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The two main characters in this story are based on Xena and Gabrielle. MCA/Universal owns the copyright to the show, "Xena: Warrior Princess," and this is not to meant to infringe on those rights. Also, I am not profiting financially from this.

Disclaimer: This story depicts/implies violence, including rape, and contains language which may offend some. This is a story about two women who are in love...yes, with each other :) If you find any of this offensive, are under the age of 18, or if any of this is illegal where you live, please donít read this.

Please feel free to send any comments you may have to tschandler@xoommail.com
(c) 1999


 

MORE THAN WORDS
By T.S. Chandler

 

Lesbian chat room #19 June 4th 7:45 p.m.

Shell24: Hey sweetie ;)

1DeepCy: Hi!!! Was wondering where you were???

Shell24: Had to work late again. Sorry.

1DeepCy: Your boss is such a slave driver!

Shell24: Yeah, I know. I hate the bastard!

1DeepCy: LOL He still hitting on you?

Shell24: yep

1DeepCy: What a pig!

Shell24: Tell me about it...got your email...

1DeepCy: And?????

Shell24: I donít know...I have a rule about giving my number to people I meet online.

1DeepCy: And that rule would be...?

Shell24: I donít. Paranoid, I guess.

1DeepCy: After all this time, you still think Iím a psychotic serial killer?! LOL

Shell24: LOL yep. Sure do!

1DeepCy: Well...I wonít pressure you, but if you change your mind...

Shell24: I wonít.

1DeepCy: Oh yes you will <g>

Shell24: Youíre so arrogant!

1DeepCy: ;)

Shell24: Oh shit!!!!

1DeepCy: ???

Shell24: I think my baked potato just exploded in the microwave.

1DeepCy: LOL

Shell24: Iíd better go make sure my kitchen isnít going up in flames. LOL Tomorrow? Same time?

1DeepCy: I have to work tomorrow night. Is 2:30 a.m. too late for you?

Shell24: No. You know I donít need much sleep. Iíll be here.

1DeepCy: Glad to hear it ;) Goodnight, my friend.

Shell24: Night, sweetie :)

~~~~~~~~~~

Cy felt a sudden emptiness as she stared at the screen in front of her. She and Shelby had been meeting in lesbian chat room #19 every night for nearly six months now and, though her life was certainly full, she always felt a little lonely when their nightly conversation came to an end. She and her friend from cyber space had grown close over the past months...closer than she ever imagined possible. Shelby had bared her soul to her, filling the screen with her life story, and yet she still didnít trust her enough to surrender her phone number. Cy didnít want to admit it, not even to herself, but she was hurt by what she considered to be her friendís lack of confidence in her.

Shelby cursed the microwave oven as she scrubbed away at the scorched bits of potato splattered all over the inside. Shoving soiled paper towels into the overstuffed trash can, she felt the first of what would soon be many tears slide down her cheek. Why canít I stop thinking about her? Have I lost my mind? I donít even know her! Hell, Iím forever preaching about people who claim to fall in love with words on a screen. Theyíre completely delusional! Utter lunatics! Oh god...I hope Iím not one of them. Imagining what she must look like, standing there weeping over a pile of charred potatoes, she began to laugh. Maybe I have P.M.S. Iím going to bed before I drive myself absolutely crazy. Without bothering to finish cleaning up the mess, she flipped the light off and headed upstairs for a warm shower, dragging a clean towel behind her.

~~~~~~~~~

"You know, Cy, you really need to get laid. You wonít be worth shit until you do." Diane was a regular at the bar and took great pleasure in razzing the bartenders night after night.

"You keep drinking these and your liver wonít be worth shit." Cy laughed and winked at the woman seated on the stool near the corner of the bar as she placed the Long Island Iced Tea on a napkin in front of her.

Cy had no interest in sex for the sake of sex alone. She never had. It simply wasnít her style. She longed for something more. But tonight, as usual, there were at least ten people sitting at the bar ogling her finely sculpted ass, irritated that she wouldnít give them the time of day. With her long raven hair and piercing sapphire eyes, there wasnít a woman in the room who would pass up the opportunity to take her home.

Passing drinks hand over hand to the mob of customers, she couldnít stop herself from repeatedly glancing up at the clock. When 2 a.m. finally arrived, she finished her nightly clean up, tossed her apron on the counter, and headed outside, locking the doors behind her. She had been working at the Moonlight Bar, a bar where the clientele consisted mostly of lesbians, for nearly five years but it wasnít in the best of neighborhoods and there had been several gay bashing incidents over the past three weeks. One young lady was dragged into the alley behind the bar, pistol whipped, and shot in the head. When the murderer, a middle-aged man with a wife and three children, was apprehended, he told police officers that he killed her in the name of God. Said that homosexuals were reprobates with no productive purpose whatsoever. The festering garbage soiling Americaís streets, corrupting its children, deceiving the good citizens with their insidious left-wing propaganda.

Having managed to make it to her car without incident, Cy slammed the door to her 1997 pick up and gave the keys a twist. The radio blasting in her ears, she raced home. When she arrived outside of the four-story apartment complex, as usual, she ignored the slow-moving elevator and bolted up the three flights of stairs. Out of breath, she dashed through the kitchen, stopping only long enough to fill the empty cat bowl before making a mad dash for the keyboard.

Lesbian chat room #19 June 20th 2:30 a.m.

1DeepCy: I see youíre still awake.

Shell24: Naturally! How was work?

1DeepCy: Nothing eventful happened tonight. Same dull shit.

Shell24: Donít knock it. At least your boss doesnít slap your ass every time you walk by.

1DeepCy: Did he really do that??

Shell24: Yep. Thatís his new thing. Does it every fucking day.

1DeepCy: Shelby?

Shell24: ?

1DeepCy: Ever heard of sexual harassment laws? Theyíre in place for a reason, you know.

