XXXXX

Carol had spent another tedious two days at the station filing more reports and aggravating her dust allergies in the precinct basement. Today had been especially long due to harassment by her fellow officers and chiding remarks about her floating through the halls and to her ears. To make matters worse, she'd worried about Erin's predicament since the blonde had left. The young woman was certainly shaken about the news she had received. Given the beatnik's reluctance to questions regarding her family, Carol knew things in Erin's world weren't so rosy either.

They had shared coffee at the bus station in relative silence that night, Carol reaching out constantly to stroke the other woman's arm in quiet support. Though she had never been a woman to show physical affection, her need to touch and reassure Erin was palpable and Carol found herself responding to that need without questioning how it would appear in public. She hadn't cared. Erin's slight shoulders had been hunched in agony and though the tears had stopped flowing, her green eyes had remained haunted. They'd hugged as Erin climbed on the bus, Carol murmuring gentle endearments that were returned in kind. Then the tall officer had stood silently aside and watched the bus pull out into the dark night, making a right turn and disappearing in its journey towards the highway.

That haunted look had stayed with Carol constantly during her menial tasks and she hoped her young friend was coping with whatever horrors being home had brought.

As the officer changed out of her uniform she heard a knock at the door, glancing at the clock, she realized it was just past six and she hadn't been expecting anyone. In her oversized shirt she went into the hallway and looked out the peephole. She was more than a little surprised to see her petite flower child standing outside.

"Erin?" she asked as she opened the door. The shock was evident in her voice.

"Is this a bad time?" the hippie asked softly. "I can come-"

"No! No!" Carol said gently pulling her inside. "I wasn't expecting to see you so soon. I've been so worried. Come on in, sweetheart."

Erin was edgy, fidgety. But she soon sported a devilish grin when she saw Carol's state of half-dress.

"Didn't mean to catch you with your pants down," she teased.

Carol quickly realized just what Erin was referring to and promptly blushed. "Yeah well, maybe I was in the middle of something when you knocked," she teased with a suggestive tone, heading back to the bedroom again.

"Fantasy is healthy," Erin retorted, following behind the officer. "At least that's what a beautiful woman told me once."

Carol turned to see Erin beaming at her - full and bright. But even though she carried a smile Carol could tell the young woman carried something greater underneath it. Perhaps not sorrow so much as ... frustration? Carol's curiosity got the better of her and she had to ask.

"So what brings you home so soon?" Carol tried to pose it conversationally, as she pulled on a pair of bell-bottomed jeans and snapped the waist. Erin shrugged at first and took a seat on the bed. Carol removed her uniform shirt next revealing the T-shirt underneath. Erin still hadn't spoken and Carol proceeded to her closet to find something more comfortable to wear.

"You have a wonderful back," Erin replied. "Great definition in your shoulders - very firm, very strong."

"Very evasive," Carol teased gently, smiling softly to take away any sting the words may have carried.

Erin knew she'd been busted and had to grin in response. "Okay, I'll give you a point for that one ... I am being evasive."

Carol wasn't sure how to approach her growing sense of despair. She decided honesty was best.

"It worries me that you won't tell me," Carol confessed.

"Why?" Erin asked, leaning forward a bit, giving Carol a little more attention.

Carol quickly took off the T-shirt, replacing it with a fresh one. She took a seat on the bed.

"I'm not sure," she answered. "It just feels like you don't trust me. Like you can't open up to me. I wish you could see that there isn't anything you can't tell me or do that would make me love you any less. It just feels like ... you won't let me in sometimes."

Erin considered the comment. It was the last thing in the world she wanted. She valued Carol's trust in her and she thought she had been doing well to convey her feelings in return. But apparently not, and the longer she considered it the more misty eyed she got. Carol noticed Erin's discomfort.

"Hey!" Carol exclaimed tenderly. "Please don't cry. I didn't mean to hurt you."

Carol's concern was Erin's undoing and the tears began to flow freely. Carol gathered the young woman in her arms, pulling her tight against her, beginning to rock her gently.

"Shhh, it's okay," Carol reassured. "I'm not putting any pressure on you here, Erin. I just want you to know you have a place to go. Somewhere safe, that's all ... You're safe with me."

Erin knew Carol was right. She had finally found a home. A real home. Someplace where she could just be herself. Something she was never permitted to do before - not even in Minos's house - because even there she had a role she was expected to play.

Erin took a few gulps of air and wiped her eyes. "I'm sorry," she said, managing a grin. "I need to stop crying on you. Looks like I got your new shirt all wet," she added pointing to the tear spots by Carol's breast.

"Yeah, but it will all come out in the wash," the officer teased back, trying to relieve the young woman's tension a bit. "So how 'bout it? Think you can tell me?"

Erin smiled but soon felt her lip quivering. She loved Carol so much. And Carol obviously loved her too. It was a unique situation - one that brought a caldron of emotions forth. Emotions Erin didn't even know she had. But instead of giving in to the tears again, she took a deep breath.

If Carol wanted to know all, she would tell all.

"My ... stepfather is in the hospital," Erin began. "We never got along. He liked to drink. I liked to wear flower child clothes. We clashed, quite a bit. He knocked me around sometimes, was very physical. But the worst of it was how often he told me I was nothing. That if I were worth something, they would love me. He said my drawing was wasteful scribbles ..." she trailed off, looking up to meet gentle blue eyes. "I believed him, ya know? I was young and stupid and I thought that I was a bad person and that I deserved his words and his abuse. It went on for years, I was young when my father died and my mother remarried shortly after. I started hanging out with a kinda rough crowd at school, came home less and less. Maybe did some things I shouldn't have done, which made me believe that he was right all along: I was worthless."

Carol didn't dare fill the silence but instead waited for Erin to continue. She could sense the sadness in the other woman and imagined the horror of her upbringing. Carol's father had been warm and supportive, always encouraging her and loving her despite mistakes. It was obvious Erin had never had that. Not only had the man abused her physically, but he'd belittled the girl, crushed her spirit. Minos must have done a lot to bring back the vibrancy that Carol witnessed now day-to-day. Only occasionally did the cop get any insight into the insecure girl hiding behind the brash woman. Despite her obvious differences with Minos, Carol was grateful to the other woman for what she had done for Erin.

Finally, after some calming breaths, Erin bared her arm to Carol. "I got this from a broken beer bottle - Miller by the way, in case you're curious," she added, trying as always to keep things light. "I got in late one night, senior year in high school, and he started in with his patented tramp speech. I was slutting around with the boys, so on and so forth," she waved a hand as if the whole thing were negligible. "Truth be known I was with Minos helping her move out of her house so she could come here to where we're at now. He hit me some, yelled at me a lot," she realized she was downplaying it. She remembered vividly cowering on the front porch of her childhood home, tucked into the corner. She'd covered herself with her arms, feeling the toe of his boot connecting with her ribs. She'd wondered vaguely why she'd even come home. "He broke the bottle over the porch railing and tried to slice off part of my anatomy," Erin chuckled nervously, no humor in the rasping sound.

Carol didn't buy into it; she just listened intently and sorrowfully to Erin's tale.

