Convert This Page to Pilot DOC FormatConvert this page to Pilot DOC Format

DISCLAIMER: Xena, Gabrielle, Argo, Callisto, et al are © copyright MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in writing this fiction. ET (As Gabrielle would say, "Just go with it.") is © copyright Steven Spielberg / Amblin Entertainment. Again, no copyright infringement was intended. Any copy made for private use must contain this disclaimer. All other descriptions, characters, dialogue, storyline...blahblahblah..are in the words of any three year old. "MINE...MINE...MINE" That means no copying for sale (Yeah...like thatís gonna happen) and no plagiarism (stealing)...write your own.

CONTENT WARNING: The following fiction contains sexual content of an explicit nature between two consenting adult women. If this repulses you or it is illegal in the state that you live...please stop now and go somewhere else. For the rest of you...at least make a pretense of reading the story before you fast-forward. This fiction also contains one or two scenes of mild violence (a little blood, some head whacking and gut punching). If youíre just not into that sort of thing...say bye-bye now.

AUTHORíS NOTE: It was not my intention to cast aspersions upon any religious, ethnic or social group...nor to pass judgment on anyoneís sexual proclivities. It was all done to strictly move the story along. I believe itís called literary license. So...donít go all hyper on me. Remember...itís a Ďstoryí. This fiction also contains locales in the real world. The names of actual establishments have been altered to protect my legal butt.

In addition, this is a Ďseriesí. Please keep that in mind as you read. There is some major line crossing with Xena and Gabrielleís um... commitment. Just bear with me, okay?

FIRST TIMER DISCLAIMER: To all the true mythology gurus out there. Please try to endure my attempts at mythology etiology. Should I become possessed to write another, Iíll do my homework. Are we cool?

LAST THING: I swear (hmmm...do I need a swearing disclaimer?). I want to thank those who supported me in this endeavor...my three cats for not puking on my outline and revision sheets. Thanks girls...I owe you one. So...what are you waiting for? Get thee to the story. If you feel the need to comment, criticize or gush, you know where I live.


Dimension of The Heart
by Blue
© April 1997
Vryblueyz@aol.com


PROLOGUE

It was several hours until dawn and Xena was already awake. The sounds of the forest had quieted as the sun approached. It was her favorite part of the day. Gabrielle was sleeping soundly beside her. She looked at her lover with eyes of complete adoration. Gabrielleís love for her had totally changed her life. There were times when she would wake early and just look at her...like this morning...with something just short of awe. Some of that amazement was due to the fact that the bard was quiet. Sometimes she just got on Xenaís nerves... but she loved her all the same. No amount of incessive talking would change that.

Looking at her now it was hard not to wake her. She pulled Gabrielle close to her and felt her stir in her sleep. Unconsciously, Gabrielle reached for her. Early morning was also her favorite time to be close to her. Watching the slow rhythm of her breathing always had an effect on Xena. She didnít know why this was so seductive...it just was. She placed a light kiss on her forehead and then on her mouth. She was holding Gabrielle in her arms when her eyes opened.

" Xena?" she asked sleepily, "Whatís wrong?"

Xena kissed her again and this time Gabrielle stirred to awareness.

"Nothingís wrong, love. I just couldnít leave you alone any longer. You know what watching you sleep does to me."

Gabrielleís eyes danced in the spreading rays from the sun. She looked up into the face of her most beloved. "Then maybe you shouldnít do it anymore. I hate to deprive you of your sleep." Gabrielle ran her hand across Xenaís exposed breast causing the warrior a sharp intake of breath.

"Iíll tell you what...you get enough sleep for both of us...and Iíll do all the staring." Xena took her fully into her arms and kissed her deep and passionately. They made love to the sunís rise. It was as if it rose just for them.

The spent lovers lay quietly just holding one another. Xena was lazily running her hand over Gabrielleís arm. The bard broke the silence. "How long are you going to be gone?"

"Just a few days... three at the most. "

"I still donít see why I canít go with you. You know I could help with the construction. I could..."

Before she could continue, Xena had put her fingers on Gabrielleís lips. "Listen, weíve been over this. Hercules and I are going to be rebuilding the house almost non-stop. It will be tiring and dirty work. I want you to have a few days to enjoy yourself. Besides, Iíll be back sooner if we do it this way. Arenít you the one that says we need alone time every now and then?"

Gabrielle was trapped by her own words. "Well, I guess I did say that...but.."

"But what? You arenít still worried about that Ďother thingí are you?"

"Xena, he asked you to marry him...the son of Zeus." She was becoming very anxious.

"And I said Ďnoí...remember? We are just friends now. You should know that there is no room in my heart for anyone but you. I love you, Gabrielle. With all my warrior heart."

"I know...itís just sometimes I...uh..."

Xena finished her thought, "Think too much? Let it go, Gabrielle. Trust me... trust my love for you."

A smile formed at the corner of her mouth. " I do trust you Xena... with all my heart... and with my heart."

Xena gave her a quick kiss and said, "I feel the same way...now címon, help me get ready. The sooner I leave the sooner Iíll be back."

Gabrielle put together some rations for the journey. As Xena mounted Argo she reminded the bard. "Ok, Iíll meet you at the inn in Daedalius in three days max." She winked at Gabrielle. "Have that bath ready."

Gabrielle watched as Xena rode out of sight. "Well, guess I should get about enjoying my Ďalone time.í " She spoke to the robin searching the ground for crumbs. "You been thrown out of the house too?"

 

CHAPTER ONE - A Matter of Style

Every year I go through the same anguish...what to pack. And every year I end up with the same result...way too much! This year is going to be no different. I gaze at my bed covered with every possible clothing contingency. In my heart I know that only a few items are essential. Those being bathing suits, tees, shorts and sunblock. I momentarily toy with packing one carry on but a sense of "what if" overcomes my saner thoughts and I proceed to cram the luggage with all I own. Satisfied that I now possess a complete change of clothes for every day, I lug my security blanket to the livingroom and await my ride to the airport.

A loud rap on the front door announces my chauffeur / best friend / sometime cohort in crime... Roger. Spying the Samsonite he just canít resist.

"Well, did you pack just everything? Or have you left a little something to keep the cats company while youíre gone?"

"Hey, you know how I hate to be unprepared. Besides, I might actually need this stuff."

"Honey, if you need all that stuff where youíre going, youíre doing it wrong!"

"Right, like I should take advice from the biggest luggage queen in Atlanta."

"Well, therein lies my out...I am a queen... no make that the queen and the art of packing is part of my heritage. That and the oh so handy decorating gene. You, my lesbian friend are sadly deficient in this area."

Eyeing the bulging bags, he lowers his head and just sighs. "Sweetheart, how many times have I told you to get some decent luggage? This sale stuff is an affront to all that is holy. And I would be talking Louis Vuitton of course.. Travel is all about style...and that includes what you pack your clothes in. Have I taught you nothing?"

"You know those are tall words coming from someone who doesnít know which end of the car houses the engine."

"Girl...I donít have to know...thatís what youíre for"

"Point taken. Truce? "

"Oh, like this was a real fight. You know I love messing with you...especially when Iím right."

"Do you want to go there?"

"Iíd love to, but we donít have time for that. Perhaps when you get back"

"Fag!"

"Dyke!"

"Republican!"

"Ouch! That was unnecessary. Ok...ok...you win. "

"Yeah...yeah...whatever. Letís get this in the car. My flight leaves in about two hours. You know how I hate running through airports."

Never being one to beat around the bush, so to speak, Roger stopped at the front door and looked me square in the eye. "You know Liz, I hope you get laid in Key West this year...you need it. Hell, we all need it. Youíre driving me nuts." He pauses as if to ponder just the right words. In a gesture of love, he places a hand on my shoulder and quietly says, "Honey, youíll get through this. I know it was hard, but three years is long enough. Let go of her and get on with your life."

"And I suppose having sex will cure all that is missing from my life...huh?"

"No, that only works for boys. But it might release some of the demons youíre so convinced you need to hold. Give it an opportunity to be a good thing... Ďkay?"

I smile at my friend and I know heís right. This past year has been long and filled with one emotional pit after another. Although I am three years removed from my last live-in disaster, it still feels fresh. I have tried to remain focused on other things. By that I mean my physical, spiritual and emotional healing. Iím doing fine in the physical department. I cycle, lift weights and generally donít look my age. I have a very fit athletic frame that belies my years. The only hint that I will be turning 50 are the little wrinkles around my blue eyes and the gray in my close cropped hair. I refer to these as my grounding features. Whenever I start believing that Iím 30 again, I stroll over to the mirror... and become instantly grounded. Works everytime.

