Surfacing - Part Eight
By Paul Seely and Jennifer Garza
See Disclaimers in Part One
Charlotte Browning sang along with the radio all the way home. Van Morrison, Shawn Colvin, and Puff Daddy all were beneficiaries of her unique vocal accompaniment, and she generously left the windows down on her car so that pedestrians and passers-by could enjoy a free (if incredibly brief) concert as she whizzed past. Her thoughts were occupied with several small revelations about her new lover's character, traits revealed over the course of an afternoon filled with slow tortures for the dark beauty - like forcing her to try on twenty-two pairs of shoes in a row.
*She's patient. Diana hardly complained at all, just let me loose and humored me all day - even though I could plainly see that she hated all those sales vultures fawning all over her.*
On at least three separate occasions, she had feared for the safety of some aggressive salesperson, mostly when one of them had disagreed with the young attorney's selections. When the wisdom of her choice was questioned, Diana seemed to impose herself between Charlotte and the offending party, not ashamed to use her formidable presence to send them into fits of kow-towing. First time it happened, Charlie nearly fell over laughing as the tall woman tried her best to look innocent.
*She doesn't mind the occasional PDA, either. Held my hand a few times, couple of hugs, kiss on the cheek. Almost daring somebody to look at us sideways. Good for them nobody did...*
Charlie still used her father's military appellation for 'public displays of affection'. Even as children, whenever she or her sisters had sought to kiss or hug him in front of other officers, he would whisper harshly, "PDA," and they would immediately disengage or suffer the consequences. Possibly as a result, Charlotte had become a "huggy" person, but only on her own terms, with those few people she liked or trusted enough to risk it. She wondered absently why she had never felt the need to hold Richard's hand, or even hug him when he made some silly joke or comment to lighten her mood.
*It doesn't count unless you mean it. Touching him with nothing behind
it would have been like lying to him, and I can at least say that I never did
that intentionally, despite daddy's lectures about the sanctity of marriage
vows. Saying 'I do' might be the only time I ever deceived him - and then I was
lying to myself more than to Richard.*
Gradually, as she was in no rush, she made her way through the gates of The Meadows and found herself parked in the driveway. Then she just sat in the car. Charlie realized that she was a little hesitant to go into her own house alone.
*It's empty.... that never bothered me before. Going into an empty house, being alone. Certainly didn't bother me when Richard left, but this is different. It'll feel different without her here.*
She switched off the engine and sat twirling her keys around a finger, staring at the front door and feeling terribly silly.
*When the hell did this happen? At what point did I actually start to need her? To think that she might need me? Had to be that dream. Saving her seemed to be my only concern, and that feeling just transferred over when I woke up. And now I'm stuck with it, even if she doesn't need me.*
Her attention shifted as she heard the sound of running water off to her left. Charlotte's nearest neighbor, Fred Potter, was hosing down his driveway with a power washer. The hood was up on his Saab, and a red pool of oily fluid left in the wake of some odd repair job was being hustled into the gutter. Charlie found herself transfixed at the sight of the pale pink solution being blasted away, leaving only faint traces of crimson stain on the pale concrete.
*She will need you.*
The thought came loud and clear, totally unbidden - like a disembodied voice. Charlotte thought for a second that she might have left the radio on, then remembered that the keys were in her hand. The voice came again, both familiar and new.
*Don't be afraid. Just trust your instincts, follow your heart. She won't hurt you...*
She twisted around, checking the back seat and finding it empty.
"What the fuck is going on?"
She was alone. And hearing voices.
"Oh, God. I'm cracking up," Charlotte declared, a little too loudly. Fred Potter heard her voice and gave her a friendly wave. Gathering her wits, she managed to return the gesture and smile at her still-sane neighbor. When she turned away, she was tremendously relieved to see the midnight blue Porsche turning in the drive. Charlotte closed her eyes and sighed, only to hear the voice once again.
*You're going to have to trust her. She will need you.*
"OKAY! OKAY! I TRUST HER! NOW JUST SHUT-UP!" Charlie cried out, suddenly shaking in frustration and confusion. A hand fell on her forearm and she nearly jumped through the sunroof.
"It's alright, it's just me," Diana said softly. She opened the car door and crouched at Charlotte's side, keeping one hand on the young woman's arm. "You okay?"