Shell24: Donít ride me about this. Please. Iím pissed off enough as it is. I just got this job and thereís no way Iím going to embarrass myself by whining to management. Iíll just have to deal with it. I can take care of myself. Give me some credit.

1DeepCy: Iím sorry, Shell. I didnít mean to offend you. Itís just that...

Shell24: What?

1DeepCy: I worry about you.

Shell24: Well, donít. I can handle it.

Shell 24: But itís awfully sweet of you to care :)

1DeepCy: Just donít let him yank your chain and the next time he puts his filthy hands on you, I recommend a swift knee to the groin. Put his balls in his throat!

Shell24: LOL You finished ranting?

1DeepCy: I suppose <g> Just watch your back, OK?

Shell24: I will. But Iím not going to let him ruin this opportunity for me. Iíve worked too hard for it.

1DeepCy: I know you have and Iím proud of you! Youíre going to be the best program director that stationís ever seen.

Shell24: Youíre going to make my head swell if you donít watch it. LOL

1DeepCy: Canít help it. I AM proud...and Iím happy for you.

And she was. She didnít know how she managed to do it, but somehow this woman had scaled the wall she had erected around herself and tunneled to the center of her being, settling there, next to her heart. Not an easy feat. Though Cy was a friendly person who would sell her soul if it would help someone else, she kept her essence well-guarded.

1DeepCy: Shelby?

1DeepCy: Shelby?? Still there?

Shell24: Yes, Iím still here. Itís just that...

1DeepCy: ???

1DeepCy: Just that what??????

Shell24: You have a way of making me feel good about myself. You give me confidence.

1DeepCy: One of my many skills I guess :)

Shell24: Thank you.

1DeepCy: I mean it. Youíre an incredible woman.

Shell24: sigh

1DeepCy: You need to get some rest. You donít sleep enough.

Shell24: I know. I know...mother <g>

1DeepCy: Hey!

Shell24: LOL Only kidding.

1DeepCy: Listen...get some sleep. OK?

Shell24: All right.....

Shell24: .....mother! <g> Tomorrow?

1DeepCy: 7 p.m.?

Shell24: Iíll look forward to it. Sweet dreams.

1DeepCy: You too, sweetheart.

~~~~~~~~~~

Cy tapped her toothbrush on the side of sink and stared at her reflection in the mirror. Though plastic surgery had successfully concealed most of the scars, her surgeon told her there wasnít much he could do about the remaining imperfections on her forehead and left cheek. I wonder what she looks like. And what kind of perfume does she wear? Damn. Why wonít she just give me her number? Then at least I could hear her voice. Argghh! Sheís making me nuts! I canít get her out of my head. No use trying to sleep tonight. She went into the den and lowered herself to the floor for a good work out. She wasnít big on television and there wasnít much else to do in the middle of the night so, with the hope of alleviating at least some of her frustration, she did more than fifty sit-ups in less than a minute flat before moving on to push ups. Every day she spent at least a full hour working on her toned muscles and it showed. Her physique was so flawlessly chiseled, it could easily make even the gods on Mount Olympus envious.

Shelby tossed and turned, throwing the blankets over the side of the bed. This is pure madness! Come on, Shelby. Be realistic! Sure, she talks to you for a few minutes every night. And, yes, she has a way of making you feel like youíre the most adored person on the planet, but I can guarantee you that sheís not lying awake obsessing over you. No, Iím sure sheís snoring up a storm while youíre lying here pining away. Realizing that she wasnít going to fall asleep no matter how hard she tried, she crawled out of bed and went downstairs for a cup of warm tea. She spent the remainder of the night curled up on the couch, sipping tea and lecturing herself about the absurdity of attaching real emotion to mere words on a screen.

~~~~~~~~~~

Frank watched the blond pass by his desk on her way to the supply closet, eyeing her shapely legs, gawking at her perfectly stacked breasts and unbelievably flat abs. When she disappeared through the narrow doorway, he stood and headed for the closet. Once inside, he moved behind her, pressing his body against her back as he reached around and grabbed her breasts with both hands. "You son of a bitch!," Shelby shouted and the man nearly jumped right out of his $200 shoes. "Get your fucking hands off me!" Without thinking, she raised her knee, jamming it into his crotch with a force that caused him to double over in pain.

She watched his face turn bright red and the veins began to bulge in his neck. "Iím not taking this anymore," she heard herself say. The man glared angrily, absolutely fuming, and then turned and limped away.

Shaken and furious, she grabbed a hand full of envelopes and stormed past his desk, back to her office. This job meant a lot to her. After all, WRSS was the biggest radio station in Baltimore and she had spent the past five years of her life lost in a mountain of books, laboring over term papers and final exams, shelling out a small fortune on the education that would allow her to land this job. But it wasnít worth putting up with Frankís bullshit. And, at that moment, she decided that she wasnít going to allow him to go on treating her like a piece of meat. She was going to fight this...no matter what the cost.

~~~~~~~~~~

Cy felt her heart sink as she clicked on the shut down button. She said 7:00 and itís 4 in the morning. Sheís never done this before. Damn, I could understand if she wasnít in the mood to talk, but she could have at least told me so I wouldnít spend the whole night sitting around waiting for her. Iím such an idiot! I just need to face the fact that she doesnít feel the way I do. Yeah, she likes to talk to me. Otherwise, she wouldnít keep coming back night after night. But itís not the same for her. She understands that itís a just an anonymous encounter which means absolutely nothing in the real world. What kind of freak am I anyway? Sheís out there living her life and Iím sitting here staring at a damn screen! Waiting for someone who doesnít care if I live or die! What a loser!

Her ego bruised and her heart aching, she trudged down the hallway toward her bedroom. Maybe Dianeís right. Maybe I do just need to get laid.

