Disclaimers, or lack of them in Part 1

Thanks again to my beta reader, Barbara Davies. Find her work on her page, The Writings of Barbara Davies

 

Cold

By Midgit

Part 5

Jo began to doubt the wisdom of her foray into the realm of the homeless when she was asked to buy a Big Issue for the fifth time.

The magazine was printed and distributed to those with no other means of earning money in an effort to cut down on begging in London and all over the country.

The people she found beneath the railway arches waved soggy copies of the magazine at her as she stepped over the debris that they left. Her jeans were now splashed with the muddy water that the people who called this dank place home seemed to accept without question. As she scanned the faces for one of the two people she was seeking, she found an emptiness that seemed to duplicate itself in every face she saw. It was despair, and helplessness, which led to hopelessness. In many of the faces she saw defeat, a final acceptance of their plight. It had been the same in the gallery when she first viewed the pictures. Empty eyes. And that was the reason the photograph of Rocky had affected her so completely. The eyes held life, and pride. There was no illusion of defeat there, only challenge. And Jo wanted to take the girl up on that challenge, wanted to see beyond the grime and the stigma, wanted to know the woman.

And that want, that need brought her to a part of London she barely knew existed.

It was only a few minutes from the hostel where she had first encountered the old woman, and it was as good a place as any to begin her search.

She spotted the shopping trolley first, though it was by no means the only one there. The woman was rummaging furiously through the contents of the wire basket of the trolley.

"Hello again," said Jo, her eyes flitting from the woman to a couple of men who were approaching from her right.

The grey head rose, and even greyer eyes took in the smartly dressed, aristocratic form.

The woman looked past Jo at the two men, and with a flick of her hand sent them on their way.

"They`re scared of you?" asked Jo, a look of amusement on her face.

"Probably," she turned back to her trolley. "What do you want now?"

Jo folded her arms across her chest. "I want to know why you lied to me."

"About Rocky?"

Jo nodded. "I don't believe she's dead."

The old woman nodded towards a couple of tyres, and sat on one, waiting for Jo to join her.

"It's cold," said the old woman as Jo eased herself down onto the dirty tyre.

"Coldest winter for over 50 years," Jo agreed, wondering why they were carrying on this ridiculous conversation.

"My name's Edna." The old woman thrust a dirty, withered hand towards Jo, and was surprised when the younger woman took it without reservation.

"Jo," the younger woman said simply.

Edna held onto the hand, feeling the strength there. "You have strong hands."

"From my father, I think."

Edna nodded, and released the hand. "Your colouring comes from your mother; she's not English."

"That's right. She has Greek parentage, but was born in England." Jo was running on automatic, her upbringing forcing her politeness.

Another nod from the grey head. "I didn't lie to you about Rocky, only about when she died."

Jo was sure there was a serpent in her chest, squeezing the life from her heart, as it pounded, making her head throb in unison. "She's not..."

"Oh, she is dead," said the old woman. "Died just over five years ago."

"No, I saw the picture, it was taken a couple of months ago."

"You saw what is left. It's just a shell. Rocky is dead."

Two pairs of pale eyes held each other for a long moment as the younger woman took in what she was hearing. Then the dark head began to shake slowly. "No, I saw something. I saw ..."

"Nothing. There is nothing. She arrived here five years ago. Too young to claim benefit. Terrified of being sent back."

"Back where?" Jo ran a shaking hand through her damp hair.

"We don't ask. It's nobody's business. She was a child and she was afraid. We helped her until she could help herself."

"Edna, how old was she?" Jo was shivering now, her leather jacket not enough to keep out the bitter cold.

"She was just fifteen, I think." Edna watched the angular face across from her, seeing the sorrow there.

"Jesus. Why?"

"We all have reasons for being here, Jo. What's yours?"

"I'm looking for Rocky." The answer came to Jo's lips easily, it was simple.

"And you don't know why, do you?"

Jo pulled the collar of the jacket up, her hands holding it tightly beneath her chin. "Can you tell me?" she whispered.

Edna seemed to ignore the question. "Why did you come here?" she waved her hand. "Why this place exactly?"

"I was trying to find you." Jo looked puzzled.

"But why Whitechapel, why outside the hostels?"

DeBurgh said..."

Edna stood so quickly Jo almost fell off the tyre she was sitting on. "Don't say that bastard's name in my presence." She paced in a small circle. "This is what she was scared of. This is..." She looked back down at the stunned woman, who still sat close to the ground. "I'm sorry." Edna returned to her seat beside Jo.

"So am I, I don't know much about..." Jo was obviously trying to find a word that wouldn't insult the elderly woman.

"The homeless? Displaced? We have many names, most of them not good."

"I'm not here to judge you, Edna. Just to find Rocky."

Edna nodded. "So you are. And as I said before, why here?"

"And I already told you, because...."

"Because you heard the word Whitechapel. Yes, I know. But it goes beyond that, Jo. You are here to find a woman you've never met, never knew existed before yesterday. And you're confused as to why."

Two perfect eyebrows knitted, as Jo's brow furrowed. "Who are you, Edna?"

"You're not stupid, are you, Jo?"

"I like to think not."

Edna's pale eyes caught the blue of Jo's and held them. "I was here when Rocky arrived, and I was here when you did."

"And?" Jo squirmed on the cold tyre, trying hard to understand the woman's cryptic answers.

"And I believe it was meant to be."

"What are you saying, Edna? I don't understand."

"I believe that Rocky has been waiting for you. That's what drew her here."

Now it was Jo's turn to stand and pace. "And you're saying that she's been waiting for me to turn up? Without appearing to be rude, Edna, that's a crock of shit." She walked a few paces away, and then crossed her arms and bent her head. Feeling suddenly tired, she turned back to the still seated woman. "I saw her picture in a gallery. For some reason I felt compelled to find her." Jo shrugged, hugging herself tightly against the cold breeze. "I don't know, maybe I'm going crazy."

"Not many of us get the chance to find the other half of our souls." Edna waited, watching the woman turn slowly towards her. "You have an ancient soul, Jo. It needs the other half to be fulfilled."

Jo was backing away from her now. "I don't believe this crap."

"Believe it or not, Jo. I see in you something you have kept buried for many years, for centuries in fact." Edna stood and approached the retreating woman. "Let it have its voice."

"Jesus, you're crazy," said Jo, as she backed up against a wall.

