All characters found in this story are the creation of JD Jenkins and are her property exclusively.
Feedback: I would love to hear what you think of this story. Please email me at email@example.com and let me know what you think!
Author's Note: For anyone familiar with my stories, you might recognize these characters from my story "Shadows". While the characters and setting and some of the incidents may seem familiar, this story is not necessarily a prequel to that story. At this point, I am playing around with how the two stories will fit together, and as a result one or both stories may be altered at some point. Also, this story takes place in one of my all time favorite towns, Madison Wisconsin. Most of the places mentioned are factual, but some are not, created for the purpose of this story. I hope all this rambling makes sense!
Dedication: I want to thank my beautiful partner in life for never letting me give up on myself. This story, as with all creativity that comes from me, is dedicated to her. Thank you sweetheart.
Darkness. It consumes you. A cover of shadows creates a new world where evil and good are muddled, lines are gray. A myriad of deceit, immorality, and corruption fill the shadow and take away even the slightest hint of innocence. It is in the darkness that death and life are intermixed, and every breath is a gamble. Plagued with nightmare demons, the darkness strips all its inhabitants of humanity, sucking out any traces of goodness, and keeps you like a puppet, under its control. A living horror, it will take you whole and leave you broken.
There are few chances out of the darkness. A precious few breaks in the shadows that are only visible for a second in time. An escape that is not a release. Once through the break, back into the light, a fight ensues. The darkness doesn't want to let go, but the light is so welcoming, your body, mind, and soul fight an eternal battle. Like a drug, the darkness calls to you, tempting you, reminding you of how easy it was to give up your soul for the treasures of evil and sin.
It's after the darkness that the real test begins.
The sailboats skipped over the water, seeming to defy the gravity as they leaned and tilted toward the water. Bright colored sails filled the horizon, dotting the dark blue-green water. Ducks floated by, quacking at the people on the terrace, hoping for food from the dozens of people gathered around the tables, talking and laughing. The bright orb of the sun shone down on everything, lighting the water and the sails, as though someone was shinning a giant spotlight on Lake Mendota.
One woman sat by herself, just observing the people around her, her eyes skipping around, sometimes focusing on the various boats on the lake. In one hand she held a waffle ice cream cone, her tongue frequently snaking out and licking at the quickly melting ice cream. All around her, people were oblivious to the tumultuous thoughts that churned within her, upsetting the perfection of the day. As she watched and thought, a drop of ice cream fell slowly from the cone, landing on her thumb. She quickly brought her mouth to her thumb, licking up the fallen drop of ice cream, savoring the sweet flavor that Babcock Dairy was famous for.
Lifting her other hand, she swept back her shoulder length hair, unaware of the way the sun played with her the dark locks, creating a glowing halo. Her ice blue eyes caught sight of someone heading toward her. She looked up, focusing on the approaching figure, not recognizing the person, but reading the intention. The approaching woman gave her a quick smile.
"Hi, I was wondering, are you using all of those chairs?" The new woman gestured to the three empty chairs that were crowded around her metal table.
"No, take them," the woman replied, her eyes moving from the new woman, continuing to glance around.
"Thanks!" The woman grabbed two of the chairs and left.
"No problem," the dark haired woman said under her breath.
Time passed slowly as she finished her ice cream cone, finally eating the cone itself and then wiping her hands on a napkin. The sun slowly began to drop, the brilliant sunset illuminating the sky with colors of gold, orange, purple and red. The lake reflected the horizon, creating a myriad of colors that stretched over the entire terrace.
"Hey, Jessie," a voice spoke from behind the woman, startling her.
"Hi Terri," Jessie replied, her voice cool and low, not showing any emotion at all. Quietly she berated herself for getting so wrapped up in the view. Letting someone sneak up on her was not usual. She felt naked to the world without her shoulder holster and Sig. It's almost enough to make me feel like I fit in here.
Terri looked at the seated woman, her eyes sparkling clearly with interest. "I didn't know that you came down here. Or is this a one time thing?" She bobbed her spiked head to encompass the Union Terrace.
"No, I come down here frequently." Jessie's reply didn't give anything away, which was her intent. She might have to work with this woman, but that wasn't a reason to reveal anything personal.
Taking the last chair at Jessie's table, Terri sat down, resting her elbows on the table and putting her chin in her hands so that she could have an unobstructed view of Jessie.
Why don't you just take a picture, it would last a helluva lot long, Jessie thought to herself, mildly uncomfortable at the looks she was receiving from the other woman.
"It's funny, I don't think I've seen you here before." Terri said, her gaze on Jessie never wavering. Oh, how she wished she could just stare at Jessie all day long. The woman was just plain gorgeous. With her dark shining black hair, and intense eyes the color of sapphires, she would never be called plain. But, add that to her perfectly balanced face, straight aquiline nose, and firm, square jaw, Jessie was beyond pretty or even beautiful. Terri had been trying to weeks to worm her way into a date with her co-worker, but hadn't had an ounce of success. Maybe tonight's my chance, she thought gleefully.
"I thought about heading over to Brothers for something to drink. Would you like to join me?" Terri's eyes sparkled hopefully. Maybe if she could get Jessie to the bar, she could then talk her into going for a walk someplace. Preferably someplace dark and deserted.
Avoiding Terri's piercing gaze, Jessie looked around the terrace. A band had begun to assemble and from the looks of the performers, the night air would soon be filled with the sounds of a rock group, more than likely some alternative variety. I could just go with her and get a drink. Nothing wrong with that. Doesn't mean I have to go home with her, right? Internally debating, Jessie's eyes settled on the now dark water. It had been awhile since she'd done anything as casual as getting a drink with someone. She deliberately avoided any socializing, not wanting or desiring anyone's company, happy in her solitude.
"Sure, why not," Jessie shrugged before standing up and stretching her long frame, ever more aware of the looks she was receiving from Terri.
Terri stood as well, a large smile on her face. "Great, let's go then."
The two women headed for the building which housed one of the student unions for the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
The heart of the UW rests near the state's capital building, separated by a long strip of stores, cafes, restaurants, bars, museums, and the Civic Center. All of these could be found on State Street, a street closed to most cars, where people could walk and shop and talk. During the warmer, and some of the colder months, students would sit outside on the benches that lined the street, talking and smoking, some getting out guitars and such for an improvised jam session on the open street. All of this area and more were known to Madisonians as "downtown". The area rested between two large lakes - Lake Mendota and Lake Menona.
The Memorial Union rested on the shores of Lake Mendota. Originally the building had been a war memorial for those who fought and died in World War I. It was now the center of recreational, social, and cultural activities on campus. Add to that the terrace and you had an area bustling with students, faculty, and the general public.
And it was the place Jessie went when she wanted to be the most alone, hiding among the crowd, finding solitude in being alone with all the people around. The most lonely place in the world was a crowd of strangers.
Brothers was unusually crowded for a Friday night. Boisterous voices were almost drowned out by the music, which made it less than ideal for pleasant conversation. This was fine with Jessie, conversation wasn't something she really wanted.
As she followed Terri to a seat, she chastised herself. Why am I here? She didn't particularly like Terri, so why had she agreed? She's not even my type, she thought while slipping into a booth Terri had picked. If I even have a type anymore.
"I'll get the first round, what'll it be?" Terri raised her voice to be heard above the steady stream of noise.
"Ah, Sam Adams," Jessie replied, trying to remember what Brothers normally had on tap.
"Be right back," Terri winked at her as she swiveled around, making her way to the bar.
Pulling out a pack of Marlboro Lights, Jessie searched her pockets for a lighter.
"Here." An arm extended toward her, a lit lighter in a beefy hand. Jessie put the end of her cigarette into the flame, inhaling, then pulled away.
