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Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle, Ephiny, Solari, and a few other characters used here are owned by MCA/Universal... though Iíve altered some of the characters quite a bit in places. I am not making a profit from this and it is not my intention to infringe on the rights of the owners of "Xena: Warrior Princess" in any way.
Disclaimer: Contains violence and language which may offend some. Depicts/implies drug and alcohol abuse, suicide, domestic violence, sexual abuse, and prostitution. Also depicts/implies sexual relationships between women. If you are under 18, suspect that this may not be your cup of tea, or live in a place where this type of material is prohibited by law, flee at once.
Disclaimer: There is one scene which depicts child abuse including sexual abuse. I am attempting to explicate the horror and pain associated with this type of abuse and in order to get my point across, I felt it necessary to give a fairly descriptive account here. If you feel that this may be too difficult for you to read, I respectfully ask that you donít.
Most of this was written prior to the airing of "Fallen Angel." Comments/miscellany? email@example.com
This story is dedicated to all who have lost in life and still... somehow found the strength to believe in the promise of tomorrow. It is also dedicated to the "guardian angels" out there who have a way of coming to us at the precise moment when we need them most.
By T.S. Chandler
Twelve days. She had been walking the streets for twelve days, inhaling the suffocating exhaust fumes, cursing the gummy rubbish that seemed to be drawn to the soles of her shoes like flies to a soggy sandwich. Tuesday. It is Tuesday, isnít it? She wondered to herself, determined not to make eye contact with the homeless veteran slouched on the sidewalk holding a sign that read Uncle Sam wants you... Unfortunately, He has no use for me. She would certainly offer him something. A dollar or two or a turkey sandwich from the sub shop across the street. That is, if she had it to spare.
Gabrielle left home on a Thursday evening with only a small duffel bag, fifty dollars in cash, and a copy of her favorite book, Henry David Thoreauís Walden. She had been there once. Walden Pond. And sometimes, late at night when her eyes refused to close, she would lie awake and read for hours, escaping to the cabin nestled amidst the trees beside the tranquil water. The cabin she swore she would someday replicate for herself. But somewhere along the line, lifeís obligations got in the way and she never got around to doing it.
She did, however, get around to going to college... once. She even managed to get her degree. A Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology. She graduated at the top of her class, delivering an inspiring speech which she titled Yesterdayís Tomorrow. Shortly after, she received a scholarship and spent two years with her nose stuck between the pages of a thousand books, determined to finish graduate school. And then she came into her life.
Jaimie was the most amazing woman she had ever met. Tall with flowing chestnut hair that cascaded over her back in silky waves. A woman with eyes so dark they were almost black, her well-defined body rivaled even the inhabitants of Mount Olympus.
Gabrielle was instantly smitten by Jaimieís striking appearance, swept away by her winning smile. They first met on a wobbly pier next to the Mississippi River, both of them fascinated with the kaleidoscopic ripples rolling on top of the water.
"Do you think thereís a God?" Jaimie had asked, staring down at the brilliant colors as the sun lit up the waterís surface.
Gabrielle shrugged her shoulders and answered. "If there isnít, we donít give the universe nearly enough credit."
Jaimie pondered the reply and smiled to herself. If there isnít, Iíd like to take this opportunity to pay homage to your parents. She watched the young blond with the glassy green eyes bend over to remove a tiny pebble from her shoe, feasting her eyes on what she believed to be the most remarkable sight she had ever laid eyes on. Yep. Quite a creation there. Definitely got to give somebody... or something... credit for that. Jaimie grinned wickedly and looked away when the woman stood and faced her.
"Were you just staring at my ass?," Gabrielle asked bluntly and Jaimie felt the blood rising to her cheeks in a crimson tide.
"Your ass? N... no... of course not. Donít flatter yourself," she quipped and tossed a smooth stone into the water, watching it bounce across the surface, creating yet another series of colorful ripples.
Gabrielle took one look at the womanís red face and started to snicker. "What?" Jaimie rolled her eyes and released a heavy sigh before cracking a smile. "You want to go for a walk?"
Gabrielle accepted the invitation and the two slipped out of their sandals and made their way toward the edge of the water, cooling their feet in the gentle tide as they walked. During most of the journey, they walked side by side except when Gabrielle, unable to resist, occasionally moved a few paces ahead for the sole purpose of watching Jaimie out of the corner of her eye. Yep, sheís staring at my butt all right. She wiped the smirk off her face and slowed enough to allow her companion to catch up again, putting her out of her misery.
But that was a lifetime ago. The memory faded and Gabrielle felt her tears emerge, announcing their arrival with a salty sting. What went wrong? What did I do to deserve this? What happened to the tomorrow that, only a few short months ago, seemed so certain? The tomorrow that promised love and tenderness, trust and respect, laughter and companionship? As she wandered up and down the lonely streets, the only thing standing between her and the new tomorrow she so desperately sought seemed to be yesterdayís nightmare.
The departing scene had been devastating, taking its toll on the young womanís spirit, leaving her shattered and desolate. Like every other day, Jaimie had come home smelling like she had just spent the last hour soaking in a vat full of whiskey. Gabrielle was used to it though and handed her wife a tall glass of club soda before she was able to stumble over the threshold leading inside the house and down the hallway to the shower. Without saying a word, the blond placed a clean towel and a change of clothes on the bathroom sink and closed the door behind her.
Though she had been forced to withdraw from her graduate courses when Jaimie lost her eighth job in six months, Gabrielle loved to learn and spent a lot of her time lost in second-hand text books she bought at the flea market on the other side of town. Besides filling her head with an endless list of oceanic facts, the books also served as a barrier, a place to hide from her insufferable existence. "Gabrielle! Come here!" Jaimie bellowed from behind the shower curtain and her lover ripped her eyes from the page and grumbled under her breath, obediently making her way down the hall. Youíve destroyed my dreams, annihilated my life, and now that I finally have an evening off, you want to take that away from me too. "What is it, honey?" She cracked the door and peeked inside at the intoxicated woman, now struggling to dry herself with the pin-striped towel, still warm from the dryer.
"Did you pay the phone bill?," she grumbled.
"No, honey. You took the money with you this afternoon. Remember?" Gabrielle rolled her eyes, careful to stay on the other side of the half-open door. Jaimie always did this. She would take the money they had set aside for bills to that dingy hole in the wall, blow every last cent buying round after round for everyone who happened to be seated within a twenty foot radius, and then come home drunk, wondering what the hell happened to the bill money. Being the lush that she was, she was always between jobs and Gabrielle felt lucky when she had enough money to buy a loaf of bread. And a gallon of milk? Well, that was a downright miracle.
"I didnít take the goddamn money!," Jaimie screamed, causing her lover to flinch and back away from the doorway.
"Jaimie, you did. You picked up the envelope and said you would pay the bill on your way downtown. Remember?" Gabrielleís spoke quietly, cautiously, in her attempt to avoid the inevitable.
Jaimieís eyes were dead and her face hardened as she stepped over the side of the tub onto the tile floor. She moved slowly, almost as though some mysterious force was competing for control of her limbs. A woman with a mission, she locked on her target, pinning her loverís back to the wall with her savage stare. "Jaimie..." Gabrielle heard herself say in a whisper before raising her hands in front of her face, screaming at the top of her lungs. "Jaimie, donít! Iím sorry! Iím sorry I didnít pay the bill! Itíll never happen again! Jaim..."
Her head hit the wall with a force that ripped a hole in the plaster, sending crumbling debris flying in every direction. Jaimie clenched her teeth and drew her arm back, poised to strike again. A solid fist made contact with Gabrielleís left temple, marking the end of her desperate cries. Blackness shrouded her eyes and she slumped to the floor. "Useless bitch," Jaimie mumbled and staggered over the now motionless form.
Shoving the painful memory to the back of her mind, Gabrielle lowered herself to the sidewalk and leaned against the cold brick building. "How could she do that to me?," she said aloud to herself. "How could I let her do that to me?" Tears swelled in her eyes and forced their way over her eyelashes, onto her cheeks. Her mind raced and her emotions clawed at her insides, determined to rip her soul to pieces, and she could feel herself slipping away.
I gave her my life. I gave her my soul. I placed my heart in her hands, trusting that she would embrace it, protect it, cradle it in tenderness and love and mercy. Her thoughts quickly drifted back in time. Back to that glorious day on the beach. That wondrous yesterday when the love of her life had promised to love her, stand beside her, provide the hand that would ensure that her own would never be empty again.
Encircled by their closest friends, they exchanged vows. Seagulls soaring overhead, the sun setting beyond the surf. Before their loved ones and the supreme being they were now certain must exist, they declared their love for one another, promising to stand together as one through all the tomorrows to come. But that was long ago.
"Maí am? Maí am?" The bearded manís fingers curled around her upper arm and he gave her a gentle shake, rousing her from her hypnotic state. "Are you all right?"
Where am I? What am I doing? Gabrielle quietly questioned herself, soon realizing that she had been standing in the middle of a busy intersection, rattling off the speech she had delivered at her college graduation.
