The Day After

by

Journs
travelingpastry@yahoo.com

 

Disclaimers ‘R’ Us: These characters still aren’t mine. Well, okay, they’re kinda mine but I’d be lying if I said they weren’t drawn heavily from the work of others and those others would be employees of Renaissance Pictures, a production company for Studios USA, which at one point was somehow part of the whole MCA/Universal Television world but now belongs to the voracious empire of one Barry "Daddy Warbucks" Diller. In other words, I don’t own ‘em (but neither do you so doooon’t be borrowin’ ‘em without my consent, ‘k? Gracias!).

Subtext Warning: Not remotely sub.

Nuns Warning (And this is for all of you who liked the Sisters of the Sacred Heart): They aren’t here. Sorry. But, if it makes you feel better, they’re all very glad you inquired about their health and they’re sending up a few Hail Mary’s in your name. J

Sequel Alert: You know how some sequels are written in such a way as to be able to stand by themselves, independent of the original work from which they were born? This isn’t one of them. There is no way you’re going to fully understand what’s going on here without having read the original story so let me advise you to go elsewhere or sashay over to read RESA, which should also be on this site.

Tone Warning: Wanted to make sure you know that while RESA had a fairly straightforward, driving narrative, this little tale is far more meandering and with the exception of some flashbacks, there won’t be much in terms of action.

Gracias Section: To Mondo Cool Beta Readers, Judes and Critter, your help is invaluable. Thanks bunches! You know better than anyone else just how many mistakes I can make. You rule! J

The ‘Why I Wrote This’ Section: Mainly because I was less than satisfied with the ending of RESA. It really, really, really bothered me that I left so many unanswered questions hanging and as much as I tried to shrug them off so I could focus on some other stuff, I just couldn’t. The threads kept danglin’ before my eyes and, well, here we are again. I hope reading this doesn’t mess up you enjoyment of the other story…I don’t think it will. But, most of all, I hope this baby fills in the blanks from the ending of the original.

 

 

PART ONE

 

There was a first for everything. A first step, a first word, a first, exhilarating moment to stand independent from familial support, a first crush and a first heartbreak.

There was also the first time for waking up in the arms of the one you loved most in the world, and for Jennifer Logan that occasion took place on the cusp of her twenty fifth birthday.

As usual, she did not awaken with anything remotely approaching speed. Instead a series of impressions and sensations gently pulled her to edge of consciousness, but once she realized she was both naked and not alone she suddenly found herself fully alert.

Her eyes flew open.

Hello!

Then she recalled just exactly how she got that way and as her shock subsided a satisfied little smile stole across her lips. She could feel a warm-bodied presence pressed against her back and the soft, even rhythm of breathing against her neck and for one unaccustomed to waking thus, it was simultaneously wonderful and disconcerting. Though mostly wonderful.

Until last night, she’d had only one lover in her life, Curtis, her ex-fiancÚ. And spooning had never been a part of their routine, though not for a lack of trying on his part. It had quite simply never interested her, being, in her mind, one of those ‘couple things’ that sounded great in theory and looked cozy in movies but when actually attempted turned out rather awkward and uncomfortable. Elbows invariably ended up in the wrong place and limbs seemed to double in weight as sleep descended. And it hadn’t exactly helped that Curtis snored. Loud. In her ear. All. Night. Long. God, it had been annoying.

But what a difference actually being in love can make.

She glanced down at the strong, warm arm draped around her waist and reached up to run soft fingertips along its length until her hand was similarly tucked between her torso and the bed. All the difference in the world, she realized.

Then her eyes strayed to the smattering of scars upon her lover’s forearm, scars that she had been too busy to fully register the night before and her blonde brows drew forward in a frown of concern.

"…Still have some scars, though. Some burns," Resa Gustavez had said, her manner off-hand and vague.

A pang of empathy seized her and Jennifer swallowed hard. There had been a trace of hesitation in Resa’s voice when she’d told of her injuries, a near shyness that seemed foreign in one so naturally confident and brave. It hadn’t mattered a whit to Jennifer, of course. Just seeing Resa again, being with her after all the months of separation, had been her main focus. But now it was morning and her heart was calmer and Jennifer found she desperately wanted to know exactly what had happened to the person now lying next to her during their time apart. She needed to know.

Resa stirred and the arm around Jennifer’s middle tightened its hold, pulling their bodies closer in an unconscious act of familiarity the likes of which Jennifer had never before truly experienced. She heard a gentle sigh seconds before feeling a soft kiss against her shoulder blade and Jennifer closed her eyes at the contact, a tiny shiver wending its way across her skin.

She shifted to turn around in order to face Resa and the breath caught in the back of her throat.

It wasn’t just the color of her eyes that always seemed to arrest Jennifer so; it was their intrinsic intensity, the way they seemed to see into her every aspect, as if Jennifer’s soul were laid out as naked as her body.

Neither spoke. They just looked at the other with the curious sort of awe of two people who had no experience in matters of intimacy so resoundingly absolute.

Jennifer reached out to brush a dark lock of hair away from Resa's face and then let her hand slide down the side of her lean body to come to rest at the curve of her waist. Resa's gaze never faltered, never broke contact from her own and it felt as if they were having an entire conversation without a single word needing to be said. Jennifer’s heart hurt and tears prickled the back of her eyes. She had always been an emotional person, the type who cried through sappy Kodak commercials and manipulative Dateline episodes and thus she had no illusions about being able to stop the tears now. Not when she felt this happy.

Resa frowned with concern and wiped at Jennifer's wet cheek. "What?" she asked thickly, her voice cracking from early morning lack of use.

The younger woman shrugged, both embarrassed and a bit amazed. "You're here," she whispered and for one who made her living through the art of wordplay, she found herself profoundly at a loss.

Blue eyes opposite hers softened into a gentle smile. "That I am," came the quite assurance and Jennifer ducked her head a little as a wave of bashfulness crested over her.

"I wasn’t sure…" she murmured, letting her sentence trail off as she silently wished herself even the slightest bit better versed in matters such as this.

Resa placed two fingers beneath her chin and tipped her head up until their eyes met once more. "Be sure," she said, giving her a firm look, at which Jennifer could only smile.

"Okay."

Resa’s hand dropped down onto the younger woman’s hip. "How do you feel?"

"Sore."

A dark eyebrow arched. "Sore?" she asked, taken aback.

"Yeah. Like I just ran ten miles and didn’t take the time to do a warm-up or down and -- this really isn’t the most romantic thing you can tell a person right about now, is it?"

Resa regarded her ruefully. "Well, it’s…not exactly poetry."

Jennifer grinned, gripped by a capricious surge of delight. "Oh, I’ve never been good at poetry. I’m far too much of a realist."

"Clearly."

She pursed her lips in exaggerated thought, then "Um, okay, how ‘bout this: I feel like I’ve just made love for the first time in my entire life and I cannot get over my incredible fortune at waking up beside someone as amazing as you or the fact that I may actually be lucky enough to wake up beside you again, if I play my cards right."

Resa made a bit of a show in considering this, then murmured, "Better."

"Wait, ‘better’ as in that was a better reply or ‘if I play my cards better’ kind of better?"

The grin across Resa’s face was undeniably mischievous. "Just better."

She narrowed her eyes, recognizing the game. "Uh-huh. Ooookay," she said, feeling a shade more confident. After all, with her childhood, teasing was a language she understood quite well and so she regarded her companion with a determined shift of the jaw. "Fine. What about: And I think of how I almost can’t believe I found you again after all our time apart and how I will cherish last night for the rest of my life and the grace of whatever Divine Being, in His or Her inimitable wisdom, brought us back together." She gave her a ‘how’s that’ look, rather impressed with herself.

Her efforts, however, produced only another enigmatic, "Better."

Jennifer rolled her eyes, sighed "Right," then caught her lower lip between her teeth for a long moment before saying softly, "Aaaand I would go on but I’m suddenly having an incredibly difficult time concentrating on anything other than the fact that you are inches away from me and all I really want to do is--"

Resa kissed her. Hard. For a very long time. And that, quite frankly, was the end of the conversation…

 

* * * *

She reached up as high as she could, stretching her tender body from stem to stern, but even with her considerable height and the impressive length of her extension, she could not quite touch the shower’s ceiling so, with an indifferent shrug, she dropped her arms and instead took hold of the soap.

The water felt glorious against her neck and shoulders and Resa wasn’t the least surprised when she began to lather up that her senses detected the faint trace of lavender. She grinned. It figured that Jennifer Logan would have perfumed soap. It was so like her. As was most everything she’d seen of the house so far, which, truth be told, wasn’t very much at all. Oh, Jennifer had made an initial go upon their arrival last night of giving Resa a proper tour of her newly purchased Hollywood Hills home, but that hadn’t lasted very long. Other interests had quickly taken precedence.

Ah, well. Resa hadn’t really been paying much attention anyway, the distraction of Jennifer’s presence being far too great. And besides, there would be time for such details later, she reasoned, then paused at the underlying significance that lurked behind such a innocent thought.

Time. Later. Two simple words that meant consideration for the future, for her future and her mind fairly reeled at the extraordinary implication. A ripple of uncertainty rolled through her but her heart continued to beat out a steady tattoo of conviction that ultimately quieted any momentary panic.

Yes, she told herself calmly. Yes, there will be a future. A real one filled with possibility and one that will include Jennifer.

She became aware of the smile that played across the whole of her face and knew it had probably been there for quite some time, as it would remain for some time to come. And why not? Didn’t she deserve to be happy, just a little? It was such a rare juncture at which she now stood, the whole world stretched before her and the perfect companion for the journey by her side. Extraordinary.

Jennifer’s image appeared before her mind’s eye as it had so many times since their first meeting, only this time it was accompanied by a swell of ebullience that she had never before experienced. Was this pure happiness? Was this the emotion that had inspired poems and songs and countless other forms of expression from an even greater number of creative souls across the ages? Ha! Well, no wonder.