Iím having a much harder time with the spiritual and emotional end of the healing. Something very vital got ripped from me at the end of this last relationship. I felt as if my spirit had died and I was left a walking corpse. Oh... Iíve come to terms with living alone...or so I think. I still have moments, late at night though when I ache to be held. I thought I would be past that by now. Guess that means I have to work just that much harder.

Roger says I should find someone to have sex with but you know how lesbians are. We donít just have sex... we commit... get a house... share pets and bank accounts...blahblahblah. I swear in my next life Iím coming back as a gay boy. My life might be shorter but I wonít ever have to divide lawn and garden tools again.

"Well, are we leaving today or do you need to pack something else?"

"You know, you keep it up and Iím going to borrow your luggage next time. And you know how I treat luggage."

"All right...donít get in a snit. Let us be gone. Key West awaits mílady."

"To the limo then Jeeves... and step on it ."

 

CHAPTER TWO - A Flight of Fantasy

"Now remember this is to celebrate your birthday. No lying around the guesthouse pool being alone. Get thee to the Dunes and come back with no tan lines...or Iím not going to be responsible for the severe tongue lashing you will have to endure on your return. "

"Oooh...Iím scared now. You know all youíre doing with that line is threatening me with a good time."

"Well, whatever it takes for you to let loose. Feel free to recall this conversation if you need a push. Now give me a hug and go cruise the flight attendants."

In a few scant minutes, our good-byes said, I watch my friend and soulmate drive out of sight. If I could find a woman as good as Roger, I might reconsider cohabitation again. Then again... not!

The flight to Miami was only half-filled. ĎGoodí, I think to myself. I can lounge across a couple of seats once weíre airborne. As I made my way down the aisle to my seat, I did a quick scan of all female lifeforms on board. Once I was satisfied or disappointed that the woman of my dreams wasnít there, I settled into my seat. Hey, I always look...just in case.

I have a relaxation ritual I always use when flying. Itís not that Iím afraid of flying. I get bored so I use music and meditation to escape. Sometimes I free-associate... coming up with some really bizarre realities. I placed the earphones on... turned up the music... closed my eyes and breathed deeply. I felt the 747 gain speed and strain to leave the ground. Once airborne, I shifted to a more comfortable position and began slipping the surly bounds of this reality. In most of my meditations, I am full aware of my surroundings. This felt different...very different.

I was in a wood of some sort... a dense forest. I sensed it was very old and of a time long ago. My senses were fully engaged, and I took in the crisp, clean air. An aroma of conifers filled my nostrils. The forest floor was carpeted in needles and I padded along without making a sound. So pungent was the odor it surrounded my person as a living entity. It was cool and nearing sunset. I could see my breath as I exhaled into the deepening shadows. I was on a narrow, well-worn path moving toward a destination that I both knew and at the same time was ignorant of. Part of me Ďknewí the way...it was so familiar...coaxing me further. Something...no...someone was waiting for me.

As I neared a crest, I heard the sound of talking...a womanís voice. Well, it was more like a one-sided conversation going on. My heart was in my throat and an intense energy was sitting like a coiled adder in my gut. I slowed my approach and stealthily neared the source. I was at the edge of a small clearing. No more than 20 paces from my vantagepoint was a young woman. She was kneeled before a fire with her back to me. I could see that she had blondish hair of just below shoulder length. I knew this woman. I donít know how but I had a connection with her. She was slight but I could sense that she was well-conditioned by the strength evident in the tautness of her back. She certainly was not helpless. What possessed me to stand and walk toward her can only be described as sheer stupidity. I was nearly upon her when in a movement swift and lethal... she stood and upended me with her staff. In a moment, my feet were in the air and my back found the ground in a resounding thump, the air forcefully expelled from my lungs. Where she had been concealing a six-foot pole was beyond me.

I was still gasping when I looked up and saw this woman standing over me. She had a very no nonsense look about her and the end of that staff was at my throat. I couldnít believe my eyes. Oh... this was some meditative trance. My therapist will have a field day with this bit of lunacy. And of course she will tie it all back to my mother. With all that aside, Iíll have to remember how to do this again. I shifted my weight to gain a better view of my conqueror and was rewarded with pressure to my Adamís apple.

"I suggest that you remain very still. That is unless you havenít had enough. Now I will ask this once. Who are you and why were you sneaking up on me?"

"Gabrielle, itís you!"

She took a moment to rack her mind for any memory of me. I could see she found none in the way her green eyes pierced my soul. Her lips tightened and she pressed a little harder with the staff. "I already know who I am. Now for the last time... and I emphasize last time...who are you?"

"Well, not that itís going to mean anything to you...my name is Liz."

"How do you know me?"

I toyed with the truth but knew at this point that Iíd be eating a six-foot staff. So I opted for the next best thing...a diversion to buy me some time. "Everyone knows Gabrielle...learned bard...traveling companion of Xena...cook extraordinaire...Amazon queen."

Gabrielle had a quizzical look on her face. "Youíve heard about my cooking skills? You know Xena has never fully appreciated the trials of cooking on the run. Itís an art form you know. But sheís always concentrating on saving our butts so the finer points are lost on her."

Gradually, she removed the staff from under my chin but still had it poised at my chest. I began to scan the immediate area when I realized that one half of this dance party was missing. Now that could be very bad for me. My gut did a turn and my body went rigid. I fully expected to hear that familiar war cry and be summarily tossed to the ground... again.

Gabrielle was looking at me with her head slightly cocked. "Whatís wrong with you?"

"Where is she?"

"Who?"

"You know tall, dark, dangerous...carries a long sword and sports a short temper. Ms. ĎI canít bear anyone in Gabrielleís personal space but meí...you know"

"Oh, you mean Xena."

"That would be the one, yes."

"Oh sheís helping Hercules for a few days. Some project that doesnít require my skills...or cooking for that matter."

"Who?í

"Hercules...big guy...son of Zeus...cute butt. You arenít from around here are you, Liz?"

"Oh, you have no idea just how not from around here I am. Do you mind if I sit up? This is really uncomfortable."

Gabrielle internally weighed the options and slowly removed her staff from my person. "Ok, you can sit...but no funny business or Iíll whack you...I mean it! What are you doing here?"

I didnít exactly tell a lie. "Iím kinda lost..." That was like saying the sun was kinda bright. "I heard your voice and came upon your camp. I honestly wasnít sneaking up on you. Think about it. Iím unarmed and donít pose a threat to you. "

She relaxed the tension in her body and stood the staff on end. "Ok, you look pretty harmless. You just never know out here." She offered her hand and pulled me to a standing position. Her hand was strong and sensuous at the same time.

I could have left the next question unsaid. I was curious about the reality of this time...so I put it forth." Didnít Hercules and Xena once have a thing?"

"Yes, but that was a long time ago. They are just friends now." Her words trailed off into some place not quite as sure.

I could see a look of real hurt in her eyes. The thought of being omitted from even the smallest part of Xenaís life was unpleasant. Perhaps it was the thought of Xena being with Hercules that was the root of her uneasiness. Even though she had said there was nothing but friendship left between them...still sometimes Gabrielleís imagination...and she had a really big imagination...just got the best of her.

Sensing a need for distraction, I asked, "You know, Iím starved and that... whatever it is... smells really good. If you wouldnít mind sharing Iíd really appreciate something to eat."

"Well, since you asked, I was just getting ready for the evening meal. You may join me if you like. Now, tell me where youíre from. Where are you headed, and why are you in the middle of the forest with no gear or a weapon? And what kind of clothing is that youíre wearing?"

I looked down. I was wearing what I walked out of the house in... tee-shirt, jeans and cross-trainers. Jeez... how am I going to explain this?

"Uh...these things? Well, they are... are... regional... yeah regional attire."

"Ok, what region exactly?" By the gods, she was persistent.

"No place youíve ever heard of Iím sure. Hey, Iím really hungry." I was hoping I could veer her questions away from the obvious just long enough for me to formulate some kind of plausible story. I wasnít sure I could make something up that big.

Gabrielle interrupted my internal musings, "Well, itís ready, so help yourself."

I placed some of the stew in a rough-hewn bowl and took a piece of the bread Gabrielle offered. I sat on a log facing her and hungrily consumed the stew using the bread as a makeshift spoon.

