled, “Yeah, she is, but how did you know that?”
“Because she’s walking this way with Rebecca, who’s my little blonde with green eyes about so high.”
“Wow! This is just incredible!” the bard commented to her partner. “Absolutely fantastic! I mean... I knew there were stories, but I never knew there were *stories*. Do you realize how unique and varied these women are, especially considering they all share the same humble beginnings? This is so fascinating to see it all come to life.” Energy simply exuded from her pores, and the warrior could feel the smaller woman trembling with excitement. She smiled at her indulgently while the blonde woman continued to watch and gush a while longer.
“And you do realize we haven’t even seen everyone yet, right? I know we haven’t seen the two women who met in prison, or the archeologists. There should be more law enforcement wandering around somewhere....”
“And don’t forget the writers, poets and designers, love” the bard cut in, ticking them off on her fingers. “Nurses, doctors, executives, secretaries....” She stopped and looked up at her taller companion. “This really is amazing. They cover every conceivable walk of life.”
“And death too, Little One. Don’t forget, we’ve seen ghosts here.”
“Um hmm.... I wonder what happened to them anyway.”
“I dunno, love, but I bet we’ll find out before it is all over.”
by Linda Crist/Texbard
"Those two seemed to be having fun." Meg tugged at Isalba's arm, leading her away from the Haunted Mansion. "I hope we did not frighten them too greatly. It was a good idea, you had. Everyone should be reminded to cherish and care for the ones they love, and they surely did seem to be deeply in love."
"True. I rather enjoyed being the only real ghosts in there. I only wish I understood those strange machines that were projecting the forgery ghosts at every turn. I was quite confused until I understood they were not real. At least now I know why they cannot take on color and form, nor talk as you and I can. And you are correct -- everyone is having fun in this place." Isalba looked around as they floated up and over Liberty Square, and toward a large castle. "Whatever this place is."
"That map we looked at said this place is called 'The Magic Kingdom'." Meg held onto Isalba, resting a hand gently at her waist as they continued to fly over the large theme park, peering down at the throng of vacationers. "And that large sign near the front gate said it is the happiest place on earth."
"I would have to agree that almost everyone we have encountered here does appear to be happy. Although you know how I feel about magic. I do not care much for the tricks of voodoo and black magic. I spent too many years guarding against coming under spells and curses." Isalba grew thoughtful. "I wish this place had been in existence when we lived on the ship, especially since it is so near the islands. It would have been a good place for us to visit, I think."
Meg's thoughtful green eyes met troubled blue. "My love, I was very happy with you, and the life we shared together. I did not need a magic kingdom."
"But your family ..."
"Hush." Meg reached across, brushing back long dark locks and tucking them behind her lover's ear. "You are my family, and I am still very very happy."
"I love you, have I told you that recently?" Isalba's blue eyes sparkled in the bright Florida sunlight.
"Only every day for the past several hundred years." Meg laughed, tossing her blonde hair back. "Now, let us go find Kennedy and Carson."
"I wish we could. I simply want to check in on them and see that they are faring well. We have not seen them since All Hallow's Eve." Isalba looked down at the castle and grinned gleefully. "I would have enjoyed pillaging that in my day. Must be full of treasure." The smile disappeared. "But you showed me a much better way." She took Meg's hand, squeezing it as they made a turn. "Fantasyland. That would be a place Carson would enjoy, I would think."
Meg squeezed back and took the lead, her eyes growing wide in amusement. "'Ariel's Grotto?' 'Tinkerbell's Treasures?' 'Snow White's Scary Adventures?' Such strange places. Why would anyone want to partake of something scary?"
"Oh, I do not know." Isalba's lips twitched mischievously. "I do believe you have partaken of something scary a time or two."
Meg blushed, feeling Isalba's appreciative eyes quickly roam over her body. "That I have, have I not?"
"Aye, you have." Isalba frowned. "There go two more that look like us. It is starting to make my head spin."
"There do seem to be many women here who resemble us, as well as Kennedy and Carson. It will not make finding them easy. Let us take a closer look." They swooped down, ducking under tree limbs and over power lines, and swirled past the carrousel toward a small train. "University of California at Berkley." Meg studied the lettering on the t-shirt of the taller woman they were following. "That is not Kennedy. She went to The University of Texas at Austin, did she not?"
"Aye, she did. What is that annoying music?" She snarled in the direction of the train ride, which was blasting out the same tune over and over again. "And it is not a small world. Whoever wrote that song obviously knew nothing of geography," Isalba snorted in disgust and moved a bit closer, turning her attention back to their oblivious subjects, reading the letters on the back of the taller woman's t-shirt. "'O'Flaherty.' She appears to be wearing one of those sports jerseys that are so popular with this generation. Active pair. Look at their muscles."
"True." Meg flew in a quick circle around the couple. "But not our target. Perhaps we should go past that main gate again and see if perhaps Kennedy and Carson have not yet arrived here. Are you certain they are supposed to be here?"
"Aye." Isalba followed her lover as they swooped over the treetops, across a lagoon, and down a long street lined with tiny shops full of toys, clothing, and strange food items. "I am certain I saw a brochure for a BardCon taking place at a place called the 'Grand Floridian' in Orlando, Florida, on this weekend. This place seems to be the grandest place in Orlando, so they must be here."
"Perhaps they are trapped in one of those long lines at the gate. I heard something in passing about long security lines that are associated with a terrible tragedy that occurred on September the 11th." Meg peered down at another couple, which was seated at a small table. They were indulging in a dish of ice cream. She stopped, hovering in place and laughing in delight. "There are two who are dressed a bit more as we did in our day." She pointed down to a dashingly tall woman escorting an equally beautiful woman who wore long skirts and a petticoat. "Or is that one a woman?" She drew Isalba down closer. "I thought I heard the other woman call her 'Charlie'."
Isalba floated in the taller person's face, inches away. "Aye, this one is a woman, although everything about her outward appearance indicates otherwise. How many times did you and I take on men's clothing in order to accomplish our purposes?"
"True." Meg pulled at Isalba's hand, leading her on toward the main gate. "You were quite handsome and gallant, you know."
The ghost pirate blushed. "Come. We have people to find, if I recall."
Meg laughed at her flustered lover, and followed behind, dipping down to inspect a large stuffed bear sitting in a shop window. "Balou." She smiled. "What a charming little creature."
"Perhaps I will procure that for you before we leave this place." Isalba smiled. "Although I do not think they take pieces of eight in payment. I must look into finding some of those 'Disney dollars' mentioned in that brochure."
They flew on, enjoying the sunny warm day and the blue cloudless sky. Meg had spent her childhood in Florida, and was glad for the visit back to her early home. As they approached the main gate she grabbed Isalba and gestured toward a group of people standing around near the ticket and transportation center. "Those people are still there, standing in that same place. Is it some kind of shrine?"
"I do not know. Let us take a closer look." The couple approached slowly, making sure to stay cloaked from view. "They are using those small flashing boxes quite frequently. They always seem to be pointing the boxes at each other when they flash."
"I wonder why anyone would want to flash light in someone else's eyes. Or why someone would stand still and smile while having light flashed in their eyes?" Meg shook her head in bewilderment. "Look. Some of them are lying or kneeling on the ground and others have placed their jewelry on that brick down there. And they are grouped together to have more light flashed in their eyes. How queer. Let us take a closer look, please?"
"Fine by me, my love." Isalba took her hand and they floated downward, first looking at the jewelry. It was all silver, some of it shaped like a bone, others with a paw print cut out of a piece of silver, and still others in the shape of a ring -- the rings were gold and silver, with a Greek key pattern on each side. One pendant had the letters 'WWXD' stamped on it. Isalba moved to the brick. "Dar & Kerry. Eternal Soulmates."
"We are the eternal soulmates." Meg's eyes flashed in anger. "Are we not?"
"From what I understand, there are many pairs of soulmates." Isalba kissed her on the head, soothing Meg's often-quick temper. "But I assure you that you and I are soulmates. Kennedy and Carson are direct proof of it."
"As long as you are certain." Meg's ruffled feathers smoothed, and she also peered at the brick. "They all seem to have an affinity for that date -- February 14th. At least the ones who are in love do."
"Aye. I have observed them purchasing flowers and partaking of elaborate feasts for two on that date, and eating chocolate. It hast to be a special date for them to partake of such a rare treat as chocolate." Isalba circled the group that was worshipping at the brick shrine. "I wonder what this Dar and Kerry did, that these people are placing their treasures on that brick?" She squinted, reading small print on a hat one of the women in the group wore. "Meg, what is a 'Merpup'?"
"I do not know." Meg followed her gaze. "These are all humans, like us, but nearly all of them seem to be claiming to be Merpups. See? Nearly all of them wearing the Merpup shirts have a wolf paw print on the shirt." She shrugged slightly. "Perhaps they are all part of the same band, just as the pirate bands in our time wore the same colors."
Isalba looked around. "Whoever these Merpups are, they seem to be a fun group of people, but I do not believe I see Kennedy or Carson among them." She felt Meg's hand slip into hers, and smiled. Hundreds of years, and I still shiver at her touch. She smiled and ducked her head, kissing Meg soundly for a long moment. "Perhaps we should go visit one of the other 'parks,' as the map calls them. I do believe I saw an exhibit called 'The Living Seas,' and an indication that people can scuba dive there. I know both Kennedy and Carson are scuba divers. What I would have given to have scuba equipment when you and I were roaming the high seas."
"Mmmmm." Green eyes fluttered open and Meg emerged from a sensual haze. "I apologize. Did you say something to me?"
Isalba grinned rakishly. "I would like to go visit the park they call 'Epcot'."
"Excellent idea," Meg piped up. "I think Kennedy and Carson would both like 'The Living Seas'."
Isalba merely kissed her again, and shook her head. "My brilliant lover."
The couple spent a long time floating through The Living Seas, observing the marine life and reminiscing of their days together in the Caribbean, and life aboard ship. At last they found an activities log and spotted Kennedy and Carson's names listed for the Divequest experience. "It says here they will be doing this dive tomorrow afternoon." Meg pointed at the date and time next to their names.
"Where oh where can they be?" Isalba crossed her arms over her chest, blowing out a breath of frustrated air and puffing her bangs up in the process.
"Where would you be, my love?" Meg circled her neck with her arms, drawing her close and pressing their foreheads together.
A brilliant smile graced Isalba's lips. "I would be somewhere partaking of your considerable charms."
"Then perhaps we are looking in the wrong place." Meg tweaked her nose, then kissed her once more, as they swirled around in a circle over the Disney revelers, who were quite unaware of their presence.
"That was delicious." Isalba licked her lips and turned back to the activities log. "Oh, my. I feel so foolish. I do believe The Grand Floridian is a hotel. It says here that Kennedy and Carson are staying there. Let us find that map again."
A review of the map revealed The Grand Floridian to be near The Magic Kingdom. The delighted ghost pirates quickly flew toward the prestigious resort, and entered it, looking around for any sign of the couple they sought. Meg spotted the board first, and tugged Isalba toward it. "BardCon." She smiled and pointed down a hallway. "Down there, if I am not mistaken."
They carefully approached a large elaborate ballroom, full of mostly women, with a scattering of men. Some were sitting at tables talking, while others were walking up and down a row of tables, purchasing what appeared to be books. Isalba and Meg followed some of the women, looking at book titles over their shoulders.
"Some of those sound really interesting." Meg watched as one woman almost dropped a hefty stack of books. "I must read some of these."
"Oh my goodness." Isalba's breath caught, as a large screen at the front of the room caught her attention. "It is Xena and Gabrielle."
"What?" Meg spun around, looking up as images of the warrior and the bard appeared before her, with interesting music coming from somewhere, though she could see no orchestra in the room. She searched around and finally found the source of both the music and the images, and went back to where Isalba was rooted in place. "A woman named Liz is in the back of the room, creating those images with some strange looking equipment. There are a bunch of other women with her, and they appear to be really busy. One is counting some money, while another is counting out some little tickets with numbers on them. Another one is sorting through some items she calls 'goodie boxes' -- 'Phil' is what I believe they are calling her. And one of them, she keeps smacking people on the back of their heads. She must be important. I heard one of the women call her the 'Diva'."
"How do they know about Xena and Gabrielle?" Isalba followed her to the back of the room, mystified that the warrior and bard appeared to be so well loved by the group in the room. As the images filtered across the large screen, she observed a few of the watchers to be sniffling and dabbing at their eyes.
"I do not know, nor do I know how they have captured their finest moments so accurately. I remember reading about two of the soulmates, Melinda and Janice, and that they found Gabrielle's scrolls, but I had no idea the scrolls had survived into this day and age." Meg watched another segment of images, set to an interesting song called 'Moulin Rouge.' "Both of the ladies could certainly, dance, could they not?" She smiled fondly at the screen.
"They most certainly could." Isalba began to study the crowd, one by one, as her heartbeat slowed from the surprise of seeing the warrior and the bard on the screen. There were several more look-alikes in the room, but Kennedy and Carson were nowhere to be seen. Her nape hairs rose as she spotted a couple at a side table, near the back. "We must leave this place."
"Why, my love?" Meg could feel the tension in the body her arm was wrapped around. "No one in this room can hurt us."
"Almost no one." Isalba nodded toward the couple she was watching. "See those two?"
"Yes." Meg's brows furrowed in question. "They are mortals?"
"Not just any mortals." Isalba was already drawing Meg toward the door. "Aeron and BJ. I have heard of them in our current realm. They are ghost busters." Her voice trembled just mentioning their names.
"Gh ... ghost busters?" Meg's eyes grew wide in fear. "They could expose us here, could they not?"
"Aye." Isalba drew out the word through gritted teeth. "Or worse. Come." She grasped Meg's hand. "I think we should go find Kennedy and Carson's room and leave this BardCon for the time being."
Meg agreed and they beat a hasty retreat for the hotel's front desk, where a quick perusal revealed Kennedy and Carson were staying in an upstairs room, with a view of a white sand beach surrounding a sparkling lagoon. They located the room in short order and stopped at the door. Meg hesitated. "Perhaps you should look inside before we simply barge in there."
"Good idea." Isalba stuck just her head through the wall and quickly withdrew, the blush evident even on her ghostly features. "They are very well and happy." She took Meg's arm and guided her back toward the lobby.
"Shall I guess?" Meg chuckled. "Is Kennedy living up to her lusty reputation?"
"Ummmm." Isalba looked down, a tiny smile tugging at her lips. "Not quite. Rather, Carson is living up to hers."
"Oh." Meg's blush matched her lover's.
"That Kennedy is one lucky devil," Isalba muttered under her breath.
"I heard you." Meg tickled the pirate behind the ear and shrieked as ghostly fingers reached out, locating her ribs easily beneath her short white cropped top. "Keep that up, and you will not be as lucky as Kennedy tonight."
Isalba stopped in mid-motion and cocked her head to one side. "Do tell?" She purred and smiled. "I have one more place I would like to visit, and then I would love for you to make good on that promise."
"Anything you wish, my love." Meg kissed her and took her hand. "Lead on."
"I saw a ride called 'Pirates of the Caribbean' and I must see if it is as laughable as 'The Haunted Mansion' was." She waggled her eyebrows wickedly.
Meg merely smiled and followed, as they made their way back to The Magic Kingdom and across the park to Adventureland. Just as they arrived at the ride, two more look-alikes walked up and gazed up at the sign in front of the ride.
"Here it is, Bly," the blonde woman exclaimed exuberantly. "I love this ride. It's fun and spooky all at the same time."
"I am not going to be spooked by a Disney ride, Jordan." The brunette feigned boredom, adding a yawn for good measure.
"Come on," Jordan dragged her lover through the entrance, rolling her eyes in mock exasperation. "It's dark in here. We can sit in the back of the boat and do scandalous things to each other." She tickled Bly's palm and batted her eyelashes playfully.
"Now you're talking." Bly perked up, and willingly allowed herself to be led toward a row of boats.
Behind them, two ghost pirates laughed evilly, green and blue eyes dancing with merriment.
"This is going to be fun," Meg whispered.
"Aye, it is. Maybe we should take up residence here." Isalba held up a hand and received the 'high five' sign they had come to imitate from their modern subjects.
They clasped hands and followed the unsuspecting couple into the darkness.
Bly pulled Jordan along in an attempt to wrangle the last row of one of the boats. As the boat quickly filled up, a teenager in line looked over at them with thoughts of squeezing into their last row. His thoughts were quickly turned to other avenues when Bly pulled the lap bar down and glared at him. He quickly stepped back and waited for the next boat to pull up. Jordan snickered when Bly snuggled closer to her as the ride departed.
"Here we go." Jordan squealed and grabbed Bly when the boat lurched forward on its journey. Bly looked behind them to the track that held the boat in place, even though it appeared to be floating freely in the moving water. She didn't feel it necessary to inform Jordan of this event and instead put her arm around the young blonde as they entered the darkness of the ride. A chill on the back of Jordan's neck moved her easily into Bly's embrace.
Isalba smiled over at Meg as she watched her lover tickle the side of the blonde's neck again causing the mortal to move closer to her partner's body. "You keep that up and she will be in her lap before the ride is half over."
Meg laughed and replied, "That was the plan, my love".
"Do you feel a draft in here?" Jordan whispered to Bly as, once again, she felt a brush of air on the side of her neck.
Bly felt Jordan shiver and slide closer to her. "No, I don't think so," she replied and wrapped her arm tighter around the blonde's body.