~~~~~~~~~~

Lesbian chat room #19 July 10th 3 a.m.

1DeepCy: HAS ANYBODY SEEN SHELL24 ??????????????

Cy read the series of noís as they appeared on the screen one by one. It had been nearly three weeks since she had spoken to Shelby. Night after night, she searched the chat rooms and checked her email again and again, praying for some sign of her friend. But the woman seemed to have vanished. Dropped off the face of the earth without warning.

I pushed her too hard. I told her too much. I did what I swore I would never do. How could I let myself get so attached to someone who could disappear with the next power surge? Iím a complete jackass!

Determined to get some sleep, she gulped down a double shot of vodka and stretched out on the couch.

~~~~~~~~~~

The next morning, Cy woke up thirsty. Extremely thirsty. Her lips were stuck together and she was certain she had swallowed a fifty pound bag of sand in her sleep. Gripping a tall glass of ice water in her hand, she stumbled toward the desk. I donít know why I keep doing this. I might as well face it. Iím never going to hear from her again.

Within moments, her fingers pounded away at the keyboard. Her eyes flew open and she stared at the screen. She had three email messages. One of them has to be from her. The mouse glided over the brightly colored pad and she held her breath while she waited. Thank the Greek gods! Three new messages from Shell24.

6:00 a.m. Cy---Iím sorry for disappearing on you like that. Drop me a line when you get a chance. Shelby

7:30 a.m. Cy---I need to talk to you. Could we meet tonight? Itís important. Shelby

9:45 a.m. Cy---I didnít mean to hurt you. Please reply. I really need to talk to you. Shelby

Cy took a deep breath and felt a wave of panic wash over her. She couldnít type fast enough.

11:00 a.m. Shelby---Just got your messages. Where have you been? Are you OK? Yes, I want to talk to you too. Iíve missed you... Iím off tonight, so Iíll be looking for you in #19 at 7 p.m. If you can talk sooner, email me, OK? Iíll make sure I check my messages every hour. Cy

Cy looked down at her fingers, not at all surprised to see them trembling. She gnawed on her fingernails and stared silently at the screen, worried sick. Time passed so slowly that she could almost hear it. Where has she been? What the hell is going on? What does she want to talk to me about?

After a while, her mind reeling, she wandered into the kitchen, made a chicken salad sandwich, and poured a glass of milk. She chewed on the first bite for nearly ten minutes before she realized she couldnít swallow. Her throat felt tight and she was restless, eagerly awaiting a response from the illusive woman on the other end of the wire. Shoving the plate aside, she made a mad dash for the glowing monitor. "Finally!," she said out loud to herself and clicked the open button.

1:00 p.m. Cy---Iím at home. Can you meet me in #19 in an hour? Shelby

Cyís eyes locked on the clock on the wall. 1:57. She would be there any minute. Immediately, she signed onto the chat site and located room 19.

Lesbian chat room #19 July 10th 2:00 p.m.

1DeepCy: Shell???

Shell24: hi

1DeepCy: Where have you been??????????????

1DeepCy: And why arenít you at work?

1DeepCy: Are you sick?

Cyís shoulderís tightened as she waited for an answer.

Shell24: No, Iím not sick.

1DeepCy: ???

Shell24: I quit my job, Cy.

1DeepCy: Let me guess...that slime ball wouldnít lay off.

Shelby felt her eyes filling with tears and her body stiffen. I canít tell her. I donít think I can talk about it.

1DeepCy: Shell?

1DeepCy: Shell, you there?????

1DeepCy: Please...

1DeepCy: Shelby, please donít shut me out.

Weeping, Shelby forced her hands to the keyboard and typed the words.

Shell24: he raped me

Cy felt her heart collapse as salty water pooled in the corners of her eyes, spilling onto her face. Her stomach twisted and her anger threatened to devour her soul. "That sorry bastard!," she screamed and slammed her fist on the desk, nearly crushing the bones in at least two of her fingers. Ignoring her own pain, she focused on her friend and tried to muster some semblance of logic.

1DeepCy: Shelby, are you OK? Physically?

Shell24: I think so

1DeepCy: Have you gone to the doctor?

Shell24: no

1DeepCy: Sweetheart, you need to see a doctor.

Shell24: no

1DeepCy: Did you report it?

Shell24: I havenít told anyone. I donít want anyone to know.

1DeepCy: Shell, there are people who can help you deal with this.

1DeepCy: Shell?

1DeepCy: Shelby???

1DeepCy: Talk to me. Please. Say something.

1DeepCy: anything...........shell??????

But she was gone. Cy hung her head and raised her hands to her face, weeping softly. She wanted to talk to her, help her, hold her in her arms and chase away her pain.

