Jamie was on the phone, in the office, a business call she had whispered to Erin. The author gave her partner privacy and went into the kitchen to start lunch. She carefully carried the tray of sandwiches out on to the deck, where they often had their meals. The ocean waters always carried in a refreshing, clean scent despite the ever-present pollution that California was famous for. She listened as a few of the local avian inhabitants flew overhead in search of their own mid-day meal. As the waves rolled in with a shallow roar Erin sat back in her chair with a smile, remembering the wonderful feelings of the previous night.
Artemis ran down the private stretch of beach, barking at the funny little crabs she chased through the silver surf. Her black nose got covered in white sand as she rooted around looking for treasures to take home in triumph. She barked once again and looked back toward the house. Her humans lagged far behind, just now exiting the small fenced in backyard. They were in no hurry.
Jamie had suggested a late night walk along the sand, to unwind from their busy day. Her hand gravitated over and grasped the smaller one at her side, as they leisurely followed the northward shoreline. They often joked that they had magnets implanted in them because they just could not be near one another and not be touching in some way.
Only the softly rolling surf and the occasional bark broke the quiet of the brisk January night. The comfortable silence and the tangible presence of the other was enough to calm any nervous exhaustion. Jamie hadnt mentioned the solemn reason for her need to settle her emotions.
She had worked a full eight hours at the publishing company and then had been caught in a traffic jam. She had slowly inched her way home along the crowed highway and after almost an hour and a half, she finally passed by the reason for the delay. She had heard the live report on the radio from the news helicopter circling above. A horrible car crash had taken the lives of a young couple. As sad as the scene had been, all Jamie could think was how lucky they were to have met that fate together. She had been left behind by those she loved and let the loneliness consume her.
Jamie had continued her drive home, thinking about that couple and her parents. For the first time in her life, she was glad that they had died together. She realized how selfish she had been, always wishing that at least one of them would have lived. Even the ten year old Jamie had seen just how much her parents loved each other, how connected they were. To have watched one go on without the other would have been a fate worse than the one she had suffered.
She had finally pulled into the drive and the edges of her mouth curled when she saw Erin sitting on the side deck, quietly reading. Please dont ever let me be left behind again, she prayed.
The ivory shimmer of the moons image on the ocean waters reflected onto Erins saffron hair as they continued their walk. Jamie was mesmerized by the, almost, hypnotic scene. Her reverie was soon shattered by the loud bark that raced by them, heading back toward the house. Their mutual, silent agreement saw them turn back and follow the dogs lead. Ten steps later, Jamie kicked something half buried in the sand. She bent down and picked up the item.
"What is it?" asked Erin.
Jamie turned it over in her hand, appreciating the subtle, varying colors and the rough, nubby texture. It was one of natures beautiful creations. Jamies brow wrinkled in happy wonderment at how easily that thought had occurred to her. She knew it was the blind woman at her side that had taught her the simple, but amazing ability to see life. "Its a message for you," she said as she placed one end of the small conch shell beside Erins ear. She leaned down to speak into the other end. Her whispered words echoed through the smooth, coral tunnel and landed loud and clear in Erins soul. "I love you."
Erin sat at the glass-topped table, absently playing with the seashell that she had insisted they bring home. "Who was that sweetheart?" she asked when she heard Jamie open the sliding door.
Her tall lover sat down at the table and started in on her food before she answered. "It was the courier service. They have an errand for me. Its a rush job and I have to leave first thing in the morning."
"Where are you going?"
"Im not sure," she said around a bite of her sandwich. "They said Id find out when I get to the airport. Ill be going on a chartered plane this time"
A sudden, unexpected shiver ran down Erins spine. A wave of dizziness swept over her and her hand trembled as she reached for her drink. It was several minutes before she could persuade her mouth to ask the question that was sticking in her throat. "What do you mean, youre not sure? Why wouldnt they tell you where youre going?"
"All they said was that it was out of the country." Jamie anxiously gobbled down the last two chips on her plate. "Theyre going to pay me two thousand dollars. Thats all I need to know."
The physical reactions that had assaulted Erin were now gone, but an intense feeling of dread was left in its wake. "That doesnt sound right to me," she said with a slight tremor in her voice.