Edna smiled a gentle smile. "Maybe, many have called me that. But Rocky never did."

The girl's name seemed to calm Jo somewhat. "Where is she?"

"Not far, we can go there now."

"Now?" asked Jo.

"Of course, come on." Edna turned abruptly and started picking a way through the debris and bodies that littered the alleyway, making a path for her shopping trolley.

Part 6

For over fifteen minutes Jo had stood `guarding` Edna's shopping trolley. A number of people had passed her, curious as to why a decently dressed young woman should be there with what appeared to be her worldly possessions in a wheeled supermarket trolley.

But the old woman had asked her to watch it, and watch it she would.

Edna had left her near a small park, deserted in the cold winter morning. There was very little in the park, which was ringed by bushes which hid metal railings. A couple of trees stood to one end, a flowerbed to the other. Between the two trees was a picnic table, next to that a waste bin.

Jo looked down at the trolley, full to overflowing with plastic bags, and wondered how this woman survived like this. Would she be able to? She thought not.

She sat on the bench that was beside a bus stop, pulling the trolley closer to her. She wished now that she'd chosen something warmer to wear. She had a sweatshirt on under her leather jacket, but it was proving inadequate against the extremely cold weather. Her thoughts strayed to Rocky. Where had she slept the night before? Where had she woken up this morning? Where would she sleep tonight? If she found her, what then?

Harry's words echoed in her head. Hi, I'm Jo, and I want to take you home, or words to that effect. So what would she say when she saw her? What if Edna came back alone? What if she refused to see her?

A hand on her shoulder shook her out of her rapidly building panic, and she jumped at the contact.

"Hey." Edna took a step back. "It's only me."

Jo stood, looking past the woman. "Is she here?"

Edna shook her head. "No, but she'll come in a while."

"What is it, what's the matter?" Jo was shivering now, blowing her warm breath onto cupped hands.

"Nothing's the matter." She reached out a hand and rested it comfortingly on the younger woman's forearm. "She's just taking her time." Edna pulled back her arm, watching as Jo surveyed the street. She pointed towards the small park. "She'll meet you there."

Jo followed Edna's gaze. "In the park? Is it safe?"

"This time of year, yes. Too cold for your average rapist."

Jo looked doubtfully at her.

"It's safe, Jo. I have a couple of friends watching it too." Edna took possession of her trolley. "I have to go, try to get some breakfast. You wait here."

The old woman began to shuffle away, but Jo took a gentle hold of her arm. "Thank you," said Jo, her voice breaking.

Edna merely nodded and walked away, never looking back.

Jo made her way to the picnic table in the park, and sat on the damp wood, swinging one leg across and straddling the narrow bench. Resting her elbow on the table, she massaged her forehead, trying to quell the headache that was beginning. She couldn't feel her feet now. Cowboy boots were great to look at, but didn't keep out the cold. But then she'd never needed to before. Where did she go that was cold? She went from her house to her car. From her car to a restaurant. From a restaurant to a club. Then back to the car. She didn't walk anywhere that she could take her car to.

Suddenly the lack of sleep in the past forty-eight hours seemed to catch up with her, and she bent her head forward to rest on her forearm, which acted as a pillow.

"What do you want?"

The voice was low, soft. There was a hint of anger in it.

Jo raised her head and found herself pinned by green eyes.

"Rocky?" she asked.

The girl said nothing, standing about five feet from the table, still on the stone path that bisected the park.

Jo stood abruptly, causing the girl to stiffen.

The blonde girl seemed to be weighed down by the amount of clothing she was wearing. The trousers Jo could see were khaki, but they seemed to be only the top layer. They were too long, but she could just see roughened boots peeking from beneath the hems. Her jacket was also khaki, and was also huge, the sleeves turned up a few times, and even then her gloved hands were all but hidden. On her head she wore a hat. The kind that possessed flaps which could be let down to cover the ears, which they had been. The small leather ties that would be used to tie the earflaps on top of her head hung loosely against her shoulders.

Her blonde hair peeked out from beneath the hat, and once again it seemed to tangle with her eyelashes. At her feet were a couple of large bags, her hands never leaving the carrying straps.

Jo started to walk around the table and, as she did so, Rocky picked up her bags and took a step back. The taller woman raised her hands and slowed her advance.

"It's ok," said Jo. "I just want to talk."

Rocky said nothing, maintaining the same wary attitude.

Seeing that the girl was skittish, Jo went back to her seat. "Would you join me?" she asked, nodding to the bench on the other side of the table.

Rocky advanced slowly, her eyes never quite meeting those of the other woman. She stopped when her knees hit the bench, but remained standing. "Are you with the police?"

That was unexpected. "No, I'm not." Jo ducked her head, trying to get eye contact with the blonde.

"Did my uncle send you?" The girl was looking around, her eyes never seeming to connect with those of the taller woman.

"No, I don't know your uncle." Jo watched her, staying very still, not wanting to frighten the obviously nervous girl away.

Then, suddenly, the pale green eyes were fixed firmly on her own. "So what do you want?"

Jo suddenly realised she wasn't really sure of that.

The girl sat cautiously, but didn't put her legs right over the bench. She sat sideways, one arm resting on the damp wood of the table, the other still keeping a grip on her bags.

"I saw your picture." Jo immediately regretted the statement when she saw the anger wash over the face of Rocky.

"DeBurgh," Rocky said simply, and stood again, her back to Jo. "I thought I got away from him." She turned backed to the stunned woman. "Where did you see the picture?"

Jo managed to snap herself out of her haze. "My mother's gallery."

"Not in a paper or anything like that?"

"No." Jo was quiet, and watched the blonde as she processed the information.

"What kind of people would have seen that?"

Jo had had enough of this line of questioning. "What are you afraid of?"

The question seemed to affect Rocky like a physical blow, but she quickly gathered herself. "Nothing. I just want to know why you were looking for me."

"Are you hiding from someone?" Jo persisted.

Rocky gathered her bags and turned away from Jo. "I have to go."

Jo sprang from the bench and ran to catch up with the rapidly walking woman. "Please." She reached out and caught Rocky by the shoulder, turning her to face her.

Now she was up close she could see the pain in the green eyes, and for a moment she was breathless. This time the eyes did not leave her own, but she could feel the small body trembling. "I'm not going to hurt you," she whispered. "I just want to talk to you."

