Surfacing - Part Three
By Paul Seely and Jennifer Garza
See Disclaimers in Part One
Sparing an occasional glance at her silent cellular phone, the taller of two women seated at a heavy oak dining table picked at her slice of toast - to her surprise, she wasn't really hungry. Diana watched in awe, however, as Charlotte guzzled her second glass of juice, finished her third English muffin and then dug her spoon into the untouched second grapefruit half. "You sure you don't want this?" she consulted, even as the spoon was at her lips.
"Nope. Go ahead, knock yourself out," Diana said, grinning indulgently. Charlotte continued talking as she ate, detailing the dream sequence from the seasoned perspective of not only an efficient attorney, but a capable storyteller. She made the whole thing seem less like a dream and more like a memory, a legally admissible eye-witness account. As she sipped her coffee, the tall woman had an inexplicable and slightly unsettling sense of deja-vu during Charlotte's colorful narrative. Still, she couldn't hide her amusement as the young woman shivered while describing the sight of Diana Starrett dressed up like some Valkyrie SM maven.
"The blood surprised me, but the part where she - I - jumped on you and pushed you in the water, that really surprised me," the younger woman was saying, "I don't think of myself as being a physically aggressive person."
"I beg to differ." Diana couldn't keep the eyebrow down, no matter how hard she tried, the damn thing just shot right up. Charlotte stopped mid-chew and mirrored the gesture.
"Smartass. I meant fighting. I don't do violence. Creeps me out," she explained, stifling a shudder. "I didn't seem at all hesitant about using force on you, though. Pinned you down in the water and started washing off the mess, just like it was second nature, like I was used to taking care of you."
Diana mulled that over while pouring another cup of coffee. She stirred in one sugar and one cream, watching the strong, dark liquid lighten with each turn. *How long do you have to know someone before you trust them that much? I have never trusted anyone like that. I wonder if I ever could.* Lifting her eyes, she found Charlotte staring at her intently, trying to glean a reaction from her poker face. *Her eyes are blue in this light, sun reflecting off the cornflower tiles. Why was I expecting green?*
"If you're not gonna offer, I'll have to ask." Charlotte was tired of watching Diana brood. She wanted some feedback. "What do you think it means?"
*Too much booze and an insalubrious squid make for funky dreams?* Instead of voicing her skepticism, she merely shrugged and turned the question around. "I told you I don't remember my dreams, so I don't have much experience interpreting them. It sprang from your wicked little mind, Charlie. What does it mean to you?"
Charlotte licked her spoon clean and waved it at Diana. "Evading the question, eh? Well, I'll let you off - for now. What do I think it means? Hmmm." She tapped the sterling spoon against her chin, pretending to think. As usual, Charlotte Browning had sounded out her arguments ahead of time. "I think the whole thing is some kind of metaphor my subconscious generated to help me take the initiative with you, to help me feel a bit more in control of my part here."
"Are you worried about that? Being a little out of control?" Diana seemed genuinely concerned.
Shaking her head, Charlotte smiled warmly. "No, that's just it. I have never been one to jump into things feet first, I always think something through rationally before making a decision - especially a decision of this nature. Of a personal nature. I don't try to rope every gorgeous deputy I meet into my bed, Diana."
A hand snaked across the table, and the dark-haired beauty wove her fingers with those of her breakfast companion. "I kinda guessed that. You haven't even taken your best shot at roping me, counselor."
"That's my point... in a way. I am so sure that this is right, that this - us - will happen, that I'm not worried in the least, and that surety worries me because I don't know where it's coming from," she offered, shrugging at her own pretzel logic. "I believe that everything happens for a reason, and I feel so strongly that we didn't meet at random, that there's something else at work here. Maybe the dream was an expression of this sense of purpose that I'm feeling with you, a way of reaffirming my feelings and endorsing my conscious decision to jump your bones."
Plainly shocked at the choice of words used by this woman who undoubtedly had far more eloquent euphemisms at her disposal, Diana laughed until her coffee nearly came through her nose. She choked a little and coughed once before Charlotte sprang to her feet and administered a few stiff slaps to the woman's broad back. Diana held her napkin to her face until the coughing jag passed, then leaned back against Charlie's hand, still laughing.
