Gabrielle knew there was a problem. She watched her dark-tressed lover hung up the phone slowly, deliberately. Xena turned around, her nostrils were flaring. Her expression pained. Her voice was distant.
"She's taking an intersession class." Her hands were curled into tense fists at her side. "She's not coming back." In a sudden rage, she whipped around, grasped the ancient phone and tore it off the wall. The phone clanged helplessly against the floor. "Gods." Her legs gave way until her knees folded into the carpet. She rubbed her palms against the fabric of her jeans, desperately trying to assuage the pain that started to tingle there. "How can she stay away like this? How can she?" There was a desperate edge to Xena's voice. Her body trembled in a mix of rage and vulnerability.
Gabrielle knelt beside her love and pulled Xena close. She captured Xena's hands in her own and turned them up. Gently, she caressed the brand and soothed. Her own hands shook a little. They carried the same markings. But she was a goddess and she had Xena. Gabrielle pressed her body against the familiar one next to her and let her energy caress the woman in her arms.
Xena accepted the relief that was pouring into her body and leaned against her sweetheart. "We can't let this go on." She turned her body so that it was touching more of Gabrielle. "We can't." She freed her hands and pressed them against the redhead's waist. She looked into stormy hazel eyes. Her body ached with need. She kissed the goddess fiercely, and then again, and again. She knew better than to resist now, but she almost never resisted with Gabrielle.
Soon they were up in their room. Their clothes were strewn about the floors and stairs below. Xena and Gabrielle had loved this way more often lately. Their minds and bodies were in primal need, so their lovemaking was hungry and demanding. They found relief in each other, but they missed their tender interludes.
Xena slept in Gabrielle's arms. This was also new. This sense of exhaustion dragged on them. Things that should have been effortless became strenuous. Gabrielle found herself looking at the far wall.
She studied the large painting. It was a gift from one of their patrons. An offering. The frame was simple, a dark wood grain emphasizing the colors contained within. It was a beautiful romantic piece. A portrait of herself and Xena looking out a window into the golden dawn. She was dressed in flowing green robes that were partially open with Xena's hand resting casually against her skin as they leaned against each other. Gabrielle's image was regal, commanding and soft at the same time. She held a golden staff and a scroll. Xena's image wore her ancient battle armor with her sword sheathed. The portrait managed to capture Xena's wildness, intelligence, and tenderness all at the same time. Even though they leaned into each other, the figures stood proudly. Their expressions were loving and peaceful. It was a beautiful gift, from a lovely gallery owner.
But it disturbed her. Daily, Gabrielle would find herself caught up in the painting, trying to figure out what was different about it. The painting's colors were bright and somber at the same time. There was a sense of flow as if time were passing in the painting, as if it changed overnight. Not a whole lot, barely discernible, but that sense of difference would overtake her and she would search and search.
This time, as she eyed the painting from distance, her eyes seemed to telescope on two details she hadn't noticed before. The first was the window the figures were gazing at. She remembered that there had been figures in the window before, or more importantly a figure. And a painted description of an outside world full of hills and forests and pathways. Gabrielle extricated herself from Xena's slumberous grasp and approached the painting.
She pulled a chair from behind a desk, so that she could stand closely, and really examine what she was seeing. Xena woke up to the noise the chair made but crawled out of bed when Gabrielle signaled her. Xena held the chair still as Gabrielle clambered up to get her closer look.
It took her a moment, but it was there. It had always been there. A small womanly shaped figure that had been distancing itself so that it was almost unseeable, almost gone. And she knew what had been strange about the painting. That figure had been, at one time, the focal point. But it was fleeing now.
Gabrielle touched the painting. The tip of her index finger completely covered the woman's body. Then the finger trailed its way to the signature, which was barely visible against the painted surface, blending into it, as if to disappear from sight.
Gabrielle looked to Xena. She closed her eyes. "So close. So evident. And we nearly missed it. All of it." Her breath came out as a soft sigh. "So insolent. So audacious." She stepped down off the chair into Xena's arms. "Let's go get her and bring her back where she belongs." She glanced up at the painting, "Before its too late."
Walking on Glass
The kata's intricate move pulled her along, even though each step was as piercing as stepping on a billion sharpened nails. She had become used to the sensation though, and almost welcomed it when she got out of bed each morning. It was a reminder that, yes, she was still alive.
One foot here and the other there, knees slightly bent, trunk and hips settled, letting the sword move with the motion of the body. Feeling the sweat trickle painfully down her back.