"About what?"

Jo let her hand fall slowly away from Rocky's shoulder, trusting the girl not to bolt again. "Whatever you like."

"Is this some kind of bet?"

Jo was confused, as the lines on her brow showed. "What?"

"Did your friends put you up to this?"

Jo shook her head. She knew now she had to tell Rocky the truth. "Yesterday I saw your picture at Mother's gallery. I don't know why, but it had a dramatic effect on me. I fainted." Jo chuckled, but her mirth was not echoed in the face of the smaller blonde. The smile left her face quickly. "Anyway, I had the sudden compulsion to find you. I'm not sure why, but the desire to go out and search for you was overwhelming. I went to see DeBurgh..." At the mention of the man's name Rocky turned away from Jo. "I know he hunted you. He told me. I'm sorry." Again she reached out to the girl and laid her hand on her shoulder.

Jo saw the small form in front of her relax, and then the blonde head shook gently. "I told him no. Why couldn't he take no for an answer?" She reached up and took the hat off, her blonde hair standing on end in its wake. Ruffling her hair with her free hand, she turned back towards the tall woman. "Edna says I should listen to you. I wouldn't be here otherwise."

"Then I have a lot to thank Edna for." Jo graced her with her most dazzling smile. It wasn't returned, however.

"So why do you think you needed to find me?"

Jo considered this. Should she tell the blonde of her attraction towards other women? Her attraction in particular to petite blondes? She stuffed her hands into her pockets. "Believe me, I've been asking myself the same question. I had to come here, for my own sanity as much as anything else."

"You think you're going mad then?" Rocky pulled the hat down onto her head again, pushing aside the hair that was forced into her eyes by doing so.

Jo nodded. "This time yesterday, my life was normal. All I did was to look at a picture in a gallery."

Rocky bent and picked up her bags. "I have to go."

"What!?" Jo took a step forward, stopping quickly when the girl flinched and backed away from her. "Can I... can I see you again?"

Rocky shrugged. "Not sure. Can't imagine you being a regular down here."

"Well, if I come down, will you meet with me again?" Jo's voice was taking on a hint of panic.

"I don't know what you want from me," Rocky said quietly.

Jo saw fear in the green eyes, and a stab of guilt pierced her chest. She had put that fear there. "Just to be your friend." Jo maintained the distance between them, and there was a long silent moment, heavy with tension.

Rocky was silent, so Jo made the decision for them both. "I'll be back here this afternoon at 3. Will you meet me here?"

Taking a firmer grip on the straps of her bag, Rocky hoisted one over her shoulder. "Don't know if I'm free." She turned her back on the tall woman. "Don't count on it," she said as she walked out of the park.

Jo watched her walk away, grinning from ear to ear. "I think she likes me," she said to a pigeon, which had alighted on the picnic table.

Jo was inordinately pleased to find her Merc untouched when she returned to it. She got in and quickly started it, making sure the heat was turned up full. But instead of driving away immediately, she sat back in the plush leather seat, her hands resting lightly on the steering wheel.

So I've met her. She was cute, even cuter than her picture. I know she exists, but I knew that anyway. Didn't I? Why was I so sure? She spoke to me. What did she say? Nothing. She told me nothing. We talked about nothing. But we did talk. Didn't we? She's scared. Scared of being found. Scared of me? I hope not. She'll come back later. I know she will. I'll find out more about her then.

Jesus, what am I doing?

With a shake of her head, Jo shifted the Merc into gear and drove away, her freezing feet managing to obey the signals her brain was giving them.

 

It was nearly 3.30, and actually starting to snow lightly. Jo was a little better dressed this time, having spent the hours since her meeting with Rocky shopping. It was near to Christmas, hence more shops than usual were open on the cold Sunday afternoon. She'd found herself buying two of everything - thermal socks, shirts and gloves. She bought a pair of arctic proof boots, and a silly hat similar to Rocky's.

So there she sat, in the rapidly failing daylight. The sky was overcast, a gentle snow falling through the bare branches of the trees. On the bench beside her sat a box, her hand resting on its surface.

Jo felt more comfortable in the warmer clothes she now wore, but still wondered how people could survive in these severe temperatures. Her cheeks glowed red, and her eyes watered.

She heard the muffled sound of her cell phone, and fumbled in her pocket for it, having difficulty getting a hold of it with the thick gloves she was wearing.

She looked at the caller id on the display and rolled her eyes. "Hi, Trixi."

"Jojo, baby. Where are you?"

"Um, would you believe sitting in a park somewhere in Whitechapel?"

"Jojo?"

"It's difficult to explain."

"I missed you last night."

"Yeah, well."

"Will you be there tonight?"

"Probably not."

"Jojo!"

"I didn't make any promises, Trix."

"You've never missed a Sunday night yet. What's going on?"

"Nothing that I have to explain to you, Trix. Now, I have to go. I'll call you when I can."

Jo snapped the cell phone shut, ending the call. She looked at the device in her hand, and after a moment's debate dialled a stored number.

"Harry?"

"Hi, Jo."

"Are you ok?"

"Yeah, I'm fine."

"I'm sorry about yesterday."

"Me too." A pause. "So what are you doing?"

Jo considered the question for a moment. Then decided to answer truthfully. "I'm sitting, freezing my rear end to a park bench, and probably being stood up."

Nothing but silence was forthcoming from Jo's phone. "Well, aren't you going to say `told you so`?"

"No, not my style, Jo. You should know that by now.... So you haven't found her yet."

"Oh yes, I found her. We arranged to meet here at 3."

"And?"

"And what?"

"Jesus Christ, Jo! What the hell's she like!?"

"Um, I only spoke with her for a short while."

"So, she can speak?"

"Of course she can speak."

"What does she look like? Well, I mean, I know what she looks like, but... well, you know what I mean."

"She's gorgeous." The words were out of Jo's mouth before she realised.

"So where is she from?"

"I don't know."

"Ok. Where does she stay?"

"Um, don't know."

"So what do you know about her?"

"Nothing."

Jo absentmindedly shut the phone, cutting off the connection. She glanced at her watch. It was nearly 4. The light was fading. And she came to the conclusion that, for the first time in her life, she had been stood up.

Part 7

Jo glanced at her watch again - nearly 4.20, and it was just about dark already. She sighed dramatically, watching the cloud as her warm breath hit the frigid air, disturbing a few snowflakes as they floated gently towards her.

