© by JM Dragon and Erin O'Reilly 2007
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Raphaela sat by the fire, alone as usual at this time of night, and began to fill in her journal for the day. This was a habit she had picked up as a child and never stopped once she reached adulthood. Sucking the end of her pen, her thoughts drifted to the fact that she was still in awe of the magnificent things she had learned and incredibly been able to impart to the people who had welcomed her like an old friend. Sun, she felt sure, had been party to that fact. Sun's grandfather was an amazing man, and she could see now where Sun had found her vocation. For the grizzled man, who as the current medicine man wore the most outrageous costumes, was just like any other proud grandparent, he sent his child off into the world after imparting as much knowledge as he possibly could to help her through life's tribulations.
She and Sun had formed a bond immediately when they had met. It wasn't just the herbal medicine course, or the friendship they had struck up, it was the fact that they shared something that few others did—each were brought up by grandparents. Sun's parents were killed in a car accident when she was eight, necessitating that she and her six-month-old sister Moon leave their suburban home for the reservation. In no time, they took to the new surroundings like ducklings to water. Moon had stayed at the reservation practicing as a nurse in a small hospital close by. She remained true to her Navajo roots by staying within the confines of the mountain ranges of spirit tradition. Sun, on the other hand, had gone to the big city to learn as much as she could. After spending almost six months on the reservation, she knew that her friend would return home eventually. The calling of the spirit of the land to the person was something that was almost tangible in the air. When Raphaela had arrived, she had been unsure as to how she could possible settle into a totally weird and wonderful setting. To her surprise, it had been remarkably easy. Jack Lapahie, Sun's grandfather, had blessed her visit as an omen of a visitor from another land who held the spirit world in her palm just as they did. After that, it was a piece of cake; everyone accepted her.
Over time, she had begun to accept the complex, yet simple lifestyle of the Navajo tribe she felt bound to. She was particularly fascinated with the stories of the family, and the home they lived in called a Hogan. She learned that the posts of the dwelling represented the four sacred mountains, and sections of the building match up to the structures of the universe. The earth floor represented Mother Earth and the circular roof, Father Sky. Most of all, the Hogan was the site for all religious ceremonies. It was one of the most sacred places of a Navajo family, binding them to the land from birth.
Of course, fascination was secondary as she was there to learn from the best source possible—a traditional medicine man. Jack was as happy to show her their ways, as she was to impart her own traditional family ways. She often told herself that it was a partnership made in heaven. Jack Lapahie knew his herbs and had personal names for every one when he picked them. It hadn't taken her long to understand that for the Navajo, every living thing was a relative and deserved respectful treatment. Her own spiritualist upbringing was not much of a departure from the family she felt a deep, abiding bond to. I could happily live out my days here satisfied with life.
Then her thoughts drifted to Amanda. She would dearly love to bring her here to see all the wonders she had experienced. But, would that work? Although they had a remarkable affinity with each other, they had barely scratched the surface. They still needed to learn who they were and what they ultimately expected and wanted out of life. Before she'd left, they had spent the two months after Amanda's hospitalization with the seizure getting to know each other as much as possible. Out of love and respect for her naivety and lack of experience, Amanda hadn't pushed the physical side of their relationship. Kissing and fondling each other had been the limit, mutually deciding that they would make love only after they were certain they would never be apart again.
The tears of happiness she had experienced in Amanda's arms now spilled over onto her cheeks. She wiped one away with her finger kissing the moisture held there like a bubble in time, much like her captured thoughts of Amanda. She whispered, “I love you, Amanda” to the gentle breeze that floated around her, and she smiled sadly.
Returning to the journal, she saw several of her tears had streaked the page, and it made her smile. A lasting impression for prosperity. She began her notes, and as she did, she made a decision—she would invite Amanda to see what she did. Besides, there is a very special ceremony I want Amanda to experience. Once that happens, we can begin our new journey of life together in earnest. Yawning as she glanced up at the sky full of stars, only one thing could complete the feeling she had right now and that was sharing it with the people she loved most in the world. Placing her pen and journal in her leather Navajo tooled valise, a gift from Jack, she stood up and left the glory of the universe at night to sleep and dream of Amanda.
>< >< ><
Surprisingly, the time since Raphaela began her stint in Arizona flew by for Amanda and Luminitsa. They spent time quietly talking or taking long leisurely walks, which for them, consisted of Luminitsa on her Jazzy, and Amanda walking along side her. The time had helped heal their bodies in the most remarkable way. Luminitsa felt the right side of her body becoming stronger with each day; thereby, compensating positively for the discrepancies of her left side. Amanda's strides were subtler. She still experienced pain, and on some days, the need for increased doses of pain medications left her little choice. She found that as her mental resolve became stronger, she was able, on occasions, to push past the pain without the need of medication.
It was customary that each afternoon Luminitsa would take an hour nap. Before that, Amanda would read a story from her classic English novel collection. They were halfway through their fourth book, A Tale of Two Cities , when Amanda suddenly closed the book and looked at Luminitsa.
“What is it, child?” She knew what was coming; she had been waiting for the discussion for months.
“Sun is in love with Raphaela,” Amanda said.
Amanda smiled. “Of course, you do.”
A soft chuckle proceeded, “I didn't read her mind…I read her body language.”
For several minutes, Amanda sat and stared into the sparkling dark eyes. “Should I be worried?” She really didn't want to know the answer, but her stubbornness insisted she speak the words.
Luminitsa reached over and touched Amanda's knee. “All lives are intertwined in the tapestry that makes our essence. Some of those threads are small and weak and can easily be broken. Others are thick and strong, woven deeply throughout the tapestry. Sun's essence has been with you throughout all time, Amanda. She will turn into a strong and dependable friend who will show you the way on many occasions.” “She is not a threat, but an ally.”
“Then why do I feel threatened by her?”
“Only you can answer that, my dear.” Luminitsa smiled fondly at the woman. “All will be as it should be. Isn't that what we discussed last week?”
“Yes, it is. I guess since Sun is making her third visit out there …” she shrugged. “Let's see if Sydney can ever admit he loves Lucie.” She opened the book. “Carton…”
>< >< ><
Hanging up the phone, Amanda sighed. It was becoming more and more difficult to separate from Raphaela. She longed to hold her close, feel her heart beat next to hers, and breathe the same air. She was so lost in her thoughts she didn't hear Luminitsa enter the room.
“Don't worry, darling, she will be back before we know it,” she said while patting Amanda's shoulder.
Amanda turned to Luminitsa. “I know; but it is hard, especially when we have to hang up. I don't want it to end, but I know she has so much to do that I can't occupy all her time even if I want to,” she said. Then she took a good look at Luminitsa. “Well, look at you all dressed up. What's the occasion?”
“I need you to take me somewhere.”
“Sure, anywhere you say.”
With a twinkle in her eye, Luminitsa smiled. “Even if that is the ocean?”
Surprise colored Amanda's face. “Sure, but why the ocean?”
Choosing her words carefully, Luminitsa spoke. “I will tell you later tonight after I have seen the full moon over the water.”
The words, ‘later tonight,' told Amanda that there was the possibility of an overnight trip. “You know, Grand-mère, that is a four or five hour trip; are you sure you are up to it?” The glare she received had her changing tactics. “Then I guess we should pack our bags, and make a reservation for the night.”
“Mine are already packed, and I have made a reservation for a lovely place right on the ocean in Avon by the Sea.” She eyed Amanda. “Now, it is up to you to get yourself ready.”
Luminitsa's words brooked no discussion, so Amanda got up and went dutifully into her room to pack an overnight bag . If Raphaela finds out about this, she is going to have my hide. What is Grand-mère up to?
Thirty minutes later, they were in the car headed down Highway 79 toward their latest adventure. From the corner of her eye, Amanda glanced at Luminitsa who was sitting quietly while watching the road ahead. “Okay…are you going to tell me what we will be doing on this little journey of ours?”
Luminitsa briefly closed her eyes and sighed. “Last night, I had a visit from my mother who reminded me of something that I have long forgotten. I need to be at the ocean tonight for the full moon and then in the morning for the sunrise.”
For Amanda, references to the long departed had become second nature. “How long has your mother been gone?”
Laughing slightly, Luminitsa shook her head. “You are never going to say the words are you?”
“You knew what I meant, didn't you?” Amanda asked.
“Yes,” she replied.
“Then what does it matter what words are used?”
Luminitsa nodded her head. “Point taken, and of course, you are right. I believe that no one actually dies, my dear. He or she merely moves on to another astral plane as you and I will one day. To answer your question, she and my father died when I was five. My sister and I were taken in by her mother just as I took in Ray.” She stared off into the distant horizon as the memories floated up to her consciousness. “She used to visit me often when I was much younger, but it has been many decades since she has come to me so strongly.”
“What was it you forgot?”
Luminitsa just smiled. “You will find out,” she said before she turned her attention toward the window. She spoke not another word until they entered the town of Avon by the Sea and stopped where they would spend the night.
When they pulled up outside the Chashelmara Inn, Amanda couldn't hide the surprise. After checking in and opening the door to their suite, she was dumbfounded. “This must have cost a fortune,” she said.
“Money is of no concern to me in this instance, Amanda. We are here for a specific reason that transcends monetary concerns. Besides, I can afford it and more if I chose.” Luminitsa looked out the window. “It will be getting dark soon…we need to be by the ocean before then.”