~~~~~~~~~~

Shelby caught a glimpse of her reflection and stopped in front of the full length mirror hanging on her bedroom wall. You stupid bitch! She screamed at the image. How could you have been so stupid?! How could you have let him do that to you?! Why didnít you stop him when you had the chance?! She wailed in anguish, pounding her fists against the glass until it shattered, slicing through her flesh. The sight of her own blood mesmerized her, momentarily taking away her pain. She deserved to bleed. She deserved to die for being so goddamn foolish.

~~~~~~~~~~

Two hours had passed and Cy remained in front of the screen, alternating between anger and grief. Her mind betrayed her and allowed the haunting images to escape from the dark corners where she had stashed them away so long ago.

He wasnít a large man. But he wasnít a frail man either. Medium build. Average height. With dark brown eyes and a peach fuzz mustache. She had never seen him before that night. The night he jimmied her window open with a crowbar. Nearly ten years had passed since he crawled through her window and raped her at knife point, leaving her to pick up the pieces of her shattered soul.

She touched the tips of her fingers to the scars on her face and with the images came the familiar emotions. The fear. The helplessness. The isolation. The unbearable sense of shame. All crashing down on her at once, as they had so long ago. God, Iíve got to help her. Desperately, she began to search the screen for Shelby. Yes, Shell. Thatís right. Talk to me. She opened the new mail from Shell24.

4:15 p.m. Cy---Iím sorry. I donít mean to shut you out. I donít know if youíre going to understand this or not, but Iím so angry at myself for letting it happen. Ashamed of myself for being so stupid. You warned me, Cy. I should have known. I should have seen it coming. I should have reported him. I knew better than to stay late at the office. I knew he was still there. And I knew we were alone. Damn it, Cy, I feel like such a fool.

Shelby opened the mail from her friend, crying uncontrollably as she read the words.

4:45 p.m. Shelby---I know youíre hurting. But youíve got to stop blaming yourself for what that animal did to you. Heís responsible. Not you. You have to believe that. I know itís hard. And I do know what youíre going through. Shell, Iíve been where you are. Several years ago, I was brutally raped and I felt the same way you do. And, like you, I blamed myself. But, sweetie, itís not your fault. Just like what happened to me wasnít my fault. I want to help you get through this...if youíll let me. Iíll keep checking my email and Iím attaching two phone numbers--one is my home number and the other is my work number. Shelby, if you need me, donít hesitate to call me or send me a message. I donít care what time it is---Iím here for you. Take care of yourself...please. Cy

The green light flashed on the printer as the page containing her friendís phone number emerged. Shelby knew she wasnít going to call her, but knowing she could if she wanted to seemed to soothe her aching spirit.

~~~~~~~~~~

Cy was lying in bed, wide awake, staring into the darkened room. She felt her friendís pain coursing through her veins and it was more than she could bear. That sweet woman whose words have filled my life with laughter and friendship, making me feel more alive than Iíve felt in years. All those nights she sat there with me, talking to me, listening to me, touching me with a force more powerful than anything Iíve experienced in the real world. How could he do this to her? A woman whose words transform the screen into something more tender than the softest flesh. He hurt her...and I hate him for that.

~~~~~~~~~~

Two months had gone by since the rape and Shelby was still wrestling with her pain and anger. She hated Frank for what he had done, hated the world for being the dungeon of gloom it had become. But, most of all, she hated herself for not being able to stop it.

Flipping through the pages of an outdated Time magazine, she sat in the waiting room, awaiting Dr. Lancasterís cue. She had been seeing the psychiatrist nearly every day for the past month and, though her emotions were raw and bleeding, she never missed an appointment.

With every visit, the weight on her shoulders grew lighter, but the healing process was tedious and grueling, pushing her to the brink of extinction. When things got difficult, Cy was always there with an encouraging word. If not for her support, Shelby knew she would have thrown her hands in the air and surrendered by now.

"Shelby?" Dr. Lancasterís voice interrupted her quiet introspection.

Shelby mumbled an almost inaudible greeting and followed the woman down the narrow corridor to the last office on the right. "How are you today?," Dr. Lancaster, not one to waste time, inquired in an annoyingly clinical tone.

"Still pissed at the world." Shelby laughed and shrugged her shoulders. She liked this woman and found it all too easy to be candid in her presence.

The therapist chuckled, clearly amused by the response, and pressed on. "Would you care to expand on that?"

"Well..." She took a moment to deliberate before offering an answer. "I went to the mall earlier today."

"And how did that go?"

Since the attack, Shelby had been unable to tolerate crowds. In fact, the only place she felt comfortable outside of her own apartment and Dr. Lancasterís office was the tiny grocery store on the corner less than a block from her home. For weeks, she had been going there to purchase the necessities. Prices were high compared to the larger supermarkets, but it was close to home and she could write a check, sparing her the traumatic experience of a trip to the bank. Fortunately, she had enough money in her account to support herself for a while since she knew there was no way she would be able to hold down a job.

"It went well." Shelby managed a faint smile.

"How did you feel when you were there?"

"Fine. It felt pretty good," she said and Dr. Lancaster gave her a look which suggested that she wasnít quite convinced.

"I was there for an hour. I was fine for a while and then...I saw this man. Umm...he was looking at me..."

"What did you do when you saw this man?"

"Are you kidding? I got the hell out of there!" She laughed at herself and Dr. Lancaster tried desperately to conceal her own amusement.

"Are you planning on going back?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I am. Tomorrow morning. Iím going to keep going back until I can spend the whole day there without freaking out," she said with determination.

"Good for you."

When the session ended, Shelby was surprised to find that the black abyss inside her seemed smaller. Breathing in the fresh air, she made her way to her cherry-red Toyota and headed for home before the sun had a chance to set.

~~~~~~~~~~

"Have you managed to get yourself laid yet?," Diane smirked at the statuesque bartender.

"Have you managed to line up a liver donor? Youíre gonna need one, you know." Cy winked and added a cherry garnish to the womanís Long Island Ice Tea.

"You need to put a leash on that biting wit of yours. You know that, donít you?," she replied, shamelessly flirting with the raven-haired beauty.

Cy shook her head and pushed the button on the blender, watching the ingredients whirl around, settling in a slushy mixture. Pouring the pina colada into a tall glass, she leaned across the counter and whispered into the womanís ear. "A leash, huh? Youíd like that, wouldnít you?" She laughed when Dianeís jaw dropped.

"Honey, you are too much!," Diane chuckled and took a swig of the potent drink.

Cy arrived at her apartment at 2:20 a.m., surprised to find her cat, Mrs. Simms, sprawled out in the middle of the kitchen table. A small tabby mix with a scrunched up face, the animal was the spitting image of her eighth grade science teacher. She filled the blue bowl and gave it a shake, hoping the sound of the rattling food pellets would coax Mrs. Simms down from the table. She was right. In a flash, the ball of feline fur sauntered past her ankles and buried her face in the bowl. Tugging her blue jeans over her hips, Cy let them drop to the floor and scurried toward the keyboard, eager to spend some time with the woman who seemed to constantly occupy her thoughts.

