Lena and Bianca 1:
Bianca sat perfectly still, barely aware of the all-too-familiar hospital sounds—the faint clatter of the pill cart, the muted footsteps of the nurses gliding in and out of patient rooms, the incessant loudspeaker endlessly paging someone somewhere. None of it penetrated the thick fog of fear that had enveloped her the minute Simone said, "Your Uncle Jack’s just been shot." In that one brief moment, the world had turned upside down and her mind had resolutely shuttered away the vision of the woman in the steam room and the touch of her knowing hands.
In a distant corner of her mind she was aware of the animated conversation between Dr. Joe and Opal, but soon that faded as they bustled down the corridor toward the cafeteria, leaving her with one plaintive refrain looping endlessly through her thoughts: Please, not Uncle Jack. Scarcely breathing, muscles taut, she was almost afraid to move. Please, not Uncle Jack. It was like losing her father all over again. Not Uncle Jack. Over and over the silent prayer echoed in her mind. She had never felt more alone.
Like a dreamer struggling to awake, her mind strove to draw her back to the present moment, to the gentle pressure on her shoulder, to a familiar presence. Finally she tugged her head up and found herself looking into dark eyes—fathomless eyes, eyes that held secrets and promises. Her eyes. She was here after all.
"Lena. I thought you left." Her mind still fought to make sense of the senseless day.
"Where would I go without you?" The rich tones of her heavy accent seemed oddly incongruous in the sterile hospital atmosphere. Lena smiled down at the tense young woman perched rigidly on the plastic and wood hospital chair.
Bianca stared up at Lena, for once nearly oblivious to her exotic beauty. Thinking seemed such an effort and speaking more so. "Mom just went inside. I thought I’d just wait here for her, but—" Puzzled, she stared at the proffered hand. "Where are we going?"
"You trust me?" Lena extended her other hand and waited patiently, her eyes fixed on Bianca’s delicate, pale face.
Bianca felt herself falling into those eyes, those dark and mysterious eyes. With no conscious thought, she slipped her hands into Lena’s and allowed herself to be pulled up. Overly taut muscles rewarded her efforts with tiny pinpricks of pain everywhere, but soon she found herself being drawn through a web of hallways and doorways, winding this way and that on a surrealistic journey, dreamlike, detached. She wondered vaguely where they might be headed, but felt more like a sleepwalker caught somewhere between the dream world and reality, where Uncle Jack lay clinging to life.
Suddenly she realized they had stopped. She looked around, a faint smile tugging at her lips. "I know this place. It’s the solarium." It was a common gathering place for patients and staff. She watched Lena’s mouth curve into a secret smile, and she leaned imperceptibly toward her.
"No, not here." Lena pressed Bianca’s hand a little tighter and led her toward the far corner of the solarium to a plain metal door, which she pushed open with a grin. "Just a little further." They entered a short, dark hallway and soon passed through a second door—the door into springtime.
Bianca gasped. "I’ve never seen this before."
The small inner courtyard offered a full palette of spring colors. White azalea bushes bordered the outer perimeter of the enclosure and lined the stone path that meandered lazily around pink dogwoods and iron benches, while everywhere flowers of every possible hue swayed gracefully in rhythm with the gentle wind.
Bianca gazed about in wonder. She thought she knew Pine Valley Hospital pretty well, but obviously it still held some surprises. "How did you find it?"
Lena watched the younger woman drinking in the idyllic scene. "I have my ways."
Bianca smiled for the first time in what seemed like years. "Always so mysterious." A cool breeze caught a tendril of her dark hair, and she shivered, suddenly aware of the chill in the air. She was still wearing the sweat jacket she’d worn to yoga class, but now it seemed too light for such a brisk spring day. Then she felt Lena pressing up against her back, wrapping her arms around her, pulling her close, and suddenly she was warm and awake and alive again. The dreamlike fog seemed to drift away and the pain and the worry.
"Look!" Bianca pointed toward the grass near the nearest dogwood where a fat robin was hopping along the ground, obviously in pursuit of a meal. "It’s the first robin of spring." They both laughed as he chirped his excitement and bobbed his tiny head into the lush grass.
Lena pressed her face into Bianca’s thick dark hair. "It’s a sign," she whispered near her ear. "Everything will be all right."
Bianca felt Lena’s warm breath caressing her cheek, gentle arms enveloping her, soft curves pressing into her. She felt protected, safe, cherished. Aching muscles finally loosened their painful grip as she leaned back, eyes closed, and breathed in the heady mix of spring blooms and the delicate scent of Lena’s perfume.
Lena felt Bianca go limp in her arms and hugged her tighter, heart pounding fiercely as she silently vowed to protect her, no matter what. This sweet young woman was really all that mattered to her now. She couldn’t begin to fathom how it had happened, how her world had flipped upside down, how her heart could feel such exquisite pain and longing. For too long it had lain in her chest like a frozen chunk of ice, but now it throbbed so hard she thought surely Bianca must feel its powerful beat.
Everything will be all right, she repeated silently. She tried desperately to reassure herself with her new mantra: Everything will be all right. It had to be all right. She would make it right, despite Michael’s threats, despite her past, despite an uncertain future. Her face still hurt from where he had grabbed her only a short time earlier. Before daring to look for Bianca, she’d checked her face and wrists for bruises. That bastard! He was threatening the two people she cared most about. She could feel her fear swelling, threatening to overwhelm her. It felt heavy, like a great stone pressing her into the earth.
Bianca stirred in her arms, letting her head fall back against Lena’s shoulder, and for a moment the heavy stone was lifted. Lena pressed her lips against Bianca’s hair, a soft secret kiss. She held her carefully, protecting her from the chill, from Michael, from herself. Shivering, she bowed her head, her chin resting on Bianca’s slender shoulder. "I would move heaven and earth to protect you," she murmured. She felt the heat radiating between them everywhere their bodies touched, insulating them from the cool air and the world around them. But she was aware of another heat deep inside, an indescribable feeling of passion and longing and need unlike anything she’d ever experienced before. It was both frightening and irresistible.
Finally, exhausted from the trials of the day, she forced herself to push away all the tortured thoughts and doubts and fears, and listened only to the robin’s song and Bianca’s quiet breathing.