Kenya Part 2 by Anne Azel
Disclaimer: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle are the property of Universal Studios and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended. The characters and events in the Journeys Series are the creation of the author.
As always a good deal of credit has to go to Lisa, Inga and Susan, my beta readers and friends, who work hard on these stories with me. Special thanks to Karen and Sharon for their medical expertise.
Warning: This story is alternative fiction. Please do not read on if you are under age or if such material is illegal in your end of the swamp.
You can contact Anne Azel at <email@example.com> or visit the Anne Azel's World web site at <www.jes.com.au/~azel> Anne's books are also available through <http://rapbooks.biz>
Sarah Meloche woke early. She had been dreaming and the memory of that dream had left her wet and needy. It was the spicy scent of Alex sleeping in the bed only a few feet away that had brought back the memories on which the dream had been built. In her dream it had been Sunday morning and they had been snuggling close after a hot shower together. The room smelt of fresh coffee and love making and Alex still nuzzled at her ear as she tried to concentrate on the Sunday papers. "I love you. I want you," Alex had whispered and the papers had been forgotten. Sarah groaned softly and squirmed with need. Looking over she was startled to see blue eyes staring back at her.
"Oh, you are awake." Dumb observation Sarah, she chastised herself. And added, "I guess we should get moving. Paul will pick us up at nine."
"I love the warm scent of you," Alex answered.
Sarah blushed. She wasn't sure how to handle this. Her body and heart yearned to slip into Alex's bed and make love to the woman until the two of them passed out with exhaustion. But her common sense said going back into a relationship that had ended so painfully would be stupid. "Ah, Alex, we have not seen each other in a long time. We've changed. We need to get to know each other and address some of the old history..."
"Do I still turn you on like you do me?" Alex interrupted, keeping her eyes on Sarah, enjoying the way the smaller woman was squirming uncomfortably. Sarah was a very beautiful woman, small and cute like a pixie, with a hidden passion that was very exciting.
Sarah was finding it hard to maintain eye contact with Alex. Damn the woman anyway. She knew exactly what she was doing. Alex had that sexy, arrogant, half smile she got when she was being a tease.
"Yes," Sarah answered shortly then changed the subject quickly, "I'll go shower first." She slid out the farthest side of the bed and disappeared quickly annoyed to hear Alex's soft laugh from the other bed.
When Sarah returned wrapped in a fluffy towel, Alex insisted on checking her infected shoulder. They both felt awkward and tense, each yearning for the touches and yet afraid of the consequences of moving towards intimacy again. Alex took her turn in the bathroom, then once again they dressed, respecting each other's privacy.
Some of the tension lessened as they headed down to the morning room for breakfast. The breakfast buffet was large and varied and the two women were hungry. "Eggs and bacon. When did you start eating cholesterol and fats?" Sarah asked, as she eyed the food that Alex had brought back from the hot food section after her bowl of fruit and yogurt.
"I keep telling you, I am a changed woman. I don't eat a lot of red meat or eggs but I am not the puritan I once was. I see you are eating better. Fruit and oatmeal, hmmm, what happened to cold pizza for breakfast?"
"My tastes have matured, besides they don't have pizza here," Sarah laughed. She took a sip of coffee and watched as Alex ate. "So how is your practice going?"
Alex hesitated. She needed to do this right and she wasn't sure the short time they had over breakfast was going to do it. Best to avoid a discussion of her new job at this time. "Good. It's challenging. There is a lot of varied work and I do a lot of general medicine as well as surgery now. What about you? How is your research going?"
"Well, now that I understand the language better I am really starting to understand the Masai culture. On the surface, they seem to live a very simple life but their world view and traditions are very complex and tied closely to their sense of family and self. They are a fascinating people."
They talked over breakfast for nearly an hour and then walked at a leisurely pace through the gardens back to their room. It was Sarah who was the first to realize that someone had been through their bags. "Shit! I think we have been robbed. Someone dumped my makeup bag. Alex, go through your stuff and see what is missing."
Alex went immediately to the medical supplies. The box had been opened and the contents were a jumbled mess. She carefully checked through each item. Everything was there. That was strange. The needles and the drugs would seem the logical items for a thief to take. She checked her own luggage. Again, everything was a mess but nothing had been taken.
"God damn it!" she heard Sarah say from behind her. "I don't know how but they got into the wall safe... I don't believe it, our passports, travelers' checks and money are still here! Do you think we scared him off when we came back to the room?"
Alex came over and looked at the safe. The lock had been drilled out. She checked the door; nothing. Then she went to the bay window. A pane had been broken and the side window unlocked. Whoever had entered their room was no amateur and they were not here to steal but looking for something.
Sarah came up beside her. "This is really creeping me out. Someone was looking for something." Alex nodded her agreement. It was a subdued pair that took their important belongings down to the main hotel safe and arranged for the damage to their room to be fixed. They had only just sorted things out with the distressed hotel manager when Paul showed up.
"What is the matter?" he asked, seeing the worry on the faces of the woman.
"Nothing really, Paul," Sarah explained, as she accepted a receipt for the articles they had put in the hotel safe. "Someone broke into our room but luckily nothing was taken."
Paul grimaced. "Oh no! I am glad that you are safe and didn't lose anything. Robberies now are happening all over the city. The problem is getting worse each day. We need a stronger government with higher moral standards. Do you still wish to go out this morning or have you things to straighten out?"
"We do have a bit of a mess back in our room but I think we'll go out anyway. I want Alex to see the Rothschild giraffes." Sarah looked up at Alex to see if that was okay with her. She remembered how structured and uptight her ex-partner had become over the years of their relationship. Everything had to be in its place or else.
Alex smiled. "The mess will still be there when we get back. Let's go."
Sarah smile was one of surprise and delight. Maybe Alex really had reverted to the non-conforming, sexy woman who had first come into her life. Maybe...but not likely.