Looking down into Diana's eyes, Charlotte found her calm again. She noticed tiny white specks floating in those irises of surpassing blue, and wondered if they were signs of concern - like calcium deposits under fingernails. Her mother told her than those little white spots meant she worried too much, so she covered them with a pale polish, not wanting to worry about how much she worried.
"I'm fine, really. Just yelling for no good reason," she lied, not wanting to question her own sanity aloud - at least not yet.
Diana didn't seem entirely convinced, but let it go anyway. "Good." She pulled lightly on Charlie's arm, tugging her from the Volvo. "C'mon and help me lug your new wardrobe inside."
No sooner had the blonde woman reached her feet than she wrapped her arms around her lover in a crushing hug. She whispered low, barely vocalizing, barely understanding her need to say the words.
"I do trust you. I swear I do. I love you, Diana."
She felt the tall woman stiffen for a fleeting moment, then return the embrace fully, resting her cheek against the top of her head. Then she heard a response, so light it could have been a breath.
Diana held her until Charlotte loosened her grip, then she leaned down and gave her a small kiss. "Mind if I ask what brought this on?"
The blonde just smiled thinly and shook her head. "Wish I knew. I just needed to say it, I guess."
Blue eyes swam with a flurry of unidentifiable emotions, then warmed remarkably with regard. "It doesn't matter why you said it. It's good to know," Diana said enigmatically.
"Thank you," Charlotte murmured, clutching the arms resting around her waist.
"For not letting my loopiness scare you," she replied. "Most people would be a bit put off by dream - obsessed, yelling-at-thin-air, spontaneous-declaration-making lawyers."
A toothy white grin and another kiss for reassurance came in short order. "It's gonna take a lot more than that to scare me off, Charlie."
"Good. You're probably in for a lot worse in the future, so buckle up. This could be a bumpy ride."
"Ooh. Promises, promises..."
A few more moments were spent in the pursuit of solace before the two decided
to break off and head inside, toting along the spoils of an afternoon spent
looting department stores. To his credit, Fred Potter only stared for a few
seconds after they disappeared before retreating into the garage to coil his
"Diana, would you please sit still! You squirm around like that, the liner will smear and we'll have to start all over."
"I don't like having anything poked at my eye. Can't help it."
"Well, try. Now be still."
"There. That's more like it. See? You don't need much eye makeup at all, with those dark lashes. I, on the other hand, look like an embryo unless I get two coats of mascara."
"You do not."
"I do, too. Doesn't bother me now, though. I made my peace with Max Factor several years back. Now purse your lips like this."
"Charlie, I can do this myself."
"Please let me? I want to feel like I have some hand in how incredible you look."
"Sheesh. All these compliments are giving me a swelled head."
"I'll get you an ice pack - after you purse you lips."
"Thank you. Now smeck them together for me."
"See? Now that didn't hurt a bit. Stand up and let's have a look."
Diana rose from the chair where she had spent the last ten minutes being painted like a flesh canvas, stretching out her stiff lower back. She turned to the mirror and did a double take, not quite recognizing the glamour puss staring back at her from the glass. Charlotte stood by her side, gloating quietly.
"Holy cow. Vendela, eat your heart out," Diana joked. "You're a regular artiste, Madame Browning."
Charlie poked her in the arm. "Not that there was much room for improvement. Ninety-nine percent genetics, one percent artistry. You look good enough to eat."
Blue eyes met hazel in the mirror, and for a long, long second, they considered blowing off the party altogether. Diana smiled crookedly and shook her head, turning to face her greatest temptation.
"So do you," she purred, running fingertips along Charlotte's bare shoulders. "But from what you said, Mrs. Falcon is a wonderful cook. We shouldn't spoil our appetites by having dessert first." Diana chucked her on the chin and went to find her shoes.
"Phooey." Charlie feigned a pout and straightened her dress,
checking her profile in the mirror. A slim silhouette in aquamarine silk,
strapless and carefree. The hemline fell right above her knee, revealing just
enough toned leg to attract attention without sending out invitations.
*Well, maybe one invitation,* she thought, lascivious smile flashing in the mirror as Diana reappeared over her shoulder.
The dress Charlotte had selected for her companion was black, form-fitting, and did not restrict her range of motion. During a rare moment alone in the dressing room, the agent's sense of professional responsibility compelled her to run through a difficult kata, testing her limits in the garment. One of the sales vultures had walked in while Diana had her leg stretched almost parallel to her body, braced against the wall in an impressive display of flexibility. "Just checking the seams. Does Donna Karan offer a gi in a size 8 tall?" Diana had quipped to the nonplused woman, who seemed torn between her concern for the safety of the dress, and her obvious shock at seeing the tall figure contorted in such a position.