Lesbian chat room #19 September 15th 2:30 a.m.

1DeepCy: Shell?

 

Shell24: Hi, my friend. How are you?

1DeepCy: Good...question is...how are you??

Shell24: Better, Cy. Iím starting to feel better...thanks to you.

1DeepCy: Oh no. Iím not responsible. You are. Youíre the one doing all the work. Iím so glad youíre doing better.

Shell24: Youíre not the only one! Damn! Sometimes I drive myself crazy!! I freak out over the silliest things.

1DeepCy: Thatís normal, Shelby. Youíve been through a lot. You have the right to freak out. But youíre doing something about it and thatís what counts. Howís the therapy going??

Shell24: You were right. Itís really helping. Iíve learned so much about myself. About my fears and my dreams, my emotions and my goals. Guess Iím sort of unlocking the mystery of me. Howís that for corny?! LOL

1DeepCy: On a scale of 1 to 10, I give it an 11 <g> Youíre sense of humorís starting to return...

Shell24: Thank god! I thought I would never see it again!

1DeepCy: LOL ...Iíve missed it.

Shell24: sigh...So...tell me...howís Miami?

1DeepCy: I canít complain. No hurricanes this season...so far :)

Shell24: roaring applause <g>

The conversation continued for nearly two hours, the first light-hearted discussion in a long while. Finally, Cy suggested that Shelby get some sleep and the two reluctantly said their goodnights.

Cy turned out the light and settled into bed next to the purring Mrs. Simms. I donít know how she does it...but she blows my mind. I went into the lesbian chat room because I was bored. I never imagined that, in a sea of ambiguous screen names, Iíd meet a woman who could rock my world so thoroughly.

With a smile on her face, she rolled over and closed her eyes.

Shelby sat in front of the monitor, intently focused on the letter she was typing. I canít say that. Delete. Delete. Delete. I donít want to scare the hell out of her. God she makes me feel...so damn good. Searching her mind, reaching inside her heart, she plucked away at the keys, intent on finding the words to convey her feelings...at least some of them...to her friend.

~~~~~~~~~~

Cy emerged from the shower and smoothed the towel across her soaked tresses and down her bronze frame. Staring down at the four inch scar on her right breast, she felt her body shudder slightly when the image of the silver blade appeared in her mind. No. Heís not going to ruin my day today. I wonít let him.

Helping Shelby through her ordeal was resurrecting images in Cyís mind, images of the man who broke into her apartment in the middle of the night, held a knife to her throat, and claimed her body for himself. The scars on her face and body only served as reminders of the agony she had somehow managed to survive. But they also served as reminders of her courage and strength, a quiet testimony to what she was capable of overcoming when she set her mind to it.

She hung the damp towel on a hook on the back of the bathroom door and shuffled toward the monitor. A smile appeared on her face when she read the words New mail from Shell24.

7:00 a.m. Cy---Couldnít sleep. Surprised? Didnít think you would be! :) I need to take the time to thank you, my friend, for all that youíve done for me. If not for you, I donít know how I would have managed to survive these past months. Youíve been an inspiration, allowing me to lean on you during a time when I didnít have the strength to stand on my own and, no matter how hard I try, Iíll never be able to repay you for that. What happened to me destroyed my dreams and my sense of self, took away something that I thought I would never be able to recover. But, thanks to you, I now know that I will reclaim that which was once, and should be again, my own. Your words have been a warm light in a cold, dark world. I know youíve been worried about me, but please try not to worry so much. Cy, I can finally say with certainty that Iím going to be all right. Somehow, Iím going to find my dreams again, find myself again, take back what was lost. Iím going to make it through this...thanks to you. Until tonight---Shelby

Cyís tears trailed down her cheeks as she reached out and placed the palm of her hand flat against the screen and she longed to reach inside and touch the woman who now seemed to occupy her every thought. For a while, she had tried to convince herself that what she was experiencing was an adolescent crush, simple infatuation with the woman behind the words. But, at that moment, she realized she had been lying to herself. She was in love. Somewhere along the line, Shelby had become the meaning behind her smile, the hope of her future, the embodiment of her dreams. So much more than mere words on the screen.

~~~~~~~~~~

Cyís body writhed between the sheets as her nightmare devoured her, sinking its teeth in deep, tearing at her skin. Jolted from sleep, she awoke in a cold sweat, her green cotton T-shirt clinging to her soggy frame. She glanced at the clock. 5 a.m. Four months had passed and she and Shelby were still meeting online every night, their exchanges growing more meaningful with every type-written word.

The words moved in circles in her mind, buzzing behind her eyes, forcing her to contend with her own raw emotion. Immersed in her musings, her neck snapped when she turned to face the telephone on the nightstand next to the bed. Startled by the sudden ring, she lunged across a mountain of pillows and picked up the receiver. "Hello? Hello?"

"Cy?"

Unable to recognize the voice, she repeated, "Hello? Who is this?"

"Cy, itís me...Shelby." Her hand gripped the receiver, holding it to her ear, clinging so tightly that she could see the tips of her fingers turning white. "Cy?"

"Shelby?" She was certain she was dreaming.

"Iím sorry to wake you."

Oh god. Itís really her. Clearing her throat, she managed a faint, "Are you OK?"

"Yeah...umm...Iím all right. I just...wanted to talk."

Cy let the womanís voice dance on her eardrums, caressing them gently. "Iím glad you called." She had counted on being nervous the first time she talked to her friend, but this was bordering ridiculous. "Umm...uhhh..." Real smooth, Cy. "Whatís going on, hon?"

