For disclaimers, or lack of them, see Part 1
My thanks as always to my beta reader, Barbara Davies. See her work, on her page, The Writings of Barbara Davies.
Jo lay in the bath, the water covering her to the tip of her chin. She reached out with her toe and turned the tap, letting some more hot water into the bath.
She'd been luxuriating for just over an hour. The cold had got to her, and she was glad of the warmth and comfort that seeped into her bones from the water's heat.
But the thought of Rocky out in the cold night was never far away. Taking another sip of her drink, she decided that tomorrow she'd insist upon the girl coming back with her. She'd make up the spare room - not that she really wanted her in there, and would insist that Rocky at least came to look at it.
"No," she said to herself. "I want you with me."
She drained the glass and decided that she should really be getting out. Her skin was pruning, and she was feeling lethargic.
She stepped out of the bath, and put on a robe that was hanging on the back of the door. Putting the shiver she felt across the back of her neck down to the cooler air hitting her body as she exited the steamy bathroom, she made her way down the stairs to the lounge.
It was almost 8pm, and she picked up the remote and switched on the TV.
She wanted to go to bed. Like a child on Christmas Eve, she wanted tomorrow to come, and quickly. But she knew if she did, she'd lie awake thinking about a small blonde who had felt so right, so naturally right, in her arms.
She smiled at the thought, and curled her body up on the sofa, laying her head on the arm and hugging a cushion close.
So Rocky felt it too. She smiled at the thought. She said she wants me. She rolled onto her back, staring at the ceiling. The television flickered in the corner, unwatched. Jo closed her eyes and saw in her mind's eye the face of the woman she'd been seeking all her life but had only just come to realise the fact.
She'd never before had any compulsion to take one of her relationships with the many women she'd met any further than sexual gratification. She bedded them, and as soon as they started talking about commitment, she called it off.
One of the people who understood that and used it to her advantage was Trixi. Trixi knew that she could use Jo, and knew damn well that Jo used her.
However, Trixi was finding Jo's recent reluctance to partake of her particular pleasures somewhat hard to accept. Jo knew that. And the thought that she could use Rocky the way she'd used Trixi, the way she'd used many women, sickened her. Suddenly her life, her existence sickened her. And what would Rocky think when she found out? Could she keep her past a secret? Did she want to? At what point did it no longer become fun? She'd enjoyed the hunt, the seduction, the conquest. Now her main ambition in life was to get one small woman out of the cold and into her life.
She wanted to get up and go out. Now. She wanted to go and find Rocky, throw her into her car and bring her home.
But she wouldn't. Rocky wouldn't respect her if she imposed her will on the blonde. The decision had to be Rocky's, and she would abide by that decision, however hard it was to take.
She surrounded herself in the warmth that thoughts of Rocky inspired. Drifting off in the comfort of her home, she dreamt of sea-green eyes and the promise of soft skin under her hands. She dreamt of full lips caressing her own, and of small hands exploring her body. She dreamt of burying her face in silken hair, drawing in the scent of the blonde as she traced a delicate ear with her tongue.
Oh yes, she would love this woman, and she would be anything and everything the blonde wanted.
Some two hours later, Jo awoke with a start. She looked at the clock, and found it to be just after 10pm. She didn't know what had woken her, and stared uncomprehendingly at the TV. A particularly violent film was showing - men hanging bloodied and battered from a ceiling.
Only half awake, she switched off the TV and made her shuffling way up to bed. She chuckled to herself as she snuggled down into the comfort of her thick quilt. Suddenly realising that, only a week ago, at this time of night, she would just be entering into another night's hunting. Like some sort of predator, she would be stalking her usual hunting grounds, looking for prey.
What a difference a weekend makes.
She was having a beautiful dream. In it she was with Rocky; what she was doing to Rocky was interesting, but the annoying sound she could hear just wouldn't go away.
She slapped her hand at the alarm, before she remembered she never set the radio-alarm that sat on the bedside cabinet. Her sleep-fogged brain tried to comprehend what the noise was. Then she realised - it was the phone. She reached over and picked up the handset, listening to the babbling she heard as soon as she lifted the handset.
"... not working, never did like using these newfangled things."
"Hello?" said Jo. Whoever was on the other end obviously wasn't paying attention. She looked at the glowing numbers on the radio-alarm. 02.26. "Hello!" she shouted.
"Hello, hello," the voice repeated.
"Who is this?"
"Yes. Edna?" A knot of fear twisted in Jo's chest. "Edna, is Rocky alright?"
"Yes, Edna. What is it? Is it Rocky?"
"I can't hear you."
Jo sat up, pushing the quilt aside and dragging her hand through her tangled hair. Her heart began to beat quickly, a hundred different scenario's forming in her imagination.
"Edna," she shouted. "Can you hear me?"
"Jo?... I can't hear you, Jo. But if you can hear me, come to the old leather works near Bethnal Green...."
The old woman's voice was replaced by the dialling tone, and Jo threw the offending object across the room, flinching when she heard it hit the wall and bounce across the floor.
She picked up the clothes she'd had on earlier that day from where she'd thrown them. Putting them on quickly, she grabbed her jacket, hat and gloves from their place in the hall and, without tying her bootlaces, rushed down the stairs. She narrowly avoided slipping as she left the warmth of the house, and opened the garage door using the remote control.
Not waiting for the car to warm up, as her father had always taught her, she reversed out of the garage, narrowly avoiding reversing into another parked car as her tyres refused to grip on the ice.
As she drove through deserted streets, she suddenly realised she had no idea where the old leather works were.
She did, however, know where Bethnal Green was. There was a particularly popular nightclub that she frequented occasionally, and so she found herself in Bethnal Green quite quickly. "Old leather works," she said to herself. It must be an old factory, probably not used anymore.
Was this where Rocky lived? She shivered at the thought. She'd never really taken the time to think where Rocky spent her nights. She hoped that maybe she squatted in an empty house or something. Not in a derelict building.
She drove around in circles for a half-hour, looking for something that would point her in the right direction. Then she saw the high fence, with a barbed wire top. Signs warning of prosecution for trespassers and of an unsafe structure were every few yards on the fence. The original, huge iron gates stood in the centre of the fence. She parked her car under a streetlight, and, after locking the Merc, made her way to them. Above the gates, cast in wrought iron, were the words: 'Mitchell Tannery'.
She peered through the gates and on the other side an old man came shuffling forward. "You lookin' fer Edna?"
"Yes." Jo gripped the cold metal of the gates, pushing against them in her desperation.
"You won't get through `ere." He pointed to his right. "Go down about fifty yard. There's a hole in the fence. Slip of a lass like you should get through there no trouble."
Jo was gone before he had the chance to tell her he'd meet her at the opening.
The hand that took her by the arm as she crawled through the fence took her by surprise, but then she looked up into the grizzled face of the old man. He smiled at her, showing a couple of dirty teeth, and then beckoned to her to follow.
"Watch your step," he said, as he led her across the old factory floor, startling a couple of pigeons into the air. The area was lit only by a few bonfires casting a golden glow across the walls. A steadily thickening layer of snow covered the ground, making it even more difficult to navigate a safe path through the debris.
Edna stood as she approached, and Jo saw the hunched figure of Rocky slumped against the wall behind her.
Edna managed to intercept the rapidly moving woman, putting her hands on her upper arms. "She's hurt, Jo. Be careful."
Jo slowed, took a couple of deep breaths and nodded. "What happened?" she asked as she crouched in front of the blonde.
"I'm not sure. Old Bill over there came to the hostel to find me about an hour and a half ago. Seems she had a fall. Floor gave way and she fell through to the cellar. Don't know how long she was down there, but she managed to get out."
Jo reached out a shaking hand and gently lifted Rocky's bowed head. "Hey," she whispered. "What have you been doing to yourself?"
Glazed green eyes found her own, and Jo immediately recognised the pain in them.
"Jo?" Rocky tried to move but cried out when the pain became too much.
Even in the firelight, Jo could see the lack of colour in the blonde's face. Her skin was covered by a thin sheen of sweat. Her jacket was draped across her shoulders, and she was hunched over, protecting something it seemed. A small graze marred her left cheek, high up near her eye.
"Where does it hurt, Rocky?" asked Jo, gently parting the front of the blonde's jacket, wanting to find what was causing the pain. But she felt the fear as well, not knowing how she would deal with a serious injury.
"Shoulder," was all Rocky could manage, gasping again as Jo slipped the heavy army jacket off her shoulders.
She could see immediately something was very wrong with Rocky's left shoulder. She placed a gentle hand on it, feeling the obscenely misplaced joint. "Feels dislocated."
"We know." A voice from behind her she recognised as Edna's.
"So why didn't you call a bloody ambulance? You had the bloody card." Jo covered Rocky again with the jacket. The blonde, in her misery, was unaware of the argument going on in front of her.
"She won't have it." Edna crossed her arms, and stood up straight. "We know better than to force her to do something."
"But it's for her own good." Jo threw her arms in the air in frustration.
"I won't go back on a promise. She won't go to a hospital, that's why Bill tried to put it right."
"He what?" Jo spun to look at the old man, who once again grinned at her.
"He tried to put it back in; wouldn't go."
Bill nodded his head. "It's a bad one," he said, the grin never leaving his face.
"He used to work with horses apparently," said Edna, as a means of explanation.
"Jesus Christ! I can't believe you let him do that, Edna," she said, kneeling once again in front of the shivering blonde.
"I wasn't here. I was in the hostel. I knew nothing about this until long after it happened."
Jo wasn't listening. She cupped a sweaty cheek and ducked her head to see into the pale face. "Rocky, we have to take you to hospital."
Rocky took in a deep breath, wincing as the pain in her shoulder flared. "No, no hospital. Can't go there." She gripped Jo's wrist with her right hand. "Promise me, Jo."
"Sweetheart, you're in agony. I can't let you stay like this."
"Can't go to hospital." She sobbed as the pain got worse. "Please, Jo."
"Okay." Jo stood, and pulled out her cell phone. Dialling a number programmed into the memory, she waited a while until it was answered. "Leo?" she paused for a moment, listening to the outraged voice. "I know, I need some help... No, not that kind of help... No, now." She held the phone away from her ear. "I'll meet you in the surgery. Will you tell them we're coming?" She nodded at the answer. "See you there." She flipped the phone closed, and pushed it back into her pocket.
She crouched down in front of Rocky again. "Rocky," her voice was barely above a whisper. "I'm going to take you to a friend of mine. He has his own private surgery, and he'll help us."
"No hospital," Rocky managed, gasping again when she shifted slightly.
"It's a private hospital, looks more like a hotel. He'll see us in his surgery." She pushed sweat-soaked hair off the pale face. "Sweetheart, you have to get it seen to. Trust me, please."
Rocky drew in a long ragged breath, and nodded tightly. "Help me up."
The hardest part was getting Rocky through the low hole in the fence. The manoeuvre caused the small woman considerable pain, and she leaned heavily on Jo and Edna as they led her to the car. Between them they managed to get the blonde settled into the passenger seat of the Merc. Jo leaned across her and fastened the seatbelt, then threw the jacket, which she'd slipped off her shoulders, into the boot.
Edna reached in and gave her friend a brief kiss on her cheek. "You're going to be fine," she said, reluctantly pulling her hand from Rocky's weak grasp. She shut the door and watched Jo over the roof of the car.
The younger woman finally looked up from the keys she held in her hand. "Edna, I'm sorry I shouted, and I'm glad you called me."
Edna nodded, accepting the apology. "It shows you care. I can sleep now, knowing you'll do your best for her."
"I will, Edna, I promise." With that, Jo folded her long frame into the car, and, with a brief look at the slumped form in the passenger seat, she sped away.