"Thanks," she murmured, glancing at the man who'd made the gesture. He was very large, with broad shoulders, and a thick, short neck. His round face was reddened probably a combination of beer and the heat of the bar which was a result of the number of people present.
"No problem," he said, giving her a large smile before lumbering back to a group of similarly built friends. They snickered as he rejoined them, all of the glancing back at Jessie as they did.
"Gotta love straight bars," Jessie said under her breath, resisting the urge to roll her eyes. Instead, she gave the group a sexy smile.
"Only gone a few minutes and you've already been picked up, huh?" Terri said as she put down two beers, the frothy liquid sloshing a bit at the impact. She slid into the other bench of the booth, giving Jessie a smile.
"Just innocent boys looking for fun." Jessie took a sip of the bitter liquid, savoring it as it slid down her throat. "Thanks," she said, gesturing to the cup Terri had brought her.
"Maybe we should have gone somewhere else." Terri eyed the group of men as they got louder and downing more beer. "I just wasn't sure…" She deliberately let the sentence drop as she tried to feel out Jessie.
"Yes, I'm gay." Jessie said simply, understanding completely what the other woman was getting at.
"You never can tell these days." Taking a drink of her beer, Terri looked at Jessie critically. "Do you have a girlfriend?"
Right to the point, huh Terri. Jessie hid her grin as Terri displayed a typical lesbian feeler. If they were single, they were fair game. "No, I don't have a girlfriend."
Terri's face definitely lifted at this bit of news, the corners of her mouth turning up as she gave Jessie a come hither look. "Have you always lived in Madison?"
Inwardly Jessie sighed. Here it came, the time to ask each other questions, and getting to know each other as much as they could in one night. "No. I grew up here, but left. Now I'm back." She carefully gave the information without committing to anything. It had only been six months since she left Chicago, since she'd run from her life. And every night since she left, the face of a young girl haunted her dreams.
"Why'd you come back." Continuing to probe, Terri wasn't going to give up. She wanted Jessie with every fiber of her body, knowing that it would be a sexual experience to write down in her journal.
Thinking about how to answer that question, Jessie felt a hand on her knee as Terri reached under the table to make contact with her. It had been so long for Jessie. So long since she'd let herself have that casual sexual encounter, that the contact immediately warmed her. "My mother lives here." She answered simply while trying not to focus on the thoughts of Terri's body, completely naked under her own. Maybe I can do this. Maybe I can just let go for tonight and let my body take over.
"So, do you live with your mother?" Terri quickly stood up and moved over to Jessie's side of the table, sitting down on the same booth. Her hand resumed its exploring, finding its way up Jessie's thigh, moving inward till it was at the crotch of Jessie's jeans.
I can't do this, Jessie thought sadly. She no longer wanted the one night stands, or quick loves. She was tired of playing that game, tired of the roller coaster ride. No, she'd rather be alone. "Maybe this wasn't a good idea…" She started to say, but then Terri's hand was there, pressing against her crotch, warming Jessie from the inside out.
"Oh come on," Terri said softly, in a low voice that Jessie supposed she thought was sexy. "Can't hurt anything. Two, single women. Come on back to my place." Her hand started moving, rubbing against the rough fabric of Jessie's jeans.
Actually contemplating this, Jessie became aware of another sound near them. It was a woman's voice. "I said, NO! Just leave me alone!" The woman was saying adamantly, her voice becoming more intense each time.
Both Terri and Jessie looked over their shoulders. The group that Jessie had dealt with earlier was cornering a young woman. They were leering at the woman as they closed in on her. One man grabbed a bit of the woman's reddish blonde hair and gave it a tug. The woman bit his large hand and then stomped on his foot.
"You little…" His had was raised and as he swung it around to make contact with the woman's face, it was stopped mid air.
"I don't recommend that, you asshole." Jessie growled at him as she held his hand in a firm grip. The man turned his anger to her, coming up with his other hand. She quickly caught the other one as well and using the limbs as a pivot point, whirled him around and pinned on of his arms behind his back.
He cried out as his arm was twisted painfully. "Come on guys, help me here!" He pleaded with his friends who were backing off.
"No man, I don't hit women. You're on your own," the man who'd lit Jessie's cigarette said, the others nodding their heads in agreement. "I'm sorry, we were just having fun. We didn't know he'd try something like that," he told Jessie.
Pushing against her hold on the large man, Jessie shoved him toward his friends. "Get him outta here before he gets me mad." They grabbed the man and dragged him out of the bar.
Taking deep breaths, Jessie tried to control her anger as it boiled very close to the surface. "Goddamn pig," she muttered heatedly.
She felt a hand on her arm and the anger seemed to lighten considerably, surprising her. Jessie turned and saw the blonde looking up at her with expansive green eyes. "Thank you," the woman said, a small, gentle smile forming on her face.
Jessie could only stare into the green eyes, finding herself falling deeply into them without her realizing it. The woman left her hand on her arm, her fingers gently moving on Jessie's skin. Her own eyes were still blazing with the blood stirring anger, but as the looked at the smaller woman, she saw no fear in those green eyes, only something else that she couldn't name.
"Jessie!" Terri yelled from behind her, trying to get the woman's attention.
This snapped Jessie out of her reverie. "Ah, you're welcome," she growled, looking down at the smaller woman. "Are you okay?" She ignored the sound of Terri's approach, only noticing the woman before her.
"Yeah." The woman's face scrunched up in distaste as she looked in the direction the men had gone in. "My name's Rowan," she said, sticking her hand out to shake Jessie's.
"I'm Jessie." She met Rowan's hand with her own. Her larger hand completely engulfed Rowan's smaller one. Just one of a thousand differences.
A wonderfully sweet smile was her reward as Rowan starred back at her without fear. The air around them was filled with electricity as they just stood there, anger and other emotions in the current. A whirlpool of thoughts ran through Jessie as an inner war seemed to rise within her.
"Hey, you done over here or what?" Terri said impatiently as she approached the two women.
"Sorry, didn't mean to take you away from your…friend." Rowan said politely as she removed her hand and arm. Her arms immediately went around herself as she realized what had happened. If Jessie hadn't come when she had, Rowan could only imagine what her fate would have been. She gave an involuntary shiver at the thought. As she remembered the look of dangerous anger that had been in Jessie's eyes she shivered again. While she should have been scared at such raw and powerful rage, she felt oddly comforted and safe.
Seeing the small shiver, Jessie's first instinct was to take the woman in her arms and shield her. Where the hell'd that come from??? She shook her head to clear her thoughts. "Are you going to be okay?"
"Um, yeah." Rowan nibbled on her lower lip, her eyes narrowing. "I think I'll just head home."
"Where do you live?"
"Over on East Dayton," Rowan said thinking about the walk home and shivering again.
"I'll walk you home, okay?" Jessie asked, not wanting to make the woman uncomfortable and not wanting to let her walk home alone. Those guys could still be out there, and Jessie didn't want to take the chance that Rowan would run into them again.
Rowan looked into Jessie's face, seeing the concern there. Why would she want to do that? Rowan thought to herself, studying the woman's beautiful face, which was framed by dark hair, providing the perfect background for the pair of brilliant blue eyes, which were in turn studying her. "That would be…great," she finished, really grateful that this woman would help her that way.
They both turned toward the door, only to be confronted by a very angry Terri. "What the hell is going on here Jessie? You're just going to leave here, with her?" Sneering at Rowan, Terri leaned forward till her face was right in front of Jessie's.
A low growl came from the back of Jessie's throat at this invasion of personal space. "Get. Out. Of. My. Way." She said slowly, in a menacing tone, biting off each word.
"Hey, look, I didn't mean to cause anyone any problems here." Rowan put her hands up in defense and started to leave.
Jessie gently grabbed hold of her arm, stopping her. Rowan turned, prepared to fight the bigger woman, but instead was caught in the warm eyes looking at her. "Please, I'd like to see you home," Jessie said gently, without any of the menace that had previously been in her voice.
