Chapter 6

Once again, Amanda sat in her car in front of the ordinary house, but this time she was eager to go inside and meet the women again. Her sleep the night before had been restful-completely devoid of any haunting or visions of Gwen. She was not disturbed that Gwen was not part of her dreams; instead, she felt oddly relieved. Just before she raised her fist to knock, she wondered if today it would open before she had a chance to complete the motion. The sound of her knuckles making contact with the door startled her. Obviously, she wasn't reading my mind yesterday.

Raphaela looked up from her magazine, and a slow smile crossed her full lips. She heard the car arrive outside the house, but today, she had decided that opening the door immediately would have probably fuelled the fire of Amanda Lawson's dread of being there. Turning the deadbolt on the door, she opened it and smiled. Great, she took the herbal remedy. "Hello, Amanda, please step inside. Luminitsa is expecting you," she said in her best gypsy-sounding deep voice.

This time Amanda was aware of walking into the other room and seeing the older woman reclining in a chaise lounge. The day before, she hadn't really noticed anything but the woman, and her intense eyes; but now, she took in the room as a whole. It is comfortable, but a bit old fashioned. "Hello, how are you feeling today?"

Luminitsa gave Amanda a glowing smile at her thoughtful question. "I'm feeling much stronger today, my dear. How are you?"

For the first time in what seemed like forever, Amanda considered the question of how she felt. For a reason that she could not quite explain, the malaise and depression she had experienced just twenty-four hours earlier seemed to have disappeared. She shrugged, "Not too bad."

Luminitsa nodded in the direction of her granddaughter. With a wink of her eye she replied, "Raphaela is an expert in the field of alternative medicine, and she has a natural affinity for knowing what will help an unfortunate sufferer. I'm glad you trusted her enough to try the remedy." Raphaela, from her vantage point, turned a slight shade of pink at the praise from her grand-mère. She diverted her eyes to a painting, by her father, on the wall rather than to the curious ones of their client.

What Amanda was feeling was reminiscent of how she had felt the first time she took oxycodone for her pain. After that, each time she took the drug, she hoped the feeling of euphoria would return-it never did. "It must be a magic elixir," she said before adding, "are you sure it wasn't a narcotic?"

Raphaela tensed at the word narcotic and turned her hazel eyes back from the painting to Amanda. "Every living organism can be a drug to another. What you appear to be implying is that I'm giving you something that may be dangerous for you. I assure you; I am not! " Her gaze bore into the woman. "If that is how you feel, I will dispense from helping you in your recovery from your physical pain. I was only trying to ease your discomfort."

Luminitsa, saddened by Raphaela's lack of tact, looked at Amanda apologetically. Although Raphaela had an indomitable spirit and a strong character, she did lack the sophistication to counter jibes about her remedies. Often, in response to criticism, she would dogmatically refuse to help without intense persuasion. I hope that that will not happen here. Raphaela's participation is crucially important to save Amanda and Gwen from further anxiety.

Suddenly, cold enveloped Amanda's body, and she felt as though her heart would explode in her chest. "What is happening to me?" Her arms began flailing around her head as reds, greens, yellows, and blues appeared to be whizzing by her. "Get them off of me," she shouted as pennies began pelting her body.

Raphaela stared in surprise, first at Amanda and then at her grand-mère. Has our client gone mad! What is she talking about? Get what off her? There isn't anything there. "Grand-mère, what's the problem?" she asked as she walked toward the agitated and screaming Amanda Lawson. Then, she spied the single penny at Amanda's feet and understanding replaced astonishment.

"Raphaela, fetch one of your marvelous elixirs for Amanda. She is going to need one…and perhaps get one for me, too." Luminitsa watched the pennies that were an illusion except for one, tumble over Amanda like a shower. "In all my years, I've never had such an event occur." Is this the momentous event we envisioned?

Leaving the room, Raphaela was glad for the respite from the situation. Amanda Lawson was either more of a charlatan than she perceived them to be, or she was in the grips of a powerful fixation with the entity called Gwen. Either way, this wasn't going to be an easy case for her grand-mère. She will need all the help she can get. It is unfortunate that I don't feel much like giving any of my energy to the woman. She shivered as an uncomfortable feeling came over her. Something about her frightens me.

She slid the key into the lock of her small pharmacy and opened the door. She rapidly selected various herbs, and with the experience of years of practice, mixed the herbs that would calm both Amanda and her grand-mère. Ten minutes later, laden down with a tray that held three cups, each with its own individual formula, she stepped inside Luminitsa's domain. Raphaela could see that the Lawson woman was again under control-no doubt a result of the soothing presence and words of her grand-mère. Without saying a word, she handed each woman her respective drink and stood sipping her tea in the same corner as she had the previous day.

Amanda glanced sheepishly at Raphaela and mouthed thanks as she contemplated the strange looking liquid. As far as she could see, it was nothing more than water with various bits floating around. She sniffed and found that it lacked any aroma.

Raphaela noticed the woman's hesitation and with undisguised bitterness said, "Drink it, it isn't going to kill you."

To counter her granddaughter's tone, Luminitsa added, "Oh, my darling, you know exactly the right tonic, don't you? Drink up, Amanda. Trust me, my granddaughter knows her herbs." As the beverage trickled down her throat, a relaxed expression crossed her face.

Amanda did trust the old woman-the granddaughter was a law unto herself. She might have a way with her medicines, but it certainly doesn't come with a charming bedside manner. Taking a tentative sip from the cup, she was surprised. The drink that she thought would be tasteless was instead remarkably refreshing. She quickly drank much deeper from the cup and felt her spirits and body respond in a positive way. Her antagonistic feelings toward Raphaela turned grateful, and she glanced at the silent woman.

She's quite stunning. Amanda noted the woman whose jewelry and flamboyant-colored clothing stood out against a plain backdrop. The woman's classical features, though not chocolate box beautiful, were nonetheless intriguing. If I didn't love Gwen as much as I do, I might... "Thank you, Raphaela, the drink is marvelous. Have you thought of opening up a café and selling your concoctions?" It was a break-the-ice type of question, as she actually considered another person's feelings. She's only trying to help me, and I haven't shown any gratitude.

Luminitsa listened to the exchange and waited for the reply, hoping Raphaela's helpful nature would surface and accept the offered olive branch. When she saw a small lightening of the hazel eyes, she knew her granddaughter had accepted the veiled apology.

Raphaela did not change her stance or expression. She inclined her head slightly and replied, "I'm not interested in commercial returns and making a fortune."

How can anyone say that? Unless he or she is a billionaire. Who ever has enough money? Her eyes took in the room as she remembered the exterior of the small house in the middle-class neighborhood. I doubt that this family has more than a reasonable income. "Well, the drink is wonderful, thank you."

"You're welcome. Grand-mère, do you have the strength to continue?"

Luminitsa smiled tenderly at her granddaughter. She loved her and hoped that in her lifetime she could see Ray settled and happy with a loving partner. There is also the matter of the next in-line to receive our special talents. That thought made her chuckle, and as she returned from her daydreams, she found two pairs of eyes on her. "I'm sorry, what must you think of me Amanda? When you reach my age, you will find that foolish, yet happy memories surface at inexplicable times. To answer your question, my darling, thanks to you, I'm perfectly well enough to continue."

Amanda felt a strange sense of ease and comfort in the presence of Luminitsa. She was pleased the old woman hadn't decided she was tired, and that they would have to start all over again later. "I don't mean to be rude or anything, but what does happen next?"

