It had been the most wonderful week for both of the young women. They had grown more confident in their blossoming friendship, falling into an easy routine together. Rocky had reluctantly agreed to Jo buying her some clothes. Although Jo didn't mind the blonde borrowing her things, the difference in the women's size made for a strange look for the shorter woman.
As Rocky's shoulder healed and she became more independent, Jo asked her if she would prefer to sleep in the guestroom.
"Do you want me to sleep in there?" Rocky asked.
"I want you to sleep wherever you're comfortable."
"I'm comfortable with you. If you're comfortable with me."
"That's settled then," said Jo.
"Looks like it."
And that was that. Jo had immediately turned away from Rocky, so that the blonde couldn't see the look of relief that crossed her face.
So it was a surprise when Jo woke in the early hours of the morning to find herself in an empty bed.
She lay there in silence for a while, listening for any sound that might tell her where Rocky was. But heard nothing but the sound of the wind outside.
So she slipped out of bed and went in search of the blonde. After checking the bathroom, she descended the stairs, seeing a pale light emanating from the lounge.
She hadn't realised how shaken she was at Rocky's brief disappearance until she found her, sitting on the floor in front of the illuminated Christmas tree. The fire's artificial flames also added to the gentle glow reflecting off blonde hair.
So deep in thought was the girl that she didn't see Jo come into the lounge and jumped slightly when the taller woman knelt on the floor next to her.
"Hey there," Jo said quietly.
Moist green eyes met her own. "Hi." She wiped away a tear and reached for Jo's hand. "Sorry, didn't mean to wake you."
Jo squeezed the small hand. "No problem." She watched the blonde head turn away from her, the Christmas tree lights reflecting off the tears escaping from green eyes.
"What is it?" Jo felt a little helpless, but was relieved when Rocky snuggled up against her, and she made them both comfortable, sitting on the floor with their backs against the sofa.
Rocky was quiet for a while, seeming to draw comfort from the nearness of her companion. "I had a nightmare," she said simply.
"You haven't had one for a few days."
Rocky nodded. "I know. I was stupid enough to think they were going to stop for good." Her voice was a little muffled, and Jo had to strain to hear her. "But I think I'm always going to be reminded."
"Reminded of what?" She ducked her head, wanting to see the blonde's face. But Rocky just burrowed deeper into Jo's embrace.
"I'm going to tell you something now, and I want you to promise me you won't interrupt." Rocky looked up, finding confused blue eyes looking back at her. Jo started to speak, but the blonde shook her head gently. "No. Please, Jo. I want you to hear this, but it's going to be hard, and if I stop I may not be able to find the words again."
"Okay." Jo's voice broke on that single word, for she felt the small body in her arms trembling and knew the fear that Rocky had of the words she was about to speak.
Rocky took a deep breath and began. Her voice was devoid of emotion; her breath hot through the thin tee shirt Jo was wearing.
"A week after I had been admitted to the hospital, my Aunt Susan and Uncle Ron turned up. Susan is my mother's sister. They told me I was going home with them to Leicester. My parents had been buried the previous day; I wasn't taken to the funeral." Rocky felt a flinch from the woman holding her, but Jo kept her promise and kept her silence. "They took me to Leicester.
"About a fortnight after I got there, Ron began coming to my room at night. At first he just touched me, and I pretended to be asleep. But then he started climbing into bed with me. He raped me on a Saturday night after he and Susan had been out to a dinner party. I remember smelling something on his breath, but I didn't know what it was. He hurt me, and when he had finished he walked out of the room without a word. I didn't cry. He would come to my room most nights after that. But I was numb then. So I'd let him do what he wanted to do.
"They wanted to send me to school, but I was diagnosed as being depressed so they kept me at home. That just meant he had more opportunity to rape me. He would come home in the afternoon, and take me on the living room floor. I never fought him. I know I should have. He started to want to do things..." Her voice broke, but the arms around her tightened and she continued. She swallowed. "I had to get away. So I collected as much as I could carry, and left." She focused on the clenched fist of her friend as it rested on her thigh, fascinated by the whiteness of the knuckles. "I didn't try to stop him, Jo," she said as she smoothed her friend's rigid hand and opened it, finding Jo's nails had cut into the skin of her palm. "I'm sorry."
The breath left Jo in an explosive cough. Almost as if she had been holding it throughout the telling of Rocky's suffering. She buried her face in soft blonde hair and cried, berating herself for not being able to find the words to ease Rocky's terror.
Rocky looked up again, her mouth opening in surprise at the look of pure hatred on the face above her. She tried to extricate herself from the tight grasp. "I'm sorry," she said again. "I'll go."
Those two words snapped Jo out of the place she had gone to, and she found herself looking down into terror-stricken green eyes. "Go?"
"I didn't stop him. I let him do it..." She was still squirming, vainly attempting to untangle herself from long arms.
Jo held on tighter. "I won't let you go," said Jo, resolutely. "Never." She cupped a flushed cheek in her palm. She felt the blonde relax again. "Never," she whispered again.
Jo watched the artificial flames of the fire. It had taken her some time to calm herself, and she knew she was no good to Rocky unless she was there for her, strong for her. But at that moment, she didn't feel terribly strong.
She found it hard to comprehend how the small blonde, now resting peacefully in her arms, had survived what she had gone through. She'd been orphaned and then raped by the very people who should have been there to help her grieve. But she hadn't had the chance, and Jo wondered if she had ever actually grieved for her parents.
"Jo?" The voice was very small, and the taller woman ducked her head, pulling Rocky closer to her own body.
"Yeah?" she whispered.
"I'm sorry for being so much trouble."
Jo tightened her hold. "You're no trouble."
There was silence for a few more moments, then she felt as well as heard Rocky draw in a long shaky breath.
"I would understand if you wanted me to go," said the blonde quietly.
"I don't want that."
"What about your friends?"
"My friends?" Jo rubbed her cheek against soft hair.
Rocky hesitated. "Jo, I don't want you to stop seeing your friends."
Jo lifted the blonde away from herself slightly, so that she could look into the still tearstained face. "What are you talking about, sweetheart?"
Rocky's eyes slid closed and she ducked her head. "I may not be able to give you what your friends do."
Jo mulled over the statement for a moment before realisation struck her. "Are you talking about sex?"
Rocky didn't look up, but nodded slightly.
A brief flash of anger changed immediately to sadness, and Jo reached out to take Rocky's hand. "Rocky, I don't want..." She saw the blonde head snap up. "No, I do want to have s..." She expelled a long explosive breath, and closed her eyes. "We've been here together for nearly two weeks," she said quietly. Rocky had relaxed back against her and she ran her fingers through soft blonde hair. "In that time I've been happier than I've ever been. Yes, I've had a lot of women, and yes, I just wanted them for sex. But when I'm with you..."Jo shook her head, trying to find the right words. "Just being with you fulfils me." She pulled gently on the blonde locks between her fingers, wanting to see the green eyes. "Does that make sense?"
Rocky didn't trust her voice, feeling her throat closing at the sound of Jo's tentative speech. So she nodded, and buried her face once again in dark hair.
The two women were quiet for a while, and then Rocky drew in a long breath. "I want to have sex with you."
Jo's hand stilled in Rocky's hair.
"I've only known his hands. Sometimes I wake in the night and I feel him on me; I feel the weight, smell his breath. I feel his hands." She extricated herself from Jo's hold and knelt up, straddling Jo's legs. "I want you to take those memories away."
Jo swallowed hard. "Now?"
Rocky smiled gently and leaned forward to brush her lips against Jo's. "No, not now. Now I need you to hold me, tell me I'm safe. Tell me he won't come back." She took a lock of midnight black hair in her fingers, twirling it around. "You were in my dreams before I met you. I'm terrified I'm going to wake up and find myself back out there. In the cold."
Jo lifted her knees slightly, causing Rocky to press against her. She pulled the smaller woman into her own body and held her tight.
Their faces were only inches apart, their breath mingled. Jo tangled her hands in short blonde hair again, and leaned forward, capturing soft lips with her own. The kiss deepened as Rocky's arms wound around the taller woman's neck, pulling their bodies closer together. They finally separated, both sets of breathing becoming ragged.
Jo was framing the blonde's face with her large hands, looking at Rocky in amazement.
Rocky searched the blue eyes, worry creasing her brow.
"You know what?" Jo finally said.
"I love you," Jo said simply.
"No-one has said that for so long."
"Shall I say it again?" She leaned forward, giving smiling lips another peck.
The blonde head nodded.
"I love you, Rocky."
Rocky turned her head, kissing the palm of Jo's hand, which still cradled her face. "And I've always loved you. When you came to me in my dreams, I loved you then, though I didn't know it was you. But you're everything I dreamed of. When you came into my life I was afraid to hope. It was easier to be numb." She traced a perfect dark eyebrow with a trembling finger. "But now I want to live, and I want you to show me how."
"We have plenty of time." Jo's hands moved down across Rocky's neck and onto her shoulders.
Rocky leaned back, and stood. She reached down to the still sitting woman. "Let's go back to bed."
Jo allowed herself to be pulled to her feet, and wound an arm around the blonde's shoulders.
As they left the lounge she bent to turn off the fire, but left the Christmas tree lights on, taking a brief glance at them over her shoulder as they walked out of the room.
Rocky groaned as Jo manipulated her left shoulder.
"How's that?" asked the taller woman.
"It's feeling a lot better, not so stiff. What was that stuff?" She peered around Jo, trying to see what she had used on her shoulder.
"You're having me on." Rocky tried to push past her to see the bottle of foul-smelling liquid.
Jo picked up the bottle and held it behind her back. "Does your shoulder feel better?" she asked, backing away from the curious blonde.
"Yes," said Rocky suspiciously.
"So what does it matter what it was?"
Rocky plumped down on the sofa, pulling the neck of the tee shirt back into place.
Jo had pulled the material away and reached into the opening with the liniment on her hand, massaging it into the blonde's injured shoulder gently. She disappeared into the kitchen, and Rocky heard the water running as Jo washed the stuff off her hands before returning and plopping herself down next to her.
"So what would you like for Christmas?" Jo asked as she draped an arm around the blonde's shoulders.
"There's nothing I need." Rocky reached for Jo's free hand, holding it within both of hers. "Please don't get me anything. I have everything I want," she kissed the tips of Jo's fingers, "right here."
Jo pouted. "But I'd like to get you something."
"There's nothing I want," she explained. "And besides, I'd just feel awful because I couldn't get you anything."
"I don't want anything."
"Then that's decided." Rocky chuckled and nudged Jo with her shoulder
"Then maybe there's something I can do for you. Something you've wanted to do or maybe see? How about a show or an evening out in a nice restaurant?"
Rocky shook her head, smiling. But then she seemed to remember something. "You know there is something."
"What? Anything, you know that."
"I'd like to go home."
Rocky watched as Jo's smile disappeared. "Hey, just to visit." She squeezed the large hand reassuringly.
"Oh. Right." Jo was embarrassed; the panic she'd felt for a brief moment had taken her unawares.
"I've never been back there." Rocky closed her eyes for a moment, remembering her home. When she opened her eyes they were watery. "I'd love to show you it."
"Then we'll go." She patted the small hand. "That's settled."
Rocky chuckled to herself. "What have I done to deserve this?"
Jo shrugged, "Why shouldn't you deserve it?"
"Oh, I'm not saying I don't. I must have been good in a previous life or something."
The hair on the back of Jo's neck stood on end at the innocent statement.
"What?" asked Rocky, seeing Jo's gaze turn inward.
"Just something Edna said."
Rocky's hand flew to her mouth. "Oh my god ... Edna." She looked up at Jo. "I haven't been to see her; she'll be worried."
Jo pulled Rocky a little tighter. "Believe me, sweetheart. I'm sure somehow Edna knows exactly where and how you are."
"You think so?"
"I'm absolutely sure. But tomorrow," she leaned in and kissed away the worry lines on the blonde's brow, "we'll go and see her and make sure she's alright. Okay?"
The door buzzer invaded the peace of the small house, and Jo stood, leaving Rocky curled on the sofa clutching a cushion in lieu of the tall woman.
She went to the entry phone and pushed the buzzer. "Yeah?"