She looked to her right, to the box that sat on the bench beside her. Shrugging her shoulders, she left it where it was and unfolded herself from the cold seat, swinging her legs stiffly over and stamping her feet on the ground.

Jo took a few slow steps towards the small gate at the entrance to the park, and, after taking one last glance back at the picnic table and bench, she left. And immediately stopped just beyond the high hedge that surrounded the small green.

Rocky was sitting on the low wall into which the metal railings were set. Her elbows rested on her knees, and she was staring at the ground between her scruffy boots.

"How long have you been here?" Jo asked, a little more sharply than she intended.

The girl's head didn't move. "About half an hour," the girl replied. "Can't be sure though."

"Why didn't you come into the park? I've been freezing my arse off waiting for you."

Rocky looked up, her green eyes finding those of the woman towering over her and immediately looking away. "I'm sorry," she said quietly, returning to contemplating the ground beneath her feet.

"Hey," said Jo, gently. "Look at me."

It took a few moments, but the blonde finally looked up. And she found the taller woman was offering her hand. She watched her own, gloved hand reach for the larger one, and then it was enveloped by a warmth she could feel even through the two pairs of gloves that she wore. She was gently pulled to her feet.

"Look, I'm frozen..." Jo began.

"I'm sorry," Rocky said, and from the look on her face, Jo could tell she truly was.

"Yeah well, my car isn't far. Can we go and sit there...?" She saw the fear in the girl's eyes as the blonde head jerked up and Rocky took a step back.

Jo put her hands up, trying to slow the rapidly retreating woman. "Hey, I just want to warm up, nothing else."

"I haven't... I don't..." Rocky was still backing away.

"I just want to talk with you, nothing else." She stopped and looked back into the darkened park. "I have something back there. Will you wait while I get it?"

Rocky had stopped. And was standing watching the tall woman, her arms wrapped about her small body against the cold.

"Will you wait?" Jo said again.

Rocky nodded. And Jo rushed back into the darkened park, leaning over the picnic table and retrieving the parcel.

Rocky was standing where Jo had left her when she returned. "I have some bits in here," said Jo, nodding towards the box in her arms. "Come on."

Jo turned away from the smaller woman and started striding purposefully towards the side street in which she had left her car. She glanced back to see if Rocky was following, and smiled a small smile when she saw that the blonde was, albeit at a slower pace.

"Here we are," said Jo, putting the box on the ground, and rummaging in her pockets for her keys. "I'm going to get one of those things that you whistle at," she said as she transferred her search from her jeans' pockets to her jacket pockets. "Ah, there we go." She unlocked the car and reached through to put the box on the ground. Then she opened up the passenger door and turned towards Rocky. "We can be a little warmer in here."

Rocky gazed into the car and then at the woman beside her. "I'm not..."

"Hey." Jo took a step towards Rocky and placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. "That's fine, you stay here if you'd rather."

She released Rocky, pleased to see that she didn't shrink away from her touch this time, and then sat down on the passenger side of the car, her legs still outside. Almost lying backwards across the seats, she managed to get the key into the ignition and started the car up, turning the heating controls onto high.

"I'm freezing; don't know about you." Jo smiled, leaning down and opening the box. "I have some flasks of hot drinks. Tea and coffee, which do you prefer?"

Rocky was shifting from foot to foot. "Um, tea... please."

"Ok." Jo took out the silver flask and poured some of the steaming liquid into a china mug. "I never could drink tea out of plastic," she said as she handed Rocky the mug. "There's milk and sugar in the box - didn't know how you'd take your tea."

"I don't get the choice very often," Rocky said as she crouched down and added milk and sugar to her tea.

"I'm sorry?" Jo was pouring herself a mug of coffee.

"I usually get my hot drinks in plastic, or polystyrene."

Jo looked up at the girl standing above her, and found Rocky staring at her.

"What?" asked Jo.

"Why are you here?"

"I told you before, I don't really know."

"What do you want from me?"

"Would you believe nothing?" Jo cupped her hands around the warm mug, and watched as Rocky blew gently on her hot drink.

Rocky began to walk around the car, her oversize boots scuffing the ground as she went. She appeared in front of the car, her form barely visible through the misty windscreen. "What type of car is this?"

"It's a Mercedes CLK 320."

Rocky nodded. "What size engine?"

"Um, no idea. I just get in it and drive it. It goes fast, that's all I know."

Rocky walked back around to the open passenger door. "What do you do? For a living, I mean."

"Ah, well," Jo shifted uncomfortably in the seat. "I don't work."

"You don't?"

Jo shook her head. "No. I may some day, but for now I don't."

"So how do you survive?" Rocky bent at the waist and placed her mug back in the box.

"My parents." Jo couldn't look up at her. She'd never felt ashamed of her wealth and her lifestyle before. Why now?

"I have to go," said Rocky. "Edna's watching my stuff."

Jo nodded, suddenly feeling deflated and foolish. "I'll come back tomorrow."

"Why?" asked Rocky. "Why don't you just go back to your world and forget about me? Whatever it is you think you're looking for isn't here. Find another cause to ease your conscience."

"Is that what you think I'm doing?" Jo stood, throwing the mug into the box with a clatter. "Trying to ease my conscience because I'm some sort of rich bitch?"

Rocky shrugged. "We've seen it before. They come down here, do a few soup runs, and think they've done their bit. If you want to help, put some money in the poor box sometime. There are folks worse off than me." Rocky turned away from her and started walking. She looked back as she walked away. "Go home, Jo."

Jo watched her walk away, watched her thrust her hands into her pockets as she ambled along the road. Just as the blonde turned the corner, she glanced back at the dark haired woman, and Jo was sure she saw something in the green eyes.

"She feels it too," she said to herself, and eased herself out of the car. She placed the box on the seat and walked around the car, getting into the driver's side. The car had warmed up nicely in the time she'd been sitting there, so she shifted it into gear and headed home.

When Jo arrived at her small house she immediately noticed a light on in the lounge. She parked the car in the garage and made her way up the stairs. Just inside the door, she noticed the leather jacket hanging on the stair rail.

"Trix?" she called out, walking into the lounge.

"Were you expecting someone else, Jojo?"

Beatrice James, Trixi to her friends, was draped across Jo's sofa, wearing Jo's bathrobe and a smile. She pushed bleached blonde hair back from an angular face and stood to meet the dark woman half way. "I've been waiting for you, Jojo."