Luminitsa carefully considered her words before she replied, and then, with a swift glance to her granddaughter for support, replied, "Amanda, for many months now the connection has been strong with an entity who wanted to contact someone very dear to her…yours was the name she gave us. Raphaela and I could not contact you directly; that had to be your doing. All we could be were vessels for that entity's messages. I have written down various notes, or I should say memories, of this entity before she passed." Luminitsa slipped a folded piece of high-quality paper to Amanda and waited for her response.

With her hands shaking, Amanda opened the paper, read the words and then looked at Luminitsa. "This doesn't make any sense to me. I'm assuming that the entity you speak of is Gwen." She watched as the old woman nodded. "Are these her words?" she asked and again received a positive response. Again, she looked at the paper and concentrated on each word. "Garden…my garden was my pride and joy." Tears began to well. "Gwen always told me I should set up a stand on the highway and sell my produce." She mouthed the next word, pennies. "What does she mean by that?" Her eyes traveled across the room as she waited for the old woman's reply.

Luminitsa shook her head. "I'm sorry, my dear, but I only say what is given to me. I cannot interpret what it might mean to you. If nothing seems right to you then another explanation might be found."

Amanda shook her head. "I just don't know if I believe all this." She felt cold air hit the back of her neck again. "Gwen, it was Gwen who always said that pennies were angel's kisses." Rubbing her hand across the nape of her neck, she squinted at Raphaela. "Is she the one who always sends this chill down my spine?"

Surprised the woman would ask her the question rather than her grand-mère, Raphaela replied cautiously. "The sensation you speak of can be caused by various events, and there is a distinct possibility that the person who has been contacting us has also tried to draw you to us. Luminitsa will be the conduit by which you contact the other side, not I."

Her gaze returned to the piece of paper and read all the words, remembering the events they evoked. Numbness filled every pore of her body as her hands involuntarily went to her head and held it tight as a deep chasm of sorrow overtook her. In a small voice, Amanda said, "But it is you?"

Luminitsa watched the interchange between the two younger women and fought back the deep smile trying to filter over her lips. In her present emotional state, it isn't prudent to allow Amanda to see me smile. There is definitely some sort of energy happening between them. I wonder if Raphaela will share what that is. Probably not, she can be so deep with her feelings.

Amanda released the grip on her head and held a hand toward Raphaela. "It is you? Don't you feel it?"

Raphaela kept her gaze steady as she digested the words. It is true that this entity Gwen has invaded not only my grand-mère's dreams but mine as well. I can't deny that the first time I saw Amanda I felt an affinity toward her, and that is unusual. I will be of no help to her. Grand-mère is more capable as a spiritual mistress in this type of situation…far superior to my skills. Amanda Lawson needs the best, or all of this will be of no help. "Grand-mère, I have urgent business to attend to. Can you spare me for the rest of your consultation?"

"Of course, my darling, go ahead and complete your business. Besides, Amanda and I are at a point where she must list the questions she wants to ask Gwen. After that, we will have the contact consultation." Luminitsa smiled at her granddaughter who gave her a brief smile of thanks, and then with a short goodbye, left the room.

The crestfallen look on Amanda's face was unmistakable. "Why?" she asked softly. Her brow creased and she watched Raphaela leave. She turned her attention to Luminitsa and sighed. "I came here to find answers…doesn't she understand that?" A great sadness began to envelope her. "I must go; I can't do this anymore."

Luminitsa gave the troubled woman a steady but calming look. "Amanda, this was never going to be easy, and you must understand that only one of us can be your guide. Raphaela is not being mean or preventing anything from happening. Far from it; she is doing what is right. I am more powerful than she in this area. Believe me, my dear, you do not want any evil forces feeding on your dilemma." She saw Amanda frown. "You don't, do you?"

"No," Amanda said before she closed her eyes. When she opened them, she found herself in a large white building with long hallways that went only one way. As she traveled, the whiteness grew brighter until she arrived in a large auditorium that was bathed in white and had a fountain of white water trickling noiselessly. Her eyes scanned the vast expanse, and in a far corner, she saw a bright beam of light that seemed to beckon her. As she got closer, she felt a sense of peace rather than fear. When she reached the light and was about to go farther, a familiar voice called her name from somewhere in the distance.

"Amanda dear, are you okay?"

She closed her eyes tightly wanting to keep the voice away but could not. Opening them, she saw the gentle face of Luminitsa.

You cannot go there quite yet, Amanda. "You and I are both tired for different reasons. Emotional distress is a very draining experience. What I will need you to do is to write down questions for which you want answers when we have our contact consultation. Will you do that for me dear?"


Luminitsa chuckled. "Not now, Amanda. Bring the list with you when you come back. I do not want you to think that I've made things up in answer to your questions beforehand. Why you will think us as being charlatans."

For what seemed like an eternity, Amanda just sat and stared at the old woman. Charlatans? Maybe but maybe not. Her mind was a jumble of thoughts that made no sense, and there was the strange sensation that Luminitsa was somehow channeling her thoughts.

Luminitsa's soft, soothing voice spoke to the woman who was painfully suffering in many ways. "If you knock on the door to the left as you leave, you can ask Raphaela to arrange an appropriate time for your next visit. Now, my dear, I will say goodbye for the moment and have a little rest."

Amanda watched as Luminitsa closed her eyes and seemed to fall asleep immediately. She turned and looked down the hallway for the door the old woman had mentioned. The idea of speaking with the younger woman made Amanda grimace. I don't think she likes me very much. She shrugged, got up, and walked toward the door. Raising her fist, she lightly tapped the door with her knuckles.

"My grand-mère sent you for an appointment. What is a good day and time for you?" Raphaela clipped out harshly. She watched emotions play out on the woman's face until tears welled up. "Why don't you come in and have a seat while we figure out a time?"

Amanda swiped her hand across her cheek to erase the moisture. Defeated, she stayed put. "Whatever I have done to anger you and make you not like me I'm sorry." She cast her eyes toward the floor not wanting to see the look of hatred in the hazel eyes. "I can arrive any time. Maybe it would be best if you called me with a day and time."

Compassionate detachment. Raphaela remembered her grand-mère's words. "I don't dislike you, Amanda. I want to help you find peace." Her voice mellowed. "Please enter and sit and we will figure out a good time together."

Amanda finally looked up and gazed into Raphaela's hazel eyes. In them, she only saw kindness and something else that was unfamiliar but at the same time familiar. With hesitant steps, she entered the room and sat in a chair, allowing her eyes to roam the walls that were covered in excellent miniature watercolors of plants.

After studying her calendar, Raphaela asked, "Will ten thirty the day after next be good for you?"

"Sure." Amanda stared intently into the woman's eyes trying to discern what she saw there. "I guess I will go then."

Raphaela smiled. "Just a moment," she said as she slid open a drawer. She moved close to Amanda, took her hand, and turned it palm up. "Here, take these; they will help you." She pressed two small packets into her client's hand before closing Amanda's fingers around them.

All Amanda could do was look at her hand that the younger woman held. Finally, after Raphaela removed her hand, she said, "Thank you."

Long after Amanda had left, Raphaela stood trying to understand what had just transpired. I need to speak with grand-mère when she wakes.