"Mmmmm, oh yes, that is better," Jordan murmured and snuggled deeper into Bly's embrace.
"Oh yeah? How about this?" Bly whispered as she nuzzled the soft flesh of Jordan's neck.
"Much better," purred Jordan.
"And this?" Bly captured Jordan's lips for a searing kiss and didn't release her until she felt eyes upon them. Lifting her head, she looked at the backs of the people in ride in front of them and saw no one. Looking around, she still felt apprehensive, as if someone were watching them.
"What's the matter?" Jordan asked breathing deeply from the kiss.
Bly looked around once again and shrugged in the darkness, "Nothing I guess. Just getting a creepy feeling in here."
"Me too," Jordan replied as she looked over the mechanical exhibit of pirates, wondering if any were possibly real. Suddenly, a loud bang and ensuing crackle of cannon fire startled her out of her investigation.
Bly snickered beside the blonde and leaned down to whisper in her ear, "Don't worry. I'll protect you."
Jordan poked Bly in her ribs until she heard a mock cry of pain, and replied, "Very funny."
Bly didn't get a chance to respond when the ride suddenly seemed to be going over an edge, and she quickly grabbed the lap bar in front of her. Jordan couldn't help herself and squealed in laughter as they dropped a mere distance and the ride came to its end.
"Are you okay, Isalba?" Meg asked concerned at the sudden stiffening of the figure next to her.
Recovering, Isalba patted Meg's hand, "Well, I must say I never expected that!"
Meg laughed and pointed toward her look-alike seated before them, "I expect neither did she." The apparitions chuckled as the boat glided out of the darkness and into the light.
"That was fun," Jordan chuckled as they walked out into the bright sunlight.
Bly's eyes twinkled mischievously as she looked over at Jordan, "You know I'll get you back for that, you."
"Is that a promise?" Jordan batted back her eyes.
"You can bank on it," Bly chuckled in reply. "So, what's next?"
"There is one more ride I'd like to go on, but it's sort of cheesy."
Jordan hesitated as Bly's brow furled. She had an idea of what that ride was, but hesitated hoping she was wrong and finally said, "Lead the way."
Bly allowed Jordan to drag her into the Country Bear Jamboree mumbling, "Well, at least it's not It's a Small World."
Jordan laughed and replied, "That's next!"
Bly's groan was echoed by a ghostly figure as she followed Jordan into the show.
As the lights dimmed and the show progressed, Bly and Jordan's uninvited guests were at first amused by the various bears that appeared to be talking but finally, grew weary of it all, and turned their attention to the couple they had been following. Hovering just above what could have been her twin, the apparition marveled at how much this dark-haired woman resembled herself. Caught up in her examination she reached down and lightly traced the contour of the woman's cheekbone.
Bly jumped and swiped a hand across her cheek thinking, what the hell was that? She looked at the seat next to her, but it was empty. It had been a light cold pressure that had moved against her face.
"What's wrong Bly?" Jordan asked concerned.
Bly turned to look at Jordan in the darkness of the theater and replied, "Felt like someone had touched me." Jordan looked behind them and saw nothing but smiling faces of children, the attention caught up in the show around them. She patted Bly's hand and entwined her shorter fingers within the longer ones of her partner. Bly just shrugged and shook it off.
As the show ended, Bly and Jordan followed along with the throng of people as they made their way toward the exit. She touched her cheek again briefly as they came out into the bright sunlight. Squinting in the warmth, she shivered and looked over at Jordan, "Are you about ready to move on?"
Jordon grimaced when she saw the line for the Thunder Railroad and replied, "Yes, I don't think I want to stand in that line for two hours." Bly agreed and the two women made their way toward Fantasy Land. As they walked, Bly kept looking over her shoulder with an uneasy feeling. She had felt as if they had been followed since they had entered Adventureland and the feeling remained. They continued walking, making their way back around toward Main Street. Hearing the familiar nagging song, Bly pulled Jordan over into the line.
"But I thought you hated this ride?" Jordan asked confused at Bly's sudden decision.
"I don't hate it, I just find the music annoying, but I know that you like this ride," Bly replied.
Unaware of how much an unseen conversation next to them paralleled their own, Bly and Jordan got into line for the ride. Isalba was groaning inwardly at why these two mortals had to stop at Small World. She looked over at Meg questioning, "I still don't get why they think it's a small world?"
"I know, my dear, what do you say we move on and leave these two mortals alone?"
”Yes, by all means, let's leave this place. That music is so annoying."
It was finally Bly and Jordan's turn to board the ride after what felt like ages to Bly. This time they ended up in the front of the boat and turned to look at the seat behind them. Tiny little faces all smiling and excited at the prospect of the ride confronted her. Bly sighed and thought, "Oh to be like them again," and turned to face the front, keeping her hands in her lap thinking.
Jordan leaned over and said, "Boy, they sure do keep it chilly in here."
Bly had just been ready to comment that she was finally beginning to warm up, and only shrugged as the ride commenced. Bly watched Jordan throughout the ride, and came to the conclusion that the look on the young blonde's face was worth the torture of listening to that song. It reminded her of when she was a kid and the ice cream truck would come down the street, playing the same tune over and over. By the end of summer, Bly not only hated that truck, but was also beginning to dislike ice cream.
"What do you say we head over to Animal Kingdom now?" Bly asked as they strolled down Main Street looking into the various shops that lined the way.
"Yes! I've never been there," Jordan replied enthusiastically.
"Me, either," Bly offered and directed Jordan toward the Disney buses that would transport them between the parks. The air-conditioned bus was fairly empty as they took a seat near the back of the bus.
As the bus proceeded over the back roads to the new park, Jordan looked over at Bly musing, "I wonder what events they are going to have at the Bard Con this year?"
"Didn't they post a list on their website?" Bly asked.
"Yes, they listed all the events, like the scavenger hunt at Epcot, but you never really know what the questions are that are going to be asked."
"Scavenger Hunt, huh? What are we scavenging for? I think I've already found what I'm looking for," Bly teased and tickled Jordan lightly in the ribs. Jordan jumped and giggled as she tried to avoid Bly's questing fingers.
"Well, I just hope the questions are directed at specific bards so that I know when I'm supposed to answer the questions. I hate free-for-all discussions. I get so tongue tied in those situations," Jordan frowned hoping that didn't happen to her this year.
"Yes, I seem to remember that. Well, don't worry. If that happens to you, I'll just shout out a question directed at you. How's that?" Bly asked with a mischievous smile on her face.
"Oh Bly, you wouldn't, would you?" Jordan laughed at the thought of Bly yelling out from the audience.
"Watch me!" Bly replied and stood up as the bus came to a stop at their destination. Stepping into the empty aisle, Bly swept her hand in the direction of the exit and bowed slightly, "My dear, the animals await." Jordan just shook her head at Bly's sudden lighthearted mood and preceded the woman down the aisle. Bly goosed Jordan for good measure and when the blonde jumped in surprise, the driver looked over, ready to get up and help the stumbling woman. Bly just chuckled a low throaty sound and steadied Jordan by her arm.
Jordan looked over her shoulder at her tall partner and whispered, "Pay backs are a bitch, my dear, just remember that." Bly nodded in mock humility as they descended the steps off the cool bus into the warm afternoon sun. She lowered her sunglasses from their perch on top her head to her nose and marveled at how warm the afternoon had gotten. She almost wished she were chilly again, like she had been at the Magic Kingdom.
"Shall we?" Jordan asked as Bly hesitated adjusting her sunglasses.
Bly rubbed her hands together gleefully and remarked, "By all means, let’s go see the animals." She grabbed Jordan's arm and hurried toward the entrance.
"Bly! If I had known that animals would get you this excited, I would have gotten a few for around the house!" Jordan teased.
Bly laughed over her shoulder and shook her head. "No, I think Ares is enough animal for me. Let's leave the animals to the parks." Jordan thought about their cat and had to admit that Bly was right. One animal running the house was more than enough.
As they passed through the exhibits, Bly noticed a sign directing visitors towards the leopards' den. Bly tugged Jordan in the direction of the arrow. "Come on, I want to see the leopards. They are so cool!"
As they entered the enclosure, Jordan was taken back at how close they seemed to the animals. Pools of water filled the habitat with trees and low rocky outcrops where the leopards lounged. Mist floated through the air making it seem surreal as they walked through a jungle like setting. The only thing between the exhibit and the visitors was a moat of water and a half wall of Plexiglas with netting towering above it. Jordan felt like she could reach out and touch the panthers. She stopped short and looked up as a black panther came into view. The panther flashed her steely gaze and Jordan gasped as she looked into the ice blue eyes.
"Bly did you see that?" Jordan whispered excitedly.
"What?" Bly asked walking back over to the blonde's side.
"Did you see the eyes on that black panther?"
"It is so beautiful!" Bly remarked as she approached the glass wall toward the panther. The magnificent black animal flashed a look of warning at Bly as a smaller spotted leopard appeared from the bushes. Bly looked on in fascination; she didn't believe she had ever heard of a leopard with blue eyes. Cautiously, the spotted leopard made its way toward where Bly stood followed by the wary black panther. Jordan was rooted in her spot watching with a mixture of fear and fascination.
"Ginelle! Be careful! You don't know what those mans are capable of," The black one called out to her mate.
"But Xandra, we don't belong here. Maybe they can help get us out," the spotted one offered.
"I wouldn't be so sure. It's ones like them that put us in here," Xandra replied with contempt.
"No, not like these. Look at those blue eyes," Ginelle replied looking back at Xandra. "They are just like yours." The spotted one approached the glass slowly and put her paw against it. She looked trustingly up at the tall human on the other side.
"Look at that Jordan. It's almost like she is saying hello," Bly marveled and hesitantly touched the glass on the other side of the paw. She looked directly into the leopard's eyes and smiled.
Ginelle tilted her head sideways at the woman and nodded her head in acknowledgement of the greeting. Bly quickly turned to Jordan and whispered, "Did you see that?"
Some time earlier...
"I cannot believe this is happening," Xandra growled irritably. She was pacing the length of their confinement as she had done pretty much incessantly since they had been put here. Back and forth, back and forth she went, not pausing, or touching the meat that had been put out for them. "Tell me again how I could be so stupid and let myself be caught by mans!"
Her voice had grown louder and louder as she spoke, and a man cub pressing its nose against the surface on the other side of the strange wall confining them shrank back in fear. It ran wailing to its dam, which gave the panther a brief flash of satisfaction. "Why?" she roared, rounding on her smaller companion.
Ginelle licked her chest briefly and said patiently, "We're here because Verrath told us to. She said we are to go represent her at some man gathering taking place here."
"Oh, I see pawfuls and pawfuls of mans, but this is not what I thought we were traveling to. Torran's horns, she didn't say it involved being locked in a man prison! And did you hear what they are calling us? Whatever happened to our names, for Amarok's sake?"
"That's not fair. I'm sure Verrath did not know this was going to happen."
Xandra was not listening. "Verrath is just a she-man. We could have just eaten her and gone back to our life."
"She is not just any she-man. We can't touch her, you know that. Besides, you say you don't even like the taste of man flesh."
Xandra made a face. "I might make an exception. Just let me get out of here..."
Xandra resumed her pacing, and Ginelle was left to sit and stare at the man faces She looked around their prison. It was nearly round, a little peninsula jutting out into a man-made environment on one side, and walled off by a tall, painted wall on the other. There was a cleverly concealed passage that led into a tight space where they were required to spend the nights.
The peninsula itself was surrounded by a deep moat, except right in front of them, where the transparent wall was set up and allowed mans to get very close without being able to actually touch the cats. It was larger than where she had lived as a cub and actually almost nice, but she felt so much more a prisoner here. The moat, they had ascertained on the very first day, was a far jump, quite impossible for Ginelle to do. Xandra, with a sour look, had stated that she wasn't leaving without her. Ginelle was not sure if that was said only out of loyalty, but she found it very touching, considering how angry Xandra was with her.
She felt for Xandra, who had never in her life been in captivity. It must be horrible for her. Not to mention they had been ridiculously easy to catch, due to the fact that they had voluntarily entered their transport cages. Could Xandra be right? Had Verrath tricked them?
Ginelle refused to believe it. She was sure it was all a big misunderstanding.
The trip itself had been a scary and stressful affair that Ginelle did not look forward to repeating. Then, upon arrival, rather than be released like they had expected, they had been brought here. Needless to say, Xandra had been less than amicable. It had taken the better part of one week for her to even speak to Ginelle again. But even so, nearly every word she had spoken since their arrival had fairly dripped with disdain. So far, no-one had rushed to their aid and cleared up this mess - they were stuck.
"Will you stop?" Ginelle said after watching her big companion pace for a while. "It's not helping, you're wasting your energy, and you are driving me insane. Try the meat. It's actually quite good. Fresher than the stuff you haul up trees, anyway." The last was said in undertones, but Xandra interrupted her pacing long enough to give her a flat-eared stare.
"I will not eat man-food."
"Have you noticed how skinny you've become?" Ginelle retorted. "We haven't exactly had good hunting lately, and this is for free. How do you think we'll escape if you don't keep your strength up?"
Xandra stopped and scowled at her front paws. "I. Will. Not. Eat. Man-food," she repeated, slowly and deliberately. Her tail was lashing irritably. Blowing air through her nostrils, she whirled and paced on. Her eyes scanned the man-crowd, who were gawking like the silly beasts they were, as if Xandra was some sort of apparition.
Had they known just who they were gazing at, India's most feared and hated man-killer, known by the natives only as the Princess Of Terror, no doubt the leopard enclosure would have been given a wide berth. As it was, the only thing that kept the black killer from making short work of their caretaker, or attempt to jump the moat again and again, was a spotted leopard just over half her size, named Ginelle.
"You could use a grooming, too," Ginelle told her, taking stock of her friend's dusty, matted fur. Clots of mud were stuck to the panther's belly. Her coat, once shiny and black, now looked almost gray. There was no mistaking it; Xandra was neglecting herself.
The black cat heaved a deep sigh. "I am going out of my mind, Ginelle," she said, so softly that Ginelle could barely hear. "I have to get out of here!" She dropped to her haunches and looked so forlorn that Ginelle expected her to meow any moment.
Immediately, the small leopard was at her side, licking the fur on her neck softly. "It will be okay, I'm sure. It will all clear up."
"I hope you're right." Steeling herself, Xandra got to her feet again. Gone was the lost-cub-look, to be replaced by a stubborn scowl. "Until then," she announced doggedly, "I will pace."
It was Ginelle's turn to meow.
"Here comes another herd," Xandra grunted indignantly. "What's so interesting about two trapped cats anyway? Go soak your tails." She chuckled mirthlessly. "But you don't have any tails, poor weakling fools that you are."
Two she-mans had approached the glass and were peering through, the shorter one pointing at her with her mouth gaping open. The panther flashed her a contemptuous glare. Now the taller one came closer also, and it was all Xandra could do not to fling herself snarling and growling at the pane - she had a sorely bruised nose and a tender spot on her brow to remind her that was not a good idea.
"Gosh, Xandra, that's the closest you've come to joking in many sundowns!" Ginelle appeared from where she had been dozing under some bushes.
Xandra seemed about to make an angry retort, but recognized her friend's attempt to lighten her foul mood, and reined in her temper with a visible effort. "Yeah well," she said instead.
She watched as the smaller leopard approached the watching mans. "Ginelle! Be careful! You don't know what those mans are capable of!"
Ginelle gave her one of her don't-be-silly-you're-treating-me-like-a-cub looks. "But Xandra, we don't belong here. Maybe they can help get us out."
"I wouldn't be so sure. It's ones like them that put us in here."
"No, not like these. Look at those blue eyes," Ginelle replied looking back at Xandra, "They are just like yours."
Xandra rumbled noncommittally.
The spotted leopard edged closer to the transparent wall and put her paw against it. She wished this wall was gone, but she doubted even her mentor Mayla's powers would have been strong enough to Sing it away.
She noted the blue eyes staring at her, and returned the gaze with one of her own. Within the Circle, such behavior was considered aggressive, but she knew enough about the mans to realize these were just curious.
"Oh please, that is disgusting," Xandra snarled. "You look like an off-wolf-cub begging for a treat."
"Are you kidding? That's my best flat stare! Besides, it got their attention, didn't it?" Ginelle said without taking her gaze off the dark-haired she-man that looked at her as if she knew her somehow. "You want out of here, don't you?"
Xandra grumbled something that might have been assent. At least she had stopped pacing.
"My looks got their attention," the black feline added belatedly.
Ginelle chortled. "You hardly look a prime example of our kind at the moment. And you smell."
"Why I oughta-"
"Shh. Look at this."
Xandra gaped, watching as the she-man put her paw against the surface opposite Ginelle's. "Why, it looks like it's trying to communicate!"
"She," Ginelle corrected.
"Whatever. Let it- her, let her know we need out of here. Who knows, maybe they do have some intelligence..."
"Hush. Okay, let's see if I've learned anything from Mayla," Ginelle said, and began to Sing the way her ghostly mentor from the Far East had shown her.
She was by no means a Master Singer, but even Mayla, the sternest teacher she could imagine, had grudgingly admitted she had great potential. She just hoped it was enough. Using the concentration techniques she had been required to practice until she wanted to weep with boredom, she focused on putting an idea into the blue-eyed she-man's mind...