She had taken to wearing the least amount of clothing possible, or at least the loosest. But the sweat made her robes cling sometimes and the robes cut like knives when they made startling contact when dry.
There was no intersession class. She could hardly bear to sit on a chair anymore. Yet there were times when she sat for hours upon end and it was a pure relief. It was not knowing which it would be that caused her the most problems. It had been an agony to stay until the end of the semester. It was the first time that she thought seriously of dropping out.
When she had first arrived back in town she was so ready to tackle college again. The classes seemed easy after being tutored by Athene. When she was Bernie, she felt kind of blissfully aware that she was someone else, but she never really held onto the vision of herself as Brigid. When she was Brigid, she knew who she was completely, the only drawback being that some of Brigid's early memories from when she returned from camp were fuzzy.
She had an incredible amount of energy as Brigid. She would sleep deeply, but only for four or five hours, with an occasional eight just for the sake of a weekend. Her dreaming was intense too, which is what led her to make works of art. It started simply enough.
She had gone into a school supply store; the kind with colorful teacher aids, like bulletin board liners, or kits or games. Her eye got caught in the children's art section. Tempera paints and brushes (some of which were huge.) She forgot why she was there (a presentation project) and bought every color available, some brushes and paper.
Her paintings started out like visual haikus; simple forms on paper, colorful dots, primitive urges. They took on a life of their own and her style matured in sudden leaps of consciousness. She spent a bundle of money on supplies. Her paintings became magic.
This coincided with the research she was doing. She started with women and mythology, became enamored with the Pennsylvania Dutch and their hexes, and drifted into the new photography (which really had nothing to do with her work, but it just fascinated her). When she was reading about women and mythology she found herself drawing and painting images relating to her experiences at camp. When she learned about the Pennsylvania Dutch she began quilting. In the middle of that quilting experience, she had an awareness of why she was doing it and started putting in as many hex symbols for peace and love and safety she could think of, plus a few more symbols of similar nature that had nothing to do with hex but meant the same thing. When the quilt was done, it was a huge, colorful, meaningful mess. But it was done and she gave it to Joni as a gift.
There were several life-altering events that happened during the conclusion of the semester. One was the belly button piercing event (Joni's idea totally. "Oh come on, It'll be bonding. . . Oh no, it won't hurt, not much anyway. You know you want to. . .") So now Brigid had a hoop through her navel and Joni had a barbell looking thingy, to go along with her leather girl look that she had recently been adopting. Another was the night she stepped into the art gallery.
Again, it seemed happenstance. She was window shopping downtown and passed the gallery. There had been other times when she had viewed the artwork in the window and passed on. But suddenly she really wanted to see more. What she saw was Clarisse, the gallery owner.
The attraction was mutual.
It was during one of their evenings that Clarisse discovered some of Brigid's artwork, which she had been keeping in a closet. Brigid was mortified at first since she really had no intention of sharing them. But Clarisse fell instantly in love with the paintings and wanted to represent her. Clarisse was especially adamant about the one piece that Brigid most definitely did not want to sell.
This particular piece was a painting of Gabrielle and Xena. She made it during her quilting time. She had realized that if one could create a work of power in a quilt, then one could do it with a painting. So she had worked with intention. She poured all her grief, love and desire into the painting and she sealed it with a kiss. Some of the aches that she had been feeling lately seemed to disappear.
Clarisse selected a few pieces for her gallery, (most of the pieces having to do with Goddesses) and she straight out bought the painting for more money than Brigid had seen in a lifetime. No more poor college student days.
It was the end of the semester. Finals were in a week. Brigid moved.
There were some good reasons for this. Her apartment was too small to perform the katas right. Her foot kept getting caught on the carpet. Her artwork was taking over, especially now that she had moved into sculpture. She couldn't find the phone anymore. Oh, and she had the means.
She found a place that was just outside of the city; close enough to drive to a grocery store, but far enough that the noise no longer grated on her. By now, everything had become painful, even making love to Clarisse, which had been a release... for a while. Brigid was starting to hobble and when she was Bernice, she couldn't hide the stress that etched itself into her face. This had Joni worried, so Bernie/Brigid told her it was finals.
The new place became a haven. Joni went home after school, telling Bernie to get some rest. Brigid did just that.