"This is really good, Gabrielle. Youíre a great cook. Xena is really lucky to have you."

"Thank you. Itís nice to hear that once in a while. Would you like some more?"

"Oh, no thank you. Iím quite full."

Not believing me, she continued, " Are you sure? You practically inhaled that first bowl. Thereís plenty...give that to me."

She reached over and retrieved the bowl from my grasp. I stared as she stirred the simmering stew and carefully refilled the bowl. She was incredibly beautiful and I was in awe...and in shock. Her features were strong and delicate at the same time. The softness of the firelight just enhanced the form before me. There was a nervousness building at the very core of my being. Something Iíd not felt for a very long time.

A soft voice brought me back to reality, " You do that alot, you know." Gabrielle said in a teasing tone, "The staring thing."

"Iím sorry... itís just that you are...are...such an excellent cook." I couldnít believe my own words. How completely lame, Liz. Here you have the Gabrielle and all you can say is you like her cooking?? Itís no wonder you are alone. I was in danger of really berating myself when Gabrielle broke out in laughter.

" Iím sorry, but youíre not very good at this are you? "

"Good at what?"

"Flirting. That is what you were trying to do... wasnít it? You know Xena wasnít very good at it either... at first." A smile formed on her lips... a loving, knowing smile. "Sheís much better now. I can honestly say, however, that my cooking never elicited the amount of open mouth gaping that Iíve seen in you."

Gathering what was left of my ego, I carefully chose my words, "I confess that I have been somewhat overwhelmed by this meeting. You and Xena are... well... legends and I never thought I would actually meet you."

Gabrielle eyed me not quite believing that to be the reason. "Well, Iíll tell you what...Iím going to clean up this mess and then we can have a little talk. You can tell me all about yourself... where youíre from and where youíre going."

Without further discussion, she gathered the soiled dishes and started toward a small running stream near the camp. As she walked from the warmth of the fire, Gabrielle smiled to herself, "Flirting...she was definitely flirting."

I sat by the fire and watched her stroll away. Quietly I said to myself, "Flirting... oh yes I was flirting." Why I was flirting was completely lost on me. This was the least of my problems. What was I going to tell her? My mind was a blank. Guess I would just wing it. As she performed her duties, I stood and walked around her camp. This was amazing I thought. Here I am with Gabrielle...and better... no Xena. I was like a small child who was seeing things for the first time. I reached out and touched her bedroll feeling the texture of the fabric. Next to the blanket was a satchel filled with parchment and writing implements. Oh, my God, I thought. Those are Gabrielleís scrolls. I wanted to pull one from the satchel... but dared not incite the bard to thrash me again. This was so cool. I felt like a god come to earth to mingle with the mortals. But an even larger question entered my mind. Is this real? I mean is Gabrielle a real person... is this a real place? Maybe Iím the one who isnít real. No, that canít be true. Getting flipped on my back was real enough...the meal was real. This isnít supposed to be happening. It was at this point that my curiosity began to turn to good old-fashioned fear.

"So, now, letís talk."

I had been so lost in my predicament that I hadnít heard her come up behind me. I jumped and thought my heart was going to stop.

"Iím sorry, I didnít mean to startle you. You had this very strange look in your eyes. Thinking about my cooking again?"

I couldnít help but let out a chuckle. "No, not this time. Guess I did have the look of a deer in the headlights."

"What?"

"Nothing, itís just an expression where I come from."

"So that leads us back to the original question... where are you from and how did you get here?"

"Well, I can only answer half of that. Iím from some other place altogether."

"Yes, we have established that... where exactly?"

I could sense she was becoming impatient. Guess the truth wonít hurt at this point. Sheíll likely think me mad and just humor me. So, taking a deep breath, I began.

"I think first of all I should clarify that when I say Ďsome other place altogetherí Iím not speaking just geographically. I also mean temporally. I have no idea how I got here... how long Iíll be here...or how to get home for that matter."

"Well, letís start with something simple then. Where were you going?"

"Key West for a vacation."

She thought for a minute and stated the obvious, "I suppose Key West isnít around here either?"

"Not unless itís disguised as this forest."

"Hmmm... I think we have a problem here."

"Yaí think? All of this is very disturbing to me. Iím stuck in some sort of temporal vortex and I only have the clothes on my back. Not even a change of underwear. Now *thatís* unnerving. And donít you find this even a little weird? You act like you meet dimensional travelers all the time."

"Itís good to see that you havenít lost your sense of humor. I think youíre going to need it. Iím sure we can figure this out. Iím to meet Xena in a few days in a village not far from here. There is a healer and mystic who lives in the village. A woman named Amoria. I know she could help you find your way back. As for weirdness... well after traveling with Xena I donít think anything is weird anymore. Right now, itís late and Iím tired. I know you must be, so why donít we call it a night and get some rest? "

Suddenly, I felt completely drained... as if I were waiting Gabrielleís permission to collapse. I was exhausted. And getting cold.

"You can share my blanket and bedroll as I see you have none. Besides it gets chilly at night and you donít look very prepared. "

I stood transfixed and stared across the flickering campfire at Gabrielle. My heart was pounding in my ears. I hadnít as much shaken hands with an attractive woman in three years and the thought of sharing bodyheat with her was a very scary proposition.

"Youíre doing it again." Gabrielle admonished.

She was right. I was staring.

"Hey, donít worry, Xena and I do it all the time to keep warm. I wonít bite."

It wasnít Gabrielle I was concerned about. It was that tugging in the pit of my soul that bothered me. I had expended a huge amount of energy extricating my emotions for self-protection and I felt in danger of losing it...whatever Ďití was. A shiver ran through my body and I knew I would be very uncomfortable without some sort of cover tonight. In my mind, I acquiesced.

As reading my thoughts and body language, Gabrielle positioned herself near the fire placing her staff within easy reach.

"You going to stand there all night? Címon."

She playfully patted the blanket and I made my way over to her. I settled under the blanket and turned on my back. The stars were suspended clear in the sky and for a moment I was a child again.

Gabrielle asked in all fun. "You donít have stars where youíre from?"

"Oh...the staring thing... huh? Yeah... the sky is the same. I remember as a little girl lying on the ground and looking into the night sky. It was so immense and so removed from the horrors of my reality...it was a place to escape. I was always particularly fond of the constellation called The Lovers. Are you familiar with this star group?"

Gabrielle went into bard mode. "Oh, yes. Aphrodite cast two mortal lovers, Herodius and Caspia, into the sky. She was jealous of the purity of their love for one another. The fact that not even the great goddess could tempt either infuriated Aphrodite. She tried every trick in her vast repertoire to wrest them apart to no avail. She was in danger of being severely embarrassed in front of the other gods by these mere mortals. Aphrodite wanted to destroy their love but that would be very bad press for her. It certainly would take away from the Ďgoddess of loveĎ thing. I donít think she would like to be known as the goddess of spite. And from what I know of her, she doesnít have a lot of marketable skills other than her love spells. Anyway, as a compromise, the lovers agreed to be thrown into the heavens where they could embrace for eternity. I always thought it pretty romantic and extremely spiteful even for Aphrodite. Are you a romantic, Liz?"

Sadness gripped my heart and sat squarely in my throat, "A long time ago I thought love like that was possible. I even believed that I would find someone to be cast into the heavens with. A love so pure that nothing could tear it apart. Maybe love like yours and Xenaís. If two lovers were ever destined for the celestial realm it is you and your warrior."

"Itís true that I love Xena with a passion that transcends even my understanding, and her love for me is unquestioned. But I refuse to believe that we are the exception. All that is needed is the belief in the possibility and the courage to accept without dissecting the Ďwhys.í A leap of faith."

"Yeah...a leap off the cliff into to pit below. Been there...done that."

"Are you aware that you are a wee bit cynical?"

"I think that little flaw has been pointed out to me on more than one occasion. I canít help it right now. "

"Thatís ok, but I think things can change for you if you want it to be different. I have a hunch about this...trust me. Right now, we need to get some sleep. Tomorrow promises to be filled with adventure. Goodnight, Liz."

I turned on my side with my back to Gabrielle. I felt her shift so she was touching my back with her breasts. I could feel the heat radiating off her body. I must have jumped but she got just that much closer. I felt an arm slide over my side... her hand resting on top of mine. I felt her rhythmic breathing start to settle into a slow cadence.

"Gabrielle...thank you", I said in almost a hushed tone.

"Get some rest. It will be ok."