That had been the final straw. In all of his abuse, he'd never done anything so violent and the reality of the sharp glass glistening in the moonlight had been too much for her. She'd leapt to her feet, shoving at him but not completely escaping his attack. "Well, I moved and he got my arm instead. I ran into the house. Packed a quick bag. Got my schoolbooks and left. I never went back. I went to Minos and she took me in. I think she'd been waiting for me to make that decision. She knew what he was doing to me but I was so stubborn, even then, that she knew she couldn't tell me to walk away. I had to make that decision myself." She sighed, shrugged her shoulders, bringing the story to the present. "Seems all his drinking has caught up to him. The nurse said he had a heart attack. His liver is shot to hell. I'm not sure why my mom called, really. Maybe she thought he and I could make amends ..."

Carol didn't speak as Erin paused. She felt her anger for a man she never met brewing deep inside her but she didn't dare let it show. She didn't want to frighten Erin back into her reclusion since she had made such a stride in stepping forward and opening herself up. When Erin didn't continue, Carol knew she would have to speak so she tried to pick her words carefully.

"I don't know what to say," the dark woman answered honestly. "I'd say I'm sorry but you're not a woman who takes pity, that much I know. I guess all I can say is that it's in the past. You've moved on and you're a very bright, talented woman who's got a cop who's crazy about you in every way."

Erin began to cry again and Carol immediately apologized, shaking her head at her own apparent insensitivity. Her apologies, however, were soon stifled as Erin put her hands up to stop her.

"I'm not crying now because I'm sad," Erin said swallowing tears. "I'm happy for the first time in my life. I'm happy. I feel like I found what I've been looking for." Carol wasn't sure where Erin was going so she held her tongue. "It's you," Erin chuckled. "All my life," she whispered as she met Carol's eyes. "It's you."

Carol's fingertips found Erin's tear-stained cheek and wiped it dry, the digits cool on the blonde's flushed skin. Erin tilted her head slightly as her lips captured the officer's flesh lightly and lovingly. The kissing of the fingers soon lead to the palm and then the wrist. Carol could feel where Erin was going, the heat was radiating off of her in huge suffocating waves, leaving no doubt as to the young woman's intentions.

"Erin," Carol sighed reluctantly, meeting emerald eyes. "You're very emotional right now and I think-"

"Make love to me, Carol," Erin whispered, cutting the dark woman off. She didn't want excuses or pity or to be protected from her own heart. She wanted to be loved. She needed the physical manifestation of the emotions she felt thick and heavy in the room.

Carol didn't respond for a very long time, torn between listening to the thrumming in her body and the nagging voice in her head. She wanted this, knew Erin did too. They hadn't actually been subtle about where this relationship was going but she'd wanted the first time to be perfect and she wasn't sure this qualified. Erin's gentle features were streaked with drying tears, the dark circles under her eyes told of great tension and little sleep. She looked weary and frazzled, as if she might shatter at any moment. But Carol knew that wasn't true. Erin had more strength than she did, certainly, and had spent years building walls to protect herself. This latest development would not be her undoing.

The passion in the jade eyes was unmistakable, however. The pupils had dilated, leaving the surrounding irises to darken and sport flecks of gold. Carol looked deep into Erin's eyes, realizing what she was being offered, and rationalized with herself that their first time would be perfect regardless of the events leading up to it. With that conviction, she leaned forward and captured coral lips that parted easily for her, inviting her in.

"I love you," Carol whispered sincerely as their lips parted. "But remember, if you want to stop at any point-

Carol never finished her sentence. Erin snared her lips once more with intent, making sure to show Carol that stopping was not an option. The kiss Erin stole made Carol’s heart skip a beat and the result was a great wetness between her legs and an overwhelming need for pressure there. Some kind of pressure. Any kind of pressure.

The urgency of her arousal was intense as Carol, gently yet swiftly, led Erin back to the bed. She settled herself softly on top of the smaller woman so their legs intertwined. When Erin began to ready herself for the next series of kisses her leg shifted accidentally, drawing a deep moan from the woman above her.

‘She likes that,’ Erin considered silently. ‘Let’s see if ...’

Once more she moved her leg, getting a similar response. The look on Carol’s face told Erin she was doing all the right things. And the sounds she was making only fueled Erin’s growing desire even more. With that desire came a movement of her own, reaching and searching for a similar contact from Carol. Carol was more than happy to oblige, forcing her hips downward to meet Erin’s thrusts which were starting to come more and more frequently.

But soon that wasn’t enough. Both women needed more flesh to touch, more skin to kiss. In response to that gnawing need, Carol worked the buttons free on Erin’s dress. She was delighted to see that Erin was naked underneath. The sight of Erin half-dressed and waiting to be taken made Carol’s heart melt and her passion swell. Both had ragged breaths as Carol’s eyes examined and admired Erin’s body.

Carol’s hand tentatively reached out to stroke the blonde’s breasts. She’d touched Erin before but it was never this intense, never a skin upon skin contact. She was unsure of many things: would Erin allow such a pleasure and would she be able to give the young hippie pleasure properly?

Erin sensed Carol’s sudden uneasiness but instead of talking or giving instructions, she took hold of Carol’s wrists gently, giving permission to explore, showing her how to touch and what she liked. The gesture and the tutelage of tender fingers and burning friction put Carol at ease once more, allowing her arousal to be the leader in her movements again.

Seeing and feeling Carol’s confidence gave Erin the power to seize a little bit of control. She pulled Carol close and rolled the larger woman over as their lips locked together for the hundredth time that evening. Carol whimpered a protest when Erin rose but soon smiled as she watched Erin working the buttons on her fly. Moments later Carol’s jeans lay in a heap on the floor at the foot of the bed. Erin took the opportunity to rise to her full height and pull her dress from her shoulders, watching it puddle next to Carol’s bellbottoms.

"God, you’re so beautiful."

Carol wasn’t sure if she’d spoken the words aloud or if they were just screaming in her head. Erin’s sudden sly grin gave her the answer. Hypnotically, she watched the hippie straddle her lap and pull her into a sitting position by the hands. Once upright, Carol felt Erin’s hands travel over her breasts and down her stomach, stopping at the edge of her t-shirt. After a quick tug, the shirt joined the other articles on the floor. Without delay, Erin went to work on the satin white bra.

However, Erin found that kissing Carol while trying to achieve this task just wasn’t working. She couldn’t help it and started to laugh, not wanting to break the mood but unable to refrain from chuckling at her own ineptness.

"Having trouble?" Carol teased, relieved at the release of tension. "Here," she said, reaching behind her to unclasp the offending article and finally sending it clear across the room.

"Thank you," Erin chuckled.

"Anytime," Carol answered in a smoky voice. The seductive tone was all Erin needed to get things back on track, rebuilding the passion that had taken a short intermission to the comical side of the situation of first time blunders.

Erin gently pushed Carol back to the bed with her body as they kissed, her long hair tickling and exciting Carol all at once. After a few quick kisses, the blonde pulled back, placing her fallen hair behind her ear. She looked deeply into Carol’s eyes.

"Do you trust me?" she asked sincerely, needing an answer before proceeding.

"Absolutely," Carol answered without hesitation, nodding for emphasis.

That was all Erin needed. She could see the sincerity in the depths of the taller woman’s eyes. The sparkling sapphire was diluted by passion and trust.