Every bump in the road, every turn, elicited a groan from Rocky, and as much as Jo wanted to get the injured woman to a doctor, she kept the speed down, easing into bends.
At last she was parking the car outside the splendid building in central London which housed her friend's surgery.
Leo was a friend of her brother's. Older than Jeremy by five years, he had followed the family tradition and studied medicine. He, however, wasn't going to spend long hours working for the National Health. He followed his father into the rapidly growing plastic surgery business. And a business it was. He now had his own very successful practice, catering to the need of wealthy women to keep their looks, or to enhance what looks they had.
He had flirted unashamedly with Jo every time he had the pleasure to meet her. And this wasn't the first time she had used his attraction to her for her own needs. Though on each occasion the treatment had not been for her.
As she opened her door, Leo arrived, parking his Jaguar in front of Jo's car. She walked around the front of the car and leaned in to unbuckle Rocky's seatbelt. Leo went on into the clinic and had a word with the security guard, who was talking to a nurse behind the reception counter.
Jo helped the blonde up the short flight of steps and through the door, immediately spotting Leo who beckoned her to follow him.
Leo's office was plush, with a huge desk and a long leather couch. There was also an examination table behind a curtain. Certificates mounted the walls, along with photographs. One photograph showed Leo and Jeremy on the summit of some mountain - Jo had never thought to ask which one.
Jo eased Rocky across to the couch, and lowered them both down onto it.
Leo was sitting on the edge of the table, looking very undoctor-like in jeans and blue sweatshirt.
"She's dislocated her shoulder," said Jo, settling Rocky back onto the cushions.
"I can see that." Leo made no move to approach them. He looked long and hard at the two women, then took a bunch of keys from the chain attached to his belt. "Just one moment," he said, and left the room.
"So tired," whispered Rocky.
Jo tore her eyes from the door through which Leo had just left, and took in the sight of the pain-wracked girl. "Won't be long now, sweetheart. Leo will put it right." She rubbed gentle circles across the girl's back, being careful to avoid the injured shoulder.
Leo returned with a small cup of water, and another smaller plastic cup. "Here, take these." He handed the small cup, which contained a couple of pills, to Rocky. "They're muscle relaxants; it'll help when I put the joint back in place."
Rocky took the pills with a shaking hand. She looked at them and then at Jo. "Go on," urged her friend.
Rocky tipped the pills into her mouth, and then took the cup of water from Leo, washing them down.
"They'll take a few moments to take effect." He turned soft brown eyes on Jo. "Can I have a word?" he asked, and without waiting for an answer, walked out of the room.
Jo watched him go and then turned to Rocky. "Just sit quietly for a moment. I won't be long."
She reluctantly left the blonde, after making sure she was comfortable on the couch, and went into the hallway to find Leo.
"What the hell is that?" he said angrily, pointing towards the now shut door to his office.
Jo pushed him further away and out of the front door of the building and into the cold night. "Will you shut up?! She's a friend of mine and she needs help."
"Then take her to a bloody hospital. Christ, Jo, it was bad enough you dragging in your little tarts that OD'd when you dumped them. Now you're bringing me in vagrants?"
"Look, Leo." She turned away from him, watching the snow swirling around the orange glow of a streetlamp. "I know I owe you, and I know this is unreasonable, but she's really important to me."
"I know what she is, Leo. I can't explain it. But I know one thing. Tonight was the last night she spends on the streets."
"So you're into rescuing tramps now; that's a new slant for you, Jo. Scraping the bottom of the barrel, aren't we?" He took a couple of steps and was face to face with her. "Have you broken all the little tarts' hearts in London? None left? Had to cast your net into new waters?" His voice dripped with sarcasm.
Jo's head hung low. She knew his words were close to the truth. "Will you please just help me this one last time? I won't come here again." She looked up at him, his face half lit by the light from the open door. She saw the regret in his eyes.
"I would have given you anything you asked for," he said quietly. "Anything."
She reached out a hand and gripped his arm gently. "I know, Leo. I'm sorry."
He swallowed hard and put an arm around her shoulders. "Let's go see to your friend."
When they arrived back in the office, they found Rocky with her head back against the couch back, eyes closed. Both hands were lying in her lap, and she looked pretty well relaxed.
Jo rushed to her side, pushing the blonde's damp hair out of her pale face. "Rocky?" she said quietly.
"Muscle relaxants, they work quickly." He went to a large cabinet at the rear of the room and pulled out a large pair of scissors. "As this isn't an emergency department, we're going to have to make do. We need to get her out of the sweatshirt." He handed the scissors to Jo. "You can... um, get her out of her top."
Jo took the scissors and then grasped the sweatshirt. She slit the sleeve enclosing the injured arm and then up the body of the shirt itself. Between them they managed to ease it off Rocky's good arm. Beneath that was the shirt. That was unbuttoned and carefully removed without the need of the scissors.
A large smile crossed Jo's face when she found that the last garment that Rocky wore was the thermal vest she'd bought her a couple of days before. Beneath the white material the misplaced shoulder was even more evident. "Can you mange if we leave this on?" Jo asked pointing at the white vest.
Rocky was just about oblivious to what was going on around her, but Jo really didn't want her undressed in front of Leo.
"Yeah, that should do." Leo put a hand on the shoulder, feeling for the joint. "Can you go round the other side?"
Jo stood and went to Rocky's good side.
"Hold her steady."
Jo put her arms around the almost boneless blonde, and held on. She closed her eyes, not wanting to see what was going on. But almost lost whatever food she'd had that day when she heard the joint re-seat itself in its correct position.
Rocky groaned in her delirium, and Jo gathered her gently into her arms. "Sssh, it's ok. It's over now."
"Looks like we have another problem here," said Leo, lifting the hem of the vest.
Jo peered past the slumped head that rested on her shoulder to see what Leo was looking at. There was blood on the vest, a slowly spreading stain. She looked then at the discarded sweatshirt on the floor, and saw a small stain on that too.
"It's not a big cut, but I think I'll put a couple of stitches in it." Leo straightened quickly and left the two women alone.
"What did you do to yourself?" Jo said, her lips brushing the blonde hair.
Leo returned with some more equipment. "Can you hold up the vest?"
Jo reached around and pulled up the thermal vest, baring Rocky's side to Leo's gaze. "Yeah, just a couple of stitches." He swabbed the area clean, and quickly inserted two stitches, closing the small wound. Rocky flinched once, but was still at ease from the effects of the muscle relaxants. He placed a dressing over the wound and stood, watching as Jo lowered the garment once more.
Rocky was slumped heavily against the tall woman, who was also nearing the end of her reserves.
Leo sat on the end of the couch, the oblivious blonde between him and Jo. "You look awful, Jo."
"Thanks," she chuckled, her attention fixed on the blonde in her arms.
"Do you want me to call you a taxi?"
Jo shook her head. "No, help me get her into the car, I'm taking her home."
Leo and Jo managed to get Rocky into her shirt; the sweatshirt was a lost cause. Jo took off her leather jacket, which she'd worn the whole time, and draped it around Rocky's shoulders.
"What can I do for her?" asked Jo as they took the steps slowly. Rocky was more aware, but whether it was shock or tiredness that kept her silent, Jo wasn't sure.
"Cold will help. If you can, crush some ice and put it in a plastic bag, then wrap it in cloth. Here," he handed her a small pill pot. "Painkillers. Give her one every hour or so, or as she needs them." They reached the car and Jo held Rocky with one arm while disarming the alarm and unlocking the car with the remote with the other.
Leo opened the car and Jo lowered the blonde into the passenger seat. Rocky fumbled with the seat belt with her right hand until Jo placed her hands over the seated woman's and buckled her in. She closed the door and turned to face Leo. "You're a good friend, Leo. Thank you." She leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek.
"I'm sorry for shouting at you."
"Well, it's -" she looked at her watch, "- nearly 4am. You had every reason to shout."
Leo scrubbed his face with his hands. "Give me a call in a week or so, and I'll take a look at the stitches."
"I will," she said, and got into the car.
As she drove down the street away from Leo she watched him in her rear view mirror; he stood for a while then turned and made his way back into the building.
She looked to her left at the blonde, who was sitting quietly. "You alright?"
"I feel a little woozy."
"You'll be fine. But it may hurt once the relaxants wear off. Leo gave me some painkillers."
Rocky was silent for a moment. Then she took a deep breath. "You can drop me near to the park if you want."
Jo turned incredulous eyes on the small figure. "You don't really think I'm taking you back there, do you?"
"It's where I belong."
"Like hell it is. You're coming home with me. You have a serious injury, which needs to be treated, and a hole in your side. I have painkillers, which you're going to need later. They will make you groggy. You could freeze to death in your sleep." She viciously changed gear, the engine howling in protest. "No way are you going back there."
Rocky looked out of the window, away from Jo. "Don't I get a say?"
"Not tonight, no."
The blonde head dropped, her fatigue evident. "I don't sound very grateful, do I?"
Jo was silent.
"Thanks," said Rocky.
"Anytime," said Jo.
Jo parked the Merc outside her front door and looked to her left at the hunched figure.
"Looks like a lot of pain," she said to the blonde, who raised her head wearily and looked out of the snow-smeared window.
Rocky was clutching her injured arm, the hand of her right arm cradling the elbow of her left, supporting it.
"I'm sure Leo should have strapped you up. We'll find something when we get in."
"Is this where you live?" Rocky asked, as Jo opened her door.
"Yeah, this is it. Stay there while I open the front door."
Jo keyed in the security code and pushed the door open, pushing across a doorstop to make sure it didn't close again as she went back to help Rocky out of the car.
"Alright then, let's get you inside."
She eased the injured girl out of the car, and steadied her as she swayed. Jo pulled the jacket more securely around Rocky's shoulders as they made their way through the now heavy snow into the house.
At the threshold Rocky stopped. "I can't."
Jo's arm was draped gently around the smaller girl's shoulder, taking care not to rest heavily on the injured one. "You can't what?"
"I can't go in."
Jo turned the blonde carefully, so that her back was against the opened door. She held her by the tops of her arms, her hands feeling the shaking through the leather jacket which was still draped about her shoulders. "Rocky, there's nothing to be afraid of in there. It's my home, and you're welcome here."
Rocky looked to her right, up the short flight of stairs that led to Jo's home. "It's been so long," she said, her eyes fixed on the door at the top of the stairs. "I've been out there so long." She looked back into the bewildered blue eyes. "I'm not sure I can do it, Jo."
Jo shook her head gently. "I'm trying to understand. Really I am." She took a deep breath, her hands gently running up and down the shaking arms. "I just want you to be warm for a while. Warm and comfortable. With no worries, no pressures. Just you and me."
Rocky's head slumped forward. And with a gentle hand, Jo lifted her chin, her own eyes watering when she saw the fear that misted the girl's green eyes. "What do you say?"
Rocky closed her eyes. "Ow?" she said, and wiped away the tears that started to fall, a small smile finally gracing her features.
"I need to call Leo," said Jo, and turned the girl, walking her slowly up the stairs. "I think I may need to sue him."
"Jo, he did more than could be expected." She waited as Jo pushed open the door at the top of the stairs and felt Jo push her gently into the warmth of her home.
"This way," said Jo, and led her into the lounge, sitting her on the sofa. "I'm going back down to put the car in the garage and get your painkillers from the glove compartment. Just sit tight." She pulled the jacket from Rocky's shoulders, and threw it over a chair, leaving the blonde alone with her thoughts.
When Jo returned, she found Rocky standing in the middle of the lounge holding her arm tightly. "What's the matter, is it hurting more?"
Rocky shook her head.
"So what is it?" She walked towards the girl, placing the pot of pain pills on the low coffee table.
"My boots are dirty, but I can't reach to take them off." Rocky peered at the boots in question, hating the small dark smudges they had left on the spotless carpet.