With that she gently kissed the back of my neck. I felt my eyes fill with tears at such a kind act. I closed my eyes thinking, " If I sleep at all it will be a miracle of biblical proportions."

 

I closed my eyes and drifted...

Something had shifted...something was wrong. I felt I was being hurled through a tunnel. I wanted to open my eyes but was afraid of the reality. Finally, I heard a voice and felt a hand nudging me to awakeness. "Gabrielle?" I asked.

"No, itís Angela, your flight attendant" "We are on approach to Miami and I need you to adjust your seat and trayback to their fully upright and locked position."

"Yeah... right. Sorry, I was dozing."

Oh, my God. What happened to me? That was the most unnerving meditation Iíve ever had. Jeez, I do need to get out more. Xena and Gabrielle? I must make a note to seek help when I get home.

We hit the gate right on time. I had just enough time to sprint to my connecting flight to Key West. It was going to feel good to get some sun and try to lose the experience on the plane in a margarita...or ten.

As my puddle jumper cleared the ground bound for the last leg of my trip, the clean-up crew had begun its sweep of the just emptied 747.

The supervisor had seen just about every conceivable type of item left behind but this was a first even for her. "What was going on back here, a lumberjack convention?" In her hand was a mass of conifer needles...fresh conifer needles.

 

CHAPTER THREE - The Conch Republic

Ah...Key West at last. It felt good stepping into the blazing sun. It was concrete evidence that I was in the right time and place. I still couldnít shake the feeling from the experience on the plane. It was so real. But it couldnít be real. I mean even if it were real...which Iím sure it wasnít...Gabrielle isnít a real person...sheís on TV. Thatís it! Iíve been to TV land in some sort of drugged induced state. No, I donít do drugs. Well, maybe Iíll start. Hell, where is the bar?

The Key West Airport consists of two gates. Both exit from the same door. Itís very quaint. Baggage pick-up is a rollup door and metal ledge where your bags are tossed from a golf cart. First time visitors always look for one of those revolving carousels... what a shock to their system. I can also tell the first timers Ďcause they rent cars. The only time they will be able to use one here is the drive from and to the airport. You see, there is virtually no parking available other than in the big hotel parking lots. Everything in old Key West is zoned no parking. Otherwise you could never get anywhere. The three modes of transportation that will actually allow you to get around are foot power, scooters or bicycles. I always opt for scooters. Yep, thatís me...born to be bad. So...first things first. Collect my bags...and this time they actually made the trip with me. Last year they spent a restful night in Ft. Lauderdale while I fretted about clean underwear. I neednít worry this year. All my bags made the journey and once again Rogerís words ring in my ear, "If you need all this stuff, youíre doing it wrong." Heís right and I make a mental note to bring only one bag next year.

I lugged my wardrobe to the waiting cab and settled into the back seat.

The cabbie is a stout woman with skin that indicates many years of exposure to the harsh rays of the keys, "Where to, gorgeous?" She purrs, eyeing every inch of my person.

Normally this would elicit a short caustic reply on my part...but this is Key West and it wasnít meant to be a negative exchange. It was one more of appreciation and I take it as such.

"To the womenís guesthouse, please. Anything special happening this week ... ah." I look at the name on her license. "...Dee?"

"Naw...nothing much. The spring breakers have just about all left and itís mostly locals and older folks. You have the usual activities at the Dunes and Tra La Laís but for the most part itís going to be pretty quiet. Are you looking for anything in particular? "

Silently I think, ĎYeah, my sanityí, but my reply to her is, "Oh, nothing but some rest, sun and a decent margarita. Is the Sunday tea dance still a happening affair?".

"Oh sure, but itís mostly guys, you know. Most of the visiting women have gone home. Maybe Iíll see you there."

"Possibly..." My reply trails off and I stare out the window at the passing scenery as we drive into town.

Arrival at the guesthouse is quick and painless. I tip my driver generously and thank her for the local poop. She rewards my generosity by her lugging my bags all the way to the front desk. Almost reluctantly, she turns and heads for her cab. If Iím lucky, I wonít run into her again. I really wasnít in the mood to fend off an advance. And I didnít want to offend her with my ambivalence.

The womenís guesthouse is small but clean. It isnít as opulent as most on the island, but it is the only one specifically for women. Itís exactly what I need on this trip... peace and quiet. Turning 50 will be a big enough distraction. I donít need tons of rowdy guests disturbing my self-induced requiem. I place my bags on the bed and check out my room. Light and airy the surroundings are unassuming but acceptable. My one window overlooks the small pool and cabana. There are three women lounging about the water. Two are obviously a couple and the other seems to be a friend of theirs. Ick... true love at itís most basic level. Gabrielle was right. I am a cynic.

With that thought a wave of terror washes over me. I feel nauseous and weakly sit on the edge of the bed. The memory of being with Gabrielle is fresh and oh so very real.

"This is not reality." I say out loud as if that will make this feeling go away. Reaching out and touching the bed I chant, " This is real... this is real...everything else is a dream." Iím becoming concerned that my ability to recognize reality is disintegrating. Maybe itís part of approaching a half-century of life. Ewww...half-century... it even sounds awful. I fall back on the bed and stare at the ceiling. Slowly, I begin to calm myself, "Now, Liz, youíre just tired, lonely and a little paranoid. Nothing unusual here. You had a very real feeling waking dream thatís all. Probably manifesting some sexual repression and tension. All explainable Iím sure. "

I start to feel more in control and go over my options for the afternoon. "Letís see...get my scooter...have lunch...order a double margarita on the rocks...hit the pool...and not necessarily in that order." Satisfied that my life has some semblance of order I push myself to an upright position. A sharp pain causes me to cry out, "Ow!! What the..." I reach around and feel my low back. Itís definitely sore and I donít even want to look in the mirror for a bruise. I just donít want to see physical validation of my fears. I tell myself itís from sitting in a contorted position on the plane.

"Thatís it, Liz. Get your butt up and get out of this room. You can think about this later...Iím sure itís not going anywhere."

With that, Iím up and out the door. My first stop...the bar.

 

CHAPTER FOUR- Down to the Dunes

I was feeling a little more relaxed. I think having consumed about 4 ounces of Cuervo Gold may have made the difference. The afternoon was waning and the thought of getting on a scooter in my condition was not appealing. ĎWell,í I thought, ĎMaybe Iíll stroll down to the Dunes and check the action.í

The Dunes Beach Club or the Dunes as it was referred to locally, was quite a little "sun and be seen" bar. During the day itsí outdoor deck, pool, and dock were filled with boys and girls, straight and gay, clothed and in various stages of undress. It was a testament to the laid back attitude of Key West. In some ways it typified the "live and let live" credo of those who frequented the place. It simply didnít matter who you were or what your orientation...all were welcome here. I reached the entrance to the attached retro fifties motel and headed to the deck and bar.

The sun was beginning to lower in the sky and most of the bathers had retreated from the pool area. ĎToo bad,í I thought. There is always something interesting to see here. Maybe tomorrow Iíll head over here early and stake out a prime spot. Besides, Roger had threatened me about coming home with tan lines. I figured a Ďrita or two would assist me in stripping down. Hmmm...maybe.

As I walked up to the bar a familiar voice called out, "Hey, Liz, welcome back!"

I turned to see Melinda, a rather butch looking woman with a dynamite body and fierce dark eyes.

I called back, "Hey, Melinda, they let you still work here?"

"Yeah, even after that episode last year. Youíre not going to cause a scene this year are you? I almost lost my job over that last altercation. Itís taken a year for the boss to stop reminding me of it."

My mind thought back to "that night". It was the Sunday tea by the sea dance and all was going along uneventfully. I was sitting at the bar minding my own business nursing a beer. A very drunken straight boy was trying to put the moves on this rather cute, but lesbian, woman. She tried to be diplomatic but he was having none of it. Guess his ego was getting slapped around. Well to make a long story short...he started getting abusive and since I was the nearest, I attempted to intercede.

Of course I thought he would just call me a name and stagger on to some other target. I was very wrong. He took a full-fledged swing at my head. Fortunately for me, he was so drunk he missed by a mile and reeled into the edge of the bar. I donít know what came over me. Perhaps it was the very idea that someone would try to hit me on purpose...I donít know. All I remember is landing a full palm slap across his drooling mouth and face. Big mistake. He propelled himself off the bar and we became one body with four arms and legs rolling about the deck. The resulting melee was one of mythic proportions.