"My God, did you know they can make this kind of noise?" Jordan asked, plugging her ears with her pinkie fingers in an effort to make the keening wail more bearable.
"No, I didn't!" Bly was torn between rapture and the desire to plug her ears as well. The noise that had sprung up from the smaller feline's throat was both unusually compelling and positively painful to her hearing. "I mean, Ares can wail with the best of them when he's in heat, but this..." She broke off, at a loss for adjectives.
"Yes. Should we go on?"
"I don't know... think they're trying to tell us something?"
"Well, maybe they've got rampant hormones," Jordan said wryly. "Or they want to know if you taste good with antelope."
Bly was silent for a long time, never removing her hand from the glass where it seemed to touch the cat's large paw. As the seconds passed, the wailing seemed less offensive. She was intrigued, and resolved to do some research on the internet on this unusual behavior.
"Does the black one look a little unhappy to you?" she asked her partner after a while. "Look how matted its coat is - as if it hasn't been grooming. That's pretty weird, for a cat."
"Yeah, I guess," Jordan said thoughtfully. "But then, how would you feel in there?"
Bly heaved a sigh, and straightened slowly. "I'd hate to be them... Come on, let's get going before I get depressed."
They continued on with their arms around each other, Bly looking back once at the two leopards, pensive.
She thought she saw the spotted leopard's mouth move in an almost human way, forming words that she could not quite read. Chiding herself for being a complete and utter fool, Bly shook her head and followed when her partner tugged her towards the tiger habitat.
"Well, that was a waste," said Xandra. "For a moment there I thought you had them."
Ginelle's ears drooped. "I was so sure it would work. I wish Mayla was here - she'd know what I did wrong."
"Yeah... I've got to admit I miss her gibberish. But you did well."
Despite everything, Ginelle had to smile at the dour panther's first genuinely warm words since their imprisonment. "I should have done better, though."
To that, Xandra found no reply.
"Does it seem to you that there are a lot of female couples here today?"
Lark was looking around the park in mild wonder. On a normal day, you could see an occasional female or male couple, most not being all that conspicuous about their relationship out here in the public, Today, though, Animal Kingdom seemed full of women walking arm in arm and making no secret of their romantic involvement.
With a passing smile, she noted that they seemed to be one of very few gay couples that actually had a child with them. At the moment, Julia was sleeping in her stroller. Her afternoon nap had been cancelled for this special day out at Disney World, and the little girl had finally given in to slumber when they had left the Magic Kingdom. However, Lark was sure the peace was short-lived. The toddler had been irrepressible most of the morning; she had been walking for a month or two, a whirlwind of energy that was difficult to keep up with. She was also quite a magnet for mischief.
Rayne nodded. "And with a few of them, it's like looking in a mirror," she remarked when a tall, dark-haired woman passed them by, holding hands with a shorter blonde - the young woman might have been strawberry-blonde or even red-haired, though, it was hard to tell.
"Do you think it may have to do with the convention?"
"Ooh, you're going to the convention?" the shorter woman passing them asked, suddenly interested. "So are we. I'm Jordan, this is my partner Bly."
Half suspicious, half intrigued, Rayne accepted the proffered hand. "Rayne," she said shortly.
"I'm Lark," said Lark. "And yes, we are going to the convention. Looking forward to it, aren't we, Rayne?" She looked about to cuff her partner gently in the ribs, but Rayne nodded and smiled before she had a chance.
"So, have you seen anything in here yet?" Jordan asked brightly.
"Ah, no, we just got here," Lark replied in identical tones. "We figure we'll grab a bite and wait for the little one to wake up from her nap."
"Why don't you go over to the big cats?" Bly said, startling her partner by speaking up. "They've got a pair of leopards there that are worth seeing."
"Oh, I think we will," Lark said enthusiastically. "Julia loves cats."
"Bly is right, you know." A distant look had entered Jordan's eyes. "The eyes on that black one are still haunting me. And the way they were acting... But I'm sure you'll see for yourself."
"I'm sure we will," said Rayne.
"Anyway, we need to get going," Jordan smiled at the other couple. "We've kept you long enough. Enjoy your stay, and we'll see you this weekend!"
After a quick bite to eat, and with Julia once again awake and entirely too alert, Rayne and Lark approached the leopard habitat.
A flock of people was gathered around the enclosure, children hopping up and down and people standing on tiptoe to see above the crowd. Above the low murmur of voices from the gathered people, they could hear the voice of a cast member talking about leopards and their natural behavior.
"These two only arrived here last week," the man was saying. "The black one is Shadow and her little friend is Dots. They came to us all the way from India and were given to us by the New Delhi Zoo."
"Dots? That's cute," Rayne murmured with a sneer.
"Not," Lark agreed. "But hey, it's Disney World."
"Shadow is extremely large for a female, and as you can see, she is also quite aggressive." The man laughed; it sounded slightly nervous.
As if on cue, a flurry of sound sprang up, snarling and hissing, accompanied by gasps from the crowd and punctuated by the occasional "whoa there, kitty" or an "isn't she amazing, people?"
"Can you see anything?" Lark held on to her partner's shoulder to pull herself up on tiptoe, but she could only see the top of the man's head and a flash of black fur at the bottom of her vision.
"Guy's wearing protective clothing," Rayne reported, mildly amused. She had to stand on tiptoe herself, and crane her neck, to be able to see. "I guess he wasn't kidding about the cat being aggressive. I've never seen these guys in anything but those icky-green ranger-type shorts and wearing that Disney-smile." She chuckled dryly.
There was a question from the audience that they did not quite understand. The man's answer, however, reached their ears loud and clear.
"Yes, little Dots seems to be doing well enough, but Shadow's been having some trouble adjusting. The stress has caused her to stop grooming, that's why she looks a little bedraggled. But we're positive that once she's settled in, she'll start taking proper care of herself again. After all, she's a female." The attempted joke drew a few chuckles from the watchers and a pained groan from both Rayne and Lark.
He started on another sentence, but an intense wail that could only come from one of the leopards drowned out his voice. Lark's hands went to her ears. "What the...?"
Rayne said something, but Lark could not hear her. She too, was covering her ears, grimacing.
After a few seconds that seemed like an eternity, the leopard fell silent, and after a brief moment of recovery, the crowd bombed the poor man with questions that it was clear he had no answers to.
"Come on, let's get away from all these people," said Rayne, a touch impatiently. We can come back here when the people are gone, so Julia can see the animals." She looked down at the stroller, suddenly realizing that Julia had been suspiciously quiet.
The stroller's seat gaped emptily back at them. Their little daughter was nowhere to be seen.
"Oh no! How can she be gone, we only looked away for a few seconds!" Lark's voice was taking on a hysterical pitch.
Rayne knew she had to keep cool for both of them, although in truth she felt like breaking down and panicking herself. Their baby daughter, lost in the middle of a throng of strangers!
She thought she saw a flash of little legs in between the strangers, and they both went to investigate - without luck.
They separated, expanding their search - without luck. It seemed impossible that a little girl could vanish so completely in the blink of an eye.
"Oh, Rayne, what are we going to do?" Lark dropped onto a park bench and buried her face in her hands. "She can't really have walked all the way out of here in such a short time, she's so little... do you think somebody... took her?" She said it hesitantly, it as if her speaking the words might make them true.
Rayne put her arm around her partner and hugged her gently. "We'll keep looking. She's got to be here somewhere. Let's walk to the exit and report her missing. Maybe someone took her there." She tried to sound hopeful.
Seeing Lark perk up a little, encouraged by her partner's calm, Rayne was glad to have kept her composure.
Their way back to the exit took them past the leopard habitat. Once again there was a crowd of people gathered there, only this time there was no caretaker talking at them. A few of them were pointing, to much ooh-ing and aw-ing.
As the couple advanced a little further, they saw the reason.
"Good Heavens, Rayne, look at that!" Lark exclaimed, grabbing her partner's arm with enough force to make the taller woman wince, pointing towards the leopard habitat.
Rayne had already stopped dead in her tracks, slack-jawed. "You know, maybe these women had it right... Something about these cats..." Her voice was toneless with shock. "I think we need to talk to the park authorities, dear..."
There, sitting right astride that vicious black leopard, little hands latched firmly onto velvety black ears and feet kicking up a storm against the cat's rump, was their daughter, squealing with delight.
"You're sure I can't eat it?" Xandra said as she craned her neck trying to get her ears out of the reach of those infernal little claws. The fact that the little tic seemed to instinctively find all her tender and sensitive areas to pinch unnerved her no end.
"Oh, all right! But by Agulaar's tail, if it plucks another of my whiskers, I'm out of here!"
"Well, at least my Singing reached someone," Ginelle said, fighting a grin in spite of herself. "And I think she's absolutely adorable."
"It's a cub," Xandra grunted. "I guess even man cubs have some appeal."
"Kitty!" the toddler exclaimed, clumsily patting the soft fur on Xandra's shoulder.
"Boo," Xandra growled, and the child doubled over with peals of laughter.
"Awww, she likes you," Ginelle said sweetly.
“Jul...” Lark began to scream out of fright, but was stopped by Rayne who placed her hand over her mouth.
“No, don’t scream it might scare the Leopards.” Rayne advised in a calm whisper, staring deeply into the frightened green eyes of her lover. “I need you to find the handler we just saw or anyone else who works here. I’m going inside to get Julia.” Rayne told her in a composed, assured voice to calm her partner and removed her hand from Lark’s mouth.
“No! You can’t go in there. They’ll tear you to shreds!” Lark retorted in a hushed, frantic tone.
“Lark, I’ve got to do something, our daughter is in there and there’s no time to wait for someone else to help!” She answered with a quiet and anxious reflection, glancing over her shoulder to check on her daughter then looked back at Lark.
“Rayne, how could this happen? We are horrible parents. How could we have not seen her get out of the stroller and how did she get in there in the first place?” Lark questioned rapidly and began to cry.
“Listen Lark, I need you to calm down and find a park employee. We’ll figure out what happened later, but I’m not going to wait another minute. Can you do that for me?” She asked soothingly and stared deep into her eyes, trying to settle her panicked wife.
Lark wiped her tears and nodded her head, “Yes I will, but please be careful and bring our daughter out of there without a scratch.” She emphatically demanded, intently staring at her lover.
“Not a scratch.” Rayne promised with a small smile to reassure her. “Try to find an employee! Now, go.” She told her and watched as she pushed her way through the crowd. ‘Great, now how do I keep these leopards from ripping Julia and I to shreds? Too bad I don’t have my gun. No, that wouldn’t be a good idea either. ’ She thought and looked at her daughter through the glass who seemed to be completely enthralled by the wild animals. She hurriedly walked along the wall and noticed a gate on the inside of the habitat that formed a barrier between the glass wall and the moat, which she surmised the handlers used to feed the animals. She looked up and judged the wall to be about eight feet high and took a few steps back, then ran towards the wall and jumped up. She grasped the top of the wall and pulled herself up onto the tall wall. ‘Ooh, that brings back bad memories of having to scale that killer wall and all those pull-ups from basic training. Well, I’m putting that training to good use now.’ She quipped inwardly, inhaling and exhaling deeply to calm her pounding heart.
“You can’t go in there!” A bystander shouted out.
“I’m not leaving my daughter in there!” Rayne spat back.
“They’ll kill you!” Another added.
“I’m going to take my chances!” Rayne answered with a smirk and swung her legs onto the inside of the wall.
“Well, look at who thinks she’s brave enough to step into my domain.” Xandra commented contemptuously and glanced over at Ginelle who was lying on her side, enjoying the little toddler who was stroking her fur. “If I can’t eat the cub can I eat the big one?” She queried sardonically and licked her chops.
Ginelle lifted her head up and looked up at her larger counterpart, “NO! I don’t think she’s going to harm us. I think this cub is hers. Maybe she can help us get out of here?” She hoped her latter comment was true.
“You’re too trusting Ginelle. I’ll tell you this, she better not try anything funny or I will eat her.” Xandra threatened boastfully and stood up. She intently watched the tall woman and whipped her tail from one side to the other as a warning that she was agitated.
Rayne held onto the top of the wall and slid down as far as her long body would allow. She released her hold and dropped the rest of the way to the ground. She rushed to the tall gate and saw that it was locked. ‘Damn where is that guy that was answering questions earlier?’ She questioned agitated and looked around for the employee who was nowhere in sight. ‘Great, now why didn’t I see that small door down there going out to the where the crowd is standing? It would have saved me a lot of grief if I would have seen it sooner!’ She thought frustrated and turned her attention back to the door. She jiggled the lock and shook the gate, and then noticed a board was loose at the bottom. She knelt on one knee and pushed the board, which swung through to the other side. ‘So, this is how Julia got in there, that little stinker. Now, how do I get in there because I know I won’t fit through that hole?’ She chuckled and stood up, then kicked the gate where the loose board was located. She kicked it repeatedly until she created a large enough hole for her to fit through. She pulled the broken boards away and crawled through the tight space, finding a large Leopard staring at her from a few feet away. She swallowed the large lump in her throat and stared into the Leopard’s eyes to assess what her intentions were with her. ‘I hope she doesn’t think I’m an entree.’ She smirked, and then noticed something familiar about the Leopard. ‘Does that Leopard have blue eyes?’ She queried and squinted her eyes for a better look. ‘I’ll be damned, it does!’ She observed. ‘Well, it looks like they can’t be that vicious if they are allowing Julia to pull on their ears and jump all over them. Let’s hope they are nice to me.’ She mused wishfully and blew out a deep breath to calm her pounding heart, and slowly stood up.
“Uh-oh Xandra, we have trouble.” Ginelle warned and sat up.
Xandra turned her attention to where Ginelle was looking, “Nothing that I can’t handle,” She remarked confidently and poised her body defensively. Her tail snapped back and forth, aggravated by what she was about to encounter and let out a loud wail as a warning.
Rayne focused on getting to Julia and was briefly distracted by the voice she heard. “Rayne, Rayne...look out.” Lark replied in a hushed, anxious tone. Rayne glanced over and saw Lark standing near the wall. She flashed a smile and waved her hand that she was fine, and then turned her attention back to Julia. “Rayne!” Lark said in a louder tone trying to get her wife’s attention and not scare the animals. She sighed frustrated, as Rayne wouldn’t look at her.
“Xandra!” Ginelle shouted anxiously and protectively sat in front of the baby.
“Oh, no you won’t!” Xandra replied and rushed towards Rayne. She lunged and jumped on the Leopard who was ready to pounce on Rayne, which had ventured over to investigate.
“Shit!” Rayne shouted startled by the clash and jumped away from the fighting animals. She looked towards the crowd when she heard their gasps and screams, then motioned with her hand for them to be quiet. ‘They need to shut up so they don’t agitate the animals more!’ She snapped her head around to find Julia and was relieved to see that the smaller Leopard was protectively sitting in front of her as the other two leopards fought. ‘Damn, I’m getting too old for this!’ She thought nervously and inhaled deeply to calm her labored breathing from the fright. She glanced over at Lark who frantically paced back and forth along the wall. She chuckled when she saw Lark grab the park employee by the shirt when he attempted to pass. “That’s my girl.” She snickered and smiled proudly, focusing her attention back on her daughter.
“My wife and child are in there! You need to get them out!” She shouted emphatically and tightened her grip on his shirt.
“I’m trying to do everything I can ma’am, but our handler’s had an emergency in the Gorilla habitat and I was just informed that they are on their way.” He explained flustered with a wide-eyed and surprised look by how the smaller woman grabbed him.
“You’re not doing enough!” She implied angrily and tearfully.
“I know you’re frustrated, but they are on their way. I can call again if you want me to.” He offered and raised the radio.
“Just go find someone who can help. Move!” She demanded adamantly and pushed him away, glaring at the man as he ran off to find help.
”Get out of here!” Xandra growled menacingly and swatted the smaller Leopard with her paw. She watched the animal limp away and lick the wounds she inflicted on him, thoroughly satisfied with her conquest. She turned back around and saw Rayne approaching Ginelle and the baby. ‘Let’s see what this she-man has on her mind.’ She wondered as she trotted over to where Ginelle was sitting and stopped in front of her. She protectively stood by her mate a few feet in front of Rayne and stared deep into her piercing blue eyes.
“Xandra, she has beautiful blue eyes like yours.” Ginelle pointed out excitedly and licked Julia’s hand after she stroked the top of her head. “Don’t hurt her, she looks friendly.”
“They all do, but that’s not reality.” Xandra snapped and stood her ground protectively, not as trusting as her mate.
“Look, all I want is my baby. I won’t hurt you.” Rayne promised calmly and hoped the animals would somehow comprehend what she was saying. ‘Do they understand what I’m saying? Where’s the pet psychic when you need her?’ She wondered with an inward chuckle at her latter comment.
“See, I told you.” Ginelle snapped sarcastically and turned to Rayne, staring intensely into her eyes.
Rayne was caught off guard and looked at the wild animal before her. She met Ginelle’s hypnotic gaze and for a brief moment, which felt like an eternity, Rayne allowed herself to be immersed in the mystery of the Leopard’s eyes. In less than a second she understood everything. These animals were not going to hurt her or Julia. She felt their fear and urgency, realizing that these animals were meant to be free. She knew then that Julia had not entered their domain by accident, and that her presence there had more purpose than just to rescue her baby. She turned to Xandra and the words came to her before she realized it. “Let me take my baby and I’ll get you out of here.”