"Come on, sit down."
Rocky peered at the ivory coloured sofa. "Jo..."
"It's okay, don't worry. Please, sit down before you collapse." She could see the signs of strain in the pale face, and didn't want this to be more of an ordeal for the girl than it needed to be.
Rocky sat, still holding on to her injured arm.
Jo knelt at her feet and started to pull off the scruffy boots.
"Jo, you don't need to do that." Rocky peered down at her, but sat back quickly when pain seared through her shoulder.
"Yes I do," said Jo, and cupped the back of Rocky's calf with one hand while easing the boot off with the other. She repeated the procedure with the other foot.
"There," she said, sitting back on her heels. "I'm going to find something to strap up that shoulder with." She climbed to her feet and left the blonde alone again.
When she returned, she handed Rocky a glass of orange juice and a pill. "I think it's okay to take another now."
Then Jo picked up the phone and dialled a number from memory. It rang for a while before it was answered.
"For Chrissake, Jo, now what?"
"Leo, how did you know it was me?"
"Because no-one else would think they could get away with waking me twice in one night. What is it?"
Jo sighed. "I'm worried about Rocky's shoulder. I think you could have done more."
"Of course I should have bloody well done more. I probably should have x-rayed it, I probably should have packed you both off to the local hospital. I put it back in, and I gave you some pain pills. Both could get me struck off if it became public."
A long sigh from the doctor. "So what was bothering you?"
"Shouldn't it be strapped up?"
"Actually, yes. I meant to tell you that. I didn't really have anything there that would do. Not in the office anyway. Yes, get a scarf or something, and strap her arm across her stomach. Not too tight, just to stop it from moving around. But saying that," he continued, "every day, just get the shoulder moving a little. Not so it causes her huge amounts of pain, just to keep the muscles from seizing up."
"Cold is good. Ice, like I said before, or a packet of frozen peas, inside a tee-shirt."
"Ok, Doc. Thanks."
"Can I please go back to sleep now?"
"Yeah, good night, Leo."
Her answer was the dialling tone, so she replaced the phone in the cradle. When she turned back towards her guest, she found Rocky valiantly trying to keep her eyes open. "Be right back," she said to the sleepy woman.
She found a scarf, not quite remembering where it came from, or whether it was even hers, and returned to the lounge. "Right then, let's see if we can work this out." She eased Rocky's good arm down, supporting the injured one as she wrapped the scarf around it, and then wound the make-shift sling around the blonde's neck, being careful that the weight of supporting the arm wasn't put upon the injured shoulder.
After she finished, she looked at her friend, who returned her look with sleepy green eyes. Jo sat in the corner of the sofa and gently pulled the unresisting woman around, so that she leaned back against her chest. Then she reached down and picked up the bag of frozen peas that she had taken from the freezer. She thanked her housekeeper briefly, as she wrapped them in a thin tee shirt and eased the package below the scarf and onto the injured shoulder. With Rocky reclining, there was not so much pressure on the sling, and so the package sat snugly without causing the blonde further pain.
"I can't sleep here." Rocky's voice was slurred, no doubt testament to the pain pills she'd just taken.
"Just rest for a while," Jo whispered into soft hair.
The blonde head nodded slightly. "Okay, but I won't be able to sl...." she said, as she fell asleep.
Jo tightened her grip on the small blonde, buried her face in her hair, and fell asleep herself, a smile of contentment on her face.
Jo woke with a start, taking a moment to reorient herself. A blonde head rested on her chest, the gentle rise and fall of the smaller woman's chest indicating she was still deeply asleep.
The tall woman tried to stretch beneath the comfortable weight, but found she couldn't. And, for the umpteenth time in the past few days, she found herself stiff and uncomfortable after spending too long sleeping on the sofa.
She eased herself to a sitting position, the girl in her arms, still soundly asleep, sat up with her. With great care, she managed to get out from beneath the blonde. Holding the seemingly boneless girl, she reached across, took a large plump cushion from the armchair, and put it behind Rocky, then settled her on it. She made sure that the injured girl's arm was in a comfortable position, and then with a long lingering look at her guest, she made her way upstairs to the bathroom.
After a short visit to the bathroom she went into her bedroom, shedding clothes as she went. She selected some looser items from drawers and the wardrobe. Pulling on a pair of sweat pants, and a large tee shirt.
Then she went back downstairs, and, after putting her head through the lounge doorway to check on Rocky, made her way to the kitchen, filled the kettle and turned it on.
Jo slumped on the chair at the small kitchen table. She felt like she'd slept only a few hours for the past few days, though she knew that wasn't so. Up until the previous weekend, her life had been completely undemanding. She'd had fun, and thought little of the consequences. And now, a woman who she'd had no knowledge of only days ago was the focus of her entire life. For the first time in her life she was putting someone else's wellbeing before her own. And in a strange way, it made her feel worth something. She'd never felt that before, she realised. Never thought of herself as some kind of benefactor. She knew she would have a time of it, trying to persuade Rocky to let her help her. What must the blonde think? Here was some crazy rich woman babbling on about dreams, and premonitions. But hadn't Rocky said she felt something too? So maybe it wasn't so crazy. Maybe this was the point in her life when her reason for being was fulfilled. She certainly hadn't found the purpose of her existence up until that point. Unless you count.... No, she decided not to go there.
The kettle automatically turning itself off startled her slightly, and she wearily stood and retrieved a couple of mugs from the small cupboard. She smiled as she saw the two objects in her hands. Even subconsciously she was already thinking of her and the girl now asleep on her sofa. She suspected Rocky would sleep longer so she put one mug back and put a tea bag into the remaining mug.
It was then that she heard the cry. Forgetting the tea, she rushed back into the lounge, finding the girl struggling to sit up.
Rocky's face was glistening with the effort, white as chalk. "No!" she screamed, her good arm flailing in front of her as if to ward off an imaginary attacker.
"Rocky, please." Jo tried to approach the distraught woman carefully, not wanting to scare her further. Because that's what she saw in the pale face: fear, pure unadulterated terror.
Rocky was weakening, and Jo managed to get hold of her arm and gently push her back down onto the sofa. But that just seemed to galvanise the blonde, and she pushed up against her apparent attacker, crying out in rage and pain as she did so.
Jo knelt beside the sofa, one hand holding Rocky's good arm, the other stroking her face.
"Hey, what's all this about?" she asked, watching the eyes darting beneath tightly shut eyelids. "Sssh, you're safe here." She pushed damp hair off Rocky's forehead.
"No, not again. I can't..." Rocky pushed up again, but was weakening. "Please, don't.... I can't..."
"Rocky, baby. It's Jo, you're safe here." Jo kept repeating the phrase over and over, and eventually the blonde started to relax. Jo thought she was probably exhausted rather than convinced that she was safe. As she waited for Rocky to be still again, she traced a thin scar that ran for a couple of inches above a pale eyebrow.
She felt Rocky's shirt and realised it was drenched with sweat. She knew she had to get the girl out of her clothes, and to do that she would have to wake her.
"Hey there," she said, and took a limp hand in her own, rubbing the palm with her thumb. "Rocky?"
Green eyes fluttered open and tracked dazedly to Jo. For a moment, utter confusion was evident in the pale face, then she recognised the woman smiling warmly at her, and the small body relaxed once more.
"I'm..." Rocky croaked and coughed, wincing against the pain in her shoulder.
"Stay still; I'll get you some juice."
Rocky did as she was told, passing a shaking hand across her sweat-drenched face. Her head was thumping and she knew she'd had one of her nightmares - they always left her shaking.
"Here you are," said Jo as she reappeared, a glass of orange juice in her hand. She placed the juice on the low coffee table and helped Rocky to sit up.
Rocky slumped back against the sofa, holding on to her injured arm with her good one once more.
"Painful?" Jo asked as she handed Rocky the juice.
Rocky merely nodded, taking the juice from Jo and quenching her raging thirst. "Not used to this," she said as her voice returned.
The tall woman eased herself onto the sofa, next to her friend. "Used to what?" She took the glass from Rocky, noticing the shaking in the small hand.
"The warmth ... made me sleepy."
Jo shrugged. "That and the pills." She took a deep breath. "You okay?"
Rocky had been gazing at her, unashamedly staring. "Yeah." She looked away, suddenly finding the fire extremely interesting.
"Rocky, you were screaming." Jo reached out and once again took a shaking hand into her own. "And now you're shaking."
"Just confused when I woke up there. That's all." She closed her eyes against the throbbing headache, which was intensifying rapidly.
"You were terrified, Rocky." Jo gripped the hand tighter as Rocky attempted to pull away. Then she reached across with her free hand and cupped a flushed cheek. "You're hot, your clothes are drenched through. We need to get you changed into something dry."
Panic-filled green eyes turned towards her.
"Hey," said Jo quickly. "There's nothing to be afraid of. Just let me help you."
Rocky's head dropped. "This is really hard." She looked back up into gentle blue eyes. "I've been alone so long. Haven't had to depend on anyone."
"And I've never had anyone depend on me. But then," she leaned forward, brushing her lips against the blonde's, "I've never cared about anyone else before."
When she leaned back she saw Rocky's eyes were shut, a dreamy look on her face. But Jo put that down to the drugs. "Come on," she said. "Let's get you out of those clothes."
Green eyes snapped open, and Jo winced. "That sounds all wrong doesn't it. I don't mean it like that. Well.... I mean, I would like... it if you would...." Jo sighed long and hard. "Look, I'll help you for as long as you need me. But if you're not comfortable with something, just say. Sound good to you?"
Rocky nodded shakily, and allowed herself to be carefully pulled to her feet. "Come on, I'll find something for you to wear."
Jo headed up the stairs, smiling to herself when she heard the blonde following.
Rocky stood outside Jo's bedroom, watching as her friend rifled through her drawers trying to find something for the smaller woman to wear.
"This might do." She held up a plain white tee shirt, which was large even on her. She estimated it would come down to the smaller girl's knees. She threw that on the bed and opened a smaller top drawer, throwing some briefs onto the bed next to the tee shirt.
Rocky was still standing outside the door. "You can come on in."
Rocky entered, looking around the room as she did so. "This is nice."
"Thanks." She took the blonde gently by the shoulders and pushed her down onto the bed. Rocky was too tired to resist, and sat quietly watching with sleepy eyes as Jo started to undo the knot holding the sling in place. She held the injured arm in place as she threw the scarf into a corner. "Okay, let's think about the best way to do this. Hold on."
She ran down the stairs and looked through the drawers in the kitchen, finally finding what she was looking for: a large pair of scissors.
Rocky hadn't moved, and she knelt down again in front of her. "The shirt should be easy to get off, but the thermal will be more difficult," Jo said.
Rocky nodded, bending her good arm as Jo eased the shirt off. "We'll leave the thermal on for now. I think we'll do the trousers next."
"No." The word was little more than a whisper.
Jo ducked to see into watery green eyes. "Rocky? Sweetheart, we need to get you out of these damp clothes."
"It's ok, I'm used to it."
"But tonight you don't have to be used to it. And tonight you're sick. And tired. And hurting." She ran her fingers through damp blonde hair. "Please?"
"You don't understand." Tears squeezed from between tightly shut lids.
"What don't I understand?" She waited patiently, but Rocky just shook her head. "Hey," she whispered and got up from the floor and sat beside the sobbing girl on the bed. She carefully put her arm around Rocky's shoulders and gently pulled her against her chest. Jo supported her injured arm with one hand, the other rubbing the heaving back. She rested her cheek against blonde hair and let the girl cry herself out. When she was finished she pulled away from Jo, and looked up at her with tired green eyes.
"Are you going to tell me what's wrong?" Jo asked, wiping away tears with her fingers.