"I dont care where it is. This means I can meet with the bank official on Tuesday or Wednesday and get the paperwork started on the ranch. Two thousand is exactly how much I need. I thought it was going to take me at least another six weeks, but this is great!"
Erin loved hearing the pure excitement in Jamies voice and she hated to diminish it, but something nagged at her, grabbing on with very sharp, unrelenting claws. "But they wouldnt tell you where you are going?" she asked again. "That just doesnt sound right. Why all the secrecy?"
Jamie shrugged. "I dont know." She swallowed the last of her drink and got up from the table grabbing the dirty dishes. "I have to go find my passport and get packed."
"How do you know what to pack if they wont tell you where youre going?" Erin said under her breath. She sat there stewing for several more minutes. She didnt know why she felt a sense of fear, but it was nearly overwhelming and she needed some answers.
Erin went into the house just as Jamie was finishing loading the dishes into the washer. She followed the whistling woman up the stairs and down the hall to the bedroom. "I wish youd get some more information before accepting this," she said. "Did they at least tell you why all the secrecy?"
"No and I didnt ask." Jamie pulled the bigger suitcase down from the shelf in the closet. She tossed it onto the bed and disappeared into the bathroom.
Erin crossed the room and stood by the window, trying to figure out just why she was feeling so strongly about this situation. Try as she might, Erin couldnt put words to the almost sickening feeling that had draped over her soul. But she had to find the words to convince Jamie not to leave, not to get on that plane.
Her grandmother Casey had told her stories of the premonitions she had experienced all her life. She used to call them the leprechauns whispers. Those whimsical tales, along with the womans lilting, Irish accent had entertained the wide-eyed little girl for many of her childhood hours. It was a secret only they had shared. The older woman had told Erin that she too would be blessed or cursed with ability of future knowledge. The little girl had been excited at the prospect, but it had never happened until now. Her grandmother never mentioned just how lonely and terrifying those feelings would be, knowing with absolute certainty that something terrible was going to happen, but not being able to convince anyone else.
The tall woman came back into the room humming, seemingly without a care in the world. "Youll have to apologize to your mother, since I wont be able to make it to dinner tomorrow night. Tell her that I will take us all out to dinner next week to celebrate our ownership of the ranch." She quickly hugged Erin then went back to her packing. "Im sure shell understand."
Erin sighed heavily. "She might understand, but I dont."
Jamie looked up from her busy activity. "What do you mean, honey?"
Erin threw her arms around herself, fighting the sudden chill she was feeling. "I just dont like the sound of this whole thing." Her jaw clenched even tighter. "You are going, God knows where and meeting up with some stranger. Doesnt that sound just a little odd to you?"
The dark haired woman shook her head and gave a crooked smile. "No. I guess I dont have an over-active imagination like you do."
"Oh come on Jamie!" yelled the author. "Even in the real world, innocent people get trapped in horrible situations and I know that is whats going to happen to you if you go on this job." The sea green carpet suffered Erins heavy pacing, as she went from one end of the room to the other.
Jamie chuckled and sat down on the edge of the bed. "Just what fantastical scenario has your mind cooked up for me, huh?" she asked, stretching out her long legs in front of her, crossing them at the ankle.
"Dont patronize me, Jamie!" The frustration raised the level of Erins voice. "If you could just get the dollar signs out of your eyes for two minutes, you might comprehend what Im trying to say. This smells of illegal activity. You could wind up in some God for saken prison or worse and no witnesses."
Jamie folded her arms over her chest and snickered at the accusations. "Let me guess, your next book is a spy novel, right?"
Erin stopped in her tracks. "Why are you dismissing my concerns? Youve never talked to me like this before. Whats going on?"
"Last time I looked it was called life. My dream, remember?" Jamie went to the dresser and pulled out a few shirts. "I thought you wanted this for me. What were all those presents and that pretty speech at Christmas? You said you wanted this too."
Erin made her way to Jamies side and grasped her right arm. "I do, sweetheart. And I understand how excited you are to get this started, but whats wrong with waiting a while longer?"