"So I see," said Jo, seeing the half-empty whisky glass on the coffee table.

Trixi snaked her arms around Jo's neck, pulling her down. "I missed you last night," she said, and captured soft lips with her own. Maintaining the contact, she brought her hands between them and started to unzip Jo's jacket, and once it was undone she pushed it back off the tall woman's shoulders. "And I think you missed me."

Jo hesitated for a heartbeat and then pulled the woman against her body, crushing the blonde's lips with her own.

"Oh yeah," Trixi breathed into Jo's mouth, unfastening her jeans and pulling down the fly. "I've got what you want," she husked, as she slipped her hand into the taller woman's jeans and past her underwear. Jo gasped as slim fingers delved into the liquid heat between her legs, and allowed herself to be pushed back onto the sofa.

Trixi pulled her hand free and used both hands to pull the sweatshirt off the body she was straddling, making short work of the bra beneath that. "You need this," whispered Trixi, as she dipped her head and took as much of Jo's breast into her mouth as she could, then caught a taut nipple between her teeth. "You need me."

The blonde hooked her fingers into the waistband of Jo's jeans and drew them down across her hips, though the dark woman's boots prevented them from being removed altogether. "Tell me what you want, Jo." Trixi sat back, still straddling Jo's hips, her hands fluttering across aroused breasts, then moving downwards.

Jo's hips shot up off the sofa as Trixi's fingers arrived at their destination. "Oh yeah. This is what you want, isn't it?" She watched the woman beneath her through hooded eyes, knowing the power she held. "Tell me what you want, Jo," she said as her fingers stroked the other woman towards release.

"Fuck me," rasped the dark woman, knowing she could no more deny her body this than she could air. Then she reached up and tangled her hands in the blonde hair, pulling the woman's head down to where she needed it most.

 

It was later - how much later, Jo wasn't sure. She was lying face down on her bed. Beside her, Trixi amused herself by running her hand gently across Jo's back, sometimes dipping down to trace the contours of her hips and buttocks. Jo stared at the wall a few feet from her bed, her mind in another place, certainly not in the room with the blonde.

She felt a hand delve into the wetness between her legs.

"Don't," she said, never raising her head.

"Come on, Jojo," said Trixi, not ceasing her stroking.

Without turning her head to look at the woman, Jo growled, "If you don't stop that now, Trix, I'm going to break your fucking wrist."

Maybe it was the low and menacing voice, or maybe the pent up fury she felt in the body beneath her hands, but wisely Trixi removed her hand.

"Jojo?"

"Don't Jojo me, Trix." Jo turned onto her back and then swivelled and sat on the edge of the bed.

"You can't tell me you didn't enjoy it, Jo." Trixi placed her hand on Jo's shoulder, rubbing in small gentle circles on the soft, slick skin.

"I don't want to do this anymore." Jo's voice was little more than a whisper, and she shrugged away from the woman's touch.

She felt the blonde get off the bed, and heard her walk out of the bedroom and down the stairs to the lounge. After a few moments Trixi appeared in the bedroom again. Jo hadn't moved.

"Call me when you need me," Trixi said from the doorway, doing up the buttons of her blouse.

"Don't hold your breath." Jo didn't look up, her knuckles whitening as she balled the sheet beneath her in her hands.

Trixi took a slow walk towards the naked woman. She raised Jo's face, and gazed down into blue eyes turned grey in the darkness. "You've never been able to say no to me, Jo. Don't start trying to now. I'll see you around." She bent and kissed Jo, taking her bottom lip between her teeth and biting down.

Jo pulled away and raised a hand to her mouth, feeling the sting of a small cut and tasting the metallic tang of blood.

Trixi laughed, and walked out of the bedroom and out of the house.

Jo was furious. She stood and pulled the sheet with the evidence of her weakness from the bed, throwing it into a corner of the room. Then she staggered to the bathroom. Reaching into the shower stall, she turned the water on and stepped into the cleansing spray, sliding down the wall to sit on the floor of the shower.

It was only the water running cold that forced the tall woman out of the shower, and she returned to the bedroom, grabbing a large towel from a cupboard as she passed it.

She lay on the sheetless mattress, pulling the quilt up around her shivering body.

"Oh God, Rocky. What have I done?" she sobbed into the pillow.

Jo had fallen into a fitful sleep, and it was only the persistent ringing of her doorbell that awakened her. She pulled the towel around her still trembling body and made her way down the stairs to the lounge and to the speaker.

"Yeah?" Her own voice sounded broken to her ears and she cleared her throat and tried again. "Yeah?" she said again, louder this time.

"Harry," was the short reply.

Jo pushed the button to admit her friend and went back up to her bedroom to retrieve her robe.

By the time she'd found it and returned to the lounge, Harry was sitting in the chair.

"Well, aren't I the popular one this evening?" She glanced at the clock; it was a little after 9pm.

"You look like shit, Jo," said Harry, standing and closing the space between her and her friend. She raised a hand and gently touched Jo's bottom lip, tracing the small cut there. "Who did this?"

Jo shook her head. "Doesn't matter."

"If you say so," said Harry, who shrugged and returned to her seat.

Jo collapsed on the sofa, and rubbed her temples with shaking fingers.

"You want to talk about it?" asked Harry.

"No.... yes," a big sigh. "I don't know."

"Did the girl show up?"

"In the park? Yes she did." Jo leaned forward and turned up the heating on the artificial flame fire.

"So.... are you going to tell me what happened here tonight?"

Jo pushed herself back into a corner of the sofa, tucking herself into as small a ball as possible. "Nothing happened."

"Strange, I was just in the club. Trixi was there."

Jo closed her eyes.

"She gave you that split lip, didn't she?"

Jo nodded, and opened her eyes to see Harry moving towards her and sitting beside her on the sofa. "Come here," said Harry, and gathered the shaking woman into her arms as Jo crawled towards her. "She uses you," said Harry into dark silken hair.

"I use her too," whispered Jo. "I have no excuse."

"Since when did you need an excuse, Jo? You've used anyone who took your fancy." Harry felt the woman in her arms stiffen. "You know it's true."

The dark head nodded against her chest. "I know."

Harry barely heard her friend's answer. "So why is it different tonight?" Harry asked.