...My friends, donít let yesterdayís dreams lie dormant; stagnant and festering in
the recesses of your mind until they wither and fall into a pit of nonexistence.
Donít let today rob you of the tomorrow you dared to dream in your youth; before
the world demanded your attention; stripped you of your optimism, your passion,
your lofty expectations.... For today is founded on yesterdayís dreams of a brighter
"Iím... Iím fine," Gabrielle stuttered, allowing the gentleman to escort her to the safety of the sidewalk.
"You sure?" The manís brow crinkled and he didnít look convinced.
"Ye... yes. Thank you." She watched the manís fingers slip from her arm and turned her back, heading in the direction of the nearby alley. Alone in the dark, she settled onto the gritty pavement next to a row of trash cans. Miserable and nearing her emotional limit, she didnít notice the figure slinking through the shadows until the lanky man stood over her, staring down at her with a curious expression on his face.
"It canít be that bad, can it, beautiful lady?" The corners of his mouth twitched, settling in a crooked smile.
"Give me a break," the blond mumbled and stared past the man, who appeared to be only barely out of his teens.
"Hey, Iím only trying to help you out. You know, lighten your load." He shrugged his shoulders and slipped his hands inside the pockets of his dark brown trench coat.
"Iím beyond help." She sighed heavily, beginning to feel sorry for herself.
"No oneís beyond help." He knelt beside her and she couldnít help but notice that he was an incredibly nice looking guy. "Tell you what... Iím having a little party back at my place. Nothing extreme. Just a few friends hanging out, having a good time. You look like you need to relax and I only live a couple of blocks away..."
"I donít even know you," she groaned and shrugged her shoulders.
"Oh. Sorry. My nameís Scott." He smiled broadly and extended his right hand.
"Gabrielle." She shook his hand and managed to return the smile.
"Well... now you know me. Whatís it going to be? Will you come with me? Itíll be sort of like a blind date... even though weíve already seen each other."
She was in no mood to rattle off the "Iím a lesbian and I donít date men" speech and yet, couldnít bear the thought of another lonely night on the street either. Hell, I never do anything reckless. Never. Well, besides leaving my home with only fifty dollars and no hope of a place to stay. This guyís no serial killer. For godís sake, look at him! Besides, at this point, it wouldnít matter if he was a deranged murderer. What have I got to live for anyway? "Okay. Iíll go. Lead the way." She agreed and the young man took her arm, helping her to her feet. Who knows, maybe itíll be fun. Anything beats wandering around town in the middle of the night. Iíll just make the best of it.
As they approached the single-story house, she couldnít help but notice how immaculate the yard appeared to be. Perfectly pruned shrubbery lined the front walkway and, though it was the middle of Autumn, there wasnít a stray leaf in sight. Suddenly leery of the idea of following a complete stranger home, she paused at the bottom of the steps leading to the front porch. "You coming?" The young man turned to face her. "Nobodyís going to bite you. I swear." He smiled and, at that moment, looked like the most honorable person on the planet.
Whereís your sense of adventure, Gabby? After all, itís just a house full of teenagers. How dangerous can they be? If they get out of hand, Iíll just send them to their rooms and ground them for a week. Perhaps take away their car keys or phone privileges. She chuckled at the thought and followed Scott up the steps and into the house.
Inside, the music blared in her ears, vibrating the walls. "See. Just a few friends!," Scott yelled in her ear, trying to be heard over the thumping stereo. Gabrielle nodded her head and scanned the room. Seven guys, including Scott, ranging from somewhere around eighteen to mid-thirties in age. No women. Not a female in sight.
Growing uneasy, she leaned toward her host and said, "Thank you for inviting me, but I think I should probably be getting home. I donít want to intrude."
"Intrude? Youíre not intruding. Stay. Please. Just long enough to have a drink and, after that, if you still want to leave, I wonít try to talk you out of it. Deal?" He took her by the wrist and led her over to the bar in the corner. "What will you have?"
Taking inventory of the rows of bottles lining the bar, she pointed to the one closest to her. "151! Thatís my girl! I have to grab some ice and a mixer from the fridge. Donít move," Scott said enthusiastically and disappeared into the kitchen, carrying the bottle and a tall glass.
Not a big drinker, but not wanting to be rude, Gabrielle groaned under her breath and leaned against the wall. One drink and Iím out of here.
"Hey there, little lady," a stocky man with an earring and a tattoo of an anchor on his right forearm draped his arm across her shoulders, his breath nearly knocking her off her feet.
"Uhh... hi," she grumbled and hoped Scott would emerge from the kitchen before long.
"Youíre going to party with us? Goooood. Thatís good Ďcause weíre just getting ready to get things started. You got good timing."
"I see youíve met Darryn," Scott said, handing her the mixed drink, and the man released his grip on her and staggered to the other side of the room. "Heís all right. He just likes the ladies," her host assured her and held a bottle of vodka in the air. "To you," he announced and the blond raised her glass, half-heartedly tapping it against the bottle before taking a sip of the potent concoction.
Within moments, she felt the floor moving beneath her feet, sending her crashing down. Her eyes half-open, she saw the sea of gawking men moving closer until fourteen eyes and seven devilish grins were hovering over her limp body. "Oh god. What have I...," she mumbled before slipping from consciousness.
She opened her eyes and closed them again when the bright light assaulted them.
"Gabrielle, Iím Dr. Patterson. Do you know where you are?"
Doctor? She forced her eyelids open again and tried to focus on the blurred form standing over her.
"Gabrielle? Did you hear me?"
She felt something scratching against her wrist and raised her arm, catching a glimpse of the plastic wristband dangling there, displaying her name. Her mouth opened and she tried to speak, only to discover that her throat was raw and aching.
"Nurse Godwin, could you bring Gabrielle a cup of water please?" Dr. Pattersonís concern for her patient was obvious.
Gabrielle let the doctor lift her head, holding it steady while she gulped the soothing water. "Thank you," she said quietly as her head sank backward into the soft pillow. "Whatís going on? Am I in the hospital? Why..."
The doctor gently took the young ladyís trembling hand and leaned in close. "Gabrielle, you arrived here in an ambulance two days ago."
"Two days? Wha..."
"Honey, do you remember using any drugs?," the doctor probed, cutting right to the chase.
Gabrielleís head pounded when she tried to think, desperately trying to remember. Scott. The name popped into her head and she felt a single tear escape from the corner of her eye when the events of the evening clouded her vision.
Music. A party. A drink. A really strong one. Cocaine. Lots of it. Needles. Razors. Broken mirrors. And... Oh my god. What did I do? Sweaty, stinking bodies. Pain. Pain so excruciating the mere thought of it caused her body to flinch. She could remember hating what was happening to her. Yet, she also knew that she hadnít resisted. That she had agreed to... I couldnít have. I would never... I sold myself for a fix? I gave them my body for a lousy line of coke?! She looked at the woman wearing the white coat, staring down at her as though she were some kind of extraterrestrial. "Fuck you!," she screamed and jolted to one side, flipping herself over the rail on the bed. Within moments, she found herself strapped to another bed in an isolated room, Dr. Patterson at her side, slipping a thin needle in her arm. "This will calm you down," she said, shaking her head as she left the room.
The groggy woman opened her eyes, hoping what had happened earlier was only a dream, disappointed to find that it hadnít been. "Hmmm," she groaned and a half-smile appeared on her lips when she saw the manís face. "Garry?"
"Hi, sweetie. How are you feeling?," the man asked and held tightly to her hand, their fingers intertwined.
"Mmm kinda like... dog shit," she said through a muffled laugh and the man smiled.
"I can imagine thatís a pretty accurate description," he chuckled.
Dr. Garry Randolph was the campus psychiatrist at North Bend University, the college Gabrielle had attended years ago... before she met Jaimie. He had been her lifeline when she felt the world was caving in on her. Wrestling with confusion and fear, in search of her path in life, she decided to visit the "in-house shrink," as so many students referred to him. He was a kind and gentle man when he wanted to be, but never failed to give her a swift kick in the ass when he felt she needed one. "Gabrielle, do you know why youíre here?," he asked in a solemn tone.
"I... uhh... I... O.D.íed.... cocaine?," she stammered, trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together.
"Mmm hmm." Garry nodded his head. "According to Dr. Patterson, you had enough coke in your bloodstream to kill a horse."
Gabrielle closed her eyes to quash the tears which threatened to make yet another appearance.
"Gabrielle, Iím going to level with you." She heard Garryís voice quietly say. "You nearly killed yourself. They nearly lost you. Have they told you that?" Gabrielle shook her head, indicating that this was news to her. "Thirty seconds, Gabrielle." He stared down at the blank expression on her face. "For thirty seconds, you were clinically dead. Do you understand what Iím saying? No pulse. No heartbeat. Not breathing." His eyes filled with tears and his voice began to quake slightly. "Why, Gabrielle? Why? What happened in your life to bring you to this point?"
Gabrielle felt compassionate arms encircle her body and buried her head in Garryís shoulder, both of them sobbing in the wake of her pain.
