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A work of fiction, meant for adults. Read something else if you are not an adult, or are offended by stories with sexual content. Then again, if all you’re looking for is in-out, in-out, in-out, you should probably read something else. I welcome constructive comments. Enjoy.
The alarm sounded again and I found a nipple. Bernadette held me with one hand as she whacked the clock with the other.
“Oh you,” she sighed, rolling more on top of me.
I wanted to settle in, but she said, “We need to get up...”
I pulled her more on top of me, smothering me.
She gave me a squeeze, then moved off.
I looked at her and sighed -- so nice being in her arms.
She smiled, then reached over and tapped me on the forehead.
“Was that nice?” I asked, sitting up.
She sighed and smiled. “Later, I promise.”
“I know.” It’s always later.
We made it to Kendra’s domain. I collapsed on the floor, fading out.
Laughter -- I opened my eyes and saw Linda and Bernadette huddled together, Linda laughing. Must have been told about the switch I’d made. Yup, from the look they gave me, that was it.
Kendra put the chest strap on me, and ran us ragged. I thought we’d get to rest when we went down to the mats, but she kept working us hard, my abs shaking from the exertion. The others were complaining, moaning.
“Linda, towels please?” Kendra called.
Moans of relief from the others -- I collapsed on my back.
“Put one under his head -- yes go ahead,” Kendra said.
Linda moved over me. I could see the sweat rolling off her face. She lifted my head a bit, putting a folded towel under me. She smiled and whispered, “You are full of surprises. Enjoy, lover.”
She slid her hands under my head and did something delicious. I sighed and dropped deep, deep, deep.
That woman’s voice again -- floating, rocking sensations. Those sensations drifted into feelings of family, of belonging. Belonging drifted into touching, caressing, feeling, kissing, sucking, ever-growing lust.
The intense sensation of someone impaling themselves on me forced my eyes open. Suzanne was sitting on me, her head back, eyes closed, face in ecstasy as Bernadette pressed down on her shoulders and whispered in her ear. More hands were on Suzanne’s breasts as she rocked on top of me.
I moaned and reached for her, and as I did, hands squeezed the back of my neck and a voice whispered in my ear, sending me tumbling again as a nipple found my mouth.
Oh so intense, so good, hearing and feeling her come atop me, letting go and coming so strongly into her, hands and voices holding, caressing, soothing us, drifting on those voices and caresses.
Awakening to just Kendra and me in the room, helping her pick up towels, taking a quick shower in the back, washing each other. She loaned me a set of sweats to wear back to the house.
Upstairs changing, looking at myself in the mirror. I felt great. I was looking better, too. I rubbed my face. I’d never had much of a beard. Was that changing? Hard to tell.
I picked up a bagel downstairs and was headed to my office when Deb caught me.
“Ellen’s on the phone from Sedona -- she needs to talk to you, right away.”
“My office, or yours?” I asked.
“Mine is closer.”
I followed her, sitting in her guest chair. She handed me the phone.
“Good morning,” I said.
“Oh Rob,” Ellen said, her voice full of amusement, “You were so right...”
“About what?” I asked.
“About needing a man here. You’re flying out today. Plan on spending two or three weeks. Plan on dressing to put a mind-trip on the general contractor and his crew. If you need more clothes, plan on getting them here; Deb will give you the run-down. Got it?”
“Okay, I’ll be on a plane this afternoon, and expect to be there two or three weeks. I’ll talk to Deb.”
“Oh, and Linda and Bernadette will probably want to see you, and give you things to bring out. I’ll talk to them and have Deb coordinate.”
“Do I need a car at the airport when I arrive?”
“No, I’ll meet you.”
“Okay, see you this evening.”
“Thanks, Rob -- I’m so glad you’re with us! Let me talk to Deb.”
“Okay. Here she is.” I handed the phone back to Deb.
Deb took it, and started taking notes. After a bit she paused. “Start packing!” she told me, pointing to the door.
With a nod I got up and headed for the door.
Sitting in the back seat of the Mercedes with Linda, Kendra driving us to the airport, Bernadette in the passenger seat beside her. What a whirlwind morning! I’d packed what I could, what I had. Deb gave me the rundown, and a “family” credit card -- that’s what I was supposed to use, for anything and everything. I’d mentioned it would be good to have a computer to use while I was there. I’d said that at about nine thirty. Just after lunch I was handed a brand new PowerBook, loaded with memory and software.