They piled into the van once more. This time Sarah sat beside Alex in the back which pleased the taller woman very much. Alex watched the city outside her window with interested, worried eyes. Nairobi was a dusty, over-populated, modern city of crude cement buildings, tin shacks and modern high rises. Laundry hung from windows and weeds and grasses seemed to be winning the battle in parks and along roadsides. The streets were crowded with people and cars and the air was heavy with dust and pollution.
Sarah tried to explain. "It is not really safe to walk in some areas of the city now, especially if you are a tourist. The Kenyans blame the social decay and crime on the refugees who have flooded in from unstable neighbouring countries such as Ethiopia, Uganda, Chad, and Somalia. The refugees are accused of importing crime, poverty, guns and social problems but it is not as simple as that. The government is corrupt at many levels and ineffective. It is more of a dictatorship than a governing body."
Alex noted with compassion the homeless sleeping in the parks or on grassy road sides, the crippled beggars and the ragged women and children who stared at them as they passed with resentment.
Sarah sighed. "Poverty is a rapidly growing problem in all of Africa. It is particularly bad here in Nairobi. Officially, the unemployment rate stands at 25% but in reality it is probably much higher." They passed small, dirty shops filled to over flowing with cheap Asian articles and clothes, black-market goods, and mass-made tourist souvenir. On the street gaunt, scruffy men sold newspapers, fruit, and stolen articles from car to car.
Alex noted another side too. There were huge ornate mosques and Hindu temples, women in black robes their faces covered, and modern hotels. The old colonial homes now housed embassies, international businesses, and private schools and universities. Like most African nations, a large part of the land they passed was owned by the military. The contrasts were extreme.
Alex wondered how living in such a harsh reality had impacted on Sarah. She had always been caring and socially responsible but she had lived a pretty privileged life. She had never had to worry about whether she was going to get fed, or beaten, or evicted as Alex had as a kid. How had this face-full of reality changed Sarah?
They arrived at the Giraffe Centre an hour later. Sarah gave Paul the money for the tickets and he happily headed off to the gift centre. As they walked over to the low stone wall that separated the tourists from the giraffe population Sarah explained that one of Paul's many relatives worked in the gift store and it was unlikely they would see him again before they were ready to leave. They found four adult giraffes and one baby feeding nearby. When they saw Sarah and Alex arrive they wandered lazily over. "These are Rothschild giraffes, Alex, and they are very rare. You can tell they're Rothschild's because their legs are all white below the knee where other giraffes are spotted down to their feet."
Sarah picked up a handful of kibbles from a feeding bucket and one of the adults leaned his head down. Sarah popped a few pellets onto the giraffe's tongue and they were soon swallowed down. "Don't put your hand out flat like you would with a horse to feed the giraffe. It's likely to mistake your hand for a leaf and try to pull it off."
Alex grabbed a handful of kibbles and started feeding the row of giraffe heads that were leaning her way while Sarah explained. "These are wild giraffes that forage in this private preserve most of the time but this feeding centre helps cover the costs of the research that is going on here."
Alex used up the feed she was holding and was scratching a giraffe's neck, enjoying being so close to the magnificent animals, while Sarah bent to get another handful of pellets. "Because of their long necks, giraffe's have real problems with blood pressure... Alex look out!"
The warning came too late; Sarah only had time to drop the feed from her hand and reach out to grab Alex who had just been head-butted from behind by an impatient giraffe who wanted more food. Alex went sprawling forward into Sarah's arms.
"They head-butt when they get annoyed."
"Now you tell me."
"Knock any sense in?"
"I'm in your arms aren't I?" Alex smiled.
Sarah gave her a playful frown. "You bribed that giraffe didn't you? Are you okay?"
Alex crossed her eyes. "No, I think I'm dizzy. I'd better stay in your arms for awhile."
Sarah gave a snort and pushed Alex away. "You are fine and just as roguish as ever."
The taller woman smiled wickedly. "It was Fate."
"It was a greedy giraffe! Come on, let's go see the display up in the observatory tower." The women toured the information centre and fed the giraffes once more from the vantage point of the observatory balcony. Sarah found herself moving to stand close to Alex. She had missed her ex-partner far more than she was prepared to admit. Was this a good idea, to have agreed to have Alex come out here? She was afraid of making the same mistake a second time.
Next Paul drove them to the Karen Blixen home, which is now a museum. Blixen was best known for her novel "Out of Africa". Paul did his Robert Redford imitations and the three of them laughed a good deal as they toured the colonial ranch house. The clothes the actors wore in the movie hung in the bedroom of the house and on the walls were old black and white pictures of the original people.
Alex stood by the old wooden kitchen sink and looked out over the gardens. Blixen had put a light in the window if it had been safe for her bush pilot lover to visit and had covered it with a red cloth if her husband the Baron were home. Alex had felt the love affair that she'd had with Sarah had been that hot in their early years together. She had been the rogue from the wrong side of the tracks, Sarah the nice girl from next door with a secret alternative life style. She had only wanted to make Sarah proud.
Of course, Blixen had not fared much better. After the plane crash that had killed her lover and the fire that had ruined their already struggling tea plantation, she had gone back to Europe alone.
She had expressed her passion in her books after that and in later years had died of anorexia cheating the cancer that she also had. Alex jaw tightened. She wasn't leaving Africa without Sarah. Somehow, she would win the woman she loved back.
They didn't talk much on the way back. Each woman was preoccupied with her own thoughts. Alex brooded about what to say and do to make Sarah realize that she had changed. Sarah, for her part, knew she was in denial, deliberately avoiding thinking about Alex who had managed to upset her emotional apple cart in such a very short time. Instead, she brooded about what was going on between Phillips and Cattleman and how she had somehow got involved in it. There was no doubt in her mind that the break in had not been a botched robbery but an attempt to find something that one of the two felt she might have. What was going on?