Rocky nodded, and pushed her hair out of her eyes. "It's just.... My clothes, they're .... Well, they're dirty."
Jo cocked her head to one side, waiting for Rocky to continue.
Rocky took a deep breath. "I don't get to change very often."
Realisation hit Jo, and she felt suddenly ashamed that she had put the girl thorough this without thinking about it.
"Did you think that would bother me?"
Rocky shrugged. "Everything you have is so nice." She looked around the room, at the quilt and at the clothes Jo had put out for her to wear. "So clean."
"Rocky," she said, pulling the pale face back so that Rocky was looking at her again. "I didn't think twice about bringing you back here. I know where you've been living for the past five years, and I know the consequences of that. I'm not going to judge you because you have dirty trousers on." She smiled, relieved to see the smile echoed in the face of the blonde. "So, will you let me help you?"
Rocky nodded her head, and stood shakily. Jo stood as well, and they faced each other for a moment. Rocky looked suddenly very vulnerable, standing there in her thermal vest and huge trousers.
Jo turned her attention to the old leather belt which held the very large pair of trousers up. There was no button or zip, and once they were lowered Jo was faced with another similar pair of trousers. "Okay, step out of them."
Rocky did as she was asked, and waited while Jo struggled with the button fastening the top of the second pair of trousers. "The button's stiff," she said as she managed to get it open.
"Army surplus," said Rocky. "I always tried to get it if I could."
Jo cast a quick glance up as she lowered the zip of the trousers and pulled them down.
Many times before, she had undressed women in this room. But how different this occasion was. This time there was no ulterior motive. There would be no seduction, no night of blinding passion.
"Sexy, huh?" said Rocky with a small smile. She looked down at herself, now dressed in her thermal vest and long johns.
Jo sat back on her heels. "Looks good to me." She smiled up at the blonde, pleased to see that she appeared to be relaxing. "Ready?" she asked, hooking her fingers in the waistband of the long johns.
Rocky nodded, and the white garment was pulled down over slim legs. Rocky stood now in nothing but a white vest, dark blue briefs, and thick, grey army socks.
So Jo had decided that there would be no passion in this particular disrobing exercise. She swallowed hard, seeing the shapely legs only inches from her face. "Um, there you are." She stood quickly, and picked up the scissors. "I'm going to have to cut the vest off."
Rocky had started to shiver, and Jo knew it was time to start hurrying. She didn't believe the girl was cold, but knew the ordeal was starting to take its toll on the blonde.
"I'll cut it from the back," Jo said.
Jo turned the blonde and carefully started to cut the vest from the hem to the neck. When it was open at the back, she pulled it forward and off. Trying hard to avert her eyes from the expanse of creamy white skin in front of her, she reached for the tee shirt lying on the bed. She opened the neck and drew it over the blonde head.
"Can you get your arm through?" she asked.
Rocky tried, and, as the shirt was so big, she managed it with comparative ease. When she was in the tee shirt, Jo turned her and retrieved the makeshift sling. Positioning Rocky's arm against her stomach, she refastened the sling.
"There, how's that?"
Rocky smiled up at her; there were tears in her eyes. "Thank you," she whispered.
"Come on." Jo pulled back the quilt and urged Rocky into the bed. "You get some rest. I'm going down to get one of your painkillers."
Rocky snuggled into the thick quilt, her eyes fluttering closed as her head hit the pillow.
When Jo returned, Rocky was asleep, so she lay on top of the quilt next to her friend. For a long moment she watched her sleep.
"When you wake, you will tell me about your nightmares," she told the sleeping girl, smoothing away the soft blonde hair from a warm forehead.
She settled down beside Rocky, lying on top of the quilt, and kept watch. She lay in wait for the demons that had come for the girl on both occasions she had slept in Jo's presence.
And when they came, she would chase them off.
Jo rolled over as she woke, and found herself face to face with an angel.
Rocky was lying on her back, her face turned towards her host. Jo felt a pressure on her hand and looked down to see a smaller one gripping it. Craning her neck to see the clock beside the bed, she found it was close to noon.
She was surprised that the girl had slept so long. She'd expected the night demons that haunted the small blonde to pay her a visit during the night. But she saw that the sleeping face looked relaxed though pale.
She enjoyed the moment, feeling free to watch the girl sleep. Her gaze fell upon soft lips slightly parted in sleep. She remembered the photograph she'd had, how she'd studied it in great detail, committed to memory every facet of the face before her.
The she looked down at the small hand curled around her own. The image blurred and Jo blinked her eyes rapidly, confused at the appearance of tears.
Her gaze returned to the pale face of the blonde, to find misty green eyes regarding her thoughtfully.
"Hi," said Rocky, concern evident on her face. "You okay?"
Jo nodded, swallowing tightly. "Yeah, I'm fine."
They regarded each other for a long moment, the blonde not moving from her reclined position. Nor did she move as the dark-haired woman dipped her head and brushed her lips briefly against those of the smaller woman.
Jo pulled back, looking for any discomfort from Rocky. The small hand left her own, and she felt a pressure on the back of her neck, pulling her back down. Trying to keep the majority of her weight off the blonde, she gave in to the gentle tugging. The meeting of their lips was more insistent this time, the contact more solid. Both sets of breathing became ragged, and it was a small gasp of pain from the smaller woman that made Jo back away.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, pushing dishevelled blonde hair off Rocky's face.
"It's alright. Just forgot about it for a moment then."
Jo chuckled and stood, walking around the bottom of the bed. She sat on the edge of the bed to Rocky's left, and handed her the pain pill she'd put there the night before. "You'd better take this now." She helped her sit up and gave her the glass of orange.
"I'm going to pop out for a while. Is there anything you want me to get you?"
Rocky shook her head, peering into the bottom of her now-empty glass.
"I'm going to go to the chemist, get some dressings for your side. I'm sure I could get some water-proof ones, then you could have a bath, or a shower."
Green eyes looked confused. "My side?"
"Yeah, you have a couple of stitches in it."
Jo shook her head. "What happened exactly?" She stood and went to her wardrobe, pulling out a pair of jeans.
"At the leather works?" Rocky asked.
Jo looked up from the drawers she was rifling through and nodded.
The brow beneath the fair hair furrowed as Rocky thought back to the previous night. "I was looking for wood," she began. "It was colder than usual, and I needed a lot to make sure the fire lasted through the night. I wasn't really concentrating and just about walked into a bunch of guys. I think it was a drug deal." She looked up to find wide blue eyes regarding her. She shrugged. "I ran, back into the factory. I hid from them, and they gave up. I was back in a part of the factory I've never been in before. When I tried to get back out, I fell through the floor," she finished in a matter-of-fact voice.
"Something must have gone right through your jacket and everything else to have cut your side," said Jo, hopping from one foot to the other as she pulled her jeans on.
"I didn't know it had. I hit the bottom pretty hard, and I knew I'd hurt my shoulder. I managed to get to my feet, and I found an old rusty ladder. I think I was down in the boiler room or something. I got out; the old boys found me and went and got Edna. Don't remember much after that."
Jo pulled on a sweatshirt. "Well, Edna got in touch with me, and more by luck than judgement, I managed to find the factory." She sat on the edge of the bed and pulled on her boots. "Right, then," she said, standing. "I'll be as quick as I can. Is there anything you need before I go?"
"No, I'm fine."
Jo hurried over to the bed, leaned down, and kissed Rocky on the forehead.
"Thanks for looking after me," said the blonde.
Jo's answer was a dazzling smile, and then she was gone. Rocky listened to her footsteps as she descended the stairs, and then heard the front door close. She snuggled back down into the quilt and drifted off to sleep again.
Rocky woke with a start. She knew she hadn't been asleep long, but the nightmare had come quickly. She had the same feeling of panic as always, the tightness in her chest and the thumping pain in her head. She tried to rise, but quickly fell back onto the bed, the pain in her shoulder excruciating. She knew she couldn't take another painkiller for a while, so she eased herself carefully out of bed, and made her way to the bathroom.
As she exited the bathroom she heard a buzzing noise. She carefully descended the stairs, the pain in her shoulder making her dizzy. She went into the lounge and then the kitchen. The noise sounded again, and she followed the noise until she found a grey box with a flashing red light on it at the top of the stairs. There was a small black button next to the red light. Below the black button was a white button, with the word `open` on it.
The buzzer sounded again, causing her to take a step back. Maybe she had to do something, maybe there was a security system and Jo had forgotten to reset it. Had she set it off by walking through the house?
Again the buzzer sounded, and this time she pressed the black button next to the flashing light.
"Jo?" the tinny voice asked. It was a woman.
Rocky remained silent, staring at the box in horror.
"Jo, you've changed the bloody code. Open the door."
Rocky backed away from the wall, holding her injured arm with her right hand.
"Come on, Jo. It's been days. I know you didn't mean what you said."
Rocky approached the box and spoke into the small holes at the top of it. "Jo's not here," she said quietly.
"What? Who the hell's that?" There was silence for a moment. "Look, sweetie, whoever. You just push the little white button and let me in. Then we'll see about finding you the exit door. You obviously don't know the rules. If Jojo goes out then you're meant to be gone before she gets back. It's a kind of rule with her little sleepovers. I'm surprised she didn't explain to you." There was a sigh. "It's just good fortune I came along before she returned; saves everyone a lot of embarrassment. Now, be a good girl and open the door." She waited. "Come on, sweetie. Be good and open the door. Now don't start thinking you're any different from any of the other sweet little things she has up there."
"She told me to wait," said Rocky, more to herself than to the disembodied voice. She slumped against the wall and slid down it, staring up at the talking box with tear-filled eyes.
"Very well. You just believe that. But when she tires of you, remember this little chat. And I'll be here, waiting to give her what you couldn't."
Rocky listened to the sound of footsteps and then a car door slamming. She struggled to her feet, and went in search of her stuff.
Jo parked the car in the garage and reached across for the large bag of shopping she'd put on the passenger seat. Then, taking the stairs two at a time, she made her way up to her home.
It was silent in the house, and she guessed that the blonde was probably still asleep, so she climbed the next set of stairs to the upper level.
The bedroom was empty, the quilt pulled back, and the tee-shirt and the scarf she had used as a sling were in a heap on the floor.
She picked up the tee shirt, and ran out of the room. "Rocky!" she shouted, throwing down the garment and descending the stairs quickly. She went into the kitchen, and then the lounge.
Rocky was nowhere to be found. She had gone.
"Shit!" was all Jo could manage, as she ran down the stairs and out into the courtyard, using her remote control to open the garage door. Once inside the car, she gunned the engine and sped out into the cold, damp day.
She automatically headed for Whitechapel, that being the only connection she had with the girl. And she hadn't gone far before she saw a familiar hunched figure, her gut clenching as she saw the people that passed her giving her a wide berth. She parked the car slightly ahead of Rocky and got out.
The blonde was struggling so much with her two bags that she didn't notice Jo until she almost walked into her.
"Rocky?" said Jo, putting out a hesitant hand to stop the girl's unsteady progress.
Rocky looked up at her, and Jo was alarmed at the pale, sweaty face and glazed eyes that met hers.
"Rocky, you're ill. What d'you think you're doing?" She tried to take the two heavy bags from the shorter woman, but Rocky pulled away from her.
"Leave me alone, Jo," she said, staggering back so that her arm collided with a wall. She gasped in pain, dropping one of her bags.
Jo made a grab for her as the blonde's knees buckled, and they both ended up in a heap on the wet pavement.
"Oh God, Rocky. What were you thinking?" Jo's voice was strained as she tried to keep her friend from toppling onto her side.
"What's wrong with her?"
Jo turned to see a policeman exiting his patrol car.
"Is she bothering you?"