"Because I dont have to. I have been handed this opportunity and Im going to take it." Jamie couldnt understand why Erin was being so difficult about this. A thought occurred to her and a part of her brain knew she should sensor what she was about to say but she didnt. "If you want to know the truth, I had all the money a month ago, but I had to put two thousand dollars down on your ring."
Erin pulled away, her fear turning to anger and getting the better of her. "So now Im supposed to feel guilty?" Erin ripped the diamond ring from her finger and shook it in Jamies direction. "If you dont want my concerns, why dont you just take this back." She threw the ring to the floor. "You can sell it and then you wont have to go on this damn trip!"
Jamies eyes followed the rings flight and she slumped to the bed, absolutely shocked at Erins actions. She desperately wanted to stop the argument and save their relationship, but her pride wouldnt let her say the words. On opposite sides of the room, their hearts raced and breaths came in painful gasps. The situation had escalated over the edge and neither was willing to give in.
Erin stood by the door, listening to Jamies breathing as she had done on so many nights. But those times were spent in absolute contentedness. Now the turmoil had to be stopped. She knew there was one more suggestion to be made and she was 99% sure how it would be accepted but she had to do it. Their future might depend on it. She took a deep breath and turned around. "Jamie, please respect my wishes and dont do this. I can give you the mon..."
"Stop right there!" Jamie jumped up from the bed and stomped across the room. "Just stop right there. Dont you say it. Dont you dare say it. I dont want you to give me the money. I want to earn it, every damn single dime of it. And I will do it my way."
"But I can "
"Oh, I know you can! You can walk into any place on earth and whip out your big platinum card and buy anything your heart desires. I know you have the money. Believe me, you never let me forget it."
Erin shrank back into the corner. "You still cant get past my wealth can you?" she asked in a quiet voice. "Can you!?" she yelled, when her question wasnt answered.
Jamie turned and headed for the door. "Im leaving before I say something Ill regret."
"Its to late for that. I only wonder if you will regret it. Jamie, please," she begged once again. "A voice in my head is telling me that there is something wrong with this whole thing."
"Well tell your little voice to shut up. Im going."
"Excuse me, did you just tell me to shut up?"
"No, I told your annoying little voice to shut up. I need some air." She pulled the sliding door open with such force that it jumped the top track and creaked as it swayed with the wind. She flew down the stairs and around the side of the house, leaving the gate swinging as she headed for her car. She got in and slammed the door. Her hand put the key in the ignition, but it wouldnt turn. Her future had just unraveled in the span of a few minutes, but that last unbreakable thread refused to let go. Jamie tossed her dark head back and panted through clenched teeth. The near rage, dissipated to mere anger with twenty or so breaths. I cant do this, she chanted. I cant do this. She got out of the car and took off at a full out run toward the beach.
The cold water rolled in over her shoes as her steps slowed. Jamie remembered walking that same beach the night she finally let Erins love into her heart. The night she really started to live again. After the months of self-doubt, Jamie was finally convinced that she wouldnt ruin another relationship. But now look where they were. How can I just give up? Thats what I did before and looked what happened. Erin understands me like no one ever has. But she has to let me make my own decisions. Im not being selfish. Am I? Jamie turned back to look at her home, not the four walls and a roof, but the person inside. She has always had so much faith in me. She loves me. Jamie squinted against the bright sun as she lifted her face to the sky. "My God, what have I done? Nothing is as important to me as Erin. How could I have said those things to her? I have to talk to her, explain everything."
Jamie climbed the deck stairs after her hour-long absence. She stood there for just a second letting the January breeze dry the last of the sweat on her forehead. She walked slowly to the sliding glass door leading into their bedroom and peaked around the curtain, wanting to know what she was walking into. Her breath hitched and her heart ripped a little more at what she saw. Erin was on her hands and knees desperately feeling across the thick, green carpet, searching for her ring. Every few seconds she raised her hand to wipe at the tears streaming down her face.
A noise, somewhere between a growl and a whimper, brought Jamies attention to the end of the deck where Artemis was sitting. The big golden retriever stood to all four feet as they stared each other down. Artemis was an extremely loyal companion, being with Erin almost every day since the woman had lost her sight. The animal always fed off Erins emotions and the dog was pissed.