>< >< ><

With her work done, Raphaela locked the door of her small pharmacy and sought out the kitchen, and the chicken soup that simmered on the stovetop. Five minutes later, she had two bowls of soup, freshly baked warm baguettes, and mint tea loaded on a tray. She snatched up some of the chocolate wafers that her grand-mère loved but rarely allowed herself to have and added them to the tray before picking it up.

A tender smile crossed her face as she saw that her grand-mère was wide awake and sifting through various notes she had made after the session with Amanda Lawson. She had an uneasy feeling. In light of the events that appear to be happening around us, it is wise to take things easy. Getting involved in any way other than as an observer and consultant for grand-mère wouldn't be prudent.

Luminitsa looked up from her notes and licked her dry lips with the prospect of the meal she was about to have "My darling, Ray, I smell that delicious homemade chicken soup you make. One day, you're going to make someone very happy in the cooking department." Then she spied the cookies, and her grin became even broader.

"I already make someone happy in that department, you! Now let's eat before it becomes inedible." Raphaela placed the tray on the small table next to Luminitsa and sat down opposite her.

As they ate, they talked generally about the household bills and other such nonsense as her grand-mère termed it. Then Raphaela decided it was a good time to bring up the issue of Amanda Lawson.

"Grand-mère, we both know I can't get involved to the extent Amanda appears to want me to be."

Serious, but reflective eyes peered at her granddaughter as Luminitsa carefully considered her reply. "I must admit she is rather insistent in that request. Even though I have made it clear that I will be the one to make the contact with the other side, I can feel her affinity toward you." She tilted he head slightly and gave Raphaela a knowing glance. "It has been two years since Gwen passed, and after all this time, I don't think it is Gwen, do you?" I already knew her answer but want to hear it spoken.

With a sad expression, Raphaela shook her head negatively. "I believe someone is using Gwen's astral shell to help Amanda. Gwen went to a higher plane of existence long ago. How can I tell Amanda that? She's so depressed and alone right now; I'm afraid it would finish her off." She focused on a distant corner. "I know it would finish her off."

"As much as I wish for Amanda's sake it was otherwise, I agree with you, my darling. I believe the guide using Gwen's old memories and consciousness from this world is good. If it was not, it would not dare enter my personal aura." Luminitsa spoke with great resolve on that particular point.

"I've booked another appointment for ten-thirty the day after tomorrow. Hopefully, she will bring her questions with her, and we can provide answers that will bring clarity for us all." Raphaela, lost in a world of her own, spoke absently.

Luminitsa's brow furrowed. "Why not tomorrow, Ray?" I definitely don't have anything planned.

Raphaela dragged her mind to the present moment and smiled. "I have business in town tomorrow, and I'll be away most of the day. I've arranged for Clara to bring you lunch." Raphaela heard the snort of annoyance at the woman's name.

"I'm not a child, Ray. I can surely look after myself for one day; besides I don't like that woman, and you well know it." Luminitsa pouted like a five-year-old and picked up one of the cookies to eradicate the distastefulness of the words in her mouth.

Raphaela issued a loud burst of laughter. "You know very well that you love Clara coming over because you tease and frighten her mercilessly. She believes every last one of your haunting stories."

Luminitsa returned a small chuckle of her own. It is true Clara is such a naïve young woman and is easily sucked into every story I tell her. "I keep trying to get rid of her, but she keeps coming back when you ask. The only reason I can think of is that she has a crush on you, Ray."

Blushing slightly at the inference, Raphaela shook her fist gently at the old woman. "You have such a wicked imagination; one of these days it'll get you into trouble."

With a saucy look on her aged features, Luminitsa winked and replied, "Why, Ray, it has on many occasions and surely will in the future, too."

Raphaela bent to kiss the weathered cheek. "I love you, Grand-mère, don't ever change."

The old woman hugged her precious granddaughter to her chest and returned an affectionate kiss of her own. "It will never happen," she whispered. "Now off with you; I know you want to go to your secret rendezvous. Perhaps one day you might trust me with that secret, and tell me where you have been going every day for the past year."

Off-handedly, Raphaela smiled as she went toward the door. "Very soon now, Grand-mère, I promise. I'll see you at dinner. Rest easy." She left the old woman to her speculation. One of the things that keeps Grand-mère's mind agile is thinking over all the what-ifs.

Leaving the house, Raphaela thought about Amanda Lawson again. When all this is over and Amanda is stronger, I'll explain why I couldn't be as involved as she wanted me to be. A major reason she tried to be slightly off-hand and disinterested in Amanda was a part of her wished to help the woman a great deal. All my senses are screaming that right now I can't interact in the way Amanda wants. Of course, I can't rule out that the entity using Gwen as a front wants the contact. Her feet hastened to the bus stop while her mind continued its debate about Amanda. Not until I know who the entity is can I have any more than a passing interest in the woman. Only Grand-mère can allow the manifestation into her inner core. If it has evil intent, I'm not adept enough at warding off a powerful foe. If that did happen, I would be useless to Amanda. Her mind then shifted to the next few hours as she waited at the bus stop.

Chapter 7

The vehicle seemed to have a mind of its own as it traveled quickly down the highway. It wasn't until she heard the crunch of the soft tires against the gravel of the cemetery road that Amanda realized where she was. She brought the car to a stop under the same tree that shaded Gwen's gravesite and got out of the vehicle. In the past, she had always stood when she spoke with her lover, but this time, she sat down on the soft grass. Her back protested the action, and she grimaced at the pain that seemed to surround her spine and hold it in a vice grip.

"Hey, babe, bet you didn't expect to see me again this soon. Something wild has been happening to me lately, and I'm not sure what to make of it all." Amanda's face filled with pain as she stretched her legs out. "I think I will pay for sitting down, but what the hell? You're worth it." Her fingers gently touched Gwen's name. "Somehow, I thought you were sending me a message, and I ended up visiting two ladies whom I am sure are nothing more than gypsies. The older one is very kind and patient, but the younger one…I don't know what to make of her. There is something about her that mystifies me, but at the same time, she frightens me." She laughed. "She mixes herbs and gave me some that I took. I know…I know I can hear you telling me what a foolish move it was, but Babe, I had the best night's sleep since you went away." Amanda leaned her head back and peered through the tangle of branches at the blue sky. "The older one gave me a list of words that she said came from you." Amanda shook her head and let out a derisive laugh. "The words are some that almost anyone can relate to."

"There is one word on here that I can't figure out…Red." She looked at the headstone then back to the paper before she exclaimed, "Ricky Johnson-everyone called him Red! He was that kid in my lit class six years ago whom I brought home to do yard work. I remember you told me not to trust him 'cause he looked shifty." She smiled. "I can still see the look on your face when you saw the bouquet of flowers he and his mom brought for us." Her forehead creased. "You told me my instincts about him had been the right ones." She sighed deeply as a thought forced its way to the top. "Does that word mean you think I am on the right track with the gypsies?"

Soon, Amanda had her legs bent and her arms wrapped around them. "Luminitsa, that's the older one's name, wants me to write down questions for her to ask you when she contacts you. I have so many questions, but I have asked you most of them already. Well, I have until the day after tomorrow to come up with them." She touched two fingers to her lips before pressing them against Gwen's name. With great difficulty, she managed to stand up before looking down on the marker. "I love you. I will be back after my next visit with the gypsies." She walked with deliberate care back to her car, and once inside, she immediately flicked the switch to heat the seats.