Melinda was one of the bartenders that night. She literally jumped over the bar and engaged in the fight. Suddenly, there were queens and dykes doing all sorts of craziness. By the time the official bouncers were near enough to get a hand on us, all hell had broken out. The police finally showed up and began separating the principal combatants. All in all, twenty of us were escorted to the local station. What a night. I donít know what pissed the officers off the most. The fact that their Sunday night was disrupted or all the paperwork involved. I was fined $500 for disturbing the peace and spent the night in jail. It was worth it Ďcause my sparring partner was also relieved of $500. The fact that his nose was broken and he was sporting raccoon eyes was just icing on the cake. I considered it my finest hour...defending the honor of a lady. The bitch never even thanked me but Melinda and I became friends. Life is strange.

The memory fading, I spoke to my friend, "I thought it might be safe to return to the scene of the crime. I mean itís been a whole year."

"Come here and give me a hug, troublemaker", she laughed as we embraced. "That was the best time Iíve ever had here, but we shouldnít do it again...okay?"

"No problem...Iím here to sun and rest and stay out of trouble...I promise. So seen any damsels in distress this season?"

"Oh, girl, donít even go there. The answer is no... not a damsel in the lot... much less one in distress. You ever get laid?" She said with a devilish twinkle in her eye.

"No...and I donít anticipate changing my status on this trip either."

"Well, you never know. Here, have a Ďwelcome homeí drink on me." She handed me a perfect margarita on the rocks...with salt.

I thanked her and as she attended other customers, I walked down to the end of the dock. I was resting on the railing overlooking the Atlantic. The sun was beginning to dip below the horizon and I toasted my impending birthday. "Hereís to you, Liz. Live long and prosper." I downed my drink and turned to leisurely walk back to the guesthouse. It had been a very eventful first day even by my standards.

The walk back was slow and pensive. It was probably a half mile or so back to the guesthouse. It really wasnít much of a stroll. Besides it gave me time to think and plan the events for tomorrow. It was an exceptionally beautiful night, warm and the sky crystal clear. I decided to detour by the guesthouse pool before retiring.

The pool area was practically empty. There were the two lovebirds Iíd seen from my window earlier and one other single dozing on a chaise. I found a lounge away from all of them and plopped down. The diffused light from the pool cast a faint glow around the area. There were strategically placed patio lights illuminating the walkway. It was all very serene and thought provoking. Iíd had enough thinking for one day, thank you and stared into the heavens. I could pick out the obvious constellations and stars... Orion, the Big Dipper, Andromedia, Venus. And there were The Lovers...suspended in that eternal embrace. I let out a long sigh and closed my eyes. ĎIíll get up in a minute and go to bed.í I thought and promptly fell fast asleep.

 

CHAPTER FIVE - Good Morning Sunshine

"Hey, sleepy, you going to doze all morning?"

I was hearing a familiar voice nudging me to consciousness. Before my eyes opened I thought, íI must have slept all night by the pool. That would explain this uncomfortable feeling in my back.í

I slowly opened my eyes and when the blurriness cleared I was looking at Gabrielle. It was morning and that uncomfortable feeling was from sleeping on the ground all night.

"Iím still here?" I asked a seemingly redundant question.

"As far as I can tell...yep...youíre still here. You know besides staring, youíre always asking questions that you already know the answer to. Are you aware of this?" Gabrielle was smiling at me and I knew she was trying to alleviate some of the terror in my eyes.

"Yeah...itís one of my more endearing qualities."

"Oh, you mean you have more than just one?" She quizzed me playfully.

"Iíve got at least two or three. Maybe if youíre a good little bard Iíll tell you about the others." I began firing off questions, "But first, where are we going today? ...to the village and Amoria? Do you think she can help me figure this out?" I was about to rattle off a few more requests when she held a hand up and stopped me.

"Hey...hey...just relax, Liz. Yes, we are going to head out for the village. But you need to just take a breath and stay calm. Would you like some tea before we start? "

"What Iíd really like a strong cup of coffee, but tea will be fine." I accepted the hot brew and began to sip it slowly.

"Coffee...what is that...oh, never mind Iím sure itís not from around here." she laughed and a twinkle in her green eyes sent a shock wave through me. "Maybe you can tell something about this Key West and you as we travel today. Would that be okay?"

"I suppose I could do that. Anything you want to know." I should have known better than to grant Gabrielle access to Ďanythingí she wanted to know. It wouldnít be long before the inquisition started.

As she packed up the camp, I felt I should offer to help tote the gear. It was the least I could do for her. In my mind there was more I wanted to do but I wouldnít have the nerve to even talk about it. I would just keep this part of me quietly hidden. With any luck, Amoria would straighten this mess out and I could once again live in just one reality. Besides, this had the potential to severely burn out my body... all this time shifting. I wondered if my Ďother selfí was still asleep by the pool.

Gabrielle interrupted my thought process, "Well, if you insist on carrying something, you can tote the cooking supplies and implements. That all right with you?"

"Iím honored that you trust me with your frying pan, mílady. I am your willing servant."

"Hmmm...that could be useful later." she said in a seductive tone.

I swear a light sweat broke out on me. The thought of anything remotely resembling intimacy with her made me very jumpy. I could just see Xena hunting me down and putting the Ďneck thingí on me for such an indiscretion. The sound of her low voice was floating in my head, "Iíve cut the blood flow off to your brain...youíll be dead in seconds."

Gabrielle brought me back to reality... if this was reality, "Letís see...you said I could ask you anything...right ?"

ĎUh-oh, here it comesí, I thought and closed my eyes and nodded.

"So tell me about Key West then."

I let out an audible sigh and began, "Not much to tell. Itís one of a string of tropical keys lying south of a land called Florida. Key West is the southernmost point. Just a spit of land actually. Not more than two miles wide and maybe ten miles long. Nothing to do but enjoy the ocean and rejuvenate your soul. I go there every year to just hang out."

"Sounds like a great place." She said and went right to the heart of the matter. "Why do you think this is happening to you?"

"Well, so much for chit-chat, huh? I donít have a clue, believe me. I donít think I could have made up a bigger fairy tale if I tried." I was almost subdued in my manner.

"Well, if you want my opinion...or even if you donít...I think you do know why...you just donít know that you know."

I could see how this reasoning of hers could get on Xenaís last nerve. I thought it but said, "You may be right. It would a good thing to figure this out in some rational form."

"Oh, I donít always think things have to be rational...but they always have form."

I had no idea what she was talking about and apparently she wasnít going to clue me in either.

As she continued walking, Gabrielle thought, ĎI have no idea what I meant by that. Hmm...maybe Iím just being spontaneously insightful. This is good.í

She shrugged her shoulders and turned to face me. I could see a question forming in her eyes. And I wasnít sure I wanted to hear this one.

She started slowly, "Liz? Can I ask you something else?"

"I would say no but then you would just keep after me all day. So sure..shoot."

"Last night you said you used to believe in love. What did you mean by that? You donít think love is possible for you?"

Ah...the sixty four million dollar question. This was going to be hard. Gabrielle was in the midst of the greatest love of her life. How could I explain my dead heart? I looked her intently in the eye hoping I could avoid this. When it was obvious I could not, I began.

"I donít know if love is possible again for me. The last woman I was in love with systematically sucked the very life from me. What was worse, I allowed it to happen. I wasnít aware of it until she left me and I was a desiccated shell. I was so in love...never saw it coming." I shook my head in disbelief and continued, "I had become blind and deaf. I totally trusted her with my heart and she betrayed me. Oh, it wasnít the first time Iíd been hurt... but it will be the last. I donít feel much of anything now and love isnít on the agenda. Iím not sure I want it to be. Does that answer your question?" I was in a very defensive mode with all this

Gabrielle mulled over her next inquiry. I couldnít believe she was going to pursue this. She put out the next zinger, "Well, how long has it been since youíve had...uh..intimacy ?"

My mouth fell open. "You mean...sex?"

"Well, that too...how long?" she pushed.

I was becoming visibly agitated. "If you simply must know, it has been three years. Satisfied?" The tone of my voice was getting sharp.

Totally ignoring my discomfort, she continued. "Well, I have Xena so yeah I am very satisfied...but what about you ? Donít you miss it?"

"I try not to dwell on Ďití...ok? I really donít want to talk about this and it isnít relevant to my current situation. "

Gabrielle was standing very close to me now. My back was to the trail we had been walking and I could smell the aroma of her skin. She spoke in a slow deliberate manner. "I know you donít want to talk about it...but trust me, it is relevant. Your words arenít in sync with your body language. Last night I felt something pass between us. Was I wrong?"