"Cy, I have a job interview Friday morning," she announced, unable to keep the good news to herself any longer.

"Oh Shelby, thatís wonderful. God, thatís great! Hey, why didnít you tell me about that when we spoke earlier?! Iím so proud of you!" Her enthusiasm sparked her friendís laughter.

"I was going to, but then I decided to wait until I could actually tell you. Obviously, it took me a while to conjure up the courage to call," she chuckled.

"Are you as nervous as I am?" Cy laughed and felt her muscles begin to relax.

"Hell yes, Iím nervous. Shaking like a leaf!"

"Weird, isnít it? Weíve been...umm...friends for months and still weíre a couple of nervous wrecks!"

"Yeah. Strange. Umm...Cy?"

"Hmm?"

"Itís so good to hear your voice."

Cy could hear the woman on the other end of the line smiling. God, sheís sweet. "You too," she said though a sigh of relief. "So...tell me about this interview."

Shelby bit her tongue and a mysterious smile appeared on her face. "Not yet. I..." She searched for an explanation. "I want it to be a surprise...that is, if I get the job."

A surprise? Whatís she up to? "A surprise? What are you up to? And donít worry. Youíll get the job. I have faith in you." She found herself grinning from ear to ear, pleasantly intrigued by the mystery in the womanís voice.

"Thank you...but Iím still not telling you. Youíll just have to wait," she giggled.