"Jump my bones! My, but you educated types do wax poetic." Diana turned her head to see Charlotte looking chagrined and blushing faintly. She knelt by Diana's chair and tried to steady herself as she gazed deeply into those surpassingly blue eyes, preparing to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
"Maybe that came out wrong. I need for you to know that there's more to it than sexual attraction, that's only a part of what I'm feeling. What I mean is that I felt something the first time I laid eyes on you, and I didn't know what to make of it. At first, I thought it was gratitude for saving my neck, then I assumed it was some sort of rampant, virulent lust," she expounded, flashing a saucy little grin. "But after last night - and this morning - I got a better read on it."
Not attempting to hide her curiosity, Diana nodded mutely, urging her on. "What I feel when I look at you is the same kind of familiarity I feel when I look at the sky, the ocean, or the lines on my palm. We may have met less than twenty-four hours ago, but I know you, Diana Starrett," Charlotte declared, the passion rising in her voice as she sought to find the right words.
"I don't want to scare you, but if I don't say this now, I know I'll regret it." Charlotte folded her hands reverently and lay them on Diana's thigh, trying to draw some courage through osmosis. Blue eyes regarded her kindly, exuding patience. She took a slow breath to fill her lungs and jumped off the deep end.
"It's like my whole life, I've been stumbling around in some dim, crowded room. I knew some of the people there, but I still felt like I was alone. I started looking around for a lightswitch, a windowshade or something so that I could see them more clearly; but then yesterday morning, the shades rolled up all by themselves and the light streamed in and I saw you. I could hear my soul sighing in relief and saying, 'Finally! There she is! We can go now. There she is.' For twenty-five years, I've been milling around in my best dress, waiting for you to show up and take me to some cosmic prom." Charlotte squinted and shook her head. "And I'm not even mad at you for being late."
Stunned silent by both the words and their implications, Diana managed to close her mouth and stop fidgeting with her napkin before Charlotte noticed her nervousness. Her heart was pumping double-time, flooding her mind with new possbilities - each of which was summarily shot down. *You are in way over your head here, Di. You should get out of here now before one or both of you gets hurt, badly. She's asking for something from you that you can't give, no matter how much you may want to try. God only knows why, but she wants you, and you can't give her something that you don't own.*
"Aren't you going to say anything?" Charlotte asked tentatively. She had just sewn her heart firmly to her sleeve, and was scared to death that her fashion statement would be deemed inappropriate wear for a first date.
Diana tried to set aside her own apprehensions and fears, letting her anxiety about this sudden escalation in stakes fade into the background. Right now, the only thing she knew for certain was that a beautiful, intelligent, gentle young woman had offered her the one thing she couldn't afford to accept - her love. She knew that she had to be more careful here than she had ever been in any operation. But what could she say? Any promise she made to Charlie could be broken at any given moment with one phone call from Harry Mars, and the thought of lying to her had suddenly become unbearable. By the same token, there was no way in hell she could deny herself to this woman. So she didn't say anything.
Charlotte started to panic. The hammering in her chest grew so frantic that she was sure Diana could hear it. *IDIOT! Too much, too soon! Why did you have to go and open your big mouth? She's moving her hands, putting up her napkin. Oh, God. She's gonna leave...*
With movements slow and calming enough to ease the fears of a wounded animal, Diana reached for Charlotte's hands. She eased them apart and brought each to her mouth, kissing the palms and placing them on her face, an offer of control implicit in the gesture. The younger woman's eyes went wide, and her face relaxed into a smile of sweet relief as she rose up and pulled Diana down. Lips met half-way, issuing greetings and answering welcomes as they proceeded to reacquaint themselves.
Charlie eased her tongue past the lazy guard of lips and teeth, gaining entry to the warm depths of Diana's mouth without struggle or fear. Sliding between smooth enamel and wet velvet, she mapped the terrain of this increasingly familiar territory in a kind of lover's cartography. Diana let her explore to her heart's content, making herself pliable and responding to Charlotte's unspoken requests. Fingers slid from her face into her hair, clutching and opening convulsively as the attorney's kiss became urgent and insistent, expressing a deepening need. Diana answered by closing her lips around Charlotte's questing tongue and sucking lightly, nipping at the tip and tasting traces of citrus.
A low moan welled up from her core, spilling from her mouth as Charlie pulled away. When Diana looked at her, she was amazed by the ravenous hunger clouding those variegated eyes. The young lawyer stood and pulled her up easily, as if by sheer magnetic force. Charlotte drew her hands along the tall woman's sides and slid them under the sweatshirt. "Take this off." A command issued in a smoky tone, not a polite request. Diana quickly complied, tossing the shirt over her shoulder and into the sink. Nimble fingers had already moved to the zipper of her skirt, and it slipped from her hips and slid along her legs in a whisper of surrender.