Jo tore her eyes from the blonde, stood and faced the officer. "No, she's not bothering me. I'm trying to help her."
The policeman looked from her to the crumpled figure on the pavement. "Has she been drinking or taking illegal substances?"
"No!" Jo's tone was somewhat outraged, and the policeman raised his eyebrows in a warning gesture. Jo sighed. "No," she said again, calmer. "She's not well, and I'm trying to help her. Will you help me get her into the car?" She pointed to the Merc, its indicators still flashing, parked illegally on double yellow lines.
"Wouldn't you rather I called an ambulance, Miss?"
"No, really. She's a friend. I can help her."
The policeman turned his back on her and for a moment Jo thought he was just going to walk away and leave her. But then he reached into the car, said a few brief words to the driver, and returned, pulling on a pair of gloves.
A small crowd had gathered around the slumped figure by the time the policeman reached down and pulled Rocky none too gently to her feet.
Seeing an expanse of uniform filling her vision, Rocky pulled back. But in her weakened state she was no match for the man, who was a good few inches taller than Jo. Her guided her towards the Merc and put her into the passenger seat. Jo threw her bags into the boot, thanked the policeman, and quickly sped away.
Jo pulled savagely on the handbrake as the traffic in front of her came to a halt. A delivery wagon had stopped, and the driver jumped out. He didn't seem to have any concerns that he was blocking the road, and disappeared into the shop he was obviously delivering to.
Jo shifted in her seat to face her passenger. "What were you thinking, Rocky? Look at you, you're in agony." There was not much sympathy in her voice.
Rocky didn't answer, just pulled off her hat and threw it into the back of the car.
"I told you I wouldn't be long."
"I know." Rocky's voice was strained; the pain in her shoulder had intensified, and she was feeling nauseous.
"So why did you run? I really don't understand. I thought I'd made it clear you were welcome in my home."
Rocky gingerly supported her injured arm. "I don't want to be a burden, cramp your style."
"My style?" Jo was incredulous. "What are you talking about?"
"I don't want to be in the way." The blonde turned pain-filled green eyes on the driver; the pain wasn't all physical. "If you want to take someone back to your place, I wouldn't want to stop you doing that."
"Rocky what are you talking about?"
Rocky looked at her. Tell or not tell? Well, she wouldn't be around Jo much longer. "You had a visitor."
"I don't know, a woman."
Jo closed her eyes. "Did you let her in?"
"No, I spoke to her on the intercom thing."
Jo took a deep breath, suspecting who Rocky had spoken to. "So what did she say?"
"Why is it so important?" asked Rocky quietly.
"Because it drove you out of my home!" Jo's voice rose, causing Rocky to shrink back. Seeing the movement, Jo reached out, placing a gentle hand on a trembling thigh. "I'm sorry. I think I know who you spoke to."
"It doesn't matter." The blonde looked down at the hand on her thigh.
"But don't you see, it does. Whatever this person said to you caused you to leave. I want to know."
A blast of a horn behind her made her look up to see that the car that was parked opposite the delivery wagon had moved and she could now drive through the gap.
Rocky missed the warmth of Jo's hand on her thigh, and looked across at the driver, taking in the tense lines of her face. "I shouldn't have gone like that." Jo didn't look at her, but Rocky saw the muscles in her face shift as she clenched her jaw. "I'm sorry, Jo. You've done so much for me. I shouldn't have believed her."
Jo sighed loudly. "Whatever it was she said was probably true. Up until a couple of days ago, I didn't care about anyone." Jo steered the car off the road, coming to a stop in a small side street. She took the car out of gear, but left the engine running. She turned to face Rocky. "I want to help you, Rocky. I've never done anything to help another soul in my life. There are people I know who would laugh in your face if you told them I was helping you. The person you talked to today was one of them. I'm asking you to trust me. Will you do that?"
Rocky bowed her head and nodded. "I shouldn't have doubted you." She looked up and reached across and took Jo's hand. "I'm sorry."
Jo gave her hand a squeeze. "Let's go home."
She put the car into gear, and pulled out into the traffic again.
As Rocky hadn't really got that far, it was only a few minutes before they arrived back at Jo's home. But when they arrived there was an unpleasant surprise awaiting them.
"Trixi," was all Jo said, as she got out of the car and walked around to help Rocky out. Trixi had unfolded herself from her own car as the Merc glided into the courtyard.
Rocky looked a state. Her hair was in disarray and her face was pale and pasty, testament to the pain she was feeling. She concentrated hard on not falling to the floor as she stepped out of the car, and didn't notice the tensing of her friend.
"Oh. My. God. What is that?" Trixi stared in utter disbelief at the woman Jo was helping.
Jo ignored her and opened the door to the house. She turned to Rocky and ducked her head. "Can you get upstairs? There's something I need to do." Rocky nodded. "Ok, you go on and go sit in the lounge; I won't be long." She watched the blonde as she slowly climbed the stairs, then turned to the woman who was leaning casually on her car.
Trixi was smiling and shaking her head. "Oh, Jojo. Even for you, this is kinky."
"I think you'd better leave, Trix. Before I do something we'll both regret." Jo's voice was low as she approached the woman.
Trixi folded her arms across her chest, the smile never leaving her face as her sometime lover came to within inches of her. "Jo, baby, if you had told me you wanted something a little younger, I could have helped you. Found you something at least a little more hygienic."
Jo's hand didn't move that quickly, and Trixi didn't flinch as the taller woman's fist took hold of the front of her very expensive Kashmir coat. "Listen to me," she hissed. "I'm helping a friend. Something alien to you, I know. But I want you to try very hard, and just maybe you'll be able to believe that I can. Now, I want you to go away. Find one of your other little friends to play your games with."
Trixi placed her own hand over the one pressed into her chest. "She won't satisfy you the way I do, Jo. You know that. She won't let you do the things I let you do." Trixi smiled, seeing the blue eyes close. "Admit it, Jo. You want me. Now."
Jo pushed her away, and took a step back. "No more." Jo backed further away.
Trixi followed, like a panther stalking its prey, looking very much as she did the first night they'd met. The blonde had spotted Jo, made her a target, and later that night had taken her home.
She reached out an immaculately manicured finger and traced the tense jawline. "Jojo, why so tense? You know I have a cure for that."
Jo was standing with her back against her own car now. She reached up and took the hand into her own, pulling it to her lips.
Trixi smiled a smile of triumph, but it soon left her lips as her fingers were bent back. "Jo! Stop it!" she screamed as the pain in her hand drove her to her knees.
Jo bent to speak into the ear of the now sobbing blonde. "I'm not going to fight you, Trix. I want you to go and get in your car and drive away." Again the voice was a low hiss. "I don't want you to come here again, because if I see you anywhere near me, I will hurt you." She gave the woman's wrist one more savage twist before releasing her.
Trixi scrambled to her feet. "You bloody pervert," she cried as she got into her car. She lowered the window as she started the engine. "This isn't the end of this," she screamed as she drove from the courtyard.
Jo stood in the drizzling rain and looked down at her shaking hands. Then she got into her own car, and drove it into the garage.
Suddenly the need to be with Rocky was overwhelming, and she took the stairs two at a time in her effort to get back to her houseguest.
Rocky was sitting on the sofa again; she had obviously not even had the strength to remove her jacket. She turned weary eyes onto Jo as the tall woman rushed into the room.
Jo dropped to her knees in front of Rocky. "Are you in a lot of pain?"
Rocky nodded, "My fault though." She looked into the blue eyes of her friend. "What happened downstairs?"
Jo sighed. "I told Trixi to stay away."
"I don't want to cause trouble between you and your friends."
"Trixi wasn't what I would call a 'friend'. We slept together, that was all." She looked up at Rocky, waiting to see the disgust in her face.
"So you used each other?" asked the blonde.
"I suppose we did."
"Did you enjoy sleeping with her?"
"Yes, I did."
"But you didn't want to be with her?"
"Not in a relationship, no."
Rocky chewed her bottom lip. "Are you in a relationship with anyone else?"
"No, I'm not."
"Do you want to be?"
"Yes, I do."
Rocky smiled. "Anyone I know?"
Jo chuckled and shook her head. "Why aren't you angry? I just told you I sleep with someone I'm not particularly fond of because they're good in bed."
"It's not for me to be angry. How can I be angry with someone who is changing their whole life to keep me safe."
"I'm not...." Jo began.
Rocky raised a hand. "So you regularly help homeless people?"
"You know I don't."
"Exactly my point." She reached down and took Jo's hand. "I'm glad I'm the one you're saving."
Jo smiled. "Come on." She got to her feet and then helped Rocky. "I got some waterproof dressing for your wound. I want you to have a nice relaxing bath, and then we'll have something to eat. How does that sound?"
She took Rocky's jacket and hung it in the hall, then turned the blonde in the direction of the stairs.
In the bedroom, Jo gently turned Rocky to face her. "Do you want a painkiller?"
Rocky shook her head. "No, not yet, they make me sleepy."
"Okay. Listen," Jo searched for the words. "I'm going to help you undress. Are you okay with that?"
Rocky considered her reply. "I can't manage on my own, and I can't think of anyone else I'd rather have helping me."
"I was worried; you've been so independent for so long."
"I know, and I thought it would be hard, letting someone else do everything for me."
"Is it? Hard, I mean." Jo pushed Rocky gently back onto the bed, and started to take off her boots.
Rocky looked down at the top of the dark head. "No, it's not hard." She smiled. "I'm enjoying it actually."
Jo looked up at her, a lopsided grin gracing her features. "Well, don't get too used to it." She reached for the tattered shirt, the only thing Rocky was wearing beneath the jacket. She unbuttoned it very slowly, and when the last button was undone, she sat back on her heels. "You okay?" she asked quietly.
Rocky nodded, and Jo pushed the shirt back off the slim shoulders, being careful not to jar the injury.
Rocky watched Jo's face as the shirt fell onto the bed behind her. She watched Jo's eyes leave her own and drop to take in her naked form. She watched in fascination as Jo's eyes almost changed colour, and her mouth dropped open.
"Jo?" she asked, feeling strange that she felt no embarrassment being under this woman's scrutiny.
"My God, you're beautiful," gasped Jo, looking back up at her. "But I knew that all along."
Jo leaned forward, her lips meeting Rocky's, her hands going to the waistband of the tatty trousers.
Jo pulled one side of the waistband of Rocky's trousers down, and leaned in to peer at the wound. It was still covered by the dressing that Leo had applied and there was a small amount of blood staining it.
"I'm going to pull the dressing off," she warned the blonde.
Rocky had placed her good arm on the tall woman's back as Jo knelt between her legs.
"Hold on. Ready?" she asked as she glanced up at the pale face.
Rocky nodded and Jo slowly pulled the dressing off the wound. She stopped when she heard a hiss of pain. "Sorry."
"Just pull it quickly," Rocky said, trying to see what Jo was doing.
"I'm worried I'll pull on the stitches. Hang on." She leaned in closer to get a better look beneath the pad. The stitches were small and precise, exactly what she would expect from one of the wealthiest plastic surgeons in the business. "It looks okay." And with that she quickly pulled the dressing away.
She held Rocky steady with one hand and examined the wound. To her inexperienced eyes it looked awful, but there was no bleeding.
"Right then," she said, standing. She reached into a bag on the bed. "These are supposed to be waterproof."
The pads in the packet were large squares of lint, with a waterproof backing. She placed one gently on the wound and smoothed down the edges. "How's your shoulder?"
"Not as bad as yesterday, but starting to ache now."
"A bath will help." Jo took a step back. "Do you want me to help?" she gestured towards Rocky's trousers with a waving hand.
"Well..." Rocky stood shakily and tried to ease the trousers down with one hand. She couldn't remember how she'd got them on. She'd been upset and angry and had ignored the shooting pains in her shoulder as she pulled on the two pairs of trousers before.