"Well, I'm ready whenever you are," Diana said, gathering her purse and giving it a light squeeze. The success of her endeavor this evening would hinge in large part on the items cleverly concealed within that small black bag, and she had selected and tested each before stocking them inside. Guns would be a no-no - with Falcon's paranoia about security, there would surely be a discrete check made for such weapons. With that in mind, she had chosen a few small items from Harry's collection of razor-sharp ceramic blades and concealed them invisibly on her person.
*Any luck at all, and I won't need them,* she thought.
"Let's head 'em up and move 'em out!" Charlotte responded. "We're off to see the wizard, babe."
The Porsche reached the gates at Parsonage Drive shortly before seven-thirty pm. Diana reached out and buzzed the house on the rusty call box.
"HOLA?" shouted a brusque voice through the tinny speaker.
"It's Charlotte, Mrs. Falcon. Can we come up now?"
"CHARLIE! COME! COME! I'M IN THE KITCHEN! I'LL OPEN THE BACK FOR YOU!"
A bzzzzt, then the gates slowly drifted open, creaking like an ancient tomb. Diana allowed Charlotte to guide her down the winding driveway, even though she was as familiar with this house and property as anyone could be, and she parked in a gravel lot just behind the house.
Up close, Falcon's home was less impressive than she had recalled, looking more like an aged pink monolith than a residence. Mold grew in patchy clumps along the base of the structure, blending with the vines choking along a rickety trellis which stretched up to the third floor windows. Tall lamps cast a salmon light on the back path, and dimly illuminated the rest of the grounds. An olympic-sized swimming pool - set too close to the house - was filled with brackish water and coated in dead leaves. Rose bushes grew wild along the back perimeter, a thin border between the mushy grass and dense forest just beyond.
They clicked carefully up a cracked stone path, and Charlotte led them in through the unlocked rear entrance. Inside the house, no lights burned in the back foyer, and they ambled through a dark, barren hallway before emerging into the comparative heaven of the kitchen. A large woman, colorfully dressed in a multi-hued kaftan stood hunched over the stove, testing the contents of one bowl among several burbling pots. The room smelled better than anything Diana could have imagined - spicy, sweet and warm.
Charlotte motioned for Diana to stay put, and she crept silently toward the distracted woman. As soon as she stood directly behind her, she reached out to touch her shoulder, intending to surprise her. In a flash, her hand was caught in a firm grip as the cook turned swiftly away from her work and grabbed her with a free hand - the other still held a spoon full of pale green paste.
"You should be ashamed, trying to scare an old lady. Maybe you're not hungry, eh Charlie?" the woman said with a mischievous twinkle in her dark eyes.
The blonde smiled back, slightly embarrassed. "Shoot. I didn't think you heard me, Maribel."
"I didn't hear you, mija. But I knew you were here. Now taste this," she ordered, thrusting the spoon toward Charlie's already open mouth.
"Mmmm. Wohw, that'sh ghood Whackamoyey," she mumbled. On all three previous occasions when she had been treated to Mrs. Falcon's cooking, Charlie had been struck with a similar speech impairment for nearly the entire meal.
Diana watched quietly from the doorway, grinning through her puzzlement. Maribel Falcon turned to her and interpreted Charlotte's mumbled remarks.
"Guacamole. My own mother's recipe - it's one of Charlie's favorites." She handed the spoon to Charlotte and strode across the dark ceramic tile floor, with her hand extended in greeting. "You must be the new friend. I'm Mrs. Antonio Falcon, but you can call me Maribel."
A low trace of accent curled around her words, causing her to enunciate a little loudly. Her voice boomed low and powerful, but with such an undercurrent of friendliness that Diana was temporarily caught off guard. She took the woman's hand and returned her firm shake measure for measure, aware that she was being sized up by a sharp eye. The woman made no attempt to cover her thorough perusal, looking Diana up and down several times before meeting her eyes, holding fast to her hand all the while.
"Diana Starrett. Pleased to meet you," the taller woman announced evenly. Even though she stood at least five inches above Mrs. Falcon's graying head, she felt smaller and younger in the woman's comforting presence.