They had time for a quick meal and to rush and get ready before meeting Paul again. He entertained them with a hilarious story of the argument that had ensued over lunch with his mother's latest attempt to marry him off.
"You know, Paul, you would not have the problems you do if you would just let your parents pick out a nice girl for you," Sarah laughed.
"What can I do?" Paul wailed comically. "My parents only pick for me ugly girls! I do not think they like me." It was a long drive to Nyeri where the Outspan Hotel was located. Here the three of them enjoyed a lovely buffet meal on the terrace. All tourists had to check-in at the Outspan Hotel before overnighting in the famous Treetops Lodge. Alex and Sarah walked through the landscaped gardens while Paul took the van to get gas.
"The gardens are beautiful," Alex murmured, as she watched a brightly coloured sunbird flutter from one branch to another.
Alex swallowed and tried her best to get out what she needed to say. "So do you think that we can rediscover the love we had before?"
Sarah sighed, "Damn it, Alex, I don't know. I have never stopped loving you and that hasn't made this any easier." Dark stormy eyes looked up into Alex's. "You think all you have to do is show up here and tell me you've changed and everything will be alright. Well, it won't Alex! I can't live the life you want your partner to live. It would bore me to death."
"Do you mind," interrupted Alex, finding her own voice raw with emotion too. "You have no idea what you are talking about. I have no preconceived..."
"I do know what I am talking about. I lived that life. The woman I was attracted to could be wild and dangerous. She was a rebel. Your medical degree changed all that. All your force and energy went into moving up the damn social ladder and I was just the pretty woman on your arm. The token queers at the socially correct parties you wanted to attend," Sarah spat out in Alex's face. She spun around to look at the late afternoon sun hitting the trees so Alex couldn't see the tears welling in her eyes.
"I was a kid when you met me. A fucking university student with a tough, bitch attitude. I grew up, Sarah. We all have to. I became responsible. All I wanted to do was be a good provider and someone you could be proud of. I know I got caught up in the whole social climbing shit and made a mess of things but you were not without fault. You were spoilt and idealistic."
Sarah reeled around, her face white with emotion. "Bullshit!"
Alex watched her storm back up to the hotel. Well, that hadn't gone well. Slowly, she followed wandering what the hell to do now.
The rest of their trip to Treetops was made in near silence. Paul, having failed a few times to get a conversation going, listened to the van's radio. They were the last of the guests to arrive at Treetops just before sunset. A guide carrying a rifle big enough to down an elephant waited for them and they walked with him up the hill to the famous Treetops game resort.
It was a strange building, high, long, and narrow. It was built on top of a tall log base. The building was a basic structure four stories high. It was sided in bark shingles and the roof was a flat observation deck. On each side of this unlike structure, was a large watering hole that attracted the wild animals from the game reserve.
Paul left them there, returning to the Outspan Hotel and then on to Nairobi. Once they had checked in, Sarah made an effort to mend some bridges. She hadn't meant to fly off the handle as she had. Alex's remarks had hit to close to home. Now that she'd had time to cool down she was feeling a bit of an idiot. Being close to Alex again had really put her emotionally off balance. "Listen Alex, I'm sorry. I was a little out of line with my reaction back at the hotel. How about we go up to the bar and have a drink. There is a great view of the water hole from there. The one wall is all windows."
"I kind of lost my cool a bit too," Alex answered nervously. Then she took Sarah's hand and stammered out the words she wanted to say earlier. "I've made a lot of mistakes in our relationship. I lost sight of who I was and refused to listen to your concerns. You were right to leave me. But Sarah, I have changed. I am not a driven social climber anymore. I've got in touch with who I was; the person you once loved. I'm here to try and prove that to you."
Having got the words out she gave a stunned Sarah a gentle push and followed her up the spiral metal staircase to the third floor. They sat in comfortable lounge seats and looked at the large water hole with intense interest neither wanting to say anything that might upset the truce that they had established in their new relationship.
The water hole was a pathetic affair by the standards of the western world but in Africa, where water is so scarce in the dry season, it was a small paradise in a parched land. The banks were low, muddy, and well trodden and the water chocolate milk in colour. A marsh island was located near the centre and it was there they finally saw movement. Out from the bushes popped a Sacred Ibis, a large wading bird with a long beak that curved down. It had a black head and long black neck, a white body and feathery black plumage on its back end. Underneath there was a patch of yellow behind the long black legs. Paddling around too there were White-faced Whistling Ducks and Egyptian Geese.
Alex brought two beers with a glass of tomato juice over from the bar and Sarah pointed out the birds. "The Egyptian Goose is easy to spot with the lump at the top of its orange beak, and of course, the blue on its wing. In flight, you can see the white shoulder on its wing and its white belly. It's a bit early yet for many animals to show up but over on the far side of the pool you can see a black rhino heading this way. Do you see it in the tall grass?"
Alex looked carefully at where Sarah was pointing and could just make out the grey form in the grass. "You have good eyes."
Sarah snorted. "You don't last long on the Masai Mara without good eyes." They sat for a while longer watching the rhino slowly work its way down to drink at the far side of the pool. Sarah also pointed out a white-tailed mongoose and they relaxed, letting the tension of the afternoon slip away as they watched the antics of the swift moving animal.
Then the excited news of elephants buzzed through the building and the two women hurried up to the observation deck on the top of the building. A herd of fourteen animals lumbered over the hill led by a massive bull. They slowly made their way down to the edge of the pool and used their sensitive trunks to scoop up the salt that had been put out for them. "They have to put salt out here, although they don't like to encourage animals to rely on humans. The problem was the elephants were ripping apart the posts that support this building to get the salt from the wood. It was either a salt lick or disaster," Sarah explained with a smile.