Amanda frowned. What is she up to? “Walking in the sand might be a bit tricky for us both.”
“We will have no problems,” Luminitsa reassured as she made for the door. “Are you coming with me?”
Wide eyed, Amanda walked as rapidly as she could to catch up to her. “Hey, wait up for me.”
True to the prediction, neither woman had any problems navigating across the sand to the water's edge. It was there that Luminitsa grabbed onto Amanda's arm for support as she took off her shoes and then stepped into the water.
“Grand-mère, the water temperature has to be in the mid-fifties; you will catch a cold standing in it.”
Luminitsa was lost in her chant and did not heed Amanda's words, or the temperature of the water. “For all who listen, this is my granddaughter Raphaela's friend, Amanda. She is my guide for this journey. Please accept her as you do me.” She opened her eyes, turned, and walked back out of the water. “We need to get our rest. It is critical that we be here before sunrise.” She took hold of Amanda's arm again, slipped on her shoes then looked thoughtfully at her. “When we get back to the room, I will explain.”
Once they were in the room, Amanda quickly started a fire in hopes of warding off any untoward effects standing in the water may have had on the old woman. “Here, sit by the fire and warm up. You must be freezing after standing in that water.”
A serene smile crossed Luminitsa's face. “I neither felt the cold nor will I suffer any effect from it. Please sit with me,” she said patting the arm of the chair next to her. “I want to tell you a story.”
Before complying with the request, Amanda lovingly placed a light blanket over Luminitsa's lap and legs. “I must say you have me intrigued. Please share your story with me.”
“Along with my parents, I had an older sister—Raphaela.” She saw Amanda's eyes light up. “Yes, Ray is named for her. Each year we would travel from our home to the ocean, so we would arrive on this date. On that night, we would walk with her to the ocean where she would say prayers of thanksgiving and salvation then introduce us as her guides.” She looked at Amanda. “You are my guide,” she said patting her hand. “Then in the morning, we would again accompany her to the ocean where she would stand in the water and say several prayers of hope before walking into the water until it covered her knees.”
Amanda gasped. “Didn't you worry about the tides pulling her under?”
Luminitsa smiled. “No, we knew she was safe.”
“Is that what you are planning on doing?”
“Yes,” Luminitsa said. “It is a ritual of rebirth for the soul. When my mother came to me last night, she reminded me that if I am to survive, I must renew my soul.”
“But Grand-mère, I don't think I can stand by and watch that happen. Even a fit person would not be able to undertake such a thing.”
“I am not just any person,” she said. “Perhaps my outer shell looks old and feeble, but my inner being is strong; the brilliance of my soul, however, has been tarnished. It is essential to us all that I get that back.”
“Surely there must be another way.”
Luminitsa shook her head. “No, this is the only way…” she trailed off. “If you will not help me, child; I will do it alone.”
There was a determination in Luminitsa's voice that sent a chill up Amanda's spine. Raphaela is going to kill me! If I help her, she will kill me, and if I don't, I will be letting this dear woman down. Shit! “I will be there for you, Grand-mère, but I will not be happy about it.”
A soft laugh emanated from the woman. “I promise you that it will all be as it should be.” She stood up and went into the sleeping area. “It is a queen bed; do you want the right or left side?”
“I will stay out here,” Amanda said. I don't think I will be getting much sleep tonight.
The next morning, Amanda felt herself shaken and she opened her eyes. Staring down at her was Luminitsa who had a look in her eyes unlike any Amanda had ever seen. “We must hurry; the sun will be up shortly.”
Scrambling to her feet from the chair, Amanda quickly went to the bathroom, grabbed the towels, and then came back out into the room. Luminitsa was gone. “Shit.” When she finally caught up to her, Luminitsa had crossed the boardwalk and was about to step out onto the sand. “Here,” she said breathlessly, “let me take your arm.”
The dark sky gave way to light, as the sky above them seemed to turn white then a brilliant turquoise color. Any other time Amanda had been by the ocean at sunrise clouds were always present but not this morning. A hot red-orange ball began to slip its way up the horizon sending shards of color in all directions. Luminitsa began walking farther in the water unfazed by the waves that seemingly parted as they approached her. Deeper and deeper she got and just as the sun was halfway up the horizon, Luminitsa stood still.
Mesmerized by the sun, the water, and the old woman who appeared to be no longer visible even though she could clearly see her, Amanda stood frozen in place. Suddenly, her mind wrapped around the fact that Luminitsa was gone, and she moved as fast as she could into the water. Waves slapped against her legs pushing her backward until she fell down. Struggling, she rose up and once again started toward the last place she thought she had seen Luminitsa, but the waves seemed to be barring her rescue attempts. “Nooooooo,” she screamed as she fought her way through the water. Just then, she saw the old woman reemerging and beginning her journey back to shore. Once she was within arm's length, Amanda grabbed Luminitsa and pulled her close. “I thought I had lost you.”
Once they were out of the water, Amanda picked up the towels and began wrapping them around Luminitsa. “We have to get you warmed up,” she said over the roar of the waves. Then, she realized that although she thought she saw Luminitsa submerged in the water, she was not wet. How can that be? She squished her toes in her wet shoes. I'm wet . “Why?” she asked as she continued to cling to the woman.
Luminitsa wrapped her arms around the woman. “It is as it is dictated to be. My mother never was wet either.” She squeezed Amanda. “Thank you, my darling, for being my guide. I'm starving. Let's find something to eat before we go home.”
>< >< ><
Jack Lapahie observed his granddaughter as she watched her friend, the gypsy named Raphaela. Sun had always yearned for things just out of her reach, and at this moment that was exactly the situation. With his old, tired but ever-alert eyes, he had seen the emerging love Sun had for the woman. Although he did not approve of her choices in physical relationships, he respected that she had to make her own way in the ever-changing world. He loved the child very much and was proud that she had gained entry at the university to study the white man's medicine. Though, when she had finally finished her studies, he had been equally as upset that she did not chose to remain with her people. Through the eyes of the gypsy, he had seen the merit of Sun's achievements in the decade she had been gone. Her devotion to the sick and compassion for those who could not afford treatment in the general hospitals had made his heart sing. He still had hope that eventually she would return and felt that more keenly as he stared at the woman sitting on the rock outcrop writing in her journal.
He was glad to have gotten to know the gypsy for she had taught him much of her own skills and family traditions. The elders of their tribe recognized her awareness of the spirit world. She had been welcomed not because she was Sun's friend, but as a friend of the Navajo and their teachings. “How can one not accept a sister into the fold?” A voice from inside the family Hogan spoke out into the darkening night sky. He could smell the delicious aroma of the meal prepared by his woman. Turning away, he smiled and hoped one day Sun would find a mate who could be a partner in life as he had done over fifty years ago.
Before he entered the family home, he shouted across to his granddaughter. “Sun, go tell your gypsy friend that dinner is ready. You know your grandmother doesn't like being kept waiting.”
Sun swiveled around; she hadn't been aware that her grandfather was in the vicinity. Did he catch me watching Raph? Probably, the old man never misses a beat. I do love him. “Okay, we'll be there shortly,” she shouted before walking rapidly over to the spot where Raphaela was concentrating on her journal. As she paused within a couple of feet of her friend, she watched the way Raphaela held the pen between her teeth as she concentrated on what to write next. She studied her friend as she boldly wrote on the paper. It was during her second visit that she enquired about what Raphaela was writing.
“Is that a personal diary you keeping, Raph?
“No, it is a working diary.”
She remembered thinking at the time how typical it was of her friend to be so conscientious. It reminded her of Raphaela's copious notes at the clinic, not to mention her brilliant pencil sketches. Her heart beat a little more rapidly as she observed the calm breathing and with it the slight rise and fall of her ample breasts. One of the things that her grandfather was right about was the gypsy part of Raphaela's makeup. She loved wearing the low cut traditional style blouses, and she, for one, applauded that immensely. It is silly really to have licentious thoughts about my friend. That's all Raph is, a dear friend . She can't be any more than that; the arrival of Amanda Lawson has seen to that. A part of her still hoped, as one does, that the person she adores, who is slightly out of reach, will desire her. It was like the reminiscence of unrequited first love that follows one through life—there was always hope. Her hope was fading with each day. The knowledge that Raphaela didn't see her as anything other than a friend meant she had to be content with that if she still wanted Raphaela to be part of her life. Even if she had to store away her own dreams of the woman and accept she belonged with another, she still wanted Raphaela in her life. Amanda Lawson is one lucky lady; I hope she knows that.
“Hey there, Raph, my grandmother has the meal waiting, and you know she'll go on the warpath if we don't get there on time.” Sun softly spoke not wanting to spook Raph.
A warm smile shot up at her as Raphaela brought her gaze from the journal to the woman who had arrived at her side. “Wonderful. I'm starving. Spring Lark is a marvelous cook. Did you know she's even teaching me a few recipes to take home? I can't wait to share them with Amanda and Grand-mère.”
Sun's heart skipped another beat, but this time not in lust—in pain at the simple, affectionate words. How she wished her name had been on the list. “Yep, she sure is a great cook. How are the lessons with grandfather going?”
Another beaming smile sent her way had Sun dazzled by its glow as she waited for the response. “Jack is marvelous. I'll never forget his kindness in allowing me the knowledge he has shared. I'll never forget yours either, Sun, for permitting me this wonderful opportunity. If there's anything ever you need from me, you only have to ask. If it is in my power, it will be yours.”