Unable to do anything but look into those incredible eyes, Rowan merely nodded. Turning back to the third woman, Jessie's eyes grew cold. "I am leaving now," she spoke deliberately to Terri. "I don't owe you any explanations." She leaned over to the table they had occupied, grabbed her beer, and downed it quickly. Slamming the cup back down on the table, she looked at Terri while using her tongue to catch the drops of beer on her lips. "Thank you for the beer, now I'm going." Her hand curled around Rowan's small hand and with long strides she led the blonde out of the bar.
"Frigid bitch," Terri yelled as they walked out of the door.
Anger filled Jessie as they left. Taking a deep breath of the humid air, she slowly let it out as she walked. There was no way she'd let someone like Terri have any place in her emotions. She wasn't about to waste time on the woman.
"Jessie?" A timid voice came from behind the tall woman. Stopping, Jessie turned, realizing she still held Rowan's hand in her own. She dropped the woman's hand quickly. Rowan could feel the tension from the stranger, fear growing in her. Indescribably, she trusted this woman, but she didn't want any more confrontations tonight.
"Sorry about that," Jessie muttered, stuffing her hands in her jeans pocket. Looking at the smaller woman, she saw that Rowan was avoiding her gaze. Damn, probably scared the shit out of the kid, she realized suddenly.
"I didn't mean to cause you any problems." Troubled green eyes lifted to meet blue.
Giving the other woman a small smile, Jessie shook her head. "Don't worry. I should thank you for getting me away from her."
"Is she your…girlfriend?" Rowan asked shyly as they began to walk again down the street. To her surprise a gentle laughter came from the other woman at the question.
Rowan blushed as she realized that she might have been wrong about her initial observation. "Sorry, I just thought…"
Jessie waved a hand at her, dismissing her concern. "Nah, you were right about that. I'm sure she'd like to be my girlfriend, at least for a night." Jessie snorted softly.
"Not your type?" Rowan said, smiling up at her tall companion.
"Something like that," was the vague reply.
Silence fell between the two women. The night wasn't very old yet and the streets were filled with people milling about outside of bars and clubs, talking and laughing. The streetlights threw illuminating beams over some of the groups, making the others seem as though they were in deep shadows.
Rowan mentally shook her head. She couldn't believe how this night had ended up. First a friend of hers had stood her up, leaving her alone in a bar where she didn't know anyone. Then that guy had tried to pick her up, not taking her no for an answer. Then this woman stepped in. Quickly looking up at Jessie, Rowan felt her breath quicken slightly. Even from where she stood she could smell the perfume the woman wore, combined with the scent of clean clothes. A nice combination, she decided instantly.
Jessie didn't mind the silence, but she found herself trying to formulate questions to introduce new topics of conversation. She looked over at the smaller woman, catching glimpses of her face in the streetlights they passed. Rowan looked fairly young, probably early twenties. "Are you a student here?" She finally asked, amazed at herself.
Looking up startled at the voice, Rowan smiled to cover her embarrassment. "Not anymore. I'm an Assistant Professor in the English Department." Don't talk too much, Rowan, she told herself, very aware of her habit of talking more than necessary.
"Oh," Jessie looked up at the moon, noticing the first time the half orb that was glowing in the sky. Desperately, her mind tried to think of more questions to ask without seeming obvious.
"Uh, what about you?"
"Me? No, not a student."
The silence between them grew again as they both continued to walk, each deep in their own thoughts.
"Did you know that guy?" Jessie asked suddenly.
"At Brothers? No, I didn't. Apparently he wanted to get to know me, though." Rowan laughed lightly. "Not my type," she said, laughing louder now. Jessie joined in and soon they both had to stop to catch their breath.
Both women turned their heads toward each other at the same time, eyes catching, their laughter ending. Rowan had a sudden urge to wrap her arms around the other woman, but kept her arms at her side. Where did that come from? She frowned to herself.
"What's wrong?" Jessie asked softly, not taking her eyes from Rowan's, noticing the frown on the woman's face. Even the frown couldn't mar the younger woman's beauty.
"This is going to sound strange…but, do I know you from somewhere?" Talking fast in order to get it out, Rowan's eyebrows came together as she gazed up at Jessie. She felt a gnawing inside trying to convince her that she indeed knew this woman from somewhere. No, she would have remembered someone like Jessie, no doubt. So, why this strange feeling?
Raising a hand, Jessie found herself almost cupping the smaller woman's cheek in her hand. What was going on here? "I…I don't think so."
Shaking her head, Rowan smiled. "Oh well, I just feel like I know you from somewhere. Maybe it's the beer talking, I don't know." She started to walk again, wanting to get back to her comfortable home where she'd feel secure. That had to be why she was suddenly feeling strange. She was almost attacked, and this woman had rescued her. It was some kind of hero worship, or something.
Quickly following the other woman, Jessie wasn't going to let her out of her sight until she knew she was safe at home.
"Hey girls, wanna have some fun?" A high-pitched male voice came to them from the shadows of one of the doorways they passed. Jessie quickly looked and saw a young man sitting on the stoop, holding a joint in one hand and a beer in another. He winked at her as she looked, a hand beckoning her to join him.
"No thank you," Jessie answered, her hand going to Rowan's elbow, steering them both away from the doorway.
"Aw, come on. I'll share!" The man yelled after them, coming out of his doorway. Seeing that they weren't going to stop, he shrugged. "Your loss," he muttered before taking a hit off the joint.
"Is tonight the night for freaks?" Rowan mumbled, looking up at the moon. "It's not even a full moon or anything."
"No, it's worse than that."
"What? Did I miss some great big announcement that said it was freak night?"
"No, school starts on Monday. Everyone's having one last huge party before they start to study." Jessie grinned at Rowan, finally releasing the other woman's elbow.
Rowan's skin tingled from where Jessie had touched her, a warmth spreading from that one gesture. "I almost forgot."
"You? The professor? Almost forgot that classes were starting?" Jessie said incredulously. "I would think you'd have it inked on your brain."
Giving a small laugh, Rowan grinned up at Jessie. "Nah, I tend to put things like that out of my brain. Less to worry about if you forget it's coming!" She took a few more steps and then stopped.
"What's wrong?" Jessie asked, concerned by the look on Rowan's face.
Rowan groan softly. "Shit, classes start on Monday!" Seriously dismayed at the thought, Rowan was startled from her bout of misery by a deep, belly laugh. She turned and saw Jessie literally guffawing. "You think this is funny?" Putting her hands on her hips she watched as Jessie merely laughed harder. Rowan looked up at the half moon, her hands in the air. "She thinks this is funny?"
Breathing deeply, Jessie tried to catch her breath. "Oooo…sorry there."
Raising an eyebrow, Rowan just looked at the breathless woman. "How is that funny?"
"It wasn't what you said, it was…" Jessie hesitated. What had been so funny? What had made her laugh like that? Her belly ached pleasantly, a reminder of the force of the laugh. It wasn't what Rowan had said, or even how she said it. It had been the adorable look on her face that had caused Jessie to break up. "It was…ah, nothing, just a thought that went through my mind." She answered, trying to dismiss the thought that caught her off guard.
Stepping closer, Rowan peered into the other woman's face. "No, seriously, what was it?" She was curious. Everything about this woman intrigued her. She seemed so…unflappable. The laugh had been so genuine, so unexpected, and completely wonderful to hear.
Uncomfortably aware of Rowan's face turned up to her, she caught herself wondering what it would be like to quickly press her lips to hers, feeling the softness that she was sure she'd find there. In the light of the street lamp, Jessie saw Rowan's slightly upturned nose, her clear skin that was flushed slightly, and her deep green eyes which were perfectly framed by her eyebrows. It would be so easy to lean down and kiss her…
"Jessie?" Rowan asked softly, moving in a bit closer.