The young hippie worked her way down Carol’s body with tender kisses, growing more and more firm as she went. Her hands stroked delicately across her lover’s skin in the process, building the want between them. And, oh, how she wanted Carol. She could feel the azure-eyed beauty study her movements, soaking up everything around them. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the tastes – all of them were more than either woman had expected or experienced in their young lives. This was heaven, Erin decided as she started to suckle Carol’s breasts for the first time. This was what living was all about – not the physical sensations (although that was a wonderful factor), but the need to belong to someone, to give yourself to someone, to love and need someone as much as you were loved and needed.

Carol’s hand immediately shot up to cradle Erin’s head. The officer’s back arched off the bed the instant Erin’s lips made contact with her nipple. Carol didn’t think she’d ever want the sensation to end but soon she found she had needs lower, pulsing in time to the blonde’s gentle lips and tongue. Her hips began to buck and Erin read her easily, giving up the prize she’d discovered minutes before, moving farther south on the raven-haired beauty.

In one swift pull, Carol’s panties met the same fate as her other clothes revealing to Erin the glistening skin between the other woman’s legs. She couldn’t contain her moan at the sight and as a result Carol couldn’t contain her chuckle.

She wasn’t quite sure why she laughed. Perhaps it was just her fear of the unknown. She had a pretty good idea of where Erin was heading and what her intentions might be. Soon she realized that Erin had either ignored the giggle or had missed it entirely – too focused on the body before her.

Carol felt a flush wash over her body as Erin settled herself between long legs. And when Erin’s hair and lips brushed her inner thighs, her need for nervous laughter passed, being replaced by the wanting ache for attention at her center. Carol closed her eyes and simply enjoyed Erin’s teasing touches. They didn’t stay closed long, however, as she felt the tip of Erin’s warm, moist tongue stroking her intimately.

"Oh, God!" Carol exclaimed, her legs opening reflexively.

"That’s it," Erin answered, stroking her lover’s inner thighs with her fingertips, moving to her center to gently part her lips. "Open up, Carol. Give yourself to me."

With that, Erin’s tongue began alternating between long and quick strokes across Carol’s sex. The tall woman had never had a lover before, but she wasn’t exactly an angel, either. She’d spent time pleasing herself though none of those times compared to this moment. Nothing she’d ever experienced had felt this way as her body begged for release.

Erin was wonderfully surprised as she felt Carol grow wetter under her tongue. She had tasted her own juices over the years of her sexual experience, but it didn’t hold a candle to how Carol delighted her palate.

A few more moments were all it took. Carol’s orgasm ripped through her body at lightening speed, coming around and around again as her body convulsed in pleasure. When Erin heard her name on Carol’s lips, a mangled sound of pain and pleasure it seemed, Erin knew she’d finally found her destiny. Her home.

Carol didn’t rest. She had to give this gift to Erin. She had to make the petite woman feel the same thing. She was determined. Erin was once more surprised as she felt herself being lifted to Carol’s side, her back quickly coming to rest on the bed.

Carol straddled Erin’s leg, her arousal from before still evident between her thighs. The officer’s time for issuing affectionate kisses had passed. She wanted this woman before her. She wanted her now.

Carol’s hand shot down to Erin’s center as her lips claimed her nipples; tugging and pulling them into even more erect points. Erin loved the contact; needed it. Her body strained and bucked and thrust against her lover. Carol took her hand away to start her decent just as Erin had done moments before. But Erin stopped her.

"Please," the young woman begged. "Don’t take your hand away. Keep stroking me, Carol. Please, just keep stroking me."

Carol would do anything for Erin and if stroking was what she needed now, that’s just what she would do. When she returned her hand, Erin gave a grateful moan and resumed her movements. Carol pushed herself to one elbow so she could watch her young lover. The erotic movements Erin was making fueled her desire all over again, once more bringing a new wetness to her center. Erin arched and groaned what seemed like seconds later. Her body vibrated the bed and Carol felt suddenly consumed with the need to wrap herself around the quivering young woman.

Maybe it was the newness of it or their shared arousal, but it was over all too quickly. They lay afterwards, naked and sweating, each trembling, clutching tightly to the other, almost as if a promise to never let go of each other.

Erin leaned back to see her lover's cheeks were wet with silent tears. "What is it?" she murmured, concern beginning to rise. "I don’t want you to think I didn’t want you to taste me. I just needed release quickly, Carol. I didn’t-"

"No," Carol interrupted, pressing her lips to the blonde's sweaty forehead. "It’s not that," she assured. "I’m very satisfied," the dark woman grinned rakishly. "It’s just ... like you said before ... I'm happy," she said, using the blonde's earlier explanation of her tears. "It was perfect. I feel part of you."

"Perfect?" Erin chuckled. "Hell, I couldn't get your bra off for at least five minutes."

Carol laughed, too. "Maybe that's because you're out of practice ... you burned yours years ago," the cop teased. That remark earned her a chuck to the ribcage courtesy of Erin's elbow. The officer replied with mock-pain. "And yes, despite the fact that we had ... undergarment problems," she paused with a huge grin, "it was perfect. Not the dime store novel kind of love scene, mind you. But perfect just the same."

Carol couldn't help but grin as she thought back to the moments before, wrought with hesitant exploration and adjusting strength with tenderness that was firm enough to provide reaction. Love had guided them, however, to understanding and soon the movements had become more practiced and confident, more about pleasuring and less about doing things right.

Already, Carol found her fingers trailing across moist skin to dance along the blonde's spine to the small of her back. Erin lurched her hips in response, aroused again, her heartbeat quickening.

"Well you know what they say? Practice makes perfect," Carol murmured, nipping a pale earlobe and then sucking it in to lave with her tongue.

"Ugh," Erin moaned. "They teach you that at the firing range?"

Carol chuckled. "They most certainly did not teach me this at the firing range. This is more of a 'hands-on' learning experience. Situational training they call it. Placing you in a scenario and seeing how you react. So far I think we've both passed with flying colors."

Later that evening, they left the bed only to find some sustenance in the old white Frigidaire. Even then they couldn't keep their hands off of each other, sharing morsels of food and kisses with equal abandon.

"Have you been to Minos's yet?" Carol murmured, kissing Erin deeply before popping the last tidbit of food into the smaller woman's mouth.

"No. Came straight here."

"Does she know you're back?" Another kiss.

"No."

"Should you tell her?"

Erin grinned devilishly. "She can wait. Touch me again."

It was all the invitation Carol had needed. Tossing her dishes into the sink, she swept a giddy Erin off her feet and carried her back to the dark, musty bedroom.

 

Chapter 15

The week had been stressful for Erin. Not only did the visit with her mother leave her feeling drained; her last week of school with finals wasn't much better. She imagined she had done well but it had been hard for her to focus. Of course, not all of her thoughts were jaded reminders of recent events. She had some very pleasant erotic thoughts of the past week, which also provided a delightful distraction from her studies. She'd spent most evenings at Carol's house trying to study but usually ending up entwined in the taller woman's long arms and legs with books tossed aside.

Now as she skipped down the stairs of Minos' house she felt a bit of relief and relaxation settle over her spirit: aside from waiting for grades and graduation, school was done, she'd confronted her mother, and things were going well with Carol. As she rounded the corner into the kitchen, she saw the house engaged in the usual Friday night toke-fest, which actually started more Friday afternoon than Friday night. She caught only half the argument between Stan and Bill as she watched Minos' lighting up.

"I can't believe Joy was dry," Bill argued.

"I told you not to worry. Joy assured me this weed was just as good as hers," Stan countered. "So just relax and light up would ya?"