Charlotte took a step back and moved Diana's chair away from the table. She tried in vain to collect her thoughts and steady her breathing, but she was too far gone already. Her vision blurred into soft focus as she took in the sight of the magnificent woman standing before her, close enough to touch, almost close enough to love.
Diana stepped out of her pumps so that she merely towered over the smaller woman instead of dwarfing her. It was an act of preferance more than a ploy to instill confidence, since the attorney was clearly in charge here. Diana was slightly giddy with the newness of this dynamic and allowed herself to fall into a light sexual thrall, ready to do whatever Charlie wanted.
"I need to see you, Diana. All of you," Charlotte whispered, and again Diana did not refuse her. Right there in the kitchen, with the bright morning sun lasering through the windows and gauzy curtains, a trained killer more dangerous and deadly than anyone could know stood naked and exposed before this mere slip of a woman, awaiting her judgement. Arms at her sides, shoulders back, Diana watched Charlotte's eyes carefully as they swept over the length and breadth of her body, not lingering this time, but surveying, taking stock of her assets in one continuous, heated appraisal. Anxiety and lust simmering in her gut, she worried how the sheltered young woman would react to the small scars peppering her back, if she would ask how the wounds were inflicted, if the burns had hurt...
"Sweet Jesus, you are so beautiful," Charlie breathed. She released the words in one long, grinding exhale and realized that she had been holding her breath since the dawn of time. Hands raised, she started forward, then stopped cold. *This is real, Charlie. Not some dream, not a drunken hallucination, not a mirage. She's real... and she's waiting for you, now.*
Spurred by the sudden realization that nothing but divine intervention would stop her this time, Charlotte Browning found the courage to take that last step, to act on feelings she had been terrified to realize were so deep. Her fingers drifted to Diana's shoulder, stopping just short of touching her skin as she looked to her for assurance. "Do you want me to touch you?"
In an astonishing triumph of the will, Diana did not give in to her impulse to strip off Charlotte's robe and lift her onto the dishwasher - instead choosing to nod her assent. This was an exercise in trust, letting someone else dictate pace, and she did not want to abandon it so soon.
Still skimming across the fine hairs of a forearm without touching flesh, Charlotte found that she was not quite satisfied with that mute response. "I want to hear you say it, Diana. I want to hear your voice, asking me to touch you." *Please say it! This is killing me! Why am I doing this? Why don't I just push her down on the table before something else happens to interrupt us?*
A contralto plea woven through with fire burned into her ears. "Please, Charlie. Please touch me."
*Oh. That's why I thought this would be a good idea.* "Where do you want me to touch you?" she teased, unable to stop herself now.
Diana's mind reeled off a list of hundreds of wonderful starting points, but, as was her habit when nervous, she opted for a joke. "Anywhere in the kitchen would be good."
It took a second to register, but Charlie's face soon relented to the smile bubbling up to her lips, and she started to giggle. Diana followed suit, and the ridiculous tension soon evaporated as the laughter escalated, and the two women leaned on each other for support. Diana took a step forward as she held onto Charlotte's shoulders - and her feet became tangled in the skirt still curled at her feet. She swayed once and leaned fully against the smaller woman, who was by now at the full-throated guffaw stage of her giggle fit and none too steady on her feet. She listed suddenly, and they knew they were going to fall.
As Charlie tipped backward, Diana wrapped an arm around her waist and extended the other out to absorb the shock of the fall. Charlotte tensed and squeezed her eyes shut, preparing for an impact which never came. When she opened her eyes again, she found that Diana was supporting their weight with her right arm, holding them a few inches off the floor.
"Wow. So all that muscle isn't just cosmetic, huh?" Charlie marveled.
Diana lowered the attorney gently to the floor and lay fully on top of her. "Nope. All functional." She reached for the ties of Charlotte's robe and released the knot with one finger. "Fully."
"Care to prove that again, Deputy Starrett?"
"I intend to, Ms. Browning," Diana purred. Lifting her weight onto her elbow, she eased open the folds of the white robe, exposing the smooth, firm flesh enfolded therein. "Repeatedly." She reached down and took one of Charlotte's arms in each hand, slipping them from the sleeves and freeing her completely from the garment. Leaning in for one light kiss, which was over far too soon for Charlie's taste, Diana smoothly got to her feet and extended an arm down to the prone woman.