Her soapy hands glided over areas left particularly sensitive to the touch after the activities of last night -- and this morning -- and she grinned anew. Jennifer Logan may have been a novice at the art of lovemaking but she was a damn quick study. Gotta love that.

A few minutes later, Resa stepped out of the shower and grabbed a cream-colored cotton towel left hanging over one of the rods and as she vigorously dried her long, dark hair, she allowed her gaze to drift over the magnificent master bathroom.

Man, I’ve seen whole apartments smaller than this, she marveled, taking note of the fine Italian tiling and porcelain sink that sat surrounded by a subtle marble countertop. No expense was spared. That book must have sold even better than I realized.

Ahhh, the book.

She chuckled a little at the thought and wondered what the reaction had been down on the farm when the Logan clan read that. Oh, sure, Jennifer had left just enough out for things to be ambiguous but she’d also included more than enough to make things interesting. Very interesting.

And inspiring. At least where Resa was concerned. After all, hadn’t Jennifer’s book been the very motivation for her to go to the literary group discussion only the night before? Funny how that had worked out.

Resa had bought Jennifer’s novel the moment she’d seen it on display in the bookstore window, which she’d been passing without second thought on her way to some mundane errand that ended up never being accomplished. But, as it turned out, she hadn’t mustered the courage to actually read beyond the jacket cover until many months later when she’d seen the event flyer with Jennifer’s picture tacked up on one of the bulletin boards at work.

That night she’d gone home to her small, isolated, near-barren apartment and found within herself the fortitude to go to the book and open it to the first page. She’d been hooked from the initial sentence; her eyes devouring each and every word as she was transported back to relive the chaotic and electrifying events of their time together as if they were happening anew.

When she finally set the book aside, the gray light of dawn was peeking in through her dirty window and her body was throbbing from not having changed its position in countless hours. But more than anything she felt an ache of longing inside her chest that would not go away and she came to the conclusion that she had to see Jennifer.

It went against every vow she’d made to herself and defied every form of logic but there really was no reasoning to be found on the subject. Suddenly, through no action taken on her own part, she knew exactly where Jennifer Logan was going to be at a specific time and that had been, for her, too great a temptation to resist.

And so she had gone to the bookstore, intending to catch a mere glimpse from afar and then go home. Only things hadn’t quite worked out that way. No, not at all.

Resa hung the towel back over the railing, feeling a tinge of pride that she remembered to tidy up after herself (though apparently she remained unaware she was leaving several nice puddles all over the floor), and walked naked into the bedroom whereupon her eyes caught sight of a small stack of clothes laid out for her at the foot of the as yet unmade bed (really, what was the point?).

She quickly dressed in the large, man’s, light blue Oxford shirt (another overlooked item from one of the Logan Boys perhaps?) and a very familiar pair of black, cut-off sweat shorts. She then sat upon the edge of the bed and bent over with the intention of putting on the white ankle socks but a sight brought her up short instead. A lump grew thick in her throat and the first flicker of something less than contentment darkened her brow.

Her scars. They were merciless in the morning’s light as they stretched along her right arm and both her feet, traveling well into her calves, in vivid contrast to her healthy skin. The pain had been excruciating to which the twists and discoloration bore silent witness, but she hadn’t really given much thought to them. There had been no real call to do so.

Until now.

She clenched her jaw and briefly closed her eyes, her concentration inward until the gentle voice inquired to her from the doorway,

"How did it happen?"

Resa glanced up into somber eyes. For an instant she had the urge to hide her old wounds from view but knew that was pointless. Jennifer already knew of them, had touched and caressed her marred arm both last night and that very morning. But she had yet to see her feet…and they were by far the worst part of her injuries.

Well, here they are, she thought resolutely. No going back now.

Resa cleared her throat and slowly set the socks aside, allowing the ravages of her flesh to be on full and prominent display. She hated the nervousness that sprang within her but was powerless to suppress it and she watched Jennifer’s eyes closely as they were drawn downward, noting the shimmer of pain in their depths.

But not pity.

To say Resa was immeasurably relieved that there wasn’t the slightest trace of pity to be found in her companion’s eyes would be a gross understatement. Sorrow and compassion she could handle, indeed she expected no less from one as tenderhearted as Jennifer but pity, that was the one thing that Resa could never bear.

"Won’t you tell me?" Jennifer asked softly, coming fully into the room.

Resa noted the slight hesitation in the younger woman’s step and reached out to her as a means of reassurance. Jennifer immediately took the proffered hand but rather than sit beside her on the bed as Resa expected, she instead knelt on the floor, soft green gaze raised in silent plea.

Resa smiled, then squeezed the fingers still within her grasp.

"You know I went to Alfons’." It was more of a statement than a question but Jennifer nodded nonetheless. "And you know there was a fire."

"Yes." The fingers of her fee hand gently traced the scars on Resa’s left ankle. "That’s where you got these?"

Resa nodded.

"Were they as painful as they look?" Her voice was barely above a whisper.

"Yes." There was no thought of concealing the truth, not from her.

Jennifer was silent a long moment, then she leaned over to lay a soft kiss upon the edge where the unmarred skin stopped the scarring began.

"Tell me," she entreated and this Resa could not refuse.

…below her the fire rages out of control. She sees it growing with each gust of wind until it is eating up the side of the house and the ground between them and the nearby pool. She can feel the heat shoot up her bare feet, legs and back and she grits her teeth against the pain.

Alfons strikes out at her a couple times with the heels of his boots, hitting her chest with brutal desperation but she does not let go of her hold.

He ceases his efforts to kick her free and begins to pull himself -- and by default her -- up, his powerful arms bulging against the restrictions of his jacket.

Her eyes shift and fasten on the gun muzzle that just peeks over the side.

She reaches behind her and draws out the automatic pistol she has earlier tucked into the back of her jeans and points it up at his head, her mind whirling as she assesses the situation from every angle.

If she allows him to continue to pull himself upward he can, and likely will, go for the gun as soon as it is within his reach. And he will shoot her, of this she is certain. She does not care how much he professes to need her, to obsess about her, to want her back. This is about life and death. His life and his potential death, and in his mind she has no doubt that takes precedence over all else. She is literally weighing him down, dragging at him and robbing from him the precious seconds required to escape.

But, if she shoots him now, before they reach the top, then they will both fall and while the drop itself isn’t necessarily enough to kill them outright, the fire below is another matter.

Either way, it does not look good for her.

But, then she realizes with a sudden calmness and inner serenity, that it has long ago stopped being about her and her needs. It goes beyond that. Well beyond anything she has ever before understood or thought possible of or for herself. This moment reaches into the core of her soul and touches her heart and makes her believe in something greater, something deeper. And with the purity of love, she knows what she has to do. To protect Jennifer, she will give everything.

Tears fill her eyes, tears for what might have been….

Alfons pulls his chest up over the side.

…what could have been…

He reaches out for the gun.

…what should have been…

Grabs it.

…yet cannot be.

And swings it down in her direction.

Only one of them pulls the trigger.

His head whips back as the bullet tears through his brain and instantly his hold on the side of the building is no more.

Resa closes her eyes and feels herself begin to fall at once, feels the indescribable heat as it races up to greet her, robbing her of her ability to see or breathe or hear beyond the inferno’s ferocious roar.

For an instant she experiences the strangest sense of being outside her body, watching from a safe, almost passive distance as she plunges into the baptismal flames and she wonders why it does not hurt more. But perhaps, she muses with detachment, she is already dead and has moved beyond the pain.

Then her right shoulder comes in unexpected contact with some immovable object -- the lip of the first floor roof -- and the direction of her descent suddenly and most decidedly shifts. She feels all remaining air be driven out of her lungs and a searing agony as her arm abruptly dislocates. Her head whacks into the corner of the house and she goes momentarily numb.

Only bits and pieces of clarity follow, tiny snips of images and information as her sensibilities struggle to process everything even as new data assaults her in rapid-fire succession. Cool air. Noise. Sirens. Her body landing, hard but not as hard as she would have expected, if she could remember what it is she expected at all. The ground. Grass. Leaves. Rocks. The taste of dirt. The smell of burning. Pain. Too much pain. Her clothes. Fire. Her clothes on fire.

Instinct takes command even as coherent thought is out of the question. The second her body makes contact with the earth she knows she needs to roll in order to diffuse the force of impact and so roll she does. She has already covered her face with her hands and rolls and rolls and somewhere along the way the fleeting possibility that she might inadvertently be tumbling back into the fire somehow manages to amuse her.

Then a fractionalized sensation -- falling again -- and she finds she is submersed in cold water. The shock of moving so swiftly from one extreme to the next is staggering and it is only due to the fact that the fall has rendered her incapable of breathing that she fails to inhale.

She opens her eyes and sees curious, warped, aquamarine images dance before her. Twisted impressions, reflections, and perception war within her mind until the bits and pieces slip, as if parts of a puzzle, into their rightful place and the picture becomes almost whole. She has fallen into the pool.

But more important than that, most important of all is the fact that she is alive. After everything she, somehow, is still alive…and she finds it utterly confounding.

Her body continues its gentle descent until it comes to rest upon the floor of the pool’s deep end and it is there she lies for untold seconds, confused though oddly unafraid. The sounds around her are, like everything else, distorted and work to form an exquisite other-worldlyness that totally envelopes her.

She does not want to move, instead welcoming the strangely comforting pressure of the water as it pushes in at her from all angles and tenderly rocks her upon invisible waves.

All in all the fall, impact, and immersion has lasted less than ten seconds. Ten remarkable seconds in which she has gone from certain death to a rather incredulous life…

‘I’m not dead,’ she marvels. ‘I. Am not. Dead…’

She closes her eyes as she allows the reality to trickle into her very being. Her heart slams against the restrictions of her chest and her brain cries out, ‘But why? Why when I should be for so many reasons well beyond the understandable danger I just faced? When I prepared for it and deserve no less, why am I not dead?’