It was cold up there with a strong wind blowing. Winter had come to Africa and a warm sweater or coat was needed at night. The excitement of seeing the magnificent animals highlighted by the setting sun kept the guests out on the deck. Darkness came and floodlights lit the pools on each side. A lone Cape buffalo made its way down to the water's edge. It lowered its horns suddenly and charged at a the rhino that had gradually made its way around the edge of the pond. The rhino, startled, splashed into the water and bounded up the bank again some distance away. The ducks took flight and the mongoose disappeared. Only the elephants seemed disinterested.
The cold and the excitement of the African night had driven the two women closer together. They now stood shoulder to shoulder watching the events below intently. Alex took pictures while Sarah explained. "The Cape buffalo is a killer. It is a very dangerous animal and these old, lone animals are particularly dangerous. They will take on anything in their path. If you have a close encounter with a Cape buffalo it is the only animal you are allowed to kill because if you don't, it will kill you. You have to make sure you get it too, because a buffalo that has been wounded will follow your scent for days until it finds and kills you. That's just the way they are. You watch. This one hasn't finished causing trouble."
Sure enough, the old beast moved around to where the elephants grazed on the salt and started licking up the residue. It was only a matter of time before an elephant got too close and the water buffalo charged again. The elephant moved away. It was only when the buffalo in its over-confidence chased a baby that three of the adult elephants flapped their ears aggressively and charged towards the buffalo finally forcing it reluctantly to retreat.
It was the dinner bell sounding that drew them back down to the floor below. The dining room was small and narrow and there were a lot of guests. Alex and Sarah took their places side by side on the bench were they're name cards were placed and enjoyed a hearty European style meal. The waiters placed the bowls of food on wooden planks that slipped down the centre of the table in a wide slot. The guests simply slid the dishes along to each other and so the crowded dining facilities were no problem.
The guests watched the comings and goings at the water hole well into the night. Gradually, couples and families wandered off to bed to escape the chill of the night. Sarah and Alex were one of the last to head to their room. The washrooms were shared affairs, one for the women and one for the men. The rooms were very small with just enough space for two wooden bunks and room to stand in between. They went to their separate bunks still dressed to stay warm.
Alex stared into the darkness and finally got up again quietly and went back down to the bar. The night waiter offered to get her tea and biscuits and she sat by the window and brooded.
She felt not quite there. Her mind had disconnected from her heart because the loneliness was too hard to bear. "You are the only one left up?"
Alex looked up to see one of the Kenyan rangers standing near by. "Yes. The night is too cold for most people. I live in northern Canada so I am used to the cold."
"Ahhh Canada. Yes, I have heard it is very cold there. I lived in Britain while I was going to university and I found that country cold enough." The ranger came over and sat in a chair across from Alex.
"Have you worked here long?"
"Five years now, and my father before me and my grandfather. My village is not far from here."
"You must have many stories to tell," Alex stated, before taking a sip of her tea.
"My grandfather remembers the day when Prince Elizabeth was told that her father had died back in England and she was now Queen. That happened right here you know. He says that she was sad but calm but that Prince Phillip was very shaken. My father took part in the Mau Mau uprisings when my people fought for independence."
"They were very bloody," Alex commented.
"Yes. My father and others came here one night and burnt Treetops to the ground because it was a symbol of colonialism. But later, the Kenyan government allowed it to be rebuilt because it is now part of our country. My family love this land."
"You must. It is good to have that sort of love for your country."
"Yes, things are much better when they are built together with love." They sat then in compatible silence, watching the animals that came to the water hole to drink until the sun rose and bathed Africa again in gold.
Sarah had heard Alex leave. She felt partly disappointed and partly relieved. It was hard to be so close to Alex. The attraction was very strong and so was her love for the maddening woman. But love can stifle as well as nurture and Sarah had come very close to being stifled. Tears rolled down her face. She had been so happy with Alex in those early days. The aching loss never really went away. Could Alex really have changed? It was a long time before she finally drifted to sleep.
The next day they had to be packed and ready early. The Hotel bus took them to the Nanyuki airstrip for their flight to the world-famous Masai Mara Game Reserve.
Sarah was relieved to be getting back to the wide open grasslands. They sat side by side in the small computer plane while the pilot went through his pre-flight check list.
"I was surprised to see the post mark on your letter was from Great Slave Lake. What were you doing up there?" Sarah asked conversationally, as she checked their tickets.
Alex cringed inside. She knew she should have told Sarah about her job change as soon as she could but the right time just hadn't seemed to come up. Now she was going to have to tell her at the worst possible time with very little privacy. There was no other way. She couldn't evade the issue when she had been asked point blank. "That's were I live. My practice is in Yellowknife."
Sarah's head shot up to look at Alex in surprise. "Since when?"
"Almost two years now."
Sarah blinked several times while she digested this rather startling news and would have asked more questions had the pilot not revved up the already noisy engines. What had happened to Alex's up and coming practice in Vancouver?
The local commuter plane carried twenty passengers. They were soon airborne and on their way across the flat grasslands of Kenya. The noise of the engines made it hard to hold a conversation except at a shout so Sarah had to curb her curiosity. Alex, for her part, would have liked to say more but the words just wouldn't form. How did she explain what she had gone through emotionally after Sarah had walked out of her life? There was so much to say and she just couldn't seem to find a place to start. Talking about her feelings was tough for her.
They landed sometime later on a dirt air strip in the centre of an ocean of grass. Alex stood on the airstrip and looked all around her. The tall grasses undulated with the rise and fall of the vast plain to the horizon in all directions. The green blades seemed to sing softly as they waved gently in the breeze. Off to her right in the distance, a band of trees marked the winding path of the Mara river and to her left a large herd of wildebeests and zebra grazed contentedly.
Sarah had walked away from the plane quickly and had given one of the drivers that waited a big hug. She was chatting away to him now in Swahili as Alex walked over. "Alex, this is George. He is a bushman and the best guide here. I snatched him up before anyone else could claim him." Sarah beamed.
"Hi George," Alex said, smiling at the small wiry man before her.