After a restless nightís sleep, she woke with the sun, slipped into a pair of jeans and her favorite Rolling Stones T-shirt before making her way toward the kitchen where Garry sat, hidden behind the morning paper, clutching a steaming cup of coffee in his right hand. "Morning." She yawned and poured a cup of liquefied caffeine for herself.
"Morning, my friend." He placed the paper on the table and smiled, pulling out the chair beside her.
Sitting next to him, she searched for the words to thank him for all he had done for her. She had been staying with him and his wife, Claire, for nearly a week and, though she was grateful, she felt guilty for being unable to pay them for providing her room and board. After all, it wasnít their fault that she had screwed up her life.
Garry, knowing that her parents would only make matters worse for Gabrielle, convinced hospital authorities to release her into his custody rather than notifying her next of kin and mandating a thirty day stay in the psychiatric ward. The fact that he was a well-known and highly respected psychiatrist, not to mention a good friend of the hospital administrators and her attending physicians, had certainly helped. When both Garry and Gabrielle assured her doctors that she would stay with him and remain under his care for the next month, the troubled young lady was released under the condition that she stick by her word and return for an evaluation by one of the hospital psychiatrists in one month.
Five days had passed and each day she and Garry sat down in his office for nearly two full hours, delving into her past. Grinding out her deepest fears, her secret insecurities. Picking at her brain in search of the answers she so desperately needed. During their second session, she told him about Jaimie. About the cruelty, the alcohol abuse, the almost daily beatings she had endured for so many months.
"How are you today?," Garry asked, inhaling a long sip of coffee.
"Okay I guess." Gabrielle shrugged her shoulders. "Can... can this wait until later... during our session? I need to get out of the house for a while... if thatís all right."
Garry sighed heavily and placed his mug on the table, giving her a long look. "When will you be back?"
"In an hour. I promise. I just want to go for a walk... get some fresh air. Okay?" She bit her bottom lip and awaited an answer.
"Listen..." The man looked undeniably serious. "Iím going to trust you, okay? But Iíll expect you back in an hour. Agreed?"
Gabrielle nodded and headed for the front door in her quest for the solitude and fresh air she hadnít had the freedom to experience for several days now. When she reached the end of the sidewalk, she turned to look back over her shoulder. Thank you, my friend. I hope you know how much I love you for being so wonderful to me. And Iím sorry. Iím sorry for letting you down.
Thoughts of Jaimie flooded her mind as she walked through the bustling downtown streets. Scott? Yeah, thatís him. Sorry bastard. "Scott!" She waved her hand in the air in an attempt to get the young manís attention. Glancing from side to side, scanning the area for any sign of cops, he headed across the street, straight for Gabrielle.
"Hey, Iím really sorry for the downer the other night. You should go light if youíre not used to it," he said once he was standing directly in front of her. Shifting his eyes toward the alley, he silently suggested that they get out of sight.
"Donít worry about that," Gabrielle snapped and followed him between the tall buildings. This sick son of a bitch drugged me. He had the whole thing planned. But Iím no better, drugged or not. Iím the idiot who agreed to play the role of the resident whore. Damn it! What the hell is wrong with me?! "Iím here for a reason."
"You liked it, didnít you? You want a little more. Well, Iíve got the best stuff going. You buyiní?"
"Yes... yes, I am. Only..."
"Let me guess..." A wry grin appeared on his face and he continued. "You donít have any cash, right?"
Gabrielle nodded and choked back her tears, ashamed of herself for what she was about to do. "You know where I live," he said, looking her up and down. Without another word, the two headed toward the single story rancher less than four blocks away.
Closing the door behind her, she was careful not to look back at the gloating dealer. Her legs couldnít move fast enough as they propelled her down the sidewalk and around the corner. "God damn it!," she screamed and leaned over the tin trash can, retching profusely, her hair clinging to her sweaty forehead. When she was certain she had expelled everything including her stomach lining, she reached down and placed her hand against her abdomen, making sure the lump beneath her shirt was still there. One syringe and enough coke to... kill a horse... or two. I canít miss this time.
A smile spread over the young blondeís face, utter serenity shimmering in her eyes as she leaned against the headboard, clutching a pillow to her chest. Only a few more hours and it will all be over. No more misery. No more broken promises. No more bullshit. She sighed and closed her eyes, waiting for the sound of the bedroom door closing behind Garry and Claire when they retired for the evening.
Garry had lectured her thoroughly for coming in two hours late and, though she found his lengthy spiel to be somewhat annoying, she loved him for it. For caring about her, for trying so hard to help her reclaim her life. And tonight, she intended to do just that. She was tired of life and its relentless emotions pulling her in every direction. She was tired of hurting. Tired of rising to her feet only to be slapped down again. She had been strong for so long, battled back for so long, spoken with the uplifting voice of reason for so long. And she had grown weary of it. All of it. All her life, she had been told to look on the bright side. And now, ironically, she had discovered that there was no bright side. Her life, she now realized, had passed her by... one eclipse after the other. Darkness upon darkness. No more. She whispered into the night. No more.
Sleeping more soundly than she had in months, she felt her body rise, leaving the cool sheets behind. "Wake, my friend. I have something to show you." The voice fell on her ears and her body twitched. The voice repeated itself, louder this time, and Gabrielleís eyes opened wide.
Terrified, she looked around her, above her, beneath her. Though she hadnít injected herself with the lethal dose yet, she was beginning to think that perhaps she had and didnít remember. Floating in mid-air, she saw the luminous form hovering beside her and opened her mouth to scream. Only, when she did, nothing came out.
"Shhh. No one can hear you," the form told her. "Come with me. Please." It seemed to reach for her, drawing her closer.
All right, Gabrielle. Now youíre really starting to crack. She squeezed her eyes shut in an attempt to dispel the illusion, opening them again to find that it was still there. Only now it was right on top of her, casting a white light over her body. Unable to resist, she felt herself moving through the air, through the wall, and into the starry sky. "Where are we going?," she heard herself ask and the spirit whispered in her ear. "I want to show you something."
"Your future," it answered and Gabrielle saw the sun rise and set again and again as they approached the oceanfront.
When they were directly above the beach, the sun was making its appearance on the horizon, lighting the waves, glistening on the sand. Alone on the shore sat a raven haired woman with hypnotic sapphire eyes. Gabrielle gazed down at the woman and turned to face the spirit, a curious expression on her face. "What does this have to do with my future?," she asked.
"Look at her. Listen to her," the spirit answered and backed away, leaving the young woman to herself for a moment.
Gabrielle stared at the woman, watching her long dark hair blowing in the gentle sea breeze. "Whatís that?," she asked when she began to hear... something... words that she couldnít quite make out."
"Listen closely and you can hear her prayer." The spirit answered from behind her.
Her eyes fixed on the beautiful woman sitting there alone, she tried to clear her mind and listen to the words:
...I know I might be asking for more than I deserve and, if I am, then Iíll understand.
After all, I have my health, clothes on my back, a great car, plenty of money, a
wonderful family, supportive friends, and a job I enjoy. I have so much more than most
but... somethingís missing. I need someone to share it with. I need someone to love.
Someone to love me. Is that too much to ask? Hell, maybe Iím just being selfish...
"Heard enough?," the spirit interrupted.
"Wh... what does this have to do with me?" Gabrielle, obviously puzzled, continued to focus on the lonely form. "Who is this woman?"
"Her name is Xena. Thatís all you need to know... for now." If Gabrielle didnít know better, she would have sworn she saw the spirit smile when it whispered the words.
In a fleeting moment, Gabrielle found herself nestled under the covers in Garryís guest room, wrapped in the spiritís soothing embrace. "Iíll stay with you until youíre strong enough to stand on your own, my child. And when your burden gets to be too much... count on me to help you carry it," the ghostly form said softly.
"Gabrielle? Gabrielle?" Garryís voice jolted her from her slumber and her body abruptly rose to an upright position. Her eyes shifted, moving rapidly, scanning the room for some sign of last nightís visitor. Only a dream. Confused and disoriented, she squinted her eyes, trying to bring Garryís hazy form into focus as he began to speak again. "Gabrielle... sweetie, get dressed. And hurry." His eyes looked hollow and his face somber when he closed the door and left her alone in the room.
In a panic, she threw the blankets aside and jumped out of bed, bolting toward the chest of drawers in the corner. Rummaging through the contents, she felt her heart come to a grinding halt. Where is it? Where the hell is it?! Within seconds, she had emptied the drawer and tears streamed down her cheeks as Garryís voice rang in her ears, mingled with at least two other voices that she couldnít identify. "Gab!" Garry pushed his way inside the room. "There are two police officers here. They have a search warrant and..." He was interrupted by two uniformed police officers who quickly slipped by him and into the room with her.
"Gabrielle Wilkins?" The taller of the two officers blurted out and stepped toward her.
Gabrielle looked at Garry, standing helplessly behind the other uniformed man, his eyes filling with tears. Terror reached inside her throat and squeezed her voice box, rendering it useless. "Gabrielle Wilkins?," the officer gruffly repeated and the young blond nodded. "Sir, Iím going to have to ask you to step out of the room," the cop ordered, his eyes moving back and forth between Garry and Gabrielle.