"Jo? It's Harry."
Jo's face creased into a smile, and she hit the button allowing her friend entry. Then she made her way back into the lounge and to Rocky's side.
"Who is it?" asked the blonde.
"A friend. I'd like you to meet her."
"Trixie?" Jo laughed a distinctively unpleasant laugh. "D'you really think I'd let her up here?"
Harry appeared, framed in the doorway, pulling off a thick, heavy coat. "My God, it's absolutely bloody freezing out." She suddenly took in the scene in front of her and her mouth snapped shut with an audible clunk. "Gosh," was all she could manage.
Jo stood, chuckling to herself, and took the coat from Harry, throwing it onto one of the armchair backs. "Harry, I'd like you to meet Rocky," she said, pushing her friend towards the still seated woman.
Rocky stood as well, and took a tentative step towards the other blonde, warily extending her hand. Her experience of Jo's friends had not been encouraging up to that point.
Harry took the offered hand, shaking it gently. "Hi," she said. "I'm glad she found you."
The three women spent a relaxed evening. Harry and Rocky warmed to each other immediately. Of course Harry really wanted to dislike the other blonde, but found it impossible. Her feelings for Jo were such that she was delighted that the dark-haired woman had found someone to cherish. For that was what she saw when she caught a glimpse of Jo watching Rocky as the smaller woman told her the tale of Jo coming to her rescue. She watched as her friend took the smaller hand in her own, kissing it occasionally, then running her fingers along the inside of her arm from wrist to elbow. She seemed to need to be in contact with Rocky every minute they were in touching distance.
As the night went on, and the sound of the sleet grew louder against the window, Harry decided it was time she left.
"Are you sure?" asked Jo. "It sounds pretty filthy out. You could use the spare bed."
"No, I'm sure. I'll be fine. I have Dad's car." She stood and gathered her coat, slipping it on, then she turned to Rocky.
The two shorter women faced each other for a moment, and then they were hugging. Rocky somehow knew how special this woman was to Jo, and she felt that there was also a small amount of sadness in the woman she now held in her arms. "I'm sorry," she whispered into her ear.
Harry pulled away and held Rocky at arm's length. "Don't be." She looked up at Jo, who was looking on in confusion. "You've got your work cut out there."
Rocky turned her head as well, and Jo found herself the subject of twin sets of adoring gazes. She shuffled from foot to foot until each of the smaller women extended an arm and she bent slightly, joining in the group hug.
Then Rocky backed away, as Jo walked her friend to the door.
Harry was buttoning her coat as the descended the stairs to the front door. "She's lovely," she whispered, holding the door catch but not opening it.
Jo nodded. "She is."
"And you're happy." It was not a question.
"I really am." Jo shrugged, seeming to disbelieve it herself.
"I've never seen you like this."
Harry punched her friend softly on the shoulder. "Like a love-struck teenager."
"Absolutely." Harry laughed softly at the perplexed look on Jo's face. "But it suits you, so don't go doing anything to ruin it."
"I'm trying really hard."
"And you're doing everything just right by the look on that girl's face." She stood on tiptoes and kissed Jo's chin. "Being in love suits you."
Blue eyes went wide, and Harry patted her friend's cheek. "Don't tell me you haven't realised that yet." Harry shook her head, and opened the door, letting in a blast of frigid air.
Jo held the door open, the sleet hitting her in the face. "I knew that!" she called out to her friend, who shook her head and folded herself into her father's huge car.
Jo watched her leave the small courtyard, and then shut the door against the wind and rain. She stood for a moment with her back to the door. "I knew that," she said again to herself. "I just didn't know it was written all over my face."
By the time she'd returned to the lounge her grin was of epic proportions.
"Knew what?" asked Rocky as she sat next to the blonde and resettled her arm around her shoulders. "What were you shouting about?"
"Something Harry said."
"She loves you very much, doesn't she."
Jo nodded. "She was my best friend... is my best friend," Jo corrected.
"Did you and she ever...?" Rocky waved her hand around, trying to get her question across without saying the actual word.
Jo leaned away from Rocky, peering down at her. "Have sex?"
Rocky sighed. "Yeah."
"No, we didn't. I didn't know she felt that way, until a short time ago. But I'm glad we didn't; it would have ruined our friendship."
"Do you think us having sex would ruin our friendship?" Rocky looked down at the large hand she was holding in her own. But that same hand extricated itself from hers, moved up to her chin and tilted her head up. She found herself pinned by eyes as blue as the summer sky.
"Sweetheart, when we make love I will give you my heart. I promise you that."
"I know," said Rocky.
"All sorted," Jo announced, and threw the cordless phone onto the sofa. "I've found us a cute little hotel just outside Tintagel."
"Really?" The blonde looked up from the Christmas tree. She was placing on it some more decorations that they'd bought earlier that day. She rose and crossed the room, fitting herself neatly at the taller woman's side. "Thank you," she said, leaning in and giving Jo a peck on the cheek.
"I'm looking forward to it; never been to Cornwall."
"You're joking," chuckled Rocky, elbowing Jo gently in the ribs.
"Nope. I've seen the South of France, quite a bit of Spain, the States, Egypt, but I've never been to Cornwall."
Rocky shook her head. "Then I'm glad you'll be with me when we do see it. I can show you some beautiful places."
Jo wound a long arm around her friend. "I'm sure you can. We'll leave the day after Boxing Day."
"Wow, that soon." Rocky became quiet.
"What's wrong?" She gave the blonde a gentle squeeze.
"I'm scared of the memories." Rocky rested her head against Jo's shoulder, her eyes finding the flames of the fire.
"But they're good memories."
"Yes they are. But it's been so long, I'm scared I'll just remember the..."
"The river," Jo finished for her.
"Yeah, the river." She ran her hand along Jo's thigh, feeling the soft fabric of the sweatpants she was wearing. She herself was in a similar pair, with a white teeshirt matching Jo's.
Jo looked up at the clock; it was a little before midnight.
"It's nearly Christmas," whispered the taller woman, and reached down, bringing the blonde's face up towards hers. "Happy Christmas," she said, dipping her head and claiming soft lips.
After a long moment they separated, and Rocky gazed into the blue eyes above her. "I love you, Jo." She shifted around until she was straddling Jo's lap, and wound her arms around the dark head, holding on for all she was worth as the taller woman clasped her tightly.
Jo's lips found her neck, her hands disappearing beneath the teeshirt and smoothing their way up her sides and then to her back.
Rocky cupped Jo's face and forced her lips away from her neck so that she could claim them again, pushing her body hard into the one below her. She felt large hands caressing every inch of her back, and she leaned back into them. Rocky looked down into the face of the woman who had so recently come into her life.
Jo's eyes were half closed, her skin glowing in the light from the fire and the lights on the tree. And Rocky's heart clenched at the sight. She reached behind her, her hand closing on one of Jo's hands, which had come to rest on her hips. She drew the hand round to the front, looking at it intently. "Will you be gentle with me?" she whispered.
Jo's eyes closed, knowing exactly what it was that Rocky was asking, and knowing what Rocky was offering.
"Rocky, maybe we should wait, I shouldn't have..."
The blonde placed trembling fingers against soft moist lips. "Who's sitting on who here?"
Jo didn't trust her voice, so just nodded. Rocky was cast in the golden glow from the fire, which danced in her hair. Never losing eye contact with Jo, she slowly peeled the teeshirt off, then gathered the large hand again and placed in on her breast.
Jo couldn't understand why she could no longer see. Then she realised her eyes were filling with tears. She blinked them away and took in the sight in front of her. The most beautiful sight she had ever seen. She watched her own hand as if it belonged to someone else. It was being lovingly cradled in a smaller one, the thumb of that small hand brushing against her knuckles as it was pressed into soft flesh.
She looked back up into the blonde's face and saw a host of different emotions in the green eyes. She saw love, and hope, but she also saw fear, and for the briefest of moments tried to pull her hand away from the inviting softness it was nestled against. "I don't want to hurt you." She didn't realise why she said those words - hurting the gentle woman was the furthest thing from her mind.
"You won't." Rocky now had both of her hands holding Jo's against her flesh. "I want you," she whispered. She leaned forward, pressing her lips against Jo's, running her tongue across full lips.
Jo's free hand cupped the back of the blonde head, pulling Rocky deeper into the kiss. And Rocky, feeling Jo's other hand kneading her breast, released it and clutched onto the white teeshirt her friend still wore.
Jo was halfway up the stairs, the blonde's legs wrapped around her waist and her own arms holding Rocky close, before she realised they'd left the comfort of the lounge. She didn't stop to wonder from where she'd got the strength to carry them both up the stairs, and she didn't care. She staggered into the bedroom and deposited them both onto the bed, covering the smaller form with her own. She rose up enough to pull the sweatpants off the blonde, and then eased herself back down, pulled once more into position by Rocky. She felt small hands pulling at her teeshirt, and allowed it to be pulled over her head and thrown to some dark corner of the room.
Both women sighed at the sensation of flesh on flesh. But in the back of her mind caution still ruled for Jo. "You okay?" she asked between kisses.
"I'm great," came the breathy whisper.
Jo ducked her head and took a hardened nipple between her teeth, flicking it with her tongue. She felt small hands tangle themselves in her hair, but they weren't pulling her head away from the torture, rather confirming that the blonde was enjoying what Jo was doing to her.
Jo raised her head again to look into the face of her lover. Her lover. She'd thought about this moment even before she'd met the woman she now held naked in her arms. She let her hands roam across skin as smooth as silk. She felt the muscles beneath that skin tremble as her hand made its journey down across taut breasts, across a quivering abdomen, and then to the very edge of silky curls. There she stopped, watching the blonde's face very carefully for any signs of discomfort. Her hand detoured, coming to rest on Rocky's hip.
Rocky let her hand fall from Jo's head to her shoulder, then she tentatively cupped the taller woman's breast, rubbing her thumb across a hardened nub. She looked shyly into blue eyes. "Is that nice?" she asked.
Jo swallowed hard. "Very nice," she gasped.
"Tell me what to do," she whispered, watching her own hand as it caressed one breast to alertness before switching to the other.
"You're doing fine," Jo ground out between gritted teeth.
"I've never loved anyone like this before." Rocky closed her eyes, not wanting to remember those terrifying nights shared with a man who used her, but not being able to completely shut away the memory. "I never thought I could. I thought he'd taken that from me."
"Maybe we should stop," Jo said, however she didn't make any effort to move away from the girl.
Two small words, but to Jo as important as any she'd ever heard. She moved her hand from the gentle curve of Rocky's hip, and looked deep into green eyes as her fingers danced over slick heat. She watched in fascination as full lips parted at the first true contact between them, and hungrily possessed those lips already swollen from the passion that had gone before. She felt Rocky's arms holding onto her, pulling her down to crush the small body beneath her own.
Jo pulled back, needing to see the face of the woman she was making love to. Because that was what she was doing. For the first time in her life and in her bed, she was putting the pleasure of another person above her own. And she desperately wanted to see the face of her lover when the moment came. She felt short nails dig into her shoulders, and the hips of the woman beneath her buck as her hand drew out the blonde's pleasure.
Rocky's eyes were tightly shut, and Jo ducked her head, kissing a flushed cheek. "Open your eyes, sweetheart." She needed Rocky to know it was her touching her, that it was her loving her.
Green eyes fluttered open, looking slightly dazed.
"Say my name." Jo needed to hear it, needed to know that Rocky knew where she was and who she was with.
"Oh god, Jo," Rocky gasped.
Jo smiled down at her, venturing a little deeper, watching carefully the face below her.
Rocky's hips bucked again as Jo gently entered her, and with her free hand swept away sweat-slickened hair from the blonde's brow. Her lips followed her fingers across the damp face, kissing her eyelids, the tip of her nose, and then lips, which were whispering Jo's name over and over.
Then, with a gasp, Rocky's back arched and her hands clutched at the tall woman's shoulders.
Jo held still and savoured the delicious feeling as the blonde's body released its passion. She carefully withdrew her hand, letting it rest at the edge of blonde curls, her fingers idly teasing the soft skin there.
Again she pushed away damp blonde hair from the face of her lover, watching as green eyes refocused on her, and delighted to see a small smile on the lips she had kissed only moments before.