For a split second, Sun wanted to take the opportunity to say the words she'd wanted to do for the last five years. Over the years, before Amanda arrived, she had her chance to speak her heart and she hadn't. I had my chances in Raph's life, and I didn't take them. I always thought time would be on my side. Time had run out for her, and she finally accepted that Raphaela wasn't going to see her in any other light except the one she did now. On reflection, it wasn't so bad. I can live with it. I have for several years anyway. “You owe me nothing except your friendship, which is a mutual thing we have, right?”
As she saw the differing expressions cross her friend's face, a serious expression crossed Raphaela's features. Raphaela had wanted to say something, she was sure of that. What is that I wonder? “ Always Sun. Your spirit is with me through all time. I've known that from the first moment we met.”
Although Sun had lived with the spirit world all her life, she had a more practical way of looking at things. It was not something she and her family, in particular her grandfather, agreed upon. Nonetheless, it was who she was and wanted to be. The mumbo jumbo about spirit worlds and other lifetimes and all that crap could be a little wearing on the majority of folks. In a way, she'd been surprised at how well she and Raphaela did get along considering the woman's beliefs. What she lacked in compassion and a rather logical way of looking at things, Raphaela would balance with her gentle spirit. They had gotten along marvelously and complemented each other professionally. In fact, when she came to think about it, they made a good team, and it showed in the way the clinic survived. She might never be able to share the physical loving side of Raphaela's life, but she sure could make up for that in their professional life. That was exactly what the spirits had decreed, or so her grandfather and Raphaela would probably say. “How many years have you known me, Raph?”
Raphaela thought about the strange question and with a slight frown replied, “Six years in fall, why?”
“Well, one day you might remember that I'm not into the spirit thing that you and my family love to chat about. Take it from me, all that happened when we met was that you and I were both in the right place at the right time needing a friend we could rely on, and it worked out. Lots of relationships don't last as long as our friendship.”
With a chuckle, Raphaela stood up, placed her journal in the protective plastic cover, and grinned good-naturedly. “Yeah, sure, I understand where you're coming from…except… don't you believe in something other than science? Fate perhaps, or another religion, or…well, the list is endless, Sun”
With a laugh that filled the darkening night sky, Sun placed a friendly hand on Raph's shoulders. “For you, I'll believe anything you want, but right now, if we don't get inside…let's put it this way, I'm not too old to be sent to bed without dinner.”
Laughing at the thought, both women headed for the Hogan. “I'm going to ask your grandfather to reside over a healing ceremony before I leave. Do you think he will?”
Sun glanced sharply toward Raphaela and stopped a few feet away from the Hogan. Concern filled her eyes. “Are you ill? Why haven't you told me? What are your symptoms?”
With a chuckle, Raphaela placed a warm hand on her friend's to stop her from worrying. It is sweet of her . “I'm not ill, but Jack has told me so much about the ceremony and what it can achieve that I was going to ask Amanda if she would go through it. As a part of her get well team, what do you think?”
Thankful that there was nothing wrong with Raphaela, Sun smiled slightly. How can I compete with someone who is thousands of miles away and has such loving words said about her? One day, I hope I will be as lucky. Then Sun considered the suggestion. True, the healing ceremony has appeared to help some of our people, and it has soothed outsiders if their mind focuses in that direction. Will Amanda Lawson be willing to allow her mind to be cleansed of all the pain and suffering she has succumbed to in recent years? That was a question only Amanda could answer. I have to say, it is a noble suggestion. What harm can it do? “Great idea, I think you know by now that Grandfather treats and thinks of you as family; therefore, I'm sure he'd be delighted. However, will Amanda agree with something so outlandish?” With a sheepish smile, Raphaela gazed at her friend with a question in her eyes. “Oh, no, Raph, no way. Look, I'm your friend, and I'll do anything for you but not that, please, not that. Amanda doesn't even like me.”
Raphaela's eyes took on a serious note as they pleaded silently with her friend. “I think you're exaggerating, Sun. Amanda likes you…she's just a little jealous that's all. Besides, who better to prepare her for what happens than you. I don't want to ask her over the phone; it's too impersonal. I've written her a note if that helps.”
“Great, now I'm the go between.” One word Raphaela said kept coming to the forefront. “Hey, what do you mean jealous ?”
Shaking her head, Raphaela replied, “Why, you love me, Sun, just as she does…that would make any person jealous. Besides, you can come here at the drop of a hat, and she has other responsibilities. Will you do this for me, Sun, please?”
Startled at the words, Sun traded glance for glance with her friend. “How long have you known?”
“Not that long. I guess a part of me that was un-awakened until Amanda arrived in my life had always known. I do love you, Sun, and always will, but not in the way that I love Amanda.” She shrugged. “I'm sorry. I guess I'm selfish asking this of you. I'll call her at the weekend.”
“No! I'll go over and check on the two invalids when I get back and talk with Amanda about the ceremony. After all, that's what friends are for, right?”
With a soft appreciative laugh, Raphaela hugged her friend tightly. “Right.”
A white-haired head appeared from inside the Hogan. “If you two don't get inside, I'll send you both to bed without your dinner,” Spring Lark announced with an amused twinkle in her eyes.
“Let's go. She means it, and I'm not into fighting with any Indian even if she is my kin folk.” Raphaela grinned as she entered the Hogan with Sun bringing up the rear hastily while being by chastised by her doting grandmother.
>< >< ><
After her adventure in the ocean, the change in Luminitsa was not immediate. Over a month's time, Amanda could see a spirit and strength that belied everything the woman had been up until then. Although she still had a limp, it was much less than it had been, and Luminitsa was using her left hand effortlessly. The ill effects of the stroke were seemingly gone. Their walks had become exactly that, as each woman would put one foot in front of the other on their journey to the nearby park. Another change was Luminitsa's afternoon naps that had once been a necessity were gone, and she shared in the book reading.
One morning, Amanda awoke, sat up, and sniffed the air. A mixture of coffee and bacon permeated the air. A bright smile crossed her face as she got out of bed, put on her braces and shoes, and hurried toward the kitchen. When she saw Luminitsa standing in front of the stove, her heart sank.
“No, Ray did not come home early to surprise us,” Luminitsa said. “I awoke early and thought it was about time I made us breakfast. Come sit, and I will pour you a cup of coffee.”
“How do you do that?” Amanda asked. Her answer was a wink.
They stood together doing the dishes much as she did with Raphaela the first time she ate dinner there. “Grand-mère, will you sit with me for a minute? And, please don't read my mind.”
Putting down the sponge, Luminitsa went to the table. “Now, whatever gave you the idea I did such things, child?”
Both women laughed until Amanda's expression turned serious. “I love Raphaela, do you know that?”
“I would have to be blind not to see the love you have for my granddaughter…and I would also have to be blind not to see her love for you.”
Taking a deep breath, Amanda continued. “I would like your permission to ask her to be my life partner when she gets back.”
“I would never deny the blessings of love.” She stood up and hugged Amanda close. “You are already a part of our family.” She sat back down before continuing to speak. “As I told Ray, choosing a lifestyle that is not the norm is a difficult road.”
Amanda's ears perked up. Raphaela spoke with her about having a relationship with me?
“And, she said people had looked at her strangely all her life, so this would be no different.” She looked fondly toward the woman. “You have brought out in her a happiness and glow that have been left unattended.”
“As she brought the same out in me, Grand-mère. Of course, you know that if she accepts that means that you will be part of the equation, too. We can all live together here, or at my house, or if you like, we can buy something new to solidify our union as a family.”
Luminitsa had to wipe a tear from the corner of her eye. “Thank you.” Again, she rose and hugged the woman.
“Why the tears?”
“I am happy for you and Ray, but at the same time it makes me sad.”
“Because Ray will be the last of our line.”
“She doesn't have to be,” Amanda said.
“You are both women, so how can that be?”
“Did I ever tell you that I have two brothers? I haven't seen them since Gwen left.”
Luminitsa held up a hand. “Brothers? You have brothers? Why haven't I heard about that before now?”
Amanda's face reddened. “They both live in Tennessee , and Gwen and I would visit them during the holidays every year. When Gwen went away and I was in the hospital, they came immediately.” She shook her head. “They wanted me to go back to Tennessee with them and leave Gwen behind. I kept telling them I didn't want to leave, but they kept insisting.” She laughed. “They wanted to be the white knights who swept in and rescued me. When they refused to listen, I just stopped taking their calls. Finally they got the message…I haven't heard from them in over eighteen months.”
“Doesn't that make you sad to be apart from family?”
“You and Raphaela made me realize what I have been missing.” She smiled. “I called my brother Keith last week, and we talked for a long time about Gwen and what I've been through. I told him I have met someone and want to make a life with her.”
“I am glad you did that, but how does that relate to what we were talking about?”
“Maybe they will help Raphaela and I have a child of our own.”
Shocked, Luminitsa said. “You would want your bother to sleep with Ray?”
Amanda laughed. “No, silly. They would donate their sperm to impregnate Raphaela.” She laughed again. “I guess we are getting ahead of ourselves. Maybe we should see what she has to say to my proposal first.”
Luminitsa laughed, too. “I don't think there will be a problem there.”
Both women looked up as they heard a knock on the door.
“I wonder who that could be.”
“I don't know. I'll get it.” Amanda lovingly patted Luminitsa's shoulder in passing. “Maybe Raphaela has come back early and wants to surprise us.”