"I really fucked up this time, didnt I girl?"
The animal responded by sitting her hind end down, but her big, brown eyes never left Jamies face.
"Dont worry Arte. Im going to try and fix this." Jamie closed her eyes and calmed her heartbeat. I will not lose my temper. I can make her understand but can I make her forgive me?
Erin heard the door slide open. She pulled back her hands, not wanting to appear as despondent as she felt. She stayed on the floor and sat back on bended knees. No words were spoken by either one of them as Jamie stood there looking at Erin and Erin sat there listening to the endless silence. A strong wind gust kicked up and blew the curtain aside, allowing the sunlight to hit the diamond and flash a signal. Jamie bent over to pick up the precious jewel that had landed under the bedside table. She approached her kneeling partner and dropped to her knees in front of the sad blonde. Jamie slowly reached for Erins left hand.
"Im so sorry." Her voice cracked. "I will never regret buying this ring." Jamie slipped it back onto its home and raised it to her mouth for a kiss. "But I do regret the things I said. Please forgive me."
Erin couldnt speak. She threw her arms around the woman she loved and held on for dear life, knowing that there was going to have to be a compromise to the situation. She just feared that she would have to be the one to make it. And she prayed that her fears would be totally unfounded.
"Of course I forgive you, sweetheart," she finally whispered into Jamies neck. "I love you. Thats why I cant bear the thought of being without you ever." She brought her hand up between them. "Im sorry I took the ring off. I will never ever do that again. This is staying here forever."
Jamie nodded against Erins forehead. "I love you."
Their tears mingled as they kissed. No more was mentioned of the trip, as Jamie led them to the shower in the bathroom. The ritual washing away of the insults, angry words and regretted actions, helped to calm their tumultuous emotions and patch their hurting hearts.
It was only late afternoon, but they were lying atop the patterned comforter on the bed, just holding one another, each lost in their own thoughts. But the conversation had to be continued.
Erin turned to face Jamie and she started out softly. "You said that it was going to be our ranch. So I dont understand why you wont let me put in the last of the money you need."
Jamie smiled sadly, closed her eyes and sighed. "Sweetheart, it will be our ranch and I promise that you can buy whatever we need, once we are up and running. But I started saving for this before I met you and I just I would really like to do this part of it on my own. I kind of made a promise to my parents. After everything Ive done, I want to make them proud of me."
That did it. Those words firmly implanted themselves onto Erins heart and she couldnt ask Jamie to go back on that promise. "Okay honey, I understand. But can you explain to me why you cant wait just a few more weeks to get the money?" Erin felt a fingertip softly trace her lips.
"Well, it was going to be a surprise," said Jamie, while continuing her gentle explorations. " but I thought we could have the wedding at the ranch. And in order to do that, its going to take a couple of months to get things in order. I wanted to build you a beautiful gazebo where we could take our vows. And I want to do some landscaping and create a beautiful garden like the one we were in the first night we met." She received a silent kiss for her romantic sentiments. Then she continued. "Sweetheart, I know you have reservations about this trip and I shouldnt have belittled those feelings. But you know about my past in New York. I know what to look for. I know the signs of illegal activity. And I promise you that I will bail at the slightest hint. In just a couple of weeks, we will be spending our first night in our other house. And in less than three months we will be getting married in front of our family and friends and this day will all be forgotten."
Erin finally resigned herself to accept the situation. She pushed the feelings of dread far back into her soul and gave her lover a weak smile. It was all she could manage. No words, just the smile and a nod.
Jamie took the small gesture and cherished it, knowing that their love was still as strong as it had always been, as it always would be. Disagreements were a part of life. They may be of one soul, but definitely two different minds. But she was determined never to let their future misunderstandings reach such angered heights.
Later that night, they spent an hour taking each other to passionate heights as they slowly and tenderly shared their love body and soul.
* * * *
Jamie slipped out of bed very early the next morning for a quick workout and to finish packing. An hour later, she came out of the bathroom, rubbing her long dark hair with a towel. She looked to the bed and realized that her lover hadnt moved an inch since shed gotten up. But Jamie was totally unaware of the reason why.