"You the one in the dream? The bloody lady?" she asked, never
stilling her eyes as they raced along the edges of Diana's body, as if
discerning important things. The close attention caused the agent to question
for the first time whether anyone got more than a brief look at her during the
courthouse escapade Friday morning - not that the dowdy deputy bore any
resemblance to the stunning woman
standing in the kitchen.
Nodding and shooting a quick glance at the smirking attorney, Diana confirmed this with a muttered "Guess so. And you're the part-time shaman."
"HA! Let me guess where you heard that one." Maribel turned to face the responsible party. "Charlie makes me feel like one of them 'Psychic Pals' or something, the way she talks. She doesn't really believe me, I think... but I'll help her anyway."
Charlotte grabbed a napkin from the red enameled countertop, wiping a green smudge from her mouth. "I never said I didn't believe you, just that I was too busy to try that thing you wanted to do. The one with the green goo drink."
"Too busy, or too scared?" the older woman retorted mildly. When Charlotte did not respond, she waved off her own question and bade the two women to sit at the kitchen table. They took chairs side by side facing the stove so Maribel Falcon could continue with her cooking while they talked.
"So tell me about this dream of yours, Charlie. From the beginning - and leave nothing out."
As Charlotte Browning began to weave again the strange, familiar tapestry of her vivid dream, Diana took her hand beneath the table, holding on steadily as the young woman spoke. Mrs. Falcon contributed the occasional nod, hmmm, or chuckle as she prepared the rest of dinner on autopilot. She took a large iron skillet and tossed in an indeterminate amount of garlic, diced peppers and onions, then added a generous squeeze of fresh lime and a dollop of butter. A bottle of Jose Cuervo dribbled a stream of gold tequila into the pan, and several boneless chicken filets jumped in willingly to sizzle in the mixture.
When Charlotte reached the part where she first addressed Diana by a strange name, Mrs. Falcon seemed to prick up her ears, as if she were finally getting to the good part. After Charlotte finished the account of her own dream, she mentioned that Diana had a similar dream wherein she spoke to a woman named Gabrielle. Since no details were forthcoming from Diana herself, Charlotte filled in the blanks with vagaries about what Diana had said aloud, and what kind of dream it might have been. Maribel was no slouch, and got the idea right away, even though she was momentarily concerned over Charlie's proximity to the sleeping woman only hours after having met her.
"Never mind. That might be part of the puzzle, mija, how you got so close so fast," she reasoned. "This connection you speak of might go farther than either of you could know, without exploring it in a deeper sense. I think it's possible you knew each other before this life. Maybe delving into that area would reveal more than simply skimming over the surface of one dream."
"Wow!" the young woman exclaimed, "We could be... what's that new-agey term for it? Soul mates! Yeah, that would be so cool!" Her hand squeezed Diana's tightly under the table, and the tall woman winced at both the vice-like grip and the sheer hokiness of Charlotte's theory.
"Oh, come on. Don't tell me you buy into all that 'X-Files,' souls reunite mumbo-jumbo," Diana teased half-heartedly.
Both pale brows rose in protest. "If not that, then how would you explain what's happened with us over the course of three measly days? How can you possibly form such an intense attachment so quickly without there being some underlying cause?"
Pondering that, Diana stared at Maribel Falcon's back as she poked at her dishes with a studied non-chalance. "I don't know. Love at first sight?" she offered.
"Baloney. I'm cute, but I'm not that cute," Charlotte shot back. "What made you decide to stay with me Friday night after I got sick? Why didn't you just leave me to sleep it off alone?"
The answer to that question was now so painfully obvious that Diana actually had to take a deep breath before admitting the embarrassing truth. "I couldn't leave you alone. I had this overwhelming urge to protect you, to take care of you. Even though you probably didn't need me..."
"But I do! Don't you see? That's what's been giving me fits! That's why I was screaming at thin air this afternoon in the driveway!" Charlotte declared vehemently. She flushed then, chagrined at her own outburst, and tried to steady her voice. "I do need you, but I can't shake this nagging suspicion that you might need me even more - maybe for something important. That's why I felt that my dream meant something. And that's basically why I wanted to come here and ask for Maribel's help."
Taking a second to let that sink in, Diana tried to offer a condensed version. "You want to do a past life reading... to understand your dream... so that you can be ready help me."
"In a nutshell, yes," the blonde confirmed with a warm smile. "I need to know what's behind those images, and why they disturbed me so much."