As she grasped the proffered hand, Charlotte clearly remembered accepting that same hand yesterday morning and, ephemerally, countless times before. "No kitchen?" she asked.
"No kitchen," Diana answered. "Bedroom. Us. Now."
Charlotte led and Diana followed, snagging her cellular phone from the table on
the way out, praying to any benevolent spirits who might be eavesdropping not to
let the damned thing ring for a few hours, at least. Charlotte walked to the bed
and Diana shut the door behind them.
Minutes, hours, even days may have passed after that door closed, and neither would have noticed. Time loses meaning when your heart touches eternity, and forever is no longer an abstract concept in the purview of philosophers, but a truth which belongs to all those who truly love. On a conscious level, such realizations are often overwhelming, and lovers lose themselves in the rituals of learning each other - mapping, memorizing, and marking with invisible yet indelible touches. Souls wind together so tightly that each comes away changed, carrying something of the other with them.
Love becomes as indefinable and undeniable as the universe itself, something which exists without boundaries, yet is ruled by immutable laws. Therefore, as is the case with everything in nature, love changes form, but does not cease to exist. It is always present, whether in the air, the soil, or the blood of a human heart. Perhaps there is an as-yet undisovered gene present in those whom love has touched with this divine plague, carrying this blessed disease from one generation to the next, causing them to seek the cure which can only be found by re-connecting with the one who infected them, the soul who can save them.
Such a rejoining might feel like finding a part of yourself you had long ago abandoned, or never even known that you posessed. For Diana and Charlotte, it was a homecoming after lives lived in foreign lands, alone and disconnected. The language they shared was older than time, invented when darkness first spoke to light, when chaos and order came to an understanding. Morning stretched into afternoon and evening fell swiftly by the wayside as they drank from each other (and occasionally, the bathroom faucet), finding that the unsettling feelings they were both experiencing were not cries of alarm and warning issued by frightened souls, but shouts of joy and salvation. Sleep eventually took them, and Charlotte fell into the dreamless, blissful sleep granted to those who speak and act on the truth of their hearts. Diana Starrett, however, still had a few things to work out.
In the dream, Diana found herself on a rocky shore, staring out at the sea. The only sounds were the cries of gulls and the soft collision of water and sand. An orange and purple sky overhead, bleached shells and stones crunching underfoot, and the endless aquamarine of the water pushed her to near sensory overload. It was beautiful, but somehow more clean and unspoiled than any beach she had ever seen, like it was untouched by thousands of years of abuse from mankind. Perhaps it was even more pure than that, perhaps no one had ever been here before. *Maybe this is Heaven,* she thought.
"Not quite, but you're close," a voice from behind said calmly. Diana spun toward the sound, hands clenched into half-fists, and what she saw stressed her belief in her own sanity. Standing a few feet away was a woman who could have passed for Diana's twin, a doppelganger dressed in leather and armor. Long, dark hair and vibrant blue eyes rounded out the picture Diana was accustomed to finding only in a mirror. The woman was quiet and still, hands hanging open at her sides.
"Who are you?" It seemed a fair question, but the woman only shook her head and moved closer. Diana assumed a defensive posture and readied herself for an attack. The woman laughed at her.
"Enhance your calm, Diana Starrett. I'm not going to hurt you - unless you make me," she said reasonably. "You're a guest here, this is my turf. I only asked that you be allowed to visit so that I could talk to you."
Wary still, Diana relaxed her posture and took a step back from the strange woman. "So talk."
"First I need to ask you a few questions, just to clear a few things up."
The stranger stepped close again, invading Diana's space and prompting her to meet the eyes which could have been her own. "Don't bother lying, this part is more for you than me. Do you love her?"
Diana squinted and furrowed her brow. "Charlotte?"
The woman rolled her eyes. "No, Helen of Troy. Of Course, Charlotte!" she confirmed sarcastically. "I already know the truth, you just need to admit it to yourself."
As certain as she was of the answer, Diana still hesitated, resenting the intrusiveness of this woman's question. *Still, it's only a dream, right? Won't change anything in the real world, so just say it.* "Yeah. God forgive me, but I think I do love her."
"And you know what you have to do in order to be with her?" the woman queried gravely.
"I have an idea," Diana confirmed. *I can't give her something that I don't own, so I'll just have to take myself back. And that would mean surfacing.*
"So what are you waiting for? Get on with it, Diana. Own up to your past and claim your future."
"But it could kill me," she argued. The leather-clad woman shook her head in disapproval.