Xandra’s ears perked up at her last comment and moved away from Rayne, closer to Ginelle in case she had other ideas. “This she-man better hold true to what she just said.” Xandra threatened and closely watched her blue-eyed counterpart who seemed fearless. She felt respect for this she-man who was brave enough to risk her own life to save her cub and dared to stare her in the eye.
Outside of the habitat, the crowd grew larger with each passing tourist who was intrigued by the events taking place inside.
“What’s going on?” Kerry wondered while her partner and she causally strolled towards the group of people standing near the Leopard’s habitat.
“Who knows? Maybe they are transfixed on two Leopards going at it.” Dar retorted with a chuckle and laughed harder when Kerry nudged her in the ribs.
“You’re bad.” Kerry giggled and walked closer to the group. “Oh, my god Dar, there’s a baby and a woman in there!” She replied astonished by what she saw.
“What?” Dar asked in disbelief and the pair picked up their pace for a better look.
Dar and Kerry pushed through the crowd for a better look and saw a shorter blonde woman pacing back and forth near the wall crying. "She must be with them. We should do something to help." She suggested and quickened her pace towards the distraught woman.
“Now Kerry, what do you think we can do to help?” Dar asked and grabbed her arm to slow her partner down.
“I don’t know...something.”
“Okay, let’s see what we can do.” Dar agreed with a smile as they approached Lark.
“Is there anything we can do to help?” Kerry stepped next to Lark and was shocked when the woman looked up at her.
Dar did a double take when she saw Lark and how much she looked like Kerry. ‘They could be twins if her hair was longer.’ She thought astonished by Kerry’s look alike. ‘Very weird.’ She added and turned her attention towards the habitat, and then the crowd, noting there were no park employees around. ‘Where is everyone? I can’t believe there are no handlers to help with this situation.’ She wondered, surprised by what was happening and scanned the area for an employee.
Lark took a step back and stared silently, shocked by the familiarity of the woman standing before her. “Aah, well, aah my baby...” Lark attempted to explain and shook her head thinking she was hallucinating that the woman looked like her and continued, “My baby crawled into the pen with the Leopards somehow and my wife is in there trying to save her. I feel so hopeless and no one else here will help.” She answered tearfully and looked to the pen.
“Don’t worry. We’ll stay here and try to help in anyway we can.” She wrapped her arm around Lark’s shoulder. “Isn’t that right Dar?” She asked and looked around to find her partner that didn’t answer her. “Dar?” She questioned and didn’t see her as the crowd moved around them. ‘Where did she go? I hope she didn’t jump in with the Leopards too!’
Rayne inched her way closer to Julia and reached for her daughter. She clutched her in her arms and quickly engulfed her in a hug. “Oh, Julia. Sweetheart.” She sighed relieved and kissed the top of her head, then held her tighter, inhaling deeply, and then exhaled to calm her racing heart. She was ecstatic to have her daughter safely in her arms and wiped the tears that filled her blue eyes. She kissed her daughter on the forehead and looked between the two Leopards, staring deeply into the familiar greens of the smaller one. She lost herself again in those enchanting eyes and smiled warmly as they reminded her of Lark. “Thank you for not hurting my baby.” She graciously remarked and smiled as she looked at Ginelle who leaned forward and licked her hand. ‘Hmmm, maybe they do know what I’m saying.’ She thought with a chuckle and looked at Xandra, “And thank you for protecting me from the other Leopard,” She added with an appreciative smile as Xandra let out a soft roar in response. Their steely gaze intensified and Rayne furrowed her brow at how eerily similar they were to hers. “There is something strange going on in this park and the two women that looked similar to my wife and I were right about you two. You were worth seeing, albeit not this close.” Rayne chuckled at her last comment and stared into the larger animal’s haunting blue eyes.
Julia giggled and pointed at Xandra, then looked up at Rayne. “Kitty!” She exuberantly shouted and wiggled in Rayne’s arms, giggling incessantly.
Rayne chuckled at her precocious daughter and answered, “Yes baby girl and I promise when we get home we’ll get you one. Just not quite that big,” she guaranteed and winked at Xandra as if she knew what she was saying.
Rayne stood up and turned, walking back to the gate. She looked up from her daughter and saw a woman who resembled her, half way through the hole she had created in the gate. ‘Wow, that is so strange. She looks like me. Either we have a bunch of twins running around here or the sun is getting to me!’ She thought in disbelief of encountering another look alike and quickened her pace towards the gate.
“The Leopards are following you.” Dar warned with a calm tone and suggested, “Hand me the baby and I’ll get her to safety,” as she held her hands out to take the baby.
“It’s no problem, they are with me.” Rayne replied jokingly and smirked as she approached, astonished by how much they looked alike. ‘This trip here has been like something out of the twilight zone.’ She thought with a chuckle at all the strange events that happened and the people involved in them. “Okay sweetheart go to the nice lady that’s going to help us out of here.” She told her daughter sweetly and handed her to Dar.
Dar grabbed a hold of the squirming toddler and chuckled at how the little girl was too fascinated with the Leopards to be bothered with what was going on around her. She turned and quickly walked to the small door, exiting the habitat. “I think this little one belongs to you.” Dar quipped with a smile and handed Julia to Lark.
“Thank you so much.” Lark answered gratefully and grabbed her daughter, then pulled her to her chest, hugging her tightly and kissing her baby’s cheek repeatedly. “Oh, my sweet baby. You’re safe.” She cooed tearfully, relieved to be holding her child. She checked her daughter over to make sure she wasn’t injured and held her tighter when she was satisfied that she was unharmed.
Rayne ran to the small door and promptly stepped through to safety. “Hey, thanks for your help.” She smiled gratefully and held out her hand, shaking Dar’s in appreciation.
“No problem, I’m glad to help and happy to see that your daughter is safe.” She smiled, surprised by the woman’s resemblance to her and shook the offered hand.
“Thanks again.” Rayne answered with a slight smile, unnerved by how much the woman looked like her and walked towards Lark. Dar cast a slight wave when Rayne glanced back and walked towards Kerry.
“Ginelle, look! The door where the cub crawled through is open. We need to get there so we can get out of here! It’s our only hope.” She indicated as she looked back at her. “Let’s get out of here! Make sure you stay close to me. Once we are out, head for the brush just outside of the cage and then we are off to hunt down Verrath for getting us into this mess!” Xandra instructed and guaranteed as the pair scrambled through the opening in the gate.
“I’m right behind you!” Ginelle informed her and nudged Xandra’s hip with her nose as they ran towards the door.
“Shut the door!” A handler shouted towards the crowd as he ran down the path.
The Leopards quickly ran through the door to freedom before anyone could reach it. When the animals rushed past them, the people in the crowd screamed and scrambled like a bunch of cockroaches after a light has been turned on.
Rayne and Lark turned around to see what the commotion was about and caught a glimpse of the Leopards before they disappeared into the heavy vegetation near the habitat. “Bye kitty!” Julia called out gleefully and moved her small hand side to side in a waving motion.
Rayne and Lark chuckled as they watched their daughter wave. “I hope they aren’t harmed now that they are loose.” Rayne commented nervously with a newfound connection to the animals and hoped that they would avoid being captured. She looked around for the handler she heard yell and saw him laying flat on his back after the crowd knocked him down in the melee.
“Thank you honey.” Lark stated, looking up at her tall partner and smiled appreciatively.
“For what?” Rayne asked and smiled warmly at her companion.
“For bringing our daughter back without a scratch.” Lark answered with a grin, moving onto her tiptoes and kissed her heroic wife.
“Well, I promised that I would and besides, it’s just another normal day in our life.” Rayne quipped offhandedly and laughed quietly as she leaned forward for another kiss from her wife who gladly accepted the offer.
“I’ve had enough excitement for one day. Let’s head back to the hotel.” Lark suggested and kissed her daughter, who was intently staring at the vegetation where the Leopards disappeared.
“Kitty.” She softly whimpered and pointed, then looked at Lark with a sad look on her face.
“I know honey, but they are running around and happy now.” Lark told her sweetly and smiled to comfort her dismayed daughter as she brushed her hair off her forehead.
“You know what this means don’t you? She’s going to want a kitty...or two.” Rayne asked pointed out with a chuckle, looking down at her shorter partner.
“As long as they aren’t that big, it’s fine with me.” Lark answered with a laugh, shared by Rayne as the pair walked towards the stroller.
Rayne grabbed the stroller and looked at Lark asking, “Do you want to put her in here?”
“No, I think I’ll hold her and not take any more chances. We may have to use multiple straps to keep this little monster in there snug as a bug from now on! I still don’t know how she got the belt undone to get out. By the way, how did she get in there?” Lark stated and asked, looking back at the habitat.
Rayne turned to Lark and attempted to explain how her daughter might have wandered into the habitat. “Well, she had to have crawled through that door where the Leopards ran through,” She began and pointed to where she was referring. “After she got inside she went through the gate over there where one of the boards were loose. Of course, that’s my best guess as I can’t imagine she scaled that wall to get in there!” She explained with a chuckle at her last comment and looked back to Lark. “We are in for a lot of grief with this little one.” She added with a laugh, and tickled her daughter’s ribs that giggled and squirmed in her mother’s arms.
“Lord help us!” Lark retorted with a hearty laugh shared by Rayne. “We are so lucky that she came out of this unharmed.” She added grateful and began to weep, as the magnitude of the situation hit her. She kissed Julia’s head and leaned against Rayne who wrapped her arm around her.
“I know sweets, we are very lucky.” She agreed, thankful that Julia was safe and kissed the top of Lark’s head, then Julia’s. “Come on, let’s go.” She softly suggested and led her family away.
“Well, that was wild!” Kerry commented flabbergasted by what had just transpired as she sidled up to Dar.
“Did that really happen?” Dar asked with a chuckle as they watched Rayne and Lark standing near their stroller.
“Oh, yeah. I wonder what other strange things might happen today?” She queried with a wry grin and looked up at partner waiting for her answer.
“Who knows, but let’s hope we don’t run into those Leopards that are on the loose!” She answered with a laugh shared by Kerry and wrapped her arm around her as they began to walk off.
Kerry stopped as it dawned on her who the blonde woman might be and glanced back at the family they just encountered. “Dar, you know what? I think that blonde woman is Lark Morgan, the actress.” She stated and stared at the woman to confirm her hunch.
“Really?” She asked skeptically and focused on Lark for a better look then added, “You know, you’re right. That might explain some of the weird stuff going on and that they were involved in them. It seems they lead quite the adventurous life. I remember reading about them in the newspaper when the taller one was involved in a plane crash with Congressman Morgan and his wife.” Dar explained and led her blonde away.
“Ooh, I remember reading about that. Let’s hope their life settles down a bit, but it doesn’t look like it will with that mischievous daughter of theirs.” Kerry answered with a laugh. “So, what’s next other than avoiding the Leopards?” She asked with a snicker as they walked off.
“Um, leopards? There are leopards running loose now? Is that safe?” the blonde looked to her taller companion.
“Actually,” the warrior answered with a smile and a twinkle in her eye, “Some of the two-legs around here are more dangerous than the four-legs. You know that is true even now.”
The bard nodded. “Um hmm. Will we see them again, do you think?” looking in the direction the two cats had fled.
“I think that is a distinct possibility, Little One. C’mon. Let’s go see what other kinds of trouble we can find.”
by Trish Kocialski
Dean turned and looked in the direction indicated by Josie and gave a low whistle. “Well I’ll be,” she uttered in a low tone, “there’s a Katie look-a-like too?”
“More ‘n one,” Josie drawled. “Seems like the whole place is crawling with folk that looks like us.”
Dean swiveled back to look at her double. “What do you mean? More than this Karla and me?”
“So it seems.” Josie just stuck her hands into her pockets and smiled as the two blondes came up.
Katie split away from Rebecca and put her arm around Dean’s waist. “Hey,” she began, “look what I found.” She indicated Rebecca with her chin. “Guess I got a twin too.”
Dean nodded and looked over at their mirror images. “Excuse us for a minute,” she muttered and pulled Katie aside and whispered. “Something is just not right here. This Josie person said there’re more people around here that are dead ringers for us... and them.”
“Yeah, that’s what Rebecca told me. She knows of at least two others... a Karla and Olivia... and those two have met others too. Weird, huh?”
“I’ll say. But what’s it all about? Why carbon copies of us? And what’s this BardCon thing about?” Dean looked over Katie’s shoulder and watched as Josie and Rebecca sat on a bench in the shade eating the ice cream cones Rebecca brought with her. “And how come they’re eating ice cream and we’re not?” The sentence came out before she could censor it.
“Ahhh, I see where you’re going. You’re just upset you don’t have any ice cream.” Kate poked Dean in the ribs and chuckled lightly.
“Nooo,” Dean hissed getting serious again. “No, not just that,” she looked down at her lover and was captivated by the twinkle in the emerald eyes. “Seriously, Katie. Our world is a little screwy right now and my neck hairs are starting to twitch. Ever since 9/11... we’ve been having these recurring dreams....” Dean thought about the dreams she and Katie had been experiencing more frequently and she shuddered. “Our dreams....”
“You think our dreams have something to do with all this?” Katie asked, now with a more serious tone of voice.
“I don’t know... but, I think we should do a little investigating. Let’s go and see what we can find out from these two.” Katie shrugged and nodded.
Walking over to the bench where the two doubles sat, Dean worked at putting together a game plan. She wanted to find out more about these two and what all these doubles were doing in Orlando. Not one to beat around the bush, she jumped right in.
“Josie,” she began, “what can you tell me about this Karla and....”
“Olivia?” Rebecca offered.
Dean was somewhat surprised at the blonde’s jumping in, but then, if she was anything like her Katie, she should have expected it. So she turned and faced Rebecca. “Yes,” Dean acknowledged. “What do you know about them?”
Two hours later, they were sitting in the restaurant at the Living Seas and Rebecca and Josie just finished their tale of how they came to be in this time and how they had met Karla and Olivia. They didn’t leave out a thing. Dean and Katie had listened intently, asking questions at times and trying to trip up the two women sitting across from them with every bit of interrogation skill that they possessed. Josie and Rebecca never flinched and never slipped up in their tale no matter how many different ways Dean and Katie asked the questions. Figuring to trip them up, Dean asked if she and Katie could see the pistols that Josie had brought from the past with her. Being an avid gun collector, Dean knew she would be able to tell if they were telling the truth by examining the pistols. Josie had told her they were a matched set presented to her by William F. Cody in 1879 and even rattled off the patent number on the barrels. Dean figured she had finally caught them in a lie, because she had those exact pistols in her collection back in Occoquan, Virginia and knew every nick and mar on each one.
“Sure thing,” Josie chuckled. She was enjoying the retelling of the tale by Rebecca and was glad to be able to have something to offer as proof. “We’re staying at one of these fancy hotels on this property. C’mon, we’ll catch one of those trains that run on one rail.”
After paying for the food, the four women got up and headed to the monorail. They got off at the Grand Floridian. Josie, Rebecca, Karla and Olivia had decided to move up to the Grand Floridian after they sold a one dollar gold piece to a coin collector for $3,000. Dean and Katie were impressed with the hotel as they walked through the grand lobby while following their leaders to their room. Once there, Josie sauntered over to the safe and turned the tumbler expertly. Pulling open the safe door, she reached in and pulled out the holsters containing the two Colt pistols and handed them over to Dean.
“There ya go. Nicest pieces I ever owned…great balance and they shoot real straight! Bill gave ‘em to me the day his autobiography came out. He was so proud of that damn book. I told him if I hadn’t known him, I’da figured the whole thing to be a bunch of lies! We laughed a good one over that!”
Dean accepted the holsters and took them over to the table by the window. She set them down gently and removed the guns one at a time and inspected them from barrel to hammer and down the ivory grips. She could hardly believe the pristine shape the two guns were in. In fact, they looked almost brand new.
“These look to be in excellent shape. How long have you had them?”
Josie rubbed her chin and thought for a bit. “Oh, couple a years now, I guess. I clean ‘em up every night whether I’ve used ‘em or not. Keep your guns in shape and they’ll never let you down when you need ‘em.”
Dean nodded in appreciation of that fact and then returned to her inspection of the weapons thinking they were pretty darn good copies, but they were missing a couple of dents hers had. The patent numbers however, were exact and the engraving on the barrels was faithful right down to the slight imperfections just below the sights. There was only one true test…the inscriptions on the reverse of the ivory grips.
“Do you mind if I take the grips off?” Dean asked as she reached into her pocket and pulled out her Swiss Army knife and extracted the screwdriver.
“Nope, go right ahead. You’ll find what you’re looking for there.”
Katie looked at the smiling Josie, then at the stunned look on Dean’s face and walked over to her lover to watch her dismantle the handles. Dean carefully put the tools tip into the slot and unscrewed the handle from the pistol. Josie knew exactly what she was looking for and stood by the table, grinning brightly as Dean flipped over the ivory grip and read the inscription.
“To my good friend, JH. Thanks, WFC”
“Damn,” Dean muttered as she replaced the grip. Then she picked up the second gun and removed the ivory grip from it. This inscription read:
“All my love to RC. Yours truly, WFC”
Completely stunned, Dean looked up at a beaming Josie and asked, “You never told me your last name.”
“Hunter. Josie Hunter. And RC is Rebecca Cameron…my Rebecca,” she said as she pulled the blonde to her, wrapping her arms tightly around the woman.