There is no answer forthcoming and it is here that the numbness of only moments ago wears off. Now every part of her body that mere seconds earlier was cocooned in shock seems to scream out at once and she attempts to take stock of her circumstance.

She feels the scorching of her skin along the bottoms of her feet and along her lower legs, matched by the throb along her right hand and wrist and even along the back of her head. She feels what is most assuredly broken ribs along her left back and the distress in her dislocated shoulder.

But most of all she experiences the searing insistence of her lungs to draw in air.

Immediately.

Yet she remains where she is as a thought buzzes around the periphery of her consciousness, a perverse yet provoking possibility that slowly takes hold of her jumbled sense of self.

‘I could just lie here,’ she thinks, struggling to ignore her body’s natural desperation to go to the surface. ‘If I lie here, I will black out and I will drown and all will be as it should.’

A convulsion wracks her and a ringing fills her ears but she maintains her position at the bottom of the pool, arms spread out from her side and her hair drifting around her face like a crown.

‘I don’t deserve to live. My actions don’t merit the benevolence of life. I have the blood of so many on my hands…even now…how can I justify living? Who in their right mind would forgive me? Who?’

To that silent question appears an image that so catches Resa by surprise she gasps…

…and begins to choke on the water that fills her lungs.

Her body reflexively spasms and suddenly all thought of indirect suicide leaves her. She pushes against the concrete bottom and kicks up in a near frenzy, swimming upwards until she breaks the surface to draw in a huge breath of life-giving air..

Resa paused as Jennifer’s grip tightened on her fingers, the younger woman’s face having grown taut with distress. After a beat, eyes the color of a warm tropical bay raised up to search deep into her own.

"What did you see?" she asked, her voice hoarse. "What was the image?"

Resa swallowed, finding that as much as she trusted this woman, and she trusted her unconditionally, she was not the sort of person for whom full disclosure came with ease. It was difficult for her (hadn’t she spent her life avoiding such a thing?) but she would keep the vow she made to herself, especially when it left her vulnerable to such an intense degree.

She reached out to run her fingers through Jennifer’s short, blonde hair, enjoying the silky texture against her palm.

"You," she said simply. "I saw you."

Her coughs are uncontrollable, the spasms of her body delivering a whole host of pain from her varied injuries. Some water gets in her mouth and goes down the wrong way, bringing on a new fit but after a few moments she regains enough composure to swim to the side of the pool and to awkwardly climb out.

She lies on the cement, wet and in a kaleidoscope of misery, and assesses her situation. She has burns that need to be taken care of as well as broken and/or dislocated bones elsewhere. Her head hurts from where she whacked it along the building during her fall. And she is slightly dizzy from being too long in the pool.

Still, all things considered, it could be worse: She could have failed in her overall objective but, by the grace of she knows not who, she has not.

An illogical exultation wells within her as she realizes that at long last Jennifer is safe. In this alone she has succeeded for Jennifer Logan will no longer have to fear for her life from the likes of Alfons Vega or his men, will not have to look over her shoulder at every turn as she waits for them to come after her as they most assuredly would have had Resa not taken action.

She thinks of Jennifer, of the life that lies ahead for her now and smiles.

 

The quiet laid heavily in the room.

Jennifer no longer met Resa’s eyes, instead resting her cheek upon the older woman’s right knee as her gaze looked upon nothing in particular. Resa sensed her agitation but there was nothing she could do. What’s done was done and the past could not be altered.

"I-I don’t know how I feel about all this," Jennifer said in a voice barely above a whisper. "I mean, I know you did what you had to do to defend yourself but…I don’t know how I feel about being the reason those men died."

Resa’s hand stilled its caress. "You aren’t the reason," she tried to explain, the flower of apprehension slowly blossoming in her stomach. "They chose to enter that world. They chose to hurt other people and to work for someone who had no soul, who would have killed you and countless other people like you if given the chance."

Jennifer nodded, her expression difficult to read. "I know that. I do…in theory… But when I think about the reality of my part in all that happened --"

"You’re part was being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nothing more. You went somewhere to help someone, that’s all. And you got caught up in a nightmare situation that you are not to blame for."

"But--"

"No. No buts. Listen to me." She slid off the bed to sit opposite Jennifer on the hardwood floor. "No one who died that night was innocent. They were adults who willingly entered into a corrupt and criminal situation because they thought they could better themselves by doing so. They were killers. Each of them. Trust me, I know."

Jennifer raised her gaze. "I do trust you, Resa. Implicitly. And I pretty much figured out what happened beforehand. And why." She swallowed hard, struggling valiantly to discipline her emotions but her lower lip trembled all the same. "It’s just hearing it confirmed…" She shook her head, confused. "I don’t know… It hurts."

Resa drew back, her body newly stiff with tension, and looked away.

Of course it hurt. No matter how much she had changed from the na´ve college girl to now, there sill existed within Jennifer the glow of humanity that kept her such a wonderfully unique woman and Resa hoped she never lost that. But it was also that same trait that would make it difficult for her to fully reconcile the extreme actions Resa had taken against Alfons and his men. Ahh, the hidden dangers of full disclosure and the little landmines existed within.

Resa drew away from Jennifer, pulling her legs up to her chest and hugged her arms around her knees in an unconsciously protective gesture as she regarded the younger woman before her.

"Believe me when I tell you that I wish there had been a viable alternative to what happened that night. And if there had been I would have taken it. But there wasn’t. I swear."

She stopped when sadness invaded her heart and she dropped her eyes. For several moments neither spoke and to Resa the silence was damning. She could only imagine what Jennifer must think of her, how horrified she surely must be.

After nearly a full minute of deafening quiet, Resa chanced a glance up only to find Jennifer watching her with a poignant expression, her gentle face echoing the slightest trace of fear, which a troubled Resa immediately mistook as fear of her. It cut through her heart and left her bleeding.

She stood at once.

But Jennifer, though startled, was quick. She rose up to take hold of the taller woman by the arm and waist, her eyes now radiating alarm.

"No!" Jennifer said, holding on tight. "No, you are not going anywhere."

"Why have me around?"

"Because I love you."

She shook her dark head. "You fear me. I saw it in your eyes. I’m still the ruthless murderer I always have been and you have just now realized it." She tried to pull away. "Alfons was right. People don’t change."

"Bullshit!" Jennifer raged and tightened her hold. "Now, you listen to me, Theresa I-just-realized-I-don’t-know-your-middle-name Gustavez, and you listen well." Resa stopped her admittedly feeble attempts to escape but did not move to lower her defenses. Jennifer took a step closer until barely any room separated them and Resa could see tiny flecks of blue and gold in her irises. "I am not now, nor have I ever been, afraid of you. Afraid for you, yes. Afraid you’ll do something insane that could endanger your wellbeing, you bet. But genuinely afraid of you? Never." She clutched the soft cotton of the black sweat shorts as she transferred the hand from Resa’s arm to the side of the taller woman’s face. "What you saw just now was me thinking about how terrifying it must have been for you to go through that horror all alone and how desperately I wished you hadn’t had to do it. Especially since I know you did it for me. Jesus, Resa, you could have died I don’t know how many times in all of that and for the last year and a half I thought you had! I mean, there’s a part of me that’s still trying to come to grips with the fact that you’re even alive, that you didn’t die trying to keep me safe. That you’re here…"

Resa lowered her eyes and though she did not also completely lower the familiar protective wall that she carried with her at all times, neither did she make another move to leave.

Jennifer relaxed, ever so slightly and angled her head until she forced Resa to meet her eyes.

"Now, about what happened that night…to those men and to you, yes, I’m disturbed. I don’t know how not to be. Can’t you…" A frustrated sigh escaped her lips. "Can’t you explain it to me somehow?"

Resa shook her head. "No. I can’t" A sadness and inevitability filled her. "How can you possibly hope to understand something like this? You don’t speak the language of violence and hatred and I hope to God you never do. I wish I didn’t." Her voice was quiet but firm, refusing to sugarcoat the truth. "That night I killed, but not just for you. I killed for Martin and for Malik Powell and for all the nameless, faceless people that I will never know whose death was on the hands of a truly evil man and though I regret the circumstance, I do not regret the result. You and others are safe and for that I am glad." She sighed, a weariness that went deep to the bone settled over her. "But I don’t expect you to understand…I almost don’t want you to."

Jennifer was silent for what felt like an eternity but was in reality only a handful of seconds before her tender voice spoke with great care.

"Well, then. I’ll just have to trust you won’t I?" She raised her chin in defiance, the faintest trace of amusement adorning her lips. "And don’t think I don’t see you there, with all those defenses of yours up, waiting for me to reject you over this." Resa blinked, surprised as much by the words as the accompanying prodding by Jennifer’s index finger into her shoulder. "I’m afraid you’re just going to have to be disappointed because it’s not going to happen. I’m here, darlin’." A tiny moment of insecurity. "As long as you’ll have me."

Resa nearly laughed at that, feeling momentarily light-headed with relief then let her gaze raked over the lovely curves of the face opposite her.

"Yeah?"

"Yeah," she repeated with resolution.

A single dark brow arched deliberately "That could be a while."

Jennifer’s smile was dazzling. "I sincerely hope so," she said with an emphatic nod. "Now, I originally came up here to tell you that I have a feast of a breakfast downstairs, which is rapidly getting cold but if you’re even half as hungry as I am, you won’t care either. Can I interest you?"

"Oh, I’m interested all right."

"Good."

She took up Resa’s much larger hand into her own to drag her in the direction of the stairs.