When her friend had done as instructed, Gabrielle found herself being forced to the side of the room, her hands placed against the wall. "What were you looking for? Whatís in the drawer?," one of the officers demanded as he began to pat her down though she wasnít wearing more than a T-shirt and her underwear. "What were you looking for?!," he shouted and gave her a slight shove, forcing her cheek to the wall.
"A clean pair of jeans," she mumbled, lying through her teeth, frightened when she saw the second officer sifting through the items strewn out over the floor. Scott must have gotten busted and gave them my name. That bastard! "What did I do? Whatís this all about?"
"Get dressed," the officer ordered and shoved a pair of jeans into her trembling hands before kicking two stray sandals in her direction.
"What did I do?!," she screamed again, yanking the jeans over her hips.
When she was dressed, the taller man flashed the bag containing the drugs and paraphernalia, retrieved his handcuffs from his belt, and secured her hands tightly behind her back. "Gabrielle Wilkins, youíre under arrest for possession of illegal narcotics." Gabrielleís jaw dropped and she hung her head. This canít be happening. In a stupor, she stumbled through the house, escorted by the uniformed men on either side of her. Shocked and scared, she couldnít bring herself to cry and never even heard the officer reading her rights when she passed by Garry and his wife as the men led her out the front door.
The cell was dreary and cold as were the expressions on the officersí faces as they made their rounds, staring at her like a caged animal, their polished shoes tapping against the concrete floor when they walked past. Gabrielle could feel her heart hardening in her chest as she tried to make sense of the dayís events. The interrogation she had endured earlier had left her confused and angry. I shouldíve known that asshole would turn me in.
In the midst of her thoughts came images of Jaimie. Her mind drifted back and forth between the earlier days of their marriage and the more recent ones. The ones that finally pushed her over the edge and onto the streets. She remembered the last time she and Jaimie had made love. Though, in her opinion, making love was hardly a fitting description.
She remembered hiding beneath the pile of blankets, squeezing her eyes shut, listening to the approaching footsteps, praying that Jaimie would pass out before she made it to the bedroom. "Honey! Gabrielle!" Fuck off you lush. Gabrielle gritted her teeth and her fingers clamped the blankets, holding them tight against her body. "Gabrielle!" Her voice grew louder and she rounded the corner, stumbling through the doorway.
The blond lay perfectly still, frozen in her fear and repulsion. God please just go away. Pass out. Have another drink. Anything but...
"Mmmmm." Jaimieís potent breath whistled through the blondeís hair when she collapsed onto the bed, slithering close to her loverís rigid body.
Leave me alone, you heartless bitch. Tears swelled behind Gabrielleís eyelids and she wondered when she first began to resent the woman lying next to her.
"Youíre not getting off the hook that easily." Jaimie mumbled and tugged on the blondeís shoulder, forcing her onto her back. Gabrielle squirmed under her weight, trying not to vomit when her loverís tongue passed through her lips, filling her mouth with the bitter taste of cheap whisky and stale beer.
"Jaimie? Jaimie, get off me!" She screamed and gave the woman a shove in what turned out to be a vain attempt to take control over the situation... over what was happening to her own body. She watched in horror as Jaimieís eyes grew cold, the lines in her face hardening. And then the back of her hand connected with the blondeís face, drawing blood from her upper lip.
Gabrielle struggled and pleaded, unable to believe what was happening when she felt her once loving partner force her thighs apart and enter her with a force that sent a sharp pain up the center of her back. Oh god please donít do this. Please donít do this to me. But her cries of anguish, her pleas for mercy meant nothing to the monster hovering above her.
When it was over, she rolled over and held onto her pillow, trying to imagine that her arms were wrapped around someone else. Anyone who would be willing to rock her gently to sleep.
"How are you?" The voice came out of no where, startling the blond from her thoughts. Her eyes roamed around the cell, scouring the darkened corners. "Gabrielle," the voice whispered.
"Where are you? Who are you?! What do you want?!" Gabrielle shouted and jumped to her feet, gripping the steel bars, staring toward the door in the distance, poised to call for the guard.
"Shhh," the voice whispered again and a dim light appeared next to the back wall, spinning in a pattern of circles before settling in a form that surprised the prisoner.
"What the hell..." Gabrielle heard herself utter and quickly brought her hands to her eyes, rubbing her fingers over them.
"Oh Iím real all right," the form informed her and chuckled at the perplexed expression on the blondeís face.
Gabrielleís eyes locked on the stranger propped up against the wall. Average height. Almost-blond curls raining down over her bare shoulders. With eyes of emerald, she was absolutely magnificent to look at. "Who are you and... I donít mean to be rude but... whatís with the outfit?" The prisoner finally managed to ask.
"My name is Ephiny," the transcendental woman replied through a smile. "And my clothes? Theyíre Amazonian. Iím a Greek Amazon. But my attire isnít of issue as no one can see or hear me but you."
Gabrielle stared in disbelief, both her eyes and mouth wide open, studying the primitive leather and jewelry adorning the womanís body. Why do I feel as though Iíve seen her somewhere before? Why does she seem so familiar? And why, when I donít even know who the hell she is, do I like her so much?
"Youíre wondering why you feel like youíve known me all of your life, arenít you?" The Amazon moved closer, stopping dead in her tracks when she saw the young woman flinch. Gabrielle nodded in response to the question and the Greek spirit took a seat on the worn cot, gesturing for the woman to join her which, cautiously, she did. "I was with you last night. Do you remember?" A smile appeared on the Amazonís face, a smile much like the one a mother gives her newborn child, and Gabrielle felt her heart begin to thaw and her uneasiness subside.
"Y... yes, I remember. It wasnít a dream?," the blond said and slid a little closer to the woman seated beside her.
"No, my friend, it wasnít a dream."
"But... why? Why are you here? Who are you? How did you get here? And who... who was that woman... the woman on the beach? And..."
"Whoa!" The Amazon cut her off before she could ask anymore questions. "You havenít changed a bit," she laughed.
"Havenít changed... what..."
"Listen carefully, my friend, and Iíll explain everything." Gabrielle nodded and swallowed hard, impatiently waiting for the woman to continue. "First...," the spirit began again. "My name is Ephiny and Iím a Greek Amazon... or at least I used to be when I was alive..."
"When you were alive?!," Gabrielle loudly interjected and quickly found herself being shushed again.
"Yes, when I was alive. I was an Amazon regent and you, my friend, were the queen of my tribe... oh and a very talented bard... many lifetimes ago."
"A bard? A queen?! Youíre shitting me, right?"
"No. I assure you, I am not... shitting you." Ephiny laughed for a moment and then quickly regained her composure. "Anyway, I was killed in battle by a Roman soldier. You were a very dear friend of mine during that lifetime... the best friend I had ever known, in fact. I watched you and..." She caught herself before she could say the womanís name and, clearing her throat, continued. "I watched you avenge my death and weep beside my funeral pyre. I was so proud of the way you led our sisters into battle." She paused and reflected on the memories, an angel nearly moved to tears.
"I led a battle? I was a queen? An Amazon queen? Hmmm... Gabrielle! Queen of the Amazons! Has a nice ring donít you think?"
Ephiny looked at the sweet face in front of her and laughed softly. "Are you going to let me finish or not?" She shook her head. After all these years... all these lifetimes... sheís still the same old Gabrielle.
Gabrielle nodded and clamped her mouth shut, crinkling her lips slightly, nearly causing the Amazon to double over in a fit of laughter. "All right...," Ephiny began to speak again. "Where was I? Oh! Yes. Anyway, your life ended shortly after. You were crucified," she casually said as though she had just told her that she liked to eat carrots.
"Crucified?!," Gabrielle gasped. "On a cross?!"
"Well... yeesssss. Thatís usually how itís done."
"Why?! God what did I do that was so horrible?"
"You pissed Caesar off."
"Caesar? As in... Oh get off it! I donít believe you!"
Ephiny nodded and her eyes told the young woman that what she was saying was indeed factual. "Can I finish?," she asked, giving the blond a chastising look that seemed hauntingly familiar.
"Go on. Iím listening."
"Anyway, to make a long story short, after my death, Artemis sent me here to be your... letís just say guardian angel. My job is to follow you through your life cycles and watch over you. Because in the distant future, following decades of war and destruction, the Amazon Nation will rise again and you, my friend, are destined to rule. In the mean time, Iím to keep vigil over your karma."
"Rule? As queen? Me?"
Ephiny cringed slightly, as she had many times before when she had heard her former queen utter the same words during conversations which had taken place between them in her previous lifetimes. "Artemis is the Moon Goddess and the Goddess of the Hunt. The Amazons are her chosen people and she is mindful of their interests."
"And the woman on the beach?"
"Mmmm... Gabrielle, I canít tell you anything more about her... now. But, when the time is right, youíll understand everything. But now I want to talk to you about last night. About the drugs you had hidden in your room." Her tone quickly grew harsh and her cold stare nearly pierced Gabrielleís skin. "Donít you ever try anything like that again. Do you hear me? Because, whether you know it or not, you have within you the strength to overcome anything this world throws at you. Anything. Do you understand that?"