Now, in the warmth of Jo's presence she wanted nothing more than to let her new friend help her. "Um, could you?"
With a smile Jo stood in front of her and undid the second pair of trousers and pulled both down over slim hips, holding Rocky's hand as the blonde stepped out of them. Jo handed Rocky her robe. "Sit for a moment while I run the bath."
Rocky did as she was asked, and listened to the sound of water running into the huge bath in the next room. She pulled the robe around her shoulders, holding it with her good arm.
Jo poked her head around the door. "You ready?"
Rocky nodded and followed Jo into the bathroom.
Jo helped her into the bath, again trying hard not to let the perfect body revealed to her distract her from her task. She looked down as the blonde relaxed back against the tub. "I'll, um, leave you to soak for a while." She said, and backed out of the room.
Jo went downstairs and pulled a chair out from beneath the table in the kitchen. She rested her elbows on the table and her head in her hands. "Oh, heaven help me," she said, remembering the body she'd just left in the bath upstairs. "She has no idea what she does to me."
She scrubbed her face vigorously with her hands and stood, opening the fridge door. "Would you like me to cook something?" she called, loud enough for the woman upstairs to hear.
"If you're hungry," came the distant reply.
"Are you hungry?"
"I am if you are."
"Well, I am."
"Okay, I am too."
Shaking her head, Jo picked out some eggs, some bacon, and some mushrooms. She'd seen someone else make an omelette once, and was sure she could do it.
She put all the things down on the table and went to the bottom of the stairs. "Yeah?" she called up.
"Could you help me here?"
Jo swallowed. "Sure," she said, tightly, and ascended the stairs.
She stood outside the door. "What was it you wanted?"
"I don't have a washcloth."
Jo went to the airing cupboard and pulled out a washcloth and a couple of large towels. Pausing before she entered, she knocked on the door and pushed it open when she heard Rocky invite her in.
"This is wonderful," said the blonde, relaxing in the deep water. She had sunk down so that she was completely beneath the water, just the tips of her knees showing apart from her head. "I haven't had a bath in years." She looked up at the dark-haired woman, taking in the look of shock Jo couldn't keep from her face. "I had showers; don't think I've been all these years without washing."
"Oh, I didn't," said Jo quickly. "I could tell that you'd washed. I mean, your skin it's so..." Jo cleared her throat. "It's just obvious." She placed the towels on the floor and handed Rocky the washcloth.
A small hand emerged from the water and took it from her.
Jo sat on the edge of the bath, one hand trailing in the water. "Rocky?"
Rocky said nothing, but green eyes peeking from beneath damp hair found hers, and she inclined her head slightly.
"How did you manage? Out on the streets."
Rocky closed her eyes, and Jo thought she wasn't going to answer. Then the blonde head nodded slightly and she took a deep breath. "When I first got there, I was terrified. I met Edna almost immediately. She took me under her wing. She and some of her friends."
Rocky soaped the cloth absentmindedly. "I couldn't claim benefit. I was only fifteen and they would have sent me back, or into care. Either way they would have been informed and I didn't want that." Jo opened her mouth to ask a question. "Don't stop me now, Jo."
"So I went with Edna. She didn't ask me why I was there, just accepted that I had to be there. Pretty soon after, a guy called Tito tried to get me to go on the streets for him. He had a load of young girls working for him. Edna tried to protect me, but in the end he got to me. I knocked him out. Right hook, right to the jaw. We had to get out of there then, and came to Whitechapel. I've been there ever since. Old Douggie said I punched harder than Rocky, and they just started to call me that."
Rocky was quiet, looking down at the cloth in her hands, remembering her old friends.
Jo felt an overwhelming sympathy for the girl, who suddenly looked very small, very vulnerable in the bath. "Let's get you out before you start getting cold."
Rocky looked up, tears falling from her chin into the water. She handed the cloth to Jo who soaped it again and gently applied it to the blonde's back and shoulders. When she'd done as much as she thought she should, she handed the cloth to Rocky and stood up. "I'll go and find you something to wear."
She left the bathroom, angrily wiping away the tears as she went.
Jo was laying a tee shirt and some underwear on the bed when Rocky appeared in the bedroom.
"There's some stuff for you to put on." She bent and took a pair of sweatpants out of a drawer. "I'll leave you to get dressed. If you need me just shout."
She left the room, closing the door behind her, and made her way back down the stairs to the kitchen.
When Rocky arrived in the kitchen, looking swamped in Jo's clothes, she found the taller woman peeling mushrooms. "Hi, take a seat in the lounge. I'll come in and we'll change your dressing for a dry one and put your sling back on."
Rocky did as she was told, and sat gingerly on the sofa, her shoulder starting to throb. Jo came in and made short work of changing the dressing on the wound and settling the injured arm into the makeshift sling. She took her a glass of orange juice and handed her a pain pill.
"It makes me sleepy," the blonde complained.
"You need it; don't tell me your shoulder isn't hurting." Jo stood and watched until Rocky took the pill, then left to her omelette creation.
She brought the hot food in a little later, balancing a tray on Rocky's lap and a fork in her hand. "I cut it up for you," she said, placing a plate with a couple of buttered bread rolls on the seat beside her.
Jo sat in the armchair with her own tray, and tried her omelette. Her eyebrows rose when it tasted like an omelette. She looked up and was inordinately pleased to see the blonde tucking in with gusto.
When she finished, Jo took the trays out to the kitchen and settled herself on the sofa next to Rocky. "How do you feel now?" she asked.
"I feel good. Kind of out of it. Must be the pills." Rocky eased herself back against a large cushion, and squirmed for a while before finding a comfortable position.
"Will you tell me your real name, Rocky?" Jo couldn't meet the green gaze, instead watching her hand as it worried the hem of Rocky's tee shirt.
"No-one's called me anything but Rocky for so long."
It was obvious that the girl was dredging up bad memories, and Jo silently berated herself for bringing up the subject while her friend was still recovering from her injuries. "I'm sorry," said Jo, reaching out and taking Rocky's free hand. "Forget I asked."
"No, it's okay," said the blonde, almost in wonderment. She had kept this secret for so long, living with it gnawing away at her. And now she found herself willing to give up her past. Willing to share the pain.
"Michelle?" asked Jo.
"My name, Michelle Kersey."
Jo leaned over and gently kissed the blonde. "Hello, Michelle. It's nice to meet you."
Rocky put her hand behind the dark head, pulling Jo into the kiss. It was only when the taller woman felt her flinch that she pulled back, finding that her hand had sneaked under the hem of the tee shirt and was caressing smooth skin.
Jo blushed; Rocky chuckled.
"Come here," said Jo, and leaned back into the arm of the sofa, gently turning and pulling the blonde so that she rested back against her chest. She was careful to position the injured arm so there was no strain on it, and then she settled her arms around Rocky's middle.
"So Michelle, are you going to tell me who you are?"
Jo felt the head under her chin shake. "It's been so long since anyone has called me that. You know, my parents only called me Michelle when I was in trouble. They used to call me Shelley."
"Where are they now?" If it were possible to pull words back into your mouth, Jo would have done so immediately. She felt the small body in her arms stiffen, and Rocky tried to sit up. "Hey, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have pushed." She spoke softly into dampened hair, her lips brushing an ear.
Rocky relaxed again. She was quiet for a long time, and when she began to talk it was in hushed tones, her voice almost strained with the effort it took to tell her tale.
"I grew up in Cornwall, near Tintagel on the north Cornish coast. My father had his own business and was very successful. Though the headquarters were in London, he ran it from home, and would only spend a few days a month away." She took a deep breath. "We were very happy. I was an only child, and I wasn't exactly spoilt, but I didn't want for much." She took hold of Jo's hand, intertwining her fingers with the longer ones. "I loved it there; it's such a beautiful place." She turned slightly. "Have you ever been there?"
"No, I haven't," Jo said softly.
"You must." She squeezed the hand held within her own. "We must.... I'd like to go back one day. Will you take me?"
"Of course," Jo whispered. "I told you I'd take you anywhere you wanted."
"I've been waiting a long time to be happy again." The blonde head rested back against Jo's collarbone. "I don't think about them often, because it hurts so much. I missed them for such a long time, and that hurt. So I wanted to forget them, but I never could. And I hated myself, because I wasn't strong enough to remember them." She sighed. "I survived by not feeling, not feeling the pain or the loneliness. Not feeling the loss of my parents." She pulled the hand up that she was holding, and brushed her lips against the knuckles. "You made me feel, Jo." She pressed the hand to her cheek. "The first time I saw you. All those feelings came rushing back. At first I was angry with you. I didn't want those feelings. I had taken five years to work out how to bury them so that I could just get through the days. And along you come and turned it all on its head."
They sat quietly for a long moment, comfortable in each other's presence. Then Rocky began speaking again.
"We'd gone out for a drive, taken a picnic. We stopped by the river; it wasn't that far from where we lived. It was a beautiful day, quite late in the year though. October, I think. But it was sunny, blue sky. We stopped beside a river - not sure which one. We were eating our picnic, and I went down to the riverbank. There were rocks, which created a path across the river. I couldn't stay off them. I was jumping from one to the next. Dad was shouting at me to get off them. I didn't of course. I fell and hit my head. They both jumped in after me. Dad got me out, but Mum got into difficulties. He put me on the bank and went back for her. It was so calm, hardly a wave. They never came back." Rocky felt the arms tighten around her, and it gave her the strength to go on. "I waited for them. It got dark, and then someone found me... If I had gone for help, maybe..."
"You were hurt?" Jo was holding onto Rocky now with desperation, almost feeling the girl reliving something she probably hadn't spoken of in years.
"Someone found me and called an ambulance." The pain pills were making her tired, and she fought to stay awake. "I wanted to tell them where they were. But I was so tired. My head hurt. They put this thing on my face, and I couldn't talk. I tried to tell them."
"I know you did." Rocky was becoming more upset, and Jo held her close. "Sssh, now."
"It was my fault."
"It was not your fault, don't say that." She pulled the trembling body back against her own. "Rest now."
"They were the only people who loved me." Rocky's voice trailed off. The pain pills and the effort of reliving the moment she lost her beloved parents were finally getting the better of her.
"Not the only people," Jo whispered into soft blonde hair. "Not any more."
Jo held Rocky as the blonde drifted into a troubled sleep. She listened to the sounds of discomfort coming from the woman in her arms, and debated waking her. But she thought not; she would let Rocky sleep.
She thought back to her own childhood, and tried to imagine losing her parents. Her life would have differed greatly from that of her friend's. Her parents tended to show their love with material things. Though she was not neglected, she never knew the kind of love that Rocky had described. But not knowing that life could be any different, she was happy with the attention she got from her parents.
Rocky started talking in her sleep. "Please." The word came out as a gasp; the pain behind it and the tension in the body in her arms scared her.
"Oh, God." Rocky's head was moving from side to side; her free arm came up to protect her face. "No, no more."
"Rocky," Jo said gently, her mouth very close to the blonde's ear. "It's Jo; it's alright."
"Not again," gasped the blonde, the pain in her voice evident.
"You're safe here. Rocky, you're not there anymore." She gently pulled the small hand to her lips, kissing the palm. But it was wrenched from her grasp as the small woman tried to sit up.
Rocky screamed in anger and pain when she was held in strong arms.
"Rocky, no! You're safe here. Don't go back to that place." She held on, burying her face in soft hair, wrapping her arms around the trembling body. "Rocky, come back to me now. Wake up."
Rocky's fight continued; she pushed back against the body behind her.
"Please, Rocky, wake up."
Slowly the struggling calmed, and the blonde lay in Jo's arms, dragging air into her lungs as if she'd been pulled from a raging sea.