>< >< ><

She found herself in an endless hallway drifting aimlessly toward a room bathed in bright white with a fountain of white water. In the distance and even brighter light was beckoning her. This time, when she arrived at the source of the light, she walked through it and found herself in a small room with a fireplace that had flickering white flames. Two high-backed, iridescent chairs sat in front of a white fire with one occupied by a woman who was familiar but not. The woman, who had a strong forehead, long black hair, and intense brown-black eyes, was the same vision she was certain had been floating around, above, and inside of her at the gypsy's home.

"Who are you?" she whispered.

With a serene countenance that appeared to be completely at peace, the woman looked at her with love, understanding, and acceptance and smiled.

"Who are you?"

Just as the woman was about to speak Amanda woke up. For the third day, she felt refreshed with the burdens of her life seemingly lifted from her shoulders. Releasing the footrest, she bent over and picked up one leg brace, strapped it on then did the same with the other. Once she made it to the bathroom, she showered and put on her clothes for the day. No longer in a drugged haze, she looked at herself in the mirror. A sunken, drawn face with dark circles under her eyes greeted her. Her hair, that once had a vibrant sheen, was dull and lifeless. "Who are you?" she asked in shock. "The Amanda I remember always had a smile on her face. How did I let this happen to myself?"

The combination of standing in the shower and then in front of the mirror elicited increasing pain in and around her lower back. Soon, pain began to course down her legs causing her to moan in reaction. As the throbbing increased, she opened the bathroom medicine cabinet and frantically looked for the meds she was sure were there. "Shit!" She began to walk stiffly but with purpose toward the kitchen and relief. The last of her Darvocet landed in her hand, and she greedily tossed it in her mouth and swallowed it down with water. Making her way back to her chair, she sat down and did not move again until relief was hers, but relief never came. An hour later, she looked at the mantle clock and saw that she needed to leave immediately to make her appointment with Luminitsa. She would have to wait until she returned to call the doctor for refills for stronger meds.

Chapter 8

Raphaela peered at the letter for about the fiftieth time and wondered what to do. Then, she contemplated what the perception she and her grand-mère had among the general population. Most people place individuals with our kinds of gifts in two categories-as being imposters or psychics. Truthfully, we are neither. Some people who traded in their market were phony, and she'd met a few over the years. That only causes someone like my grand-mère and me to appear less than professional in many people's eyes. Fortunately, over time, reputations grow, and along with that, a respect for the craft they wielded. The perception that they knew everything was a false assumption, and she was thankful of that. God, it must be crazy to live your whole life knowing what is about to happen. Where is the fun and excitement in living if that is the case? The real facts were that those with talent in this field could pick up vibrations from some of those entities that had passed to the next astral plane. It was the next journey in a multitude of journeys that each living being would eventually undertake as he or she learned lessons from each astral projection. No one truly dies but merely moves on. That is how we live our lives. The body is merely a shell, and the consciousness is left to digest the lessons it learns in its lifetime. The astral shell on the other side is with whom we communicate. No scientific body had yet to explain how it happened or why particular people, or in her case, families were chosen that presented the phenomenon.

She had decided from an early age to accept the gift bestowed on her and to move forward regardless of how people perceive her. Along the way, she had pursued something that was even closer to her heart-herbal remedies. It is now the mainstay of my life. Her eyes, which hadn't left the white sheet of paper with words that looked all jumbled for a few seconds before they became clear, rose as she heard a vehicle stop outside the house. She glanced at the clock and noted it was ten-thirty. Amanda Lawson is as punctual today as she was on her earlier visits. Today, however, will be completely different. My senses feel it. Over the last week, her personal spirit guide had been very active, making her feelings of foreboding all the more potent. The doorbell rang, and Raphaela reread the first line of the letter before placing it in the desk drawer. She left the room and locked the door before she walked down the hall to open the door for Amanda Lawson who had rung the bell for the third time. The words she had read were floating in her mind…We are pleased to accept you…

Raphaela had to swallow deeply, so she could prevent a grin from appearing as she saw the surprised expression of Amanda. She is like most people who come to our door. They think I know the exact moment when they will ring the bell and will open the door before they can push the button. I really hate to disillusion them by telling them that their car usually gives them away. "Welcome, Amanda. Luminitsa is looking forward to your visit today." Her eyes quickly focused on the pale features, and the pain etched in the face of the woman standing uncomfortably at her door. This doesn't bode well for the particularly difficult emotional experience the day will likely bring. A delicate disposition was not conducive to a good interview. "Are you feeling okay, Amanda? You look tired. Didn't the herbal remedy I gave you help?"

Amanda shifted her expression and gave Raphaela a tight smile. "Yeah, it works as long as I'm sleeping. It is when I'm awake that the pain is my constant companion. At least that stuff you gave me keeps the pain away at night now." As she turned her eyes away from the woman's face to the floor, she carefully stepped into the room before following Raphaela farther into the house.

Raphaela knocked softly on the door of Luminitsa's room, and her grand-mère's cheerful voice welcomed them inside. "Ah, my dear Amanda, today is the day when all your questions will be answered, assuming our friends on the other side cooperate. I did mention, didn't I, that although there is a powerful entity wanting you here, it could also not communicate with us today? Nothing is set in stone"

Fatigued eyes devoid of comprehension met the older woman's in question. "Do you want these?" Amanda held up two pieces of paper.

Raphaela, who had yet to take her normal leaning position against the wall, had seen the clueless expression in Amanda's eyes. "What Luminitsa means, Amanda, is that you might have questions, but…Gwen may not be willing to answer them today. However, Luminitsa has felt an energy surrounding her for the last hour, so we are ever hopeful. Now do you understand?"

"I understood before. Shall we get on with it?" she said. "My first question is one that only Gwen will know the answer to." She gulped in a deep breath and felt for the first time fear of what was to come. She passed a small piece of yellow paper to Luminitsa.

The old woman smiled kindly at Amanda as she read the question. Why did you tell me what you did right after the truck hit our car? "I'm going to close my eyes and concentrate on the essence around me. If you care to think of Gwen and the question you have written on the paper at the same time, we shall see if anyone wishes to elaborate on it for you. Are you happy with that, dear?" Luminitsa then turned to her granddaughter and gave her a warm but piercing look that exchanged information only they knew. Seeing the affirmation from Ray, she closed her eyes and concentrated on what she did best-finding the light for lost souls.

Amanda waited for her answer. If they are, indeed, gypsies and charlatans, there will be no answer. They have already set the stage for that to happen. With hooded eyes, she watched as the old woman's closed eyes began to flutter. This is nothing but a show.

From Raphaela's standpoint, she could only wait while she opened her mind and her energy for her grand-mère to use if needed. At the same time, she kept an eye on their client for any signs of distress. Different events always proceed these occasions. I wonder what will transpire this time. The entity wanting to contact Amanda is very strong, so it's a good thing Grand-mère is a mistress of this art since things may occur unexpectedly. She watched Amanda sitting awkwardly waiting for something to happen. She's probably calling my grand-mère an old fraud. Then it happened. The room dropped several degrees, and although she was used to this reaction, she shivered and noticed Amanda did the same. "It's okay, Amanda, this is normal."

Amanda's eyes flashed around the room looking for an air conditioning duct that would explain the sudden coldness. She couldn't see any. She looked at the old woman again and saw a distressed look. "Is Luminitsa okay? She looks terrible." Amanda entreated in a whisper.

"Luminitsa is connecting with the energy of one who wants to be heard at this time. However, it does not mean that it is whom you want to hear from; we will have to be patient."