Gabrielle felt her heart sink, genuinely sorry that she had disappointed this woman who, as far as she could remember, she barely knew. "Ephiny?"
"You said youíve followed me... through my life cycles. Who was I? In my past lives?"
Ephiny snickered before crossing her legs in front of her on the cot, drawing the blondeís attention to her ornate leather boots. "You sure you want to know?," the Amazon asked, not at all surprised when Gabrielle gave her an affirmative nod. "Okay then... letís see... Not so long ago..." She started to laugh.
"What? What? Tell me! Please!"
"You were a famous comedic actress."
"An actress?! Television or movies?"
"Well, come on! Who was I? Donít leave me hanging!"
"Iíll give you a hint," Ephiny said, knowing how much her friend loved to play guessing games.
"You had red hair."
"Red hair..." Gabrielle thought aloud.
"Youíre husband was Cuban and the two of you appeared together on a weekly sitcom."
Gabrielle searched the recesses of her mind and then stood with her hands on her hips, glaring down at the Amazon still perched on the cot. "Ephinnyyyy... I was not Lucille Ball. She was still alive when I was born."
The Amazon laughed and replied, "All right. All right. You got me on that one. No, you werenít Lucille Ball. But you were Henry David Thoreau."
"No wonder..." Gabrielle sighed and sank onto the cot, her imagination running wild. Henry David Thoreau. Unbelievable. Then again... Ephiny did say I was once a bard and Iíve always had a knack for writing. And Walden... Oh Walden... Yes. Yes, absolutely. Makes perfect sense. I was Thoreau. Ohhh yeesss... without a doubt. Exhausted, she yawned and leaned toward the Amazon, resting her head on her shoulder, the feel of her soft skin strangely familiar, eminently comforting. Ephiny smiled when her friend slipped her arms around her waist and drifted off to sleep. Yesterdayís tomorrow. All is different. Yet all is the same.
The two detectives watched the remains of Jaimie Harris disappear under the white sheet. Detective Randall Johnson shook his head and eyed his partner who was standing beneath the bright light which dangled from the center of the ceiling, leafing through the coronerís report. "Well?," he muttered and slowly strolled toward the door, his partner trailing behind.
Detective Samantha Rodriguez had been working side by side with Randall for nearly ten years and, by now, could read his mind like the front page of The New York Times. When they reached the top of the stairs, the two officers rounded the corner and headed through the double glass doors, exiting the emergency room, both of them in dire need of fresh air after spending the last half-hour in the morgue. "Sam?," Randall repeated and leaned against the dented fender on the 1995 Chevy.
"Simple DUI," Sam said through a deep sigh. "Itís a shame really. She was young. But, then again, so many of them are."
Gabrielle couldnít see the Amazon, yet somehow she knew she was only a whisper away. "Ephiny? Ephiny?"
"You were dreaming about me last night." The Greek woman said softly when she made her appearance near the corner of the cramped cell.
Gabrielle nodded, not bothering to ask how she knew. Hell, she seemed to know everything. "Your hair was shorter. And you gave me something. A stick."
"Staff." The Amazon quickly corrected her.
"You... uhhh... you didnít like many people. But you liked me, didnít you?" Gabrielle smiled when the spirit nodded. "Why? Why me of all people?"
Ephiny moved next to the young woman, draping an arm across her shoulders. "Your life... this life... has been a difficult one for you. Riddled with chaos. Filled with pain. Iím not surprised that you find it hard to believe that you could ever be worthy of anyoneís love. And, my friend...," She reached up and touched the blondeís chin, gently lifting her eyes to meet her own. "I do love you... as I always have. Your karma has moved on, traveled through many life times. But I remember only one of my own life cycles. And, Gabrielle, you were my dearest friend. Time hasnít nor will it ever erase that. I know you, my queen. I know what youíre made of. What youíre capable of overcoming if you set your mind to it. What you can accomplish if you try. I believe in you. The problem is you havenít had a chance to figure any of this out for yourself. Not yet. And thatís why Iím here. To see that you do."
Gabrielle felt warm tears slide down her cheeks. No one had ever believed in her the way this woman seemed to. No one had bothered to put their faith in her, to invest themselves in her future, the way the Amazon standing next to her seemed to be so willing to do.
The genuine pain Ephiny felt for her friend reminded her of what it had been like to be mortal. Vulnerable. Afraid. Lost. But at the same time, she was also reminded of what it felt like to be alive. And the love of many yesterdays poured from her timeless form, filling her friendís soul with the promise of tomorrow.
Gabrielle watched the Amazonís form fade away and listened to the footsteps grow louder until the officer was standing next to her cell. "Open the doors!," he called out and the young woman watched the steel bars move aside. "Someone just posted your bail." Her jaw dropped when she heard the words.
"What? Who?" She stuttered as she followed behind the officer.
Compared to the time she had spent rotting away in that musty cell, the formal proceedings didnít take very long and, before she knew it, she was walking down the street, breathing in the fresh air. For the first time in many hours, her stomach rumbled and she sifted through her pants pockets, scrounging up just enough change to duck into the tiny cafe on the corner for one of their famous tuna salad subs. Just as she began to savor the first bite, a warm breeze brushed over her shoulders and a voice whispered in her ear. "Iím still with you." Knowing no one else could hear the voice and not wanting to look like a complete lunatic, Gabrielle refrained from speaking. But her mind spoke volumes and the Amazon heard every heartfelt word. I know you are, my friend. And youíll never know how grateful I am. I canít imagine that I deserve your support, your encouraging words, your friendship, or your faith. But I thank God... yes, God... for you. And there must be a God... or some higher power... because there is you. The young woman sighed and sank her teeth into the fresh-baked bread. And, Ephiny... Iím starting to remember... you... us... the things we once shared. Is... Is that possible?
"Oh yes, my friend. Listen to your heart. It can tell you so much if you let it."
But lately... I canít hear what itís saying. Itís as though... as though itís dead. Gabrielle felt the Amazonís arms encircle her body when she whispered, "Trust me, sweetie. Itís alive and well. I can hear it and soon... you will too."
Two days had passed since her arrest and the young womanís mind swirled in circles, desperately seeking a purpose, longing for the rebirth of tomorrowís dreams. "Gabrielle?" Garryís voice startled her. Her friend and his wife were kind enough to allow her to remain with them for a while. "For as long as it takes," Garry had told her.
"What is it?" She looked up to find a frighteningly somber expression on the manís face. "Garry? Whatís wrong?"
Garry clutched the morning paper in his hands and stared blankly out the window before he began to speak. "Gabrielle..." He lowered himself next to her on the sofa. "Itís about Jaimie. She was in a car accident. She had been drinking and hit a tree head on out on Route 38. Gabrielle... sheís dead, sweetie."
The blond felt her body begin to tremble. Cautiously, Garry approached, holding the paper out in front of her.
She felt her blood pressure rise and tasted her own salty tears as they trickled down her face and over the corners of her mouth. "I donít want to read that shit!," she shouted, overcome with rage, and slapped the newspaper out of her friendís hand.
"Gabri..." Garry reached out to console her, abruptly halted when the young womanís hand connected with the side of his face with a resounding slap.
"Donít touch me!" She screamed and bolted out the front door, tearing over the sidewalk in a blind attempt at escape. Escape from the man still seated on the sofa, staring expressionless at the empty space beside him. Escape from the newspaper lying crumpled on the floor. Escape from the ghost of the woman who promised to love her and then, blow by blow, word by word, snuffed out her spirit. The muscles in her legs ached, yet she was determined to keep running. Away from yesterday, from today, from tomorrow. All nothing more than an endless sea of cruel realities.
"Gabrielle? Gabrielle?" The angelís voice fell softly on her ears. Slowly, the young woman, lifted her head, realizing quickly that she had passed out behind of row of condemned apartment buildings. Forcing herself to a sitting position, she looked down at her soaked blue jeans. "God damn it!," she yelled, cursing the puddle of water surrounding her legs.
"Gabrielle, I know what happened and..." The Amazon tried to offer words of comfort, but was quickly silenced by the angry woman.
"And what?! You donít know anything! You show up floating around in the air, talking about my future. I donít have a future! Canít you see that?!" Releasing the emotion bottled up inside her, she continued to rant when her tears emerged. "Jaimie was my future! Despite her flaws, despite the way she treated me, despite the fact that she loved the bottle more than she ever loved me! It wasnít always like that, Ephiny. I didnít marry a monster! I married a wonderful, kind, loving woman with a heart of gold." Picking herself up off the ground, she began to sob. "And that woman... the woman I married that day on the beach is the woman I miss. The woman I love. The woman Iíll always love. Can you understand that?" Why does she waste her time on me?! I have nothing to offer her, nothing to offer anyone, including myself.
The Amazon felt her heart weeping in her chest as her eyes filled with the image of the broken woman, leaning against the wall, so consumed by her anguish she could scarcely support her own weight. "Gabrielle..." She moved closer to her friend. "Do you remember the speech you gave at your graduation? The way you spoke of tomorrow? The way you reminded those people that there is always the hope of the future?"