“This is just… incredible,” Dean murmured as she looked at Katie. “They’re exactly like the ones in my collection…only newer.” As she replaced the second grip, the screwdriver slipped and scored the pearl grip slightly. Dean stopped and looked at the damage she caused, and then realized that the pistol in her collection had the exact same damage in the exact same spot…damage that shehad created. She didn’t know how but was she was finally convinced. “I can’t explain it, but,” she looked up at Katie, “they’re telling the truth!”
The four women sat in the room for another hour as Dean quizzed Josie and Rebecca on their life in their time. They also tried to get more information on the BardCon but found the two women didn’t know very much about it... only that it was going to be happening this weekend in this hotel. Just about the time they were getting ready to leave, the cell phone Josie had began to chirp. She fumbled with it as she tried to figure out how to get it to work. Katie reached over and pushed the correct button and Josie put the instrument to her ear as she had been instructed. After a few uh huh’s and several yups, she hit the button to end the call.
“That was Karla. We’re gonna meet them for dinner in a bit. We’re goin’ to a thing called the ‘Hoop de do,’ she drawled. “You and Katie are welcome to join us if you like.”
Dean looked at Katie and grinned remembering the plans they had made for a quiet dinner in their room and a soak in the double hot tub for dessert. She certainly didn’t want to trade that intimate plan for dinner that would include a floorshow surrounded by a bunch of vacationers. “I think we’ll pass. We’ve kinda got other plans already,” Dean said as Katie flushed just a bit.
Catching the slight tint of Katie’s skin, Rebecca smiled knowingly. “Well then, ya’ll have a nice evening then. Maybe we’ll see you again…or at that BardCon thing.”
Katie nodded and stood as Dean did the same. “Yes, maybe we will run into you again.” They turned and left the room and went in search of information on BardCon.
When they got back down to the lobby, they went in search of the convention sales office. The clerk at the front desk directed them to the office in question but cautioned them that it would be closed now since it was after 6:00 PM. A bit disappointed, they turned to leave, then Katie turned back and asked if the clerk knew anything about an upcoming event called BardCon.
“Yeah, I do!” she said excitedly. “In fact, I’m going to be there.”
“Working this weekend?” Katie surmised.
“No, as a participant. I went last year too. It was a blast!”
Encouraged, Katie asked what the event was all about. The clerk enthusiastically told the two women all about it. In fact, they probably got more information than they really needed, but wanted to be polite and not cut off the eager young woman’s description. They were surprised to hear the clerk’s description of the two main characters of the TV show and how much they looked like the actors.
“I really thought you might be them!” the clerk giggled. “But, then, I’ve seen a few Lucy and Renee look-a-likes the past few days.” She cocked her head at the thought. “It’s really strange....” she said as she looked them over once more. The clerk was about to ask them a question when a guest came up to the counter to check out, allowing Dean and Katie to the opportunity to gratefully slip away.
“Whoa,” Katie hooted as they quickly walked away. “That’s one heavy duty fan there! Did you catch the strange earrings?” Dean nodded absently as she put two and two together and came up with a zillion look-a-likes.
“You mean the ones that looked like chakrams?” Dean nodded, “Yes, I did.”
“What-rams?” Katie shot back wonder what language Dean was speaking.
“Those earrings were in a miniature form of an ancient chakram. It’s a weapon that was used in India by the Sikhs. Many of them were destroyed after the Sikh wars, but several were kept by English officers or given to Queen Victoria as gifts from the East India Company. Some of them have very beautiful engraving on them.”
“Dean,” Katie began with a shake of her head, “you really amaze me sometimes with that wealth of knowledge you have stored up in your head.” Dean just shrugged as they stepped out into the warm and humid May evening to catch a cab back to their hotel. Evidently there had been quite a downpour while they were up in Josie and Rebecca’s room. Huge rain puddles were everywhere.
The ride to their hotel took about a half hour by the time they maneuvered through the evening traffic. They were staying in one of the new villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. They had booked a two bedroom villa for the week. Tracy and Colleen were coming in the next day from New York to spend a relaxing time with their friends and they were going to pick them up at the airport in the morning.
“Oh, hon,” Katie cooed as she flipped through the information book in their villa. “I wonder if it’s too late to book an in-room massage before dinner?”
“Mmm, sounds like a good idea. Why don’t you give the desk a call and see what’s available.”
Katie picked up the phone and called the number listed for massages. She was disappointed to find out that they were finished for the evening, but was able to book in two massage therapists for 9:00 AM in the morning. That would still give them plenty of time to meet Tracy and Colleen at noon.
“Well, love,” Katie said with a twinkle in her emerald eyes, “I guess I could give you a massage.”
“Sweetheart, your massages never get finished... well, not in a technical sense that is,” Dean replied with a snort of laughter.
“You mean, you’d rather I didn’t massage... everything?” Katie asked wickedly as she came up behind Dean and began an intimate massage of certain body parts.
“Uh, mmm... well, now that you mention it.” Dean turned and captured Katie’s lips with hers. “I really do prefer your massage technique to a therapist’s. How about we start with a nice soak in that big whirlpool tub?” Katie nodded eagerly and the two women walked hand-in-hand into the master bedroom.
Two hours later, there was a knock on their door. Dean emerged from the bedroom wrapping a terry robe around her naked body. “Just a minute,” she called as she tied the belt.
Dinner arrived at the prescribed time and the waiter rolled the cart into the room setting their order out on the dining table and finished the arrangement with a single white rose in a vase in the center of the table.
Katie entered the room and smiled at Dean knowingly. “Nice touch.”
“Call me sentimental,” Dean quipped as Katie lifted the rose to smell.
“You are such a romantic,” the blonde rejoined as she replaced the rose and put her arms around Dean. She stood on her tiptoes and placed a soft kiss on Dean’s lips. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Dean whispered back and returned the kiss. “I suppose we should eat before our food gets cold.”
Their dinner consisted of salad, New England clam chowder, Lobster, rice pilaf, asparagus, hot rolls with honey butter, and New York cheesecake. By the time they finished the meal, the long day and various activities took their toll. At midnight they were both sound asleep, wrapped in each other’s arms.
The morning began with a three mile run on the area jogging path, showers, and a light breakfast of oatmeal, juice and coffee. At nine, the massage therapists arrived with their portable tables and worked their magic on the two women for the next hour. By ten thirty, they were showered once more and ready to head out to the airport to pick up Tracy and Colleen. The morning was overcast and the rain puddles had enlarged from another overnight downpour.
Katie sat in the passenger seat of the rental car and looked out at the gloomy weather. “I sure hope the weather clears up by this afternoon. Tracy and Colleen are really looking forward to the Disney experience.”
“Yeah, I can’t believe they’ve never been here.”
“Oh, and I suppose, you’re an old hand at the Disney experience?” Katie quipped knowing full well that this too was Dean’s first trip to Disney.
“Okay, you got me. I’m just surprised that Tracy has never been here. Whenever she went on leave, she was always off to amusement parks. That woman loves roller coasters of all shapes and sizes!”
“Well, she’ll get her fill here and the park hopper passes will insure she gets to see ‘em all!”
They pulled into the short term parking and found a convenient spot near the baggage claim area where they were to meet Tracy and Col. The heat and humidity was rising and they were glad to get into the air conditioned building. Just as they stepped inside, another cloud burst let loose, drowning the area once more in a deluge of rain.
“Wow! That was close!” Katie gulped as a loud crack of thunder boomed overhead. Sure hope this doesn’t affect their arrival time.
Dean looked out the broad windows and saw a lightening of the sky to the west. “Looks like it’s going to clear,” she said pointing at the spot of blue that was beginning to grow. She checked her watch and then looked up at the arrival board. “It should be clear by the time their plane lands.”
Fifteen minutes later the arrival monitor listed the Delta flight as ‘arrived’ and they began watching the crowds coming down from the gates. Soon they saw their friends grinning and waving at them. Colleen was dressed in conservative shorts and a polo shirt, but Tracy was wearing her loud shirt covered in pink and purple flamingos and a rainbow baseball cap.
“Geez, Trace... we’re you worried we wouldn’t recognize you?” Katie chuckled as she gave the woman a hug.
Colleen just shook her head in dismay. “You know, I tried to get her to tone it down a bit, but....”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah... I happen to like this shirt... and it’s very comfortable too,” she added with a snap of her head.
They picked up their bags from the carousel and headed for the car. By now, the rain clouds had quickly moved to the east and the sun was shining brightly... and the heat and humidity was increasing with the dampness left on the ground. Steam was rising from the roadway as the sun tried valiantly to dry up the pools left by the down pour.
“Looks like we brought the sunshine with us,” Tracy commented as they stepped across the road to the parking area. “God... I love hot weather!”
“I thought you said it was cold and raining in New York?” Katie countered as they reached the car and tossed the bags in the trunk.
“It was... but we were thinking positively,” Colleen chuckled as they got into the back seat.
Everyone buckled up and soon they were on their way back to Disney. They chatted along the way, catching up since their last get together. When they got to the hotel, they pulled into the valet slot, unloaded and headed up to the room. Ten minutes later, they were back down in the lobby, ready to head off to Epcot. They were standing at the curb, deciding on the best way to get to Epcot, when a duo on a motorcycle came roaring up to the curb. Unfortunately, the foursome standing at the curb was the recipient of a huge spray of rainwater as the motorcycle came to a stop before them.
“Damn!” Tracy cussed as she looked down at her soaked shirt and saw the other three women just as wet from the dousing. When she looked up, Dean was already snarling and Katie was reaching for Dean’s arm to contain her.
The driver kicked the foot rest down and waited as the passenger got off the back of the 2003 Harley Heritage Softail Classic bike.
Taking off her helmet, the passenger shook out her long blonde hair and looked at the wet foursome standing on the curb. Tracy, Colleen and Katie were dumbfounded as they watched Katie’s twin look back at them. “Um, sorry about that,” she said softly as the driver dismounted and stood next to her unstrapping her helmet. The blonde slid her backpack off and a large white cat’s head popped out. “Now how did you get in there?” she said as she pulled the cat out of the backpack.
Dean had moved directly over, her focus on confronting the driver as she pulled off her helmet and missed the exchange between the blonde and her friends standing silently on the curb. She snarled and started to speak but found herself speechless as she looked at her mirror image, albeit with chestnut hair and wild copper colored eyes looking back at her.
“Yesss?” the cyclist drawled with an attitude, then stopped and took note of the striking resemblance to her of the woman before her. “Huh, guess I’m in the right place,” she said with a grin. “My name’s Randi and this is my partner, Ginnie.” She held out her hand to Dean, “and you are?”
by Sam Ruskin and Archangel
“Sopping wet, thanks to you!” Dean fumed.
Never one to miss an opening, Randi replied with her brows crinkled and a grin snaking its way across her striking features. “Hey! I just got here. We haven’t even been properly introduced. What kind of girl do you think I am?” Randi flashed a bright smile, making a point of looking over at her partner. “Now Ginni, pay no attention to the woman on the curb.”
Dean narrowed her blue eyes and considered a response as she studied the woman before her. Katie tightened her hold on the tense muscles in Dean’s upper arm, watching her carefully and speaking softly. The words never quite reached Dean’s ears. She was totally focused on the woman before her.
Randi finished removing her polished black helmet with the smoked visor, allowing her hair to fall freely for the first time in hours. She casually stretched her long arms high above her head and then pulled her head and neck slowly to each side, twisting slightly with each carefully choreographed movement. Dull popping sounds could be heard from inside the old and well worn, black leather Bomber jacket. Completely aware she was being scrutinized, Randi enjoyed the little dance. She wore stonewashed denim blue jeans and an emerald green sleeveless turtleneck beneath the jacket, which she unzipped but didn’t take off. The black eel-skin boots completed the look as well as the journey Dean’s eyes were taking.
“Nice jacket,” Dean mumbled.
It was elephant hide and Randi had inherited it from her Daddy. Ginni smiled knowing that the small phrase would go a long way.
“Thanks.” Randi smiled. “So,” she said, “they holding the BardCon out here on the streets this year?” It was a cheeky grin, one of her finest, and Dean was not immune to its charm.
Rolling her eyes and shaking off the remains of the mud puddle, Dean laughed. “Don’t give them any ideas.”
Katie released Dean’s arm. “How was your trip?”
“Exhilarating,” answered Randi. “Nice ride. Not as nice as my Indian Scout but not bad for a loaner.”
Dean couldn’t help herself. It was automatic. She glanced down at the Harley. It was almost a reflex action and when she realized she had done it, she laughed. Then it hit her what Randi had said. “Loaner? This isn’t your bike?”
“Nope,” answered Randi as she unhooked their bag. “They didn’t have the color I wanted in the new Scouts so I had to have her painted. Ginni wanted to see how this one rode so we took it as a loaner. Besides, they don’t loan the Indians. Bummer, huh?”
Dean laughed again. Katie introduced everyone and suggested they head inside to get Randi and Ginni checked in and settled into their room. As they moved toward the entrance Katie tapped Ginni’s elbow, a concerned look on her face.
“What’s up?” asked the writer.
“Um.” Katie stammered a bit, unsure how best to approach the subject at hand. “Um. Well. I don’t think they will let you take a cat in there.”
Dean scrunched her face up and shook her head slightly. She quickly looked around again just to be certain she had not missed something important. “Cat? What cat?” she asked.
“That cat,” Katie said as she pointed toward the backpack Ginni now wore. The backpack which now appeared to NOT have a white cat peeking out of it. “Huh?” Katie looked at the bag again. When she didn’t see the fluffy white head sticking out like it was before, she reached over and lifted the flap. Nothing. The bag was almost completely empty.
“Damn,” she muttered. “I could have sworn I saw a cat. A very large, white cat.”
Dean laughed. “Well at least it wasn’t a black one. With all the thunder storms we’ve been getting that’s all we need.”
Ginni and Randi exchanged a look and then both women shrugged, silently.
“Actually,” Ginni soothed. “You’d be surprised how often that happens to us.”
“Yeah,” Randi added. “Maybe it’s a ghost cat.” She smirked in the direction of a very unamused Ginni who quietly glared at her.
“Ghost cat.” Dean laughed. “Now that is funny.”
“Oh yeah,” quipped Katie. “You’re a laugh a minute, you are. Not.”
Stepping off the elevator, Randi couldn’t help noticing the similarities between many of the women.
“Damn!” She remarked loudly. “Are they all twins?”
Ginni smiled and nudged her partner toward the huge mirror hanging on the wall. Turning Randi to face the cold glass, she waited.
“Oh.” It was all the taller woman said but the others in the small group laughed. “What?” What!”
“Never mind Sweetheart.” Ginni moved them toward the room as a familiar voice from deep inside reminded her they were here for a reason.
Katie, Dean, Colleen and Tracy walked Randi and Ginni to their room, exchanged room numbers, email addys and cell numbers with them and headed back out toward their original destination: Epcot. The group agreed to get together later when Dean promised to introduce Randi to Josie and Rebecca. She had told Randi all about Josie’s pistols and the musician could hardly wait to see them.
Rebecca and Josie sounded like they might be just the people Randi and Ginni had come to see. At least, thought Randi, they fit the description Miranda and Virginia gave us. Thank goodness she told us more about them than the color of their hair and eyes or that one was tall while the other was…not.
“What are you grinning about?” asked Ginni as she unpacked their small bag.
“Nothing,” she snickered. “I was just thinking how appreciative I am of the way Miranda and Virginia described the women we were sent here to find.”
Ginni looked up from where she was connecting her laptop. “Oh,” she smiled. “You mean you’re glad they didn’t say: Look for a tall brunette and a short blonde?”
“Something like that,” Randi laughed.
“Well, just be glad we couldn’t get here until today and managed to avoid the day of Roller Coaster Hell they told us about.” Ginni groaned. She hated roller coasters with a passion.
Randi laughed heartily. “Oh, I dunno. I kinda like it when you get all green around the gills.” Noticing the furrowed blonde brows of her partner she moved on quickly. “There was no way we could make it here any sooner. As it was, we had to flake out on that business dinner last night and I have no doubt we will be hearing about that. The boss probably already has our answering machine tape filled to overflowing with expletives. Not that I care, mind you. I do wish Miranda and Virginia had been a little less cryptic with this one, though.”
Ginni nodded. “I know. And what’s with the damn thunderstorms this time? I’m beginning to feel like flipping Brun Hilda the way the damned skies open up every time we show up anywhere.”
Miranda and Virginia often visited Randi and Ginni now that they had been freed from Magnolia Manor. The four women seemed to have formed a unique bond because Ghost, Miranda’s cat, now had the uncanny and often irritating ability to flit from one couple to the other without regard to planes of existence. Or so it seemed to Randi, who was forever tripping over the large white cat. When Miranda and Virginia appeared it was for a very specific purpose and, often, it had more than a little to do with matters of life and death. Ginni took this aspect of the visits all in stride. Randi still found it disconcerting, to say the least.
Virginia tried her best not to be amused at the way Randi still jumped when she and Miranda appeared. But it was difficult not to at least smile when the tall woman nearly leaped from her skin. Miranda, on the other hand, had no such compunctions.
“Jesus!” shouted Randi as she jumped several feet into the air from where she had been sitting on the bed.
“Sorry Randi,” Virginia soothed while Miranda laughed so loud it was a wonder the front desk didn’t call and tell them to tone it down some.