The lights in the room flickered for a few seconds, and then what looked remarkably like a laser light show began to permeate the room, dancing above their heads in a zigzag pattern. Wow, they certainly know how to put on a show. I bet they are waiting for me to tip my hand as to what the answer is. Well, it ain't gonna happen.

I'm amazed that Amanda doesn't look scared or in awe of what is happening above her head. What exactly is going through her mind? Then, Raphaela held her breath as Luminitsa began to speak-as she initially expected-a mass of jumbled, unintelligible words. Then the voice of her grand-mère deepened slightly, and the next words, in a younger woman's tone, were perfectly clear.

"You wanted to know why?"

Raphaela waited anxiously to see if Amanda responded. She did not. Why, is such an ambiguous word…I wish I knew what the question was then I could judge her reactions better. She didn't have long to wait as the entity that was speaking through her grand-mère began again.

"You would have been paralyzed." The words spoken tenderly and in a tone that made it clear the entity was deeply involved and worried about Amanda Lawson.

Amanda heard the answer and opened her mouth wide then closed it. Is there any way they could know the answer? She had wracked her brain going over and over the events of that day. I never told anyone what she said. I'm sure of that. Her eyes narrowed. So, how does she know, unless… "Gwen! It's Gwen. She's really here." With that realization, copious amounts of tears began drenching her cheeks. Unsuccessfully, she tried to wipe them away with the back of her hand as her nose filled and the corners of her mouth began collecting moisture. When she finally managed to speak again, it was with a quavering voice. "Why didn't you let me die, too?" She lifted her hands over her face and sobbed into them as she mumbled, "Why didn't I die, too?"

Raphaela silently applauded her grand-mère-Amanda finally appears to believe that we are here to help. The poignant questions Amanda fired tremulously at Luminitsa, or in Amanda's state of mind, the person called Gwen, were powerful. She found herself enthralled by the drama that appeared to be enfolding in her grand-mère's parlor.

"It was not your time to leave this life. You have lessons still to be learned."

"NO, I don't want to live. I don't want to be alone anymore. I want to be with you."

The area around Amanda filled with high emotion as each syllable was laced with extreme stress. Raphaela felt her heart go out to the woman suffering in the room. There is one word that tells the entire story when it comes to Amanda's emotional state-loneliness. It would be so easy to reach out a hand and give her comfort. I don't think a comforting gesture at this point will help Amanda for she has to find her own way back.

"Amanda, please let me go." The plaintive words echoed like the final leaves falling from a tree in autumn.

Amanda closed her eyes. Please let my life end now. To her dismay, her body began to feel odd as if the warmth of a great love encircled it. Opening her eyes, she gasped as she looked at what had been Luminitsa. She clearly saw the woman with the strong forehead, long black hair, and intense brown black eyes gazing at her with a bit of a smile playing on her lips. Her eyes darted around the room, and she saw Raphaela. I'm not dreaming. She looked back at the woman who used to be Luminitsa and said, "What's happening?" The woman only smiled. Then Amanda asked, "Who are you?"

"I am Raquel, your spirit guide."

Raphaela sucked in a deep breath. Oddly enough, the name was the same as her spirit guide. Can it be a coincidence, or is that the connection between us?

"Noooooo," Amanda cried. "You can't be! I want to talk with Gwen, not you. Bring Gwen back to me NOW!"

One of the reasons Luminitsa had gone into semi-retirement was the strain on her body these sessions caused, so when she began to shake, Raphaela watched carefully for any distress. It was a common occurrence for those in their profession to suffer from various illnesses associated with the connections they experienced. Shaking was common, especially in such a highly-charged atmosphere. Raphaela breathed a sigh of relief when her grand-mère relaxed slightly as the voice spoke again.

"Gwen is in a higher place. She left her memories for me to help you. She wants, no needs, you to go forward, she loved you very much, Amanda."

Fury blazed in Amanda's eyes. "You aren't speaking for Gwen! She would never allow such a thing to happen. The only thing you have right is that she loves me very much," she spat. Her eyes bore into the brown black ones issuing a challenge. "You have to prove to me that you speak for her."

"If you loved her, Amanda, you would allow her to find peace on this side. While you constantly reach out for her, she can feel your pain though she has left behind the vessel in which to communicate with you directly. She wants you to make peace with her mother. The locket she kept in her bedside drawer-the one given to her by her father-will help build the bridge between you. Gwen knows you will understand this."

"Never! Never will I give that bitch one thing of Gwen's. She hated me and our love." Amanda began to sob. "She hurt Gwen so much." Her body did an emotional u-turn as her tears suddenly stopped. "The necklace? That was so precious to her; how can you ask me to part with it?" She looked down at her hands. "I can't part with it. It would be like losing Gwen all over again," she said in a whisper.

"It will be your sign to her that you have allowed her to finally find peace, Amanda. Do you want Gwen to be constantly in the darkness of your emotions? She only wants you to find happiness, and this is your step to salvation. Will you be brave enough to take it? Gwen thought you were. Was she wrong about you?"

Raphaela felt the emotional maelstrom that enveloped Amanda, and she desperately wanted to help but had to wait patiently for the right time. As she watched and listened, she had to wonder what this all had to do with Luminitsa and her. If Raquel is my spirit guide, too, then she could have communicated with me at any time rather than wait for this session or for Amanda to enter our lives. Raquel has never been shy in entering my mind before. What is so different about this time?

Amanda felt bone weary. Her back was protesting the tension that was twisting her body. The situation was making it impossible for her to understand anything other than this Raquel person wanted her to forget Gwen. "I cannot forget Gwen," she said. "She was everything to me- my life." A grief stricken face looked at the entity. "All I want to do is be with her." Her voice was defeated and without emotion, as if she had nowhere left to turn. For her, all hope seemed to be lost. I had a small glimpse of Gwen then this Raquel person took it away. "I just want to die."

The tension in the room grew as silence answered Amanda's pleas before Luminitsa stood up…at least her body did. Raphaela was worried for her grand-mère rarely moved out of the chair because over the years her spine was severely tested and now was very weak. If the entity who is communicating decides to do something other than stand, I will have to put an end to this session. She waited and was relieved when all that happened was that a hand touched Amanda's head.

Raquel's voice spoke again. "Life moves on, Amanda, and Gwen has moved on, too. The essence that was Gwen will always love you, as you will her. If you hold her close and cherish her memories in your heart, you will never forget her. Material things fade, yet her memories remain with you forever and will never die no matter where you are in the universe. Everything has life, nothing truly dies."

The touch to her head seemed familiar but not. She closed her eyes and saw a flash of something that reminded her of the tender touch. Whatever it was, it did not stay long enough to become a full-fledged memory. Amanda opened her eyes and looked up into the brown black eyes before she fell forward onto the floor as her body became rigid before convulsing.

Raphaela rushed forward unable to prevent Amanda from hitting the polished wooden floor and quickly turned her over. The seizure was in full force as Raphaela rolled Amanda on her side and watched to ensure that the woman was in no danger of hurting herself. Perhaps she is an epileptic. I hope that it is no more than that. Her eyes quickly moved toward Luminitsa, and she was astonished, but in light of everything else not surprised, when Raquel spoke to her.

"It's time to reveal all, Raphaela. Everything will work out as it should."