Luminitsa closed her eyes. “No, that isn't who it is.”
Opening the door, Amanda sucked in a breath as a scowl covered her face. “What are you doing here?” she asked.
“Well, it's nice to see you, too, Amanda.”
Amanda, clearly nonplussed by Sun's arrival, composed herself. She really did want to be cordial toward the woman who was a close friend of Raphaela's. Wanting to do something and actually achieving it is a very different ballgame. “I'm sorry, please, come inside; it's turned cold out tonight.”
Sun heard the attempt at casual conversation and realized, possibly for the first time, that she and Amanda had one thing in common—they both struggled to be nice to each other. “Thanks, I appreciate that…it is rather chilly,” she said trying not to make sentence hold a double meaning.
“I suppose you've seen Raphaela again. How is she?”
“She's great. Actually, I am here at her request.” Sun looked past the woman and gasped. Luminitsa was walking toward them-–-the effects of her stroke barely discernible. “You look wonderful, Luminitsa.”
Luminitsa walked over to Amanda and gently put her hand on Amanda's arm. “Thank you.” She smiled fondly. “I owe it all to my darling Amanda.”
Sun looked at Luminitsa then at the woman next to her. Both radiated a glow of well being that she never thought she would see. “Well, you both should write a book and let everyone know how to rejuvenate your life because I've never seen either of you looking better.”
Taking the doctor's arm, Luminitsa began walking toward the parlor. “Please come in and tell us how our Ray is doing.”
Amanda trailed behind the women wondering if she could ever feel at ease in Sun's company. When they reached the sitting room, she perched, with a sense of belonging, on the arm of the couch and tried not to glare at the doctor. “Exactly what did Raphaela want us to know?” she demanded.
Sun returned the grudging look. What is her problem? She has won Raph away from me; what more does she want…blood.
Luminitsa gave Sun a kindly smile then spoke to Amanda. “My darling, would you be a dear and bring tea for our guest?”
Once Amanda left the room, the old woman made significant eye contact with her visitor. “Ray was never yours to lose,” she said.
Perplexed, Sun leveled her eyes on Luminitsa. “I don't understand.”
“Amanda and my granddaughter's lives have been entwined for eons.”
“You know I think all this is mumbo jumbo, and I tell my grandfather in the nicest possible way exactly the same thing. Although I have to concede you have me at a disadvantage, so I'd better just say I'm busted!” Luminitsa's words echoed her grandfather's thoughts. Logic and science ruled her. There is no room in my life for such lunacy, but she did hit the nail on the head.
“My dear, one day you will listen to your heart, and you will understand perfectly.”
“Here we go, tea for everyone,” Amanda said as she reentered the room.
Sun's gaze shifted from the old woman to the one laden with a tray of teacups. “I should tell you why I'm here.”
“How is my darling Ray doing?” Luminitsa asked.
“She is learning much but is anxious to get back home. She asked me to give you a message…well, a request actually, Amanda.”
Sun pulled on her lower lip and shrugged. “She would like you to go to Arizona for her last week. In fact she gave me this,” Sun extracted a note from her pocket and passed it to Amanda.
Amanda smiled with caution as she thought over what the woman had said. Taking a long, slow breath she accepted the note and held onto it tightly, much as she would Raphaela if she were there. “I need to stay here and take care of Grand-mère.”
The loving familiarity with which Amanda spoke the word Grand- mère stabbed at Sun's heart. She belongs here; I don't, I never have. “Not a problem; I have volunteered to do that.”
“Are you taking time off work?”
“No, but I will only be ten minutes away and will spend the night, so I can get Luminitsa breakfast in the morning and be here for her in the evening.” Sun looked at the old woman and was surprised to see the ease she took in getting up out of her chair.
Luminitsa stood in front of Amanda who was still perched on the arm of the sofa. “You and I both know that I haven't needed any help for nearly six weeks.” She lightly touched Amanda's cheek. “It is important you go to Ray.”
Luminitsa shook her head. “She needs you right now, and I don't. Besides, I'm going to enjoy Sun's company. She and I may well learn from each other.” The directness in her tone told Amanda she would be on the next flight to the reservation and the woman she loved.
The journey to Arizona was arduous for Amanda. Although she was able to cope with pain better and could walk the sidewalks of their town with little trouble, the fact remained that her legs were weak. Navigating through an airport with people hurrying about and pushing past her was a harrowing thought for Amanda. It was her first journey as a disabled person, and nothing had ever prepared her for what she encountered. The airline had assured her that a wheelchair was available from the ticket counter to the gate, but it was not. She had to wait thirty minutes for its arrival then a large man unceremoniously pushed her to the security gate where, in front of every passer-by, she held her arms out and had a wand waved over her entire body. At first, she thought that being able to board the airplane first would be a plus–she was wrong. On three separate occasions, harried and unthinking people let their carry-on bags whack her in the shoulder and head. Sitting in the bulkhead provided her more room, and although she had easy access to the bathroom, the lack of handrails made the distance inaccessible.
She had to change planes in Chicago and once again found herself waiting an interminable amount of time for the arrival of a wheelchair. Although she probably could have walked to the bathroom, Amanda still felt the fear of falling and used the wheelchair as a safety feature. In the bathroom, she again found people's lack of consideration hard to understand. Although there were four handicapped stalls, only two would accommodate a wheelchair. One was out of order, and the other occupied by a woman in her thirties who appeared to be walking perfectly when she exited the stall. Neither embarrassed nor apologetic, the woman just passed by Amanda without as much as a look.
Arriving in Arizona , Amanda was glad to see an electric cart waiting for her. All the trials and tribulations of the journey were pale in comparison to the anticipation of seeing Raphaela. As the cart neared the security gate, Amanda leaned forward and spoke to the driver. “Let me out here please.”
The driver frowned. “Are you sure? It is a long way to the baggage area.”
Amanda smiled. “It will be okay. My friend is meeting me, and she will take good care of me.” She handed the man a five and carefully stepped down onto the tiled floor. “Thank you,” she said as she scanned the faces for the one she loved. Her eyes kept searching as her mind wondered if she had mistakenly given Raphaela the wrong time or flight number. Then, she spotted a tall, elderly Native American man wearing jeans and a beaded tan vest over a denim shirt looking at her intently. As he moved closer, she took in his long white hair, skin browned by the sun, and a deeply creased distinguished looking face.
“Excuse me, are you Amanda Lawson?” The man's deep tone resonated warmth and caring.
“Yes, and you are?”
The man extended his hand. “Jack Lapahie.”
Amanda found the man's grip to be warm and strong. “Lapahie? Are you related to Sun?” The mere mentioning of the woman's name made her stiffen in reaction .
“Yes, she is my granddaughter,” Jack said proudly while brown eyes seemed to be probing her. “You know my granddaughter?”
Drawing a breath, Amanda replied, “Yes, we met through Raphaela .” She felt a tingling as the man eyed her sizing her up. “Why didn't Raphaela come to meet me?”
The man's features softened. “Sparrow Hawk, as we call her, has a special job to do. As the medicine man for my tribe, it is my responsibility to greet outsiders who wish to stay with us.”
Amanda nodded as if she understood when in reality she did not. “I will need to go to baggage claim before we journey to your reservation.” She was anxious to see Raphaela, and the man being there instead annoyed her.
A worn hand took her carry-on bag then the man started walking away.
Standing there with her mouth open, Amanda wondered if Sun's grandfather was just like her. He could have at least waited and walked with me. A plane must have landed as hordes of people seemingly began to surround her. She panicked and began to sweat as oppressive heat overtook her body. Images of people knocking her to the ground and trampling her loomed as a reality as she instinctively tried to move toward a wall where she would find protection for her back. Then, she felt a warm protective arm around her shoulders.
“I'm here, Little One.”
Grateful eyes peered up into Jack's face. “Thank you. They all seemed to come out of nowhere.”
“I found a wheelchair for you,” he said motioning to the chair by his side. He gently guided her to it and smiled once she sat down. “If I had known all those people would be coming, I never would have left you alone for that moment, Little One.” He positioned himself behind the chair, and his long strides ate up the distance to the elevator.
Soon they were in a jeep that seemed to Amanda like a throwback from the Second World War. At first, the drive wasn't too bad although her back kept reminding her that it was not happy with the seat. When they turned on to a dirt road, her condition took a turn for the worse as the rutted dirt roads caused her immense pain with each bump. Whenever the older man asked her questions, her answers were short and terse. She felt that the man was annoyed with her, but she didn't give a damn for agony ruled. His seemingly intrusive questions reminded her painfully of her first visit with his granddaughter. He is probably going to tell me to get out and walk. She knew her thinking was unreasonable and tried to be civil, but the pain would not allow that.
>< >< ><
Raphaela walked over to the edge of the fence line that marked the boundary to the reservation and the dirt road for the sixth time. Originally , she had planned to go with Jack to collect Amanda at the airport, but he had insisted that he must meet her alone and become familiar with her on a one–on-one basis to improve the chances of the healing ceremony working. It had been a hard blow to take, but one she understood perfectly. Besides, he'd given her an even greater task: to collect three herbs from the surrounding forest that would be used in the healing process. She was to give each herb a special name, so Jack could repeat it during the ceremony. As she was unable to participate in the actual ceremony, he told her that the names were her personal gift to the one who was important to her life.