“Jesus!!” Randi repeated as her heart rate struggled to return to normal. “I wish you wouldn’t do that,” she grumbled.
Ginni chewed the inside of her cheek, forcing down the snicker. “Hello Virginia, Miranda. Maybe you really should find some way to warn us…I mean, alert us… before you just pop in like this.”
“You had it right the first time.” Randi growled. “For heaven’s sake, you scared the shit out of me, Miranda. Can’t you guys ring a fucking bell or something. I know I saw a movie once about a goddamn bell.”
Miranda rolled her blue eyes. “Even I know that was an angel, Randi. Lord, Ginni. You really got to take this girl to movies more often. Why just last week I seen where they play that one all the time on that box ya got over there.”
Ghost sauntered in from the bathroom and leaped into Randi’s lap.
“Well, I’ll be horn swoggled. Virginia! That cat went to her first. Did you see that? MY cat went to her first!!”
“Yes dear.” Virginia smiled. “Ghost is quite taken with young Randi. I think you best be a bit nicer to her if you don’t want to anger your favorite feline.”
“Posh!” Miranda shook her head and shrugged her strong shoulders. “That cat’s been with me for a lot longer than…” she stopped mid sentence. Ghost was now nuzzling Randi’s chin and purring so loudly it could be heard across the room. “Well, I’ll be damned.”
“No doubt,” quipped Randi.
“Now you listen to me you little....”
“Who you calling little, ya big....”
The sigh filled the room and crossed the generations. Four arms folded across two chests while four feet tapped a well-known rhythm.
“Uh oh.” The reply was as synchronized as the actions that inspired it. “Sorry.” One word - spoken in perfect harmony.
“Maybe you should just tell us why we’re really here. I’m guessing that is why you came. Right?” Ginni asked.
“Wait!” Randi cried out. Let me close the curtains so the lightening and thunder doesn’t scare Ghost.”
“Very funny,” Miranda mumbled. “The weather is outside our jurisdiction, Miss Smarty Pants.”
“All right you two. Knock it off with the sparring,” warned Virginia.
Ghost looked at Miranda and suddenly she had an armful of purring, nuzzling fluff. It was a most effective distraction from the current flow of conversation.
“As you know,” Virginia began things. “We are in a very peculiar situation in that, for some reason even we don’t understand yet, we are able to talk with people who are alive as well as folks who have passed on. Not long ago we learned that we also have the ability to know the future. Well, not the future exactly. Well, it is the future as it might be..as it will be if something isn’t done….or if something is done…oh hell, Miranda. You explain it.”
Ginny sat down on the edge of the large bed and let out a sound somewhere between a sigh and a whine. Randi didn’t know whether to laugh or hug her. She settled for putting an arm around the small shoulders, never missing the crystal eyes that watched every movement.
“I will try,” promised Miranda. “But it is all still a little fuzzy to me too.”
“Well someone explain it,” cried Ginni. “Preferably before time to meet everyone for dinner,” she said pointedly.
“Just try Miranda.” Virginia pleaded. “They will understand. They have to.”
“Great,” Randi quipped. “More cryptic shit.”
While Dean and the others were off having fun at Epcot, Miranda and Virginia explained to Randi and Ginni that something very important had to be done. An action had to be corrected. One small, gold pocket watch had been lost. The owner had not even noticed it was missing yet. Thunder was heard in the distance, startling the women. Miranda and Virginia looked out the window and then at one another. Concern showed clearly on their faces as they returned to the story of why Randi and Ginni had been asked to come to Orlando. It all kept coming back to the watch.
This particular timepiece, they explained, was not extraordinary because of what it was but, rather, because of what it would do. The problem was that if the watch were not in precisely the right place, at exactly the right time, the entire world would change. Even something called the Xenaverse, no - especially the Xenaverse, would be forever altered. There was even the possibility it would cease to exist.
“On the other side,” Miranda explained, “time has no presence. Those who left the earthly plane yesterday mingle equally with those who left it thousands of years ago.”
“That must get very interesting,” quipped Randi.
“It does,” Miranda agreed. “And very busy.” She added. “Everyone has a job to do and it usually has something to do with those who are still on the earth. Sometimes it concerns those who are yet to come here; especially if they are related by either blood or spirit.”
“Related by spirit?” Ginni asked.
“Oh yes,” answered Virginia. “The spirit links far more of us that blood ever could. Haven’t you noticed how many of the women here this weekend are spirit descendants of the warrior you call Xena or her friend Gabrielle? Gabrielle and Xena never dreamed that the things they did would even be remembered beyond the amazons or a few small villages. Of course they do laugh at the way some of their adventures have been exaggerated and stretched all out of proportion to reality. Still, they are very proud of what their modern day Amazon sisters do in the name of the greater good. They care very much what happens to what they consider to be the extension of their line, their children.”
“Xena thinks of us as her children,” marveled Ginni.
“Xena is real?” Randi half-asked in a hushed voice.
“No shit.” Randi sat down and blinked her eyes as if to clear her mind and make room for this new information. “No shit,” she repeated.
Virginia pulled a chair over to the bed and sat down, facing the others. “Funny, isn’t it? All these women working so hard at looking like her and you still believe in your deepest hearts that she and Gabrielle are only fiction. Unbelievable,” she sighed.
“She selected you personally, you know?” Miranda was looking right at Randi.
“What do you mean, she selected me personally? Selected me for what? Wait! You have MET Xena?”
“Yes.” Miranda answered. “How else could she have sent us to give you the message?”
“Message?” questioned Ginni. “What message? I thought we were here to help
someone find a watch or something.”
Virginia laughed. “You thought we came back just to ask you to find a watch? Ginni, I’m surprised at you. Haven’t you noticed all the thunder and lightening every time we show up?”
“Yeah,” Randi interrupted. “What the hell is with the rain anyway?”
“It’s Josie and Rebecca.” Virginia explained. “They do not belong in this time period. They are from the era in which we lived. Josie had no idea that crossing time barriers could create problems no one can ever rectify if she is not very careful.”
“Careful how? What kind of problems? What do you mean, no one can ever rectify? What about the angels you mentioned earlier? I thought angels could fix anything.” Randi nervously insisted.
Miranda rolled her eyes at the musician. “Hardly. Angels have rules too.”
“Angels have rules too? Well shit. There goes another perfectly good fantasy shot to hell.” Randi laughed.
Ginni grinned. “Okay. I take it we’ve been sent here to help Josie and Rebecca, right? Why are we here, then? We should be out finding Josie. Or are we just supposed to find her watch and return it to her?”
“Josie doesn’t know she’s lost the watch yet. She always wears it in the same, inside breast pocket. Since it warmed up so much today she isn’t wearing her jacket and in all the excitement of Disney World and BardCon she has completely forgotten about the watch. In fact, Rebecca bought her a new watch she wears on her wrist now.” Virginia explained.
Miranda continued for her. “It is absolutely essential that Josie not only have her watch when she returns to her own time in two days but she must be wearing it in her left breast pocket.”
A loud crash of thunder rocked the room.
Miranda and Virginia exchanged looks and Ghost lifted the hair on his back.
“We must go,” Miranda whispered in a hoarse voice. “Just remember that Josie has to find her watch and put it on, exactly as she has always worn it. This must be done before she returns to her own time.”
Virginia added as they began to fade from view. “And no, Randi. You cannot just buy her another gold pocket watch. It has to be that pocket watch in that pocket. Remember, you are the spirit children of Xena and Gabrielle. We are all counting on you.”
Another flash of lightening and they were gone, leaving Randi and Ginni to stare at one another, stunned into momentary silence.
After spending better than an hour bantering back and forth about where to have dinner, it was finally decided they would stick with a simpler, less costly fare this time around. They all had a pre-planned dinner to attend the next night that was much more formal and probably a lot more expensive. Pizza, burgers, chicken wings and the like had emerged victorious once again. They descended on a local restaurant en masse and placed a huge to go order, which they had agreed to take back to Josie and Rebecca’s room where they would kick back and get to know one another. Naturally, Randi and Ginni hoped to find a way to let Josie know her watch was missing.
“Yeah,” Katie was explaining, “the dreams are so intense I wake up in a cold sweat. My muscles are so tensed up I’m sore for days afterwards. They started right around the time of 911 but don’t really seem to have anything to do with terrorism or New York or anything even remotely related. Weird, huh?” she asked Randi and Ginni.
“Hey, don’t forget to tell them how I keep having the same damn dreams!” Dean added. “Some kinda weird shit, huh?” she asked.
Randi looked at Ginni’s dark blue eyes, searching for a clue as to what she should or should not say. Ginni shrugged, trying to figure out some way of interjecting a comment about a gold pocket watch. She was usually so much faster on her feet than this. Must be all the damned electricity from the lightening, she silently joked.
“Well,” Randi answered. “I think weird is a matter of interpretation. Ginni and I have the same dreams all the time. Hell, we talk to spirits and have a fucking feline the size of a small bobcat who can’t decide if he’s dead or not. What’s in the dreams? Can you remember anything about them?”
“Speaking of dead cats....”
“Dean!” Katie shouted.
“Hey! She started it!”
Randi howled. “Ghost ain’t dead. He’s just…well….ghost…ly.”
Ginni rolled her eyes and smacked Randi on her upper arm. “Randi! You’ll have them thinking we’re nuts.”
“That’d make us a great team. Weird and Nuts. Sounds like a Broadway Play.” Randi offered.
“Or a candy bar,” Dean added.
“So,” Ginni interceded. “Do you remember anything about the dreams?”
“Yes, actually.” Katie explained. “There are these four women in the dream and they are trying to tell me something but no matter how carefully I listen I can’t hear what they are saying. They act like they are getting louder each time I have the dream but no sound ever comes out of their mouths.”
“Interesting.” Ginni thought. “Do you remember anything about the women or where you are in the dream?”
Dean responded. “I do. We’re in an old west saloon and two of the women looked a lot like you and Randi, now that I think about it. Only older. Maybe from around the civil war or something. Speaking of the old west….Randi, you seen Josie’s guns?”
“No, I haven’t,” Randi answered. “But I’d love to. Would you mind Josie?” Randi asked.
“Not at all. I took them out of the safe earlier when Rebecca reminded me to check to see if I had put my pocket watch in there the other night. I didn’t.” Josie had walked across the room, picked up the guns and belt and returned. “Dean, you didn’t see where I put my pocket watch didja? I don’t usually go anywhere without the dang thing. I feel kinda naked without it when I wear my coat. Oh well. It’ll turn up. Always does.”
Randi could hardly believe her good fortune. Now she could help Josie find her watch and they would be all set.
Ginni was thrilled beyond imagination when Katie told her the rest of the recurring dream. It was so obvious. Miranda and Virginia had been trying to reach Dean and Katie to stop Josie from losing the watch in the first place. Xena and Gabrielle seemed to believe that Josie was going to be in a shoot out when she returned to her own time, just after midnight two days from now. One of the bullets would be deflected by the edge of the watch. As a result, Josie would be injured but survive. If she didn’t have the watch in her pocket, at precisely that moment, the bullet would hit its mark. Josie would die.
Without Josie none of those she would touch with the spirit of Xena would discover the warrior and bard. None of the good destined to be done by Josie after that moment would ever come to pass. It was terrifyingly amazing if you thought about how many lives are affected by any one moment of any one life. No wonder Miranda and Virginia had asked them to do this. It boggled Ginni’s mind that so much could hinge on one missing gold pocket watch.
There was a loud crashing sound followed by what sounded like an explosion and everything went black. The lights flickered and another set of lights, dimmer and wearing an odd hue, came on.
“Oh shit,” Randi whispered. “I bet we’ve been hit by lightening.
“No shit?” Dean asked.
“Is anyone hurt?” Josie wondered aloud.
No one answered at first. Gradually everyone answered that they were fine, just startled. Everyone, that is, but Rebecca, who couldn’t answer. She was lying unconscious on the floor only seven feet from where Josie sat with her eyes adjusting to the darkness which was interrupted periodically by flashes of lightening as it streaked across the Florida sky.
“Rebecca?” Josie called out again and again.
“She’s over here,” Katie said. “Someone see if the phones are working. She’s unconscious. I think she may have fallen on something and hit her head. I can’t tell yet. It’s too damn dark in here.” Hearing the panic in Josie’s breathing, Katie added: “She’s breathing Josie. Just someone find a doctor. Now.”
None of the telephones in the hotel were working. The thunderstorm had knocked out a power line about four blocks from the hotel. Everything had been shut down automatically, as a safety precaution. The clerk at the main desk had sent runners to every floor to assess the damage and see if any of the patrons were hurt. That was the moving wall Katie had encountered on her rush toward the stairs and help.
“You all right, Miss?” asked the bellhop.
“No. Yes. No.” Answered Katie. “I mean, I’m fine but my friend is hurt. She’s unconscious and we need a doctor right away.”
“Well, I’ll go downstairs and check with the desk to see if we have any doctors in the hotel. It will be a while before we can call out, I’m afraid.” The young man replied as he started back the way he had come.
“That won’t be necessary,” came the strong and soothing female voice from a few yards away. The fog-like atmosphere generated by the emergency lighting created an eerie shadow around the two figures as they moved into the hallway. “I’m a doctor, a flight surgeon actually. Maybe I can help.”
“Yes. Thank God.” Katie shouted as she dashed toward the voice. “My friend is hurt. We’re just down the hall about five doors on the left. Hurry please. My name is Katie.”
“Hi Katie. I’m Garrett Trivoli and this is my flight nurse, Danni Bossard. Lead the way.”
“Garrett? Isn’t that a man’s name?” asked Katie as they rushed toward her fallen friend.
Danni grinned so brightly it was a wonder it didn’t solve the lighting problem all by itself.
“Don’t start,” growled Dr. Garrett Trivoli. “Just don’t even start.”
The atmosphere turned deadly serious when Katie led the Flight Team into the room. Even though they were on vacation, their mask of professionalism fell easily into place as they walked through the doorway. Quickly exchanged glances from surgeon to nurse assured them of their teamwork.
“I’ve found some people that can help us,” Katie said as she moved closer to where Rebecca was laying. “Watch your step coming around the room. Some of the furniture is out of place.”
“Don’t worry Katie, we’ve taken that matter into hand,” Dean’s voice came from out of the shadows. “You’ve got a clear path into the next room. Sorry we couldn’t get the lighting to stay on.”
Just then a bolt of lightning flashed outside, illuminating the rooms with its momentary glow.
“I think she’s coming to,” Josie said, hoping it was true. She held onto Rebecca’s hand as she knelt down on the floor.
The few seconds of light was all that Garrett needed to take the lead as she moved around the woman in front of her. “Danni, see what you can find to give me some light to examine her with.” The physician hastened her steps to get to the next room. She remembered where the opening for the doorway was from the brief illumination of that last streak of lightning.
“I’m on it, Gar.” Danni fished into the pocket of her shorts for the rental car ring. “I was hoping not to use this little promotional gift but I’m glad I have it.” She pulled the tiny flashlight out and touched the switch. Its beam shined into the room and she knew it worked. It did little for the area but it would be enough light to start a set of vital signs and examination. The nurse released the switch on the small flashlight and the shadows swallowed the room again.
Reaching the doorway Garrett stopped short peering into the inky blackness of the room. “Okay, I don’t want to step on anybody. Whoever is with the injured woman, sound off so I can get a fix on where you’re at.” Almost immediately she had her answer.
“We’re here to the left of the doorway,” Josie called out. “If you come along the wall you can’t miss us.”
“Got it,” Garrett answered as she felt for the wall and started to follow it until her progress was halted after a few steps.
“Here, take my hand and I’ll guide you down to her,” Josie touched the warm leg that was next to her with the back of her hand. Feeling the soft, uncalloused hand in her own rougher one she couldn’t help but think aloud. “Are you sure you know what you’re doing? Your hands don’t feel like they’ve done a day’s worth of work in a long time. I don’t want no quack touching Rebecca.”
“Steady there, Josie. If she’s a Flight surgeon like Katie said she was, her time is spent in the operating room. You won’t get calluses that way,” Randi tried to lessen the woman’s fears.
“She’s right. They do things a lot differently now than they did years ago.” Ginni thought of all the differences between Miranda and Virginia’s time and her own and she could understand where Josie was coming from.
“Just remember Doc, me and the peacemakers will be watching you.” Josie held onto the surgeon’s hand to get her point across.
“I can assure you, I have nothing but concern and the ability to help your friend in the forefront of my mind,” Garrett’s voice reflected her serious nature. “Now if you’ll let me, I’d like to examine her.”
The surgeon’s hand was then guided to Rebecca’s form. “Please, help her,” Josie whispered, then she backed off some to give the doctor room to work.
“Danni,” Garrett called out over her shoulder, “I need that light now.”
The skilled hands of the surgeon quickly followed Rebecca’s arm to her shoulder where strands of hair lead her to the woman’s face. Crouching over, Garrett placed the side of her face in the general area and listened for signs of life as she placed the sinewy fingers of her right hand in a splayed out pattern on the injured woman’s chest.
“Gar....” Danni called out the surgeon’s name in the darkened room, then let her instincts guide her as she turned on the flashlight. The small beam of illumination fell like a spotlight on the beginnings of a lopsided smile and right away the nurse breathed a little easier.
“She’s breathing,” Garrett said as she came up from her crouching position. “Let me have that light.” She held her hand out as though she were waiting for a surgical instrument to be placed into it. “I want to check her pupils and ears.”