But Resa didn’t budge. Instead she pulled Jennifer back into her embrace and covered her mouth with her own in a kiss that seemed to be the most natural thing in the world, a kiss intended to be sweet and reaffirming, a way to say thank you and for a moment she was content. But then she felt Jennifer’s fingers curl against the back of her head and her mouth open intimately against Resa’s own and all thought of contentment went right out the window, replaced instead by blinding sensation. Bending her knees a little Resa wrapped her arms around the smaller woman’s back and lifted her off the ground, effectively crushing Jennifer to her. Two long strides and they were both lying upon the yet to be made up bed. Resa rolled over until her body was resting atop the blonde, making an effort to keep herself slightly elevated so as not to inflict her full weight. But then Jennifer wrapped one leg over Resa’s hip to forcibly draw her down until there was no space separating them. Their lips were willing, warm and seeking and their senses pounded with awareness of each other. She felt Jennifer’s hands against her back, felt a tingle as one hand slid lower and lower until it reached the base of her spine only to slide onto her hip.

Resa pushed herself away just far enough to meet Jennifer’s heavy-lidded gaze.

"Breakfast is going to get a whole lot colder," she warned in a throaty voice.

Jennifer just smiled languidly and reached up to pull the taller woman back down again.

 

* * * *

The mid-morning sun of an unusually warm December bathed the two women as they sat upon the outdoor terrace, leaving them soaked in good cheer. The remains of their most impressive feast laid strewn about, despite the considerable dent they had managed to make in it.

Jennifer tore the last of the Pillsbury orange Danish rolls in half and offered the other piece to Resa who took it though she had but moments ago professed her appetite fully assuaged.

"Sister Stephnie is expecting her first child late spring," she informed her companion.

A single dark brow arched. "Isn’t that kind of against the rules?"

The blonde grinned. "She left the order. Got married six months ago."

"To a certain construction worker maybe?"

"Yes, ma’am." She couldn’t stifle a giggle. "I gotta say, the wedding was pretty surreal. One half of the church was filled with these rough and rugged macho men and the other half was teeming with nuns."

"Guess no one hooked up afterwards."

"Uh, no. And they ended up just handing the bouquet to me by default since I was the only female there who hadn’t taken the vow of celibacy."

"Handy." Hooded blue eyes raked her over. "Bet you got asked out a lot."

"Yeah, but I don’t date nuns," she teased and Resa shared her smile. "Besides," she continued, a shade more serious. "There was no way I could be with anyone else."

Resa glanced down for a moment, then pushed her plate away.

"So, what do you hear from the Padre?" she asked.

"He’s in a suburb of Lincoln, Nebraska. I think that pretty much speaks for itself."

"Is he happy?"

"He’s always happy if he’s able to help people, which he is." She gave Resa a measured look. "He misses you."

Resa was silent for several moments then nodded her head a little. "I miss him, too," she admitted quietly.

"Maybe you should call him."

"Maybe you could call him first, tell him…"

"That you’re alive?" She nodded. "Okay."

"Thanks."

"You’re welcome. Of course, there’s a price for that."

"Oh yeah?"

Jennifer nodded. "You gotta tell me the rest of your story about where you’ve been this whole time."

"What makes you think there’s a story to be told."

"Because with you there’s always a story to be told."

"Yeah, well, what can I say? I’m just lucky that way."

"So?"

"So…" she drawled back.

"You are going to tell me, right?"

"Yeah."

A beat. "Today?"

A grin. "Yeah."

"Cool."

Jennifer smiled, quite happy with herself and, content not to push the issue for now. She let her eyes stray from the woman at her side for the first time since their very late breakfast began.

The kitchen terrace was tucked in the famed hills of Hollywood where homes were in even greater abundance than the natural (and always flammable) scrub bush. The ever-present wind, sometimes gentle but as often not, lifted the white linen of Jennifer’s sleeveless shirt off her tanned skin.

She really loved her house. It had once belonged to some old movie star from long ago, or so the realtor had claimed when she was trying to drive home the sale and it might actually have been true but that hadn’t been why Jennifer had decided to buy the place. She’d taken it as much for the view as anything else, finding the sight of Los Angeles laid out before her to be wondrous, especially at night where the city lights could be awesome for one who had grown up in the likes of Lawrence, Kansas. The fact that it was ‘chic’ and ‘hip’ and Drew Barrymore was her neighbor a few homes down meant nothing to her. It was all about the view and the feelings that it inspired deep within her.

She turned a casual glance at Resa through coy lashes and watched as the dark-haired woman leaned her head against the back of her chair, eyes closed, seemingly content to drink in the languid splendor of the moment. It reminded her of that time, so long ago, when the former gang leader had unexpectedly dropped her defenses and sung along with the car’s radio. That simple instance had been, for Jennifer, thoroughly enchanting and while likely not the moment in which she’d fallen in love, it was the instant she recognized it to be thoroughly a irrevocable condition.

Actually, truth be told, Jennifer could not pinpoint the exact occasion when her love for Resa had taken root, and it was something about which she’d given a great deal of thought, but try as she might, she could not place her finger on it. Rather it was as if she’d always been in love with her and had only been waiting for the time when they could at long last meet. And while such a notion was whimsical and romantic to a quixotic degree, it was true nevertheless. Had anyone other than herself been thinking with such mawkish sentiment she would have dismissed them as too fanciful for words. But she could not dismiss her own feelings nor did she want to. They were too enjoyable.

Her eyes traveled freely over Resa’s face and body until they ventured to where the other woman’s hands laid interlocked across her taut abdomen. A tiny knot formed in her chest as she recalled the Resa’s words from earlier as she recounted in her almost dispassionate way the events of that horrible night…

She shuddered inwardly.

While Jennifer recognized it was likely true she may never understand in full the reason for the outcome and why death had to be the course of action, she did know that the motive behind them had been pure and somehow that was enough for her. She only wished there was a way to effectively convey this acceptance to Resa so that she believed it without pause but that was something that would only come with time and Jennifer had to respect the former gang leader’s past in all its complexity if they were going to make a life together. Which was her intention.

It was a miracle, really, that they had gotten as far as they had in such a short amount of time and she would have to learn patience when prickly scenes like the one earlier in her bedroom sprouted between them. Life would not always be as blissful as it was at this very moment, of that she was quite sure, but as long as they held onto the underlying love that was their foundation then she was confident they could survive. Now if only she could convince Resa.

"I can hear you from here," came the low murmur, though she did not bother to open her eyes or barely move her lips.

Jennifer grinned. "Oh, really? And what do you hear?"

"The constant whirl of your brain as it goes racing around some new thought." She tipped her head to the side and cracked open her left eye. "What’s on your mind?"

Jennifer decided to avoid telling her the precise contents of her musings and instead said, "I was wondering what you had planned for today."

Resa raised her arms above her head to stretch a bit. "Well," she said as she let out a sigh. "I haven’t really given it much thought. As of last night any and all plans I may have had went right out the window." The smile she gave was downright raffish. "Why? You have any suggestions?"

Jennifer felt the first tingle of a blush begin to creep up her neck and she suddenly found the inlaid pattern of the wrought iron tabletop terribly engrossing.

"Um, well, if you weren’t busy…or anything…" She nervously tucked a short strand of hair over her ear. "I figured you could maybe hang here for, you know…ever."

She’d meant to say "a while" but somehow her subconscious pulled a fast one while she wasn’t looking and left her flummoxed. The instant the last word tumbled unexpectedly out of her mouth she bit down on her lower lip and wished she could reach out to grab it back somehow. But she couldn’t. It was, as they say, ‘out there’ and there wasn’t a damn thing she could to do get it back. The heated flush that came with Jennifer’s mortification seemed to start at the tips of her ears and encompass her entire body leaving her searching for the nearest rock under which to climb. Of all the presumptuous things she could have…what was she thinking? Well, besides that.

"God you’re cute when you blush," Resa chuckled.

"Am I blushing?" she asked needlessly.

"Like a bride," Resa affirmed then threw her head back and laughed at Jennifer’s utterly abashed expression.

"Well…" the younger woman began then ducked her head in embarrassment. "This is all kind of new for me. I mean, I just, um, I’ve never…felt like this about anybody before…" She couldn’t look up. "…and I don’t know what a person should normally say or do or even feel so I’m kind of just saying and doing exactly what I feel. Which is probably pretty foolish."

"Why?"

"Because I’ve been brought up to behave more, well, demure."

"Don’t you think it’s a little late for that at this point?" Her voice was laden with irony.

"Oh, my God, you are so going to make me blush even more!"

She tipped her head to one side in contemplation. "I don’t think you can, actually."

Jennifer dropped her head to her folded arms as they lay across the breakfast table and groaned.

"As it so happens," Resa continued after a pause. "I’m pretty new at all this, too."

Jennifer peeked up over her forearms. "Oh, please," she scoffed.

"No, not at sex. That I know just fine."

"I’m aware."

"Yeah?" she asked, clearly pleased.

"Hello, you were there."

"What? You could have been faking," she pointed out though her attitude conveyed she believed that to be a remote possibility.

"I was so not faking." A troublesome thought occurred to her and blonde eyebrows drew forward in a tiny frown. "Were you?"

"No…but we could always give it another go if you want to be absolutely certain." She pierced her with a suggestive smile and Jennifer somehow found it within herself to blush anew.

"Aren’t you even the slightest bit tired?"

"Not really. Are you?"

"Well…yeah. I mean, I’m in pretty good shape--"

"You’re in great shape," Resa interrupted, eyes raking over the younger woman.

"Thanks but, point of order, if you keep saying things like that and looking at me like you’re looking at me right now, I am never going to be able to form a coherent sentence again."

"Sorry. Please continue. You’re in great shape…"

"…but after last night--"

"And this morning."

"And this morning, I’m going to be a wreck all day."

"Why?"

"Why? Why? Because in the past almost twenty five years of my life I’ve had exactly two orgasms, which, let me tell you, leaves a whole bunch of time to recover in between but in the past fifteen hours, I’ve had four."

Resa frowned. "Is that all?"