"Welcome. Welcome. You will see lots of animals. The lions have fat tummies at the moment.
You go claim your bags and I'll get them into the Land Rover for you. By now lunch will be ready for you back at the camp."
When Sarah had written back to Alex, she had planned a tour of some of the highlights Kenya had to offer. Whatever the outcome of their meeting, she wanted Alex to see Africa through her eyes. Part of building a new bond between them would be understanding and learning about each other all over again. They had gone their separate ways and had experiences that had changed them. Africa had changed Sarah profoundly. No matter what happened between Alex and her, she wanted the woman she still loved to share this experience.
A few minutes later they were bouncing along the dirt road towards the camp. Sarah watched with a smile as Alex stood on the seat so that she could look out the open roof of the Land Rover and search for animals. Sarah smiled; Alex had no idea what she was in for in the days that they would be here.
Governor's Camp was originally the exclusive hunting camp for the British Governor to Kenya and his royal and distinguished guests. Today, it is a magical safari camp all under canvas. The thirty-eight guest tents line the Mara river in which both hippos and crocodile live. Other tents look over the vast plains where huge herds of wild game migrate. There are no fences at Governor's Camp. The only protection provided for the guests is the base guides who rotate through watches night and day.
Alex discovered that being "in the bush" did not at all mean roughing it. Governor's Camp has been rated fourth in the top ten Hotels in the World. Each large, rectangle guest tent had a teak floor and two rooms; a bed sitting room and a large en-suite bathroom with shower, hot and cold running water, and flush toilets. Alex discovered this herself as Sarah had been waylaid by one of the camps officials for a talk.
Alex settled into their temporary home with a huge grin pasted on her face and hummed as she hung up a few things. Fate had played right into her hands. The porter who had taken her to their tent had explained that their late booking had left only one tent available and if the two women minded sharing a double bed then they could certainly set up a camp cot. Alex declined the camp cot with thanks.
Sarah found Alex looking over the pole fence down into the deep ravine that was only ten feet from their tent flap. Below, a hippo lay on the muddy bank sunning itself and further on a crocodile wiggled up the river. Sarah came up to stand beside her ex-partner. "Pretty amazing huh?"
Alex shook her head in disbelief. "It sure is. I mean they're right there - real wild animals. I didn't think a place like this existed on planet Earth anymore."
"You haven't seen anything yet. Wait until tomorrow."
"Ahhh, Sarah," Alex coughed, trying to look concerned and failing rather badly. "We have not always agreed on things but you know you can trust me don't you?"
Sarah looked suspicious. "Yes, I have never doubted your integrity, why?"
"Well, we got one of the last rooms and there wasn't much choice..." Sarah turned and headed for their tent immediately. Alex followed, letting the tent flap fall down behind them
"Oh no! No way! I'll sleep on the floor or get them to..."
Alex swept Sarah up in her arms and dropped a gentle kiss on her lips before she could react. Her blue eyes looked deep into Sarah's. "I am a rogue as you well know, but I am an honourable one. All you have to do is say no and I'll stop," she whispered, her voice rough with need. When she kissed Sarah this time she let that need show. Gradually, Sarah's arm reached around Alex's neck and held her close. When she had made her point, Alex lowered Sarah slowly back down to her feet.
"That wasn't fair."
Alex smiled sexily. "No."
"If we have sex that would only complicate things," Sarah pointed out, but she didn't pull away from Alex's arms.
"We can handle complicated but for tonight, I promise just to hold you," Alex purred, kissing a particularly nice ear.
Sarah shivered in response. "Aah, not good."
"It could be," Alex whispered, stroking Sarah's back.
"What, that I can make it good?" Alex teased with a sexy laugh.
Sarah looked up at her with sparkling eyes. "No, that you will not take advantage tonight if we share a bed."
"My word," smiled Alex, kissing Sarah's upturned nose. Sarah leaned against the warm, firm body that she had known so well. This sexy Alex, this was the one she loved. She was a long way off from being willing to get involved with Alex again but today had brought a small ray of hope that maybe it was possible.
"What did the manager want?" Alex asked after a while.
Sarah pulled away with a sigh and went to do a little unpacking herself. "I am not sure. He went on and on at some length about the camp being above politics and people coming here just to enjoy the animals. He said he didn't want any trouble because trouble was bad for tourism and Kenya lived for tourism."
Alex frowned and crossed her arms. "What has that got to do with you?"
"I am not sure. I stayed here one night before heading into Nairobi. James Phillips showed up and had a drink with me. The Kenyans don't like or trust James. He is an old colonial and is known to be associated with British Intelligence."
"You think that was it?"
"Maybe. I think I was given a very polite and encrypted warning. The truth is, though, I have no idea what the hell is going on and I told Peter that."
Alex sat on the bed and watched Sarah's backside with some enjoyment while the smaller woman was bent over her suitcase. Sarah still had a nice tight, round tush Alex concluded. Her mind, however, was still focused on more serious issues. "Whoever broke into our room in Nairobi was looking for something."
Sarah turned with her toilet bag in her hand and shrugged. "They can look all they want. I have nothing to hide."
That night they had a pre-dinner drink in the open bar by the water and then walked with their guide to the dinner tent where they enjoyed a wonderful meal. Much later, relaxed by good wine and soft music, they used their flashlight to signal to one of the guides to escort them back to their tent.
"Seen anything about tonight, Iban?" Sarah asked, as they walked along.
"Wiggily and Piggily are sleeping under the bush over there." The guide flashed his torch over to where the two warthogs lay stretched out on their sides on the ground. The animals had wandered into camp several years ago and proved impossible to chase away. They soon had names and were accepted as just being part of the camp experience. "I have not seen anything else but lately that female hippo and her calf have been walking through the camp, so be careful."
"We will. Good night Iban."
"Wiggily and Piggily?" Alex snorted.
Sarah laughed. "The cook wanted to call them Pork Roast and Tenderloin but Peter, the manager, thought it would give the guests the wrong impression of the camp food."