The nurse complied, then knelt down on the other side of the woman’s body. “I’ll get a pulse.” Self-assured hands went to work as they wrapped around Rebecca’s wrist. She could feel the pulsating surges of blood as it coursed through the recumbent body. “Does anybody have a watch with a second hand on it? I left mine back in my room.”
“I would if I had my pocket watch,” Josie mumbled under her breath.
“I have one,” Katie knelt down beside the nurse and held her arm out for the nurse to see as she caused the dial to glow.
“Thanks.” Danni counted the beats for a minute. “Eighty-two, strong and regular, Gar.”
“Her eyes are equal bilaterally and reacting to the light. There’s no evidence of blood in her inner ear canal and I can feel no step off or deformities in her neck.” The surgeon showed the light on Rebecca’s face, quickly examining it, then moved onto the next part of her body. “Here,” she handed the light to Katie, “just keep following where my hands are.” Garrett moved down the body, looking for any outward sign of injury or trauma as she continued her secondary assessment. There were no significant differences from right to left side and her trunk appeared to be intact and functioning well. Satisfied with the soft feeling of the woman’s abdomen under her fingertips, the surgeon pushed on to examine the posterior portion of the body.
“Danni, let’s log roll her. I want to see her back.” With that said, Garrett moved into position at Rebecca’s head. “On my count,” the words came out without her thinking of them, “One, two, three, roll.” Like a well-rehearsed unit they rolled their patient toward Danni.
“Katie, shine that light up and down her back for me.” Garrett observed the woman more closely while the torchbearer did her bidding. “Stop, there,” the surgeon peered more intently at the flash of light that reflected back toward her. “Josie, move her clothing a bit to the side. I want to see if there is anything that could have caused an injury.”
Stepping up to the task, Josie lovingly shifted Rebecca’s clothing to let the surgeon examine her patient as Katie kept the flashlight moving along the length of her friend’s body.
“No obvious injury on this side.” Garrett looked over to Josie. “Do you think you could do the same thing that Danni is doing? I’d like to roll her up to the other side and check that too.”
“Sure,” came back the eager reply. Josie positioned herself opposite the nurse and took note of where she was holding onto Rebecca’s body. “I’m ready.”
“On three,” Garrett glanced to Danni and their timing was set. “One, two, three, down.” The surgeon waited for Josie to position her hands and then repeated the process. “On my count. One, two, three, roll.”
With the patient now turned on her side facing Josie, Danni examined the woman’s back. “Nothing here on her back, Gar.” The nurse shifted her knees as she edged her way down the patient’s torso and legs. “Ouch! What the…” Danni lifted her knee and carefully felt under it. Her fingers found what had caused her pain and picked it up. “Shine that light over here a second.”
Katie complied and when the beam fell on Danni’s clenched hand a twinkle of gold showed brightly. There, dangling from the chain, was a pocket watch.
“Virginia, look…” Miranda whispered, “the watch.”
“Seems like our work here is almost done,” Virginia answered, tapping Ginni on the shoulder.
“My watch!” Josie stared at the timepiece and smiled. “I told you it would turn up sooner or later.” She glanced down to her friend’s face, “Rebecca, you’ve found my…” she stopped suddenly, her eyes growing wider. “Doc, I think I just saw her eyes a flutterin’.”
“Here, let me take that for safe keeping,” Randi snatched the pocket watch from the nurse’s hand. She held it up in triumph for Ginni to see. “Let’s get this where it belongs, Ginni. We don’t want Josie to leave without it.”
“Let’s get her onto her back. On three,” Garrett waited for the nod of Josie’s head. Upon seeing it she started, “One, two, three, down.”
“Rebecca, can you hear me?” Josie leaned over her partner. “Rebecca, speak to me.”
Katie kept the light centered on the woman’s face as fluttering eyelids and facial movement became more evident. “Is she waking up?”
“It looks that way,” Danni replied. Her eyes flashed over to Garrett. “Do you think she has a concussion…maybe a mild one?”
“The reaction of her pupils aren’t telling me that.” Garrett turned her full attention to her patient. “Rebecca?” She kept her voice low and without emotion. “Rebecca, can you hear me?”
The small woman stirred, giving off a breathy thought, “Where am I? What... what happened?” Green eyes opened and closed as they tried to focus in the dimly lit room. Her eyes instantly became larger and she reached for Josie’s hand, clenching it with her own. “Oh my, lightning is going to hit us.”
Garrett smiled, pleased with her patient’s cognizance of the situation. She looked over to her right to see pleading blue eyes wanting an answer. “She’s fine, Josie. I think she just fainted, that’s all.”
“Swooned? Me?” Rebecca slowly sat up as the red blush of embarrassment started coming to her cheeks.
Josie chuckled. “Well, maybe you just got a little weak in the knees when you saw that bolt of lightning heading our way.” The pair exchanged knowing glances and smiled.
“You scared the daylights out of me, Rebecca?” Katie informed her friend.
“Sorry,” she said impishly.
Ginni stepped forward holding onto Josie’s coat. “Nothing to be sorry for, Danni found Josie’s watch because of you.” Ginni directed her gaze to Randi as the tall woman slipped the watch into the left breast pocket of Josie’s coat.
“There you go, Josie. Back where it belongs and everyone is safe now.” Randi winked over at her ghostly friends as they started to fade from her view.
“Thanks, everyone.” Josie looked over to the doctor and nurse. “And thanks to you both for being here for us. I don’t know how to repay you.”
“No payment needed at all, right Gar?” Danni looked over to the surgeon and winked. “We don’t get to make house calls and believe me, this one was easy.”
“Well, if you’re feeling alright then, Rebecca,” Garrett waited to see the blonde nod in affirmation, “Danni and I should really see if anyone else here in the building needs our assistance.”
“Thanks Doc,” Dean said, her eyes brimming with emotion. “Follow me and I’ll get you to the door.
“Oh wait,” Katie yelled, switching the flashlight on and off. “You forgot your light.”
“Yeah, and car keys with it,” Danni mumbled under her breath. “How would we ever be able to leave our room.” A coy smile came to her face as she leveled her gaze at the surgeon.
“Whew!” Danni let an exhaled breath ruffle through her blonde bangs. “I think we’ve seen more patients today than when we fly scene runs.”
“Yeah, tell me, can I count splinter removal as OR time? And to think this is our vacation.” Garrett opened the door to their room and waited for Danni to enter. “I thought vacations were for having time to yourself and doing things that you didn’t get around to do all year.” A lopsided smile came to her face as she thought about what it was she would have rather been doing. When the thought turned into a pregnant pause, she caught herself from drifting further into her daydream and cleared her throat. “Sorry,” the blush came racing up her neck to her cheeks. “I got lost a little there.”
“Hmm…I guess we do need a vacation after all.” Danni wrinkled her nose briefly and smiled. “So what’s it going to be now that the storm has passed and the lights are back on in the building... dinner, driving around sight seeing, or all things Disney?” The nurse leafed through the pamphlets they had been looking at when the lights went out earlier. “I heard that Friday nights are fun at a place called Pleasure Island.” She picked the literature up and dangled it for Garrett to see, then investigated the pamphlet further herself. “Hmm... looks like we could do all three here.”
“I guess so.” The surgeon walked over to Danni and wrapped her arms around the nurse’s waist. “Do they have places with live music? I think I might like that.” She kissed Danni’s temple and nuzzled into her cheek. “You know... music can soothe the savage beast....”
“And set the mood for things to come,” Danni wiggled her eyebrows. “Are you in the mood for Country, Rock, or Easy Listening, Gar?”
The surgeon considered her choices. “Well,” she let her chin rest on Danni’s shoulder. “We could start off with rock and get all our pent up tensions released with some frenzied dancing....”
“Then do a little boot scooting and partner swapping?” Danni turned in Garrett’s arms to gaze into questioning blue eyes. “I don’t think so. I want you all to myself on that dance floor.” Green eyes glared, “Any dance floor, that is. I got you and I’m keeping you, Dr. Trivoli.”
“Hmm...” Garrett stared down into pools of shimmering green. “Then I guess that leaves us with a little one-on-one dancing, now doesn’t it?” The distance between them closed and one set of soft lips ensconced the other in a kiss, tender at first then it swiftly moved into the realm of passion. Stretching it as far as their lungs would allow them, the two finally came up gasping for breath.
“I... I think,” Danni took another breath, then continued. “I think I’m going to like being on vacation with you, Gar. You’re taking my breath away already and we’ve only been here about six hours.”
“Good thing I know CPR then.” The surgeon’s eyes twinkled with mischief.
“Oh yeah? I’ll remember to keep you in practice with that mouth-to-mouth skill you’ve seemed to have developed so well lately.” Danni moved in for another kiss only to be stopped by the sound of Garrett clearing her throat. “What?”
“I... ah... I really want to do this but I need to get that email off to Rene. It’s going to be hard for him to assign flight coverage if he doesn’t know when I’ll be available.” She leaned back and surveyed the nurse’s face. “I know that we work closely with him as my assistant director, but I’m sure reading minds is not a requirement to being Canadian,” she hinted at a smile. “Just let me finish what I was trying to do when the lightning bolt took out the building’s power.” Garrett gave the woman’s body a little twist at the waist. “I promise Danni, just that one email and I’m really on vacation. What do you say?”
“Ten minutes Gar, then you’re all mine. Got it?”
“Got it.” She placed a quick kiss on Danni’s forehead, then reached for her new acquisition in modern technology. “Thank you, Dell, for making a handheld PC,” The surgeon’s eyes danced with delight. “No more pain of lugging around a laptop for inspection at airports any more.” She pulled out the chair and sat down at the desk.
“You love that gadget, don’t you?” Danni shook her head, then turned in the direction of the bathroom.
“You bet I do,” Garrett nodded as she checked her modem card connection to the phone line. “I’ve got the ease of a PDA for keeping notes on my patients, fingertip access to the planner and reminder features,” she looked over to Danni and smiled, “and with this keyboard to type on, even I can read my notes. The best feature is the Internet access so I can keep in touch with the hospital from any phone line. Heck, I can even access my patient’s X-rays, now that they are digital, from anywhere.”
“And to think, it can fit in your pocket,” Danni shook her head. “I’m going to get a shower, Gar. If you finish before I’m done...” she looked over to the woman at the desk, “you could join me.”
“Give me a minute or two and I’ll....” Garret stopped talking and tapped the stylus on the Pocket PC’s screen. “Damn it!”
“What’s wrong?” Danni came running from the other side of the room as she watched the surgeon start jiggling connections and cords.
“The modem won’t work. The wires are melted,” Garrett held up the singed ends.
“Ewww... I bet the bolt of lightning had something to do with that. Weren’t you trying to dial into AOL when it struck the building?”
“Yeah,” Gar sounded disgusted as she unplugged the card from her handheld computer. “I’ll bet it fried the modem.”
“I guess I’ve got to find another way to get an email off to Rene.”
“Come on, Gar. Let’s get cleaned up, grab some dinner and shuttle over to Epcot for the fireworks before we head off to Pleasure Island.” Danni rested her hand on the surgeon’s shoulder in an attempt to comfort her. “Who knows, we may even find a way to get the email out to Rene. You know, they say that Disney is pretty high tech. Maybe someone there can help us out.”
“If not, I’ll just have to make a long distance call.” Garrett sighed as she rose from her chair. “Come on, we’re losing valuable vacation time standing here talking about it.”
Refreshed from their showers and dressed for an evening of entertainment, Garrett stood with her face buried into the park transportation guide. “We’re here,” she mumbled, “at the Magic Kingdom Ticket and Transportation Center. Hmm... and we need to get to....” her voice trailed off as she tried to find the destinations on the map.
Interested more in the sights around her than on the map, Danni tried to take it all in. Starting at the roofs of the structures around her, she gradually came down to the people that were milling around the open area. “Gar, have you noticed that there are a lot of tall dark haired women here with short blondes?” Danni centered her attention to a pair standing about twenty feet away from her. They seemed to be looking in her direction as they passed a cellphone back and forth between them.
“No,” Garrett paused. “If you’re talking about this afternoon, I just assumed that the dark conditions in that building made everyone kind of... look similar, you know... shadows and all. I’ll admit I was more focused on the injuries than anything.”
“Well, lucky for you the worst we had to deal with was a splinter extraction and a few bruised egos. Good thing they only got knocked down onto their behinds from a standing position.” Danni lowered her gaze as if watching someone fall. That’s when she got a closer look at the bricks making up the walkway. “Gar... look at this. People have their names on the bricks.” She silently read through a few of them and the smile on her face grew bigger. “Listen to this one. Dar and Kerry, Eternal Soul mates Feb. 14, 1999.” She looked up to her friend. “I bet they met here. What a beautiful way to....”
“Danni, it’s a brick. People walk on it.” Garrett sighed, “That would be like us writing our names on a piece of floor tile in the E.R. hallway or in Trauma Room One.”
“Well, it’s the sentiment that counts,” Danni muttered. “Sometimes I just feel like announcing it to the world, don’t you?”
Picking up on the nurse’s changing emotion, Garrett considered her choices. There really wasn’t any. She knows that I love her, but if it will make her happy.... Garrett made her mind up. “I... ah... I could carve something appropriate on a tree up at the cabin if you’d like. That’s where I consider our time together really started.” She watched as Danni’s head turned in her direction. “Blades are really more my style than chisels, wouldn’t you say?”
Green eyes twinkled in delight as they looked up to see a lopsided grin. “Gar... that’s so... so nice. And you said you weren’t romantic,” Danni chided the surgeon. “Hmm... I almost want to say let’s skip the entertainment tonight and go back to our room now.”
“No,” a lone eyebrow rose on Garrett’s forehead. “We’re on a mission, remember? I’ve got to get that email off to Rene.”
“I remember,” Danni said dutifully. She looked back to the area where the dark haired woman and blonde had been only to find them gone. “I wish there was someone around here that could help you get connected to the Internet.”
The surgeon brought the map back into her view. “By the looks of all things Disney, I think that our best chance of that happening is at....”
The voice came from behind Garrett, startling her. She looked over to Danni. If it’s not her... who is it? The surgeon turned to see who was ending her sentences for her. It was a pert looking blonde with a cellphone in her hand. “Do you know for sure that they have Internet access there?”
“Well, not really but....” She looked over to the woman who was with her. “I think we can arrange something for you to get an email out. Can’t you, Dar?”
“I take it this is something important?” The taller woman asked with a twitching dark eyebrow.
“YES,” came the answer in tandem, but for different reasons.
The action brought a smile to the blonde’s face. “I’m sorry, but that was so cute. You obviously must spend a good deal of time together. That was teamwork if I’ve ever seen it.”
“Well, we are a team,” Danni glanced over to Garrett, “a Flight Team to be exact. Let me introduce myself, I’m Nurse Danni Bossard and this...” She reached out and rested a hand on her friend’s arm, “is Dr. Garrett Trivoli. She’s my Flight Surgeon.”
“My name is Kerry and this is Dar Roberts. We... uhm... we sort of work together also.”
“Kerry and Dar,” Danni mumbled under her breath. She looked down to the brick and her mouth dropped open. “Dar and Kerry....” she blinked in surprise. “Are you that Dar and Kerry?”
“One and the same,” Kerry beamed.
“See Gar....” Danni tugged at the surgeon’s arm. “They’re just like us.” She paused for a moment deep in thought. “Speaking of which... is there some kind of look-a-like competition here or what? You’re the fourth couple we’ve seen today that resembles us.”
Kerry let go with a laugh. “Well... it could be fate.”
“Or just some whacked-out cult gathering,” Dar flashed a toothy grin. “Maybe we can find the answer on the Internet.”
“That would have been easy had that bolt of lightning not fried my modem,” Gar smirked. “I just thank God the cord melted before it did in my Pocket PC. I’d be lost without it any more.”
“That’s what surge protectors are for,” Dar smiled knowingly, “especially down here in Florida. We get all kinds of bad weather brewing up all the time... tropical storms, hurricane watches. I’ve even been in the eye of the storm a time or two.” She drew in a breath and let it go.
“I can attest to that,” Kerry nodded enthusiastically. “My personal favorites are the tropical highs.”
“Please, we’ve had enough bad weather already with that thunder storm earlier today. I want the weather for our vacation to be clear and sunny the rest of the time we’re here.” Danni looked over to Garrett. “Heaven knows we don’t get enough time to ourselves when we’re at home.”
“I promise you, Danni.” Garrett made a cross over her heart with her fingers and held her hand up as she pledged. “As soon as this email goes out to Rene at the hospital, I’m totally on vacation and we’ll be dancing the night away... in all kinds of ways.”
After seeing the hopeful look in Danni’s eyes and feeling Kerry’s spurring touch on her back, Dar knew what she had to do. “Come on, we’ve got some connections here in Disney,” Dar started to move toward the monorail. “Let’s get your email taken care of and then maybe we can all have some fun tonight. I’m kind of partial to setting off some fireworks myself.”
Dar’s sidelong glance at Kerry spoke volumes to Danni. “Do you work for Disney?” She nonchalantly slipped her hand into Garrett’s as they began to stroll along with their new acquaintances.
Dar glanced over to Kerry and smiled. “Sort of.”
by Melissa Good
“What are we doing here, again?” Dar asked. “One minute we have a ‘Trends in Technology’ conference in Ohio on the schedule, the next thing I know I’m on a plane to Orlando.”