"Is that all?" she repeated incredulously.

"Yeah. I thought you had more than that."

Jennifer shook her head. "I have never had a conversation like this before."

"You and what’s his name--"

"Curtis."

"-- didn’t talk?"

"Not about things like this."

"Maybe that was your problem."

"No, I think his ridiculous love for building model cars came in way above this in terms of our problem hierarchy. And the fact that he wore socks to bed. I hate that."

"Uh-huh. Memo to self, ‘no socks.’"

Jennifer laughed, then shook her head, ridiculously delighted and chagrined and fascinated all at the same time. What a constant surprise Resa was, so infinitely multi-faceted. And how lucky am I that she wants to be with me?

So very lucky indeed…

She reached out a bare foot to gently nudge the exposed side of Resa’s muscular thigh. "You know, you were saying something earlier about all of this being new for you too."

Eyes so light they seemed nearly transparent narrowed suspiciously. "You wouldn’t happen to be changing the subject would you?"

"Most definitely."

"Subtle."

"Thanks. Please continue."

Resa cleared her throat. "As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted--" Jennifer rolled her eyes. "This situation is new for me, too." A surge of discomfort seemed to come over the dark-haired woman and she glanced away, her body stiffening slightly. "After all I’ve never been…"

When her words trailed off Jennifer frowned. "With a woman?" she queried, trying to be helpful but that just seemed to make Resa a smidge more fidgety.

"Ah, no. That’s not quite what I was going to say."

"Oh."

Resa cleared her throat again, her agitation growing by leaps and bounds and Jennifer had the urge to tease her but sensibly refrained.

"I’ve never actually…well, made love before. Just, um, you know…had…sex." She glanced up, highly embarrassed and utterly exposed, two sentiments with which Jennifer could relate all too well. "But last night…I suppose in a way, last night was sort of like…my first time…too…" Her words faded off and now it was her turn to blush, something Jennifer found so thoroughly endearing that she was won over yet again.

Her heart fairly bursting, she rose from her chair and moved to sit in Resa’s lap, wrapping her arms around broad shoulders and enjoying the warmth of the other woman’s body against her own. She kissed her forehead and leaned her cheek against the top of the Resa’s dark head, whispering, "Thank you for telling me."

Resa hugged her around the waist, pressing her face into the curve of Jennifer’s neck. She could feel tiny trembles in the former gang leader’s body and closed her eyes at the marvelous mix of emotion and sensation that crested over her.

"And, Jennifer," she said, her voice low, "I don’t know what you have planned for today, but, just so we’re clear…" Resa drew away and looked into her eyes, all jocularity absent, replaced instead by a glorious sincerity as she whispered, "…’ever’ is good for me, too."

A tiny hiccup of surprise rose and caught in the back of the younger woman’s throat as tears filled her eyes and her chest fairly quaked with a sweet, sweet ache. "Really?" she croaked, blinking to clear her vision.

Resa nodded.

She bent down to press a kiss to Resa’s lips, then another to her cheek, and a third to her left temple before she closed her eyes and cuddled closer.

"Thanks."

"You’re welcome."

Jennifer’s gaze fell lazily over their bodies, making idle note of the strength in the arm wrapped around her middle and indulging in the luxury of simply being together. Her fingertips lightly played with the fabric of Resa’s borrowed Oxford shirt.

"You know," she murmured. "Since it appears you’ll be staying here at least another day or so, we should think about getting you something to wear. Besides my brothers’ rejects, that is."

"I rather like your brothers’ rejects." She laid a whisper of a kiss at the base of Jennifer’s throat. "They’re easily shed."

Jennifer nearly lost her train of thought. "Yes, well, while that is an advantage, I’ll grant you, they’ve unfortunately left a very limited number of items and eventually you’re going to want to wear some of your own clothes."

Resa sighed, the warmth of her breath fluttering across Jennifer’s neck and chest. "I suppose that’s true." She dropped her head back against the chair and the sunshine gleamed across her upturned face. "We could head over to my apartment later today, pick up some things."

"Excellent idea." She frowned in curiosity. "Where is your apartment anyhow?"

"Downtown."

Her eyes nearly bugged out. "You live Downtown?" Resa nodded. "Like, a few miles away from me?"

"Yeah."

"The whole time you were gone?"

"More or less."

Jennifer just stared at her, mouth agape.

"What?" Resa queried.

"I can’t believe you were this close to me all the while I was…" She swatted her on the shoulder with clear annoyance.

"Owe!" Resa frowned in confusion. "What was that for?"

"For making me think you were dead for a year and a half so you could play the martyr for my own good while you were practically in spitting distance the whole time."

"Uh-huh." A dark brow arched. "Feel better?"

She considered this. "Yes, actually. I do."

"Good. Don’t do that again."

"Or else…?"

"Or else I’ll break out that dark side you’ve heard so much about," she growled, though there was an obvious twinkle of mischief lurking in her eyes.

Jennifer grinned. "That could prove fun."

"Oh, ya think?"

"Yeah. You could play the big, bad conqueror and I’ll be the feisty peasant girl who stands up to your evil ways and wins your heart."

"Oh, please."

"Then we can have mind-blowing sex."

"On second thought…"

Jennifer laughed and Resa grinned, eyes dancing with mirth for several moments until they softened into a more reflexive expression. She reached up to cup the curve of Jennifer’s jaw.

"I’ve missed you, you know," she said, allowing her thumb to barely brush against her cheek. "I don’t think I laughed the entire time we were apart. Not like this."

Jennifer reached up to hold the hand in place and met Resa’s gaze with a steady, probing one of her own.

"What did you do while we were apart?" Her words were feather light, disguising how very much she wanted to know the answer.

Resa sighed heavily. "Existed mainly. Waited…thought about you."

Jennifer’s fingers wrapped around the hand pressed against her cheek and drew it down against her heart.

"I want to know everything, Resa," she said with conviction. "Please."

 

She hears the sirens and knows the emergency vehicles are already on Alfons’ property. This raises a question she has at no time before thought reasonable to consider for she most assuredly did not expect to be in this position, did not anticipate being alive at the end of the night.

But now that she is alive, she is faced with a dilemma: Should she lie here and await her inevitable capture or should she try to leave? ‘What,’ she wonders, ‘is the right thing to do?’

Her immediate, gut instinct is for her to flee but she considers the selfishness of this response. After all, she knows quite well the barbaric ordeal of prison and is under no illusion about harboring a desire to return. It was an unmitigated hell and she despised it, no matter what positive results it may have rendered within her.

I should stand and take responsibility for my actions, she thinks. I have done this, caused this. I should be held accountable.

‘But what will that solve?’ a part of her asks and she realizes quite simply, nothing. It will solve nothing. Indeed it will only cause more pain.

Pain for whom?

‘Pain for me,’ she silently acknowledges, ‘but pain for Jennifer too.’

The sirens grow closer.

Deep in her heart she ponders this realization and knows it to be true.

If she goes back to prison then Jennifer Logan will insist in her loyal and selfless way on standing by her side, being with her as a means of support throughout. Her head hurts at the thought. The girl, the beautiful girl who for reasons known only to the stars above has professed her love, will stagnate at a time when by all rights she should be flourishing. Once again, like a sickening refrain, it will be Resa’s fault.

‘No,’ she thinks, shaking her head lightly. ‘I can’t allow that to happen. I won’t.’

Yet if she is going to avoid detection for any reason she cannot wait another second. She must act now.

Resa tries to rise from her supine position at the edge of the pool but cannot. Every muscle throbs, every fiber hurts. The bottoms of her feet flare up and she thinks that she has only once before experienced a pain this overwhelming, when she gave birth.

‘But,’ she resolves with determination, ‘I survived that, I can survive this, too.’

And so she steels her mind, marshals her psychological forces and slowly wills herself to sit up. And, wonder of wonders, she succeeds.

Her breaths come in quick, rapid succession but she remembers what Tony once taught her about inhaling and exhaling during labor and she uses that same rhythm now.

She somehow gets to a standing position, swaying against the dizzy spell that nearly overcomes her, then pushes the agony caused by her burns to the back of her mind and begins walking.

Her world becomes myopic, shifting to focus on the basics of motion as she places one foot in front of the other. She pushes from her mind the way in which every blade of grass is like a tiny needle piercing through her skin with each step that she takes.

‘Ignore the pain,’ she tells herself like a mantra. ‘Keep walking. Ignore the pain…’

She is well into the darkness of the surrounding property, past the point where light even from the burning home can reach her when the first two fire trucks arrive on the scene. Fortunately for her, their attention is on the mammoth task at hand and they do not bother to look around. She is on the verge of making her escape…

…if only she can organize her thoughts enough to determine a way over the wall.

It towers at least fifteen feet above her and has coiled, razor sharp wire running along its top like one would see in some World War Two stockade. The wall would be difficult for her to ascend even if her condition were not thoroughly battered. As is, however, such a task is impossible.

Thus she pushes onward.

In the shadows she limps, her hand lightly trailing the enormous concrete barrier as a means of keeping her direction fixed even as the world around her pitches about like the bow of a ship in a storm.

She breaths in and out, using every trick she knows to maintain consciousness…in and out…keep walking…in and out…ignore the pain…in and out…keep walking…

Suddenly her hand encounters space and she is made dimly aware of some sort of recess in the wall. She glances over, feeling the sweat break out along her brow and upper lip and her body starts to quiver.

It takes a moment, she has to blink several times in rapid succession to make sure she sees it correctly, but then she realizes she is at the rear of the property and the gap she has encountered is change in space to allow for a large, two- door entrance only yards from the actual garage. Though the postern is closed and her mind is muddled by the torture through which she is putting her body, she nonetheless recognizes a potential solution to her problem.

She would laugh at the simplicity of it but does not have the energy. Instead she stumbles in the direction of the garage itself, a long, wooden building with at least five wide doors (one for each of Alfons’ classic cars) to find all are closed.