My head was reeling. Did she think me totally out of my mind?

"For the record, I find you extremely attractive but the thought of acting on it wouldnít demonstrate good sense. Even if I was able to...and Iím not, I donít screw with other womenís lovers . And you would have a hard time notifying my next of kin once Xena got hold of me. So I believe the question is purely academic. Now, can you drop this?"

I could see in her eyes...which were very close now...that this may not matter. She reached out and ran her finger along my face. In a measured tone she said, "I admire your morals and character. There is one thing you are mistaken about however."

"Oh, and whatís that?" I tried to sound in control but my body was betraying me... big time.

"Xena isnít a jealous lover. We have gotten past all that. She knows that I am young and new to all this. She knows without a doubt that my heart is hers forever and the same is true for her. Engaging in new experiences, of the right nature, is something we have discussed at length. It doesnít happen often for either of us...but when it does itís with full acceptance. Do you know what Iím saying, Liz?"

"Iím almost afraid that I do," was the only reply I could muster. This woman had my full attention. I could feel my self-control dissolving.

My mind was in the process of fast forwarding and my heart was beating even faster. Gabrielle was looking over my shoulder and something in her demeanor shifted. Quietly she whispered, " How good are you in a fight?"

I was totally taken by surprise, "Huh? A fight? Iím going to have to fight you?"

She almost laughed, " No, I mean can you defend yourself?"

"From you?"

Exasperated she wheeled me around and said, " No...from them."

In the roadway were four rather nasty looking men. They were completely blocking the path and I sensed getting by them was going to be a problem.

Gabrielle took me by the arm and spoke in even tones, "Let me do the talking, stay behind me and donít do anything to incite them. Got it?"

"Got it."

We started toward the road scum. At about ten paces we were squared off at one another.

"Well, what do we have here? Hey, you...blondie...you look like you need some companionship. How Ďbout it?" He was wiping the spittle from his mouth with the back of his hand.

Gabrielle had a tight grip on her staff and I could feel her body tensing. I on the other hand was about to pee in my pants.

"No, actually weíre just on our way into town. Thanks for the lovely invitation, but weíre running a little late. Perhaps later?" she said smiling at the largest man.

We started to go past them when one of the fouler smelling gents grabbed Gabrielleís arm and spun her around.

"I think nowís a good a time as any, donít you little girl? And as for your friend there...what is that...a boy or girl?"

I couldnít believe my mouth was opening, "Well, Iíve been called worse by better."

Gabrielle shot me a look combined with a little smile forming at the corner of her mouth.

It took a moment for the beast to realized heíd just been insulted. Oh this was not going to be pretty. His nostrils flared and his eyes went white with rage.

As the four of them charged, Gabrielle readied her staff and yelled, "Thanks for not inciting them."

As I tensed for the assault I replied, "My pleasure."

Two of the goons concentrated on Gabrielle. She jabbed the first one in the gut and as he doubled over, she caught the second one in the jaw, sending him reeling backward. I remember thinking, ĎI have no weapon.í The thought was barely in my mind when the first of my attackers grabbed me from behind. I was trying to remember anything I learned in my self-defense class. There was one thing and I hoped to God it worked. I relaxed slightly and with my right foot I searched for his right shin. I found it and with all my might I brought my heel down his shin to the top of his instep. I heard a sickening snap and he released me howling in pain. While he was concentrating on his foot, I spun around and placed a forceful blow to the outside of his left knee. He buckled under the dislocation and was reduced to a quivering mass on the ground.

I glanced over to see how Gabrielle was faring. One of the men had recovered and had her in a grip from behind... big mistake on his part. She widened her stance and plunged the staff between her legs and caught him in the privates. Adding insult to injury, she whacked him across the head. He fell like a giant oak. She then concentrated on one of the two left standing. He was no match for her skill but was determined to inflict some damage before it was over.

I had almost forgotten about my date...but not for long. I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. I turned just in time to see a very large blade slice across my upper arm. "Hey...watch it, buddy. This is my best tee shirt! " I yelled at him.

I did my best tuck and roll and landed near the tote I had been carrying. I reached for anything heavy that would protect me. My hand found the large iron skillet and I brought it up just in time to ward off a blow from his sword. Oh...I was mad now. This Ďthingí was trying to kill me. I lifted myself to my knees and took a full swing at his legs. It was just enough to make him hesitate. I got to my feet and gave his face my best home run cut. Bingo...into the cheap seats. He teetered for a moment and careened over face down.

Gabrielleís attention was focused on dispatching the last man standing. It didnít take but a few well-placed shots to the head and he was prone. She looked over and saw me standing with skillet in hand.

"Oh no, not my skillet again! Between you and Xena Iím not going to have cooking utensils left."

"Sorry, Iíll buy you a new one. I was sorta in a pinch for a weapon."

She howled out loud, "Oh, Liz, Iím kidding...well, almost. Are you all right?"

We both noticed the red ooze running down my right arm at the same time.

A look of real concern came over her face. "Youíre injured. Sit down and let me take a look at it."

I wasnít about to argue the point and wandered over to the nearest shady spot. Gabrielle began taking out some bandages from her satchel. She gathered the water skin and proceeded to roll up my tee-shirt sleeve. The closeness of her was so intoxicating I hardly noticed the burning.

"It doesnít look too deep but we need to get it cleaned and dressed. I would suggest resting for a bit but those gentlemen will be coming around shortly. I donít think you could go another round with them today. Do you?"

"No, I think one fight today is plenty."

"Oh, by the way, you did a very good job out there. Iím impressed. Where did you learn to fight like that?" she asked while tending my wound.

"Itís a little something I picked up last year defending the honor of a lady."

"Oh, I see. So you are a woman of principle and style. Thatís very commendable. There...that should hold you till we get to the village. " She said as she was cinching up the bandage. "We should get going now."

"Youíll get no argument from me, Gabrielle. Letís move it.

Gabrielle looked at me and said, "Oh, I owe you an apology. You are definitely not harmless."

I gathered the scattered utensils and slung the pack over my good shoulder. As we started down the road, I turned to view the trash we left behind. ĎIím going to be one tired little puppy in the morningí, thinking to myself. Almost as an after thought I added, ĎAnd Roger said I had no style. Tsk... tsk..if he could see me now.í


We had been walking about an hour not really saying very much. I found this a little unusual for Gabrielle and disturbing. Finally I couldnít take the silence any longer. I stopped in the middle of the road and spoke to my companion, "Gabrielle, is something wrong? You havenít said two words since we continued."

She slowed and turned facing me. There was almost a tear in her eye.

"Whatís the matter? Have I done something to upset you? Please, talk to me." I pleaded in earnest.

"I almost got you killed back there." Shaking her head she said, "I donít know what I was thinking getting you involved in a fight like that. Xenaís right, sometimes I donít think...I just act."

"Well, in all fairness to Xena, itís not like we had a choice you know. Those guys didnít give us much of an option. I couldnít...no wouldnít have been able to just stand there and watch four of them come at you. It was as much my fight as yours. Besides I was the one who incited them to riot...remember?"

A hint of a smile broke out on her face. And with a playful finger she poked me in the chest chiding," Hey, thatís right. You owe me one and I plan on collecting."

"Letís see, I have no money to speak of, no possessions worth anything with me, and only the clothes on my back. Just how do you expect to extract a tribute from me, mistress?"

She thought for a minute and then a sly look came across her face. "How good are you with your hands traveler?"

I closed the distance between us until I was within inches of her person. I stood within reach of Gabrielle...love of Xena...Amazon queen...one night stand of Perdicus...object of Valaskaís ire and hatred...target of Callisto. She was all this and more. I raised my hand to brush the golden tresses from her face. Her skin was so smooth and soft it took me by surprise. The mere touch of her flesh against my fingers sent a shock through my body. I knew I was trembling...so much I thought I might faint.

I looked into Gabrielleís green eyes and could see her pupils dilating. This was an indication of one of two things...either she was also affected by my touch or she was frightened. It was perhaps a combination of the two. I placed my right arm around her waist, the bare skin of her back burning my forearm, and my left hand caressed her face. I traced the outline of her features...slowly...her forehead, across her cheek, the bridge of her nose, that little cleft just below her nose and the outline of her lips. I allowed my fingers to move down her neck to the hollow above her breasts. She had slightly tilted her head back as if pleading with me. I placed my lips softly on her neck and moved to that hollow in small increments. I could feel the warmth of her against me and the very beating of her heart in symphony with my own.