Her morning meditations were what finally saved her. She got to where she would surrender to the pain. There had been a point when the sensations had almost been orgasmic to her, but that had long since passed. Now, when she would do the katas she would relax her body and breathe with each tiny movement of her muscles. She would imagine directing the pain into her hands or down through her legs or into her sword. She stuck to the basics and they became powerful.
Once, when she directed all her pain into her sword, and she had followed through with a lightning-fast cut, the wall of her practice room shattered. There were bits and pieces of wood and plaster everywhere. It was a startling experience. She knelt on the floor and pieced the wall together, but it was never the same. It would no longer support even a picture. It was just the appearance of a wall. She was careful afterward, not to put every particle of pain into one object or movement. She began to concentrate on the flow until she could move the energy anywhere she wanted it to go.
She knelt formally and shook the sword to rid it of imaginary blood. Her mind was peaceful and her body had a brief respite.
It was here that one of Bernie's camp memories blazed into her consciousness.
She realized that she had been an incredible fool and let out a relieved sob.
Packing was easy. She grabbed some clothes and a bit of food. She set the message on her machine, made sure all the electrical items were off, locked her door and was in her car in about a half hour.
Driving would be terrible, but it would get her there.
beep beep beep beee...
"Hey Cookie. It's Aunt Jan. Thought you ought to know that Veronica's disappeared again. Mel says that she's been hanging around with that smart aleck blonde guy. She also says that she wants to meet your girlfriend. The one you never send photos of or invite over. Mel's planning on some other tofu monstrosity ... *almost unhearable thwack* I mean a filling vegetarian meal next Saturday. Try and make it and bring your sweetheart okay...Give us a call.
Joni sighed back into the lawn chair. The bikini hid nothing, especially the small piece of decoration on her belly. The sun felt marvelous. It made her feel slinky, like a cat. Joni caressed her stomach lightly and closed her eyes. A grin tugged at her lips.
Her mom and dad were used to the changes their daughter went through. But sometimes the look on their faces, when she tried something new was just too precious. When she arrived home, wearing a halter top, leather skirt and flat boots, her mom focused on one thing. The belly button. It had been hysterical and worth the piercing.
She played with the silver item, flicking it back and forth, sometimes twirling it in her fingers. Yes, it had been priceless.
An image of Bernie filtered into her brain. Bernie had seemed so tired and worn. Not like herself at all. *I probably ought to call her* Hopefully, she was resting from finals. Something odd was going on with that girl. Joni couldn't quite put her finger on what was different, but there definitely was something.
Like that quilt.
Now that quilt was different. Joni wasn't quite sure how she managed not to burst into laughter when Bernie had so solemnly given it to her. It was the ugliest damned thing. Colorful but ugly. But what was odd, was how it made her feel. She wouldn't part with that blanket for all the money in the world now.
Up till Bernie had given her the quilt, Joni had experienced nightmares at least once a night. It was always and never the same. She would dream that she became a monster. Full of hate. Thrilling at the sight of blood. Sometimes she would wake up, and she wouldn't recognize herself, like there was someone else, waiting to get out. A crazymaker.
When she was a kid, mom or dad would comfort. Sometimes they would stay with her all night. Now she just pretended that she no longer had them. She'd started that when she was about twelve. It seemed so long ago. She'd gotten to where she would dream the nastiness, wake up, and then fall back into a deep slumber. It was a routine she grew accustomed to.
But the quilt had changed that.
It had been a hectic night for Joni. She was part of a group assignment and she had finally completed the typing part. It was about midnight. She felt exhausted. So exhausted that she didn't want to have to traipse all the way to bed, so she settled on the couch. She looked at the unopened box that Bernie gave her and thought briefly about not being a lazy wench. Then she thought, I'm cold. The answer was obvious. She pulled the quilt out and over and laid down. The next thing she knew, it was morning and she felt Wonderful!
It worked on the bed too, or when she sat in a chair and curled up watching television. As it got warmer, she left the air conditioner higher than normal, so that the quilt felt comfortable. It was the first thing she put in the car when she went home and the first thing she brought into the house. She felt like a child, in a sense, hanging onto a security blanket. But it wasn't quite like that, because it seemed to work for other people too. When her sister-in-law came over with the baby, who had been fussy all day because of a fever, they'd laid her on the quilt (because it was available) and the baby went right to sleep. Of course, Wendy wanted the blanket after that, but there was no way Joni would part with it.
Even just thinking about it made her feel good.
It was the best gift she'd ever received.
One of these days, she would remember to thank Bernie for it.