"Well, I've got that rally meeting tonight and shit ..." he said looking at his watch, "I'm already gonna be late."

"Come on," Stan insisted. "Just mellow out and hang with us awhile."

Erin offered little to the conversation. She just strolled over to Minos who offered the petite blonde a hit off the doobie. Erin inhaled deeply, pausing to let the drugs work into her lungs, soothing her mind. Two joints later she found it harder to stay upright, her eyes glossing over at a startling rate. She reached for her bottle of Pepsi and watched it literally melt before her eyes. Something was wrong. Very wrong. She couldn't remember how long she had sat there. She tried her damnedest to focus on the things around her but it was of no use - everything was melting.

A sudden thud and the resulting laughter around her made her turn to her right. Minos had passed out on the table and the room, filled with roommates and their lovers of the night, chuckled at the sight.

Erin looked over and watched Bill start to make his way out the door. She must have called his name because he walked back to the table, apparently frustrated that he couldn't leave yet.

"What is it, Skylon?" he asked impatiently.

The words were quick and to the point but he sounded like a stretched 8-track tape - the tones long and deep. Erin couldn't reply. She felt herself begin to twitch and jerk. Bill's impatience began to slip from his face and concern took over.

Erin could hear the gagging noise but she didn't know it was coming from her. Bill managed to catch her as she began to tumble out of the chair. He felt Erin lightly grab his shirt and stutter something.

"What?" He asked in panic. "What did you say, sweetheart?"

Erin struggled with the two syllables but finally she spit them out. "Ca - rol."

"Carol?" Bill asked and watched the slightest nod. "You want me to get Carol?" Again another slight nod.

"Woooo! What happened to her?" Stan asked in laughter as he saw Erin on the floor. He looked over and watched as Bill searched frantically through sheets and scraps of paper by the phone. Finally he found the name and two numbers.

"What are you doing, man?" Stan asked as he watched Bill.

Bill simply ignored him and dialed the first number on the slip of paper. Unable to wait, he let it ring three times before hanging up and trying the second number. This time it rang only once before a gruff voice answered, "Police Station." Quickly Bill hung up and looked to Stan with bewilderment written across his thin features.

"You got Carol's number?" Bill asked quickly, thinking the second number might have been written incorrectly.

"Yeah, it's in your hand, man," the drugged-out roomie answered, shaking his head, not sure he understood the worry in his friend's features.

"No," Bill retorted hotly. "This number is to the goddamn police station." He was exasperated, eyes glancing quickly to the writhing blonde on the floor and Minos passed out at the table.

"Yeah," Stan answered without concern. "She's a cop."

Bill ran his fingers through his long hair. "She's what?!" he yelled loud enough to get the room's attention. "Carol's a fuckin' cop?! Just great!" And Skylon had asked for her. Bringing a cop here would be like walking right into the sheriff's office and turning himself in.

"What's the problem?" Stan asked again, still completely confused, not sensing the urgency of the situation.

"Jesus Christ! Look at her! She's trippin' bad, man!" the first man responded, pointing to Erin. "Where the hell did you get that shit?" he accused, indicating the bag of reefers on the table. Bill tore the bag open and ripped the cigarettes apart with trembling fingers. Taking a small weed he sniffed and licked it. "Oh fuck," he nearly cried. "This shit is fuckin' laced, man. Oh shit! We're fucked. We are seriously fucked here, man." He ran his hands through his hair again, tugging it lightly as if willing his brain to kick into motion.

"What are we gonna do?" Stan asked, finally, paranoia beginning to creep inside him as he realized the extent of Bill's words. He looked back to the small blonde on the floor and could nearly feel her agony as she trembled and moaned. "If she dies ..."

"She's not gonna fuckin' die okay?" Bill growled as he returned to her side. "Look, I'm gonna go down to the station house and get Carol. She'll know what to do."

"You can't do that man. She's a fucking cop!" Stan argued. "You can't bring her here ... let her see this."

"I'm not gonna sit here and fight with you! So get your stupid ass over her and help me take her to her bedroom. Skylon needs help and she asked for Carol. Carol will take care of her and figure out how to handle this. She won't want Skylon arrested."

Apparently Bill's words had little impact on Stan who still stood stupidly watching his friend bent over the small woman. With a grunt of dissatisfaction, Bill lifted Erin in his arms and balanced her slight weight before starting towards the steps that would take him to the bedrooms. With his head bent in tender concern, he listened to the young woman beg for Carol. "Just relax," he coaxed as they walked along. "I'll find her, sweetie. I'll bring her to ya," He promised softly. The words seemed to calm her and she appeared less restless when he finally settled her on the mattress in her room. Bill took great care to roll her on her stomach, tilting her head in hopes that she wouldn't choke should she vomit.

Stan had followed them and now stood swaying in the doorway, appearing as if he was going to pass out at any second. Bill turned around and shook his head in disgust, gaining his feet and pushing past his useless friend. "Keep an eye on her," he ordered. "I'll be right back," and with that, he left the house.

XXXXX

"Can I help you, kid?" the desk sergeant asked, barely even looking up from the forms in front of him. He sounded disinterested at best.

"Yeah. Carol please," Bill requested nervously, glancing around him, shifting his weight from foot to foot.

"What do you want with Officer Johnson?" the other man asked, looking up for a moment to scrutinize the lanky kid in front of him. Figures Johnson would keep company like this, he mused.

"There's an emergency. I have to speak to her." Even though he was angered by the other man's obvious disdain, Bill spoke softly and politely. He didn't want to cause any trouble at this point. He had to find his target and get her to the destination as fast as possible.

Luckily, just then Carol walked up the steps from the filing room and she spotted the young man at the counter. Though he looked familiar, she couldn't remember his name, so she slowly walked over and cocked her head at him, wondering why he was at the station. He wasn't cuffed so he obviously came in of his own accord, which seemed slightly unusual. Suddenly, inexplicable concern took hold of Carol and she picked up her pace toward the young man.

Bill was getting frustrated with the desk sergeant's lack of motivation to find Carol when he spotted her out of the corner of his eye. Quickly he raced over, taking her by the elbow to a semi-secluded area.

"What's wrong?" Carol asked. She could see the worry lines deep in his young forehead and she tried to stay calm even as her body hummed with the need for action.

"It's Skylon - Erin," he corrected himself quickly. "She's ... in trouble."

"She hurt?" Carol asked, cold with fear.

"She's really sick. We were ... smoking ... and she got sick. She's calling for you," Bill explained meekly. He knew that he was doing a poor job of delivering the story, he just hoped it was enough to get the dark woman to come with him. "Please come back to the house. I'm not sure what else to do." Begging might help, too, he reasoned with himself.

Without a word, Carol nodded and followed Bill toward the door, lightly shoving him in front of her to hurry him along. As she was leaving, she shouted to the desk sergeant she was done for the day.

"Oh no you're not," he replied, finally showing some action and coming around the desk to confront her. "You've got reports to finish. If you want time off, ya gotta request it from the boss just like the rest of us."

"The reports can wait," Carol replied angrily as her body shook. "I have a personal emergency to tend to," she added, turning to face him and hoping to resolve this reasonably. She was already in enough trouble here, but there was no way in hell she wouldn't go to Erin's aid.