"I'm okay," Rocky said in a shaky voice as she came to full awareness. "Let me sit up."
Jo reluctantly released her hold on the blonde and sat back watching as Rocky moved away from her, wiping away her tears with a shaking hand.
"How long was I asleep?" She turned glazed green eyes on the stunned looking woman.
"Not even half an hour." Jo moved a little closer, rubbing the trembling back gently. "Are you okay now?"
"It takes a while." She was now rubbing her forehead with the heel of her hand. "I'll be fine in a minute."
"Does this happen often?"
Rocky turned to regard her.
Jo held her hand up. "Sorry."
"No." Rocky sighed. "Don't be. I think talking about it tonight brought back some bad memories. Things I've tried not to relive for a while."
"I shouldn't have made you...."
Rocky looked at the stricken face, her guts twisting as she realised Jo was taking the blame for her nightmares. She turned on the sofa, and lying on her right side, lay her head on Jo's lap, feeling a tentative hand come to rest on her head. She felt the hand start to smooth her hair, and looked up into concerned blue eyes.
"It felt good to tell you," she said quietly. "I need to remember them. They were everything to me."
"Will you tell me what happened next?"
Rocky closed her eyes, revelling for a moment in the feel of the hand, gentle on her scalp. Jo's other hand found her free one, and held on.
"I woke up a couple of days later in hospital. I'd had a small operation to relieve pressure on my brain." She paused, seemingly collecting herself for the next part. "They'd found the car and had identified me by that.... They found my parents' bodies the day I woke up... I was alone in the hospital for over a week."
Jo looked down at the strained face, and pushed blonde hair away from closed eyes. "Is that why you don't like hospitals now?"
"Yeah. I was terrified. I thought I was going to be there forever." Rocky snuggled closer, relieved when Jo's grip on her tightened.
"Why wasn't someone informed earlier? Your parents had family didn't they?"
"Oh they were informed. My mother's sister had moved to Leicester when she married someone from that part of the country. They had some checks made to find out first if there was anyone else who could take me on." She looked up at the woman holding her, seeing more compassion in those blue eyes than she'd felt in the many years since her parents' death. She'd kept the pain inside, allowing only Edna a tiny glimpse of it.
But she finally felt she could unburden some of the crippling weight of her torment. She looked away from the eyes which urged her on, focussing on the material close to her face that covered Jo's stomach.
"They took me up to Leicester a month after the accident. They sold the house, and took me to that place. I loved living there, and they took me away." She looked up again. "Have you ever been to Leicester?"
Jo shook her head, not trusting her voice. She wanted to remain strong for Rocky, but never in her life had she felt the pain that she was feeling now. And it was for someone she'd known only a few days. But how she wished she could turn the clock back. She wanted to be there on that riverbank, holding the injured and confused girl. She felt an irrational feeling of guilt, and then anger.
Jo managed to unclench her jaw.
"You okay?" asked Rocky, struggling to sit up. Jo helped her, and then sat back against the arm of the sofa.
"Yeah, I'm fine. Just getting a little angry that you were alone for so long." She shrugged and rubbed her face vigorously, screwing her eyes shut.
"Don't get angry because of me; it's past now," said the blonde, reaching out a tentative hand and closing it around Jo's. She felt the tension in her friend, amazed that this woman would feel anger for something she could have had no control over. "There was nothing you could do. Nothing anyone could do."
"But why did you end up here, living on the streets?" That was it; that was the question Jo had wanted to ask since she first saw the picture in the gallery. "What could be so awful, that you would choose to live with nothing?"
Rocky opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came. Nobody had ever asked her that question before, and though the answer was easily within her grasp she found she couldn't speak the words. Her voice when she found it was small, broken. "I can't," she said simply.
And Jo accepted it, shifting across the sofa to take the blonde in her arms. She knew that Rocky had revealed more to her in an afternoon than she had to anyone else in the past five years. And she knew that the toll taken upon the girl had been great. She felt the small body sag against her, and did her best to show that she was strong, and would be strong for as long as Rocky needed her to be.
"Are you tired?" Jo asked, feeling Rocky's fatigue.
"Yeah," was the simple answer.
"You want to lie down?"
Rocky's head nodded against her chest, so Jo stood, pulling the blonde with her.
She led Rocky up to the bedroom, and helped her out of the sweatpants, leaving her in the tee shirt. She pulled the quilt back and gestured for the blonde to get in.
Rocky climbed in, and caught Jo's hand as she tried to leave. "Stay with me?"
"Okay." Jo sat on the edge of the bed.
"No, in here." Rocky held back the quilt.
Jo contemplated for a moment, in truth wanting nothing more than to lie down and just close her eyes for a while. "Are you sure?"
Rocky nodded, and watched as Jo took off her sweats and carefully eased into the bed beside the blonde.
"Would you hold me?" The question tore at Jo's heart, so she merely held out her arm and let the blonde head rest on her shoulder. Then she wrapped her arm around Rocky's back being sure to support the injured limb.
Rocky said nothing more, and Jo listened to her breathing as it changed, became deeper, and then evened out in sleep.
The dark-haired woman stared at the ceiling, and prayed to anyone who might be listening to give her the strength that this woman obviously thought she had. Because if she hadn't the strength, she wouldn't be able to handle failing Rocky.
And if she failed her she could lose her.
And if she lost her, she would not survive.
Jo was not familiar with the feeling of another body in her bed. True, she had entertained many women in that very spot, but they usually knew to slip out of the bed quietly when Jo turned over and presented them with her back.
She was comfortable in the knowledge that she always satisfied her guests, and she herself was rarely dissatisfied with her choice of partner for the evening.
So it didn't take much movement from the woman lying half on top of her to wake her from her pleasant slumber. The past few days had taken a lot out of her, however, and the heavy weight of sleep wouldn't immediately relinquish its grip.
"Jo?" The word pierced through the veil of sleep, and the pain behind the word nudged her out of its depths a little further.
"Mmm?" she mumbled, pulling the body closer, her foggy mind not hearing the gasp of pain as she did so.
"Jo," the voice said again. "It hurts."
She felt the body pull away, and heard the gasp that the movement induced. "'S okay," she said, and rolled over, nearly falling when the edge of the bed appeared before she expected.
She somehow managed to get to the bottom of the stairs, without fully opening her eyes. She found a glass and then the fridge. Up to that point she hadn't turned a light on in the house, and she squinted against the light the fridge produced when the door was opened. She poured a glass of orange juice, taking a sip herself before refilling it.
Then she collected the small pot of painkillers from the table and made her way back up the stairs. She stumbled through the bedroom, sitting on the edge of the bed beside the blonde.
Rocky felt a hand behind her, lifting her. She sat up, and felt a pill being pressed to her lips. Then she felt the cold rim of the glass, and it was tipped gently. She swallowed the juice and the pill and heard the glass set down on the bedside cabinet. Then she listened as Jo padded around the bottom of the bed and slipped under the covers beside her. She rolled over and resumed her position, using the taller woman's shoulder as a pillow. Rocky felt the long arm gently fold across her shoulders, and heard Jo's breathing immediately even out. A smile crossed the blonde's features, and she wondered at the fact that her new friend could do what she just did whilst apparently asleep.
They hadn't moved at all when Jo woke up next. The weight on her arm was comfortable, and she looked down at the face of the girl sharing her bed. She had a vague memory of being woken in the night, but the memory skittered away in the reality of the here and now.
Rocky was deeply asleep, not stirring even as Jo eased her arm from its place as the girl's pillow and slipped out of bed. With a long lingering glance at the sleeping girl, she made her way downstairs.
The phone began ringing as she sat on the sofa with a cup of tea she'd just made. She picked it up. "Yeah?" she said, as she placed the mug on the low coffee table.
"Really, dear," said her mother. "Is that the most appropriate way to answer the telephone?"
"For me? Yeah." Mother baiting is such an underestimated sport.
A loud sigh from the receiver.
"Was there something you wanted?" asked Jo.
"I was just wondering if you'd be flying up to Cumbria with your father and I?"
Jo closed her eyes, covering her face with her hand. "Um."
"I didn't catch that, dear. You know I'd prefer it if you would fly with us; I don't like you driving all the way up there."
"I'm not sure..."
"Not sure, dear? I would rather you got up there a little earlier than Christmas Eve. Last year you could barely stay awake during the service on Christmas morning."
"I'm not sure I can get there this year, Mother." Jo waited for the outburst she knew was about to come. It was a tradition passed down through the generations, and no member of the family had missed a Christmas at Collingford Manor in centuries. Even her sister would arrive from across the Atlantic rather than suffer the wrath of her mother.
"Joanna, I shall be there in half an hour." The voice was replaced by the dialling tone.
Joanna stared at the phone in her hand, and then placed it gently on the cradle. "How d'you forget about Christmas?" she whispered to herself.
It was actually twenty-three minutes before Jo's doorbell rang - a new record for her mother. She knew who it was by the insistent ringing, so she pressed the entry button and resumed her seat on the sofa, awaiting her fate.
Marianna Holbrook-Sutherland was pulling off her gloves as she entered the lounge. "Joanna dear, you look dreadful."
Jo stood and embraced her mother. "Thanks, Mother, love you too."
"First the episode in the gallery, and now I find you looking like you haven't slept for days. You really should take more care of yourself." She folded herself elegantly onto the armchair, regarding her daughter's slumped form. "Now, what's this about you not coming up to Collingford?"
"I have a problem here." Jo curled up on the sofa, hugging a cushion to her chest.
"And this problem can't be solved in little over a week?"
"I don't think so."
Marianna was being uncommonly reasonable, and it unnerved her daughter. "Can you tell me what the problem is?"
Jo looked at her mother warily. "I have a friend who is unwell, and I'd like to stay with her while she recovers." Jo expected her mother to laugh at her, much the same as Trixi had.
"Is this person here?"
"Um, yes, she's...." Jo jumped to her feet as Marianna stood. "Where are you going?"
The slightly shorter woman made her way purposefully out of the lounge and glanced in the kitchen. She turned back to her daughter. "I want to meet this person who is obviously more important to you than your family."
Jo stood on the bottom stair and blocked her mother's path to the bedrooms. "She's sleeping, I'd rather you didn't wake her."
"Exhausted is she?" Marianna took a step forward. "Joanna, step aside please."
Jo bowed her head and allowed her mother to climb the stairs. "It's not what you think," she said quietly, and looked up as her mother turned on the stairs to regard her daughter.
Marianna nodded slightly and resumed climbing, stopping outside the partially opened door of Jo's bedroom.
Jo caught up with her mother and pushed ahead of her, the light from the open doorway illuminating the still-dark room. She looked up from the sleeping form to see her mother standing at the bottom of the bed. Jo put a finger to her own lips when she saw her mother was about to say something. So Marianna walked around to stand beside her daughter.
"What happened to her?" asked the older woman.
"She fell. Hurt her shoulder." Jo was smoothing away hair from Rocky's eyes and her hand was captured by a smaller one and pulled towards the sleeping woman's chest. Jo looked at her mother, and gently pulled her hand out of Rocky's grasp.
"She looks very young, Jo."
Jo sighed. "Yes, she is."
"Would she not be better with her own family?" Marianna asked as she approached the head of the bed, pushing between Jo and the sleeping girl.
Jo watched in fascination as her mother leaned over the slumbering form and mirrored her own actions, smoothing soft blonde hair away from where it had fallen once again to tangle with long eyelashes.
"She has no family; her parents were killed some time ago."
Marianna took a deep breath and then grasped hold of her daughter's arm and pulled her from the room. Once outside she quietly closed the door. "Your friend Beatrice called me this morning."
Jo crossed her arms - a defensive gesture. "Trixi? She called you?"