Still watching over Amanda and being thankful that the seizure was abating, she saw Luminitsa begin to disengage from her trance-like state. "Oh, Ray," Luminitsa said in astonishment when she saw Amanda prone on the floor. "That wasn't supposed to happen. Raquel held no malice whatsoever toward Amanda. I've never seen this happen before…do you suppose she is ill?" Her grand-mère's concerned voice seemed to echo off the walls.

"Not sure yet, Grand-mère. I think it might be the stress of what's happened today. She's beginning to come back to us." Raphaela took a moment to look closer at her grand-mère. For all that had transpired, the old woman was looking quite refreshed. Wow, that's a surprise.

Amanda opened her eyes and stared at the woman who was now holding her close. "W…w…what happened?" she asked. She was aware of the strong loving arms holding her and looked at Raphaela. She smiled and said, "It is you."

Heaving a sigh of relief, Raphaela smiled at Amanda. "I'm going to take you to a nearby clinic Amanda and have you checked out. Is that okay with you?"


Her vision moved in the direction of the older woman with concern. I just can't get over how good she looks after all that has happened. "Grand-mère, will you be okay for a couple of hours? I think Amanda needs to be looked over by a doctor. I'll be back to make us a late lunch, and then we can talk."

Luminitsa nodded her head as she watched Raphaela lift Amanda with great care from the floor. She remained in Raphaela's arms as they left the room and headed for Amanda's car.

Chapter 9

Raphaela took the keys to Amanda's vehicle and tossed them in her hands a couple of times before eventually opening the rear door for the pale-faced woman.

"I can sit up front with you. I don't need to lie down."

"It's for the best believe me." If you think that what you just experienced was bad, wait until you see my driving skills. She then gave Amanda a small smile, and when she saw that Amanda was comfortable, she closed the door and opened the driver's side.

Raphaela decided that all cars were much the same. They have a steering wheel, gas pedal, brake pedal, and gears. What more do I need to know? Except this vehicle is much larger than anything that I've been in before; and it's new, or at least in as pristine condition as when it left the dealership. "Nice vehicle."

"Thanks," Amanda said from the back seat. "Do you need any help finding all the right knobs, pedals, and that sort of thing?" She had seen Raphaela fumbling with the key and wondered if she were having a bit of trouble.

With a bright smile and an even more cheerful voice, Raphaela replied, "No, I'm sure it's just like all the rest of the cars I've driven. Although where is reverse, please?"

Amanda, taken aback by the question, grimaced. "Hmm, it's the R." It's strange that someone other than Gwen is driving the car. It is the one she always wanted with all the bells and whistles. "Are you sure I shouldn't be up there with you?"

"No, you close your eyes and relax; before you know it we'll be there." Raphaela discreetly scanned the various gages then tipped her head sideways glad to see the slot for the key. "Thanks, sometimes the new vehicles have different gadgets. I wish I'd changed my sandals," she muttered absently. "I've never driven with sandals on before." The car roared to life and once she engaged the gear, the vehicle inched away from the car parked in front of Amanda's vehicle. Thank goodness, there is an acre of space behind us.

Her experiences of the morning had been strange-bizarre even-but it was a party compared to what she was now experiencing. Over the last two blocks, Amanda must have grabbed the "oh, shit" handle a hundred times as she tried to stretch her legs out enough to press an imaginary brake. "Ah, Raphaela, are you sure you don't want me to drive? I mean, I am more familiar with how the car handles."

With a beaming smile, Raphaela answered. "Anyone would think you didn't like my driving, Amanda. We only have another block to go. Don't worry, I promise to get you there in one piece."

Only one more block to hold my breath. "Oh, okay." It was then that she decided to close her eyes. What I don't see can't scare me.

"That's the spirit." Raphaela continued to concentrate on her driving and blew out a sigh of relief when she drove the vehicle through a set of traffic signals and saw the small clinic. Parking is going to be a nightmare at this time of day. "Hold onto your hat, Amanda, parking is a real problem around here."

Thank God, we made it in one piece. Amanda waited for Raphaela to help her out of the car and her brow furrowed with a sudden realization. "I wanted to live," she whispered to the empty car. I was actually afraid of dying…no, I was afraid of another accident and to lose another…what do I call her? Just then, the door opened wide and she looked into the hazel eyes of…my savior.

"There you go, Amanda, all safe and sound. Let's get you out of the car, and I'll take you to see a friend of mine. Dr. Lapahie is wonderful." Raphaela said, placing a special intonation to the doctor's name.

Once out of the vehicle Amanda cocked her head and looked at woman waiting with a wheelchair. How did they know we were coming? She didn't have time to call…maybe the old woman called…another mystery, I guess. "Dr. Lapahie is it? What does he specialize in…the heart?" It bothered her the way Raphaela's voice said the doctor's name. "Can't wait to meet him."

Raphaela didn't answer Amanda's question as she waved to the orderly who was pushing a wheelchair towards the clinic. Fate was good to us. A taxi that had moved away as they arrived provided them with not only a parking space, but also someone who could provide them with wheelchair support. "Jane, you must have been reading my mind." The orderly grinned warmly as she helped Raphaela maneuver Amanda into the wheelchair.

Are they kidnapping me to a whole clinic of them? Once inside, Amanda's eyes widened in surprise as she scanned the area. I've been in a lot of clinics and hospitals lately, but I have never seen anything like this place. To her right was, what she suspected, a waiting room with folding chairs in disarray and people either sitting or standing. She heard the sounds of babies wailing and what she was sure was a man moaning. Farther down the corridor seemed to be some sort of reception area, but it was more like what her desk area looked like when she was teaching. Overall, the place was dingy and in dire need of a good paint job. Exactly where has she brought me?

Then, a tall, slim woman walked around the bend of the small corridor and lit the place up with her presence. Her chocolate brown velvety eyes sparkled as they saw Raphaela in the corridor. She ate up the remaining space between them and hugged Raphaela warmly. "This is a wonderful surprise, Raph; you're not due until this afternoon."

Raphaela grinned at her friend and hugged her equally as hard. She had met Sun Lapahie during one of her last semesters in school, and they had struck up a deep, enduring friendship. Sun attended the school to gain further knowledge of herbalist remedies that she thought would compliment her medical knowledge. Sun's grandfather was a Navajo medicine man, and she and Raphaela ended up helping each other. Each woman brought to the table a vast knowledge of remedies from around the world. It was a small world when Raphaela and her grandmother turned up close to where Sun lived and practiced medicine. Fascinated by Sun's tales of the small clinic for indigents where she volunteered, Raphaela didn't need asking twice if she wanted to help.

Raphaela smiled, as she looked her friend. She could see the clearly defined dusky features of Sun's ancestors. "Sun, I need your professional help with my cl…friend here. This is Amanda Lawson. Would you check her out for me? She'll give you all her details regarding her current state of health, right Amanda?" Both women's eyes turned to Amanda for confirmation.

Amanda sat and watched, stunned by the obvious connection between Raphaela and the woman. I've seen that enough times to know there is more than friendship there. The thought bothered her in a way that she hadn't thought she could ever feel again-she was jealous or at least envious of the relationship. She focused on the other woman taking in her face then her body. Not bad, not bad at all. Then she coughed slightly. "I'm sure I am fine, but Raphaela seems to think I need to be checked out." She didn't disguise the once over she gave the doctor before she spoke again. "I'm all yours," she said. Amanda didn't know what was happening to her. This isn't like me. I just made a pass at that woman. I think I'm going mad…it must be all the drugs.