"Why can't I move now?" asked Rocky quietly in a voice full of wonder.
Jo chuckled and managed to pull the quilt from beneath the boneless woman and roll her into bed. Then she slipped out of her sweatpants and joined the sated woman.
She pulled Rocky over so that the blonde was on top of her, tucking her head beneath her chin.
"Comfy?" she asked.
"Oh yeah." Rocky listened for a moment to the strong heart beating beneath her ear. "Jo?"
"Love you, too." Jo held her tight.
Much later, Jo was awakened by Rocky as she shifted, moving away from her slightly and lying on her back.
Jo turned onto her side, watching the girl in the pale light coming from the landing. Rocky seemed to be at peace, one hand lying relaxed beside her face which was turned slightly towards her lover.
Jo couldn't resist tracing an eyebrow, partly hidden beneath pale hair. She shifted closer, watching the sleeping face. Her thigh shifted across the blonde's and her hand found the gentle curve of Rocky's hip. Dipping her head, she kissed the hollow of her throat moving down to take a hardening nipple into her mouth.
She smiled into the warm flesh when she heard the sharp intake of breath from the blonde, and ran her hand up from Rocky's hip to cup a firm breast, feeling the hardness of the nipple against her palm. She moved her thigh slightly, trying to settle it between the legs of her lover, but met with resistance.
She rose up onto her elbow, looking down at the blonde.
Rocky was lying still, her eyes half open, so Jo leaned across her to turn on the small bedside lamp.
"Hey," she whispered, gently trying to turn the blonde's head towards her.
Rocky was rigid however, her whole body tense, her muscles trembling with the effort of resisting Jo's touch.
"Rocky?" Jo's voice was tinged with the beginnings of panic and she reached for Rocky's hand, finding it clenched and unyielding. "Rocky, please." She knelt at her side now, putting both hands on the blonde's shoulders, shaking gently. "Rocky, it's me, it's Jo." She knew what was happening now. Rocky was back there, back with him. And she didn't know how to convince the girl that she was safe and hadn't returned to her nightmares. She should have known better, and admonished herself for touching Rocky when the blonde was vulnerable.
"Rocky, I'm sorry." Her voice cracked. Her hands were shaking as she caressed a flushed cheek, but then she withdrew her hand quickly, not knowing if her touch would be rejected. She looked into eyes that held no recognition. "Rocky, come back to me," she whispered.
She watched as the vacant green eyes closed, and held her breath as she waited for Rocky to return from wherever she had gone.
Suddenly the blonde's chest heaved, as she resurfaced, dragging in huge breaths as a drowning woman would do. She reached frantically for Jo, holding on when the long arms pulled her in, and grounding herself in the touch and feel of her new lover.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Jo repeated over and over, holding on tight, burying her face in damp blonde hair.
"It was him," Rocky choked out. "He came for me. He'll never leave me."
"No, it was me. It'll always be me. He'll never touch you again, I promise."
"I'll never be free of him," Rocky sobbed into Jo's chest, and the taller woman felt helpless, guilty that her own need had brought about the blonde's despair.
Jo held on tight, not knowing what to do except to give the woman in her arms the security of knowing that she was there, and would always be there.
It was Rocky who woke first, hearing the heavy rain hitting the window. She was still wrapped in the long arms of her sleeping lover.
She remembered waking earlier, feeling the hands and mouth on her, and she was back there, a scared child believing that, if she pretended to be asleep, the torment would stop and she'd be alone again. But then there was the voice, breaking through the hurt and the anger, the voice of her lover.
Jo had shown her how love could be, how sex could be. And she had repaid her by freezing. In those first panic-filled moments as she awoke, she couldn't tell it was her lover's hands, she just knew someone was touching her, caressing her. Just as he had. He would come to her room in the dark hours, lift the quilt and touch her body. And she would let him. She would close her eyes very tightly, and hope he would maybe grow tired of an unresponsive body and leave her alone.
He never did.
And now, when she wanted to give her body to the woman she was growing to love, he had come to her. He had intervened as if he had been there in the bed with them. The memory of him still haunted her, and she wondered if it would ever leave her. And would Jo grow tired of the constant battle with him? Would she want to take him on, for that is what she would have to do.
Rocky looked across at the woman holding her tight, even in sleep, their faces only inches apart. There were faint worry lines across the forehead beneath the silky black hair, and she frowned, knowing she was the source. Jo hadn't told her much of her life before she had come into it, but she knew that her lover had led a mostly carefree existence, which even Jo was beginning to find unfulfilling. And now suddenly Jo had someone to look after, to provide for. Someone who couldn't give her body without a struggle.
Surely Jo wouldn't want to persevere with such a difficult relationship.
Tears sprang from green eyes, and Rocky put a hand over her mouth, not wanting to wake Jo with her sobs.
She looked at Jo, pushing dark hair away from the sleeping face.
Blue eyes fluttered open, widening when they took in the moist green eyes staring at her intently.
"You okay?" she asked huskily. She didn't move, just tightened her hold slightly.
Rocky nodded, never breaking eye contact for a moment. "I'm sorry."
"It was really stupid." She tucked her head below Jo's chin, not wanting to see the annoyance in her friend's face.
"If anyone was stupid it was me. You told me about what happened. I shouldn't have touched you when you were asleep." She kissed the top of the blonde head. "You gave me so much tonight, more than I imagined. I can't begin to tell you how much that meant to me."
"But..." Rocky paused, unable to voice her fears.
"But what?" Jo swallowed hard, worried that she had gone too quickly, had lost Rocky's trust.
Rocky listened to the rapid heartbeat beneath her ear. "Tell me about your life before we met."
Jo went very still, closed her eyes, and held on tight to her lover. "Why?"
"I want to know."
Again Jo swallowed hard. "It's not pretty."
"I think I know that."
"I didn't care much for other people's feelings. I took what I wanted, and threw them away.... People like Trixie.... She has a reason to hate me.... I used her.... Like I used many others." She paused for a moment, her hand wandering idly across the smooth back of the woman she held close to her. "But you know what?" She felt the blonde head move against her chest. "I enjoyed it.... I knew they wanted me, I knew I could use them and they'd still come back for more.... So I did."
Jo rested her cheek against blonde hair. "The night before I saw your picture in the gallery, I picked up a little blonde.... Brought her back here and fucked her brains out.... She told me she just wanted sex.... I was happy to oblige... I never even knew her name."
"You're so much more than that, Jo." Rocky's voice was small.
"I wasn't then. It was all I was good for." She kissed the blonde head. "You give me a purpose."
"And if I'm going to wake up screaming every time you touch me?"
"Then I'll just go on until you recognise it's me. We can't let him win."
"Sometimes I think he already has, and I worry you'll lose patience with me."
"Never. Have a little faith, huh?"
Rocky sighed deeply. "I worry that I'm not going to be enough for you. Those women wanted you because...." She fought her own embarrassment, never having spoken of such matters before. "They wanted you because you're good. And I think they maybe made you feel good too."
Jo thought about that for a moment. "Yes, they made me feel good. But just being with you makes me feel wonderful. I didn't think I could be with another person just because I enjoyed their company. But with you that's exactly how I feel. Don't get me wrong, you excite me, and I love the feel of your body beneath my hands. But sex will never be the most important part of our relationship." She reached down, tipping the blonde's head up with a gentle finger, smiling down into moist green eyes. "We can learn all about love together; I'm just as new to that as you are to... other things."
"So you'll show me how..."
"I'm sure I don't need to show you how to make love." She kissed the tip of Rocky's nose. "But I'm willing to let you practice as much as you like."
Rocky let out a half sob, half chuckle. "You're sacrificing yourself for me?"
Jo nodded, not wanting to betray herself by having her voice break on the words.
"Thank you," Rocky whispered, brushing away hot tears, which were running from blue eyes across Jo's face.
After a few moments, they both fell asleep, relaxed in each other's arms, free of nightmares and haunting shadows.
"Good morning," said Jo, placing the mug of tea on the bedside cabinet and sitting on the edge of the bed next to a dishevelled blonde. She leaned across the sleepy woman, and gave her a gentle kiss on the lips. "It's Christmas."
Rocky raised her head slightly looking at the clock on the radio alarm. "It's halfway through Christmas. Why didn't you wake me?" She sat up, pulling the quilt up to cover her nakedness.
"I thought you needed it. You didn't move when I got up, and you were using me as some sort of mattress this morning."
"Sorry." Rocky leaned across and grabbed the mug, sighing as the warm liquid soothed her throat. "Oh, that's bliss."
Jo patted a quilt-covered knee. "Anyway, hurry up, take a shower and get dressed. I want you to see something."
Rocky put the mug down with an audible thump. "Jo, you promised me, no gifts."
"I don't think you'll mind this one."
Rocky threw the quilt back, and stomped out of the bedroom. Jo watched her go, grinning to herself as Rocky treated her to a vision of angry nudity. "Cute dimples," she called after her.
Half an hour later, Rocky descended the stairs, still towelling her hair. She flopped down on the sofa and looked around the room for whatever it was Jo wanted her to see.
"Well?" she called to her friend who she assumed was in the kitchen.
"In here," Jo called.
Putting the towel around her shoulders, she reluctantly made her way to the kitchen. The first thing she saw was the food. The small table was groaning under the weight of the Christmas feast. Then a movement caught her eye, and she looked towards the sink and burst into tears.
Edna was just turning towards her, drying her hands with a small hand towel.
"Now is that any way to greet me?" asked the old woman, causing the teary-eyed woman to launch herself into her arms. She looked over Rocky's shoulder at the tall woman, giving her a little wink of the eye.
Edna managed to pry the blonde away from herself, holding her at arm's length. "Look at you now."
"It's so good to see you, Edna," Rocky snivelled.
"And you too, dear." She guided Rocky towards the table. "Let's not let this get cold. Young Sandor has outdone himself." She smiled at Jo, whose gaze was riveted on the delighted features of her lover. "What a nice young man."
Jo was slicing the turkey, placing slices on each of their plates. "He is," she agreed. "This is a gift to us both from Mother."
Rocky merely nodded, still sniffling slightly and obviously unable to take everything in.
Jo paused in her serving to remove the damp towel from the blonde's shoulders. "Don't want your shoulder seizing up."
"Thanks," said Rocky, her voice a husky whisper. "How long will you stay?" she asked Edna, who was digging in to her Christmas dinner with great gusto.
"Jo has asked me to stay a while, and I have agreed," she managed between mouthfuls.
Rocky looked up at her lover, who was just sitting after filling her plate. "When did you do all this?"
"You sleep a lot."
"Not that much."
Jo shrugged. "A few mornings ago, I slipped out of bed, went down to Whitechapel, and managed to find Edna." She looked across at the old woman. "She didn't take much convincing."
"I can't believe you did all that when I was asleep." Rocky was shaking her head, pouring gravy in huge quantities across every part of her meal.
Jo shrugged. "Are you happy?" she asked, popping a sprout in her mouth and grimacing at the taste.
Rocky looked from her friend to her lover. "Stupid question," she said. "I'm spending Christmas with the two people I love the most. How could I not be happy?"
Edna looked across at the blonde. She never thought she'd hear Rocky speak of love. But she could see the evidence of it on the girl's face, and she decided it suited her.
Jo poured wine into each of the three glasses. "Let's make a toast," she said.
Rocky stood quickly, picking up her glass. "I want to," she said quietly.
"To Jo," she said, raising her glass. "The woman who saved me. The woman I love. I owe you my life, and I will repay you every moment of every day."
"To Jo," Edna raised her glass, clinking hers against Rocky's and waiting for a speechless Jo to join in.
"Every moment of every day," Rocky repeated, and sat again, reaching across the table for her lover's hand.
The voice was little more than a whimper, and Jo looked to her left at the sleeping blonde slumped in the passenger seat of her car.
"Sshhh." She reached across and took Rocky's hand, which was resting on the large road atlas of Great Britain held precariously on her lap. "It's okay. You're safe here," she whispered.
She held Rocky's hand as the young woman calmed and then, realising she had slipped back into a more peaceful sleep, tried to pull her hand away.
The blonde was having none of it, however, and Jo decided that she could manage for a while one-handed.