"You're on the clock till five, Johnson. It's only 3 right now. If you wanna keep serving and protecting, I suggest you get your ass back in that cellar," the beefy man said smugly, enjoying this power game. They had done everything they could to make Carol's life miserable. He was secretly pleased to have yet another opportunity to jerk her around.

It only took a moment to make the decision of a lifetime. Some choices were hard to make and were debated privately and publicly, the pros and cons weighed meticulously before an answer was reached. This was one of those choices that was made instantly and on instinct. " Well, I suggest you take this badge," the dark woman responded, ripping the silver emblem from her uniform and tossing it at him. It clanked on the linoleum before sliding to a stop at his well-polished toe. "And shove it up your ass."

Without a backward glance, Carol grabbed Bill's elbow and propelled him out the door. The young man had to drag his chin off the floor and start jogging to keep up with the dark woman's pace.

"Oh God, please be okay, Erin," Carol murmured under her breath as they hit the sidewalk in the mid-afternoon sun.

 

Chapter 16

Carol took the porch steps two at a time, not even bothering to knock and kicking the door open instead. She walked into the house, which was eerily quiet except for the sound of Jefferson Airplane in the background. There were scattering of people in different levels of drug-induced highs spread throughout the lower level of the rambling home and though they appeared relaxed, it was obvious the house was wrought with anxiety. Some of them spotted Carol's uniform and tensed immediately. Without giving the others a second thought, the tall woman looked frantically around for Erin and instead spotted Minos lying face down on the table.

Bill charged inside, having taken a few extra moments to park the car, and watched as Carol pulled Minos from her chair and laid the woman on her back on the kitchen floor, beginning to check for a pulse. He realized that she hadn't found one when Carol began CPR. Stan looked on behind her in shock.

"Call a goddamn ambulance!" Carol barked to him. He paused a moment, more in surprise than defiance before rushing to the phone. Carol looked up and saw Bill watching her. "Come here!" she ordered. "Watch me."

Carol went through the steps just once. "Think you can handle that?" she asked, looking into his eyes, determining if he was sober enough to be of any help. He seemed to be keeping a level head throughout and had watched her movements intently.

"Yeah," he replied, coming to his knees next to Carol to take over, gently nudging the taller woman out of the way.

"Where's Erin?" Carol demanded.

"Upstairs. Her room," he answered quickly.

"Keep that up until she's breathing and have someone down here open a damn window," she ordered over her shoulder as she once more took the stairs two at a time, making her way through the smoke filled room.

Carol slid to a halt upon seeing Erin through the open doorway. She was a shaking mess, lying on the mattress in a fetal position. The dark woman shoved aside her initial reaction and raced to the edge of the bed, falling to her knees. "Erin honey?" she whispered, hesitantly touching the girl's face. Her skin was flushed and warm, eyes dancing beneath the thin closed lids. Carol brushed aside damp bangs with trembling fingers.

Suddenly, the dark woman could feel a presence behind her and looked back to see Stan standing in the doorway.

"Yes?" Carol asked sharply, furious at the ineptness of the man.

"Uh ... ambulance is coming."

Carol didn't have a chance to reply because just then Erin heaved sharply, not giving Carol enough notice to move. Vomit covered nearly everything: Erin, the bed, Carol's uniform. Quickly the officer rolled Erin forward to ensure that her young lover wouldn't choke to death. She used deft fingers to clear Erin's mouth since the girl had little control over her own muscles at this point.

"What was she doing today?" Carol asked Stan.

"What do you mean?" he mumbled, not sure how a recital of the blonde's day could help the situation.

"Drugs," the tall woman growled. "What did she take? We have to tell the doctors what they're dealing with," she lashed out, angrily, her voice dripping with dark sarcasm. Her patience was wearing well beyond thin with this man.

"I thought it was pot but maybe it had something extra. I had a few hits but Minos and Skylon had the most. I feel pretty groovy so I'm not sure why they're trippin'."

Carol didn't give a damn about how Stan was feeling and was about to say just that when Erin groaned and began to cry.

"Shhhh," Carol coaxed, her manner suddenly becoming tender as she wiped the young woman's forehead. She turned her attention to Stan briefly, not wanting to take her eyes from the blonde. "Get me some towels. A cold damp hand towel and some dry ones."

Without question Stan did as asked, seemingly relieved to be away from the woman's wrath if even for a few moments. He stumbled down the hallway towards the community bathroom at the end.

Meanwhile, Carol stripped out of her soaked clothing, leaving only her T-shirt and underwear. As Stan returned with the items, Carol cleaned up the young hippie as best she could with the large cotton bath towels and tossed them aside. She also stripped the bed and tugged off the blonde's gingham dress. Then she placed the cool rag on Erin's forehead.

"Get these out of here and get me some clean ones," she demanded, pointing to the stack of soiled towels. "A larger one; damp like this one. I've got to cool her body down."

Once he left to get more, Carol climbed behind Erin into the now sheetless bed. She lifted the young woman up and placed her head in her lap. Erin flailed for a moment at the change of position. She was obviously disoriented but Carol's soothing reassurances seemed to calm her a bit.

Stan returned once more with the requested cloth and Carol used it to rub down Erin's feverish body. "What happened?" he asked.

Carol could feel her anger burning deep within her. At whom, or what, she wasn't sure. Perhaps it was just the uncontrolled situation. Carol liked having a say in her destiny and as she sat there rocking a mostly nude Erin gently in her arms she realized Erin's fate, as well as her own, was now in God's hands. She very well could lose the young hippie and that hadn't been something she'd planned for.

She wondered just where the hell that ambulance was and why it was taking so damned long. Carol had never been on the other side of an emergency situation. She was always called into the scene as a professional - never had she been part of a tragedy. Never had her heart ached as it did now. Suddenly, she understood the hysteria of victims and family members. For the first time, she also understood the public's frustration with emergency personnel reaction time. No matter how fast she responded to a call she'd never get there quick enough to stop this kind of pain and uncertainty. She realized in the same instant that she'd never have that problem again since she'd walked away from serving and protecting in order to be here now with the woman she loved. The woman she was going to grow old with. The woman who could die at any moment.

"No," Carol whispered aloud to herself and Erin, her husky voice reduced to a strangled plea. "You fight. Don't you give up on me."

Stan realized the dark woman had either not heard his question or had chosen to ignore it but he sure wasn't going to ask again. Instead he decided to wait downstairs for the paramedics. Moments later, Bill appeared in the doorway.

"They're here," he sighed, pushing his fingers through his long hair. He was frazzled and sweaty, the slump of his shoulders concrete evidence of his strained emotions.

Carol simply nodded. "Did she respond?" The man knew what she was asking and he looked at his feet, quietly shuffling without saying a word. "You've done the best you could. Remember that," Carol said honestly, hoping to relieve some of his guilt.

She watched Bill move quickly from the doorway, taking a spot farther down the hall as the two paramedics worked their way inside. Reluctantly, Carol backed away to give them control and they placed Erin on a flat back stretcher to carry her downstairs.

"Both women were smoking marijuana," she told them as they tied down her lover. "My guess is it was laced with PCP - judging by the symptoms of both of them." She was trying to remain focused on the job, wanting to tell them whatever might help them save the young blonde's life.

"Such as?" the paramedic said skeptically, barely affording the tall woman in underwear a once-over.