Once the task was finished, she waited anxiously for Jack's jeep to speed toward her with his precious cargo. After six months , the anticipation was almost too much to take, and she sighed in the resignation of knowing they would eventually be there. No sooner had she turned around to head back to the family Hogan, she heard the screech of tires against the dirt. Turning quickly back around, she saw Jack's jeep rolling to a stop close to her position. The waiting was over, and in a few moments, she would have her wish—Amanda would be in her arms again. She felt her body tingle as she watched first a foot, then a leg, then all of Amanda alight from the vehicle .
Seconds later , arms engulfed her in a bear hug. “I've missed you so much, Amanda, there really aren't any words ,” she whispered. Raphaela didn't need Amanda to say anything for she could feel instantly that the woman in her arms was in pain . “Jack has arranged for a cabin for us to share. How about we go there now, and you can take a shower and have a rest ?”
Amanda shook her head. “I can't do that; it would be rude,” she said trying to sound casual, but failing miserably.
“Sure you can.” Raphaela turned toward Jack. “It will be okay if I introduce her over dinner instead of now, won't it?”
All of Jack's senses honed on the small blonde woman, and he had felt her pain acutely. “Now is not the time to meet the family, Little One. They will wait until you have rested.”
Nodding her head, she offered Jack her hand. “Thank you so much for bringing me here and arranging for my stay. I'm sorry if I was short with you during the ride.” She shrugged. “I have this problem with my back, and the ride here combined with the long flight put me in considerable pain. Meeting your family now would not put me in a positive light. I hope you will accept my apologies for my rudeness.”
Jack smiled as his dark eyes lit up with understanding . “You are welcome here, Little One, and my friend, Sparrow Hawk , has told me much about your condition. It is my hope we can help you heal. Now , I must go. We will speak later . Rest easy, Little One.” The old man smiled at Raphaela as he left them and headed into his family home.
Relived to be alone with Raphaela at last, Amanda sighed. “Which is our love cabin?” Her voice, laced with exhaustion and pain, but bravado won out. “It will be our love nest, right?” When she saw the horrified look on Raphaela's face, she let out a chuckle.
Raphaela 's eyes tracked to their Hogan as she picked up Amanda's bags. “Amanda, we can't…that is…”
“Don't worry,” she said as she lazily put an arm over Raphaela's shoulders for support. “ I'll be good.” They walked slowly, and Amanda knew Raphaela was trying to accommodate her. “The day has been a bitch, but all that pales to being with you.” She grimaced as her ankle rolled slightly on a rock. “I am afraid I will have to take the big meds, or I will not be of any use to anyone.” She stopped and looked intently at Raphaela. “Are you disappointed in me?”
For a few moments Raphaela digested the question. Am I disappointed in Amanda? Even if I am a little, does it really matter? There is really only one answer: NO! “I guess I'd hoped that in the six months things might have gotten a little better for you . You kept saying in your letters and phone calls that you and Grand- mère were doing great. I guess that was to stop me worrying about you both. I've been really selfish, haven't I … leaving you both for so long.” The words left Raphaela 's lips before she could prevent them, and even she could hear that she sounded wounded and defeated. That hadn't been her intention for the first few minutes of her reunion with Amanda. It should be a joyous and happy occasion .
“Hey, I'm sorry.” She gave Raphaela a half-hearted smile. “Which is our place?” Amanda asked looking for their cabin. “I should have medicated myself for the journey…I should have known better, but it was my first flight since the accident. Now, I know, and it won't happen again.” She felt exhausted and chided herself for being unable to overcome both the pain and tiredness . “The truth is, we, both your grandmother and I, have made remarkable strides in our recoveries.” She wiped her eye refusing to let the emotional tears fall. “ Listen, I didn't mean to bark at you. I forgot how exhausting trips are. Right now, I need to get my legs up to rest them as well as my back.” She spied Raphaela out of the corner of her eye then turned to face her. “I'm sorry; you deserve a better greeting. ”
Without another thought , Raphaela dropped the bags before picking up Amanda and carrying her the few yards to the cabin. “Call this a practice run,” she whispered into Amanda's ear. She deftly , without dislodging Amanda , opened the door and deposited her tenderly on one of the single beds. “I'll go get the bags.” She winked as she left Amanda alone for a few minutes.
Dumbfounded, Amanda shook her head then her face broke out into a full smile. Hmm, I do believe she loves me. Her eyes tracked Raphaela's movements as she re-entered the cabin. “You can sweep me off my feet anytime you like. Please close the door, and come over here.” Whatever surliness she had felt few moments earlier was gone as her need for Raphaela became overwhelming.
With a smile that beamed light into every crevice of the old cabin , Raphaela knew that Amanda loved her. Placing the bags on the floor , she stepped closer to the bed and dropped onto her knees . “And, what can I do for Madame now?”
Awkwardly, Amanda wrapped her arms under Raphaela's and gently lifted her onto the bed. “This,” she said as she kissed the trembling lips. “And, this.” She slowly ran her fingers over the swell of Raphaela's breasts. “I have missed you.” She kissed the woman soundly as she considered snaking her fingers down the scoop-necked blouse. “I want you.”
Raphaela's breathing intensified as she mirrored the emotions she could feel emanating from Amanda . She knew that in her heart it wasn't the right time or the right place . Gently, she attempted to place a figurative bucket of cold water on their growing passion. “I missed you, too, darling . As much as I hate to say it, making love right now isn't going to help you with the pain. ”
“I don't want to make love. I just want to feel you close to me. Please hold me. I love you so much.”
Raphaela could only celebrate in the glory of the intense feelings Amanda elicited from her body. She kissed Amanda's throat revelling in the scent and feel of Amanda's body in her arms trying desperately to squelch the need to go farther. “I love you, Amanda.”
Censoring her desire to have Raphaela right then, Amanda slowly pulled the woman closer and smiled when she saw Raphaela's cheeks redden. “You are beautiful when you blush. Now is not the time for lovemaking I know that. Please just hold me while I sleep.” She smiled when her woman nestled close as they both reclined on the small bed. Feeling Raphaela's body next to hers gave Amanda peace and momentary relief from the pain, and she slowly closed her eyes.
Luxuriating in the broken yet beautiful body in her arms , Raphaela felt the sexual charge dissipate. The feelings replaced by ones of well-being, and the need to be together as one on a plane much higher than the mere physical . Content, she watched over Amanda as she drifted off to sleep. Closing her eyes, she marveled at how amazing life and the woman in her arms were. Tomorrow, they would begin the preliminaries of the healing ceremony in which she was certain that Amanda would then find relief. Thankfully, she'd sent a note with Sun explaining all about the ceremony. Later, when she had spoken with Amanda, she appeared to be quite excited about the whole event. Or, was she just excited about seeing me again? Whatever, it doesn't really matter. She closed her eyes in the wonderment that life was so marvelous .
>< >< ><
Raphaela held Amanda's hand as they looked over the snow-capped mountain ranges; the sight not only created a wonderful, peaceful view, but the air all around them was clean and sharp. The early morning gentle breeze that blew back at them whispered of hot air that looked like mist. Lifting Amanda's hand to her lips, she smiled at the anxious features of the woman who had come to mean so much to her over the past year. It is the way of the universe to plough up a field of memories and transplant new seeds to grow and flourish in what had been a barren landscape . In her heart, she knew the words were true of their love for one another. “Everything is going to be fine, Amanda. You trust me, right?”
Amanda gave Raphaela a curious glance as she quickly replied. “Of course, I do. Do you doubt it?”
With a light chuckle, Raphaela placed the hand she held once more to her lips and kissed her slightly cold fingers reverently. “No doubts at my end. However, I know this is all strange to you, and I just wanted to say I'm always here for you. If you don't want to do this, I'll understand.”
Amanda knew she was receiving a ‘Get out of jail free' card, and the only question was: should she use it? Then, she looked up into the serious features awaiting her reply. All she saw there was security and love given without any expectations making her next words so easy to say. “Raphaela, for you I'd walk over coals…but then again maybe the healing ceremony might be easier.”
They both looked down at her feet and laughed as they settled for a few more minutes silently watching the sunrise. Glorious colors cascaded around them as the pale pinks and muted blues quickly changed to vibrant orange-red. Moments later, a splendid, clear blue, fair weather sky, like the waft of a breeze, presented itself for the parade of a new day.
“Wow, that's what I call a good omen,” Amanda said as she looked across at Raphaela's face. In all the time they had been together, she had never really scrutinized her features in detail. What she saw was a slightly pointed, but not without merit, nose and a somewhat swarthy complexion that she was sure many a woman would gladly pay extortionate amounts to acquire. Her eyes were hazel and in themselves not remarkable except they were filled, or so it appeared to Amanda, with pleasant and compassionate thoughts of what the day held for all the people who crossed her path be they known to her or not. Then, lastly but to Amanda the most notable of features, were Raphaela's full lips that screamed at her constantly to reach in and kiss them. It was a game she repeatedly played… how long it took to kiss Raphaela's lips. When they were alone, the best she'd managed was five minutes. Such control. It made her smile to think what life was going to be like once they actually lived together. Maybe I'll scare her off if I don't keep my roaming hands and lips to myself. Then again…
“Dare I ask what you're grinning about? You're looking directly at me, so do I have a zit or something?” Raphaela asked with a teasing look in her eyes.
“No zit, my darling, just pure unadulterated sex appeal. What I wouldn't give to say to hell with it all, and drag you back to the cabin. I'd forget about everyone and everything else, and make passionate love to you all day and night.” Although she was laughing as she spoke, deep down it was exactly what she wanted to do.