They had decided to drive to Cornwall the easy way. Straight along the M4 to Bristol, then down to Cornwall on the M5. It was monotonous and not terribly scenic, but Jo didn't want to make the journey any longer by getting lost. Rocky had offered to navigate, and pulled the map out soon after leaving London. She was asleep within an hour however, and, though Jo missed her chatter, she was happy to let her sleep.
Jo had managed to talk Edna into looking after her house while they were away. They'd had a wonderful two days over Christmas, but the only way the old woman would stay longer was if she thought she was doing Jo a favour by watching the house. In truth, the house had an adequate alarm system, but they both so much wanted Edna to have some time without having to worry about where she would sleep or where the next meal was coming from.
Jo glanced down at her sleeping companion. She frowned at the obvious exhaustion Rocky was feeling, due partly to the newfound aspect of their relationship, and partly to the dreams that woke her frequently during the night.
Jo sighed deeply, holding on to the limp hand a little tighter. She'd promised the blonde that she would help her through her nightmares, but was she herself contributing to them? The dreams had intensified since their relationship became physical, and Jo wondered if the intimacy had awakened memories that Rocky had taken years to bury. She also worried that the blonde would decide staying with her wasn't worth the pain of the once buried feelings.
She glanced up at one of the huge signs. 'The West' was all it said.
And what would Cornwall hold for them both?
Rocky had been quiet as they packed some belongings into the boot of the Merc. Edna looked on, casting worried glances at Rocky as she belted herself into the passenger seat. She leaned in as the girl lowered the window.
"You have plenty of food in the fridge," said Rocky, feeling the car dip as Jo got behind the steering wheel.
"Don't worry about me," the old woman said quietly.
Rocky reached for the thin hand resting on the lowered window. "I'm a little scared."
"I know you are. But you have some powerful help only an arm's length away. Remember that."
The blonde head nodded. "I know."
Edna leaned into the car, giving Rocky a peck on the cheek, then she took a couple of steps back. "Now go on, you two. Call me to let me know you got there safely."
Jo leaned across Rocky, smiling up at Edna. "We will. You go back in the warm."
The old woman rolled her eyes, and turned back into the house, shutting the door against the cold wind.
Suddenly, Jo felt as if someone had walked over her grave. She looked to her left at the sleeping woman, and then to her right at a car overtaking hers. It was a black Shogun; in the passenger seat a young blonde woman was talking animatedly to the driver, also a woman. The taller driver was laughing at whatever it was the blonde was saying.
She travelled behind the four-wheel drive vehicle for a short while, watching the two interact. Then the near side indicators flashed, and the car peeled away along the exit ramp. She glanced at the sign; it was the exit for Bath.
Jo carried on along the main motorway. She glanced to her left at the Shogun, which was slowing, just as the driver looked at her. The dark-haired driver nodded once at her, and then the car was out of sight.
Suddenly Rocky jumped beside her, and the atlas fell from her lap. "Ugghhh," was all she managed as she sat up and looked groggily around her.
"Hi, welcome back." Jo chuckled at the confused look on the blonde's face.
"Where are we?" she asked, reaching down to retrieve the map from the floor, but not relinquishing Jo's hand. She looked out of the window, trying to spot a signpost.
"Just gone past the exit for Bath. I think we get off at 20."
"Okay." Rocky's voice was very small and she looked down at the map, her finger plotting a route for them once they got off the motorway. "We could go all along the north coast road."
"That sounds nice."
Rocky nodded, her finger finding the village of Tintagel. "It is, it's beautiful. Of course, this time of year you won't be able to see much, not like on a clear summer day."
"You miss it don't you?" asked Jo.
Rocky nodded, not looking up from the map.
"Hey," said Jo, taking her hand again. "Everything's going to be fine."
Rocky nodded again, and turned slightly in her seat so that she could face Jo.
Jo glanced at her, noticing her eyes drooping closed again. "Tired?"
"A little." Rocky dropped the map on the floor, and used both hands to grasp Jo's.
"Go back to sleep for a while then. I'll wake you if I need directions." When she heard no answer she looked down to find the blonde already asleep, still holding on to her hand with both of hers.
So it was some time later, that the monotonous motorway changed to roads with hedgerows either side. And it was this view that Rocky woke to. She looked around, and then up to Jo, who was chuckling at her.
"I don't know how you slept so long scrunched up like that."
Rocky twisted around so she was sitting straight in the seat, rolling her stiff shoulders. "Painfully," was all she said, and spotted a sign for Minehead.
"I got off the motorway at Bridgwater."
Rocky was scrubbing her face and scratching her head frantically.
"Let's stop for a while, stretch our legs," said Jo, and spied a layby up ahead with a refreshments trailer in it.
Rocky just about leapt out of the car as it ground to a halt, walking briskly towards the trailer. She was reading the small menu on the blackboard next to the serving hatch. She felt a warm presence at her back, and leaned back into Jo's taller frame.
"You hungry?" the low voice enquired, Jo's warm breath hot in the blonde's ear. Two hands came to rest on Rocky's hips, and the blonde could feel the heat from them even through the denim of her jeans.
Rocky couldn't hide the shiver that ran through her body, and cast helpless eyes at the large woman who had appeared at the hatch to take their order.
"A hot dog and a cup of tea, please," Rocky squeaked. She heard a chuckle behind her and felt Jo's body shift, causing her to stumble back a couple of steps before she felt strong hands on her shoulders holding her in place.
"Me too," she heard Jo say.
"Onion?" asked the woman, as she cut through two rolls in preparation.
Jo leaned forward again, the blonde in front of her apparently struck dumb. "Onion?" she breathed into Rocky's ear.
The blonde head shook, and Jo looked up at the woman. "One with, one without, please."
"Tea for you?" the woman asked, wondering exactly what was going on in front of her.
"Please," Jo said. "We'll just be over there." She nodded at a break in the hedgerow, which gave a view across the fields. She guided Rocky across, her hands still on the smaller woman's shoulders.
Rocky allowed herself to be guided to the gap in the high hedge, oblivious to the fine drizzle that was falling. "God, Jo," she whispered as they went behind the trailer.
"Mmm?" Jo snaked her arms around Rocky's waist pulling her closer.
"You make me feel...."
"What?" she rested her chin on the blonde's shoulder.
Words failed her. "So much, I feel so much."
"Is that good?"
"Oh yeah." She covered the hands circling her waist with her own and leaned back, enjoying the moment.
"Hot dogs!!" The woman bellowed, startling both of them, and they disentangled themselves from each other and made their way back to collect their food.
So it was another two hours until they arrived at the windswept and very damp village of Tintagel, known most famously for the ruined castle built on an outcrop of the dramatic North Cornish coastland. Over the years erosion had eaten away at the rock and a bridge had to be built to enable visitors to visit the ruins. It was reached by a precarious path down the cliff face, which was difficult under normal circumstances and would be impossible in the weather conditions that Rocky and Jo encountered.
But it was the legend of King Arthur that drew sightseers to brave the windswept path. Geoffrey of Monmouth first wrote of Tintagel as the birthplace of King Arthur, and from there the legend grew, the small village prospering from the steady stream of visitors that wanted a brief taste of mythical history.
And it was here that Rocky grew up.
The snow they had left behind in the east had turned to rain in the west, and the wind blew in off the coast making it feel almost as cold as London.
Jo pulled their cases out of the boot of the Merc, looking up at the pleasant little hotel she had booked them into. Rocky had walked away to look at the view from the cliff edge, which ran parallel to the hotel's drive.
An elderly man came out of the hotel, pulling an overcoat on as he came. "Miss Sutherland?" he asked.
Jo hadn't used her full title when booking.
"Good..." she looked at her watch, "... afternoon," she said, putting the bags on the ground and slamming the boot closed. She reached out a hand, which the man took, shaking it vigorously.
"Good for ducks maybe." He bent and picked up the bags. "I'll take these in, and we'll be sure to put the kettle on. I expect you could both do with a hot drink."
Jo smiled at the man. "Thanks, we'll be in in a minute."
Jo walked up behind Rocky, who was shivering in the cold wind, which held rain and probably spray from the sea far below.
This time she didn't touch Rocky, just let her have this moment of contemplation.
"I always loved the sea when it was like this." She looked down at the rocks below, watching as they disappeared beneath the waves before the sea receded to gather itself again and repeat the process.
Jo stood alongside the blonde, and Rocky took her hand. "You can just see the tip of the outcrop that the castle ruins stand on from here." She pointed along the coast to her left, pulling Jo around slightly so that she could follow her directions.
"I see it," said Jo, squeezing the small hand in her own. "Come on, let's go inside."
Rocky nodded, and allowed herself to be pulled along into the hotel.
The elderly man who had met Jo was taking their luggage up the small flight of stairs. It was a small hotel, of about 12 rooms, and they appeared to be the only guests.
The hotel register was pushed towards Jo as she approached the reception desk. "Good afternoon, Miss Sutherland. Was your trip uneventful?" The woman was rather splendid, with a mass of pearls about her neck.
"Yes it was, thank you. With the Christmas holiday being over the weekend, I think a lot of people are still on holiday." She signed the register and handed a credit card to the woman, who processed it and took a key down from some small shelves behind the desk. "I've put you in number three, which is a double room." She looked across at Rocky who was leafing through the tourist leaflets. "We have twin rooms if you'd prefer."
Jo produced her most engaging smile. "I'm sure the double will be fine. We'll be staying two nights at least. Would there be a problem if we wanted to stay longer?"
"Not at all. As you can see, we are not overbooked." The woman looked at the entry in the register, and handed Jo the key. "My husband has taken your cases up." She gestured towards the stairs. "Top of the stairs, first door on the left."
Jo and Rocky ascended the stairs, but turned when the woman called out to them. "Will you be requiring lunch?"
"That would be nice, thank you," said Jo, and ushered the blonde up the rest of the stairs.
They showered and changed, and ate a light lunch in the small sun lounge, which had views over the rocky cliffs.
"Where would you like to go first?" Jo asked a thoughtful Rocky.
"I'd just like to go into the village. It'll be pretty quiet this time of year." She pushed away the plate, which had held her sandwiches. "And then I need to go to the church."
Jo watched her carefully.
Rocky sighed deeply. "I need to see it... where they are now."
"Okay. We'll drive down there as soon as we've finished here."
Rocky glanced around the sun lounge. "It's very quiet here."
Jo nodded, pushing her chair away from the table and standing. "It would be; we're the only guests."
Jo nodded, giving the blonde a wink before turning away and leaving the sun lounge.
"Jo, what have you done?" asked a bemused blonde, following hard on the heels of her friend.
The small church just within the boundary of the village stood strong against the wind and rain that assaulted it with persistent intensity. Jo left the engine running as both women looked at the forbidding high wall that surrounded it and the small graveyard.
Without a word, Jo reached across and took Rocky's hand. "You up to this?"
"Probably not, but I've thought about it a lot since I met you." She looked from their linked hands up into concerned blue eyes. "You gave me the strength to remember them. And now I need to go and say good bye."
"You want me to come?"
Rocky shook her head, and eased her hand out of Jo's. Taking a deep breath, she opened the door and stepped out into the storm. Before she closed the door she ducked down looking back into the car. "Just give me a few minutes."
"Okay," Jo said quietly.
Jo watched her through the rain-slicked windscreen, switching on the wipers for a couple of passes so she could see her lover more clearly. She has positioned the Merc so that she could see through a part of the wall that had collapsed.
Rocky pulled up the collar of the waterproof jacket that Jo had bought her, but her head and legs were still becoming quickly drenched with the freezing rain.
She vaguely knew where her grandparents had been buried and knew her parents would be close by. Stumbling slightly she came across the white headstone. It said simply:- 'Michael and Annabelle Kersey'.
Rocky's legs suddenly felt weak, and she staggered backwards. Behind her she heard the Merc's door slam and she turned to see Jo striding towards her around the other headstones in the churchyard.
She shook her head at the advancing woman. "Not yet."
Reluctantly Jo nodded and walked slowly back to the car.
Rocky turned back to the gravestone. She ignored the rain seeping down the back of her collar, and stood, arms held limply at her side.