Cy reached down and pulled the thick quilted bedspread over her body, snuggling into its warmth, and let herself sink into the sweetest voice she had ever heard.

~~~~~~~~~~

"Cy! Cy, you have a phone call!," Danny, short for Danielle, called out over the noisy crowd.

Cy made her way around the second bartender and a couple of waitresses and took the receiver from Dannyís hand. "Hello?," she said, covering her left ear with her hand to drown out the noise. "Hello?"

"Cy, itís me."

"Shelby? Hi, sweetheart! How did the interview go?"

"I got the job!" Her tone was marked with unmistakable enthusiasm.

"Oh honey, thatís great. Iím so happy for you!"

"Yeah, Iím really excited about it."

"So...where will you be working? What station?"

Shelbyís hands started to tremble and she leaned against the pay phone to steady herself.

"Where are you anyway?" Cy could hear what sounded like a freeway in the background.

"Umm...Cy..."

"Yeesss?"

"Iím...umm...Iím in Miami." Oh shit. Sheís going to kill me. I should have told her. What if she doesnít want to see me? What if she likes things the way the are? Hell, it never dawned on me that she wouldnít want to meet me face to face. Oh shit. What have I done?

"Ummmm...did you say youíre in Miami?" Cyís voice started to quake.

"Uhh...yeah...yes, I did." She doesnít sound very happy.

"Umm...Shelby?"

"Yes?"

"Hold on, OK? Iíll be right back."

"Oh...umm...all right. Sure. OK." Oh god. Iíve pissed her off. Shelby spent the next few moments kicking herself. What was I thinking? Just showing up out of the blue? She probably thinks Iím rude as hell and, when she gets back on the line, sheís going to tell me off and Iíll never hear from her again. Iím such an idiot.

"Shell?"

"Hmm?"

"Sweetie, where are you?"

Now Iíve really done it. How am I supposed to tell her that Iím two miles from her apartment? That I weaseled her address out of the phone company? Sheís going to think Iím a stalker. "Uhh...errr..."

"Shelby? Where are you?"

"Iím a couple of miles away from your apartment, Cy." Huh oh. Here it comes.

"M..m...my apartment? How did..."

"Long story..."

Cy quickly realized that she was just standing there, staring blankly at the phone. "Shelby, Iím getting ready to leave work. I found someone to cover for me. W...would you...umm...like to meet me at my apartment?" Dumb question, Cy. Like sheís going to want to meet a total stranger at her apartment. Why didnít I ask her to meet me somewhere in public?

"Yes. Yes, Iíll meet you at your apartment. When?"

Huh oh. This is really going to happen. I donít think Iím ready for this. What if she hates me? What if...She reached up and touched the scars on her cheek. I should have told her. Maybe I should tell her now.

"Cy?"

"Can you meet me in thirty minutes?" She wanted to make sure she had time to at least change her clothes and run a brush through her hair.

"Iíll be there...You nervous?," she giggled uneasily.

"Yeah. Yeah, Iím scared to death," Cy confessed, droplets of sweat rising on her brow.

"Yep, me too. Terrified!" She laughed, pleased when Cy followed suit.

"Iíll see you soon," Cy said, nervously glancing down at her watch.

"Sounds great. Umm...bye, sweetie."

"Bye." Holy shit. Holy shit. Holy shit. What have I gotten myself into?

Shelbyís hands were shaking so fiercely that she dropped the receiver in her attempt to hang it up. With her heart in her throat, she hailed a cab.

Cy wiped her sweaty palms on her apron and untied the strings. "Iím out of here. Thanks for covering for me, Danny," she announced and bolted out the door, running at top speed. I look like hell. I hope I have time to get myself together before...Oh my god. I canít believe this is happening.

The cab pulled up in front of Cyís apartment complex and Shelby paid the driver and stepped onto the sidewalk. I canít do this. I need to sit down. Her knees buckling beneath her, she dashed around the corner and plopped down on a wooden bench under a tree. Itís going to be fine, Shelby. The woman likes you. Youíre...friends. Granted, youíve never actually met. But itís going to be all right. Just fine.

Cyís tires squealed toward the rear of the complex and, within seconds, she was scurrying around her apartment, trying to make it...and herself...more presentable. Shit. Sheíll be here any second. She hastily forced the brush through her hair, leaning over to brush underneath before flinging her head back, the raven locks gently falling over her shoulders and down her back. Shouldíve told her... She stared in the mirror for a split second, preoccupied with the scars on her face. Too late to do anything about it now. She inhaled deeply in an attempt to catch her breath and then made her way to the bedroom and changed her clothes. Faded jeans and a black T-shirt. Her usual attire, but her body could make even casual-wear appear absolutely stunning. OK. I can do this. She repeated the words over and over again as she began to pace back and forth across the living room. And then came the knock at the door.

Trembling, she stood with her hand on the doorknob, the muscles in her fingers refusing to give it the necessary twist. "Cy? You in there?" Placing both hands firmly on the doorknob, Cy watched it rotate under her grip and pulled the door open.

Shelbyís emerald eyes widened and she stood perfectly still, gazing at the woman in front of her.

"Come in. Please." Cy gestured with her hand and Shelby stepped inside the apartment, her eyes still fixed on the dark-haired woman. Taken aback by Shelbyís astonishing beauty, Cy slowly closed the door and turned to face her once again.

"I...Iím sorry. I donít mean to stare," Shelby said softly. Her gaze floated over jet black hair and toned muscles, resting momentarily on the conspicuous scars before moving across the most perfect breasts she had ever seen, and downward, slowly making their way back up again. Emerald locked with sky blue. Oh yes. Thatís her. Thatís the woman who has been my strength, my happiness, my incentive to get out of bed in the morning. Thatís the woman behind the understanding, the support, the kind and loving words that made it possible for me to go on with my life. Without a word, she stepped forward and raised her hand, placing it gently against Cyís cheek. Behind those azure eyes was the woman who had come to occupy a very special place in her heart...a place that had been dormant for so long.

Cy, still and quiet, captivated by the moment, concentrated on the touch, the first of what she hoped would be many more. Shelbyís hand caressed her face, moving over her cheek, pausing on the scar. "Iím sorry. I should have told you," Cy uttered, backing away slightly.

Shelby shook her head. "No. Itís OK. I...I think youíre beautiful." My god, she IS beautiful. She smiled when she saw the womanís face turn pink beneath her hand. Sheís actually blushing. I made her blush!

Cy raised her hand and placed it over the one Shelby had resting on her cheek and the embrace which followed came naturally. "You look wonderful," Cy whispered in her ear and held her close. Shelby felt a single tear make its way down her face and she held on tighter.

When the embrace ended, Cy asked the woman if she was hungry and offered to cook when Shelby informed her that she hadnít eaten all day. "On one condition." Shelby flashed a winning smile. "Iíll let you cook if youíll let me help."

Cy grinned. She liked the sound of that. In fact, one of the fantasies that played out repeatedly in her mind involved the two of them together in the kitchen. Only, in her fantasy, food was the last thing on their minds... "That would be great!," she said and offered her a drink.

Shelby, not fond of the taste of alcohol, sipped her iced tea and listened to Cy talk about everything from music to her job as a bartender. "Am I boring you?," Cy asked, realizing that she had been going on and on for several minutes.

Are you kidding? Boring me? YOU?? Oh no, lovely lady, boring is not the word for what youíre doing to me. "No. Not at all. I love listening to you," she said through a smile.

Their uneasiness quickly subsided as the conversation continued and, after a while, they adjourned to the kitchen to start on dinner. "I could have sworn I had some chicken in here," Cy said as she rummaged around in the freezer.

"Seems to me the only thing you have in there are frozen TV dinners," Shelby snickered. Cy felt her face turn red. "Oh, donít worry about it. Got anything with turkey and mashed potatoes in it?"

"Come on, Shelby. Iím not going to have you travel all the way from Baltimore to meet me and then feed you a TV dinner. Let me take you somewhere nice," Cy offered.

"Nope. I like TV dinners," she said and smiled. "Turkey?"

"If you insist." Realizing that she was fighting a losing battle, Cy shuffled through the stack of boxes and emerged with two packages, each containing three triangular compartments filled with turkey, mashed potatoes, and green beans. "Yummy." She grinned and leaned over to set the oven dial on preheat.