"She was my tomorrow. Ephiny, my future will be buried... along with Jaimie." Gabrielle felt her back sliding across the brick wall behind her when her knees buckled, sending her slipping to the damp ground once again. And, within seconds, she found herself soaring through the air, the angelic Amazon floating silently beside her. The clouds parted, creating a clear path in the night sky and, oddly enough, the young woman could no longer feel any pain. In fact, she felt tranquil... light. She turned her head to the side and stared in wonder at her friend, holding tightly to her hand, trusting that the angel wouldnít let her fall.
"Where are we?," the blond questioned when she found herself hovering over a small cottage overlooking the ocean.
"I want you to see something," Ephiny answered and guided her friend downward, toward a large picture window in the front of the house.
"Ephiny!," Gabrielle screamed when the two smashed into the window, surprised when the glass refused to shatter, instead melting into nothing, reemerging intact once they had made it safely through. "Where are we? Ephiny, this is someoneís house!"
The Amazon chuckled and took her friend by the hand. "Come with me," she insisted and led her through the living room and around the corner. "There." She pointed toward the room at the end of the short hallway.
Gabrielle looked puzzled, but trusted the spirit and took several paces toward the room. "Can she see me?," she whispered when her eyes rested on the raven-haired woman, curled up on the bed, engrossed in a book.
"No. Of course not. Take a closer look." Ephiny watched the young blond enter the room and approach the woman, boldly taking a seat on the corner of the bed.
Dipping her head, Gabrielle caught a glimpse of the title of the book that seemed to mesmerize the mysterious woman. Walden. She couldnít help but smile and the Amazonís heart skipped a beat when she saw her friend reach out to stroke the womanís silky hair.
"This is the same woman we saw sitting on the beach," Gabrielle whispered, still running her fingers through the dark tresses.
Ephiny nodded and left the room, a knowing smile emerging on her face when she read the young blondeís mind. Gabrielle stared at the woman, briefly allowing herself to get lost in the bluest eyes she had ever seen. God sheís beautiful. But she seems so sad. And, surprisingly, she soon discovered that, if she allowed herself, she could feel the womanís pain. Opening the heart that the Amazon angel had insisted was still beating inside her chest, she listened to the womanís thoughts as she put the book aside and reclined on the bed.
Life has been good to me and Iím blessed... more so than most. I know that. But I have no one to share any of it with. I know sheís out there. Somewhere. I have to believe that.
And then all fell silent when the mysterious woman drifted into sleep.
"You ready?" Ephiny appeared in the doorway and, reluctantly, the blond turned away from the woman and followed the Amazon down the hallway.
"You said her name is Xena?," Gabrielle asked as they ascended to the sky.
"Odd name, isnít it?"
"Maybe in this day and age but I can remember a time when you didnít think it was so odd."
"I knew her? In a past life?"
The Amazon nodded and, despite her friendís persistent pleas, refused to divulge anything more.
Gabrielle woke in the early morning, before the sun, and tip-toed down the hallway toward the living room where she spotted the crinkled newspaper lying on the corner of the coffee table. She cringed when she thought about the way she had treated Garry earlier. He was such a kind man and, as usual, was only trying to help by sparing her the pain of unexpectedly stumbling upon the news of Jaimieís death.
When she had arrived home, following her flight with the angel, she found her friend sitting at the kitchen table, waiting for her to return. Tears flowed from his eyes as well as her own, hugs were exchanged, and she extended a heartfelt apology, but still... she felt horrible about the way she had acted.
Flipping on the floor lamp next to the recliner, she leaned forward and picked up the paper, forcing herself to read the obituary.
The tremors began in her shoulders and worked their way through her muscles, forcing her fingers to lose their grip on the newspaper. She watched the black and white print move in slow motion, further and further away from her eyes until the paper was resting on the tan carpet beneath her feet. Not wanting to wake Garry or his more than understanding and patient wife, she confined her screams to her mind. How could you do this to me?! How could you do this to yourself?! Damn it I know we had our problems! And Iím sorry things turned out the way they did. But did you have to go and kill yourself?! Why the fuck did you do something so stupid?! So god damned selfish! I loved you! You knew that! Despite the way you treated me! Despite the way you broke my heart! But then... you never wanted me to love you, did you? When we first met maybe, but then... I donít know. Something changed. You changed. And it took me a long time to figure out what you were doing. But now I know. Now I know. You did your best to drive me away, didnít you? Didnít you?! Well, it finally worked. After all those months of putting up with your shit, I finally found the courage to walk out. And... and your death... well... that was just your way of saying "fuck you" one last time, wasnít it? God, I canít believe I was such a fool...
Gabrielle stared at her reflection in the mirror. Dressed in the black skirt and jacket that Claire had been kind enough to loan her, she was the epitome of gloom. Dabbing a tissue to her cheek, she tried to salvage her makeup, her mind preoccupied with a conversation she and Jaimie had once had. Many yesterdays ago.
The two lovers were cuddled together beneath the covers, neither of them concerned that it was past noon and they were still in bed. Stroking the blondeís soft face, Jaimie marveled at her beauty and sadness filled her eyes. "Gab?"
"Mmmm what is it, babe?" She leaned in and kissed her lips, slowly, gently, taking in the sweetness.
"I canít imagine ever spending a day on this earth without you."
"Ohhhhh, weíre too young to be thinking like that," she scoffed and then grew soft. "But... I canít help but feel the same way. I know that one of us may have to face that. Living without the other. Someday. But..." She paused and kissed her lover again. "But Iíve decided that I know how I want it all to end."
"You have, have you?" Jaimie smiled and raised an eyebrow, snuggling closer to the blond. "Tell me."
"I picture us both sitting on the front porch in our rockers. Say... when weíre 98 or so." She chuckled. "And out of the blue comes a mighty wind, tipping us both over the edge of the porch."
Jaimie laughed for a moment and a mischievous grin appeared on her face. "So... what exactly would the cause of death be?"
"Oh weíd break our necks for sure!" The blondeís eyes sparkled when she laughed. "But the beauty of it is, weíd do it together."
"Even when youíre cracking morbid jokes, youíre ridiculously charming." Jaimie giggled and delivered a trail of warm kisses to her loverís neck, moving enticingly lower, capturing one nipple and then the other between her lips.
Fleeting images of the most wondrous afternoon, filled with laughter and lovemaking, flooded Gabrielleís mind as she blotted her lipstick and slipped the tube into her purse. God, I donít know if I can do this.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" The Amazon spirit appeared in front of her, blocking the doorway.
Her tears instantly stifled, Gabrielle managed a small smile and reached for her friendís hand. "Iím so glad youíre here," she said through a sigh and Ephiny knew she meant it.
"I thought you might need me today." The Amazon returned the smile and embraced the mourning woman.
"Thank you." Gabrielle said quietly and headed down the hallway, finding strength and comfort in the angelís presence.
Standing in the midst of a modest crowd, the distraught woman stared straight ahead, unable to take her eyes off the coffin which would soon be lowered into the cold ground, burying what she had once believed to be her future. Her memories poured from her heart, creating a state of chaos in her soul as she turned her back and walked away. "How are you, Gabrielle?" A firm hand squeezed her shoulder and she raised her eyes.
"Iím... Iíll be okay. H.. How are you?"
Jaimieís father stared down at the ground, studying the green grass beneath his shoes, before looking her in the eyes. "Gabrielle, Iím sorry for the pain my daughter caused you. You were good to her. Maybe too good. We all tried to help her. I tried to be a good father, but..." He shook his head sadly. "After my wife died..."
"I know. I know, Dad." Gabrielle wrapped her arms around the manís waist. He was a good-hearted man. A proud man, but a sincere one. And he had never been anything less than wonderful to her. He and Jaimie had their problems, most of which seemed to emerge when Jaimieís mother passed away. But he loved his daughter and Gabrielle knew he was hurting. She just wished there was something she could say to ease his pain.
Slowly, the man released her and backed away, tears forming in his eyes, though he would never let them fall, at least not while anyone was around to see it. "Take care of yourself, Gabby. And, if you ever need anything, donít hesitate to call on me."
Her emotions raging, the young woman felt a single tear trickle down her cheek. Quickly wiping it away, she nodded and watched in agony as the man hobbled away, leaning slightly on the cane he clutched in his right hand.
She spent most of the day walking in the park, trying to lose herself in the treetops swaying gently overhead. The sun felt warm on her shoulders, brilliantly lighting up the azure sky. But, for Gabrielle, this was the darkest day of her short life.
Garry, as always, had been there for her. His compassion and understanding, his genuine love and concern helped. But now the moment she had spent the entire day dreading had arrived. Staring down at the bed, she wasnít sure whether or not she was going to be able to bring herself to crawl inside. Night time seemed to be the most torturous for her when she was hurting. The cool cotton sheets that she usually welcomed, she knew would chill her to the bone tonight. And the silence, the agonizing stillness, was certain to scream in her ears, keeping her awake.