"Geez, Charlie. I don't know how to take that," Diana answered honestly, her mind spinning with the unknowable implications of Charlotte Browning's offer. Even though she did not believe that anything damaging could be discovered this way, there was always a chance - a fraction of a percent of a chance - that she could be wrong. And that chance worried her. "What if you don't like what you find out? What happens if you uproot something that changes your mind about me... about us?"
The smile returned, and a sage glow lit hazel eyes with surety. "Don't worry. That won't happen. True gold fears no fire."
Diana brought two fingers to her lips, then pressed them to Charlotte's. "You read too many fortune cookies, Confucius. But if you really want to try this, I'm with you."
So in short order, Charlotte's insistent confidence won out over Diana's caution. Mrs. Falcon further explained that she could 'regress' them into a state where other memories would be accessible - memories of the soul. Hypnosis would be the primary tool, but without a willingness and curiosity on their behalf, any tool would be useless.
"I can't help you remember things that you don't want to know, only that which pertains to the questions you ask of your own spirit."
Diana pushed aside her innate skepticism and spoke up then, seeing a chance at something else. "You mean that if I want to know about something I can't remember from this life, if that was my question, I could be guided to that answer instead of regressing back farther?"
Mrs. Falcon shook her head strongly. "I wouldn't recommend that. I'm no psychiatrist. I can only help you to find your spirit guide, I can't control your mind."
Flaring slightly in sudden agitation, the blue eyes did not notice Charlotte staring at her, wondering where she was heading. Diana pressed for clarification. "That makes no sense to me. Aren't the mind and spirit the same thing?"
"Thinking so is a common mistake. Science has long sought to combine the soul, spirit and mind into one convenient package. Makes it easier to judge, to generalize about someone's behavior. I know for a fact that they are separate entities, they only merge together in harmony when a person is at peace with themselves, when they confront their own fears and accept the truth about themselves," Maribel explained, ever patient with a neophyte.
"But hypnosis is a psychological approach, so how can you say that the mind isn't involved?" Diana persisted.
"I didn't say that it doesn't play a part, just that I am not skilled in controlling where the mind goes when someone is on a spirit quest. With most people, it seems to act as a recorder, taking down the details of the spiritual revelations so that they are not lost when you awake." The old woman turned back to the stove and cut the flame under the sizzling chicken, then turned each filet and covered them with liberal doses of the mixture before settling the pan in the warm oven.
"Well, all I want to know about is that dream. I want you to put me under, Maribel," Charlotte suddenly insisted. "No drinking any green stuff. Just help me to figure out who this 'Xena' is - and what that blood thing was all about - and I'll be happy."
"Maybe," Mrs. Falcon said firmly. "Not all spirit guides bring happy news, Charlie. Sometimes they speak to us of things that are difficult to hear. But they always tell the truth. One cannot cross over if they possess a forked tongue."
"That's good to know. So, will you do it? Give me my baptism into the spirit world?" Charlotte inquired, her enthisiasm becoming infectious.
Maribel Falcon glanced to one cream colored wall, checking the cheery red clock. "We have time, I think. I'll tell everyone to leave me alone for a while," she answered, adding a conspiratorial wink. "Nobody likes to come in my kitchen when I'm cooking, anyway. I'm too territorial."
She scuttled out of the room for a moment, leaving Charlotte and Diana alone. The younger woman finally released her lover's hand and stood, fighting the urge to pace the length of the roomy kitchen.
"You really want to do this, Charlie?" the dark woman asked suddenly.
"Huh? Oh, yeah. I'm ready, just a little nervous," she confided. "I've never been hypnotized before."
"Yeah, well you've neve met your 'spirit guide' before either. You might wind up tooling around ancient Egypt with Shirley MacLaine."
"Ha ha ha." Charlie gave Diana the bird just as Mrs. Falcon returned to the room.
Charlotte nodded and took a seat at the end of the long pine table while Maribel dimmed the lights. She set the rest of her dishes to simmer and took a chair facing Charlotte. She produced a pale lavender crystal suspended on a silken cord and let both women see it.
"This is just to focus on. It means nothing, really. I just thought it was pretty," the old woman told them, breaking the small cluster of tension.
The blonde shot a quick smile Diana's way. "Don't go anywhere, stretch."
"Not on your life. Say 'hi' to Xena for me." Diana grinned even as a little shiver worked down her spine. She wrote it off to nervous anticipation.
"Will do. Pismo Beach, here I come..."
And Maribel Falcon began to speak in slow, soothing tones, counting backward until Charlotte could hear the sounds of crashing surf.
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