"I should have come before, I'm sorry." Her voice was small, broken. "So much has happened, and I couldn't get back.... I didn't want to forget you, but it hurt so much to remember, and I was so alone.... I had friends, good friends.... But they couldn't fill the place you left in my heart." She pushed wet hair out of her eyes. "But now I've met someone who is giving me the strength to remember you.... I think you'd like her.... And I don't think you'd hate me for loving her.... I hope you can hear me now... I want you to know how happy I am.... I know you're together... I know you love me... I love you.... Always."
Jo watched the hunched figure of her lover, and when she saw the slumped shoulders heaving as sobs racked the small body she could stand it no longer. Slipping in the mud and wet grass between ancient graves she made her way as quickly as possible to the distraught blonde, taking the unresisting body into her arms.
The taller woman looked down at the gravestone. "Michael and Annabelle," she said quietly. "Your name was a mixture of both of theirs."
She felt the blonde head nod against her chest.
"Come on, let's get out of the rain. We can come back here again, any time you want."
Rocky allowed herself to be led out of the churchyard. Across the street was a small café, and Jo steered them towards that.
A small bell rang as they entered the café, and a woman appeared behind the counter.
"Oh my goodness!" she exclaimed. "What a filthy day. Sit down. I'll get Katy to take your order."
"Thankyou," said Jo, settling Rocky at a table. "You wouldn't happen to have a towel we could use, would you?"
"Of course, let me get one from upstairs." She disappeared for a moment and then returned with a large, fluffy, blue towel.
"Thanks." Jo took it from her and started to dry Rocky's hair. "Look at me," said Jo.
Rocky looked at her with slightly dazed eyes.
"You okay?" the dark haired woman asked.
Rocky merely nodded, not trusting her voice.
Jo smiled at her and carried on gently drying the soaked, blonde hair. "Look at you," she gently scolded. "Let's get the jacket off." She leaned forward, pulling down the zip on the front of the jacket, and then eased it back off the blonde's shoulders.
"Shelley?" asked the voice behind them.
Jo looked up to see a young woman standing behind her lover. Rocky turned herself, shrugging her way out of the wet jacket.
"Kate," was all Rocky could manage, and she stood, taking a step forward, hugging the girl fiercely.
Jo tried to look away, to give what were obviously old friends a moment, but she couldn't take her eyes off the anguished look on the face of the girl holding on to her lover.
When she'd finally composed herself, Kate reluctantly let go of the blonde. "They said you were dead."
Rocky wiped a hand across her face. "Who said?" Rocky sat heavily on the chair, feeling a gentle hand on her arm as she did so.
Kate looked at a loss standing there in front of the two seated women, shaking slightly. She ran a hand through short brown hair, and looked back at the woman behind the counter. "Can I have a moment?"
The woman nodded, and she sat with her friend. Kate nodded at Jo, who smiled back, then her gaze found her old schoolfriend again. "It was a couple of months after the accident. A man came here looking for you. Said you'd disappeared." She looked down at the floor. "Then a few months later, he came back and said he had to clear out your house, that you were presumed dead."
Rocky covered her face with her hands, then reached across and took one of Jo's hands.
Kate looked at Jo. "I'm sorry...."
"No, my fault." She reached across with her free hand, offering it to the girl. "Hi, I'm Jo."
"Kate," said the still tearful girl. "We grew up together."
Rocky looked up at her friend. "It's really good to see you, Katy."
"Where did you go?" she asked.
"It's a long story. I can't tell it right now."
Kate nodded. "That's okay, Shelley. It's just good to know you're okay." She stood. "I'll just go and get you some drinks, then maybe we can talk."
Rocky nodded, and watched her friend disappear behind the counter.
An hour or so later, Jo and Rocky walked towards the Merc, still parked beside the wall. Their clothes and hair were still damp, and they wanted nothing more than to get back to their hotel and test out the large bath they'd seen in the bathroom of their suite.
"So you went to school with Kate?" Jo asked as she unlocked the car with the remote on her keyring.
"Yeah, we were really close." Rocky slid into the passenger seat. "I didn't think about people like that. I should have got word to her." She looked across at Jo, who was inserting the key into the ignition. "Did you notice how quiet she got after she first saw me?"
Jo started the car, and waited for the de-misters to work on the windscreen. "Yeah, I think it was all a little too much for her to take in."
"I wouldn't blame her for hating me." Rocky pulled her seatbelt on, and sat forlornly with her head bowed.
"Now why would she do that?" Jo asked, becoming a little annoyed with her morose lover. She looked across at the dejected figure. "Hey," she reached out and took one of the cold hands that were clutched together in the blonde's lap.
"I was thoughtless," Rocky said quietly. "Didn't think of anyone but myself."
Jo squeezed the hand she held. "You had to do what you did to save yourself." She shook the hand. "Hey, look at me."
Reluctantly, Rocky looked up, and moist green eyes locked with Jo's. Jo pulled in to the side of the road, and turned in her seat to face the blonde.
"You survived, Rocky. And now you have all the time in the world to go back and find some of the life you left behind." She raised their joined hands to her lips, kissing the knuckles of her lover. "And I for one am very very grateful you survived." She leaned across, her lips finding the blonde's. And in that moment managed to show just how grateful.
There was only one pay phone in the small village, and the young man that stepped into it managed to take his eyes off the Merc long enough to take out a small piece of paper from his wallet. He keyed the numbers on that paper and waited while he heard the dial tone change to a ringing tone.
"Hello? It's Paul Langley.... You asked me to let you know if Michelle Kersey ever showed her face here again.... Yes, I'm looking at her right now.... No she's with a tall woman, never seen her before.... Don't know.... They're in a Merc - nice one, silver, soft top....Yeah. X1 JHS.... You'll send the money? Ok, bye."
He slid out of the phone box as the Merc, which had only gone a few yards since he saw the women get into it, drove away again and disappeared into the rainy gloom.
It was getting dark as they arrived back at the clifftop hotel.
"So you're telling me that they opened up just for us?" asked Rocky as she leaned in, testing the temperature of the water filling the bath.
"Yeah. All the hotels that were open over Christmas were fully booked. They didn't take too much persuading."
Rocky sat on the edge of the bath. "How much did it cost?"
"Does it matter?"
Rocky nodded. "I don't want you spending all your money on me."
Jo leaned her hands on the shoulders of the smaller woman. "I have lots of money."
"Not the point," Rocky said, but she was rapidly losing her resolve to be angry with Jo as she felt her lover begin to unbutton the still-damp shirt she wore.
"There won't be any room service, but I've ordered us an Indian meal which will be delivered in on hour or so. Mrs. Maple is going to bring it up."
"The woman at reception."
"And the old man who helped with our luggage?"
The shirt was removed and thrown onto the bathroom floor. Then Rocky was gently eased to her feet, and Jo knelt, undoing the laces of the black leather boots she wore. "I can do that," the blonde protested.
Twinkling blue eyes looked up at her through ebony hair. "I know," she said on a smile.
"So you talked them into opening?" Rocky asked, as Jo eased off her shoes and then turned her attention to the button-down fly of her jeans.
"Yep," she said, undoing the top button. "They said they'd do it." The second button popped open. "But they could only provide light meals." Another one gave under expert fingers. "And no room service." She stood as the jeans fell to pool around Rocky's feet.
She bent to kiss the lips of the half-naked woman in front of her. "I love you," she said as she pulled back.
"And I love you." Rocky decided to return the compliment, and turned her attention to the zip of Jo's fly.
The bath had taken longer than they thought, and Mrs. Maple had called them twice on the phone to tell them their meal had arrived and was in the microwave heating for the second time.
The old man tried valiantly to avert his eyes from the long legs that emerged from the bottom of a long teeshirt when Jo opened the door to allow him to bring the meal into their room.
"Mrs. Maple and I will be in the lounge if you need anything, dear," he said as he set the plates down on the small table.
"Thankyou," said Jo, giving a smirk to her lover, who was more decently covered than she was.
"You should put more clothes on," scolded Rocky when the old man left, shutting the door gently behind him.
"Why? If you've got it, flaunt it. That's what I say."
Rocky looked at the limbs in question. "You've just got.... so much of it."
The meal was, as most Indian meals are, hot and spicy, and they had to call down a couple of times for more orange juice and Coke. But every time it was the elderly man who made the long trek up to room number three. Then it would take a few moments from an unrepentant Jo to usher him out of the door again. This time he took the dirty plates and cutlery with him.
"You know what it does to him," said Rocky as the door closed. "You should have put something else on this time."
"Why? I'm comfortable."
"You know why."
Jo chuckled and eased into the warm, comfortable bed, watching Rocky as she turned on the TV and then joined her in the cosy nest.
"This is nice," Jo said as she wound an arm around the blonde, who sank easily into the embrace.
Rocky nodded but remained silent.
"So why do I feel like there's something wrong?" Jo asked, turning her head slightly and kissing soft blonde hair.
"I'm still waiting to wake up." She looked up at her friend, her heart missing a beat when she looked into eyes as blue as the summer sky. "It's like a dream." She lay her head on Jo's chest. "You're like a dream."
Jo lay there, the blonde resting comfortably in her arms, enjoying the moment and the comfortable silence that surrounded them. It almost made her jump when Rocky spoke again.
"I'm scared of losing you." The blonde's voice was very small, very pained.
"You won't, I promise."
In the snowy midlands a man picked up the phone, dialled a number and waited for it to connect. "John?.... Yes. I need you to run a check on a car for me.... Silver Mercedes convertible. Registration number X1 JHS. As soon as you can..... Let me know."
He replaced the phone in its cradle and sat back. "Happy happy day," he whispered to himself.
Rocky woke with a start. For a brief moment she didn't know where she was. A television cast a flickering glow across the room. She looked to her left, the presence at her side demanding her attention.
Jo was still asleep, flat on her back. Rocky was on her stomach right next to her. Their hands were tangled together between them.
Rocky gently turned onto her side. The dark-haired woman stirred but didn't awaken. Many nights, when she was woken by her dreams, Rocky would do this - just lie there in the silence of the night watching Jo.
They were both naked; any clothing torn off in the passion they had shared some time before.
Rocky pulled gently on the quilt, which Jo had pulled up over them when their skin started to feel the chill of the evening. It slid down the long body, and she watched in fascination as the dark nipples responded to the fabric of the quilt cover as it slid across them.
Jo sucked in a deep breath, exhaling loudly.
Rocky smiled to herself as she pulled the quilt away from her lover's body. She looked up from the flesh she had uncovered to Jo's face, to find two very blue, very dazed eyes looking back at her.
"Hi," she said quietly.
Jo attempted to speak but had to clear her throat first. "Why are you awake?"
Rocky reached out, tracing the soft flesh of Jo's cheek, running her hand down, following a smooth jaw line. "I'm not sure. Active mind, I think."
Jo captured the roaming hand, bringing it to her lips and kissing the fingertips. She pulled slightly, settling the blonde on top of her and holding on to her loosely.
"This is nice," said the blonde, relaxing onto the living mattress, revelling in the feeling of silky skin against her own.
"Yes it is," Jo breathed into her ear, her own hands wandering across the planes of Rocky's back.
"Jo?" Rocky suddenly pulled back, sitting up astride Jo's hips, leaving the brunette's hands empty. Long arms flopped back onto the bed.
The blonde looked down at the woman, and her hands traced the taut abdomen watching as the muscles beneath the skin tightened at her touch. "You're very beautiful."
Jo swallowed. "So are you."
"You know, I still don't know why you chose me." Rocky's hands found Jo's navel, the tip of her finger dipping into it. Green eyes looked into the flushed face. "I'm not sure I know what I'm doing here."
Jo opened her mouth to disagree, but clamped it shut again as a tentative hand then found her breast. "Is this nice?" Rocky whispered as her finger brushed across already tense buds.
Jo nodded quickly.
"And this?" She squeezed the aching nipple between two fingers, feeling the body beneath her react.