After making love and some much needed cuddling, Jamie had fallen to sleep almost immediately. But Erin had laid awake most of the night, trying not to cry, but failing. She hated the feelings that had a strangle hold on her, but short of hearing Jamie say that she wouldnt go on the trip, she knew they wouldnt let go until her partner was back home, safe and sound. Exhaustion had finally crept in and banished the worries to a small area of her brain, allowing her at least a few hours of sleep.
Just as the dark of the long winters night was sliding across the horizon, the smell of cinnamon wafted into the bedroom, drawing Erin from her dreamless state. She took several very deep whiffs and also detected her favorite mocha coffee, which blended quite nicely with the sweet spice. She smoothed out her mussed blonde hair, gave a small stretch and pulled out from under the heavy blanket to sit up against the headboard.
"Good morning sweetheart," said Jamie as she laid the wooden tray across Erins lap and scooted up beside her.
Erin smiled after receiving a kiss that was much more enticing then the food. "Whats all this?"
"I wanted to serve you breakfast in bed." Jamie took a small sip of her own coffee and hummed at the delicious taste. "And I wanted to say Im sorry again. Ill never be able to apologize enough for the way I acted yesterday."
"Yes you can."
"By not going." Erin heard the groan and felt Jamie start to move away. "No wait! Now Im sorry. I promised myself I wouldnt start this again, but "
"Erin, honey, remember what I said last night? I know how to protect myself and when to get out. I would never do anything to knowing jeopardize my life." She took the authors trembling hand. "Not when I have so much to live for now."
The blonde pulled their joined hands to her chest. "My head knows that Jamie but my heart just doesnt get it." The stand off was back again. Two strong willed people who loved each other more anything else in the world, stood on opposites sides of the same wall, clawing their way up, trying to meet at the top and come to a mutual agreement. There was no compromise to this situation. Either Jamie was going or she wasnt. And Erin knew which it was going to be so she mentally scaled that wall and jumped to the other side. "All right Jamie," she said with a small sigh. "I will trust your judgment. And I wont say another word about it."
The victory did not bring a triumphant smile to Jamies face. She knew her lover was still scared and hurting but she also knew that the trip would go smoothly and she would be happily on her way back home soon.
Erin nibbled on her breakfast roll as Jamie finished up a few details. With the last sip of her coffee, Artemis came bounding into the room. She received her good morning pats from Erin, but as soon as Jamie stepped from the bathroom, the dog jumped over to the tall womans side.
Jamie threw her travel kit into the open suitcase and started wrestling with the animal. She obviously had the canines forgiveness for her mistakes of the day before and that made her happy.
Erin listened to the two of them rough house with a bit of envy. She knew how much Artemis had come to love playing with Jamie. The dark haired woman could give the dog the kind of attention that she couldnt. Sometimes Arte had so much extra energy that she literally pulled Jamie from whatever she was doing to go outside and play on the beach. While she was happy that they had formed a bond, it always made her stop and wonder what it would be like when they had a child. With her worries about Jamie and their future, her irrational insecurities ran amok. Who would want to be stuck with a blind parent who might step on them, who might throw a ball and hit them? And later on, one who couldnt teach them to drive or see them graduate. Erin shook her head to rid the morbid thoughts. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and concentrate on right now. She then heard Jamie give Arte some instructions.
"I want you to take care of your Mommy while Im gone." She received a positive response in the form of doggie kisses. "Good girl."
Erin couldnt help, but smile at the word mommy. I still want to have a child. I can be a good parent, whether I can see or not. But I can only be a parent if "I lied before Jamie."
"I have one more thing to ask."
Jamie moved onto the bed.
"I want you to call me every two hours," said Erin staunchly. "I know that sounds really paranoid," she rushed to add. "But I really need to know youre all right."
Jamie smiled and took Erins face in her hands. "Sweetheart, I will call you every ten minutes if that will help ease your fears."
Erin blushed at how extreme that made her sound. "I think every two hours will do." She pulled Jamie in for a long, hard kiss. Her very creative mind had a split second, absurd thought that her kiss could put some sort of protective spell over her lover. Erin pulled away and giggled at herself.