Raphaela heard the inflection in Amanda's voice and smiled inwardly. Ah, she's taking notice of someone more than herself-a great sign. "Marvelous, I'll check on some of my paperwork, and Dr. Lapahie will let me know when you're ready. I'll see you both soon." Her long legs strode in the direction where the doctor had come from, and once she turned the corner, only the clipping sounds of the sandals echoed back to her.

"Okay, Amanda, let's go into the exam room, and you can tell me all about yourself." Sun Lapahie gave Amanda a smile that was lukewarm at best. She hadn't enjoyed the once over she had been given by Raphaela's friend's predatory eyes. As she is a friend of Raph's I'll give her the benefit of the doubt.

"Where do you want me to start?"

Sun closed the door and picked up a clipboard and pen. "I could be trite and say the beginning, but your last illness will be a great place to start. I'll also need to know any medications you're currently taking and anything you might think is responsible for what worries Raph."

For a long time, Amanda sat and rocked ever so slightly in the chair as she tried to determine what to tell the doctor. "I'm not sure what to tell you. Almost two years ago, I was in an automobile accident and fractured my back." Tears welled up. "Because of the deterioration of my spine, I have been in excruciating pain ever since." She lifted up her pant legs. "I wear braces on both legs." She shrugged. "I take a lot of pain meds." She laughed slightly. "It's probably more than I should take, but they get me by on the rough days." She focused her eyes on a distant corner as she tried to remember what had happened to bring her there. "I think I was convulsing, and that is why she brought me here."

"Who is your primary doctor?"

"Dr. Banks is the one whom I see most often."

"I didn't think she was a general practitioner."

Amanda shrugged. "She is for me."

Hmm, that's interesting. "Were you at Raph's home with her grandmother having one of her sessions?" Sun thought better of the question and added, "You can, of course, tell me to mind my own business."

Amazed by the question Amanda didn't answer only involuntarily nodded.

A tinkle of embarrassed laughter came from the doctor. "I know what you're thinking…why I would ask such a ridiculous question? Raph didn't describe your symptoms, or tell me what happened to you; and I've found the only time she isn't one hundred percent efficient is when it comes to anything involving her grandmother." Sun saw a look of concern. "Don't worry, it doesn't happen often. In fact, I only know of one incident, and that was her grandmother." She looked back at the clipboard. "As you appear to be in the hands of a very good practitioner, I'll give you a basic exam and release you back into Raph's care. From what I see, you appear perfectly able to function," Sun said in a brusque tone. "Is that okay with you?"

The tone of the doctor's voice was not lost to Amanda as a sense of sadness engulfed her. What have I done to her? I'm only here because that gypsy woman brought me. When will the world ever swing my way? "Sure, do whatever you want; I don't care."

Sun didn't reply to the pitiful remark, for the woman clearly didn't have a clue what real life was like. I don't care, but Raph does, so I will do what I must. She's a client. That's the only reason for Raph's involvement with such a pity party. What other reason can there be for her interest? If this woman injured herself on their property, I wonder whether Raph is worried about a lawsuit. God, I hate having to waste my time on a crybaby. Sun began her cursory examination while the woman sat stoically and sadly on the exam table. Doesn't this woman know that at least she has the means to have her injuries properly taken care of? People who come here don't have that luxury, and a great many die because of it. Fifteen minutes later, the examination was finished and other than elevated blood pressure, which needs monitoring, there didn't appear to be any outward sign of any other trauma. "As you know, I can't give you a clean bill of health. I don't see any signs of damage caused by what you described as a convulsion. Your blood pressure is markedly higher than normal, but that probably has to do with the circumstances of your coming here. Do you have a history of high blood pressure?" She saw the woman shake her head no and continued. "We don't have the necessary diagnostic tools here to evaluate what made you have a seizure or if it was indeed one. I suggest you see Dr. Banks for further evaluation." Amanda nodded in agreement. "Make sure you tell her about the elevated blood pressure." Sun paused. "If you have blood pressure problems, I think you will find that Raphaela can do wonders for you."

Amanda blew out one breath and then another. "Convulsions and high blood pressure, now there are two new ones to add to the list." She couldn't help the sarcasm. It seems like icing on the cake. "Listen, I know you did this exam as a favor to a friend, and I'm sorry I took up so much of your time. From the looks of this place, you must run on a shoestring budget, and I am sure there are people out in your waiting room who are in need of your help. Just send me the bill, and I will see you get a check promptly." She brushed away a tear as she carefully got off the table and sat back in the wheelchair. "Like I said, I'm sorry to have wasted your time. Thanks." She placed practiced hands around the rims of the wheels and turned around toward the door. "If you don't mind, could you please open the door?"

"Why not do yourself a favor? Stand up, and walk out of this room. If for no one's sake, think of Raphaela's. She won't say, but she's worried, especially if you had the problem in her home…the implications could be…"

Amanda interrupted the doctor as she turned her head and glared at the woman. "You know nothing about me, or where I've been, or what I've been through. As for walking out of this room, no problem…I'll do it gladly. Thank you for your time, Doctor." She stood up, and although pain shot through her body, she put one foot in front of the other then pushed the door open and walked out.

As she watched Amanda Lawson struggle out of the room, Sun picked up the phone and called Raphaela. The woman is right, I know nothing of what she has been through, and I'm never likely to. If I allow every patient's pity to be important to me, it would destroy me. It did not mean she cared any less, it meant she cared more for she had to see the loathing on faces of people like Amanda Lawson who thought no one cared. Amanda is luckier than most for she has found someone like Raph to take notice. If ever there was a spirit on this earth whom we should applaud for her compassion and genuine caring for others, it is Raphaela. "Hi, I just wanted you to know I am done with your friend."

"Thanks, Sun, I'll be right there. How is she?"

Sun shook her head in repugnance. "She'll survive. Do you mind if I ask you a question?"

"Of course not."

Sun opened her mouth to ask why her friend was wasting her time on the woman but thought better of the idea. "Never mind, your friend will be wondering where you are."

"Yeah, you're right; she's kind of fragile right now."

The doctor made a decision; she walked quickly to the door and shoved it hard. She saw Amanda standing against the wall across from the room with downcast eyes that glistened with tears. "Raphaela is on her way. If you care to listen, the best piece of advice I can give you is to have her help you with your meds. She has a special talent, and you can trust her." She watched as a startled look crossed the woman's face. "Oh, and a vacation might be good, too-get your mind off your troubles, and you'll find it will do wonders."

Amanda swiped a hand across her cheeks and stood with her mouth opened as she watched the doctor turn and walk away. Was it something I said? Amanda felt a tug on her arm and noticed Raphaela standing by her side. "Where are my keys?"

Raphaela frowned. "Right here," she said holding up the keys.

Amanda grabbed them away. "Let's go," she said before turning and walking as fast as she could for the exit.

"Wait, Amanda, what's the matter?" Raphaela asked as she hurried out the door behind her. She finally grabbed the woman's arm to stop her. "What's happened? Did Sun give you bad news?"

Amanda wrestled her arm away and glared at the woman. "If you want to know what happened, ask your doctor friend." Her anger boiled up further. "And, if she says it's privileged information, you can tell her I said she could blab away." She moved away in the direction of her SUV. "If you want a ride home, you better come along," she said over her shoulder.