"Uh, what?" Her mind was completely blank. She turned quickly away, focusing her eyes somewhere else, needing to break the invisible spell, which was drawing her closer to Rowan.
"Why were you laughing?"
"The look…on your face. It was…" Jessie felt her face grow warm as she blushed slightly, "…cute." She finished, realizing that cute didn't even come close to describing what she had seen. Or what I felt, she realized. That was impossible. She wasn't looking to feel anything.
A definite reddish color grew over Rowan's face. "Oh," she grinned to herself. Cute, huh? I can handle that.
They stood there, looking at each other, both blushing and both unsure of what to say next. Finally, Jessie cleared her throat. "So, East Dayton Street, right?"
"Right," Rowan confirmed and they both started walking.
Finally, they reached a three-story house with a porch on front. The outside of the house was yellow with dark trim, very typical of the area. Most of the homes were converted into apartments for students, but this one had a nicer look, that of a real home. A wooden swing hung on one end of the porch, and comfortable patio furniture lined the rest.
"Do you live here alone?" Jessie asked, realizing that it might not be the best line of questioning. "Or, are you a renter?"
"No, I own it. I used to rent out one of the bedrooms, but didn't like dealing with people coming and going all hours of the night." Answering automatically, Rowan pulled out her keys and walked up the stairs in front. As she reached the door she noticed that Jessie had stayed back on the sidewalk. "Do you want to come in? For some coffee or something?" She wasn't ready to let this woman out of her sight just yet. Something inside of her wanted to get to know Jessie.
Looking at her watch, Jessie noticed that it was only 10 pm. The night was still fairly early. It was either go in with Rowan or go home and be alone. "Sure," she shrugged, slowly walking up the stairs. A shadow of something akin to grief had passed over Rowan's face just moments before and Jessie was left with a desperate urge to take it away from her. Something, or someone, had hurt Rowan in the past and the mere idea caused her to seethe in anger.
"Great!" Rowan gave her a smile before turning around and unlocking the front door. The shadow was gone, and Jessie decided to leave it alone for now. Rowan opened the door and gestured for Jessie to enter. After the taller woman had cleared the door, Rowan shut it behind her, flipping a switch by the door.
The room now illuminated with light, Jessie looked around curiously. They were obviously in the living room. It had a comfortable, lived in look, but she saw that everything was clean and orderly. Most of the room was in blues, a large couch taking up one entire wall and a small TV in one corner. Pictures of various people covered the walls as well as a few colorful prints. A recliner sat in another corner, and sitting in the recliner was a large cat. The cat rose with a plaintive cry, giving its owner a look of desperation.
"Tigg, you're not dying." Rowan admonished to the cat. The cat gave a small murmur of disagreement, standing and stretching its long body. It was a gray and white-stripped cat; its markings making it look like a small minx. Intelligent gray eyes looked up at Jessie expectantly. "Oh. Jessie, this is Tigger. Tigger, this is my new friend Jessie." The cat seemed to nod his head in acknowledgment.
Jessie, used to the quirks of cats, smiled. "Hello Tigger," she returned the greeting. Seeming to be content with that, the cat looked back at its owner, crying out again for attention.
"As you can see, he's spoiled." Rowan explained. "What would you prefer? Coffee, tea, beer? A soda?" She headed toward a doorway, talking over her shoulder to Jessie.
"Um, whatever you're going to have is fine," Jessie replied, staying where she was.
"Make yourself comfortable, I'll be right back." Rowan disappeared through the doorway, leaving the cat and stranger in the living room.
Knowing that moving the cat would be a bad idea, Jessie settled on the couch. How the hell did I get here again? She asked herself now that she was alone. This was no something she'd normally do. So what had possessed her to come here? As she thought, Rowan came back through the doorway, carrying two steaming mugs. Seeing the soft smile on the other woman's face, Jessie suddenly realized that she knew the answer to her questions. She was there because of Rowan. Simple as that.
"Here," Rowan handed Jessie one of the mugs before sitting next to her on the couch. "Hot chocolate," she explained to the other woman who was looking at the mug curiously.
"Ah," was all Jessie said before taking a sip. Not much of a chocolate fan, she was surprised at how perfect the drink seemed. Taking another sip, she savored the sweet flavor and the warmth in her mouth.
"So, do you always go around helping women in bars?" Rowan had no idea what to talk about. Their conversation on the way to her house was strained. And now here they were sitting in her living room, warranting more conversation.
Ducking her head, Jessie grinned. "No, not something I usually do."
"Am I your first damsel in distress than?"
"I guess you could say that."
"Do you live in Madison?" Rowan continued to try to draw the older woman into conversation.
"Yes." She knew that she needed to be more complete with her answers, so she volunteered some information. "I live above my mother's store on State Street."
"Oh! You're mother's Anne?"
Blinking in surprise, Jessie starred at Rowan. "Yeah. How'd you know that?"
Laughing at Jessie's puzzlement, the blonde was more than happy to explain. "I'm just one of your mother's regular customers. Best bookstore downtown, if you ask me. Do you work there? I don't think I've seen you there before." She didn't add the fact that she would have remembered the tall, dark haired woman.
"I help out there sometimes, but I don't officially work there. I work at the P-Plus office down here." P-Plus was Physician's Plus, one of the health organizations which filled Madison and the surrounding area.
"Are you a doctor?"
It was Jessie's turn to laugh lightly. "No, unfortunately not." She shook her head. "I work in the Human Resources Department."
They continued to make conversation, each of them taking turns asking questions and answering them. They're mugs lay discarded on the coffee table in front of the couch, time forgotten. Finally, Jessie took a glance at her watch. It read 2:08 am.
"Oh shit," Jessie said, standing up. "I'd better get going."
Rowan grabbed Jessie's wrist and looked at the watch herself. "Holy shit!" She echoed, not understanding how that much time had passed. Getting up as well, Rowan looked up at Jessie. "Uh, thanks again. I really appreciate all that you did tonight."
Giving the other woman a self-depreciating smile, Jessie looked back. "You're welcome." They stood there for a minute, neither one looking away. "Well, I guess I'd better go."
Nodding, Rowan walked with her toward the door. "Be careful, okay?"
Watching as Jessie opened the door and started to leave, Rowan grabbed for the last ounce of her confidence. She put a hand on Jessie's shoulder. Turning around, Jessie was shocked when she felt a warm pair of lips brush against her own. "Bye," Rowan said her voice husky.
"Bye." Jessie smiled to herself as she closed the door behind her. She was right. Rowan's lips were soft.
It was the same dream as always. Jessie dream eyes watched herself. She was dressed in a black pant suit, which hung on her body in a familiar way, tight against the curves of her body, but loose enough for her to move with ease. With her were three men, all of which watched her with reverent admiration as she held a gun to the temple of a fourth man who was tied to a chair. They were in an empty room, dark except for an overhead light which wasn't strong enough to light the corners. Those darkened corners held more mystery than the scene itself, full of demons and sorrow ridden ghosts.
Even as she watched the scene, like a mysterious omniscient entity, she tried to warn her dream self. "Don't do it!" She tried to yell, but the woman in the suit didn't listen. The gun never wavered from the man's head, the long, strong hand holding it steadily.
"You know what your punishment should be," her dream self purred to the man tied to the chair. The woman smiled, not a pleasant smile, which seemed to evoke fear in everyone.
The man's eyes bulged out at her voice, his hands fought against the binds that held him tightly. "I didn't do it JB, I swear! It was Nick, I promise you!" The man's whimpering didn't seem to have any affect on the stoic woman.