Shelby, mesmerized by the womanís natural charm, chuckled and gave her a wink. God, sheís even sexy when sheís peeling the foil wrappers off of a box of frozen turkey parts.

Once their gourmet meal was in the oven, they sat down at the kitchen table to continue their conversation. "Cy?" Shelby was a bit hesitant.

"Hmm?"

"What...umm...how did you get the scars?"

Cy knew the question would come up and she didnít mind answering it. She just hoped her answer didnít upset Shelby. "I told you that I was raped," she began and took a deep breath. "Umm...the man had a knife and..." She paused and studied the expression on her companionís face. "...and this is the result. It was much worse but, fortunately, I had a good plastic surgeon."

Shelby choked back her tears and stood, slowly making her way around the table. When she was next to the woman, she took her hand and knelt beside her. "Iím sorry I brought it up," she said softly and Cy assured her that it was all right before asking how she was coping with her own ordeal.

Shelby made her way back to her chair and rested her elbows on the table. "Iím doing pretty good," she said through a heavy sigh. "I donít cry over it very often anymore and I can tolerate crowds again. But I guess Iím more careful than I used to be. Iím more aware of whatís going on around me and Iím extremely leery of men I donít know. But Iím excited about my new job and..." Without warning, she fell silent.

"Your job...What station? Is it here in Miami?" Pleeeassse let it be here in Miami.

Shelby nodded. "WQRX. Downtown Miami." I might as well prepare myself. Sheís going to accuse me of being some kind of deranged stalker. I just know it.

Yeesss!!! Cy tried unsuccessfully to mask the giant smile forcing its way over her lips. "Why Miami?" She tried to sound as nonchalant as possible, bursting into a fit of laughter when she saw the look on Shelbyís face.

"Why Miami?," Shelby replied. "Why Miami?!" Both women laughed for at least a full minute before growing deathly serious.

"Shelby?" Cy moved her chair next to her companionís and looked her dead in the eye. I have to say something. I canít stand this anymore.

"What is it, Cy?" This is it...the big kiss off. This is where she tells me that sheís really married to a man named Bob or Roy and that they have five children and a summer home on an island somewhere.

"Why Miami?," she asked in a tone that told Shelby she expected an honest answer.

Shelby stared at the woman, lost in her eyes and, unable to stop herself, began to lean in closer.

Huh oh. Cy felt her upper body shift, being pulled toward the blond by some mysterious magnetic force and, before she knew it, their lips were less than an inch apart, brushing gently together and drifting apart again.

God help me. Shelby leaned forward again and planted yet another tender kiss on the inviting lips.

Yeesss!!! Cy responded a bit more zealously and then backed away slightly, looking into her eyes. "Do you want this to happen?," she heard herself say and Shelby wrapped her arms around her neck and drew her near, kissing her full on the mouth. Cyís lips parted and her heart pounded in her ears when she felt the womanís tongue brush against her own before delving deeper. Shelby felt the room spinning in time with their tongues as they wrapped around one another in a passionate exploration of their warm surroundings.

Both gasping for air, they managed to tear themselves apart. "Still wondering why I chose Miami?," Shelby said and grinned at the woman seated next to her.

Ohhhh thank the goddess. "M...me?" Cy pointed to herself and the blond beside her couldnít help but smile.

"Yes, you. Youíre the reason I decided to move to Miami," she confessed. "But, Cy, if youíre not comfortable with this...if itís not what you want..."

Not what I want? Not what I want?! Of course itís what I want! "Are you telling me that youíre...umm...interested in me? As more than just a friend?" Oh shit. I said that out loud, didnít I?

Shelby swallowed hard and looked down at her lap before raising her eyes again. "Cy, I have something to tell you. Something Iíve needed to say for a long time now and Iím afraid to say the words, but I have to be honest with you." ...before I drive myself completely insane.

She wants me! Cy caught herself grinning from ear to ear and quickly wiped the smile off her face. "What is it, Shell?"

Shelby noticed the grin and was forced to hold back one of her own. "Youíre probably going to think Iíve lost my mind. I realize that but, Cy, over the past months, our friendship has meant so much to me. I have to admit, I was surprised by the way we managed to become so close so quickly...and without ever having met face to face."

Oh yeah, she wants me. Cy crossed her fingers and listened intently.

"Cy, I care about you. I really do. And..."

Say it, sweetheart. Say you want me. Make me the happiest woman in the world.

"Iíve found myself thinking about you...a lot."

I understand that. Hell, I donít think Iíve managed to get through sixty consecutive seconds without thinking about you.

Shelby stalled briefly and then force the words through her lips. "And when I think of you...my thoughts arenít always...umm...platonic." OK. I said it. Now what?

She really does want me. She wants me! She wants me! "She wants me!" Cyís voice erupted and she threw her arms around the woman of her dreams, giving her a kiss that made her eyes roll back in their sockets.

Shelby, stunned by her companionís reaction, watched Cy dancing around the room. "Mmm, Cy?"

"Oh...shit. I...uh...heh heh..." She blushed when she realized she was dancing around the kitchen like a mad woman.

"So...now you know how I feel?" She waited patiently for a response.

"Shelby? You just saw me dancing around the kitchen. Jumping up and down like some kind of maniac. You canít figure it out?"

"I need to hear you say it." Her tone was serious and Cy realized that, in her excitement, she had failed to convey her thoughts to the beautiful woman who so desperately needed to know where she stood.

Dropping to her knees in front of the radiant blond, Cy placed her hands on her thighs and began to speak. "Iím sorry. Itís just that youíve been such an important part of my life for so long now...I feel like Iíve known you forever, Shell. And if you need to hear me tell you how I feel, I will." Words. Words. Where are they when you need them? Thereís no other way to do this. There arenít any other words to convey what Iím feeling. "I love you, Shelby. With all of my heart, with all of my soul, I love you. And I donít know what that means for our future or whether or not we even have a future. But believe me when I tell you that Iíd like to...have a future with you. Shelby, stay here in Miami with me. Let me get to know you better." I sound like Iím begging. What am I thinking? I AM begging. But I donít care. Iíll get down on the floor and lick the soles of her shoes if thatís what it takes to convince her.

"You love me? You want me to stay?" Shelby got the words out before the tears began to stream down her cheeks.

"Yes. Yes, sweetheart. Iíve never wanted anything more. And Iíve never known this much love could exist in one heart." Say youíll stay. Please. Say youíll stay. At least give me a chance to show you how I feel. Give me a chance to make you happy.

"Iíve prayed that you would say those words. And Cy...somewhere along the line, I fell for you too. I love you, Cy. For a long time I thought I was crazy...falling in love with words on the screen. But youíre so much more than words. You have been since the first time we had a conversation...since that first night we met online. And now...seeing you...kissing you..." She dipped her head and kissed her lips. "I know what I want, Cy. I know we have a lot to learn about each other. I know we need to take our time, but Iíve never been more certain of anything in my life. I want to stay here...in Miami...with you. And I plan on being the best damn program director WQRX has ever seen!" She gazed down at her and smiled a smile that warmed Cyís heart.

~~~~~~~Epilogue~~~~~~~

Shelby remained in Miami and did indeed become the best program director WQRX had ever seen. She spent her first month in town living in a hotel room paid for by the radio station. But her relationship with Cy went as expected and it wasnít long before the two decided to purchase a two-story brick house only a few miles from the seashore.

Cy went back to college and got her degree in criminal justice before enrolling in law school. After a few years of hard work and determination, she earned her law degree, passed the bar, and opened her own private practice across the street from WQRX where her lover and life partner was now the station manager. Her specialty was prosecuting rapists.

 

the end.


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