Carol didn't quite understand this bozo's attitude. Then she realized what it was when she recognized the disdainful look in his eyes. Without the uniform, he assumed she was just another member of the house. She was angered for not being taken seriously and the discussions she and Erin had had about the establishment came into real focus for her for the first time, the young woman's lilting voice echoing in her ears.

"I happen to be an officer of the law," Carol informed him, lowering her voice an octave to let him know she was displeased with his attitude. "And this woman is a dear friend of mine so cut the superior bullshit and listen to me if you want to save some lives today."

The man's eyes widened and he quickly apologized but Carol brushed it off impatiently. She didn't need his platitudes; she needed his medical expertise. "She's been convulsing, vomiting, and sweating. And both have been unconscious."

"We'll check it out, ma'am," said the paramedic responded, respect returning to his voice.

"You do that," she warned in a growl.

"Okay," the chagrined man turned to his partner. "On three. One, two ... three." With that they hoisted Erin up and out of the room. Carol followed them down the stairs and watched from the front doorway as the ambulance doors closed. She released a long sigh as it started its way down the street. Before, in the station house when she'd first been told Erin was in trouble, she'd felt the fear of the unknown. Now, watching the red and white vehicle make its way down the street in its own symphony of sirens, her fear was based on reality. She could lose her lover today as they had lost Minos.

"Come on," Bill said, moving forward to rest a hand on Carol's shoulder. The touch startled her and she flinched slightly under his gentle fingers. "Let's get you some clothes and then I'll drive you to the hospital."

XXXXX

Given Carol's height and size, she fit somewhat comfortably in a pair of Bill's jeans and a bright red T-shirt. They'd arrived at the hospital nearly twenty minutes after the speeding ambulance and had spent the better part of an hour pacing the waiting room. Carol was barely able to control her temper, the desire to see the young woman overriding all reason. Bill spoke calmly to nurses and doctors, allowing his dark companion the distance she needed. Finally, they were told that the hippie had been admitted and was in a room on the second floor.

Carol stopped mid-stride, having heard the words even across the room, and spun on her heels to run down the hall and up the stairs at the end.

Erin was lying asleep in the hospital bed as the dark woman took a chair directly across from her. For several long moments, Carol merely sat and watched the small blonde. She still looked dangerously unhealthy: her skin nearly stark white and clammy. But her breathing was even and the machines continued to beep reassuringly around them.

Slowly, Bill walked in with a cup of coffee. "I didn't know how you take it. Is black okay?" he asked, handing the cup over hesitantly, not sure if the woman wanted companionship. He glanced to the prone figure in the bed, his heart lurching at the state of his gentle friend.

Carol gave him a genuine smile. "That's fine. Thank you very much."

A silence passed between them until Bill asked, "Has she woken up yet?"

Carol shook her head and examined Erin a few more moments, sipping her brew. She cringed as the liquid touched her palette. "Is it just me or does this taste like motor oil?" she teased.

"Hospital coffee is just as bad as the food it seems," he countered good-naturedly, relieved to find the woman in good spirits. A lot of the worry and tension had drained from her broad shoulders once she'd found her young lover.

They both grinned at each other and Carol offered her cup over in a toast, which Bill accepted by clinking his Styrofoam container against hers. "I'll drink to that," she replied.

This lighter moment was a much-needed relief from a day filled with so much tension.

"Well despite the taste," Carol said with a grin, "the sentiment is appreciated."

Bill simply returned the smile and Carol watched as it slowly slipped away, his thoughts traveling to the earlier events.

"Thank you," Carol whispered sincerely. She could feel her eyes growing moist.

"For what?" he asked, truly uncertain of Carol's appreciation. "The coffee?"

"For getting me," she replied. "It took a lot of guts for you to walk into that station house. You did your best back at the house by taking care of Minos." Bill was going to pose an argument but Carol silenced him with a finger. "It may not seem like it but you were a real hero today. I hope someday you see it for yourself. I think Erin has a wonderful friend in you, Bill."

He tried not to smile or blush, given the severity of the situations but he couldn't help himself. "Thank you," he replied with heartfelt gratitude. The compliment meant a lot coming from Carol. "I hope someday I can too, but it's hard."

Carol was going to reply but Erin uttered a light groan and slowly opened her eyes.

"Erin?" Carol called softly, returning her attention to the blonde and setting aside her coffee.

Erin recognized the voice and willed her eyes to focus, wanting very much to see the familiar face. Finally, the tall brunette's concerned features became clear. "Carol? Is it really you? Where am I? What happened? Are you real?"

Carol had expected this reaction and wouldn't have been surprised if it had been more dramatic. Time was lost for the young woman and her surroundings would be unfamiliar. All of that would pass, the bigger concern was damage to the small woman's vital organs and nervous system. Hopefully such would be minimal if at all.

"I'm real, sweetheart. I'm real," she whispered taking Erin's hand. "Here. Feel." With that Carol guided Erin's hand over her cheek, letting the young woman feel her skin to see she was in fact the genuine article and not some hallucination in her mind.

For several long minutes, the blonde's cool fingers danced on Carol's skin, reassuring her that the dark woman was real. It also gave her an opportunity to awaken more and run green eyes around the stark white room.

"Where am I?" the young woman asked as she began to attempt to sit up. Carol helped with her assent from the mattress by supporting her slight weight and tucking pillows behind her.

"They brought you and Minos here to the hospital. Seems whatever you were smoking had PCP ... angel dust," Carol said to clarify, watching Erin closely for her reaction.

"Angel dust?" Erin asked, surprised. Slowly her mind went back to the conversation in the kitchen about Joy and how this week's weed was from another seller, not their usual contact. "I feel like I've been hit by a truck," she said groggily as she rubbed her face with a trembling hand. Her whole body ached and her head throbbed as she tried to search her memory for more details. It was then she noticed Carol was wearing Bill's university T-shirt. "Why are you wearing Bill's clothes?"

Carol grinned, trying to keep things as comfortable as possible for Erin. "We kind of had an accident. You lost your lunch all over me," she teased as she used long fingers to smooth back Erin's unruly hair.

Erin winced at the image though she couldn't actually recall the incident. Her mind still felt fuzzy. "I'm so sorry," she apologized.

"Hey, what's a little vomit between friends huh?" Carol brushed off with a wry smirk, capturing Erin's chin between her thumb and her index finger. She traced the smaller woman's jaw gently, focusing on the cloudy emerald eyes.

"How's Minos?" Erin asked next, ducking her head from the intense gaze. Because of her movement, she missed the flash of regret in blue eyes.

Carol knew the question was going to come sooner or later and she tried to figure out how to best relate the bad news. She decided the truth, without unnecessary padding, would be the best. "She's ... she's gone, Erin. She didn't make it."

Erin didn't say anything. No reaction whatsoever. Carol thought for a second that perhaps Erin had blacked out again or maybe hadn't heard what Carol had said. But the hippie's voice soon echoed Carol's statement; "She's gone? What do you mean she's gone?" The young woman's voice strained with the question, quavering slightly.

"She was already gone when I got to the house, Erin," Carol explained gently. She still stroked Erin's chin and cheek, moving upwards to push back long blonde tendrils at the woman's temple. "Bill and I tried CPR but ... the doctor thinks she had a brain hemorrhage. She died almost instantly. I'm so sorry, sweetheart. I know how much she means to you."