“They canceled the conference due to lack of trends, and we already had the puppy sitter planned.” Kerry said. “No sense in wasting an opportunity.”
Dar made a face.
“Just think of it as a freebie weekend.” Kerry advised. “Besides, it’s good to do unexpected things once in a while.”
Dar peered evilly at her from behind her sunglasses. “Are you saying I’m boring?”
“Yes, you were.”
“No, I wasn’t.” Kerry poked her. “Don’t be so sensitive.”
“I am not sensitive.”
“Yes, you are.”
“No, I’m not.” Dar poked her back. “Don’t be so presumptive.”
“Me? What about you? Boring? As if!”
“I was joking.” Dar settled back in her monorail seat and rubbed a worn spot on the calf of her jeans. “Besides, the way our day’s been going, boring is the last thing this weekend’s turning out to be.” She glanced around the train car. “What next, dancing gerbils asking me to provision a T1 for them? First we run into an Animal Planet movie of the week, then it’s an emergency application of internet technology back at the transportation center.”
“Mm.” Kerry started to stand up. “Multifaceted weirdness. You’re right.” She pulled Dar’s shirt, giving its occupant little choice other than either to follow her or lose the item. “C’mon. I hear some chocolate fudge calling my name.”
They walked off the monorail and started down the long and winding ramp to the entrance to the Magic Kingdom. “You know what’s really weird?” Kerry commented. “It’s really weird how they both looked like us.”
“Nah, it’s not weird?” Kerry eyed her. “You don’t think bumping into two pairs of gay women partners who looked like us wasn’t weird? Good grief, Dar... did you accidentally get multigrain Cheerios instead of Frosted Flakes this morning?”
“I like multigrain Cheerios.” Dar protested mildly. “No, I meant I didn’t think they looked all that much like us.” She added. “After all, dark haired people and blond haired people aren’t exactly rare, Ker.”
“Uh huh.” Kerry lead the way into the park, after presenting her ticket to the appropriate machine and placing her fingers in the completely ineffectual biometric hand scanner than almost never worked right. “With coincidentally the same color eyes as ours?”
“How many variations are there?” Dar countered. “Blue, green, brown, hazel.”
“Besides, look around. Bet you can find some dark haired and light haired partners.” Dar pointed. “There, see?”
“That’s a pair of horses, Dar.”
“I don’t think they’re partners.” Kerry steered Dar into the Emporium. “Something about the “Baptist Evangelist Book Club” t-shirts they have on just makes me wonder.”
“Eh, Maybe.” Dar peered around the store. “Okay, well, look in here.” She continued on her quest. “See? Cinderella and Prince Charming.”
Kerry reviewed the delicately painted plate. “Well, okay.” She conceded.
Dar plopped a plastic tiara on Kerry’s head and reviewed the results. “Hm.”
“Are we drawing parallels here?” Kerry asked, pointedly. “Where’s my pumpkin?”
Dar chuckled, and returned the tiara to the shelf, then picked up two figurines. “I think this is more appropriate.” She held them up.
“Beauty and the Beast?” Kerry burst out laughing. “Only if I get to be the beast. Gimme.” She clutched after the figures, then poked Dar in the sides when Dar lifted her hands above her head and out of Kerry’s reach. “Wench.”
“Okay. So we’ve got Cinderella and the Prince, Beauty and the Beast... um... how about that mermaid whatsername?”
“Ariel.” Kerry supplied. “But I think she had red hair.”
“She had blond roots.” Dar grinned evilly.
“Oo... you’re cruising, Dixiecup,” Kerry warned. “You forgot a pair.” She held up two stuffed animals.
Dar put her hands on her hips and peered at the two. “Lady and the Tramp.” One long fingered hand reached out and plucked the darker of the two furry items. “Let me see if I can guess which one of these two is me.”
“The cuter one.”
“Uh huh.” Dar went nose to nose with the scruffy gray toy. “So, do I make my point? We’re not seeing doubles, Kerry.”
Kerry tucked the other stuffed animal under her arm. “But we did, Dar.” She reminded her partner wryly. “You know we did. Two sets of them. In one day. We even talked to them.” She tapped Dar’s hip. “You sent an email for one of them.”
They paid for their selections and wandered outside. “You know what else was weird?”
“That I haven’t had ice cream all day.” Dar nudged her towards one side of the street.
“Dar, we’re on our way to dinner.” Kerry nudged her right back, steering her away from the ice cream parlor. “We’ll get some afterward.”
“And that reminds me again what was weird. Those cats.” Kerry said. “What were jaguars doing in there?”
“I’m more interested in where they went.” Dar remarked. “I’m not really looking forward to opening the Orlando Sentinel tomorrow morning and seeing headlines about some family of four from Toledo being eaten for lunch. A lot of people saw us do that.”
“Hehehe.” Kerry linked arms with her. “So I guess having at least two other sets of people who look just like us would be a positive, then. Huh?”
Dar considered the idea as they headed towards the castle. “Okay, so here’s the plan.” She announced. “If the cats mulch someone, we run around Disney and gather up all the people you think look like us, bring ‘em to the hotel, and confuse the hell out of the cops. Right?”
Kerry rubbed her temples. “Do you know how ridiculous that sounds?
“Not nearly as ridiculous as us having clones, or us letting wild animals escape, or me volunteering to send someone else’s email on my PDA.”
“Just go with it, Ker. With any luck, we’ll wake up at home and this’ll all have been a dream.”
Kerry took her hand. “Okay.” She agreed amiably.
They walked along together in silence, as the swirl of humanity shuffled around them heading in the opposite direction. The strains of an oncoming parade filtered softly down to them, and as they crossed the circle, a Mickey head balloon suddenly blew in front of them, heading skyward.
Dar made a grab for it, catching the end of the ribbon as it just went past her grasp. She secured it around one finger, then looked around for its owner. A sea of tired, grubby faces presented themselves to her, but none looked twice at the balloon, nor did she see any hands reaching towards it.
Kerry observed the balloon, then peered up at her partner. “It’s you, Dar. Really.”
Dar’s eyes traced the rounded ears and beaming grin. “Which part of it?” She wondered aloud, looking around for someone to pawn the bobbing balloon off on. “Let’s go tie it to Tigger’s tail.”
“Better than to my tail.” Kerry said. “Maybe we can find our doubles with that baby... bet she’d like it. “
“Your tail? Little young for that, wasn’t she?”
“Dar.” Kerry smacked her on the butt. “You’re so bad. But you did look cute with that kid.”
“Y’know....” Kerry teased.
“We have a dog.” Dar said firmly, taking Kerry’s arm and guiding her towards the castle.
“Dinner, ice cream, then back to the Grand Floridian for a good night’s....”
They closed the park, walking hand in hand down Main Street as the last stragglers headed for the front gates and the music muted to a peacefully gentle melody. Kerry reached out and brushed her fingers over one of the horsehead pedestals. “You think it’s true they paint these every night?”
Dar sucked on her mint contentedly. “I think if they really painted them every night, they’d be the size of basketballs by now. It’s been twenty some years.”
“Mm.” Kerry studied the horse. “Yeah. You’re right.” She glanced into the windows of the shops as they passed. “You up for a swim tonight at the hotel?”
“So.” Kerry mused. “Where do you suppose all our doubles are staying? I figure we’d have seen them at the hotel by now if they were there.”
“I thought we dropped the doubles issue?”
“Well, I was just curious....”
Dar lead her towards the monorail station. “Ker, they just looked like us. Doesn’t mean they were LIKE us.”
Kerry snickered. “So you admit they looked like us.”
They boarded the next monorail, settling into a seat together in the semi-darkness. Dar wrapped her arm around Kerry’s shoulders and extended her legs out into the empty car as the doors closed and the train started to move.
“Well, you know something?” Kerry said, as they were approaching the Grand Floridian station.
“What?” Dar had her head resting against her partner’s, and was regretting the end of the ride.
“I hope they’re all as happy as you and I are.” Kerry said.
“Mm.” Dar hoisted them both to their feet as the doors opened, revealing the hotel platform. “I hope they are too.” She agreed, as they walked out. “And I hope none of them got eaten by those jaguars.”
Kerry stifled a snicker. “Well, we have a jaguar in our room. Let’s go use it, jefa.”
“Good breakfast.” Kerry commented, as they strolled out of the restaurant and into the main lobby. “This is a great hotel, Dar.”
“Well, I think so.”
“We should have our next company convention here.” The blond woman decided. “It’d be much more fun than the Miami Beach convention center, wouldn’t it?”
“Oh yeah.” Dar agreed readily. “Eh. Maybe we will. Give me something to look forward to during that mess other than seeing what color tie Jose is going to clash with during his presentation.”
“They’ve got plenty of convention space.” Kerry darted off to investigate a scrolling sign. “Oh, see? They’ve got some conventions going on now… Mary Kay, The Association of Pine Tar Developers, Hanes, and Bardcon.” She cocked her head and looked at Dar. “What’s a Bardcon?”
Dar studied the sign. “Some guys who are retroactively trying to scam Shakespeare?” She suggested helpfully. “Sounds way more interesting than pink ladies, road covering, or underwear. Let’s poke our heads in the room and find out.”
“All righty.” Kerry followed Dar over to the long hallway full of meeting rooms, and had to put on the brakes when her partner stopped short in front of her as they reached the right door. “Hey!”
“Oh boy.” Dar said.
“What?” Kerry peered around her, jaw dropping in shock as she saw what Dar had already seen. “Holy cow! It’s....”
“Well... you wanted to know where they were.” Dar said. “Now you know.”
“Are we going in?”
“Do we have a choice?”
Kerry edged back. “We could just go to Epcot and pretend we didn’t see a roomful of clones.”
“C’mon. Let’s go find out what the hell this is.” Dar wrapped an arm firmly around her and marched them both inside.
“This is amazing,” the bard commented to her taller companion. “And they looked so shocked,” she added, gesturing to the couple who still stood slack-jawed in the doorway. The pair watched as Dar and Kerry slowly moved into the large ballroom, taking in the many look-a-likes throughout the crowded room.
“Well, love,” the warrior commented as she wrapped her arms around the blonde’s middle. “You have to admit it’s not every day that you run into something like this. Most people never see one twin in their lifetime. It’s a little disconcerting to come face to face with a room full of them.”
“You think we should tell them why they’re here?”
“I think some of the authors might appreciate that,” glancing pointedly towards where three women were cornered by one rather pissed-off, fierce looking black leopard. The golden leopard seemed to be trying her best to placate the larger cat, but it didn’t seem to be working particularly well.
“Well, let’s wander around the room. See what we can see. Then we can let them in on at least part of the secret. Most wouldn’t believe the truth, even if we told them everything.”
“True enough. You wanna see if the leopards will walk with us?”
The bard walked over towards the two cats and spoke to the lighter of the pair. The small animal seemed to understand and with a nudge to her companion, followed the small woman back to her partner. The black cat snarled loudly at the three, causing all eyes to turn towards them momentarily, then with a flick of her tail accompanied her mate.
The two couples made their way slowly around the room, the crowd parting for them like the Red Sea. The room was large with crystal chandeliers in the high ceiling and a large screen across one end of the room. Along the wall at the front read a banner “Welcome to the 10th Annual BardCon.”
Around the perimeter of the room were long tables and the pair stopped at each one to take a look at the wares being hawked by the vendors manning the tables. A majority of the tables held books. That was only right, after all. This was a convention for writers and publishers.
At each stack sat an author, greeting fans and signing books. Some even posed for pictures with folks who stopped and asked.
Around the room were a scattering of artists... a mendhi artist creating henna tattoos on a gentleman who sat quietly in her chair. A cartoonist sat drawing a customer, adding her to artwork she’d already prepared. A jeweler made some minor adjustment to a piece in her hand before presenting to the customer standing before her. The woman nodded her head in approval and slid the bracelet onto her wrist.
In several spots, clumps of people were working on something, their voices periodically raised in conversation or laughter. The bard’s brows rose into her hairline and she turned questioning green eyes on the warrior. The brunette nodded.
“We’ll see the final results tonight. It should be interesting. That has become one of the highlights of the Saturday evening festivities.”
“This is quite the event now... seems to have grown a lot from somewhat humble beginnings.”
“Yeah, well, they’ve had their ups and downs, but they kept working til they found a formula that suited everyone, and these folks love an excuse to get together and play.”
The duo continued their circuit around the room, noticing with a bit of amusement that each of their doubles tended not to congregate together. There were a few exceptions of course, where folks had made friends, but most were still coping with the enormity of seeing so many likenesses in one spot. The writers, on the other hand, were having a ball regarding the interaction.
They caught snippets of conversation as they walked.
“How did they manage this?”
“Do you think they know they have ghosts here?”
“I’m glad I got to see this. I wouldn’t have believed it otherwise.”
“This place is so different from anywhere I have ever been.”
“I wonder if I can capture this on canvas?”
The blonde woman looked up at her companion and smiled. “I think it is time, love.”
“Agreed. Would you like to do the honors?”
“If you can get everyone’s attention, warrior, I’ll welcome everyone. Since we are the unofficial hosts this year.”
They smiled at one another and stepped up onto the tiny platform that was at one side of the large screen. The dark haired woman tapped on the mic, scowling furiously at it when it squealed loudly. It did serve to quiet the room, however, and she gently lifted it from its stand.
“Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the tenth annual BardCon in Orlando, Florida. We’re so glad you all could join us today. Um... I know some of you are wondering why you are here together. My bard here has graciously agreed to explain.”
There was a scattering of applause as the blonde woman took her place behind the podium and took the microphone from her companion’s hand. The warrior simply stepped back behind the bard, remaining a silent, formidable presence.
“Thank you. Um... Many of the authors who are here today have been a part of this event from the beginning as have a lot of the fans. When we started looking at this venue, we realized that despite the many different individuals that participated as writers and the astounding variety of characters they brought to life, everyone’s roots went back to the original soulmates, and most if not all of them clung to the theory of soulmates in their stories as well.” Green eyes turned towards the many couples who resembled one another physically.
“Many of you,” she chuckled and reached for the strong hand of her own warrior. “Many of *us* here today look like the original soulmates because what they shared was so strong they inspired all kinds of stories. You are descendants of the original warrior and bard, and you have stretched your wings far, far beyond anything they ever envisioned for themselves or their children.”
“Okay,” called a voice from the back, “But why are we here?”
The blonde chuckled nervously. “Well, you’re here because we wanted to meet you all. To see how we, um... I mean how the original soulmates had grown and changed over time. Some of the stories have been told, as evidenced by your presence here today. But there are still many more to tell. We wanted to watch interest grow and flourish.”
“You think it will?” from another speaker.
“Oh, I can pretty much guarantee it,” the bard answered with a twinkle in her eyes. “These stories have created a genre all their own and slowly, bit by bit, are changing minds, attitudes and lives. Baby steps, perhaps, but steps in the right direction.”
It was quiet for a time after that as the entire room considered her words. Then one person began clapping, then another and another until the entire hall was on its feet cheering and clapping.
Finally things quieted down and everyone resumed their seats, waiting for the bard to finish speaking. “Now, I know we have a speaker scheduled to talk about scriptwriting, the round robin to finish and a special guest due in at three, correct?” She turned her head and caught the warrior’s nod. “Besides, the videos guys back there need time to finish up before the show tonight, so everyone please make yourselves at home and get to know one another, okay? I think you’ll find you have more in common than you ever imagined possible.”
The crowd broke up then, and the duo was happy to see more mixing and mingling between the many look-alike couples as well as with the fans and writers.
A short dark haired woman eased the mic from the blonde’s hand with a nod and placed it back on the stand after a look at the sound tech stationed patiently in the back of the room. Another short woman started a set of videos while a blonde woman lowered the lights for viewing. After the first few beats, a cheer rose from the group, and all eyes turned fascinated to watch what had become one of the most popular videos of the event.
The warrior and bard made their way unnoticed out a side door, and exited the holo-program into their familiar living room.
“That was fabulous, love! Absolutely incredible. Can we go back and talk to them some more? It is almost like getting to meet our children... or ourselves in another time and place.”
“I think we can do that. That’s why we brought them into our world after all... to meet them and talk to them personally. This was a great idea!”
The bard smiled smugly. “Yes, it was. Thank you for noticing.”
The blue eyed woman smiled and pinched the shorter woman on the butt. “Careful there, Little One. You’re part of the entertainment tonight.”
Green eyes grew wide... first in astonishment, then in outrage. “You didn’t!”
The warrior smirked. “You did!”
“You said you wanted the full BardCon experience,” slowly backing up as the smaller woman stalked closer. “I was just trying to help.”
“Uh huh, well, you better start trying to run, cause when I catch you, Marine, you are one dead DIVA.” The blonde stopped and considered. “On second thought... you can play too. You can sing. You better sing something I like too.”
“I... but... um... fine, whatever. Anything but disco.” Broad shoulders slumped as the warrior capitulated.
The bard shuddered. “You know me better than that.” She clasped her hand around the larger one and pulled the dark head to her mouth. “Pick something I like and I’ll dance for you.”
“Motivation enough for me,” the tall woman said with enthusiasm. “Program pause,” she intoned. “C’mon,” pulling the bard in the direction of the bedroom. “I am feeling particularly inspired to sing suddenly. BardCon will be here when we get back.”
“Uh huh... so will the good books, great new friends and fun times.”