Jo shrugged.

"Come on, Jo. Talk to me." Harry gave her friend a little shake.

"Tonight I felt ashamed," Jo said finally.

"D'you think it has anything to do with Rocky?"

"Maybe."

"Would you like to have a relationship with Rocky?"

There was silence from the dark woman.

"Jo?" Harry tried to push the larger woman away from her so that she could see into her face. "Jo, look at me."

The blue eyes wouldn't meet her own, and once again Harry took Jo's shoulders in her hands and gave her a shake. "Jo. What is it about this girl; do you know yet?"

Jo shook her head. "I've never felt ashamed before. And tonight I felt both ashamed and dirty. I hated Trix for the power she held over me tonight. I couldn't stop her. I couldn't stop myself. I wanted what she was giving me, and, for a while, it felt good. I'm scared, Harry."

"Jesus, Jo. You've never been scared of anything."

"I'm scared I'll always be like this. I'm scared I'll always need people like Trix. People who want me just for another fuck, want a body, any body. Trix never wanted me; I could have been anyone. I was just always available. I can't..." Jo's voice broke and she buried her face in Harry's chest once more. "I'm scared, Harry," she said again, between sobs.

"Don't be scared, Jo. You'll find a way out of this. And I have a feeling you won't be alone when you do find your way."

Jo raised her head and regarded her friend with bloodshot eyes.

Harry smiled at her. "I hope Rocky realises the change she's made in you."

"Change?"

"Yeah. You've started to turn the corner, Jo. You're too good for parasites like Trix. You're my best friend, Jo. But I have to tell you, the way you've been living your life can't go on. If finding Rocky changes who you are, then I'm glad."

"I felt like I was betraying her," said Jo, obviously surprised at the revelation.

"You felt like you were betraying someone who isn't even your lover?"

"Not even a friend yet," said Jo.

"But you'd like her to be your friend."

Jo shook her head in wonderment. "I feel as if I desperately need her to like me, to accept me. And I feel I need to be a different person for her."

"I don't think you need to be anyone but yourself. I like the person you are, I just don't really like the person that needs the Trixes of this world."

"Do you think Rocky would want to know the woman who came home and found Trix here?"

"Probably not. But only you can determine whether that person is gone for good now."

"I want her to be. But what if she's still here?"

"Then you have to control her. You have to push her back down when she wants her way..." She watched her friend contemplate what she was saying. "It's up to you, Jo. Do you think you can change?"

"I have to."

Part 8

It was Monday morning, and for most the beginning of another week. But for Lady Joanna Holbrook-Sutherland it was just another day.

True, weekends were more memorable, but Joanna's days all started very much the same. Rising in the late morning, if not early afternoon. Then, after showering and dressing, she'd most likely leave to meet with one of her myriad of friends for a liquid lunch.

Jo was asleep - hardly surprising as it was only a little after 8am. She and Harry had talked long into the night. Harry had coaxed out of her the events following her return to the house after her last meeting with Rocky. She had tried hard to understand Jo's inability to resist what Trixi had offered. She'd listened to her friend's tense whispered voice as she tended to the scratches across Jo's shoulders.

"She did this to you?" Harry asked as she spread an antiseptic cream across the worst of the marks.

Jo nodded, her face buried in the quilt. "She's very physical, likes it rough." Her breath hissed through her teeth as Harry examined what looked like half-crescent punctures in her shoulder.

"Sorry." Harry reached again for the tube of cream and squeezed some directly onto the wounds, rubbing it in with gentle fingers.

"No, I should be sorry." Jo's voice was barely heard, muffled against the quilt.

Harry's fingers stilled, and rested lightly on Jo's back. "I'm still your friend, Jo. Your best friend. Right?"

Jo turned her head to look up at the blonde who was kneeling on the bed beside her. "I was beginning to wonder, after the other night. I wasn't thinking about you; I didn't realise..."

"Exactly. My fault too. Jealousy is an ugly thing." She rested back on her heels, taking a towel and wiping the cream from her hands. "I was jealous. But I don't want to lose you as a friend."

"Me neither," said Jo, and she reached out, curling her hand around Harry's smaller one.

 

Harry crept into Jo's room and raised the blind a little, allowing some of the grey light into the room. Jo was asleep, lying on her stomach, the quilt covering her up to her shoulders. When Jo asked Harry to stay the night after their talking had gone on beyond 2am, Harry decided to stay in the guestroom. The look on Jo's face almost changed the blonde's mind. But she kept her resolve, walked up to her friend, placed a kiss on her cheek and left her on her bed.

Which was where she found her the next morning.

She reached over and gently shook the sleeping woman's shoulder, noticing the dark shadows beneath Jo's closed eyes.

"Hey there." Harry smiled as the blue eyes fluttered open.

"Harry?"

"Yeah. You expecting someone else?"

"What time is it?"

"Time I was going - I have to go home first to change. I'll be late for work if I'm not careful." She eased herself down onto the edge of the bed and watched as Jo gingerly turned onto her back, pulling the quilt around her against the cold. "I just went down and turned the heating on; you don't have it set to come on yet."

"I'm not usually conscious yet, let alone up." She squinted up at the blonde. "Thanks for last night."

"Anytime, you know that."

"Yeah I know." Again she squeezed her friend's hand. "Anyway, your Dad's your boss. You won't get into trouble."

"You wanna bet?" Harry stood and walked towards the door, but turned before leaving. "Take care?"

Jo nodded, smiling. "I will."

Jo snuggled down into the quilt, listening to the sound of her friend as she let herself out of the house. Then she heard a car door slam and the car itself pull away. Obviously Harry had called herself a taxi to take her home to change.

Jo pushed the quilt away and swung her legs out of the bed. The cold hit her warm body and she quickly picked up her robe from the floor, wrapping it around herself against the chill.

She padded downstairs to the lounge, smiling when she saw that Harry had turned on the fire in the lounge. She sat in front of it, warming her hands, and immediately her thoughts went to the blonde that had occupied her dreams the night before. Would she have a fire to warm her hands on this morning? Would she be able to go to a kitchen and make herself a hot drink?

Jo sat heavily on the sofa, watching the artificial flames. She imagined the girl here with her, sitting in the warm comfort of her home. She imagined holding her as she slept, combing soft hair with her fingers. She imagined waking her with a gentle kiss, and then watching sleepy green eyes find hers and smile in recognition.