"Do you stay here a lot Sarah?" Alex asked trying not to pry but desperately curious as to whether or not Sarah had shared a tent with anyone else.
"Rarely. It is very expensive here. I usually stay in the Masai villages or one of the small bush camps. During the height of the tourist season, when they are short of staff, I act as a cultural guide for the camp and so I get a big discount."
The talk had helped to lessen the tension the awareness of their single bed was causing. Alex did her best to put Sarah at ease. "I think I'll read for a bit, if you want to go ahead and have your shower first."
Sarah looked relieved and disappeared as quickly as she could behind the canvas wall that separated the two rooms. Alex groaned softly and went to sit in the canvas chair on their small porch. With grim determination she tried to focus on her book and not the thought of Sarah's naked body standing under the shower. It was this forced concentration that resulted in her not being aware of the sound of massive and powerful jaws munching happily near by until a grey, wrinkled wall of hippo passed in front of Alex so close that she could have touched the beast.
With a yelp of shock, Alex charged inside the tent, snagged a camp umbrella as a defensive weapon on her way past the clothes rack, and ran into the bathroom. Sarah gasped and reached for her towel. "Get out of here!"
"Hippo," Alex tried to explain, feeling a bit silly brandishing the umbrella like a sword now that her instant reaction was over.
Sarah's eye narrowed. She looked around the shower cubicle. "It's not here. Is it doing a back stroke in the toilet bowl?"
"Out there," Alex explained with a blush, pointing with the umbrella.
"In the bed? Well, it is just as well we have a double then. Get out of here, Alex."
Frustration overcame embarrassment. Alex threw the umbrella across the room, stepped under the shower and pulled Sarah to her. "I was only trying to protect you but if I am going to be labeled as a libertine, damn it, I am going to have the pleasure."
The first kiss was slow but demanding. Sarah's body fit close into Alex's wet clothes. She could feel the taller woman's muscles tense with excitement. A soft moan of her own need escaped her lips and was replaced by Alex's tongue. Her own curled and sucked eagerly and then followed to taste once again Alex's being. Sarah's water saturated- towel fell heavily to the floor and Alex's hands moved seductively over her back and cheeks.
The kisses ended. The two women stood in each other's arms as the hot water rained down their bodies. "Was there a hippo?"
Alex nodded. "Two of them. I was sitting on the porch and it was suddenly right in front of me."
"Buttercup and Daisy. I meant to tell you about them."
"You said hippos were dangerous."
"They are. Very. Don't stand in Daisy's way or try to touch her." Sarah reached up and kissed Alex's lips, now swollen with her kisses. "Thanks for trying to protect me. Now get the hell out of here before I use the umbrella on you."
Alex smiled and stole another kiss. She checked Sarah's shoulder and was pleased to see that it was healing nicely now. Stepping back, Alex gave Sarah a long sexy look from head to foot before she hopped from the shower, grabbed a towel, and ducked out of the bathroom again.
When Sarah came out, clad respectably in a short housecoat, she found Alex had stripped off her wet clothes and was sitting in a chair wearing a damp towel and a smug grin. "I hope you get a cold," Sarah growled more in fun than anger. "The shower is yours. Get in there. You must be getting chilled."
Alex did as she was told, stopping only for a small kiss before she disappeared behind the canvas wall.
Sarah slipped out of her housecoat and into the bed and lay there trying to regroup. Try as she might, every time she got her ducks in a row they took off in all directions again. This was not good.
Alex stayed under the shower for a long time, relieving herself of some of the raw desire that touching Sarah had caused. When she thought she had her emotions under control again she toweled off and went through her nightly routines before heading out to the main room wearing only her birthday suit.
"What?" Alex asked, looking around and then asking in a voice that mimicked Sarah's, "Is there a hippo hiding in the corner?"
"You are naked."
"I don't like wearing clothes to bed. You know that." Alex turned off the propane light and slid in beside Sarah, appreciating the toasty body. The night was turning cool.
"You promised to be good," came a worried voice.
"I will," sighed Alex and pulling Sarah close she forced herself to relax and go to sleep.
The next morning, Sarah woke to that warm, wonderful feeling of being snuggled against the body she loved. It had been so hard to leave Alex and the months after had been hell. The guilt, the loneliness, and the anger at their failed relationship had nearly torn her apart. It was only escaping to Africa and focussing solely on her research that had made it possible for her to go on. She opened her eyes to look at the strong, classic lines of Alex's face. She looked vulnerable when she slept. It was a side of Alex that few had seen. Sarah kissed the side of Alex's mouth. Blue eyes opened and met hers. " 'Morning."
"Hey." Sarah kissed Alex's throat, enjoying again the heady spice that was her ex-lover.
"Mmmm, I thought I had to promise to be good."
"That was last night," Sarah murmured into Alex's ear. With a swift move Alex playfully pinned Sarah to the bed and leaned in with a very dangerous look in her eye.
"Good morning ladies! I have your coffee and biscuits," came a voice from outside of the tent.
"Shit!" Sarah whispered, cringing with embarrassment.
"Leave the things on the table out there please," Alex ordered and tried to grab Sarah as she wiggled out of the bed.
"No, we have to hurry. I didn't realize it was so late. Besides, we shouldn't, it will just complicate things. Getting involved physically is just going to cloud the issues that drove a wedge between us before."
Alex flopped back on the bed in frustration. "Aaah!"
Sarah bit her lip, looking awkward and a bit embarrassed. "I'm sorry, Alex, I shouldn't have led you on. I'll ask for a cot..."
"No you won't. Okay, okay, I can live with this," she grumbled, slipping out of the bed and deliberately stretching so Sarah could appreciate her naked form and all she had turned down.
"You did that deliberately, you creep."
Alex looked at the smaller woman with an evil twinkle in her eye. "Live with it and the shower is mine first too."