With a heavy sigh, she bent down, pulled back the corner of the blanket, and picked up a pillow, clutching it to her chest, staring down at the lonely mattress. "Rough night?" The Amazon appeared out of no where, reclining on the bed with her hands tucked behind her head and Gabrielle, even in her misery, couldnít help but smile. "Itís a small bed. Think we can manage?" The angel grinned and extended a hand toward the young woman.
"We managed to squeeze onto one of those pallets in the queenís hut, didnít we?"
"Wow. You are starting to remember, arenít you?" Ephiny winked and smiled. "Come here."
"Just let me get the light," the blond replied and the Amazon shifted her eyes toward the light switch, instantly cutting off the current with a mere glance.
Standing there in the dark, Gabrielle couldnít help but laugh. "Show off," she teased, grinning from ear to ear. Effortlessly, she climbed into bed and snuggled close to her friend, resting her head on her shoulder. "Ephiny?"
"If youíre dead, why is your heart still beating?"
"Actually, it isnít. I suspect your memories of me are just becoming more vivid."
Gabrielle settled into the embrace, basking in the safety and warmth she so desperately needed, and let her mind wander backward through time. The angel was becoming more and more familiar with each passing day and it seemed to the young woman that the two shared a most amazing bond. Then and now. At first, when the memories of the more intimate moments began to surface, she had wondered whether or not she and the Amazon had been lovers. But now, as she nestled closer, she understood the nature of their relationship. A warm, loving, steadfast friendship, built on honesty and trust, spanning the portals of time.
Garry looked a bit uptight, but handsome nevertheless, in his navy suit and brightly colored tie. Taking a deep breath, he wrapped his fingers around the young womanís upper arms and said, "Donít worry, okay? This is going to work itself out."
Gabrielle responded in a raspy voice. "Iím going to have to tell everyone in the room what I did that night." She lowered her head and began to cry.
"Iím not going to lie to you. Yes, youíre going to have to talk about it. All of it. At least everything you can remember. You have to be honest, Gabrielle. Itís important."
The blond planted herself on the corner of the couch and covered her face with her hands. What have I done? Whatís happening to me? How did I manage to turn my life upside down so fast? Embarrassed by the things she had done, she dreaded the trial itself more than the sentence... whatever that might be. "Garry, Iím going to have to stand there today and tell the whole fucking world that Iím a suicidal junkie, not to mention a cheap prostitute," she said through clinched teeth and continued to sob.
"Gab, you were drugged against your will. Otherwise, you wouldnít have done... what you did. The judge is going to take that into consideration." He tried to be supportive, though honestly, he wasnít so sure his young friend wouldnít soon find herself serving time in prison.
"Garry, I canít prove that Scott drugged me. I canít prove anything! Youíre forgetting that I hunted him down and let him fuck my brains out for a vile of coke! How in the hell am I going to explain that?! Donít you get it?! Iím supposed to be dead! Not here dealing with this bullshit!" Without warning, she stood and gave her friend a violent shove, storming past him and out the front door.
Standing next to Garryís car, she felt something brush against her, gently wrapping itself around her. A calmness swept over her and she knew, for the moment, she was safe in the arms of the Greek angel.
Blinded by the white corridors, the young woman reluctantly followed the nurse across the speckled tile floor, around the corner to the third door on the left. "This is your room," Nurse Blackwell informed her and opened the door to the meager chamber. "For now, you have it all to yourself but that may change." She smiled and watched the blond step across the threshold. "Is there anything you would like to ask me before I leave?"
Gabrielle looked around the room, studying the barren walls. "Umm... No. Thank you." She forced a smile and watched the nurse walk away. Thirty days? Here? This is really gonna suck.
"It could be worse, you know. You could be behind bars, sharing a room with a bitter woman named Bertha or Marg who only bathes on Tuesdays and Thursdays." The Amazon snickered, quickly stifling herself when the blond gave her a nasty look.
"Ha. Ha." Gabrielle pouted and slumped into a chair next to the tiny window, staring out at the view of the trash cans behind the building.
"Gabrielle..." The spirit cautiously approached her friend. "The judge sentenced you to rehab because he thought you were a good candidate for it. He thought it might help you. Thought you might want to help yourself."
"Ephiny, Iím not an addict. Iím suicidal. Everything I did, I did because I wanted to die, not because I gave a damn about getting high. You know that."
"Yes, I understand that, but there are people here who can help you deal with all of that. People who can help you deal with your pain, put things in perspective, and get your life in order. Besides, if you get a favorable evaluation after thirty days, youíre out of here. Itís not as bad as it seems."
"Thatís easy for you to say. Youíre free to leave," the blond scoffed.
"Letís go." The Amazon rolled her eyes, took her by the arm, and whisked her through the window.
Knowing that the spirit wouldnít tell her where they were going until they got there, Gabrielle refrained from asking and gave herself over to her ghostly companion. The air was growing hot as they descended through the clouds, landing in the middle of what appeared to be a large estate. "All right, where is she?," the blond asked, scouring the area for the raven-haired woman.
"There." Ephiny pointed to the dark-skinned woman being escorted to nearby tree by a mob of snarling men.
"Thatís Xena? I donít get it."
"Weíve traveled back in time, Gabrielle. Weíre in the state of Virginia and the year is 1662. Thatís Xena only here, her name is Shani. And over there...," she pointed to a smaller woman in the center of the field. "Thatís you... Malkia. Both of you were slaves in this lifetime, brought over from Africa."
Hypnotized by the strange surroundings, Gabrielle surveyed the area, taking everything in. "What are they doing to her?" She gasped when she saw the men strip Shani of her already tattered dress and slip the noose around her neck. Ephiny shook her head and a sad glint appeared in her eyes. "Ephiny, no. Theyíre not going to hang her?!" The Amazon nodded and the blond blurted out, "Why?! What did she do?!"
"She didnít do anything," the spirit answered. "Theyíre hanging her because the owner of this plantation, the man who put the noose around her neck, raped her. She was pregnant with his child and had a miscarriage. Heís angry and keeps quoting that scripture from The Holy Bible, Ďan eye for an eye.í"
"Heís going to kill her because she lost a child?!" Gabrielleís face hardened and she moved quickly toward the group of men, shouting at them, ordering them to stop.
"They canít hear you, my friend," the Amazon reminded her. "Look." She called her attention to Malkia, who was now running across the field in the direction of the lynch mob.
Gabrielle watched in horror as the loose end of the rope was tossed over a low-hanging tree branch. Just as the men were prepared to hoist the slave into the air, Malkia intervened, punching and kicking, calling them every derogatory name she could conjure up. Shani screamed at the woman, begging her to get back and let them finish what they had started. She and Malkia were the best of friends and she couldnít bear to watch any harm come to her. But Malkia, blinded by her hatred for the men and her love for her friend, refused to give up. In an instant, the angry plantation owner snatched the noose from around Shaniís neck and shoved the slave to the side, turning his wrath on Malkia. Shani clawed her way across the earth in an attempt to help her friend, but it was too late. Tears filled her eyes when she looked up and saw the womanís feet dangling above her head, her eyes closed, her body limp. Overcome with anguish, she raised her voice to the heavens, calling out her friendís name, tears flooding her cheeks. "An eye for an eye. The debtís been paid. Get on back to the field, girl!," the plantation owner shouted at Shani and threw her torn dress at her.
Gabrielle looked on as the heartbroken slave pulled the dress over her head and stumbled across the earth toward the center of the field, the sun blazing down on the stripes on her back, the brutal result of the many beatings she had endured over the years. "She died for her," the young blond mumbled under her breath and, choking back her tears, closed her eyes.
When she opened them again, she found herself sitting on the edge of the bed in the sterile room, Ephiny sitting close beside her. "Why did you show me that?," she asked.
"I wanted you to know what youíre made of," the spirit answered and abruptly vanished, leaving Gabrielle alone with her thoughts.
The Amazon drifted over the sleeping woman, listening carefully to the words she was mumbling in her sleep. "Sheís out there. Somewhere. Waiting. Ga... Gabrielle."
"Be patient, old friend," the spirit whispered in the dark haired womanís ear. "Soon. Youíll be with her again soon."
Unable to sleep, Gabrielle tumbled out of bed and shuffled toward the window, pulling back the hospital-white drapes. The sky was clear and a million stars twinkled against the cool ebony backdrop. Xena. I wonder where she is right now, what sheís doing, what sheís thinking. Sinking into the soft green chair next to the window, her thoughts turned to the mysterious woman and the journey she and Ephiny had embarked on earlier. I canít believe this is happening. A guardian angel? An Amazon guardian angel at that! Itís all so surreal. Maybe Iím psychotic. Maybe locked inside this building is exactly where I need to be. Hell, maybe during tomorrowís group session, Iíll just blurt it out. The whole ludicrous truth. "Hi. Iím Gabrielle and my hobby is time traveling which, incidentally, I do with a Greek Amazon ghost who is several centuries old." She laughed out loud at the thought until the muscles in her abdomen began to cramp. Who is this Xena anyway? I know sheís someone from my past. After what I witnessed today in that field, Iíll never doubt that what Ephiny has told me about her is true. We were friends. I can feel it my gut. And I canít help but get the sense that we were very close. In all of our lifetimes. But what does the past have to do with today and what does this woman have to do with my destiny? My future as an Amazon ruler. Holy shit. Whoís gonna believe that one? Me, an Amazon ruler! Ha!