It takes three strides but her legs feel as if they are made of rubber and she falls headfirst a few feet from the steps. The flare of pain from her dislocated shoulder nearly causes her to black out and a part of her wishes that she would.

‘Just end this fucking abuse already,’ she thinks, but then her mind clears enough to focus. She pulls herself along with her one relatively good arm until she is on the steps and then she reaches up to turn the brass door handle…

…only to find it locked. Locked! Dammit!

She cries out as hopelessness overwhelms her. She cannot get in and get to the remote that activates the main garage door, her last barrier to the outer world. On the other side of that door is her freedom, less than a dozen yards of space and a few inches of wood but it might as well be the Berlin Wall at the end of the Grand Canyon. This is an obstacle she cannot surmount.

Her hand drops from the doorknob and she closes her eyes in the face of such futility.

‘What now?’ she wonders but receives no reply. Only the sound of shouting that comes from the firefighters as they endeavor to bring the blaze under control.

The wind shifts and the thick, acrid smoke from the burning house is pushed in her direction. She coughs as her already raw lungs reject the soiled air, leaving her to gasp. She pulls the burnt collar of her black turtleneck up over her mouth and nose but the stench that lingers there, that of incinerated fabric, sweat and scorched flesh, nearly makes her gag.

The world before her begins to swim and she realizes she is teetering on the verge of passing out.

It is then that the first in a series of faint noises reaches her, noises that she slowly comes to realize signify more sirens and thus more emergency personnel.

She initially dismisses them as nothing more than background sounds. But a corner of her brain recognizes that they are coming from a different direction; they are coming from the other side of the garage door.

Thunk!

She opens her eyes, blinks and shifts to look back at the wooden doorway built within the wall.

Thunk!

She frowns. That sounds like…an ax?

Someone is breaking through? No, no, she is just imagining things… Yet just as she is about to dismiss this possibility she hears yet another ‘thunk’ followed by distinct reverberations coming from the closed doorway.

A fourth similar sound follows and then she hears the rattle of something metal hitting the ground. She realizes in this moment that some new emergency personnel are coming through those doors, bringing their trucks and tools to fight the fire from a new direction.

For a fraction of a second she experiences a twinkling of relief until she realizes that this means her presence is going to be detected as well.

She is lying a dozen feet away from the doorway, in plain sight and though there is no light directly upon her, she is nevertheless exposed for all to see.

She closes her eyes and drops her head a little. Once they find her it is going to be over. Everything. She will have to answer their questions and explain what she is doing here, in direct violation to her parole, but that is the least of her worries. She will also have to explain as well the nature behind her appearance here and though she understands that fighting Alfons Vega with violence was the only genuine solution, she knows without question that the authorities will be unable to officially see her view.

There is no doubt in her heart; she is going back to jail and there is nothing she can do about it but wait.

She swallows hard, ready to accept her fate and tries not to think about Jennifer.

Suddenly the doorway is thrust open and she braces herself for the inevitable.

Within seconds not one but two fire trucks enter the grounds followed by an ambulance and two police cars, all in a terrific rush to get to their destination, all focused on their task at hand with the supreme concentration of the trained professionals that they undoubtedly are…

…and all in an unexpected twist of fate, completely overlooking her in their haste.

It takes several beats for the reality to sink in that they did not see her. Though she is in full, conspicuous view and is clearly someone who is in need of assistance, they have succeeded in missing her completely. She never thought that possible.

And here she does laugh. Not much, mind you, for her wounds prevent too much amusement but she allows herself a little chuckle at the appearance of such good fortune just when all seemed lost.

She sits up a little, flinching at the pain and she glances after the retreating rush of emergency vehicles then to the still open doorway.

‘Don’t waste time gawking,’ she chides herself, ‘Or this chance will slip away.’

Right.

She pushes herself to a standing position, allowing a few extra seconds to get her legs to stop wobbling under her weight and then walks with deliberate steps out the open door.

Resa paused, perhaps lost in the reflection. A sudden gust of breeze billowed over them as they reclined on one of the chaises, having moved from the chair somewhere during the recount. Seconds ticked by until Jennifer, her barely concealed impatience getting the best of her, finally asked,

"Where did you go?"

She felt rather than heard Resa’s silent laugh against her ear. She snuggled closer, liking the sensation, one hand unconsciously slipping a bit under the edge of Resa’s untucked shirttails and enjoying the heat that lay beneath.

"To be honest, I don’t remember much," Resa said, pulling the younger woman a little closer against her chest. "I know I wandered around for a while but I couldn’t tell you where. My mind was a fog. The first thing I clearly remember was being on a busy street and seeing a 7-11."

 

She blinks twice and focuses on the lone pay phone standing against the dingy, stucco side of the convenience store. In the back of her mind she knows she wants to call Tony Marcus. He alone can help her and she does not need to worry about him telling Jennifer where she is or moralizing about what she has done. Tony knows as well as anyone how Alfons Vega worked and why her way of handling him was the only possible solution.

With her left hand she pats down her pockets but remembers that she is carrying no money. Not even a quarter. She sighs and leans back against a wall. Christ, nothing but nothing is easy.

Her hair is a mess, her clothes filthy, her face smeared with dirt and soot and she can barely stand upright. She probably looks like a homeless person, a derelict to be avoided and is vaguely aware how random passersby make a point of steering clear of her even as they stare in open disgust.

But she has more pressing problems than concern about her appearance. She needs medical attention and needs it now. Even she, as tough as she has always been and still is, recognizes the gravity of her situation and though not long ago she was contemplating allowing herself to die she does not want that now. She has chosen life and she will honor her own decision.

Before she can even begin to contemplate getting herself out of this mess, however, her knees unexpectedly buckle beneath her and she slides to the pavement. A part of her wants to cry but it takes too much energy so instead she slumps forward and tries everything in her power to stay awake.

She fails.

She does not know how long she remains unconscious, it could be minutes it could be hours. But it is the touch of foreign hands upon her arms and the inadvertent pain rising forth from her dislocated shoulder that finally jerks her back to consciousness.

A cry, short and harsh, causes whoever has hold of her to release their grip and she opens her eyes to get her first glimpse of the soft, elegant and supremely dignified face of the woman who is to be her savior.

 

Jennifer’s dark blonde brows tightened into a frown as she drew slightly aback and looked down at Resa with something more than mere curiosity.

"Who was she?" she asked.

"Her name’s Lillian Chen," Resa explained. "She saved my life."

A curious sense of insecurity spirited over her. "I see," she murmured. "Tell me more about her."

Resa peers through the thatch of matted, dark hair that covers her eyes and thinks, ‘She looks like an angel.’

The woman is not big in actual size but there is a presence about her that can be deceptive and is undeniably commanding. She stares down at Resa with dark, almond-shaped eyes that project infinite composure and kindness

"Hello," the mysterious woman says while reaching out to gently brush some of Resa’s tousled hair from her face. "You look like you could use some help. May I?"

Resa stares for several seconds, her thoughts a medley of pain and confusion and intrigue but she knows enough to know what this woman is offering and how much she desperately needs it.

"Yes," she manages to eke out, her graveled voice barely above a whisper. "Please."

And then she promptly passes out once again.

 

* * * *

This time when she awakens she is no longer on the streets but rather she is in a hospital bed.

She blinks several times, having to squint at the blinding whiteness of the surrounding sterile environment. Around her has been drawn a curtain designed in a nondescript floral pattern that is no longer capable of hiding the ravages of wear.

She glances over at her right arm and sees that it is elevated and encased, from elbow to hand, in some sort of pressurized splint. She feels that her feet are similarly elevated and wrapped and recognizes by sensation alone that they are quite swollen. Her right shoulder is also sore where it was dislocated but the pain is not nearly as bad as it had been and she quickly recognizes that she is experiencing the lingering effects of heavy medication.

"Good morning," a soothing voice to her right says and she turns her head to see the same Asian woman from the night before seated in a chrome chair close to her bedside. "How do you feel?"

"I--" she begins but her throat is excruciatingly dry and she cannot continue.

As if realizing her problem, the woman retrieves an orange plastic cup from the Formica table attached to the wall beside Resa’s bed.

"Here," the woman says in her soft voice. "Drink this. It will make your throat feel better."

Without a thought of disobedience, Resa leans forward a few inches to place her lips to the edge of the cup and takes two tentative sips. The water is room temperature but it feels cool going down, like a balm to her wounds and it is exactly what she needs.

She leans back, exhausted, but her eyes do not leave the mysterious visitor.

"My name is Lillian Chen," the woman says by way of introduction, nodding in Resa’s direction as the shaking of hands is presently out of the question. "I found you last night out on the street. Do you remember?"

Resa pauses, then nods, opting to prolong her silence until she can determine the exact nature of her situation and how much this woman knows.

"You’ve experienced second and some third degree burns on your right arm and on both your feet. Emergency skin graph surgery was performed last night but more will need to follow and you’re presently wearing what’s known as compression garments on your wounds to help reduce potential scarring. You also have a couple cracked ribs, a dislocated right shoulder, a mild concussion on top of smoke inhalation and several lacerations. And while we’re at it, there is what appears to be a gunshot wound on your left shoulder that could be several days old. All in all, I think it’s safe to say you’ve had a particularly bad day." She cocked a slender, dark brow. "What happened?"

A circumspect Resa does not answer. Instead she watches and allows the silence to extend between them until it becomes fairly obvious that it will remain unbroken on her end. The expression on the woman named Lillian looses a trace of its openness, recognizing no reply is forthcoming.

"It must have been extremely traumatic," she continues. "Are you experiencing any difficulties with your memory?"

"Are you my doctor?" Resa asks in a flat tone, ignoring the question.

Lillian Chen stares at her for several beats, her dark eyes radiating intelligence and interest as they sweep over her in an assessing gaze before she answers with a simple, "No."