Sarah couldn't resist that last word. "Okay, I'll stand out here on hippo watch." Alex pulled a face and disappeared behind the canvas wall.
After they had showered, Alex had once again checked Sarah's shoulder even though Sarah had protested that it no longer hurt. They had a leisurely breakfast under a shady tree then climbed into George's jeep once again and headed out into the grasslands.
A few hours later, they stood side by side on the seat of the jeep, their heads and shoulders through the open roof. Around them was a herd of thirty-two elephants, so close that they towered over the jeep. George had simply driven into the centre of the herd and parked.
"Wait for me, Mamma. You are going too fast," laughed George, as a baby barely a few months old ran to catch up with its grazing mother.
Alex snapped pictures while Sarah just enjoyed the magnificent animals around them and explained a little bit about the elephants they were watching. "You see the musk draining down the bull's ears? He's coming into heat."
The massive animal flapped his ears and raised one foot and pounded the ground. George put the jeep in gear and backed up a bit. "He's warning us off. Bulls are always pretty aggressive but they are much more so when you see the stain of the musk on their ears. This herd is the bull's harem and he is feeling some pretty good reasons for protecting it."
"Papa say, go away. These are my wives." George put the jeep in gear again and they bumped across the grasslands in search of other game. That wasn't hard. The grasslands seemed to teem with wildlife. Alex held on to the roll bar and wrapped a protective arm around Sarah as they remained standing, enjoying the heat of the African sun and the wind through their hair as they scanned for new sightings.
George came to a stop and scanned the endless grasslands with experienced eyes. "Over there," he said, "a cheetah is sitting on an old termite hill. But on our way we'll stop to see that pride of lions." Alex had good eyes and she scanned the waving grass in the direction that George pointed but she could see nothing. She looked at Sarah, who just smiled and shrugged smugly. She really had got them the best guide in the camp.
A few minutes later, George slowly stopped the jeep. Beside them, a big male lion lay contentedly in the sun. They could see several females nearby but gradually they became aware of more and more. In all they were finally able to count a dozen females, one young male, and the big alpha male. "Why don't they attack?" Alex murmured.
George watched the animals that surrounded them with real affection. "They see the jeep as one entity and they have seen enough of them to know they are harmless. Now it you stepped out or reached out with an arm, papa lion would roar 'bring me some nice human to eat. I am hungry.'"
The women chuckled at the way George talked for the animals. "Male lions, they do not know how to hunt. The females hunt and then the male chases them away and eats the best parts of the kill. When the male is old and driven from the pride by a young male, then they often starve to death because they will not hunt."
"Typical," laughed Sarah and Alex and George joined in.
"Even the mama lion is not all that good a hunter. Only forty per cent of the time will she be successful at a kill. The rest of the time she has to come home and tell Papa that they will be hungry tonight." Once Alex had got all the pictures she wanted, George put the jeep in gear again and they bounced on through the tall grass to where the cheetah sat about a half mile away.
"She is very nervous. She knows the lions are near. Soon she will move away from here," George explained. They watched the beautiful animal sitting alert and tense for a few minutes. Then, it stood, sniffed the air, and bounded away. They went on to look at crocodiles lazing on river banks, giraffes grazing, and herds of zebra and wildebeest migrating in the hundreds in a long trail that seemed to go all the way to the horizon. They returned to the camp as the sun was setting, feeling totally in awe of what they had seen.
"I can't believe it, " exclaimed Alex as she stripped out of her dusty clothes. "I thought we'd have to look for animals and be satisfied with an odd sighting, but no way. You park the jeep and there are a few giraffes to your right, a herd of zebra galloping past, a pride of lions lying in the sun and half a dozen other animals to boot. It is amazing!"
Sarah smiled. "I thought you'd like it. I wanted you to see it, Alex. To know this part of Africa as I do. This is the migration season though, remember that. You are seeing it at its best. In a few months all the wonderful grass will be eaten and what is left will have dried in the sun and the herd animals will have headed south again."
Alex walked over and looked down at the smaller woman with worried, intense eyes. "Is that the only reason? You just wanted me to have a good holiday?"
"Honestly Alex, I was going to say no to the visit when I got your letter. I didn't think I could live through the heartache again. Then you said you loved me and it seemed so sincere...I don't know, I am pretty confused right now."
"I won't push."
Sarah smiled. "Oh yeah, the person they coined the word "driven" for is not going to push."
"Then maybe I just got in touch with myself again and went back to being the person I was."
Sarah reached up and kissed Alex's cheek softly. "I fell in love with that person." They left it at that, Alex trying not to push and Sarah afraid to hope that maybe they could find happiness again. But later that night, they sat around the bonfire beside the open-air bar and talked. Maybe it was because she was so relaxed from the long day and the fine food and wine but suddenly Alex found herself uncharacteristically talking about what she had gone through after Sarah left.
"I was furious with you," she admitted, staring into her glass because she couldn't make herself look at Sarah. "I'd worked my tail off for us and you walked out on me. I thought, so what. I don't need a bitch like that in my life. I bought myself a big home, a flashy car, and started doing the bar scenes, except I never could bring myself to bring anyone home for the night. I threw myself into my work and was making tons of money and a real name for myself and it didn't mean shit. I didn't even know the name of the person I was operating on. But I sure was showing you how wrong you'd been about me," snorted Alex sarcastically.
"So what happened?"
Alex shook her head. "Nothing really. I just woke up one day and realized that my life was about as shallow as a puddle. It wasn't the life, I was doing meaningful work, it was me. I was shallow because it didn't mean a thing to me accept for the power and money that I could get out of it."
For a bit, the two women sat and stared at the flames of the fire. Sarah waited knowing that Alex needed time to find the right words. "So I quit. I saw an advertizement for the job of field surgeon working out of Yellowknife and I applied. It has been great. I love it up there."