"I didn't ever think about loving another woman," she said quietly, watching her own hand as it caressed Jo's body. "But then I didn't think much about love for a long time." She brought her other hand up to join its mate. Now both breasts were enjoying the attention. She cupped the soft mounds, her short nails raking gently across the sensitive skin. "In my dream, you came and took me away, to somewhere safe and warm." She still cupped Jo's breasts in her hands, but now caressed both nipples with her thumbs. "The fact that you were a woman didn't surprise me. Why was that?" She tore her eyes away from her own hands when she received no answer, to find Jo's eyes tightly shut. "Jo, are you listening?"
Jo's eyes shot open. "Um, yes, I'm listening."
Rocky sighed. Her hands drifted downwards, along the outside of Jo's now highly aroused breasts, and came to rest on her hips.
"I want to make you feel the way you make me feel." Her hands moved inwards, her thumbs tracing the sensitive skin at the juncture of long thighs. She smiled to herself when she heard Jo's breathing increase, the chest she had been loving so tenderly only moments before rising and falling rapidly.
She ran her hand through soft curls, marvelling at the feel of them. "Anyway," Rocky continued. "You're just going to have to tell me if I'm doing anything right." She traced patterns across the twitching abdomen, circling a perfect belly button, and tracing the edge of the dark patch of hair. She looked down, and, cocking her head to the side, ventured further.
Jo's hips bucked so violently that Rocky was nearly thrown from the bed. She withdrew her hand quickly from the place she had found that elicited the reaction.
"Sorry," said Rocky steadying herself with both hands on Jo's stomach.
"Don't be," Jo squeaked.
"Did I hurt you?"
Jo shook her head tightly.
"I want to do it right." Rocky's hand once again found the place, and she watched closely as blue eyes fluttered closed. "Tell me what you want," she whispered.
Jo's mouth opened and closed, but no coherent sound was forthcoming.
"So this is okay, then?" She'd never felt such softness, and she felt her own body reacting to the new feelings she was experiencing.
Jo's hands grasped onto the sheet beneath her as Rocky's tentative touch drew out her pleasure. Her hips rose, encouraging the blonde in her efforts, feeling the touch become bolder, deeper.
And when a hot mouth enveloped her nipple she took two handfuls of soft blonde hair, holding her lover in place.
Even in her inexperience, Rocky knew Jo was nearing the edge, and she desperately wanted to see her. She raised her head, struggling against her lover's hands, which attempted to keep her in place. Desperately, Jo grasped for Rocky's free hand, pressing it to her aching breast.
Rocky gazed upon the face of her lover as Jo came. She'd never seen anything so beautiful; never had Jo looked so beautiful. She eased her hand away from the warmth and softness of her lover's pleasure, and pressed her body gently down onto the gasping form below her. Gently pushing damp hair from Jo's forehead, she kissed the tip of her nose, her closed eyes, and then her slightly swollen lips.
Though her arms felt heavy, Jo clutched at the woman who had just given her more pleasure than she'd ever felt. True, she had experienced much in her time, but never felt such emotion. She had finally given her body. True, she had allowed others to touch her, but this was so very different. And as she held her lover, whose fingers were at that moment making small patterns across her lower abdomen, she realised she had finally made love. It wasn't sex. It was love. Rocky's tentative, nervous hands had drawn out the woman in her, and for that she would be forever in her debt. To the other women who had taken her body, she had been nothing more than a conquest. A notch on a bedpost, a name to be whispered. And she hadn't cared.
The hand on her stomach had stopped its torturous movement, and she looked down at the face of her lover, relaxed in slumber.
Her tears surprised her. Why on earth was she crying? This was quite probably one of the most wonderful moments of her life. And here she was snivelling like a baby. She tightened her hold on the blonde.
"What?" Rocky's voice was sleepy. She looked up, alarmed at the tears she saw coursing down her lover's face. "Jo?"
"I'm fine," she said quickly, wiping at the tears with her hand.
"You're crying." Rocky propped herself up on one elbow, catching a tear as it made its way across Jo's cheek.
"I'm happy," Jo sniffed.
"I'm glad." Rocky leaned forward and kissed Jo, trying to put into that kiss the love and respect she felt for this woman. Trying to convey her thanks for the gift Jo had given her.
"I love you so much," whispered the blonde.
Jo merely smiled, knowing her voice would fail her. She pulled Rocky tightly against her own body, and dragged the quilt from where it had fallen to the side of the bed, covering them.
Two sets of breathing fell into a rhythm as they fell asleep, holding on tightly to one another, both secure in the knowledge that they had found one more piece of their soul. One more part of the jigsaw that might, just one day make them complete.
The TV played on. Its silver light picking out the forms on the bed, bathing them in an eerie glow, highlighting the matching smiles on sleeping faces.
They say when two English men, or women for that matter, meet, they will discuss the weather. And the day that greeted the lovers proved that point. Though dark clouds gathered in the distance, the sky over the small village of Tintagel was blue, and the winter sun shone fiercely. It was still frigidly cold, but the sun cast the village in a new light, and Jo could imagine the woman walking beside her growing up there.
They had parked the Merc in a small carpark and walked slowly through the village, looking at the places that Rocky was rediscovering. The long walk down to the cliff face, and to the ruins of the castle, was made carefully, the path still damp from the rain that had fallen in the previous days.
They surveyed the ruins, hand in hand.
Rocky felt the large hand squeezing her own. "You okay?" she asked, squinting against the sunlight which brought out the slightly auburn highlights in her lover's hair.
Jo's eyes were closed, her lips slightly parted. A furrow marred her forehead.
"You feel it too," Rocky said, moving around in front of the taller woman, and reaching up to brush away the ebony hair that had blown across the angular face.
"I feel sick," said Jo simply.
"I used to." Rocky leaned into the shaking form, winding her arms around Jo. "There's something magical here.... Something old.... It used to call to me." She rubbed her hands up and down the rigid back. "Take deep breaths."
Jo did so, and the colour started to return to her cheeks. She took a deep breath and looked down into concerned green eyes. "What was that?"
Rocky shrugged slightly. "I've never been sure. Some sort of echo of the past." She squeezed tighter, feeling Jo return the embrace. "You believe in reincarnation?"
Jo snorted, a most unladylike sound. She looked down, seeing the serious expression on the beautiful face of the woman holding her.
Rocky smiled up at her. "I think I've been here before."
Jo looked over the blonde head at the ruins. "Well, you have," she said simply.
"I have," Rocky conceded. "Many times." She turned her back on Jo, gazing out at the sea battering at the tiny outcrop to which the ruins clung. She felt Jo's arms encircle her from behind. "But it's more than that. I feel I've been here before that."
"In another life?"
Rocky nodded, closing her eyes and feeling the salt spray gentle on her face. "And I think you were too."
Jo looked down at the ruins, trying to imagine what it would have looked like in its prime. "Must have been quite a place."
"Fit for a King." Rocky's voice was almost lost on the wind.
"Or a Queen?" She bent her head and kissed the edge of the blonde's ear.
Rocky chuckled. "D'you think we were here once? Together?" She felt the woman behind her take a deep breath.
"I've never really thought about that kind of thing. Never thought about anything much before I met you."
Rocky thought about that statement for a moment. "Why was that?"
Jo seemed to shift uncomfortably behind her, and Rocky waited patiently for her answer. "I didn't need to think. Everything was done for me. My parents already had two successful children, and when I showed no ambition they didn't push me." Jo laughed gently. "And I loved them for it." The tall woman looked at the storm clouds gathering, starting to hide the sun. "Now, with you, I see so much I want to do. I want to do well for you, make you happy. I want you to be proud of me."
"But you don't...."
"No, please." She turned again in the circle of Jo's arms to face her lover. "No, I know what you've turned your back on. I know you've given up that life for me. All of a sudden, you have someone with more emotional baggage than she can handle looking to you for some sort of support, and you're giving it without asking for anything in return." She looked up shyly into blue eyes. "You're my hero," she said, watching as a blush spread across Jo's face.
"Yes, you are."
"Can we agree to disagree about that?"
Rocky shrugged. "If you like, but I'm right."
Jo looked down at her for long moments. "Where now?"
The blonde head eased forward and rested against her chest. "Back to the graveyard. I need to say goodbye."
Rocky watched the changing landscape as they left Cornwall and then Devon. By the time they reached the M4 they had started to see small pockets of snow that had resisted the slightly warmer weather. The further east they went, the worse the weather became, and as they passed Swindon they hit the first light snowfall.
"You're quiet," Jo said, studying briefly the tired profile of the blonde.
Green eyes turned in her direction. "Just thinking," she said.
Rocky nodded. "Oh yeah, I was thinking about you."
Jo's face creased into a smile. "Really?"
"I was just wondering where we'll be in a year or so from now."
Jo reached across and took her hand. "Where would you like to be?"
Rocky looked down at their linked hands, turning Jo's over and studying it intently. "I think I'd just like to be wherever you are." She watched the larger hand curl around hers and squeeze. "But...." The sentence hung in the air between them.
"But what?" Jo tore her eyes from the increasingly heavy traffic she was encountering to look down at the girl slumped in the passenger seat. "We have all the time we need. What's bothering you?"
"I'm finding it hard having to rely on you for everything. This trip, the clothes, everything. I was so used to fending for myself.... It's just hard," she finished weakly.
"It's no big deal," said Jo, matter-of-factly.
"It is to me."
"Ok then, we'll enrol you in the college. What would you like to do? They have plenty of courses."
Rocky looked at her as if she'd sprouted another head. "I couldn't do anything like that!"
"Why not?" she said simply.
Rocky was obviously trying to come up with a reason, but her jaw snapped shut as she realised she didn't have one. "I don't know," she said quietly.
"How about computers or something?" Jo gave her hand a little shake, realising that, at last, Rocky was starting to think a little positively.
"See?" She raised their linked hands and kissed the blonde's knuckles. "I want you to be happy, Sweetheart."
"I am," said Rocky.
Jo pulled into the courtyard and parked the car in front of her house. No sooner had they opened the boot than the front door opened and Edna greeted them. "I saw you drive in. I put the kettle on."
Jo heaved the bags out of the boot, and threw them inside the front door. "You go on up, I'll bring these," she said, and gently pushed the blonde towards her elderly friend.
Rocky followed Edna up the stairs and into the kitchen, pulling off her jacket and hanging it in the hallway as she went.
Edna stood against the sink, watching Rocky as she settled into one of the kitchen chairs. "How was it?"
"It was... hard." The blonde planted her elbows on the table and cradled her head in her hands. "Too many memories." She looked up at the woman from beneath pale hair. "But I'm glad I went."
The shrill whistle of the kettle interrupted them, and Edna turned to make the tea just as Jo stumbled into the hall with the bags.
"Come in here and sit yourself down," she called through the door. "I bet you drove the whole way without stopping."
"I was worried about the weather, didn't want to be out in it too late," said Jo as she sat, depositing a kiss on her lover's cheek as she passed.
"They do say it's going to get worse in the next few days. Cold front coming from the east." She put two mugs of tea in front of the two women. "I'll go gather my things."
Jo's eyes snapped up. "You don't have to go yet, Edna."
The old woman placed a gentle hand on the brunette's shoulder. "Yes, Jo. I do. It's been a pleasant few days here, but I've been out there too long." She shrugged and smiled at the confused look on Jo's face. "It's what I'm used to." She padded away quietly.
Rocky looked across at Jo. "You can't understand it, can you?"
Jo shook her head. "It's the worst winter for years, sub zero temperatures, and she'd rather be out in it than here. No, I don't understand."
"Same old story," said the blonde.
"The feeling of imposing, of being a burden."
Jo leaned towards the blonde. "You," she pointed a finger in Rocky's direction, "are not going back out there."
"No, I know," she said with a small smile. "But I have something Edna doesn't."
Jo chuckled and leaned across capturing the blonde's lips. "That's true," she said, her breath warm on Rocky's mouth.
"I'm ready," said Edna, dropping her bags just outside the kitchen door. "I'll need to find another trolley; I don't think mine will be where we left it."
Jo leaned back, away from the blonde and turned in her seat to face the old woman. "Can I finish my tea?"
Edna huffed and settled herself in the spare kitchen chair, watching as Jo and Rocky sipped their tea as slowly as they could.
So it was an hour later that Jo opened the door of the car and allowed Edna to settle herself in the passenger seat. The tall woman turned back to the blonde framed in the doorway. "Are you sure you won't come?" Jo took a couple of steps back towards Rocky.