"Then who are you and why are you here?"

Lillian Chen sits back in her chair but she does not look away and Resa senses the barest hint of amusement lurking behind her composure.

"I was on my way home last night when I stopped to pick up some milk and saw you collapsed against the store wall. I got you up and into my car and took you to the hospital as fast as I could."

"Why?" she challenges. "I’m a stranger to you."

"Because to leave you there would be to ignore my duty to humanity, all humanity, as you were clearly in a position of great peril and that is something I cannot do. The fact that you are a stranger is incidental. Strangers do not unnerve me. I run a homeless shelter Downtown," she tells her. "I call it ‘Shelter From the Storm,’ like--"

"The Dylan song."

"You know it."

"It’s hardly obscure."

"Which means you have at least some memory."

"I never said I didn’t."

"No," she acknowledges. "You have yet to say much of anything."

"We’ve just met."

Lillian Chen shakes her head, her eyes bright. "I don’t think that’s it," she says, her voice temperate. "Do you play chess?" she asked in a sudden shift.

"Sometimes."

"And I’ll bet you’re quite good at it."

Resa cocks an eyebrow. "I do all right."

"I would like to play you some time. I imagine it would prove interesting." Lillian Chen smiles slightly then continues. "I sense you are keeping your answers deliberately vague with me in an attempt to first fully evaluate your situation."

"For what purpose?"

"I suspect it has something to do with your injuries. And the fact that you are, despite initial appearances to the contrary, not homeless."

Resa once again remains silent but she has a growing respect for the woman beside her. She is smart and observant, which could prove problematic.

Lillian Chen rises from her chair and walks to the foot of Resa’s bed. "There was a terrible fire last night not a half mile from where I found you." She links her hands behind her back. "According to the news reports it belonged to a vicious gang leader and self-proclaimed drug lord by the name of Alfons Vega." She pauses a moment, then asks in a silky voice, "You wouldn’t know anything about that would you?"

Resa keeps her face impassive but apprehension dawns within her.

Lillian seems less than surprised by Resa’s silence. With a slight, expectant nod she continues. "The preliminary police reports say something about a helicopter crash being the cause but there is also some question as to whether the fire had not started before that. Perhaps this was all related to the drug business."

The silence stretches out between them and this time it is Lillian who does not bother to fill it, eventually forcing some reaction from Resa.

"Why are you telling me this?"

"Because I think the two events -- the fire and your injuries -- are related. I think you were somehow involved. Am I right…" She waits a beat, then adds, "…Resa?"

The shock of her own name spoken by this woman ricochets through her system and she cannot fully conceal her start. But she quickly gets a grip on herself and lowers her lids as anger supplants surprise.

"If you knew who I was the entire time, why play coy?" she demands in a low voice.

"I didn’t know. I merely suspected…until now." She tips her head to one side and Resa notes that there is no hostility in her gaze. "I have worked in homeless shelters and participated in drug counseling around Los Angeles for almost ten years. I am quit well versed in the dealings of the multitude of area gangs and their more infamous members. The name Resa Gustavez used to be one I heard on a fairly regular basis. That is, until she surrendered to the police and turned State’s evidence against her former gang. It was a remarkable turn of events that had people in the barrio talking for months."

"Quite a memory you’ve got there."

"It was quite an occurrence. I don’t suppose I’m the only person who recalls what happened." She studies her soberly. "So, how did you get here?"

Resa glances away. "Long story."

"I imagine. And to answer the question you are so carefully not asking, I am the only one who knows who you are. As far as the hospital personnel are concerned, you are merely some unidentified homeless woman I found and brought in." She glances down at the chart hanging off the end of Resa’s bed and reads, "Jane Doe #13-1999 to be exact." She meets Resa’s eyes again. "They have no reason to suspect anything."

"What’s to suspect?" she asks flippantly.

Lillian smiles. "Nothing, I’m sure. But eventually you will have to answer some questions. Do you know what you are going to say?"

Resa sighs, lets out a little chuckle devoid of humor. "At this point I don’t know anything."

Lillian Chen watches her for several moments and Resa wishes she could know the contents of the other woman’s thoughts, especially what she plans to do with the information she now possesses. Resa recognizes that she is in as precarious a position now as when the firefighters came onto Alfons’ property the night before.

"What is the nature of your situation?" Lillian asks. "By that I mean, is there someone I should call to let them know where you are?"

She immediately thinks of a pair of gentle green eyes and drops her gaze to the white bedspread pulled up to her chest. "No," she says, the softness of her tone disguising any other emotion that should happen to leak out. "I’m alone."

Lillian’s voice is kind. "No one is truly alone."

Resa meets her eyes. "I am."

At that moment the curtain around her bed is drawn aside and a balding man in his late forties wearing the distinctive white lab coat of a doctor steps within. He smiles at Resa, though she quickly notes the exhausted pallor that lies beneath his pale skin.

"Hello there," he says to her then catches sight of Lillian Chen and his smile takes on a whole new sparkle. "Dr. Chen, good to see you," he says warmly.

Resa frowns and Lillian makes a point of not looking at her. "Good morning, Dr. Weitz."

He rubs the corner of one eye. "Is it morning? I wouldn’t know. Been on the go for the past thirty-six hours."

She smiles. "I understand completely."

"I know you do." Dr. Weitz turns his attention to Resa. "Good to see you’re awake. You’ve been out of it quite a while. How are you feeling?"

"Drugged."

"That’s the Morphine." He taps one of the bags hanging beside her bed and she notices the intravenous tube that leads from it to the top of her hand. "It should wear off soon enough and then we’ll probably put you on methadone, which isn’t nearly as debilitating but also isn’t as effective."

"I don’t want any drugs."

"Au nautural, eh? Well let’s see how things progress and if, once what you’re on wears off and you still want to go the tough gal route, we’ll leave your system clear. But I’ll warn you, the pain won’t be like anything you’ve ever experienced and that’s before you’ve started your therapy. I don’t know how much Doctor Chen here has told you but you’ve undergone a wide variety of traumas last night, any one of which woulda had me laid out for a month. You, on the other hand, appear to be one helluva strong lady." He glances down at the chart in his hand then back up. "Jane Doe #13, huh? Well, unless your Mom had a peculiar sense of humor, I’m willing to guess you have a better name than that, am I right?"

Resa and Lillian lock eyes for several heartbeats, then as Resa draws her breath to speak Lillian Chen goes first,

"Dr. Weitz, may I have a word with you alone please?"

Dr. Weitz shrugs and they step through the curtain, leaving Resa to speculate to the nature of their conversation. She begins to boil and the nails of her left hand dig into the flesh of her palm as she clenches her fist.

Several moments later and only Lillian Chen returns through the curtain. Resa sets upon her immediately.

"I thought you said you weren’t a doctor."

Lillian moves to resume her seat in the chrome chair. "I said I wasn’t your doctor and I wasn’t. But now I am."

"Explain."

"I am an emergency room physician here at MLK but Dr. Weitz was the doctor on call last night and technically was going to be the one to handle your case."

"Was?"

"I just asked him to allow me to assume lead physician duties for you and, as I am the senior resident here and he is completely over-worked, he agreed."

"Why?"

"Because with me as your doctor it is my call as to whether the police are notified as to the nature of your injuries and I do not believe such a call is necessary."

Resa stares at her for a long moment. "Why would you do that for me?"

"I have spent the past fifteen years of my life working with people of all walks of life and if there is one thing I know how to do and do well it’s judge a person’s character. I believe informing the police to your identity and whatever role you may or may not have played in the events of last night would be an incalculable wrong."

"All that from a five minute conversation?"

Lillian shrugged. "Five minutes…plus fifteen years of experience, yes."

"You think you’re that good at your job?"

A slender smile. "Oh, I know I am."

Resa assesses the other woman’s confident attitude and for the first time since awakening begins, ever so slightly, to relax…

* * * *

Therapy sucks.

And Resa hates every second of it. But she is pragmatic enough to know the harder she pushes herself the faster she will heal and then the faster she will be released. Lord, how she wants to be released, more than anything at this point. So she goes through the daily rituals of stretching and lifting light weights and squeezing a racket-ball like a good patient and mentally marking every improvement that brings her one stage closer to her freedom.

She takes her daily dose of therapy in one of the main rooms duly designated by the hospital and never complains of her displeasure. But the relief of coming back to her room, however lacking in privacy, is immeasurable.

And days such as this, when Gayle, her sixty year old roommate and fellow burn victim (the older woman having fallen asleep whilst smoking her third pack of Camels and awoke in the emergency room) is nowhere to be found are even more welcome.

Resa glances at the muted though ever-running television set attached to the opposite wall. She ponders briefly a search for the remote in order to turn it off but then quickly disregards that idea as she is far too drained.

She sits on the edge of her bed, her muscles tired from the exertion of her still limited physical therapy and is instantly consumed with how much the burned areas of her body bug the hell out of her. When they are not itching they feel tight and immovable, like the flesh itself is shrinking, which, as it turns out, it is. Lillian says this is normal and why daily exercises are so crucial to her recovery but that does not alleviate her annoyance.

In the three weeks since her admittance to Martin Luther King, Jr. Hospital, Resa Gustavez has had two additional skin graft surgeries. She is, by all accounts, on her way to a speedy recovery, though her definition of ‘speedy’ and that of the doctors does tend to differ quite a bit.

Her eyes flick over the fiberglass cast on her right arm that protects her last skin graft then down to her feet and the hideous aquamarine orthotic sandals that cover them. The good news is the fur that lines the inside is comfortable against her ravaged skin; the bad news is how badly they itch.

"Brought you some more Xerform," the by now familiar voice behind her says and she glances over her shoulder to see Lillian enter the double occupancy hospital room.

"Oh, happy day," Resa murmurs wryly but there is no animosity to her tone. The application of the topical cream is but another step to her recovery and she will deal with it accordingly. Besides, the after-effect is nicely soothing.