"Don't worry about Nick. He's already been taken care of. Of course, when it was his time he ratted on you, saying that it was your fault the route was disrupted." As Jessie watched herself, the memories of the anger welled through her. She had been betrayed by this man, he had let something slip to an undercover cop about one of their more profitable drug routes. In the end, Jessie had had to appease many important clients on the East Coast, sacrificing her own reputation to make them happy.
As she remembered the anger, her conscious seemed to coalesce with her dream self, so that now they were one. She was standing in front of the man. She could see his fear in his eyes, smell the pungent odor of his fear-induced sweat. The handle of the gun weighed in her hand, the cool metal a reality check.
"Nick's been taken care of," she repeated before continuing. "All that's left now is taking care of loose ends." She moved the muzzle of the gun down the man's face in an almost caressing manner. "That would be you."
What occurred after that point happened so quickly that Jessie wasn't sure how it had happened. Something scampered out one of the dark corners. One of her men, out of fright, pulled his gun and shot three times into the corner. After the noise of the bullets being forced from the barrel had receded, all eyes turned to see a small form lying on the ground, a pool of dark blood growing around it.
"What the hell did you do!" She yelled as she moved away from the man in the chair. She rushed to the prone form and turned it over. It was a small girl. Her eyes were open in death, starring up at Jessie.
Turning to the man that had pulled the gun, Jessie swiftly was in front of him. Thoughts having escaped her, she was quick to shoot him, not even watching as his body fell heavily to the ground. "Goddamn fucking asshole," she yelled into the air, her scream reverberated off the dank walls of the room, echoing back at her.
Rushing back to the body of the girl, Jessie fell to the floor and took the girl's head in her hands. The face of the girl had changed. She shrank back in horror as it was now Rowan's face looking back at her. Rowan's green eyes had grown glassy in death and were now looking at her in such sorrow that Jessie could feel her heart break in two.
Tears streaming down her face, she leaned down and put her lips to Rowan's before lifting her own gun. Placing the muzzle against her temple, she starred at Rowan's face as she pulled the trigger.
"Hi Rowan!" A pleasant voice welcomed Rowan into the bookstore. The voice came from behind a tall bookshelf. Peeking behind, Rowan found the bookstore owner sitting on the wood floor re-arranging the shelves, a stack of books on the floor next to her.
"Hey Anne," Rowan greeted her warmly. She looked around at the nearly empty shop. "I'm surprised there aren't more people here," she commented.
"Ah," Anne waved a hand at her. "It's a lull. They come in waves." She stood up, stretching her petite body.
Now knowing that Anne was Jessie's mother, Rowan had to wonder where the dark haired woman got her height. Anne stood about five feet, three inches, her hair a rich blonde with gray strands interwoven. But, looking into the older woman's face, Rowan realized that she saw Jessie's brilliant blue eyes starring back at her, a little faded with age, but the same.
"How have you been, Rowan?" Anne asked, ignoring the fact that the other woman was starring into her face intently.
"Pretty good. Busy with classes and students." She wasn't sure whether or not she should mention the fact that she had met Jessie. Oh what the hell, she thought. Truthfully, she had come to Shakespeare's Closet in hopes of seeing the woman. "I met your daughter a few weeks ago." She laughed lightly seeing the surprise on Anne's face. "Actually, she came to my rescue."
"You met Jessie?" Anne seemed quite surprised about that.
"Yeah. She helped me out when some over exuberant college boys decided they wanted to have fun with me."
"I think they wanted more than that," a deep voice came from back. Both women turned around in surprise as Jessie came from the back room. Eyes twinkling, she winked at Rowan. "Nice to see you again."
Blushing slightly, Rowan nodded back in her direction. "You too."
The tall woman studied Rowan for a minute, a small smile forming on her face. It had only been two weeks since their first meeting, but Jessie found herself thinking about the blonde a lot. It was strange and disconcerting, but she had wanted to see her again without being too obvious.
"Are you playing hero again, Jess?" Anne grinned at her daughter.
"I wouldn't exactly say that mom." Not looking at Rowan, she put her hands in her jeans pocket, just standing there. "Just in the right place at the right time."
"Whatever it was, I will be forever grateful." Her voice soft, Rowan looked up at Jessie. Their eyes met as they had many times that fateful night, and Rowan felt herself instantly drawn into the woman's eyes.
Standing back, Anne smiled to herself. There was obvious chemistry between the two women, she could feel it from where she was standing. Rowan had been coming to her bookstore since her freshman year at the UW, and over the years Anne had grown very fond of her. Sometimes Rowan would come in and they would sit over coffee and talk about books and classes, and life in general.
One night, Rowan had come into the bookstore, her depression showing in her face. When Anne probed, Rowan told her that it was the third anniversary of her parents' death. That night Anne held the young woman in her arms, letting her cry in her pain, reminding Anne of her own daughter whom she hadn't seen in years.
Now here they both were, standing in front of her. To Anne it felt like a reunion of sorts. "So, Jess, what brings you here?" Anne turned to her daughter. "I don't have any new lesbian fiction in, so what could bring you here?"
"Can't a girl just come and see her mother?"
"Sure she can. Just curious that's all." She grinned up at her daughter.
Rowan watched the exchange with interest. She had always noticed how a lot of people acted much different with their parents than they did with their friends. Not Jessie. Very interesting, Rowan thought to herself, putting the memory away for a later time.
Anne turned her grin to Rowan. "And the book you ordered is in, Rowan." Turning toward the counter, Anne walked behind and reached for something underneath. Pulling out a hard cover book with a rubber band holding a piece of paper in place, Anne waved it in the air for Rowan to see.
"Great, I was really hoping it would be," Rowan walked over, pulling her knapsack off her shoulder. She hardly ever went anywhere without her knapsack. It contained everything that she thought would be essential in any situation. Digging around for a minute, she finally pulled out her wallet. "How much do I owe you?"
"Mmmm…" Anne flipped open the book, looking for the price on the jacket. "Never can find the prices. We'll say fifteen dollars."
Taking the book from Anne's hands, Rowan looked for herself, very clearly seeing the price listed. "More like $24.95?" Anne looked sheepishly at the woman across the counter. "Anne, I'm a paying customer just like everyone else."
Jessie had sauntered over to the counter by this time. She looked over Rowan's shoulder and saw the price herself. "Mom, she's got you there."
Looking very indignant, Anne put her hands on her hips. "Whose bookstore is this anyway? If I want to charge $15, then I'll charge $15!" She narrowed her eyes at the two women in front of her. "Do either of you have a problem with that?"
Rowan backed up a bit, pretending to be daunted by the look. "Geeze Jess, did you get that look a lot growing up?" She stage whispered to the woman behind her. Jessie hadn't backed up when Rowan had, causing Rowan's body to brush up against her.
Leaning down, Jessie put her mouth near Rowan's ear. "Yeah, if you think that's bad, you should see her when she's really angry," she whispered back.
Turning her head slightly so that she was looking at Jessie, Rowan's eyes got large. "You mean she gets even worse?"
Her eyes looking directly into Rowan's, Jessie nodded her head slightly. "Her face gets red and her voice gets really, really loud."
"Really?" Rowan had almost forgotten what they were talking about as she looked at Jessie. In fact, she'd forgotten all about Anne's presence until the older woman spoke up for herself.
"Very funny you two. Ha ha," the sarcasm heavy in her voice, Anne rang up the purchase on her register. "Fifteen dollars and ninety cents is your total."
Pulling out a twenty, Rowan handed it to her. "Keep the change. You deserve a tip for that performance!" She grinned at Anne, who knew she was beaten.
Jessie took a glance at the book that Rowan had purchased, surprised that she was familiar with the author. "J.D. Redmann, huh?" She remarked, as she picked up the book which was most definitely a lesbian novel. Granted, it was a mainstream publisher, but still, she hadn't picked up on any gaydar vibes when she was with Rowan.
"Yeah, I love Micky. She's so human, she's lovable." Rowan said enthusiastically, grateful to have something to discuss with the other woman.