She placed her hands on my head and pulled me into her further. I breathed in the aroma of her. It was as if I had never had a fresh breath until now. I felt the softness of her lips on my neck sending gooseflesh all the way to my toes. It was so incredibly sweet tears began to form in my eyes. I wanted to never leave this spot. I now knew what Xena must feel everytime she was with her. My heart was aching with a very physical pain. It was like a stiletto piercing my very core. I gently pulled back from her and once more gazed into those eyes. Gabrielle smiled and placed her hands on either side of my face. Almost in slow motion she brought her lips ever closer to mine. My mind was ablaze in anticipation. I closed my eyes and waited those sensuous lips.

I felt that shift again...that falling sensation. Through my closed eyes I sensed a very bright light and warmth on my face. Fearing the worst, I opened my eyes. I was on the lounge at the guesthouse and it was morning...again. My heart fell as if stabbed. "Not again please." I shouted out loud, "Just leave me alone whoever you are...or leave me in one place. Stop screwing with me...I mean it!"

I heard a very distinct disembodied voice whisper, "What makes you think Iím screwing with you sweetcheeks? Hmmm...as if. Chill babe and figure it out. Youíre a smart chick." There was the sound of gleeful laughter...not Gabrielleís...and then nothing.

The desk clerk appeared from inside the lobby, "Dear, are you all right? I heard you yelling at someone."

Becoming a little self-conscious I replied, " Iím ok...too much tequila last night. I just need a shower and some breakfast. " Under my breath I added, "And some Valium."

 

CHAPTER SIX - To Deny or Not To Deny

I made my way to my room, closed and locked the door and headed for the bathroom. I started the shower running and stood for a while before undressing. The bath was filling with steam. I slowly peeled my clothes away and stood naked before the mirror. I placed my hand on the glass in a circular motion to wipe away the haze. The first thing I saw was an angry red line on my right shoulder. Actually the wound looked pretty good considering it was only a few hours old... or at least I think it was only a few hours ago . Whatever Gabrielle used on it must have promoted some accelerated healing. Or maybe zipping back and forth in time had an effect. "Oh, this is not good girl ", I whispered. I turned slightly to view my back and wasnít disappointed. There ...big, black and blue was a primo bruise. "Well, thank goodness I didnít get gutted by that beast. " I let out an audible sigh and stepped into the hot shower.

I let the water run over me for a long time. My mind was too tired to think just now. I just wanted some clean clothes and some black coffee. I toweled off and fetched a clean tee and a pair of shorts. I pulled these on over my swimwear. As I headed out, I started formulating a game plan.

I exited the guesthouse and headed for the nearest cafe. It was going to be a scorcher today. I guessed that the temp was already in the 80ís and it was only 9 in the morning. The temperature was the least of my worries today.

The Blue Crab Cafe is an eatery with two groups of clientele. At night the tourists nosh on over priced local fare. In the early morning hours it serves a decent breakfast to the working gentry. I settled into a booth near the back of the restaurant. As if reading my mind, my server delivered a cup of steaming coffee without a word being exchanged. "Thanks, and do you have something I could write on by any chance?" I inquired. He... Tom...nodded and returned with a legal pad.

"Would you like to order now hon...or do you need a moment?" Tom waited for my response.

"Iíll have the special, Tom, whatever it is. And keep the coffee coming."

He smiled and leaned over near my ear, "Rough night, huh?"

"Tom, you have no idea."

With that he disappeared into the kitchen leaving me to ponder the last 24 hours.

Talking quietly to myself I began. "Ok, Iím a Ďsmart chickí so letís figure this out. " I started writing on the pad. Questioning myself I mused," What are those five steps now...all right...one...denial. Have I had denial? Oh, definitely...thatís a big check for denial.

Uh...two...is anger. Did we have anger? Suppose that little scene at the pool could qualify as anger. 10-4 on the anger. Three...bargaining...hmmm...no point in bargaining...skip it. Four would be...depression. Donít know...well maybe...no I canít say that holding Gabrielle was depressing. Thatís a big negatory on depression. So that just leaves acceptance. Well, what the hell, letís just warp to it. There, now that I accept that this is really happening the rest should fall into place. "

Tom delivering my breakfast and more coffee interrupted my rambling dialogue. "Can I get you anything else?" he politely asked.

Without looking up I answered, "I think that will do me for a while, Tom. Thanks."

I stared at the pad and began eating without really noticing what I was consuming. I felt the presence of another body at the table.

"God, you look awful. What did you do after you left the bar last night?"

It was Melinda and she was looking at me with great concern.

"Oh, nothing much. Got transported to another reality, almost got disemboweled by someone with the IQ of a houseplant and had a beautiful woman almost kiss me. You know...the usual. "

"That does it! No more tequila for you young lady. Seriously, what happened to you?" There was a pensive tone to her question as she poured herself a cup of java.

"Iím not real sure. Trust me, when I know, Iíll let you know. Right now Iím sorting it out. Ok?"

She took this to mean Ďback offí and she did just that. "Well, you know if you need anything.." her voice trailed off.

I reached out and patted her hand, " Yeah, I know, thanks. "

Changing the subject, Melinda continued, "So, whatís on the agenda today?"

"Not sure. Think Iíll get my scooter and maybe go over to Liz Taylor beach to check out the wildlife."

"Oh, Iím sure youíll not be disappointed this year. Lots of exposed skin of the female variety. You might get lucky."

"Hmmm...that would be a change of pace." I retorted knowing we were talking about two entirely different things.

Melinda stood and reiterated, " Iíll be at the Dunes this evening. If you need me before then, you know where I live. Take care of yourself today."

"Thanks girl, Iíll do just that. See you later, I promise. "

She gave me a quick hug, kiss on the cheek and was gone. I finished my breakfast still having no idea what I had eaten. I left Tom a five and headed out.

The walk to the scooter rental shop was short. I went through the routine of signing the waiver saying that I wouldnít ride double...presented a credit card for the deposit...revved the motor and took off. I headed straight for Liz Taylor. I needed some time to think this out and the coral beach would be perfect.


Ft. Zachary Taylor State Historic Park, or Liz Taylor as it is better known, is a popular sunning spot. It is populated with families, tourists, gays and lesbians. The gay influx would explain the nickname. The straights gravitate to one end, the gays to the other and those of mixed emotions, hang out in the middle. Although not advertised as a clothing optional beach, there is always someoneís bare butt turning red. But I wasnít here to cruise the flesh today. I stripped off my outer clothing and made my way to the water. Itís tricky navigating here because there is no sand to speak of. Itís all pieces of coral. A little painful if you are a tenderfoot. In fact, combing the beach for a special piece to string and wear is quite a little pastime. I had a small piece of black coral around my neck that I had found last year.

When I had waded far enough, I dove in and kicked to the bottom. I held my breath as long as I dared and surfaced much like a breaching whale. I was about 50 yards from shore. I went into my best imitation of a channel swimmer and put another 30 yards between the beach and me. The water was warm and caressed my body like a loverís hand. I flipped over on my back, completely relaxed, and surrendered myself to the ocean. It was like lying on a waterbed. The water was just over my ears and the ambient sounds muffled. I let the sea rock me to and fro, trusting it completely. My mind began to go over the events of the last day.

"Ok, for the sake of argument, I accept the fact that this is real...in both dimensions. The question is why and what does it have to do with me?" I didnít think that it was random. There had to be some sort of logic involved. If I could be open enough to see it. It had to be connected to Gabrielle but the link seemed just out of my reach. I tried to recall the conversations we had for a clue. None was coming. And what about that voice Iíd heard? It was bad enough to shift between time and reality but now I had a Valley Girl talking in my head. I laughed to myself and the thought of it and said in my best Valspeak..."As..if..."

My laughter had a disastrous effect on my prone position. I took in a mouthful of seawater and lost control. It took a moment for me to right myself and tread water.

"Serves you right."

"Uh-oh", I said, "Sheís baaacckkk.."

"Thatís right and Iíd like a little respect if you please."

"Fine, just who *are* you?"

"No, no babycakes. You donít need to know that just yet."

"All right, what do you want with me. Can you answer that Ms. Clueless?"

"All you have to do is to follow your heart. Youíve already seen the answer. And by the way, I wouldnít be caught dead in that drag theyíre wearing today. Itís so totally lame. Now get busy, you donít have much time."