Resa starts to bend at the waist in order to detach the Velcro straps holding her sandals in place but has to move slowly, the pain from her other injuries is still penetrating and despite her best efforts she winces.

Lillian instantly stays her actions with her hand. "Let me," she says and proceeds to remove both oversized orthotic sandals.

Resa glances briefly at Lillian, then looks away, her attention drawn to the television set where the noonday news is being dolled out in banal morsels by plastic talking heads.

But there is something else.

It takes a moment for the image to register, it is not one she expects to see, yet after a second or two she recognizes the figure in the photograph displayed in the upper left-hand corner of the screen as belonging to that of the beautiful and fresh-faced Jennifer Logan. It is a casual photograph, perhaps like one found in a school yearbook of some sort but it is unmistakably her.

Resa’s heart leaps into her throat and sadness radiates outward from her chest. She remembers the damned volume is, for once, turned off and is thus forced to read the closed caption white type-faced words written within the black strip at the bottom of the screen.

"…survivor of the attack at the Sacred Heart convent is leaving the hospital today for the first time. Though she refused to speak directly with any reporters, Ms. Logan did issue a statement that she is grateful for the excellent medical care she received during her ordeal and is extremely pleased to be going home. Colin, back to you…"

"She’s a brave young woman, Todd."

"Yes, yes she is."

Tears blur her vision and for nearly a minute she is aware only of the anguish and intense longing that vibrates deep within her. To the forefront of her mind comes a thousand different memories, of Jennifer’s laugh, the sound of her voice, the subtle sway of her walk, the way she cannot help but gesture with her hands as she talks, the scent of rose that lingers on her skin and in her hair…the feel of her lips, the way she tastes…

She is conscious of the yearning that springs to life within her and wishes there could be some way for them could be together. If only…

"Resa?"

She blinks and shakes her head slightly in an attempt to clear her mind and glances up to meet dark eyes watching her with concern.

"Are you unwell?"

Resa ponders this question with a wry self-reflection. Is she unwell? Yes, as a matter of fact, she is most unwell. And anguished. And brimming of doubt and remorse. But what can she tell Lillian of this? Not a thing. She can do nothing…nothing but reflect…and lament…and remember what it was like to be, for a fleeting moment in time, truly connected with another human being.

She massages her temple. "I’m fine. Just tired," she lies, then remembers to say, "Thanks for asking." And adds a small smile.

Lillian at first seems unconvinced but with nothing on which to base her skepticism other than mere instinct, she returns the smile before continuing with her task. She squeezes the Xerform into one palm and rubs both of her hands together until the ointment is evenly distributed. Then she gently administers the medicine to the injured flesh of Resa’s now exposed legs.

Resa closes her eyes and concentrates on breathing deeply. This would not hurt as greatly if she took the required dosage of her sedatives but she hates the lingering feeling of pacification that accompanies the drugs and thus takes far less than she legitimately could. It leaves her more aware, yes, but with awareness comes the consequence of pain. Nothing can fully take that away, not that she wants to lose the feeling. Suffering, after all, is the state in which she is most comfortable.

She appreciates the supremely disciplined touch with which Lillian applies the healing cream and is cognizant of how very much more this procedure hurts when undertaken by one less attentive.

Over the past weeks she has grown accustomed to Lillian’s presence in her life. It seems the woman has fairly adopted her and gives to her a generous amount of attention that is both helpful and a source of curiosity. But overall she is grateful for the company. Though she has spent most of her life in various forms of isolation the time spent with Jennifer has made her less willing to revert so promptly back to total solitude. Indeed a small part of her has even started to look forward to seeing the good doctor.

She opens her eyes to gaze upon the bowed, raven head of the other woman and for a fraction of a second she experiences the urge to reach out to touch her…then finds herself appalled by the thought, the sense of disloyalty and shame nearly choking her.

‘Where did that come from?’ she wonders and finds her eyes drifting back in the direction of the silent television screen.

Jennifer’s image is no longer present but the memory lingers. A part of her reasoning instinctively knows the impulse that just seized is born less from Lillian than from Jennifer, from catching the unexpected glimpse of the young blonde and the chaotic effect having done so is having on her emotions.

With an all-consuming desperation she misses the girl and hungers to experience that awesome connection once again, that bond to another human being that Jennifer Logan has roused within her. She feels vulnerable, supremely vulnerable…and wanting.

Lillian stands and smiles down at Resa. "It’ll only take a minute to dry," she says and Resa nods once in acknowledgment.

Lillian studies her for a few moments then reaches out to touch the ends of Resa’s newly shoulder-length hair. "How are you getting used to it?" she asks.

Resa shrugs. "Didn’t have much of a choice." Which is true. One of the many outcomes of her baptismal plunge was the searing of her once long and glorious mane of hair. She does not care much for the new look, having worn her hair quite long for nearly all of her life but what can she do? Lillian had been the one to perform the actual cutting and truly the look itself is not bad. It just is not…Resa.

"I’m going to grow it out," she adds, a trace of defiance that merely makes the other woman smile.

"Whatever makes you happy."

The laugh that escapes her lips is short and dry. "If only that were true," she mumbles under her breath.


Well-sculpted eyebrows pull into a frown. "Why isn’t it?" Lillian asks, her voice gently probing.

Resa shrugs once. "Being happy is never easy. Not for me."

Lillian remains quiet as she mulls over Resa’s words, then, "My father once told me that our lives are what we choose to make of them. He said we can choose to view the circumstances we encounter from either a positive or negative perspective and that the theme of who we are is expressly derived from this approach." She reaches out to take hold of both of Resa’s hands in her own. "To look upon your wounds one could choose to say that it is a pity such beauty is tarnished and then allow the anger and frustration and sense of injustice to take over. Or," She meets Resa’s gaze directly. "One could choose to view these injuries as symbols of the horrific ordeal you were forced to endure…yet miraculously and gloriously survived. Testaments, in a way, to your will to live."

Resa shakes her head. "I’m alive because you got me to the hospital."

"It has nothing to do with me. There is something within you that chooses life, Resa. A fire. A need. Otherwise you would not be here, no matter how much outside help you may have received."

Resa watches her and sees both the sincerity and wisdom that dwells deep within her brown eyes but will only concede, "Maybe."

"Definitely." She holds Resa’s hands a moment longer then releases them and takes a step back. "I’ve brought a surprise."

"Oh, really?"

Lillian Chen nods as she crosses over to the cloth tote bag she has brought with her, out of which she draws a compact, leather cased box. Noting Resa’s puzzled expression she flips open the duel latches to reveal,

"Chess." The doctor grins. "I have been most interested in playing opposite you since we met, seeing if you’re as good as I think you are."

Resa gives her an arched look, then slowly returns the grin. "Okay. But I’m black."

Another smile. "Of course you are."

 

"I was in the hospital for about a month and a half," Resa continued but Jennifer barely heard her. Instead she was caught up in the dizzying web of jealousy that wrapped itself tighter and tighter around her heart the more she struggled to wrest herself free.

Without preamble Jennifer rose from the chair and walked to the edge of the balcony railing, acutely aware of the abrupt pause in what had been a steady flow of candid narration.

Perhaps too candid. Jennifer had heard the unconscious tenderness in Resa’s tone when she spoke of this woman, this Lillian Chen, and felt a hot wave of blind hostility spread up from the pit of her stomach until it stretched over the whole of her body. Never before had she considered herself to be a particularly jealous person. Indeed it used to be difficult for her to hear stories from her friends about their sense of resentment over certain friend-girls in their boyfriends’ lives, or the frustration brought about by the possessive behavior of one’s other half. She would find herself entirely unable to relate and would often have to beg off giving advice for the simple fact she had no experience on which to draw. To her way of thinking such behavior was pointless and spoke to a greater underlying problem in the relationship, a fundamental insecurity and lack of trust and what said person really needed to do was talk with his or her better half to clarify their standing.

But that was before she fell in love. Now such pretentious thoughts struck her as pathetically superior and woefully insincere. Oh, sure, her suppositions were probably still quite right but that didn’t help matters.

She leaned into the wind, her arm crossed over her chest and though it was only a little past noon and the temperature was stretching close to the eighties, she shivered nonetheless.

"Jennifer," Resa said in a low voice.

She turned to face the dark-haired woman who had not changed her position but who was watching her intently.

"You were in the hospital for a month and a half," Jennifer said before Resa could get in another word. "With dedicated Dr. Chen by your side. Playing chess. Or whatever other game she could think up. And then what? Where did you go? I mean, obviously you didn’t return to your old way of life, didn’t go back to your old apartment or get in contact with Father Hector, unless he’s been lying to me and that I highly doubt."

Resa shook her head. "No. I haven’t been in contact with anyone from my old way of life since the day I left you in the hospital, and that included the Padre."

Jennifer nodded, her hands wrapped around the wrought iron railing of the balcony in a fierce grip. "So where did you go after you were discharged from the hospital? You were, after all, homeless and without a job so it couldn’t have been easy for you to just pick up and make a new life." A thought occurred to her and her smile grew thin. "Don’t tell me, let me guess. Dr. Chen offered the use of her place."

Dark brows knit together in a frown. "She needed help with the shelter."

"Of course she did." That came out with all the causticity she was experiencing. "Lucky for her you were around. With nothing to do even. Just out of curiosity, how long were you there? One month? Two?"

The interim in which Resa just stared at her was painfully prolonged before she at last answered, "Six."

Jennifer felt as if she had been kicked in the gut and she momentarily averted her face, her jaw clenched tightly against the rush of envy that she could not hold at bay.

"Six months," she repeated in a dull voice. "My, that’s…an awfully long time."

And then, not bothering to wait for Resa’s response, she strode forward, picked up both their dirty plates and walked back into the house.

 

 

to be continued…

 

 


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