But how could that be? Jo's thoughts returned to the previous night, to her inability to resist Trixi. She remembered the feel of the woman's hands on her body and the feel of Trixi's breasts beneath her own hands. Could she really run from the woman she had become? Would trying to ignore the needs she had only make them stronger? Harry's advice had been given without the knowledge of what it was like to have a physical need so great it could gnaw at her very being if it wasn't sated. What would happen the first time her need reared its ugly head in the presence of the small blonde who occupied her sleeping as well as waking thoughts?

Jo shook her head and wound her hands in her own hair. What was she thinking here? She was contemplating changing her life for someone who had, so far, made it patently clear she wanted nothing to do with her.

"I'm going crazy," Jo said to herself. She thought of the willing bodies that pressed themselves into her in the many clubs that she frequented. Any one of them would gladly 'help her relieve the tension', as she put it.

So why was she now returning to her bedroom and dressing in a ridiculous amount of clothes to go out into a cold December day to look for someone who was not exactly reacting to her as she was used to?

Is that what made this girl so irresistible? Because that's how Jo felt. As unable as she was to resist Trixi, she now felt she needed to find Rocky. And she knew she would have to put aside her notions of romance for the time being.

Romance? Did I really just think that? Jo paused, boot in hand, her foot encased in a thermal sock. She still felt something compelling her to go out and find this girl and it wasn't a need to get her into her bed.

It was a need to protect.

The boot fell from Jo's hand, hitting the floor with a thump. Never before had she felt the desire to protect. Wasn't she the woman that mothers should protect their daughters from? So who was she going to protect Rocky from? Herself?

Could she expose the nervous girl to the person she could be? The person that had slept with Trixi the previous night?

Jo leaned forward, burying her head in her hands.

No, she couldn't.

 

It was just over an hour later that Jo found herself sitting in a traffic jam, watching the back of a bus.

Once again her weak will was overcome by her desire. This time, however, it was her desire to get to know a certain small blonde, rather than her need of the baser actions of the flesh.

She found herself bogged down in rush hour traffic, made worse by the horrendous weather. Her wipers struggled with the mixture of rain and snow, and her demisters also struggled to keep the screen unfogged.

The parking space she'd used the day before was occupied, as were all the others in the vicinity. So she had to look further afield, and half an hour later she was selecting a ridiculously expensive option and obtaining a 12-hour ticket from a machine in a multi-storey car park.

She hefted the large bag she had stowed in the back of the car, and made her way out into the foul weather for the longish trek to Whitechapel.

The only place she could think of going to was the park, and it was there that she found herself a half-hour later.

Her face was glowing from the cold as she entered the ornate gates, and she stopped dead in her tracks at the sight that greeted her.

Rocky was sitting on the bench, staring intently at the tabletop in front of her.

"Hi," said Jo softly, and eased herself onto the bench opposite the blonde.

Rocky looked up, and looked long and hard into the blue eyes.

Feeling uneasy in the long silence that ensued, Jo started her banal chattering. "It's cold."

Rocky continued to stare.

"I brought some hot drinks again." She bent to retrieve the thermos from the bag. "And I have some other things too," she said, pulling a number of items out and placing them on the table. "I had them yesterday, but forgot to give you them. This," Jo pushed a large rolled bundle towards Rocky, "is a sleeping bag. It's the sort they take up mountains." She looked for some reaction from the blonde, pleased when the green eyes flicked momentarily to the bag. "And I have thermal socks, vests, gloves, and longjohns."

The green eyes returned to hers.

"I'm not stupid enough to turn this down. But I don't want you to buy me anything else." Rocky pulled the items towards her, looking annoyed at her own need of the things that Jo had bought her.

Jo was almost startled by the husky voice. Rocky sounded tired and when she looked harder she could see dark rings beneath her eyes.

"Ok," Jo said quietly, and poured two mugs of steaming tea. "Glad the rain's gone off a bit." She handed Rocky a mug, waiting for the girl to pull off one of her thick gloves to take it from her. Then she put the milk and sugar on the table. "Would you let me get you just one other thing?"

Rocky looked up slowly.

"Would you let me buy you breakfast? You look all in."

Rocky laughed, and Jo took in the changes in the face opposite her. The small crease at the bridge of her nose, a flash of white teeth, and the sparkling green eyes. She decided she'd like to see more of that look.

"You going to take me to one of your haunts, then?" Rocky stood, her arms out at her sides. "I'm not exactly dressed for it."

Jo sighed. "I'll take you wherever you want. Do you know anywhere around here?"

Rocky folded her arms across her chest. "Why are you doing this, Jo?"

Jo cupped the warm mug in her hands. "I could ask the same of you. Why did you come here?"

The blonde turned her back on Jo, and it was a few tense moments before she turned back towards her. "I talked for a long time with Edna last night. I wouldn't be here if she didn't say it was for the best."

"And what did you talk about?"

Rocky looked past her, toward the entrance, and Jo turned to follow her gaze. Manoeuvring her trolley across the grass was the woman in question. Jo quickly stood and helped the old woman with her load. Rocky had the same idea, but stopped when she saw Jo reach Edna first.

"Have you two been here long?" she asked, accepting Rocky's untouched mug of tea.

"Not long," said the blonde, returning to her seat.

"So you haven't told her yet?"

While Rocky shot Edna a look that would have been fatal to many others, Jo turned in her seat and faced the woman. "Told me what?"

Edna looked towards the smaller woman, who nodded.

"Ever since Rocky arrived on the streets of London she's been having dreams."

Jo looked towards the blonde who had, once again, found the surface of the table incredibly interesting. So she turned back to Edna.

"So what occurred in these dreams?" She asked the question of Edna, assuming that Rocky had talked to her at length about them.

"Nothing much," she turned to Rocky. "Did it, Rocky?" Edna took a sip of tea. "No, it was more like a feeling. She'd get a feeling of warmth, of safety. Didn't you, dear?" She looked at Rocky, wanting her to tell her own story.

Rocky merely nodded.

"She's told me of her dreams on many occasions. I'm no dream reader, but I got the feeling that she drew comfort from the images."

"There were no images, just feelings."

Both Edna and Jo looked at the girl.

"The dreams would come on nights that I felt most alone. Like some sort of message." She shook her head. "It's hard to explain. I've had them ever since I arrived on the streets. They helped me to survive."