"Time for what?" She was gone. "I bet Gabrielle knows who this is. If I could only get back to her but I donít how this works."

I made my way back to shore determined to unlock this puzzle...somehow. I dried off the best I could and slipped my shorts on. It was too hot for the tee and I tied it around my waist. I started the scooter and exited the park.

I was driving aimlessly and my thoughts were running in circles. This wasnít helping. I need to park this thing and find a quiet place to sit. The sun was beginning to turn my shoulders red and I could feel the onset of good sunburn in the making. I wanted a cold drink, just a soda, and I needed to put my shirt on. I rounded the corner and spied the one local lesbian bar. I affectionately referred to it as The Pit. I pulled the scooter to the curb and dismounted. I stood in the doorway of the bar for a moment to let my eyes adjust to its dimness.

As I crossed the opening, I saw what I thought were three rather large leather dykes huddled at the bar. They were having a very intense conversation...no make that a heated argument. Over just what was about to become apparent to me. There, sitting on a bar stool, was a petite woman. She looked very uncomfortable and was obviously the subject of the three tenors. They were trying to decide which one of them was going to leave with the prize.

A hundred thoughts went through my head...not to mention dialogue with myself. My first instinct was to intercede but was outweighed by too many pounds. Where was a good skillet when you needed one. "What would Gabrielle do?" I pondered. She probably would try to talk her way out of it first. "Ok, why not...just be Gabrielle." I straightened my posture and entered the arena.

"Well, there you are. Do you know youíre holding up the tour, missy?"

Startled by my announcement, the three at the bar turned and glared at me. I proceeded as if I hadnít seen them.

I continued to move forward. "Excuse me...uh... ladies." I said as I pushed past the largest one. I was now between a rock and a most stunning woman. She looked genuinely relieved but confused. For a moment I thought I had committed a serious mistake. There was a dark look in her eyes. One of those Ďhow dare youí looks. I half expected her to deck me herself. Now I was confused. If she wasnít being hassled, then I was in for a rough time. She didnít put up an obvious protest so I pressed on. I took her elbow and helped her off the stool.

In my best imitation of an outraged queen I began. "You know we are just impossibly behind schedule. I told you we needed to start promptly at two. Now we are going to miss the Conch Train Tour. The next one wonít start until three. The other sisters are going to be very disappointed. And now I have to reschedule everything."

She still hadnít said a word and we kept moving slowing toward the door. ĎThis was really easyí, I thought. ĎWeíre going to make it without serious bodily injuryí I congratulated myself too soon. A rather meaty hand came down on my shoulder.

I thought. ĎWell, this is it then. They are going to make dog meat of me and claim the damsel. Just freakiní great!í

I was ready to throw the first punch when the damsel spoke. "Iím really sorry, the time just got away from me. Please donít tell Mother Superior it was my fault. I was just looking for a cool drink."

Ms thing released my shoulder and looked at the woman and then at me. She was trying to decide if she really was a nun and if I was a tour guide. "Sorry , sistaí, we was just messiní around. No hard feelinís I hope? Yaí have a good time now, yaí hear?"

Without another word we walked out into the blazing sun. We stood on the sidewalk for a minute eyeing each other. She was about Gabrielleís height, fit but not as fit as the bard. She had what looked like blonde hair under a baseball cap and sea green eyes. What was it with me, blondes and green eyes this week?

I spoke first, "Are you walking or riding?"

"Iím walking. And for the record, I was doing ok in there." She was incensed.

"Well, pardon the hell out of me, your majesty." I made an exaggerated bow at her feet. "You know you can stroll right back in there. I think the really big one was drooling. Iím sure you would make a pretty ornament on her arm."

I turned to get on the scooter. "Women!" I said under my breath.

I was about to wheel off when she stopped me. "Wait...I admit that I might have been in just a little over my head. I just wandered in there for a drink and they surrounded me. " She lowered her eyes and continued. " Thank you...I donít know your name. Mine is Samantha...Sam for short."

I held out my hand and smiled, "Nice to meet you Sam...Iím Liz. Now I suggest we vacate this area before they come out here. You still thirsty?"

"Dying. Do you know a decent place?"

"Sure. Hop on. There is a place right around the corner."

She settled in behind me and as we tooled off I could hear the rental agentís stern warning. "Absolutely no double riding." Like I gave a crap today.


 

We pulled up at Tra La Laís on Duval. A nice bar and restaurant. It was definitely safer than The Pit. We walked into the coolness of the lower bar. She selected a stool and perched like an exotic bird.

"Whatíll be ladies?" the attentive bartender inquired.

"Iíll just have a coke...and for you, Sam?"

"Margarita on the rocks...salt."

"Hmm....a woman after my own heart." I said.

She was looking around the bar. "This is a nice place, thanks. "

"For future information, stay away from that last place. It is home for some pretty rough trade..."

She completed my unspoken thought, "And you donít think I can take care of myself, right?" She raised an eyebrow and pierced me with her eyes.

I wasnít about to get into this with her. "No, not at all. Youíre probably very capable of taking care of yourself. But I wouldnít want to go one on one with those women. Understand what Iím saying? I wasnít implying that you were helpless. Oh look, can we just declare a truce here? Pleeeezze..."

A smile formed on her lips. "Ok...truce. But no more butting in. Agreed?"

"Agreed."

She took a long sip from her margarita, placed it on the cocktail napkin and looked me dead in the eye. "Well, Liz, tell me... did you have a plan back there or were you improvising?"

"I sorta made it up as I went. Why, was it obvious?"

She was running a finger around the top of her glass. It was very seductive and I found myself staring at the motion.

"Youíre staring" she reprimanded. "Havenít you ever seen a nun play with her margarita before?" she said in a teasing tone.

"Sorry...staring has become an art form for me lately. I can honestly say that the nun / margarita combo is something new for me."

Sam laughed at the mention of the scenario in The Pit, "That brings me to my next question. Do I look like a nun to you? And what made you think that those women would buy that for a moment?"

"Hmm, technically thatís two questions, but Iíll answer them anyway. No, youíre not like any nun Iíve ever met. How did I know it would work? I took an educated guess that our friends back there wouldnít want to offend the Lord Almighty. Some sort of moral code etched into the genetic material of wayward Catholic girls."

"And what if they had been Baptists?" she taunted me.

" Good point...In that case, they might have tried to convert you."

We both broke out into hysterical laughter. She shifted gears and asked, "So where do the women go here...I mean to socialize and meet?"

"Most of the indigenous lesbians are just plain folk. If you are expecting glamour girls...well you should have gone to South Beach."

"So...youíre not from here then?"

Was she flirting with me? I was taken completely by surprise. I actually stuttered, "No...no.. Iím from Atlanta."

"Sure you arenít from South Beach?" She gave me a little wink and picked up her drink, bringing it to her lips without breaking eye contact.

Oooh...she was good at this. And she is definitely flirting, the thought buzzing in my head.

"No... Iím an Atlanta girl down here for my annual vacation. And you would be from.." I trailed off wanting to say, "Heaven perhaps"

"Iím a southern girl too...Charleston. This is my first trip to the keys. "

I just had to ask, "Here by yourself or..."

"All by myself. I needed some time to relax and think."

"Well, youíve come to the right place for that. There are plenty of quiet spots to just contemplate."

I wanted to continue this but I had this feeling that I needed to get going. After all that had happened, I wasnít about to ignore this tugging in my gut. I threw down the rest of my drink and prepared to get up. She placed a hand on my arm.

"Youíre not leaving...are you?"

"Iíve got to...just for a bit. Iíve some errands to run before it gets late."

She looked genuinely disappointed. "Will I see you later? Iíd like to at least buy you a drink for saving my honor."

Without thinking I blurted, "Sure. Iíll be at the Dunes tonight. Do you know where that is?"

"No, but Iím sure I can find it. What time?"

I couldnít believe Iíd done that. I couldnít be sure where I would be...or when for that matter. How was I going to answer her without sounding like I was brushing her off? The truth was absolutely out of the question.

Unconvincingly I said, "Iím not real sure...late...it will be probably late."

"Perhaps Iíll see you later then, Liz?" She sounded slightly let down.

I moved close to her and placed a warm kiss on her cheek, "Yes...later."

I climbed on my mount and headed for the guesthouse. I needed to talk to Gabrielle. I wondered if we would still be in that embrace when I appeared again. I would have my answer soon.


Conclusion