The ride home was quiet giving Raphaela time to mull over several scenarios of what might have happened between the two women. At first, she thought that maybe Amanda made a pass at Sun but dismissed that idea immediately. I don't think in her present state of mind Amanda would have done that. Besides, there's no way is Sun interested in her. I guess they could have been like oil and water and just didn't mix well. Although… Just as she was about to expand on that thought she heard the screech of rubber as Amanda stopped the vehicle in front of her house.

Amanda glared at Raphaela as she waited for her to get out. When she didn't, she spat, "Is there something else?"

Taking the hint, Raphaela opened her door and got out. Before she could close the door, Amanda said, "Don't worry, I'm not going to sue you or your grandmother."

Raphaela watched as Amanda drove away at speed much faster than was necessary and spoke to the wind she left behind. "I never thought for one moment that you would sue us." Perplexed, she walked to the door of the house, inserted her key, and let herself in. She felt the tension of the drive home and Amanda Lawson's presence in her life lift dramatically. This house is the one place I know where nothing can harm me. Its very essence makes me feel welcomed and loved. She also knew that further inside her grand-mère resided, and that alone removed any feelings of loneliness that occasionally invaded her thoughts when she had to deal with the emotional drama of people like Amanda.

"Raphaela, is that you?" Luminitsa's strong voice echoed down the hallway. She smiled. Her voice is in direct contrast to her body that is frail and unresponsive to treatment.

"Now who else would it be?" Raphaela chuckled knowing her grand-mère would be smiling as well. She walked toward Luminitsa's room and knocked as she always did before entering. Her grand-mère was lying comfortably and certainly looked more refreshed than she probably felt.

Luminitsa saw the strain in her granddaughter and with a waggle of her finger, caught the younger woman's eyes flashing in a tender glance. "I can see that it didn't go well, Ray. You'd best sit down, and tell me everything."

With little resistance, Raphaela sat although she suspected her grand-mère must be hungry and wanting her mint tea. It is way past our lunchtime. "It was interesting."

Luminitsa sighed heavily; the weight of the world appeared to be on her granddaughter's shoulders, and the only thing she could do was listen and offer advice if asked. Leaning forward, she touched Raphaela's hand and held it gently." First, how is Amanda?"

She stared into her grand-mère's eyes and shook her head slightly. "I'm not sure. All I know is she was examined by my friend, Dr. Lapahie," she smiled. "Do you remember her? She's the one who took care of you after your stroke." Her grand-mère nodded but continued to listen rather than say anything. "After that, she appeared to be angry and drove us both back here. Somehow, she has the impression that we think she's going to sue us…I don't understand why. I didn't have time to speak with Sun and find anything out, but I will while I make us lunch."

Luminitsa heard the explanation. Indeed, it does not make sense. We didn't have any control over how Amanda would react to anything said to her in our home. It is always at the client's own risk. "Well, she can't sue; she signed the waiver, so that would negate any action for negligence…"

"She didn't!"

Frowning slightly, the older woman looked at Raphaela. "She didn't? Why on earth didn't she, Ray?"

Raphaela sheepishly rubbed the back of her neck as she spoke. "In all the excitement of her actually contacting us, I forgot to have her sign the document. She has the opening to sue us. I'm sorry for failing you, Grand-mère."

The poignantly spoken words brought tears to Luminitsa's eyes. "Oh, my darling, Ray, you have never failed me. From the moment you were born, you have given me a hope in the future, and the light to lead me onward. We have shared an abundance of happy memories and experiences that I always treasure. Besides, Amanda may be many things, but I am certain suing us isn't in her nature. We did do one thing for her that will be the catalyst for her recovery."

Encased by the loving words of her grand-mère, Raphaela gave her a quizzical glance. "What was that?"

"She actually felt a connection to someone other than herself. She has begun to question her desire to leave her physical life behind."

Even more puzzled by the cryptic statement, Raphaela shook her head. "I don't understand. Whom was she connected with…you?"

The soft chuckle that emanated from Luminitsa made Raphaela smile-it always had from the very moment that she could consciously remember anything in life. "Not me, Ray…why you, of course! Amanda thinks she knows you and believes you are important to her. The aspect of what she thinks is not important only that she understands. Nonetheless, she now feels something other than pity for herself, and that is remarkable."

Raphaela repeated the word, "Remarkable."

"I think we should ask…no, you should go over and ask her to dinner. It's time for her to make new memories and not dwell on the old. While she lives alone without genuine friendship that will not happen. We have the opportunity to open up her world to a completely new dimension. I think she just needs a little more help to get back, as they say, in the saddle." Luminitsa was satisfied with her announcement though she could see worry beginning to cloud her granddaughter's eyes. "You don't agree?"

"I do, but what if she focuses all her energy on us or me? I wouldn't want her to get hurt again if the friendship became distant." Raphaela chose her words carefully because she knew there was more yet to disclose to her grand-mère.

Luminitsa's brow creased in puzzlement. "Distant? Why would we be distant with her? It's true that at the moment she might not be the nicest person to be around, but deep down and getting closer to the surface is a wonderful caring person. I think she needs us, and more particularly, you, to help her achieve that goal. And, my darling, Ray, you do that kind of thing so well."

Raphaela cleared her throat as she tried to dredge up a suitable explanation. This is the moment when I must admit my secret. "Grand-mère," she said tentatively. "You've always wanted to know where I go everyday?"

Luminitsa grinned. At last! "Yes."

"Well, it's like this, Grand-mère. The clinic I took you to, and where I went with Amanda today…well, I work there. In fact, I more than work there; I'm one of the chief financial backers and directors of its operation." There, it is finally out in the open. She eyed the old woman. I can't see one iota of change in Grand-mère's expression…that can mean anything. Then, a look of disappointment crossed the older woman's face as she stared at the rings on her fingers. "I know you won't be happy that I'm using my gifts and my trust fund in this way. We did talk about it when we came here that I wouldn't …"

Luminitsa held up her hand. "No, no, Ray. I think what you are doing is a splendid way for our gifts, and yours in particular, to shine and help a great many people. Your trust fund is for you to do with as you see fit, and I'm sure your parents would be proud…very proud. What better way to use your father's legacy than using his fame after his death for a good cause. Why you thought you had to keep it a secret is a puzzle to me, but I'm sure you had your reasons."

"Then why do you look so disappointed?"

"Forgive an old woman her dreams, Ray. I actually thought as you were so happy when you left for this secret rendezvous that you had finally found someone who made you happy and loved you." Luminitsa had tears slowly rolling down her cheeks as she gave her granddaughter a solemn glance.

Raphaela smiled and quickly got up from her chair to hug the old woman tenderly. As she thought about the comment, her own tears were not far away. She whispered into Luminitsa's ear, "One day, Grand-mère, one day, and I promise you'll be the first to know."

Embarrassed by her emotional ramblings, Luminitsa hugged her granddaughter as tightly as she could before releasing her and gruffly announcing, "Off with you to make us lunch. I'm hungry, and I know how you like your schedule." The wink of her eye took any sting out of the words.

Raphaela smiled and wiped an errant tear away. "I'll call Sun and ask her about Amanda, and tell her I can't return to the clinic today."

Luminitsa gave her granddaughter a quizzical look. I hope she doesn't think I disapprove; for I don't, in fact, I am supremely proud of her. "Don't think you have to stop doing what makes you happy, Ray."

Raphaela started to leave before tuning and saying, "I'm not. If we are going to try to make someone else happy, I'll need to go over to Amanda's house and ask her to dinner.


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