For a few moments, Raphaela was speechless. Amanda was good at doing that to her and not many over the years had been able. Thinking about the comments, she mused over them a little longer than she realized.
She hadn't answered as Amanda piped in, “A penny for them?”
“I'm sorry; I guess I was lost in a dream world.”
“Did I by any chance happen to be there with you?”
Raphaela chuckled as she bent to kiss Amanda's lips, savouring the moment. Soon, they wouldn't be alone, and Amanda would go with Jack for a two-day session. “You are always there with me, and one day, I promise, it won't be just in my mind.”
“You say the most flattering of things. Are you sure I'm going to be your first?” Amanda wriggled her eyebrow in a caddish gesture that had them both laughing.
“Let's go for breakfast. Spring Lark will be annoyed if we're late, especially on such a momentous day.” Raphaela grabbed Amanda's hand and led her slowly back to the Hogan. She was careful not to push the pace in deference to Amanda's fragile state. Although she said she had felt much better that morning, on the previous two mornings she had been tired and wracked with pain. A part of her was pleased that Amanda agreed to the ceremony. She knew it was probably only because she'd asked, but Raphaela knew it was the right thing to do. It was so keenly impressed in her senses that she hoped Amanda would eventually see, too, that it was for the greater good.
“Spring Lark is a marvellous cook, isn't she? I don't think I've eaten so well in ages,” Amanda replied as she walked at the slow pace Raphaela was kind enough to understand she needed.
“Yes, she is. Spring has been teaching me some basic stuff, and I'm taking some recipes home. I'll be cooking up a storm for you and Grand- mère when we get back.” As Amanda licked her lips in an exaggerated fashion, it once again reminded Raphaela that there had to be a joker inside Amanda wanting to come out and play. Once she lets it out, I bet she will feel even better than she had before.
“I'm going to love all that pampering again, and I know Grand- mère can't wait for you to get back to cook. She really doesn't care for frozen cod.”
Raphaela stopped dead in her tracks. The horrified expression on her face told Amanda all she needed to know that her ploy of shamelessly teasing Raphaela had succeeded excellently. Laughing, Amanda quickly snatched a kiss and winked. “I was only joking, but I gotcha.”
Shaking her head, Raphaela laughed along with Amanda. “You sure did.” They walked along in silence then entered the Hogan with smiles on their faces—it would take a hurricane and more to wipe them away.
>< >< ><
Raphaela gazed over to the mountain range where previously she and Amanda had taken in the dawning of a new day together. It was hard to know that Amanda was merely yards away, and yet as far away as possible. Until she had Amanda back in her arms, as far as she was concerned, Amanda was light years away. Jack had explained in detail that to heal Amanda in their ways she must be open to the possibility. If Amanda could believe in spirits and Gwen talking to her from the other side, it would to be easy to convince her. After all, this only entailed lying on a sand painting and cleansing Amanda of all the dangers that were producing imbalances in her physical world.
Amanda had intelligently asked several questions of what would happen to her. Jack, and occasionally she, would chip in with the answers. Although Jack had dispatched her to collect herbs he was going to use during the ceremony, she knew that he wouldn't use them. Tradition dictated that the medicine man performing the ritual would collect all the herbs fresh on the day in question. He had allowed her to watch him collect the herbs when Amanda had gone to the cabin to lay down in an effort to alleviate her pain. Jack had walked over to the plant he needed then talked to it. He told the plant Amanda's name then made an offering of corn pollen. Once he'd done that, he collected only what he needed for the recipe. He did this several times. It was fascinating to watch and made Raphaela feel part of the ceremony even though she couldn't physically be there.
Amanda had been undergoing the healing process for two days. As the time seemingly ticked by slowly, Raphaela had the chance to reflect on the past year and what everything really meant to her.
She'd always thought her gifts would help her in immediately knowing whom the other part of her soul was. She had spent weeks stalking Amanda, and yet the first moment she saw her hadn't awakened any emotion of recognition. In fact, she had felt only pity for the woman and a deep sense of obligation to help her. Amazingly, it was Amanda who appeared to have the power to see beyond her own hurt and guilt and conceivably, if not understand their connection, at least acknowledge it.
The change in her appreciation of Amanda had been that evening they had dinner together for the first time. The blinders finally removed from her eyes allowed her to see what her grand- mère and Raquel always had—Amanda was part of her being. They had shared so much in the past, and if she were brave enough to act upon a situation in the present would do so in the future. To proceed she needed to ensure that Amanda no longer yearned for Gwen. At the time, a tiny part of her was jealous of the fact that Amanda would rather have been on the other side than experiencing life with them. Then, things changed, and there was a sudden, miraculous—it could be that—change. Raphaela no longer cared, just as long as Amanda focused her attention on her and their being together. Still, even now, the niggling thought invaded her mind at night that was she only second best to Gwen.
The six months at the reservation had focused her mind and body on many things, and Raphaela was grateful to Gwen for looking after and loving Amanda through all the years that Amanda and she hadn't known each other. How could she ever bear malice or unhappy thoughts regarding Amanda's previous relationship? She knew that had they met years earlier they would have been together from that point on. The universe plays tricks with time, and we were lucky to have found each other now. Fortunately, we are both in a position that will allow us to spend the rest of the time we have in this life together . It was so clear to her—Gwen was a friend in her heart. She made the possibility of two wandering souls meeting again a reality. Now, Amanda and she would have the opportunity to become complete once again.
The door to the Hogan opened, and Jack's powerful melodic voice seemed to echo around the stillness of that part of the reservation. “Sparrow Hawk, it is now your time.”
Running as fast as she could, Raphaela embraced the man and thanked him. Stumbling inside, she saw Amanda sitting on the floor and talking amiably with Spring Lark. Her eyes fastened on Amanda's cheerful and rosy countenance, and she tried to speak. But, a lump like a tennis ball, had lodged itself in her throat.
Amanda glanced up and caught Raphaela's gaze, and her heart melted all over again as she saw the hazel eyes filled with love. “I'm a changed woman, Raphaela. Want to take me for a test run?”
Raphaela blushed at the words and was doubly embarrassed when Spring Lark chuckled before she spoke. “Little One cannot run like a deer just yet, Sparrow Hark, but perhaps this evening after she has rested…well, who knows what might happen?” There was a distinct glitter in the old woman's eyes as she spoke.
Struggling to find the words, Raphaela held out her hands for Amanda to take, so she could help bring her up from her sitting position. “I think that's very wise, Spring Lark.” She squeezed Amanda's hand. “Thank you for the wisdom. Now, I think Amanda might need to rest.”
Spring Lark shook her head in agreement. “Yes, that is the usual next step.”
Raphaela approached the older woman and hugged her close. “Thank you for everything,” she whispered. “Thank you.”
A few minutes later, they were in the cabin, and Raphaela held Amanda at arms length as she shot out twenty questions. “How do you feel? What was it like? Do you think it's done any good? Okay, okay, that's too much. How about I love you, and I missed you?” Raphaela saw the beaming smile that eclipsed everything else. Then they clung to each other and passionately exchanged kisses. Eventually, with clothes dishevelled, they sunk onto the bed in emotional exhaustion.
“I missed you, too. How about you hold me, and we'll sleep for a little while? Then I'll answer all your questions. For the record, I love you, too.” Amanda couldn't help the drowsiness that overcame her as she drifted off to sleep.
Finally glad to have Amanda in her arms again, Raphaela whispered as she, too, closed her eyes, “I can wait. In fact, I've been waiting for you forever.”
The journey home had been enjoyable for both women. “I wish I had done this on the flight out,” Amanda said as she moved in the large leather first class seat.
“It's the only way to travel.” Raphaela smiled as she took her companion's hand. “How are you feeling?”
“Great. I'm headed home with a beautiful woman by my side and almost pain free.” For the most part her intense pain was gone, although she felt it still lurked on the outskirts waiting to reappear. The day after the healing ceremony, she and Raphaela had discussed her apprehensions with Jack. Allow yourself to rejoice in the feelings of well being, Little One . Then Raphaela, with eyes that sparkled from unshed tears told her, “ if it comes back, we deal with it together.” It was then she decided to release all her fears and apprehensions and allow herself to be happy. And, she was.
They had a non-stop flight from Phoenix to Philadelphia then switched planes for the short flight to Scranton where Amanda's car was waiting for them in long-term parking. Closing the door, Amanda looked over at Raphaela and smiled. “In two hours, we will have you back to Grand-mère.”
Raphaela gently caressed Amanda's face. “And, we shall all start our new lives together as a family.”
“Then let's get out of here…the sooner we leave the sooner we will be home.” As they headed up Route 81, Amanda glanced over at Raphaela who seemed a bit restless. It was clear that she was anxious to see her grand-mère again, and in truth, so was she for Luminitsa had taken a hold of a part of her heart, too.
When they were within in two blocks of Raphaela's house, Amanda reached for her cell and speed dialed a number. Raphaela's quizzical eyes gazed at her wondering what she was doing or whom she was calling.
“Hi, I'd like to order take out, please.” Amanda's eyes twinkled as she returned Raphaela's gaze and saw the question replaced by amusement.
When Amanda completed the call, Raphaela smiled and placed her hand on Amanda's arm. “You didn't have to do that. I would have cooked us something for supper.”