"I don't think I've read this one yet," Jessie looked at her mom, her eyes narrowing. "You didn't tell me she had a new book out."
"Hey Jess?" Anne said.
"J.D. Redmann has a new book out."
Shaking her head, Jessie rolled her eyes. "Thanks mom, thanks so much."
"Always trying to be helpful," Anne replied cheerfully.
Turning to Rowan, Jessie ignored her mother's jokes. "Do you think Cordelia and Micky will still be together?" She referred to the book, Lost Daughters, which she still held in her hand.
"I hope so! I love them as a couple, don't you?"
"Yeah, I do." Jessie said quietly, thinking of her own love life or lack thereof. It was her choice to be single, to not be attached to anyone, and she was always happy with that. Why was she questioning it now?
Anne moved off to help another customer who had come through the door, leaving the two women alone.
"I don't suppose that she'll be able to have coffee with me today," Rowan remarked watching as Anne conversed with the customer.
Jessie felt that this was an opening for something. "I'm not the conversationalist that mom is, but if you want, we could go get coffee." She shrugged as though it was no big deal, when in fact her heart was pounding in her chest. When Rowan turned to her with a large smile on her face, Jessie didn't even hear her answer, instead she saw the delight in Rowan's eyes.
Saying goodbye to Anne, they headed out the door.
What Jessie hadn't counted on was that Terri would be having coffee at the same time. She'd run into the other woman at work a few times, both of them polite on the surface, but Jessie had sensed some kind of anger underneath it all. Why Terri was angry, she didn't know. It was like Jessie had given her indications that she was receptive to her advances. In fact, she'd done everything she could to discourage the woman. Yet Terri some how seemed to feel that Jessie had done something to slight her.
"Well, if it isn't my two favorite women," Terri's voice came sarcastically from across the crowded café. Both Jessie and Rowan turned from their cups to look at the woman. Terri's eyes were focused on them, blazing with something that indicated an unfriendly emotion. Ignoring the people around them, Terri moved in closer, circling the table the two women were at like she was stalking her prey. "And here I thought you two weren't aquatinted.
This was more than Jessie could handle. Her anger rose to match Terri's, a low rumble began in her chest. This woman would regret interrupting her time with Rowan. She swept her eyes over Terri's body then focused on her face. "It's absolutely none of your business." She said coolly.
Rowan watched it all, fear creeping up in her throat. She vaguely remembered the woman from Brother's, the way she had possessively tried to claim Jessie that night, only to be blown off by the tall woman. Looking at Jessie, she saw the blue eyes that had haunted her dreams turn a steely color, become cold. It was like she was looking at a complete stranger.
Focusing her anger at Rowan, Terri looked her up and down with, her eyes filled with hunger. "If I had known that this little one was of our persuasion, I would have taken her home that night." She brought her hand up and roughly brushed her knuckles against Rowan's cheek.
Rowan didn't even see Jessie move, but in the next instant, Jessie was standing, her hand holding Terri's wrist in a painful grip. "Why don't you leave?" She snarled in a low timbre.
Barking out a harsh laugh, Terri turned to Jessie, moving closer until her body was against the lean body she wanted so much. "Why don't you come with me?" She rubbed her body against Jessie's seductively.
"She's here with me," a quiet voice made the two women turn. Rowan was standing now, her body tensed for a confrontation.
Again, Terri turned to the smaller woman, her mouth quirked in a rakish grin. "You don't have any idea what you're doing, little girl. You're not woman enough to handle this one," she jerked her head in Jessie's direction. "So why don't you leave this to us?" She moved in close to Rowan. "Unless you want to join us, that is."
The anger that had been growing in Jessie suddenly boiled over. She felt it overwhelm her body, marring all control she had once possessed. Grabbing Terri's arm, she turned the woman around by force. Moving until she was nose to nose with the woman, Jessie looked down at her. "Leave. Her. Alone." A horrific rumbling sound came from her, making the room hum with her anger. "Or I'll throw you out of here myself."
Sensing that Jessie was serious Terri backed off. "You'll come to me when you realize that this little girl can't give you what you want. Then I'll make you pay for keeping me waiting." Turning on her heel, Terri stormed out of the coffeehouse.
Two sets of eyes watched her leave.
Breathing deeply, trying desperately to control her anger, Jessie closed her eyes and sat down heavily in her chair. She tried to force her body to relax, but found that she wanted to hit something in her anger, an outlet for the emotion that was controlling her.
Then, someone touched her. A warm hand was placed on her arm and her anger slowly dissipated. Reason and control began to come back to her and the red that she saw behind her eyes grew darker until it was black. Finally she opened her eyes and saw Rowan looking at her.
"I'm sorry," she mumbled, feeling ashamed at her display of anger. She knew better. By showing her anger to Terri, she had given the other woman control.
Not knowing what to say, Rowan merely moved her hand against Jessie's arm. Too many emotions were filling her, leaving her completely confused. The anger she had seen in Jessie scared her, and yet she knew instinctively that Jessie would never hurt her. "What does she want?" Rowan asked quietly, not completely understanding what had happened, only knowing that it now involved her.
A sharp laughter escaped from Jessie. "She wants to sleep with me."
"I figured that much, but why is she so persistent?" The anger she had sensed from Terri had to go beyond just sex.
"I guess she's not used to being told no." Shaking her head, Jessie smiled bitterly. "I'm not all that used to saying no either."
"Why did you say no then?" Rowan was curious. It was strange comment to make.
Because I met you. Because I wanted to change when I saw you. I didn't want her, I wanted you. She wanted to say that, she wanted to tell Rowan how she felt, but she couldn't tell her why. She didn't know herself why she felt that way. Instead, she said, "I just wasn't interested." She shrugged, taking a sip of her now cooled latte.
Somehow this disappointed Rowan. What had she expected? Jessie to say that she wanted her instead? She laughed to herself. Keep thinking that way, Rowan. She knew she would be fooling herself if she did. "Oh."
"I'd better get going," Jessie said standing. "I'll see you later, I guess." That was all she said as she walked out of the café, leaving Rowan sitting there alone.
Jessie opened the door to her apartment above her mother's bookstore. Gently she closed the door, making the decision to not take her anger out on a defenseless piece of wood. Once inside, she didn't turn the light on, she just sat down on the couch in her living room area. Elbows on her knees, she cradled her head in her hands, her entire body shaking.
Why was Rowan getting to her like this? Jessie had had plenty of women in her life. She would use them and then throw them away the next day, ready for the next one. In the last six months, she'd been alone. By choice. Her life had fallen in on her and she had come home to escape that life. Part of that former life was the different women in her bed, the conquest of sex. A fast paced, dangerous life, living on the edge, daring someone to push her over.
But, she'd left it. The life of a child was not worth all the thrills in the world. It had taken that brutal death to make her realize that she couldn't continue. It had broken her, left her realizing that she couldn't continue. Jessie Blackman left the days as Chicago drug lord behind. And now, she was trying to live a sedate life, dealing with the scars on her memory and dreams. Alone. It was simpler that way. No need to explain what she'd been doing with her life. No questions about her past.
Now she was actually contemplating letting someone into her world. How could she? How could she explain to someone like Rowan the things she had done in her past? How could she face her, seeing the disgust in her green eyes? How could she deal with the rejection?
"Yeah, sorry, I can't have a relationship with drug lord and murderer," Jessie said out loud, feeling for the first time how empty her apartment was with only her to fill the space. "Not that I could blame her." What had happened? Here she was, actually contemplating a relationship with a woman she'd only met twice.
"No!" She said bitterly out loud. "It's not going to happen, so I'm just going to forget about it!" She got up from the couch. She wasn't going to set herself up for something that wouldn't happen. Rowan could never love someone like her. Making herself realize that now would save a lot of anguish later. Kicking at a piece of paper on the floor of her living room, Jessie stormed into her bedroom.