Rocky nodded. "Yeah, I'm sure. I don't think I want to go back there yet." She turned Jo in the direction of the car. "Besides, I have three days of washing to sort out."
Jo resisted the gentle pushing and turned back, gathering the small woman in her arms. "I won't be long."
"Make sure you're not." She frowned slightly. "Shouldn't you take a jacket?" she asked noticing Jo only had a sweatshirt on along with her jeans and sneakers.
"I'm fine. I'll be gone an hour at the most," she ducked her head and nipped at soft lips. "I love you," she whispered.
"Love you, too." Rocky gave her a shove, and stepped back into the doorway, wrapping her arms around her in an attempt to keep out the cold. "Now go," she said, with a smile.
Jo pouted, and slowly got into the car.
The blonde waved to her friend as the Merc pulled slowly out of the courtyard, then she closed the door and made her way straight to the laundry room.
She had just emptied the contents of their travel bag on the floor when the door bell rang. "What have you forgotten now?" she muttered under her breath as she reached for the handle and opened the door.
Before her stood a nightmare, a smiling nightmare.
"Michelle," the tall man said, reaching for her.
Rocky felt her knees unlock and she staggered backwards, tripping over the bottom stair. She sat heavily, watching as the man quietly closed the door and turned back towards her. "It's been so long," he said as he crouched in front of her and cupped a cheek already wet with tears. "I've missed you so much."
Her mind struggled to comprehend what was happening. It couldn't possibly be, could it? She'd been so careful, stayed away. Surely by now he thought her dead. But no, here he was. He'd come for her.
"I searched for you," he said, pulling her to her feet and crushing her in an embrace. "I knew I'd find you. I never lost faith." He kissed blonde hair, and held her at arm's length. "Now we can be together again."
"No." Her voice was little more than a whisper.
"No?" his smile never faltered. "Michelle, I forgive you for leaving me. Whatever it was that made you leave, we'll sort out. We'll be happy again."
"I was never...." Her objection died on her lips as he crushed her to his chest again.
"Is there anything you need to take?" he asked.
Rocky managed to pull away from him. "I can't leave."
"And why is that?" he asked patiently.
"The tall woman I saw leave a moment ago?"
Rocky nodded, and realised he had waited until she was alone.
He smiled again, the same smile she had seen in her nightmares. "I waited for her to go, because I knew seeing you alone would be safer. I wouldn't want anything to happen should she object to you choosing to leave with me." He waited a moment for Rocky to think about what he was saying. "Would you rather we waited?"
"Would you hurt her?" Rocky asked, her voice breaking.
"If she came between us, Michelle. I would have to."
Rocky closed her eyes. "I have to get a coat. That's all I have."
"Very well." He followed the girl as she ascended the stairs, and stood in the hallway as she reached for her coat.
Rocky hesitated, and bypassed her own coat and took Jo's jacket from the hook. She draped it over her arm, and turned back to the man. "Can I leave a note?"
"I'm sorry, Michelle. A clean break, I think that would be the best."
She nodded, and took the hand that he offered.
"Let's go home," he said, and led her down the stairs and out of the house.
It was nearly two hours before Jo returned to her house, and she almost had a head-on collision with a Red VW Beetle as she turned into the courtyard. Both cars skidded in the snow, and Jo peered through the snow-smeared windscreen to see her friend behind the wheel of the dumpy car.
She waved at Harry, indicating she should reverse, and when she did she eased the Merc across the slippery courtyard and flipped the remote for the garage door.
"Where were you going?" asked Jo as she closed the garage and opened the front door.
Harry parked the car and locked it. "Home," she said. "There was no answer, so I was giving up. Just came round to see how your trip went."
"Rocky's up there." She stood back, holding the door open, and allowed the smaller woman to pass her and go on ahead.
"Well, maybe she didn't hear me."
Jo shrugged, and climbed the stairs behind her friend. "Rocky!" she called as she got to the top and walked past her friend. She looked back at Harry. "Hold on, I'll go find her."
Harry went into the lounge, pulling off her coat as she went. She heard Jo's footfalls upstairs, going from room to room. She sat on the sofa, and used the remote to turn on the TV. The weather forecast was on, and in the present conditions made for interesting viewing. She heard Jo pass the lounge and go back down the stairs.
A few moments later Jo appeared in the doorway, an unreadable expression on her face. "She's gone." She moved across to the large armchair and slumped down in it.
Harry watched as Jo sat quietly, her hands folded in her lap, her eyes fixed on the Christmas tree. The lights weren't lit, so she stood and walked over, leaning behind the tree to turn them on at the wall socket.
Then she returned to her place on the chair.
"Maybe she had to pop out," Harry said, and almost winced when she saw the pain in the blue eyes that settled on her.
"I would have done anything for her." Jo's voice was strangled. "Anything she wanted."
Harry stood and took a couple of steps across the room so she could sit on the arm of Jo's chair. "Why are you so sure she's gone?" she asked, laying a gentle hand on Jo's taut shoulder.
Jo covered her face with her hands, so Harry had to strain to hear what she said.
"She would have left a note.... And things she said.... In Cornwall."
Jo leaned her head against the back of the chair, suddenly incredibly weary. She sighed. "She didn't like being a burden." Tears rolled down her cheeks. "I should never have left... her alone."
Harry was at a loss. She'd witnessed for herself the absolute joy her friend had displayed in the company of the small blonde, and now she was witnessing utter despair.
"I've heard sometimes, that these people can't handle going back to a normal life...." Harry was cut short when outraged blue eyes turned on her.
"What the hell do you mean, `these people`? You're talking about Rocky. She's a person, someone I came to know and love, and you're talking about her like she's some kind of statistic. Jesus Christ, Harry." Jo looked away from her.
"I'm sorry." Harry slipped her hand from Jo's shoulder, but remained sitting on the arm of the chair. "You... d'you want to go looking for her?"
Jo shook her head; her anger had gone as quickly as it arrived, replaced by a sense of resignation. "No, if she wants to disappear she knows how to do it. She did it successfully for five years." She sighed. "I don't know what I did wrong."
"Nothing, you did nothing wrong."
"It was too fast. Everything. I should have waited, let her do things at her pace." She massaged aching temples with trembling hands. "Just something else in my life I've fucked up."
The ringing of the telephone interrupted Jo's self-loathing. "Can you get that?" she asked Harry. "Whoever it is, tell them I'm asleep, or dead, whatever you like."
Harry sighed, gave Jo's shoulder a squeeze and reached across to the low coffee table for the phone.
"Hello?" Harry listened, she could hear only breathing. Uneven breathing. She put her hand over the mouthpiece. "It's a breather."
Jo reached out. "Give it to me."
Harry handed Jo the phone and returned to her seat on the sofa.
"Who is this?" Jo listened carefully, hearing the breathing, hearing the caller take in a long shuddering breath. "Rocky?"
No answer, just the sound of ragged breathing.
"Rocky, sweetheart. Is that you? Please, talk to me. Tell me where you are." She still heard nothing. Then suddenly a beep. She recognised it as the sound a cell phone makes to warn the user that the battery is getting low. "Rocky, you have my phone?" Jo stood and went into the hall; her jacket had gone, and she knew she'd left the phone in the pocket. She slid down the wall, the palm of her hand pressed to her forehead. "Rocky, whatever is wrong, we can work it out. Please, tell me where you are."
"Baby, don't be sorry, just come home."
"I can't, I'm sorry."
Another beep. "Rocky, I love you."
Silence for a long moment. "I'm... sorry."
"Are you in London?"
"I don't understand, Rocky. I thought you were happy. Was it something I did?"
"I have to go."
"Go? Go where? Please, tell me where you are."
"He's waiting for me."
The breath was sucked from Jo's chest, and she expected her stomach to expel its contents at any second. "Who's waiting for you?"
"I just needed to say goodbye."
"He found you?"
Silence. Then, "He said he'd hurt you."
"He can't possibly hurt me more than I'm hurting right now." She waited a moment, then did something she'd never done before. "I'm begging you, Rocky."
"I love you, Sweetheart."
"I'll find you."
"I will find you."
"Please, Jo. He'll hurt you, he'll...."
The line went dead, and Jo threw the phone across the hallway, watching with satisfaction as it broke into two parts.
Harry appeared at her side, crouching down next to her trembling friend. "I'm guessing that was Rocky."
"He's got her."
Harry winced at the pain she heard in Jo's voice. "Who's got her, Jo?"
Jo turned red-rimmed blue eyes on her friend. "Her uncle, the man she ran away from."
"Jesus, I didn't know."
"What do I do now?"
Harry stood, looking down at the slumped woman. "You go get her."
Jo laughed, wiping her wet face with both hands. "Sounds simple." She leaned her head back against the wall. "She went with him." She sighed, a sound of finality.
"What if she didn't have a choice?"
The image of her lover being dragged from the house suddenly burned itself into her consciousness. "Oh my God."
"Jo, do you know where he lives?" Harry reached down and pulled the taller woman to her feet.
"Leicester, somewhere. I don't even know his name." Jo pulled her hair back from her face. "I don't know what to do."
"Hey, calm down." Harry could see her friend was about to break down. "Think hard. Did she ever mention his surname? Was he an uncle on her side of the family?"
Jo shook her head. "No, it was her mother's sister's husband."
"Didn't she have any personal things, something that may have had an address on?" Harry so much wanted to give her friend some hope. Never before has she seen the once carefree woman so distraught.
"No, she had nothing, apart from.... Her bag!" said Jo, and flew down the stairs into the laundry room. There in the corner were the bags that Rocky had carried with her for the five years that she survived on the streets of London. The blonde had been meaning to go through the contents, but had always put it off, not wanting to confront the memories that lay within.
Jo opened the bags with something approaching reverence. She reached in, carefully pulling out the jumble of clothing that was inside. There, wrapped in an old shirt, she found a bundle of photos and letters.
The photos she put to one side. One day she would go through them with Rocky - that she was now determined of.
The letters were all still in their envelopes. She didn't open them. But on the front was an address. An address in Leicester.
"I've found her," she whispered.
Rocky's heart rate increased as the large car pulled up to the front of her uncle's magnificent house. As Chief Constable of the Leicestershire Constabulary, he reaped the rewards the position bestowed upon him. His position and standing in the local community was spotless, and none of his friends and colleagues knew anything of the niece he'd used his rank to hunt down.
And it was this, mainly, that caused Rocky to run rather than seek the help of the authorities. Her word against the top policeman in that part of the country would probably not have much credibility.
So now she was back. Back at the place that haunted her dreams, and her memories. She remembered the small room, with the window overlooking the garden with its covered swimming pool. The room with the bolt on the door, the outside of the door.
She watched him as she walked around the front of the car, and then the wind and snow blew against her face as he opened the door.
"Come along, Michelle. Your aunt is waiting to see you again." He held out a hand, and when she didn't move, he leaned across and unsnapped her seatbelt, pulling her out into the falling snow.
She still clutched Jo's jacket in her arms, holding on to that last connection with the woman who had started to ease her out of the darkness. Finding Jo's phone in the pocket, when she'd persuaded him to let her go to the toilet in a motorway service station, had been a blessing and a curse.
She'd stood with her back to the mirror in the rest room and pressed the preset button she knew was Jo's home number. She'd just wanted to say she was sorry, say goodbye. But hearing Jo's anguished voice had been too much for her. If only she'd just left it, she'd have had the smiling memory of her lover as she got in the car earlier that day. The failing battery had put an end to the call, and she'd looked at the small device for long moments before slipping it back into her pocket and returning to the man waiting for her outside.
That same man led her into the house.
They were met in the hallway by his wife, Rocky's aunt. Susan was much more like Rocky than her own mother was. Short and blonde, she was the complete opposite of her tall dark husband.
"Michelle," was all she could say, and she gathered the blonde into her arms.
No other words passed between the two women, both knowing their lives were about to change in very different ways. Susan had prayed he would never find her niece, for she knew she couldn't protect her sister's child against her husband's weaknesses. She knew, to her shame that she would lie awake on the nights he would leave her bed and creep across the landing. In the morning, she wouldn't be able to look at the sweet blonde child. She would fail her now, as she had failed her five years before.