"I wouldnít laugh, my queen. Itís not an easy job." Ephinyís voice preceded her arrival by half a second.
"Ephiny, I know youíre telling me the truth and I have to believe what Iíve seen with my own eyes. Itís just that... Well, you have to admit itís a bit out there! This is all just so... I donít know. Overwhelming, I guess." She sifted her fingers through her bangs, letting them fall strand by strand over her crinkled brow. "Ephiny? Are we going to see her tonight?"
The Amazon smiled and arched an eyebrow. "Why do you ask?"
"I... I... Hell, I donít know!" The blond chuckled and squirmed nervously in her chair.
"You miss her?" She decided to snag this golden opportunity to trifle with her friend. "You miss her, donít you?! Youíre curious about her! In fact, Iíll just bet youíve spent most of the night sitting around wondering what sheís doing, havenít you? Admit it!"
"Oh thatís ridiculous! I hardly even know the woman!" Her defenses rising to the surface, she was lying through her teeth and the Amazon knew it.
Ephiny paced slowly across the room, her back to the blond, and coolly said, "I just saw her, you know. I stopped by her cottage a few moments ago."
"You did?! What was she doing?! What was she thinking?!" Gabrielle, realizing that she had just given herself away, quickly clamped both of her hands over her mouth and the Amazon heard the faint sound of a muffled "oops."
"You canít fool me, Gabrielle. Iíve spent lifetime after lifetime after lifetime telling you that and, still, you insist on testing me." The angel threw an arm across the womanís shoulders and pulled her in for a one-armed hug. "You want to see her?"
The blond waged an internal war with herself, intent on proving the Amazon wrong, determined to decline the invitation and inform her that she did not want to see the woman tonight. "Yes! Yes! Yes! Pleeeaaase!," she blurted out and Ephiny doubled over with laughter.
"I knew you couldnít resist," the spirit teased and took her hand, lifting her skyward.
The blond watched the stars whizzing by as the two soared through the air toward... "Ephiny?"
"Where does she live anyway? I know she lives on the beach, but which beach?"
"Nags Head, North Carolina."
"Nags Head? Thatís where..."
"I know, sweetie. Thatís where you and Jaimie exchanged vows." Her voice grew quiet and she studied her friendís expression. "You okay?"
"Yeah. Yeah, Iím okay. I just get so angry at her. She couldíve done something with her life, made something of herself if she hadnít been so pig-headed. I canít imagine why someone who had the potential to be such a wonderful, vital person would waste..." Realizing what she was saying, she suddenly grew silent.
Ephiny gave her a look that seemed to encompass a thousand emotions at once. "Youíre starting to get it, arenít you?"
Blinking back her tears, Gabrielle nodded and concentrated on the wind whistling in her ears. "Yeah. Yeah, I think I am." And then she was inside the cottage, treading lightly as she made her way down the hallway toward the womanís bedroom.
She stared down on the sleeping form, which seemed to draw her closer and closer until she found herself lying next to her, stroking her face with the tips of her fingers. "Xena," she whispered, though she knew she couldnít hear her, and the womanís body stirred when she slipped peacefully into the dream she had been having night after night for nearly a year.
The young womanís body pressed against her own, smooth palms drifting over the lengths of her arms and upward toward her shoulders, gently massaging the muscles as soft lips captured her own. Her breaths quick, her desire burning, she ran her fingers through silky blond strands and down her loverís back, sinking her fingers into the inviting flesh. A quiet moan of ecstasy escaped from her throat when she turned her head to the side, welcoming the warm mouth descending on her neck.
Ephiny nearly snapped her neck when she turned to catch a glimpse of her friend, running full speed down the hallway, covering her ears with her hands, yelling, "I donít know what the hell is going on but Iím getting out of here!"
"Gabrielle!," the Amazon called after her as she bolted outside, hauling ass down the beach. Chuckling to herself, the spirit followed her outside, quickly catching up. "Gabrielle! Gabrielle! You can stop running now!"
The blond halted in her tracks, out of breath, and turned to face her. "I can?"
"Yes, my friend, sheís stopped dreaming," she snickered. "Youíre really spooked, arenít you?"
"Do you know what she was dreaming about?!" Gabrielle let the foamy salt water wash over her feet, her face turning bright red.
"Well, yesss. I know what she was dreaming about." The Amazon struggled to keep from laughing.
"She was... with me!"
"And how do you feel about that?"
"Now you sound like my shrink!"
The spirit laughed and took her friendís hand, looking out over the surf as they shuffled through the sand in the dark. "Why did that freak you out?"
"I... I donít know. It just did!"
Ephiny gave her friend a look that silently informed her that she knew the truth and was going to continue her line of questioning until she gave her an honest answer. "What exactly happened in there?"
"Well..." Gabrielle felt herself blush all over again. "She was having the dream and I was in it. We were..."
"We were making love and..." I am a certifiable lunatic. That or a pervert...
"Yeesss? And?," the Amazon probed.
"I had an orgasm, okay?! I said it! You happy now?!" Her face felt as though it was on fire as the blood rushed to her head, making her dizzy.
"Yep, Iím happy now." The spirit grinned at her companion and planted herself on a sand dune. "Memories of past lives can be pretty powerful... climactic even." She chuckled when the blondeís hand connected with her bare thigh with a resounding, but harmless, smack.
"Sorry. I couldnít resist. Itís just that itís good to know that youíve come..." She stopped mid-sentence and yet another huge grin appeared on her face.
"Ephinnnyyy! Would you stop! Shit! What are you trying to do, cut this lifetime short by making sure I die of embarrassment?!"
"Okay. Okay. Seriously, what I was going to say is that Iím glad youíve co... uhhh... progressed."
"Mmm hmm. Youíre memories are becoming more and more real to you and, with the memories, comes power."
"Yes. The power of knowledge. The power of understanding. The power of truth. The more you learn about yourself, and that includes the people you once were, the more youíll be able to grow. Each lifetime should be a continuous process of self-discovery. When you stop discovering, stop searching your soul, you become stagnant. And, when you become stagnant, you cease to evolve. And, when you cease to evolve, your life is essentially over. Gabrielle, as the future leader of the Amazon Nation, you can never allow yourself to fall into that trap. Each life cycle you experience is significant to your future, to my future, to the future of our Amazon sisters. What you learn in this lifetime, you take with you to the next and even though you may stumble, I want you to know that I wonít let you fall. I canít."
"Because Artemis will have your ass if you do?," the blond joked.
"No, my friend. Because I care about you too much to let that happen."
Gabrielle watched the waves crash on the shore and, for the first time in a long while, allowed herself to accept the unconditional love of another. Though the Amazon was not of this earth, she seemed to the blond to be more human than so many who existed in mortal form. And her warmth, her kindness, her faith in her ability to transform herself gave her hope. Her friend, her guardian angel, had come to her at her lowest moment, seen her at her very worst and yet... refused to give up on her.
Sitting there on the dune next to the angel, Gabrielle came to a realization. When Jaimieís drinking finally transformed the once sweet woman into a monster, she wasnít the only one who had been altered. Gabrielle had changed along with her; shrinking inside herself, stifling her personality, her convictions, her dreams. And, until Ephiny came along, she hadnít been able to realize what she was doing to herself. "Ephiny?" She spoke softly.
"What is it, Gabrielle?" The Amazon could tell her friend had something on her mind and her words were cautious.
"Can I tell you about Jaimie?" She bit her lip, determined not to cry.
"You can tell me anything," Ephiny whispered and the young woman couldnít help but believe her.
Taking a deep breath, she began to speak, telling the angel about the moments she and her first true love had shared. The good and the bad, the tender and the brutal, the smiles and the tears. And the spirit listened not only with her ears, but with her heart and soul. As always.
As they made their way through the heavens, back to the impersonal room at the rehab clinic, Ephinyís mind replayed the words her friend had spoken and Gabrielle could see the angelís tears trickling down her cheeks. "Ephiny?"
"Why, if youíre an angel, do you still have the emotions of the living?"
"Artemis felt that taking away my humanity would be detrimental to my mission. And I see her point. How am I supposed to help you if I canít comprehend what youíre feeling?"
"Mmmm. That makes sense," the blond sighed. "Ephiny?"
"I... I hate to see you cry."
"You always did, my friend," she chuckled. "But itís okay, you know. Thatís part of friendship. Besides, Iíve seen you shed your share of tears on my behalf. Give and take, my friend. Sure, I hurt when you hurt. But when you smile... Iím the happiest angel in the universe." Her smile lit up the night sky and the woman next to couldnít help but sigh.
"Are there other angels out there?," Gabrielle asked.
"Oh yes. Millions of them. All here in different forms and for different reasons. But theyíre out there."
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