Warming her hands on a cup of hot coffee, Rowan watched as Anne helped a customer find a copy of her favorite mystery author's newest book. She smiled to herself when Anne finally finished, plopping herself down in the chair next to Rowan.
Part of Shakespeare's Closet had been made a small cozy area with a coffee machine and plenty of Styrofoam cups. Rowan had come in an hour or so earlier, quickly making her purchases and settling into one of the plush chairs situated in the space. Anne would come over and join her when her attention wasn't needed elsewhere and the two of them would talk.
It was October and the infamous Wisconsin winter was pushing fiercely at Fall's door. The leaves had already fallen from the trees, leaving the wide flat land bare. Soon winter would be there if full form, covering the land in white snow and bitterly cold winds.
"So, how's Jessie been?" Rowan asked casually, taking a drink of coffee to keep herself from seeming too pushy. That was the main reason she'd come to the bookstore, she admitted to herself. Not that she didn't enjoy Anne or her company, but her true reason was less altruistic than merely paying a social call. She hadn't seen Jessie since the day at the coffee shop, even though she'd been in Anne's store as much as time permitted.
Sensing Rowan's attempt at appearing casual, Anne decided to go alone with that. She knew the young professor's real motive and she was secretly pleased. Her hopes of a romance between the two women hadn't seemed to be realized, but it was obvious that Rowan was interested. And she would swear that Jessie was too by the way her daughter kept asking about Rowan. "She's good. Busy. Her job and working at the women's shelter really keep her going."
Rowan's eyebrows came together as she looked at Anne. "Woman's shelter?" She asked curiously.
"She didn't tell you?" Anne wasn't as puzzled. "She doesn't really like to toot her own horn, so to speak. She volunteers at a woman's shelter here in town; mainly working on the hot line they have set up. A friend of hers runs it and she helps out there when ever she can."
"Wow, I didn't know that."
Shrugging, Anne took a sip of her own coffee, about to say something when the phone behind the counter rang. "Just a second," she said as she got up to answer the phone.
"Hello?" She paused, listening to whoever was on the other end. "Ohmygod, is she okay? Which hospital? Okay, I'll be right there." Anne quickly hung up the phone and reached for her jacket, which was hanging behind the counter. Looking to Rowan, her eyes showed fear. "Jessie's been taken to the hospital. I don't know what happened, but I need to get over there."
"I'll stay and close up," Rowan said quickly, her own fear level rising.
"Thank you," Anne handed her a set of keys. "Just get everyone out of here and lock up."
"Meriter," she said, as she headed toward the door. "Come down when you've finished."
"I will," Rowan yelled as Anne left.
The hospital seemed quiet. Nothing like what Rowan was used to on TV. As she entered through the main entrance, she headed toward the main desk. "A friend of mine was brought in here. Jessie…Blackman?" She had to quickly remember Anne's last name, hoping that Jessie's was the same.
The volunteer behind the help desk typed something into her computer. "Blackman…she was admitted about an hour ago. She should still be down in the Emergency Room. Follow the red lines on the floor and you'll find that wing. You'll have to ask the desk down there." The woman pointed to a wing off to the left.
Blindly, Rowan saw the red lines on the floor and began walking. She seemed to be walking through a maze, rather like a rat. Finally, she saw two swinging doors with the words "Emergency Room" in large red letters. Walking through the doors she was surrounded by chaos. Everywhere she looked people were rushing around. This is more like TV, she thought immediately. Seeing a desk with two people standing behind it, Rowan walked in that direction. "Excuse me, I need to find my friend."
"Name?" The attendant didn't look up from her computer screen.
"Are you family?" The woman's fingers flew over the keyboard, not pausing as she spoke.
"No," Rowan realized that she might not be allowed to see Jessie at all.
"Are you Rowan?"
"Yes." How did they know her name.
"Clip this to your clothing, keep it on at all times. Go through the doors to your right. She's in room 4." The attendant handed her a red visitor's tag.
Rowan took the tag, immediately clipping it to her sweatshirt and proceeding through the doors rather than asking questions.
The "rooms" were curtained off cubicles, beds in each one. Large letters were painted in black over each bed. All around phones rang, people were talking. Seeing room number one, Rowan followed till she found room 4. The curtain that opened to the center of the room was open. Anne sat on a chair by the bed in the cubical. In the bed was a form that Rowan thought she'd recognize anywhere.
A bandage covered half of Jessie's face from forehead to chin. Her normally tan skin was ashen white. The eye that was visible was closed. Rowan quickly sucked in some air, resisting the urge to run over and take Jessie's hand.
Hearing her, Anne turned around and saw the panicked look on Rowan's face. "She's okay."
Anne's voice was welcoming, encouraging Rowan to walk closer. She kept her eyes on Jessie's still face, noting the woman's rising and falling chest. Stopping beside Jessie's bed, Rowan finally gave in and clasped one of Jessie's hands in her own. "What happened?" She managed to ask in a choked whisper.
"I got stupid," a slightly muffled voice answered her. A blue opened, standing out almost violently against the pale face. The half of her mouth that wasn't covered by bandages lifted in a small smile. The hand that Rowan held clasped her own, giving it a squeeze. Looking over at her mother, Jessie spoke again. "Mom, can you tell her?" Talking hurt.
Rowan turned to Anne, waiting for the explanation. Smiling at the two women, Anne began to talk. "My daughter was doing her usual heroic deed for the day. A woman called into the shelter, afraid that her husband was going to kill her. Jess decided to take matter into her own hands and went to pick up the woman so that she could take her back to the shelter. Apparently the husband wasn't willing to let his wife leave. He answered the door with a shot gun in his hand."
"He shot you?" Rowan questioned, looking at Jessie. The dark haired woman only shook her head no.
"No, she managed to wrestle the gun from him, not realizing that he had a knife as well. He managed to cut her while they were fighting over it," Anne stood up and looked at her daughter fondly, a bit of sadness in her eyes as well. "The police were on their way. But you just couldn't wait for them, could you?" Her voice wasn't malice or biting. "My brave, foolish girl. What am I going to do with you?"
"You love me," Jessie said, her words slurred slightly as her eye drooped.
"Yes, I love you." Anne said softly as her daughter succumbed to the drugs the doctor's had given her.
Rowan kept her hold on Jessie's hand, unwilling to let go. "She going to be okay?" She asked Anne softly.
"Yeah, the doctors are going to put in some stitches as soon as they get a chance. They took x-rays of it to make sure that the knife hadn't hit the bone, but from what I've been told it hasn't. It'll scar, but that can be taken care of with plastic surgery." She watched her daughter sleep, a mixture of emotions flooding her body.
"What happened to the guy?"
"I don't know. Jessie said he tried to run when the police showed up. She was carted out of there pretty fast and didn't know if they'd caught the bastard." Now Anne's voice was filled with anger, surprising Rowan who'd never heard the older woman's tone be anything but pleasant.
"Mrs. Blackman?" A youngish woman in a lab coat, holding a file, came into the room. Anne nodded her head yes. "I'm Dr. Moser. We're going to take Jessica to the suture room and put the stitches in, then she'll be put into room 3841. You can go up to the third floor and wait for her there if you'd like." Two orderlies showed up behind the doctor, ready to wheel Jessie out.
"Thank you," Anne said, gathering her jacket and purse. "Rowan will you come with me?"
"I planned on it," Rowan answered.
As the orderlies prepared to take Jessie out of there, Anne leaned over and kissed Jessie's forehead. Together, Anne and Rowan left the room and headed for the elevators.
"Ms. Blackman?" A smooth looking man with dirty blonde hair that looked recently cut stood in Jessie's hospital room doorway. His faded blue eyes scanned the room with a professional air.