"My kisses are funny now?" Jamie asked teasingly.
"No. I was just never mind." Her smile flickered away as she ran her hands through the raven silk and whispered desperately, "Just please be careful."
"I will sweetheart. I promise." Jamie glanced at her watch. "I have to go. I love you."
Erin threw her arms around Jamie for one last hug. "I love you." She finally sent her off with a swat to her jean covered behind. "Go. And hurry back." Please.
As promised, Jamie had called every two hours after boarding the plane. They soon made a game of the conversations, each pretending to be a famous person, complete with silly accents and dialogue. Seven hours into the flight, the plane made a short stop for re-fueling, during which time she was not allowed to leave, the attendant sighting security reasons. It was starting to feel a little odd, but Jamies finely honed survival instinct still sensed no real danger. She was able to look out the tiny window and saw that they were at a relatively small airport, but she couldnt find a name anywhere on the two buildings within sight. There were several maintenance men milling around the plane going about their normal business, working on the machine. She couldnt tell by looking if any of them were of a certain ethnicity. There were absolutely no clues as to where in the world they were. She wasnt even told the correct time. But she always knew what time it was at home. The bright sunshine looked inviting as she got up to stretch her long legs. The small jet was equipped with plush, luxury seats and if she had had company, Jamie might have enjoyed the privacy since there were now only three other passengers. An older couple sat huddled together at the front of the plane, reminding her of the emptiness in her arms.
The plane ascended into the cloudless sky once again. Ten minutes later a lavish meal of steak, baked potato and salad was served. Jamie relished the surprisingly delicious food and partook of an after dinner drink.
The sun finally started to sink, far off in the horizon as the plane glided along smoothly. But the interior was quiet, a little too quiet. Jamie stealthy watched the short, swarthy looking man who sat near the middle of the plane. Besides the older couple, he was the only one to remain on board after the last stop. He was dressed all in black and his dark eyes had remained ever alert since leaving LA. He had been on the phone numerous times, which wasnt unusual since Jamie had as well. But during every call, he never spoke a word, only nodded. He had made eye contact with Jamie three times and always with a questioning brow. Jamie peered over the rim of the round drinking glass, watching him pull out a black soft-sided satchel. Her eyes widened in mild alarm. A dozen different dangerous items could be concealed within the container. Her gazed flashed forward to the two other passengers who were totally oblivious to the situation.
He continued to rummage around inside the bag as his eyes met hers once again, for just an instant. A sudden chill went down her back. Shit! Maybe I shouldve listened to Erin, she thought. I know I promised Id bail out of a bad situation honey, but not at thirty thousand feet without a chute. She downed the remaining amber liquid and casually set the glass aside. Maybe I should warn the attendant. Maybe she can Her thought was interrupted when he set the bag on the seat next to him and stood up. She saw something in his hand as he moved toward the back where she was sitting. Jamie held her breath, as he came near. She readied herself to strike out against an attack. Her hand twitched, as from the corner of her eye she saw his black shoes just three feet away. Her gaze traveled up the dark slacks to his empty hand. He suddenly transferred what was in his left hand to his right. Jamie took a visible deep breath when she saw the shaver. It was a small electric shaver. The loud laugh burst forth in the small compartment as she slumped back in her seat. The mysterious man looked at her in surprise as he reached for the handle to the bathroom door. Jamie reigned in her laughter, but continued the silent giggles. Hes going to kill his five oclock shadow, not me. She finally managed to calm herself after a few more mirthful minutes. She pulled out the small cell phone and hit the #1 button.
"Hi hon. Are you alright?" Erin asked cautiously.
"Just fine." She proceeded to tell her partner of their stop and her nice meal and drink. She thought to herself that she could really use another one, but she didnt exactly mention that to Erin. The tall man in black stepped from the bathroom and an involuntary chuckle escaped Jamies lips.
"What was that for?" Erin asked with a slightly amused smile.
"Oh, it was well Ill explain it when I get home."
"And when will that be?"
"I dont know, but youll be the first the second to know." Jamie settled back in her soft seat. "What have you been up to in the last two hours?"
To be continued
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