“True, I didn't. However, we both know you're dying to see your grand-mère, and while I pick up the order, you can have some alone time. Then we'll all have a great time talking for hours about your escapades.”
Raphaela's expression turned serious. Although she didn't want to exclude Amanda from the homecoming, she really did appreciate the few minutes she and her grand-mère would be alone. “Thank you, Amanda,” she said. “I have missed Grand-mère, and she will want to hear about your adventures as well.”
With a loving smile, Amanda nodded her head. Do I have adventures to share? “I think I might actually have a story that is worthy of one told by Grand-mère.”
“Will you pop the trunk, so I can get our bags?” Raphaela asked as she got out of the vehicle.
“You go inside, and see Grand-mère. I'll bring them in later. Right now, you have something more important to do.” She nodded in the direction of the house. “Go on. She is right in there and will be ecstatic to see you.”
For a moment, Raphaela stood at the car door seeming to be debate what to do. “Are you sure? You know I can always go with you, and we can see…”
Amanda laughed and held up her hand. “No, I want to do this. Please, go inside. I'll pick up the take out and be right back.” She shooed Raphaela away with her hand and smiled as she watched her love enter the house. Satisfied that all was well with the world, she put the SUV in reverse and headed to the Oriental Garden . For a moment, her thoughts turned to Sun but ended almost as quickly…she didn't care about Sun anymore. Raphaela and Grand-mère were hers, and nothing or anyone could ever change that.
>< >< ><
Raphaela entered the house and heard noises coming from the kitchen. Has someone broken in? Without a thought, she quickly ran to the kitchen and almost fell down as she saw her grand-mère deftly making tea. She thought she'd gone back in years to the time before her grand-mère's stroke. “Grand-mère?”
Luminitsa felt her back stiffen and heart pound as she heard the voice of her darling Ray; she'd missed her granddaughter's presence of being close. With tears welling up that she had hoped to quell but now knew would be impossible, she turned around with a welcoming smile. Holding out her arms, she said, “Ray, my darling Ray, you have returned at last.”
There was no hesitation on Raphaela's part as she rushed forward and closed the gap between them. She felt the loving arms of her grand-mère close around her, and she knew that she was home at last. For several minutes, they allowed the closeness of their bodies to erase the months that had parted them. “I've missed you, Grand-mère,” Raphaela finally said. Tears were running freely down her cheeks, and she hadn't even realized that she was crying. As she looked up, she could see that her grand-mère, too, had tears glistening down her cheeks.
Luminitsa pulled out of the hug and held her granddaughter at arm's length. “I've missed you, child. Let me look at you and see what the months have done.” Luminitsa scanned each line and structure of her granddaughter's face. She allowed her senses to encompass all of Ray physically and spiritually. There wasn't any evidence that Ray had encountered anything that had changed her spirit in any way. In fact, she looked positively alive and blooming. Her skin had a healthy glow, and her eyes were sparkling with an inner happiness that didn't just reflect their reunion.
Raphaela chuckled as she wiped away some of her tears. “I'm still the same, Grand-mère, inside and out.”
Luminitsa gave Raphaela a loving smile. “Yes, you are. Yes, indeed you are. Where is Amanda, you didn't leave her behind did you?”
Raphaela was home. Peace filled her with the assurance that only true happiness and contentment in life comes by the love you give others. “Amanda decided that we needed to have a few minutes alone,” she said. “She also decided that take out was a good call, and she'll be back shortly.”
There was no doubt in Luminitsa's mind that the way Raphaela talked casually about Amanda meant that her granddaughter cared even more deeply about her. It is as it should be, for Amanda means so much to us both. “Well, she certainly is a very considerate person, Ray.” A simple smile of remembered joys crossed the face that time had etched. “We have shared many an adventure together.”
Raphaela laughed at the comment and shook her head. “I'm sure you did. It looks as if over the next few days we're going to be telling each other our stories. I, for one, can't wait to find out what happened to make you look so wonderful.”
Luminitsa smiled. She had thought Raphaela hadn't noticed her newly found freedom, but that had been a foolish thinking. Ray sees everything about the people she cares for. “Well, you will have to wait until Amanda returns because she was a very special part of that process.”
Raphaela felt the love she had for Amanda growing more powerful at the words. Yes, it was a good day indeed for all of us when Amanda finally heeded the calling of the spirit and joined our family. “I'll gladly do that, Grand-mère. Shall we wait together over tea? I must say I've been desperately waiting for a decent cup of tea.” She saw the twinkling understanding in the bright eyes of the older woman and chuckled. “I'll be right back.”
Luminitsa watched indulgently as Raphaela left. The knowledge settled within her soul that her granddaughter was back, and they would never have to suffer a similar physical wrench ever again. Over the months, she and Amanda discussed much, but the dearest to both their hearts had been Raphaela. It had been incredible as to how in-tune they were on what they felt was right for Raphaela. Consequently, they had a very special surprise for her later—something they knew would be a bombshell, though a very good one—for Ray.
Five minutes later, they sat at the table chatting while waiting for Amanda to return. Both knew in their hearts that until she was there with them they were not a whole family. Then, there was the familiar skid of tires on the drive, and a few minutes later, they heard the door open.
Seconds later, Amanda appeared in the doorway with her hands full of bags while distinctive aromas wafted in the air. Raphaela watched with tears as she saw her grand-mère stand up and walk over to Amanda, take the packages, deposit them on the table, and then hug the young woman. “It is good to have you back, Amanda I've missed you.”
“I've missed you, too, Grand-mère, and do I have lots to tell you.” Amanda's eyes reflected the love she felt for her as her gaze slid over to Raphaela and captured her. Their smiles and loving glances told a story only they understood —no words were necessary. “I don't know about you two, but I'm starving…let's eat. By the way, where's Sun? I brought enough food for her, too.”
Luminitsa smiled warmly as she gave Amanda a wink. “She left this afternoon. I told her that tonight I wanted to be alone with my family.”
Amanda hugged Luminitsa tightly as she whispered, “Thank you, Grand-mère.”
Raphaela quickly retrieved the take out, and with a nod in the direction of the kitchen left the two women to reacquaint. At that moment, life was as perfect as she suspected it could ever be. Minutes later they were eating the delicious food, glad to be together once again.
>< >< ><
Luminitsa, Raphaela, and Amanda sat quietly in the parlor satiated from the meal and the stories each had told. Amanda eyed Luminitsa who nodded discreetly. “I think I'll get myself a glass of water. Anyone else want one?”
“I'm fine,” Raphaela said with a smile. “Do you want me to get it for you?”
“No,” Amanda said as she got up. “I've got it covered.” She left the room for the kitchen, and once she was there, she turned on the water and didn't have to wait long. Luminitsa arrived moments later and walked to her side.
“I think I'll have a glass of water after all,” she said loud enough for everyone in the house to hear.
Amanda put her arms around the woman. “I love you,” she whispered. “Is everything ready?”
“It will be by the time you get Ray and bring her there.”
With a glorious smile, Amanda mouthed, “ thank you” and left but turned back around. “Guess I should have a glass of water with me.” She winked, quickly took a glass from the cupboard, filled it with water, and then went in search of her love.
Raphaela sat alone in the familiar room wondering why the two women had suddenly become so thirsty. We just ate…MSG will do it to you every time. The appearance of Amanda interrupted her thoughts. Her brow creased. “Where's Grand-mère?”
Placing the glass on a coaster, Amanda walked over to Raphaela and held out her hand. “Please come with me,” she said.
Even though her brow creased, Raphaela took the proffered hand and stood up. “Where are you taking me?” she asked as her arm encircled Amanda's waist.
For her part, Amanda sucked in a breath. “You'll see.”
Soon they were standing hand in hand at the threshold of the room where they had first listened to music together. In the room filled with dancing candlelight, Luminitsa stood in one corner. “Please come in, and stand here.”
Raphaela cocked her head. “What's going on?”
Amanda only smiled and led them the short distance to the waiting woman who nodded at their arrival. The candlelight glowed softly around Luminitsa's face giving her an ethereal look. “Have you both come here in love?”
Finally, in understanding, Raphaela looked at Amanda as they said, “yes,” in unison.
The dark eyes searched their faces for any hint that either might not be sincere, and she saw none. She opened her hand palm up revealing a gold ring. “This ring belonged to Amanda's great-grandmother, and she is willing giving it to the one she loves.” Luminitsa took Raphaela's left hand and poised the ring at the tip of the ring finger. “Will you accept what is willingly given?”
Raphaela's eyes glistened with happiness. “Oh, yes.”
Amanda's finger joined the old woman's around the ring. “I give you this ring as a symbol of my enduring love.” As she began to slip it on the finger, Luminitsa released her fingers but held them there. Once the ring was in place, Amanda chastely kissed Raphaela's lips. Speechless, Raphaela could only smile at the woman she loved with all her heart.
With both women looking at her, Luminitsa opened her hand palm up again. “This ring belonged to your mother, Ray.”
Raphaela understood fully. “I willingly will give it to Amanda.”
Eyes dancing with delight looked at Amanda as an old, wrinkled hand took her left hand and held the ring at the tip of the ring finger. “Will you accept what is willingly given?” Luminitsa asked.
Fingers that shook joined Luminitsa's and Raphaela's as she slipped the ring up the finger, “I give you this ring as a symbol of my enduring love.” She then chastely kissed Amanda's lips.