"That's me," she answered dryly, aware that he had to be police. She could normally spot them from a distance. Her life depended on that many times.
"Detective Michael Moore, Madison police." He held up his badge for a minute before returning it to the breast pocket of his shirt. "Can I ask you a few questions?"
"Sure, come on in." She pointed to a plastic chair sitting by the bed. "Make yourself at home." No point in alienating the local police force. That would come later when they discovered who she was. If they discovered who she was, she amended to herself.
The detective chose not to sit down, rather he stood at the end of her bed, his brown eyes starring at her intently. "Why did you allow yourself to be put in danger?" Was his first question.
Surprised, expecting to be asked to give a run down of what happened when, Jessie blinked at him. "Why did I allow it?" Her voice rose in disbelief. "Allow it?" She gave a brittle laugh. "I did not allow it, Detective Moore. The choice was taken from me the minute that asshole decided to threaten his wife's life." She returned his stare, unwilling to look away as her anger filled her.
Michael looked at Jessie in her hospital bed. He found himself respecting the woman's bravery, even though he thought it incredibly stupid. He studied the side of her face that wasn't covered in bandage, seeing the fine beauty in the facial structure, seeing the intense blue eye that glared back at him. "Did you know Mr…" he looked at the standard note pad in his hands, "Mr. Colston before this incident?"
"No," she said shortly, still angry at his attitude.
"No, I didn't know either of them. She called in, scared shitless that he was going to kill her. She gave me their address just before he grabbed the phone and started screaming into it." She shook her head in frustration. "I didn't even think about contacting the police, they wouldn't have gotten there in time. I got into my truck and headed over there." She remembered hearing Mrs. Colston's screaming even from the street. Neighbors were surely listening from behind closed doors. The sound of a gun discharging caused Jessie's pace to quicken to a run. "He opened the door with the gun in his hand. I was close enough, I got the gun away, but he pulled a knife, swinging at me." She didn't really need to finish. What happened was obvious. He'd cut her. By that time, the police, called by one of the hidden neighbors, arrived. "Did they get there in time?" Jessie asked quietly, her voice husky.
"No." Michael slowly shook his head and Jessie caught a glimpse of extreme sadness in his eyes. "She was dead before the EMTs could try to revive her. He'd shot her in the chest, point blank, with the shotgun. She didn't stand a chance."
Behind his words, Jessie finally got a glimpse of his humanity. Gone was the stiff mask that made him seem completely without feeling, leaving him completely vulnerable to Jessie's gaze. He doesn't even realize it, she concluded. There was no way he would reveal so much to someone he knew nothing about. Clearing her throat, she asked one more question. "Did you get him?" Her voice was softer this time as they both shared the grief of the loss of the woman who had died. Neither of them had known her, but they were both a part of her death now.
Lifting his head to look at Jessie, Michael's eyes hardened as he answered. "No, he got away."
They starred at each other, each of them silently vowing to find this man. He wouldn't be allowed to escape the punishment he deserved. Michael almost invisibly nodded his head in acknowledgment to the revenge he saw in Jessie's eyes. He hoped that he found Colston first, but he wouldn't do anything to prevent her from doing what she had to.
Taking a business card out of the inside pocket of his sport jacket, he laid in on the table. "Call me if you…remember…anything else. Or if you just want to go out for a cup of coffee or something." It was his silent invitation to share information.
Jessie nodded at him, her head feeling heavy. "It's time for you to leave Detective," Dr. Moser stood in the doorway, Jessie's chart in her hands. "The patient needs to rest."
Michael ducked his head, gave Jessie one last look, and left. There was no doubt in either of their minds that they'd be seeing each other again soon.
Rowan was incredibly nervous as she stepped off the elevator at the hospital. In one hand she held a small vase of tastefully arranged flowers. In the other hand, she clutched a small teddy bear. What had she been thinking? She inwardly shook her head, sighing with her own stupidity. Like Jessie was really the flowers-and-stuffed-animals type of woman. Her eyes shifted around the busy hospital hallway. Maybe she could ditch them before getting to Jessie's room.
"Rowan!" Too late Rowan realized as a familiar husky voice called out to her. Turning, she saw Jessie coming toward her. The bandage on Jessie's face had gotten smaller since Rowan had last seen her. One eye and one cheek were still covered with the white bandage, but her coloring had gotten better. A hospital gown hung off her shoulders, concealing little.
She even looks good in a hospital gown, Rowan thought. Involuntarily, she felt her chest warm as she looked at the taller woman. Really good.
"Are those for me?" Jessie's face lit up, making her look a lot like a kid at Christmas.
Maybe it wasn't such a bad idea, Rowan smiled at the other woman. "Yes," she said shyly, handing the flowers and bear to Jessie.
Taking the offered gifts, Jessie smelled the flowers, a soft smile forming on her lips. "Thank you," she said quietly.
They stood awkwardly in the hallway for a minute, neither one of them aware of the other people who passed by them, each absorbed in the presence of each other. Finally, Jessie spoke up. "I wanted to…" she hesitated, finding this harder than she thought it would be. "…thank you for coming to the hospital the other day. And for closing up the bookstore for mom." She looked at the floor for a moment before raising her eyes to meet Rowan's. "I really do appreciate it."
"I did what I could to help. I was just glad I was there at the time."
"You're welcome," Rowan said quietly, a smile coming to her face. "Well, I don't want to bother you, so I'll just…" She gestured toward the elevators.
"No!" Jessie said quickly, lightly grabbing Rowan's hand with her own. "Please, stay. I'm about to go out of my mind with boredom here. Come on back to my room." Still holding the other woman's hand, she led her to her room. Jessie immediately perched on the bed, her legs hanging over the side of the high hospital bed. "Sit," she patted a place next to her.
Climbing onto the bed, Rowan took a position similar to Jessie's, her legs dangling off the bed. "How much longer are you going to be here?"
"Well, they want me to see a plastic surgeon here at the hospital about scarring. I guess they're keeping me to make sure I stay out of trouble." Actually, the knife had hit her cheekbone, causing fragments of bone to break loose. They wanted to keep her just to keep an eye on her.
"In that case, I brought you something else." Reaching into her ever-present book bag, Rowan pulled out a book.
"Hey! The new Mickey book!" She glanced at Rowan. "Is this your copy?"
"Yup. Read it already."
"Really? Damn, you read fast!" Jessie was honestly surprised. A quick reader herself, she never seemed to find the time to really read anymore.
"Well, it's a good book. Definitely sucks you in!" She flopped back onto the bed, closing her eyes. "So, it's your turn to read it."
Turning the book over in her hands, Jessie grinned. "Thanks." Out of the corner of her eye, she took in the sight of Rowan laying on her bed. Full lips tempted her, making her own lips tingle in response. Hands ached to reach out and touch Rowan, to draw her closer. It would be so easy, she thought, to just lift Rowan up and resettle her right on top of her. I'm gone. And again she looked at Rowan's face. And so is she, she thought as she realized that Rowan had fallen asleep. A gentle smile formed on Jessie's lips as she watched the other woman sleep, a calm spreading through her body. Something about Rowan did that for her. It calmed the stormy sea that was Jessie's normal life, making it all seem insignificant next to this kind-hearted woman.
A soft snore came from Rowan, causing Jessie to laugh silently. Too cute. Getting off the bed, Jessie carefully moved Rowan's body so that she was straightened out on the bed. The blonde didn't wake as she was moved, she just smiled in her sleep and murmured "I love you," before beginning to snore again.
"I love you," Jessie responded instantly, surprising herself. Oh well, it's true. Even if I don't know why, she reasoned. She leaned over the sleeping woman and kissed her forehead. Settling into the soft visitor's chair, Jessie opened the book and began to read, glancing at Rowan every few paragraphs.
Continued in Part 2.