"No," Erin thought aloud. She was shaking her head, pushing away Carol's tender touches. It was all too much for her. "That can't be," she replied. "It was only weed. Weed doesn't kill you." Erin's voice had begun to rise with the resistance that was building in her mind.

"It's called 'superweed' or 'killerweed' on the street," Carol told her patiently, dropping her hand to rest on Erin's blanket clad knee. She was glad when the young woman didn't resist that touch as well. "It was a very potent formula, honey."

Erin wanted to say something, but she didn't know where to begin, her mind was spinning with sorrow and grief. She was confused by the severity of the situation, since she'd been smoking weed with Minos for years. She'd heard all the stories, read the establishment's propaganda, but had never believed any of it. The reality of the situation was physically painful where it rested in her heart. Soon she gave up trying to speak, trying to come up with excuses or rationalizations, and she simply started to cry, repeating that it couldn't be possible. She just saw her that day. She couldn't be dead - not Minos. It simply could not be so. But she had learned a long time ago that wishing something to be true, didn't make it true. Her friend was gone and she was lucky to have survived.

Bill watched silently from across the room as the two women clung to each other. He was saddened by their loss, yet saw the peace in them from still having each other to hold. Quietly and without comment he made his way from the room, out into the sickly white hallway and towards the stairway that would eventually lead him to the bright sun beyond. Another day, but so much had changed.

 

Chapter 17

Minos was laid to rest in the morning three days later. Erin didn't shed a tear at the service. She just couldn't cry any more. She spent most of her evenings prior to the funeral, sporadically weeping in Carol's strong arms. Her older lover would reassure her that things were going to be okay, that Minos would want her to move on and let go of her grief. So at the service Erin kept her head high and even smiled from time to time. Many wondered just what had changed in Erin since Minos' death. She looked the same, dressed the same but the way she carried herself, the way she acted, was somehow different. She suddenly seemed ... grown up.

At the funeral, Carol stood silently by her young lover's side, surrounded by an odd mixture of people from scholars to hippies to store owners. Minos had touched countless lives and their gratitude showed in grief-stricken faces. And the young hippie she had in cuffs weeks before, the one in which she sensed an air of leadership and promise, oversaw the ceremony with that very same confidence but on a much grander scale.

Erin was relieved to have Carol near her and she leaned against the dark woman who was clad in a simple sundress. Erin had grinned when she'd first seen Carol this morning, thinking the tall woman in the floral print dress possibly the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. Carol had blushed and brushed off the compliments with a shake of her head and the wave of her hand. She so rarely wore dresses that she'd actually had to go purchase this one the night before.

Erin would have gone shopping with her lover, however she had an appointment with an attorney who stopped by the house. Although Minos was anti-establishment she wasn't stupid. She had made sure that a will was drawn up naming Erin sole heir to her estate - an estate which contained a bank account of roughly $2000 and the house in which everyone lived. When the other housemates learned of Erin's position many questions began. The biggest being, did they have to move?

Erin assured Minos had named her as her beneficiary for a reason - and that reason being Minos knew Erin had the sensibility and responsibility to oversee the house. No one would be moving. No one would be cast to the streets because of a greedy home sale. Erin hadn't quite decided what course her life would take but she did reassure everyone the situation would remain the same for them.

When the service was over, and all had spoken, the group of people moved to the big run down house and had a reception in Minos' honor. There were sandwiches and salads, soda spilling from the cooler, but no drugs or smoking. In fact, it was that night while curled around each other in Carol's bed that Erin swore she would never smoke again.

Carol was mildly surprised but greatly relieved. She stroked the smaller woman's bare back warmly, placed a kiss on her forehead.

"You saved my life," Erin murmured into the darkness.

Carol shook her head. "No. We were both lucky. The doctors saved your life. I'm not sure what I would have done if you'd died in my arms."

"Let's not think about it."

Problem was there was little to think about that was actually good right now. Carol had walked away from her job and was unemployed. She'd gone back yesterday to clean out her locker, her shoulders heavy with the angry glares of people she had once called comrades. No one tried to talk her into reconsidering and she wouldn't have entertained those thoughts anyway. She had made her decision and she'd make it again. She would always put Erin ahead of herself or her career. The certainty of that had shocked her since she'd spent a life without emotional attachment. But through the fašade of bravado and political opinions, Carol had seen the young woman's compassion and soul. She knew she wanted to stay with Erin at all costs and could only hope the hippie felt the same.

For Erin, she celebrated the life of her friend as she mourned her death. She graduated with honors and felt no pride as she walked down the aisle with the diploma clutched in a sweaty white hand. Until she'd glanced up to meet ice blue eyes watching her from the crowd. They'd shone with pride and made Erin grin. The only high point of the last few days was the certainty of her relationship with Carol. The tall ex-cop had sacrificed quite a bit for her and, in fact, had seen the young woman at her worst but didn't turn away. She ran a hand along the dark woman's well-muscled abdomen, nuzzling into her neck.

"I love you."

Carol smiled. "I love you, too."

"What are you gonna do about work?" the blonde ventured softly. It was something they hadn't discussed and it seemed a much safer topic here in the darkness of the middle of the night. The tall body beside her moved slightly.

"Nothing."

"What do you mean nothing? You're the best cop they've ever had," Erin whispered.

The dark woman shrugged. "They don't agree with that. Besides, I don't want to go back. Maybe something else will come up. I have some savings from my Dad, I'm okay for a bit."

Erin nodded solemnly, turning her head to place a kiss on warm skin. Something would come up ... or ... perhaps ...

"Carol?" the petite woman questioned, burrowing deeper into her lover's shoulder. "Would you consider a move downstate ... to New York?"

Carol wasn't sure why but she could feel a certain tension in her young lover's body as she asked the question.

"Why do ask?" Carol pondered.

Erin wasn't quite sure how to express herself and made a humming noise as she considered things. "I was offered a job with a new magazine. Gloria Steinem is the editor. With my communications background they think I might make a good reporter, plus they said if they have space they could feature some of my artwork."

"That's wonderful!" Carol said quickly shifting to a sitting position. "But why didn't you tell me?!"

"Well I wasn't going to take it," Erin said honestly. "It's in the city. I'd have to move ... and I didn't want to let you go."

"Oh, Erin," Carol answered. "Don't give up a promising career over me," she said honestly.

"This from Miss Take Your Badge and Shove It," Erin chuckled.

"That was different and you know it," Carol threatened putting her forehead on Erin's, doing her best to look menacing.

Erin simply grinned. "You're not very intimidating when you're naked," Erin remarked. "Alluring? Yes but not intimidating. And sorry to say, it's no different. My life wouldn't feel complete without you in it."

Carol smiled. She understood just what the blonde meant and settled back down with Erin wrapped in her arms once more. A thought occurred to Carol, "Well, why are you telling me now? Do you want me to move to New York with you?"

The amazement in Carol's voice scared Erin. Perhaps she was asking too much too soon. It was a big step but one she was ready to take. She thought perhaps Carol was ready too but then again ...

"I mean not if you don't want to," Erin quickly replied. "I'm sure I could find something locally. I'm not sure why I even brought up that silly job offer. Just forget it."

"No. No," Carol said, stroking her lover's hair reassuringly. "I kinda like the idea actually. I mean there's nothing here for me now."

"You've got your family's house, Carol."

"Exactly," Carol said, "My family's house, not mine. There's very little in this place that's me, Erin. I could sell this place. That would be enough to get us started."