Luminitsa placed both women's left hands together then held hers on top of them before closing her eyes and raising both arms shoulder high with her palms upward. A bright light seemed to fill the room, and Raquel's words echoed silently throughout. There's a time, and a place; there's a space, and a race; one day soon, you and I will meet and know we face our fate. “You have met your fate,” Luminitsa said. “Now love shall guide your way—you have become one.”
Raphaela didn't have the words for what had happened. She was in shock—a gloriously wonderful shock—but in shock nonetheless. Raphaela sat on the sofa holding Amanda in her arms while Luminitsa sat in the armchair by the fire relating the ocean visit. Once Luminitsa completed her story and Raphaela had digested all the implications and meanings, she stood up.
“Just because I've been away doesn't mean that I don't have a surprise for the two of you. I'll be back in a minute.” Raphaela left the two bemused woman in the room that she was sure were speculating as to what possible surprise she had for them.
Five minutes later, Raphaela arrived with a brown, non-descript envelope in her hands. Standing beside the fireplace and looking at the two women she loved, she was certain that the events she set in motion three months earlier had been the right thing to do. “Okay,” she said grinning. “Do you remember all the letters you sent me while I was away?” A nod from both women had Raphaela smiling.
“Well, one of those letters got me thinking about something…” Opening the envelope, she handed the document first to Amanda. Watching as she read the contents, Raphaela had to prevent herself from laughing as she saw Amanda's jaw drop and watched her sit there in stunned silence. Then, from seemingly lifeless fingers, Raphaela removed the documents and handed them to a very curious Luminitsa. Her reaction mirrored Amanda.
“You, you bought this?” Amanda finally managed to ask.
At the same time, Luminitsa remarked, “Ray, this is way too extravagant! Why?”
“In answer to both your questions, yes, I bought this for us…all three of us. As you well know, Grand-mère, I can afford it. One of the things my father left me was a legacy of his work. His paintings are in demand these days; I was able to sell several, and voila, we are now the proud owners of the largest house in the area. I never would have known about it, but you both mentioned it in those early letters when you decided, out of curiosity, to go to the open house. Don't you both see that it makes perfect sense? The house is larger than both our houses put together, and the annex will make a perfect area for you, Grand-mère. You can have your independence and still be close to us. We can all begin a new life together in a new home.”
Her eyes searched the faces for a reply one way or the other. All she saw was stunned confusion. “Look, if it is a bad call and both of you don't like it, I'll sell.” Raphaela waited crossing her fingers that they, too, thought it was a great idea. She held her tongue as to the other reason she had for wanting to make this move. She didn't want to live in the same house Amanda had shared with Gwen. We need a clean break with the past before we start a life together.
What seemed like an eternity finally ended when a squeal of delight emitted from Amanda. “I loved that house…we loved it. Didn't we, Grand-mère?”
Luminitsa nodded. “Yes, I remember discussing what we could do with it if we lived there.”
With the approval of the two women, Raphaela said, “I guess we'll be moving in soon. The house is vacant and just waiting for its new owners.” Raphaela giggled with delight and not too long after, Amanda and Luminitsa joined her in looking at the photos of their new home. The laughter and joy coupled with the jumbled conversation that followed completed what was the most incredible reunion anyone could ever have imagined. They were together as a family–who could ask for more?
>< >< ><
Luminitsa dozed in the chair while Amanda and Raphaela discussed plans for the new house. Opening her eyes, she yawned. “I think I will retire.” She got up, walked the short distance to the couch, and then leaned in to give each woman a tender kiss. “Your room has been prepared,” she said then left.
A rakish smile crossed the blonde woman's face. “Alone at last,” she said pulling Raphaela close. “Shall we go to bed, too?”
Butterflies erupted in Raphaela's stomach along with a distinct warm, wet feeling. “Yes,” she said as she touched the ring on her finger. Standing up, she extended her hand to Amanda who readily took it. Then, in one fell swoop, she picked Amanda up and carried her to the bedroom. “I believe it is traditional to carry the one you love over the threshold,” she whispered. Once in the room, she gently put Amanda down and hugged her tightly.
For her part, Amanda melted into Raphaela with a slight quiver. She closed her eyes and breathed in the familiar scents that distinguished the woman in a way that no other could possibly possess. Slowly and with purpose, she began kissing Raphaela's neck as she worked her way towards the woman's lips. Kisses that made her heart thump in double time also made it lodge in her throat. The time was near when she would put away everything in the past and move on–uncertainty seemed to want to disrupt the moment. Dislodging her tongue and lips, she gently cupped Raphaela's face. “I love you.”
Raphaela ran her hands greedily along Amanda's body. For her, it was like opening Pandora's Box—the unknown now had perfect clarity. Then, with a highly, sensually charged voice, Raphaela said, “I love you, Amanda, and I want to commit to you in every way possible.”
Amanda's fair skin colored with emotion. “Will you give me a moment?” she asked. “I need to use the bathroom.”
Raphaela stole a quick kiss and ran her hand over one of Amanda's small, but to her, perfectly formed breasts. She smiled seductively and nodded toward the bed. “I'll wait for you over there.”
The comment and action left no doubt in Amanda's mind that they would soon be lovers. If I can let that happen. She closed the door then leaned back against it. Gwen , I shared a bed with you…can I share one now with another? A sense of peace filled her as she realized she wanted to share the rest of her life with Raphaela. Yet, the fear of moving forward still loomed heavily in her mind. She and Raphaela had a special connection that she couldn't explain, and she wasn't sure she wanted to. It simply was, and in a way, that idea both scared and comforted her. Clinging solely to the past had its appeal. She knew what that had been, but the future ...that is unknown . For such a long time she had mourned Gwen and even considered, on more than one occasion, joining her in the afterlife. “Can I do this?” She heard a soft knock at the door and swallowed the tightness that had been gathering in her throat.
“Are you okay, Amanda?”
“Yes, yes, I'll be with you in a second.” She took hold of her emotions as she cursed herself for allowing guilty memories tarnish the precious time with Raphaela. She finally grasped the knob and slowly opened the door fully. What she saw was Raphaela lying on the bed dressed in nothing more that a loose fitting, open robe. Her eyes gazed first at the warm hazel eyes filled with love before taking in the entire woman. She felt her heart begin to pound rapidly as she tried to discern the full breasts that were peeking seductively from the robe.
A strangled sound of delight emanated from Amanda as she smiled seductively. “What do you want?” she asked.
Raphaela's eyes hadn't left Amanda's body from the moment she exited the bathroom. Her body cried, in what could only be termed a primal rage, for satisfaction. “You…I want you next to, inside, and around me while we make love.”
Amada stepped forward, leaned over the bed, and snaked her hands inside the robe touching the silky skin. She closed her eyes in reaction to the sensations coursing through her body and felt a shiver. She moved her hands along Raphaela's sides until she reached her shoulders. Splaying her fingers, she opened the robe fully and allowed it to fall away onto the bed covers. In that instant she knew the answer to her question. Y es, I can move forward . She could release Gwen into the heavens, and for the first time in two years, she welcomed being earthbound.
She gazed with love and appreciation at Raphaela's body stretched out on the bed. Awe laced Amanda's voice and mind. “My god, you are beautiful.” Crawling onto the bed next to Raphaela's naked body, Amanda trembled with the anticipation of what was to come. Her eyes pleaded for Raphaela to take action and remove the clothes she was wearing. The message understood, and with slow teasing deliberation, Raphaela unbuttoned her blouse. As each part of Amanda's flesh was exposed, she deposited a kiss.
Amanda was on fire, and when the final piece of clothing fell off, she let her open hands slide over her body suggestively. Raphaela's gaze intensified and she became enrapt by the vision and wanted more. “Please, now.”
Their kisses became insistent, passionate, and demanding, and Amanda pulled back, rolled on her side, and gently caressed Raphaela's cheek. “I love you,” she whispered. She moved her finger down Raphaela's long neck, over her chest between her ample, supple breasts, and down her belly before resting on her swollen, wet protrusion peeking out from the thatch of dark hair. Amanda smiled as she saw Raphaela close her eyes—her face filled with desire. Slowly, Amanda moved her finger down Raphaela's right inner thigh to her knee, and then repeated the movement on her left side until she once again rested her finger on the wet core. Gently, she pressed down and moved her finger in a circular motion before lifting it away.
Amanda cupped the underside of Raphaela's right breast and lifted it gently as her thumb circled the nipple. “Hmm, it is shy,” she said in amusement as her fingers massaged it to a hard erection. “I love you,” she whispered again. Amanda then took Raphaela's hand in hers and placed it on her own small breast.
Raphaela's eyes glazed over in passion as she felt the softness of Amanda's breast. It was all she needed. Taking charge and leaning into her lover, she rolled her onto her back. Her mouth and fingers insistently explored the body that was strangely familiar to her. Her lips found their way to an earlobe, and she gently bit down before her tongue assaulted the ear's crevice. She whispered, “I remember you,” before she let her fingers mirror Amanda's and slid them between the soft smooth folds of moisture.
The two bodies began to react to a well-known journey of love and passion.
“I remember us. We are together where we belong. You are my light, Amanda; you give my life meaning. We never will be apart again. If we ever are, I promise you, I'll find you no matter what, no matter where you are in this lifetime or the next.” Raphaela keenly felt the words explode inside her as she spoke. This was their destiny, and one she knew they would both carry for all time, whether they were earth bound or heaven bound.
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