"What does your job entail?" Sarah asked, as she reached forward to push a branch farther onto the fire.
"Mostly, general surgery at the hospital in Yellowknife but I also go around to some of the remote clinics and see patients. In rare cases, I even operate out of a clinic. Just before I left, I had to remove an appendix. A plane hadn't been able to land to get the patient out. I was near by and came over on my dog sled to help out."
"You have sled dogs?" Sarah laughed. Alex had never wanted a pet when they lived together. She said they were too much trouble and got hair on your clothes.
Alex blushed. "Yeah. I've even competed in some of the local races. I have become real fond of them." To Sarah's surprise Alex pulled her wallet from her pocket and took out a picture of her team. A warm flood of affection spread out in Sarah's being when she saw Alex still carried a picture of the two of them together. "And that's Cleo, my lead dog - she's great. And lying down back there is Nip and Tuck," Alex finished.
Alex looked up to see Sarah looking at her with eyes filled with tears. "What?"
"Nothing." Sarah blinked back her emotion. "I just think that maybe you have changed." They sat for awhile enjoying the night sounds, the crackling fire and the dome of stars over head each deep in their own thoughts. "Alex?"
"Is this who you are or was it the other Alex who was moving up in society, or was it the tough, streetwise woman I first met? You see, I don't know."
Alex sighed and poked at the fire moodily. "I guess I am a bit of all those people. I set goals for myself and when I do, I go all out. That's just the way I am. That's what enabled me to escape my childhood poverty and make it through medical school."
Sarah pushed the issue. She needed to know where she stood. "You grew up in th city, Alex. Do you think you can really fit in and be happy in northern Canada? Is this just another obsession of yours?"
To her surprise Alex laughed. "I was the butt of so many jokes my first year there. Whenever I had to go out in the field they would take bets on whether I would have to be rescued too. I didn't know shit and I think I made every mistake a person could make. But I've learned, even if it was the hard way. Yeah, I love it up there. Life feels real and every day is different. The challenges are big and I have so much more to learn. It is where I want to be. I'm hoping that you feel you could live there too."
Sarah looked at her in frustration. Alex could be so linear. "And do what? I am not prepared to be some hausfrau while you are off having a career."
"I wouldn't expect you to! There is a lot of work that needs to be done in the north. Yellowknife is still a town but it is one of the biggest in Canada with a population of 18,000. There are lots of opportunities. You could lecture at the Aurora or Nunavut Colleges. There is all sort of renewed interest in the ways the Dene and Inuit used the land and their knowledge of animal husbandry and wild plant medicines. You could do some real meaningful research. I have a nice house overlooking the lake." Sarah shook her head and chuckled. "What?" Alex asked.
"Tell me you are not going to push. You have this all worked out don't you?"
Alex blushed and justified herself moodily. "I think about it a lot. I want us to have a life together. That's not pushing."
"I guess I wanted you to see my part of Africa for the same reason," Sarah explained "This is where I have done my research and I love it here. I want you to love it too. It is part of who I am. They talk about the African disease you know. It is fatal to some Europeans. Phillips is a good example. They come here and they can't leave, Africa is in their blood." Sarah smiled and reached out to squeeze Alex's hand. "And just for the record, I have thought about you being here. Daydreamed about it. And now you are."
"Excuse me, Doctor Meloche, this message was left at the desk for you this afternoon. I am sorry I am so late in delivering it. With the new group of tourists arriving today, I have been very busy," explained the office clerk, who had just come up beside them. He had the droopy, pierced earlobes of a Masai.
"That's okay. Thanks for bringing it to me. I never think to check my mailbox when I am here," the anthropologist smiled. The clerk left them alone again and Sarah hopped up and went over to the light of the bar to read the message she had been given.
Alex watch Sarah's happy face change into hard, stressed lines. Quickly, she got up and went over to join her ex-lover at the edge of the bar. "What's the matter?" Sarah handed her the note. It was type written, short, and had no letter head or signature.
You are being watched. I believe that you are being
considered to play a part in a deadly attack. Please be
on your guard. Be sure you know who your friends are.
"It sounds like Phillips again," Alex muttered, annoyed that the note had upset Sarah and broken the chance she had of really trying to build some of those communication links that she had lost between herself and Sarah in the later years of their partnership.
"Yes, or someone writing in his style. I don't like being used. Whoever these people are, they are not going to get very far trying to get me to do something I don't want."
"Should we call the police?"
"It would be a waste of time. They have bigger issues to deal with. No, let's go back to our tent." Sarah signaled to one of the guards and in silence, they followed him back to their room.
Alex unzipped the flap and lifted it and froze. There was something lying on their pillow. She frowned and walked over to it. It was a small stone carving of a hippo. "What's this? Someone's been in the tent."
Sarah came over and looked. She smiled and kissed Alex's cheek. "It's for you. The camp has them carved and leaves one on the pillow for each new guest. The woman who lights our lanterns and turns down the beds would have brought it when she came."
Alex relaxed and smiled. "Awesome. It's cute. Sure beats a rose. I never know what to do with them and the chocolate they leave is always stale."
"Trust you to be an expert on the things maids leave on hotel beds," Sarah snorted, giving Alex a poke.
And arm whipped out as quick as lightening and drew Sarah close to her. "I don't recall you ever complaining about my experience," she growled into Sarah's ear before kissing it.
Sarah moaned. "You promised to be good."
"That was last night."
"And tonight," bargained Sarah stubbornly.
Alex sighed dramatically. "Okay, and tonight... Just how good do you want me to be?"
Sarah hugged her close. "Good enough so my mind isn't worrying about that silly message and what I might have got myself into, but not so good that I wake in the morning with bigger complications than I already have."
Alex took the hint and hugged Sarah reassuringly. Later, they showered together, washing each other like they used to years before but being careful not to cross the line into intimacy. In the darkened tent, Alex held Sarah close to her in bed long after the smaller woman had gone to sleep.
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