"I couldn't ask you to do that," Erin said sincerely.

"You're not asking. I'm offering," Carol corrected. "There's nothing here for me now. No real home. No job whatsoever," she chuckled. "The only thing I have, truly have, is you ... and I think we should start our life together."

"Yeah," Erin considered it and then nodded in agreement. "Yeah. I'll go to work and you can use the money from the house sale to go to college. NYU is a pretty good school."

"Hold on a second," Carol said putting her hands in front of her. "We didn't say anything about that. Besides, I have to earn my keep. I won't be leeching off you."

"How about this?" Erin offered. "Classes during the day and a few hours someplace in the evenings. Will that make you feel less like a freeloader?" Erin chuckled.

"Yes, it would," Carol said with a grin. "I'm not gonna be a gold digger."

"There's one job that I could hire you for," Erin said playfully as her fingertips traced Carol's areola.

Carol stole Erin's fingertips from her taunting skin and kissed them lovingly. "You forget. I used to be a cop and there are laws against that."

"I won't tell if you won't tell," Erin said quickly as she straddled Carol's waist.

Carol simply gave a light-hearted chuckle before growing silent. She reached up and began to stroke her lover's cheek with the back of her fingers. Erin closed her eyes in reaction and soaked up the feeling of Carol's delicate touch.

"I love it when you do that," Erin confessed softly.

"I love doing it," Carol admitted freely. "We could do this every night if we lived together y'know."

Erin opened her eyes to gaze down at her lover. "So ... we have a deal then," she grinned.

"Yes. Perhaps going back to school for me isn't such a bad idea. I'm sure I could find something to study where I'd be making a difference - if not police work then some other field," the dark woman's mind wandered in thought. She'd wanted to be a cop to honor her father and to prove herself, surely there were other occupations where she could do the same.

As if reading her lover's mind, Erin smiled warmly and traced one dark eyebrow. "I'm sure you'll still make your father proud." She'd known all along that was the biggest disappointment for Carol in her employment fiasco and departure.

Carol gave Erin a genuine grin. This woman could see into her very soul at times - and although frightening now and then, it was the best feeling in the world. "You know I think you're right," the tall dark woman answered. After a brief silence, she pulled the woman closer, tucking her in once more and asked, "Now tell me all about this magazine of yours."

"Well ..." Erin began taking a deep breath. The young woman explained the format, the audience, the political moments behind it. She talked about how Ms. Steinem had impressed her - very forceful but friendly in nature. She discussed ideas for future issues and her chances of her artwork being seen by possibly millions of people. She felt like a chatterbox by the end but Carol assured her that she was very interested.

"What's it called?" Carol asked.

"Ms," Erin answered. "It's aimed for all women - not married women, not single women. It's an expression used to show that a woman isn't dependent on a man for her identity. It doesn't constitute marital status. For me, personally, since I don't need a man, I find that oh so appealing," Erin laughed.

Carol joined in as they began to tumble and twist on the bed. Tumbling soon turned to caresses, caresses to kisses and so forth. By the end of the evening Erin lay sound asleep, exhausted in Carol's arm. The former officer sighed in contentment. Despite all the recent tragedy, grand and small, they had survived. And they were rebuilding their lives, together, as one.

Epilogue

Carol sat silently on the park bench, overlooking the children laughing and playing in the field beyond. The trees were just beginning to change to fall colors: green interspersed with light yellows and oranges. She took a moment to glance down at the blonde nestled on the bench beside her.

Lost in thought, Erin concentrated on the notebook in front of her. She lay on her side, head on Carol's right thigh, pad of paper tucked by her chest. Occasionally she scribbled on it. Carol ran her fingers through the blonde hair tenderly, smiling when emerald eyes glanced up.

So much had happened in the past year. The move had been simpler than it would have seemed: the house selling easily and much of the furniture selling just before closing. Erin had helped the ex-cop pack up her few remaining belongings, including many mementos of her father, and they'd loaded the Mustang and headed out of town.

Moving in together should have been awkward but was far from. Everything about it had seemed natural and easy, even when classes were hard and Erin was rattled by her work, their apartment had always been filled with laughter and love.

Next week, the blonde would be flying to Detroit to do an interview with Rosa Parks and she prepared for that meeting now, sprawled across the bench and her lover. She'd found her work very rewarding: a way to change the world by telling the stories of great civil rights leaders and educating the public on worthwhile causes. And Carol had pointed out immediately with a rueful grin that Erin also didn't have to worry about being arrested in the process, which had its advantages

For her part, the ex-cop was enjoying her classes at NYU studying something she'd always had ties to: law. Locking up the bad guys was in Carol's past but she knew she had to stay connected to the justice system so becoming an attorney seemed the way to go. There were many innocent people, many causes that needed a legal voice behind them. Carol felt that she could be that voice.

Many days were spent like this, both women silently following their own paths while comfortable in each other's presence. Carol smiled again, glanced back to the open book on her left thigh. Her right hand moved from blonde locks to rest on her lover's shoulder.

Not too long after they'd left, Randell was found not guilty by the police review board in the shooting. It was no big surprise to either woman though both were disappointed. The surprise had come later in the form of a phone call from the ACLU who was working with Jimmy's parents. Their attorney did some research and had tracked Carol down to the women's little apartment in the village. He'd asked if she'd be willing to testify as to what had happened that day. Her eyes lit up at the chance to bring her fallen comrades to justice. Though a criminal conviction would have been preferred, the civil suit would be better than nothing. And any monetary impact on the small station would leave quite an impression with quick-triggered cops in the future. The dark woman had easily jumped at the chance. Though the changes in her life had been more than welcome, the events of her leaving the force did still haunt the ex-cop. The feelings of failure plagued her waking thoughts from time to time, leaving her feeling as if there was something more she should have done. Finally, she'd had her chance.

Just last month, Carol had taken the stand, telling her story, the real story. Randell and the others had glared at her in the courtroom, had gone as far as harassing her outside of the legal proceedings. But she knew what she was doing was right and she let the hatred roll off of her, smiling inwardly at the pride Erin would feel. She'd thought of how they would celebrate when she got home, the blonde's enthusiasm more than contagious. She hadn't been disappointed.

It was weeks later that they'd heard the outcome and had reason to celebrate again. The department, as well as Randell, ended up owing $200,000 in a wrongful death suit. Of course, the money couldn't bring Jimmy back. It would, however, make departments and officers more aware of the consequences. If it didn't hit their conscience, they did have pocketbooks and sometimes hitting there hurt more than anywhere else.

Distracted by these thoughts, the words on the page in front of her a blur, Carol didn't notice when Erin rolled to her back, gazing up into the angular face of her lover.

"Hey," Erin murmured, stretching lazily in the warm morning sun.

"Hmm?" the dark woman's blue eyes focused on the upturned face.

"Have I told you how much I love you?"

"I believe you have," Carol grinned, rubbing the smaller woman's stomach.

"How beautiful you are?"

"It's been mentioned."

"How proud I am of you?"

Carol laughed softly, nodding. She bent over to kiss Erin warmly, her lips lingering. "Have I told you that you are the best thing that's ever happened to me? And that I love you more, find you more beautiful, and couldn't be prouder?" she whispered.

Erin chuckled and they shared another kiss in the morning sunlight, listening to the rustle of leaves and the laughter of children.

 

The End.


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