"Yes she did. She tells me you have taken a vagrant into your home." Marianna held her hand up as Jo opened her mouth to object to the description. "Wait." She watched her daughter lean back against the wall, her features guarded. "Someone in your position, of your background, has to be especially careful in the company they keep. I want to know that you are satisfied that the girl in there, in your bed, is all she claims to be."
"She doesn't claim to be anything. She didn't want to come back here; it was only when she got injured and was physically incapable of staying on the streets that she agreed to come home with me." Jo's tone was defensive and a little confrontational.
"And then into your bed?" Marianna raised an eyebrow in question.
"It's not how it looks."
Two identical sets of blue eyes bored into one another.
"Jo?" Both women were startled by the voice that drifted from the bedroom. Jo was first to move, followed by her mother.
Rocky was blinking up at the two women standing beside the bed. She thought she must have suffered a head wound at some time, seeing the double image in the dim light.
"Jo?" She tried to sit up, and Jo helped her, putting the extra pillows from the bed behind her to cushion her back against the headboard.
Jo stood at the head of the bed beside Rocky while her mother sat on the edge of the bed. "Hello, dear. I'm Joanna's mother."
Rocky reached out with a shaky hand taking the one offered to her. "Hello."
"Joanna tells me you had a mishap."
Rocky looked up at her friend, who nodded slightly. "Um, yes. I had a fall."
Marianna reached out and put a gentle hand beneath Rocky's hair, feeling her forehead. "Are you taking medication?"
"I'm... um, taking some painkillers."
Jo's mother nodded, and turned to her daughter. "She should be eating if she's taking any type of painkiller."
"We've eaten," said Jo defensively. "We had an omelette."
"Jo cooked it," said Rocky, looking up at her friend adoringly. "It was very nice."
"My daughter doesn't cook, dear. No wonder you're not looking well." She turned slightly towards Jo. "Joanna, get me the phone please." Jo looked from her mother to her friend. "Run along, dear. This poor child requires food, and I doubt you have anything in your refrigerator that would produce the kind of meal I have in mind." Jo still made no attempt to leave. "Your friend is quite safe with me."
Jo slowly left the room, and Marianna turned back to the girl in the bed. "Has my daughter been looking after you?" she asked. "It would appear that she has made you very comfortable." She patted the bed to emphasise what she was referring to.
"She's been wonderful. I still have a hard time believing I'm here."
"Oh yes, I understand you are homeless. Is that a temporary situation?"
"Is everything alright in here?" asked Jo, as she reappeared a little out of breath and handed her mother the cordless phone.
"Everything's fine, dear." Marianna took the phone from her daughter and dialled a number from memory. "Sandor, darling. I need a delivery... For three... No, at Joanna's. You have the address? I trust your judgement, darling... Sounds delightful... And a good wine? Fabulous. Bye." Marianna ended the call and turned to her daughter. "We have an hour and a half, which will be a little after one. Perhaps we can all go downstairs, and you two can tell me exactly what has been going on the last few days."
It was a couple of hours later that Marianna watched in fascination as her daughter cut up some of the food on her friend's plate, as they sat at the small table in the kitchen. She took in the look of shy adoration on the blonde's face and the look of patient concern on her daughter's.
"Rocky is an unusual name, dear." Mariana sat back, pushing her plate away and refilling her glass with the wine that had arrived with the meal.
"It's a nickname." The blonde remembered the raised eyebrows when she had told Jo's mother what her name was. "It's the only name I've known for the past five years."
"Is that how you prefer to be known here?" Marianna asked.
Rocky regarded the food on her plate. "My name is Michelle." She looked up. "You may call me that if you want."
"Michelle is a beautiful name," she said with a smile.
Rocky blushed. "Thank you."
She turned to her daughter. "So, Joanna." Her smile faded; so did her daughter's. "I'm assuming that you won't be travelling to Collingford for Christmas."
"I won't, I'm sorry." Jo held her mother's gaze, hoping she wouldn't cause a scene in front of the blonde.
"I can't say I'm not disappointed. This will be the first year the whole family has not been in attendance." Marianna stood, and extended her hand towards Rocky. "Michelle, it's been a pleasure to meet you."
Rocky took the hand, shaking it gently. "Thank you for the meal."
"It was rather enjoyable. Sandor never disappoints." She went from the kitchen to the hall, picking up her coat and shrugging into it. Jo had followed her out.
"Thank you for understanding." Jo helped her mother into her coat, settling it on shoulders as broad as her own.
Marianna turned back to face her. "I want you to bring her up to Collingford...." She held her hands up as Jo began to protest. "Not for Christmas. Bring her up in a couple of months; I'll arrange to be there. I have something I want you to see. It belonged to my great grandmother's sister. I've always kept it; my mother brought it with her when she married your grandfather. She gave it to me some years ago. I do believe you are ready to have it now."
"I don't understand."
"You will." She embraced her daughter. "Now, I must go. I have an interior decorator to meet."
Jo shook her head. "You're redecorating the London home again?"
Marianna laughed. "Of course, dear. It's been over a year."
She walked her mother to the door, and watched as the chauffeur opened the door and allowed her to slide into the back.
She gave a brief wave as the car pulled away and then was gone, leaving a bemused daughter looking at the empty courtyard, with large flakes of snow gently falling to cover the ground.
When Jo went back upstairs she found Rocky piling the plates into the dishwasher. "Hey, let me do that." She eased the blonde back into the chair, and finished the job for her.
"Your mother is nice," said Rocky simply.
"Yeah, scary, isn't it?"
"Why d'you say that?"
Jo sat in one of the chairs again. "She's never accepted any excuse for not making it to Collingford for Christmas. I've driven up there through blizzards to make it before now." She chuckled. "Rather that than face the wrath of my mother."
"So what was the difference this time?"
Jo reached across and took Rocky's free hand. "You, I think. I don't really know why." Jo took a deep breath. "She wants us both to go up there after Christmas."
Rocky gently pulled her hand from Jo's. "Jo, I can't, I...."
"It'll be alright; you'll be with me."
"I don't mean that. As soon as my arm is better, I'll be leaving."
"But, I thought...." Jo looked down at the tabletop, her stomach clenching, her temples beginning to throb.
"I can't live off you, Jo. And there's nothing I can do." She looked at the bowed head. "What you've done for me has been wonderful, but I can't stay."
"I want you to," said Jo, her voice breaking. She looked up, tears pooling in her eyes. "Will you promise me something?"
"Will you stay with me over Christmas?"
"Of course. You've chosen me over your family." Rocky looked puzzled.
"Good." Jo looked relieved. "That's good."
"But then, in the New Year, I'm going back."
Jo nodded tightly. No way, she decided, absolutely no way. And she had a couple of weeks to change the blonde's mind.
They sat together on the sofa later that evening, watching the television and talking about past Christmases. Rocky seemed to enjoy telling her new friend about her past now. The memories she kept locked away now washed over her, and Jo smiled as she watched Rocky animatedly tell her of the yearly ritual of buying a Christmas tree.
"And they always let me choose it. So, of course, I always chose the largest one I could."
"D'you want to get a tree now?" Jo said suddenly.
Rocky was taken aback. "Now? It's late."
"It's only just after 7. We could get one somewhere I'm sure." Jo was up and making her way to the door. "Come on."
"We can't go like this." Rocky spread her good arm and looked down at her baggy clothing. And then up at Jo, who was equally relaxed in sweats and a tee shirt.
"I'll get you a jacket. It's going to be crazy out there this close to Christmas; no-one will take any notice."
Jo reached a hand out, and Rocky felt the hair on the back of her head prickle as a feeling of déjà vu swept across her. She lost herself in the blue gaze and was suddenly enfolded in long arms, her head resting against Jo's chest.
Rocky heard Jo's voice as it rumbled through her chest next to her ear. "Yeah, must be the painkillers."
"Let's go then; maybe some fresh air will do you good."
So half an hour later they found themselves trying to find a parking space in their local B&Q DIY store.
The place was packed. And Jo was right; no one took any notice of the two bizarrely dressed women, especially the one in the huge army boots and oversize leather jacket.
"Let's see what they have left," said Jo, and made her way through the throng towards the decorations. They still had plenty of everything, unlike years before when they would run out of decorations a couple of weeks before Christmas.
Jo started grabbing handfuls of everything. She got a few large strands of each colour of tinsel, draping it around Rocky's shoulders. The she started grabbing boxes of coloured balls of different colours. She realised she couldn't carry everything and so went in search of a shopping trolley.
Rocky waited patiently, covered in tinsel until Jo returned. She gave a sheepish smile to two small children who stared at her.
At last Jo reappeared, pushing a trolley ahead of her which had a mind of its own. Her boxes of decorations were already inside it, and she unwrapped the blonde from the tinsel and placed that in as well. "We need ceiling decorations," said Jo, and disappeared again.
Rocky wandered over to a set of shelves, and found some small decorations. There were table decorations and a garland to go on the front door.
"Put them in the basket," Jo said, peering over her shoulder, and then was gone again.
Rocky placed them in the basket and then wandered to the next set of shelves. There was a nativity scene there, all boxed up.
Jo was at her shoulder again. "Do you want to get that?"
Rocky turned to her. "We weren't a particularly religious family, but we always had one of these." She looked back at the box. "I used to set it up. It always sat on a small table."
Jo reached past her and took the box, setting it in the basket. "And you will this year too," she said quietly. "Come on, let's go and find a tree"
They had to go outside, to the garden centre, to find a tree, and then they were disappointed. The few sorry bushes that were left were in such a sad state that even the low prices couldn't persuade them to buy one. So they decided on a six-foot artificial tree, one of the more lifelike examples.
It was two women with glowing faces that arrived back at Jo's house over an hour later, and unloaded their packages.
"I can't believe this," said Rocky, looking at the decorations spread across the floor.
"I've never done this here; don't really know why not." She sat cross-legged beside the blonde. "Never had anyone to share it with before, I suppose."
Rocky raised a hand to her shoulder.
"Is it hurting?" asked Jo, standing and going to the kitchen. She returned a moment later with the pain pills, handing the blonde a couple.
"Just a nagging pain. I'll just take one, I think." She swallowed the juice. "Can we put this up now?"
Jo chuckled. "Of course we can. I'll get a chair from the kitchen."
With Rocky's expert guidance, and as much help as she could give one-handed, they had the decorations up in a couple of hours.
"Turn the lights off," said Rocky as she sat on the sofa.
Jo did so, leaving them in the glow from the tree lights and the fire.
"It's beautiful," said Jo as she settled on the sofa next to the blonde. Then she turned to her companion. "But then, so are you." She put an arm around Rocky's shoulders and gently pulled the smaller woman against her.
"I'm so happy," Rocky whispered.
"Good. I want you to be happy." She bent and kissed the blonde head. "I want you always to be happy."
Rocky was quiet for a moment. "I didn't think I'd ever be happy again, after my parents died."
"No, please don't be." Rocky pulled away, looking up at the beautiful profile in the dim light. "You've done so much for me, and I still don't know why."
"It makes me happy too. Maybe that's why. A picture in a gallery - that's all you were to me for a while. But now the reality is so much more than I could have dreamed of. Please, Rocky," she cupped soft cheeks in her hands, looking into misty green eyes. "Believe that there is something that drew me to you. I don't know why, or how. I'm just thankful that you're here." She leaned forward and brushed her lips against even softer ones. "Please don't leave me."
"You want me to stay?"
"More than anything."
Rocky smiled, the most beautiful thing Jo had ever seen.
"Then I'll stay."
Rocky's smile was mirrored, and she found herself pulled into a loving embrace, sinking into a security she hadn't known for many years.
And as she revelled in that security she knew it was time to unload the demons that still haunted her. It was time to tell Jo the rest of her story.
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