Ron took Rocky's hand and pulled her up the stairs. She looked back down at her aunt, who turned away and closed the lounge door quietly behind her.
"Your room hasn't changed. We kept it as it was for when you came home." He opened the door and stood aside for the blonde to enter. When she didn't he gave her a shove, and she stumbled in.
Rocky spun to face him. "Don't touch me," she whispered.
"Michelle." He took a step towards her. "I know you're tired. Let me help you get something more comfortable on."
He tried to pull the jacket from her arms. "No," she said, pulling away from him.
"Don't be a silly girl, give me the jacket." He managed to get a hold on the sleeve of the leather garment and pulled it forcefully out of his niece's hands, throwing it onto the bed.
Rocky looked from it up to her uncle.
"Now then," he said.
Rocky closed her eyes as he began to unbutton her shirt. "No," she said quietly.
"What's that, Angel?" His attention was on the buttons, hard to undo on the newish shirt.
She knocked his hands away, hating the nickname he'd given her all those years ago. "Don't touch me."
She tried to back away, but he pulled her towards him by the front of her shirt, and finally losing patience he ripped it open. Buttons scattered across the room, bouncing off the walls. He stripped the checked shirt off her shoulders, leaving her standing in her jeans and white teeshirt.
"You used to wear such pretty clothes," he said, advancing on her again. He reached out, tracing her cheek, down to her chin and across her neck.
She flinched away from him.
His hand cupped the back of her head, and he dipped down. His lips found hers, and he sighed feeling the softness he remembered. But this time they were responsive. Before, in those days when he'd first brought her back from the hospital, she had been like a corpse in his hands. But he still couldn't resist her. From the first moment he'd laid eyes on her in that hospital bed, he'd been smitten. And nothing and no-one would keep him from her.
Then he realised that the response he was getting from her was not one of complicity, but one of rejection. She was pushing against him, then his bottom lip was between her teeth and she bit down hard.
He pushed her violently away from him, his hand reaching for his mouth.
Rocky bounced off the wall but stayed on her feet.
He looked from the blood on his hands to the girl standing before him She looked like the girl he'd brought home over five years before, but something new was behind the green eyes.
"I don't understand, Michelle." He pushed the door closed behind him, cutting off any route of escape for her. Then he approached her again. His hands were heavy on her shoulders. They smoothed down the outside of her arms, before taking both her hands in his. He tugged her towards him and, releasing one of her hands, began to lower the zip on her jeans.
"No!" she screamed, and tore her hand from his. She beat on his chest, and his face, landing a blow on the bridge of his nose. He attempted to catch her flailing arms, and was hit a couple more times. Her feet kicked out, catching his shins. He finally threw a punch at her, catching her across the side of her face and sending her crashing into a low chest of drawers.
She scrambled to her feet and launched herself at him. His police training took over and he turned her around, pulling an arm across her throat. He felt her start to weaken in his arms, and pulled her closer against his body.
"You're upset, I know that." He could feel her slumped against him, and as she lost consciousness he lowered her onto the bed. He arranged her limp form on the bed, his fingers smoothing the growing bruise on her left cheek. "You sleep. I'll be back later. Things will be better once you've rested."
He left the room, turning off the light, and sliding the bolt into place.
The weather was worsening, and Jo managed to encounter every traffic jam and accident as she made her way up the M1 having battled her way around a part of the notorious M25.
In places the traffic, though considerably lighter than usual, came to a mind-numbing crawl. But when she finally managed to get through the hold up, she exceeded the speed limit, driven by her fear for Rocky.
She estimated that her lover had been in the hands of that man for upto five hours now, and she dreaded what she would find when she got there.
As she got off the motorway, she saw a petrol station and pulled into it, needing some kind of guide to Leicester, never having been there before.
She tore through the doors, startling the teenage Pakistani youth behind the counter. It had been quiet as the evening drew on, the dreadful weather keeping all but the foolhardy from venturing out.
"I need a street map of Leicester," she said breathlessly, looking across the shelves.
He pointed wordlessly, and Jo snatched an A-Z off the shelf. She walked towards the counter, looking at the back of the book for the price, which she couldn't find.
She threw a ten pound note onto the counter. "Enough?" she asked.
He nodded dumbly, and she turned on her heel, the draft from the closing door causing the note to flutter to the ground.
She almost lost control of the car as she turned back onto the street, cursing like a sailor before she managed to get the Merc pointing in the right direction again. She soon came to a halt however, as the evening traffic gridlocked in the horrendous weather.
She flipped on the light and looked up the road name on the envelope. Forest Lane. She found it, but then took a while to work out where it was in relation to where she was at that moment.
It was actually on the outskirts of Leicester, and she looked up, hoping to find a street sign that would help her on her way. It was hard to see in the driving snow, but she just made out a sign, which, happily had a name on it she recognised. She was on her way.
However, it was nearly two hours later that she found herself only about a mile from the road she was looking for. Snow drifts, accidents, and a few wrong turns had turned the trip into a nightmare. The entire time, her imagination was playing horrible tricks on her. From what Rocky had told her, she knew the man wanted her for one thing. The amount of time she was taking gave him plenty of time to do whatever he wanted to do. And what would she do when she got there? Maybe she should call the police. But then, Rocky had never done that, and there must have been a reason for that. But he was a criminal, surely. He had raped a fifteen-year-old girl.
Jo closed her eyes for a moment as she came to a halt in front of red lights. The image of her lover as a young girl being repeatedly abused caused her stomach to tie in knots, and she thought for a moment that she might actually throw up. She turned into Forest Lane, and as she did so her nervousness grew. What was she going to do? Just walk up and knock on the door?
She pulled the car over to the curb and threw open the door. Leaning out of the car she lost the contents of her stomach.
She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and sat back in the seat, bringing her breathing under control.
Jo looked through the wet windscreen at the high hedge which lined the street. Behind that was the house, which she hoped held her lover. Shutting the door, she put the car back into gear and turned into the long driveway, which led to the house.
It was in darkness, which surprised her with it being only a little before 10pm. There were no other cars in the drive so she drove right up to the door.
A security light came on as she walked to the door, bathing her in a harsh light, catching the heavily falling snow in its beam. Her hand hovered over the door bell for a moment before pushing it, and she automatically took a couple of steps back when a light in the inner hallway came on.
The door opened, and for a moment Jo thought it was Rocky standing before her. "You must be Jo," the woman said.
"I am." Jo took a step forward, feeling the heat emanating from the house. "Is she here?"
The woman nodded. "Come in."
Jo hesitated for a moment.
"He's not here," said the blonde, understanding Jo's reluctance to enter.
Jo passed the woman and walked into the hall, stamping her feet on the welcome mat to remove the snow, which was packed beneath the soles of her shoes.
"Where is she?" Jo asked, looking around the hall and into the lounge, which she could just see through an open door.
Her gaze drifted upwards, towards the stairs. "She's in her room."
Jo started up the stairs, but a hand on her arm stopped her. "I didn't want this to happen," Susan said.
"But it did." Jo didn't really want this conversation now, but she'd wondered more than once how Rocky's aunt could let her husband abuse a grieving child. "How could you let him touch her?"
"You don't know him."
"You could have called the police." Jo looked up the stairs, wanting nothing more than to go to her lover.
Susan chuckled wryly. "She hasn't told you then?"
"Told me what?"
"He is the police." Susan leaned back against the wall. "She always thought they wouldn't believe her."
"He's with the police force?"
Susan nodded. "You could say that; he's the Chief Constable of the Leicestershire Constabulary."
"Shit," was all Jo could manage. "So it would have been her word against his?"
"Yes." Susan sighed, bowing her head. She looked back up at Jo. "I was so very afraid of him then. When Michelle came to us, he became almost obsessed with her. I didn't realise at first what he was doing, and when I challenged him about it he flew into a terrible rage. He beat me. I know I have no excuses." She walked past Jo and started climbing the stairs. "We talked for a long time this evening after he had gone out. She told me about you, and she told me she loves you very much." She looked back down at Jo, who was following her. "He hasn't touched her... in that way." She watched Jo stop dead, her head bowed.
"Thank you," whispered the dark-haired woman, and resumed climbing the stairs.
Jo winced when they reached Rocky's room, seeing the large bolt, which was obviously designed to keep the blonde in the room.
Susan stopped again and turned to face Jo. "Something happened tonight which caused my husband to leave the house. He's gone to one of his usual haunts, seeking what he feels I can't provide. What he thought Michelle could." She looked at the closed door. "She fought him, Jo. Something he'd never come up against before, not from Michelle, at least."
"Did he hurt her?" Jo was pulling the bolt back, and turning the doorknob, but before she could open the door Susan had pulled her back again.
"Yes, he did. I'm sorry. But I spoke to her after he left the house. She told me he didn't have sex with her. I think her fighting him threw him." She leaned across to see into the room. "She may be a little groggy, I gave her one of my sleeping pills. They're not very strong, but she didn't take it long ago, so it'll still be working. She was almost hysterical after he left, calling for you. I tried to call you - Michelle gave me your number - but I just got your machine." She took Jo's hand, squeezing it gently. "You need to take her away, Jo. And then we both need to go to the police."
Jo nodded, realising what this woman was about to lose. "Yes, we do. Thank you."
Susan nodded towards the room. "Go to her," she said, and backed away.
Jo took a deep breath and crept into the room. She didn't turn the light on, and stood a few feet from the bed for a while, watching the small figure sleep in the light that filtered into the room from the landing.
Rocky was lying on her side, curled in a tight ball. She had her back to the door, and to Jo.
Jo crouched at the side of the bed, and reached out with a tentative hand curling it around her lover's shoulder.
"Hey," she whispered.
The reply was a soft whimpering sound, and the blonde pulled weakly away from the hand that was on her.
"Rocky, baby. Come on." She pulled Rocky onto her back, ducking back as the blonde's arms flailed.
"No," the blonde said, her voice little more than a gasp. "Don't touch me."
"Open your eyes, Baby." Jo cupped a warm cheek in her hand, waiting for the green eyes to open.
When they did they took a few moments to focus, then looked at her blankly for long moments.
Jo traced the bruise she found on Rocky's cheek, barely visible in the dim light. There was also a cut near the corner of her eye, which had bled a little, probably caused by a ring.
Green eyes were blinking at her, then filling with tears. She reached shaky arms towards Jo, and was gathered up into comforting arms. "You came," was all Rocky said.
Jo held her close, burying her face in soft blonde hair. She tried to reassure her lover, but her throat closed and she settled for just holding her, revelling in the reality of having her lover back.
She managed to pull away from Rocky and looked around the room. She saw her leather jacket lying on the floor, and reached across for it.
"Come on," she managed after clearing her throat. "Put this on; we're leaving."
She sat Rocky up and pulled the jacket around her.
"He'll hurt you," said the blonde, swaying as Jo zipped the jacket up. Rocky looked even smaller, engulfed as she was in Jo's leather jacket.
"No he won't." Jo stood, pulling Rocky to her feet. She wound an arm around the blonde and started to walk her out of the room. As they reached the doorway Rocky's knees buckled, and Jo, surprising herself, bent and picked the small blonde up, cradling her against her chest.
Susan approached them, brushing hair away from her niece's face. "I'm so sorry, Michelle," she whispered to the groggy woman. "I'll never let you down again." She looked up at Jo. "You must get her away from here. I'll try to keep him away from the room for as long as possible."
Jo nodded, and, not knowing what to say to the woman she'd hated for a while, she turned with her lover in her arms and made her way carefully down the stairs.
At the bottom of the stairs, Susan made her way past Jo and opened the front door, and then went on ahead, opening the passenger door of the Merc.
Jo settled Rocky into the seat, and buckled her seatbelt. She turned back to the woman shivering in the doorway. "You need to get away from here, Jo said.
Susan nodded. "I know, I will."
The two women regarded each other for a moment across the roof of the Merc. The wind howled, driving the snow through the glare of the security light. With a quick nod Jo got into the car, started the engine, and drove carefully down the drive.
Susan watched them go, and then quietly closed the door. She went up the stairs and closed and bolted the door to Rocky's room. Then she went downstairs and sat in the lounge, awaiting the return of her husband.
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