"Why...?" Jo began, but Edna placed a hand on her knee.

"Why is she telling you this?" She turned to Rocky. "You tell her."

Rocky was silent for a moment. "Last night I had the dream."

"And?"

"And this time I saw you."

Edna couldn't remember the last time she saw a smile such as the one that graced the face of the woman sitting beside her. And she knew then that this woman had come for her friend, and would keep her safe. Her job was done, she'd seen the girl survive through the hardest of times, and now she was a strong and independent young woman. From frightened child to adult. She had watched the change, and was pleased with the end result. She was sad to see what was obviously the beginning of the end of their life together on the streets. Rocky had been a part of her life for almost five years but would soon be leaving. She knew that the girl herself didn't know that yet and would most probably resist the pull of the dark haired, charismatic woman. But she knew destiny when she saw it, and this woman was Rocky's destiny. Now it was up to her to persuade her, to persuade both of them, of the fact.

"So I've never been in your dreams before?" asked Jo.

Rocky shook her head, looking up and finding blue eyes boring into her own. "No, but the feeling was the same."

"And you, Jo. Do you dream?" Edna asked the question, though she felt she already knew the answer.

"Not as a rule, no. But the other night..."

"The other night you dreamt of Rocky." It was not a question from the old woman.

"Yes, I did." Jo turned from the blonde to Edna. "But if Rocky has been dreaming of me for just about five years, why haven't I been dreaming of her?"

Edna patted her hand, but looked across the table to the blonde. "This is my guess, but maybe Rocky has needed you for that long."

Rocky stood, a look of outrage on her face. "I don't need anyone, certainly not a spoilt, rich ..."

"Bitch?" offered Jo.

The blonde paused in her tirade, then calmed. She returned to her seat.

Beside Jo, Edna cleared her throat. "I have to go."

Rocky stood again, a look of something approaching panic on her face. She ran around the picnic table and blocked Edna's path to her shopping trolley. "Please, don't go yet."

Edna cupped a chilled cheek. "Rocky, you need to talk with this woman. Listen to what she has to say. Tell her of your dreams." She leaned forward and gave the blonde a kiss on the cheek. "And your nightmares."

"I'm not sure I can. I don't know her." Rocky whispered.

"But you do, sweetheart. You just don't realise that yet."

Edna waved away both women as they tried to help her navigate her way out of the park. With a brief glance at the two women standing awkwardly to attention beside the table, she left, a satisfied smile on her face.

Jo turned back towards Rocky, and took a tentative step towards her. "Would you let me help you?"

Rocky closed her eyes, and took a deep breath. "A long time ago, I learned not to feel, not to hope. It was the only way to survive. To not want anything, then I wouldn't miss anything. And I've been fine for a while now. I've come to terms with what I don't have. Then you come along."

Jo ducked her head, seeing tears forcing themselves from between tightly shut eyelids. "And?" she coaxed.

"And you made me feel." She looked up into blue, the tears falling freely from her eyes. "You made me want. I can't survive wanting. Not out here."

"Then come back with me." Jo took a step towards her, reaching for her.

"No!" Rocky held up her hands, backing away. "Don't promise something you can't give."

"I won't promise anything, and I don't want promises from you. I'd just like to help you. Why won't you let me?"

"Because I've lost so much, and if I have nothing, then I can't lose anything." She lifted her gloved hands to her face and sobbed into them. The feel of hands on her shoulders made her look up again. "Please don't," she said as Jo pulled her towards her.

"Sssh," whispered the taller woman, and pulled the tense body against her own. She felt the resistance slowly dissipate, and the blonde head, hat and all, tucked itself beneath her chin. "There," she said, closing her eyes. "I don't understand it either." She felt the small body shaking in her arms, and held on tighter. "I've got you," she whispered.

"Here." Jo pushed Rocky gently towards the bench and eased them both down, never letting go of the girl. "Let's see." She raised the tear-stained face and wiped away the moisture with gentle fingers.

"I haven't...cried for so... long," said Rocky between hiccups.

"Sometimes it's good to cry."

"Do you cry?" Rocky looked up into Jo's face, wiping her own with a dirty sleeve.

Jo's brow creased in thought, and she shook her head. "Can't say I do."

Rocky disengaged herself from the dark woman's embrace. "I'm sorry."

"For what?"

Rocky shrugged. "I should be going. I need to get a hot meal, I have to be down at the church."

"Let me get you something." Jo stood, gathering up her belongings, and putting them into the bag.

"No." Rocky put up her hands again, forestalling Jo's protests. "No. I need to think. I need to talk to Edna."

"But Edna said..."

"I know. But I've listened to her a lot. Ever since I've been here. Give me some time. Please."

Jo took a step back and nodded. "Ok." She turned to the items she'd given Rocky. "Will you still take these?"

The blonde gave her a smile, causing Jo to smile right back at her. "Thank you, Jo. I'll look after them."

"Oh!" Jo suddenly remembered another something she had in her pocket. "I want you to have this too." She handed a couple of cards to the girl. "It's a phone card. It has 10 on it. And the other card is my number and my mobile number. If ever you need me, any time, just use it to call me."

Rocky looked long and hard at the cards and then put them in her pocket.

"Can I see you later today?" asked Jo.

"No," said Rocky, looking up, and almost flinching at the hurt she saw in the blue eyes. "Just give me today. I'll be back here in the morning."

"Will you?"

Rocky saw the doubt in her eyes. "Like you said, Jo, no promises." She took a deep breath. "I've been out here for a long time. For a while I had to rely on Edna and some of her friends to survive. But the past three years I've looked after myself. Sure, I have to rely on charity, but that's all. I've never taken money from strangers on the streets. I've never sold my body. I don't run drugs. All of those things could have made my life more comfortable." She tucked the sleeping bag and the other items into her bags. "This is the first time something has been given to me personally. I didn't think I could accept something like that."

"I was worried you wouldn't take it."

"Well, like I said before. I'm not stupid enough to refuse it." Rocky gathered her belongings, slinging the now heavy bag over her shoulder. She turned to leave and then paused, standing for a moment before turning back to the tall woman. "Jo, do you have a boyfriend?"

Jo's mouth opened and closed a couple of times, before she found her voice. "No, I don't. Do you?"

Rocky pursed her lips and shook her head. "See you tomorrow," she said, and was gone.

To be continued....

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