"You've yet to really live, so you don't have much to lose. You shouldn't be afraid of death. And maybe, deep down, you think it's what you deserve."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Diana demanded. Suddenly she was aware of the cessation of ambient noise - no surf, no birds.
"This is your turf. Look familiar?" The woman turned to the sea and swept her hand across the stark new vista which lay before them. The sea now resembled an endless sheet of pink ice, stretching into the mantled horizon. Diana stared openly, at once stunned and fascinated. She recognized it immediately. *The red ocean where I drowned, before she pulled me out...*
"The very one," the stranger concurred. "The ice is only a temporary fix, though. Being close to her brings you some small measure of peace, but it's just the first step down a difficult path. Once it thaws, you could still find yourself out there again, drowning. Believe me, I know. I used to have this same dream. That's why I thought it was my fault - that you were my fault."
Puzzled by that statement, Diana turned away from the shining frozen sea and gasped, stumbling back in horror. The leather-clad warrior by her side was now covered, head to toe, in blood.
"You see, I thought that my blood might have made you who you are, made you do what you do. You're of my line. You inherit the bad along with the good, sometimes," she shrugged."I was ready to assume the guilt for your actions, since you either can't or won't take it on yourself. A sage old soul convinced me to try a different tact."
She then wiped long fingers across her cheeks, clearing two streaks through the gore, then raised them to Diana's face and painted two crimson trails along her jawline. "This belongs to you, Diana. You have to accept it. Own up to your past and claim your future."
"That's easier said than done, lady," Diana retorted.
"You're right. So you had better get cracking," the woman advised. "And don't call me lady. My name is Xena. You'll be seeing me again soon, but for now you should wake up and answer your phone."
Diana awoke and reached out in the darkness, certain that she had something specific in mind to grab hold of, but she didn't remember what that thing could be. Finding herself still safely ensconced in Charlotte Browning's arms, she settled for taking one of the sleeping woman's hands, stroking the fine bones of tapered fingers, marveling by moonlight at shape and size. *Nothing, not even the rain, has such small hands... uh oh. Poetry. I'm in such big trouble, here,* she thought. *And I don't even really like Cummings.*
On the bedside table, the dormant cell-phone came to life and bleated one dull ring before she snatched it up and answered. "Yes?"
"It's me, Di," Harry Mars announced. "We have trouble. The
operation is being aborted."
Groggy and stunned, Diana whispered loudly, "What the hell do you mean?"
A sigh in response, and a long pause. "Eladio is dead. Falcon popped him at his apartment earlier today. He knows somebody's after him." At this, Diana felt her heart drop into her stomach. *Oh, God. Eladio...*
"We risk exposure if we continue, so we've been ordered to pack it in. Get your stuff and meet me at the rendezvous point in one hour. We're pulling out of here tonight." Mars hung up immediately, leaving no room for questions or objections.
Diana turned off the phone and stared ahead blindly. She couldn't see anything at all in her future worth living for if she were to leave Elceda, California, if she were to leave Charlotte Browning. The thought of losing anything else to a murderous thief like Marco Falcon suddenly became not only distasteful, but totallly unacceptable. *He sells crack cocaine to teenagers, smuggles guns to gangs, turns street kids into whores, provides shelter for genocidal warlords... and then he kills my partner, my friend.*
Turning to the sleeping woman curled against her body, Diana felt a small, cool spark of peace tickling her blood, working like a sedative to subdue the acid heat of vengeance cousing through her veins. *I just found you, and I'll be damned if I'm gonna lose this because of Marco Falcon, or even Mars himself. I'll be damned if I'm gonna let anybody take this away.*
Diana eased her body free of Charlie's warm embrace, kissing her hands as she reluctantly left the bed. She moved silently through the house, gathering her clothes and dressing in the kitchen. From the fridge, she swiped a bottle of water and two apples - now she was hungry. Setting the alarm and locking the door on her way out, Diana prayed that she would be back before Charlotte woke up, she had no time to leave a note. She managed to hold down the Jeep's speed until she cleared the gate of The Meadows, then punched it once she hit the highway, her mind turning more RPMs than the engine. The first glowing edges of a plan began to form in her mind, and all she could do was hope that Harry Mars was still a gambling man. *This could work. This shit could actually work...*
During this particular trek through darkened streets, careening towards an abyss of uncertainty, the suicidally confident, lovesick black bag operative chose to perform several numbers by Concrete Blonde.
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