Linda loaded me up with some CDs for Ellen. Bernadette gave me at least one injection -- I don’t know how many, as she held me deliciously first, turning out my lights. She gave me pills to take, twice a day. Bernadette also gave me a package of stuff for Ellen; that went in my checked luggage.
I had the run-down on Sedona and what was happening. The site was actually a ways outside Sedona, a few hundred acres in a secluded area. We had one “family” member living on-site, Julia. She was living in one of the two guest houses on the property as the main house was being extensively rebuilt. The other guest house held the husband-and-wife resident staff; he did landscaping, she did cooking and the like.
I remember looking to Linda, who smiled, reached for me, and did something. I floated in tranquility as she talked to someone.
I woke to find us on highway 380 near the San Francisco International Airport and Perennial Construction Zone.
Yes, I had a family cell phone, my tickets, my family credit card, some cash, everything packed. I knew the phone number for the Sedona site.
They dropped me off with hugs and kisses.
Carry-on bag in one hand, towing the bag I was going to check, I headed into the terminal.
There’s that stretched-out moment of time, of inevitability, just before impact. I remembered being a little kid, falling from something, remembering being caught in that long, drawn-out moment as I was in the air, knowing I was falling, before I hit the ground.
Wednesday afternoon, coming in for a landing in San Francisco, Suzanne sitting next to me. I’d been in Sedona three and a half weeks; Suzanne had been with me a week and a half.
I closed my eyes and breathed through my nose. Calm -- focus on the breath.
And my mind is whizzing around at a zillion miles an hour.
It all fit. It fit so well, all the little pieces.
All the little pieces -- all the little accidental discoveries, all the little pieces of information that didn’t seem to fit, that stuck out, crying for a pattern to hold them together.
By accident they popped up. And by accident they’d fallen into place.
At the airport when I’d flown out, I’d been not really looking at magazines at a newsstand.
“Rob Flynn! How are you?” a woman’s voice called out.
I turned to see JoAnne, an investigator I’d worked with over the years. I pulled her into a hug -- it felt like the natural thing to do. I guess that surprised her. Thinking about it afterwards, it surprised me, too. I’ve changed.
“I’m doing fine -- how are you? Where are you headed?” I replied.
She looked me over. “I can tell your new position suits you really well!”
I laughed a bit. “It’s much better. I’m with a private foundation.”
“Card?” she asked.
I dug out a business card and handed it to her.
She nodded as she looked at it. She sighed. “I think you left at the right time.”
“I don’t want to know,” I told her.
She smiled. “Good for you. Where are you headed?”
“Sedona -- manage a construction project for a few weeks. You?”
“Oh, that sounds nice. I’m going to spend the next week or two digging through stacks of masters and doctoral feces at Harvard -- but it’s paying well.”
I had a hunch. “Could I ask a favor of you? A research favor?”
She smiled. “Of course! What?”
I took my card back and wrote on it. I put the Sedona number on the front, and Bernadette’s full name on the back. I handed it back to her. “Should be easy. This is the number where I can be reached. This woman, who is black, supposedly graduated from Harvard Medical School. Last name might be different, not sure, but the first name and being black hasn’t changed. My question -- did she graduate from Harvard Med, and if so, when? What can you find out?”
JoAnne lit up as she looked at the card. “Oh, that sounds like fun! And easy. I have some similar skullduggery, I mean research, to do next week.” She paused and sighed again. “Remember Pohlmann?”
I nodded; that had been a big one, a nasty one. I’d brought her in to dig into aspects of an inconsistency I’d found. What started with me finding a note stuck to the back of a page in a file folder turned into unearthing a major accounting fraud. We’d been yelled at, screamed at, threatened -- and I stood by her, and she stood by me. I expect one of the screamers was still in prison, based on what we found.
She put a hand on my shoulder. “I still owe you a lot for that one. You said you didn’t want to know, so I’ll just tell you that the way your old boss responded to you and Dave Patterson leaving has cost him a lot. There are a lot of people who won’t do business with him anymore. I’m one of them.” She gave me a quick hug. “Got to catch a plane -- I’ll give you a call on this!”
I didn’t hear from her for a week and a half. But what she told me -- I’ll always remember where I was, how I was standing, the scent of dry air, wood shavings, Julia next to me. So many things fell into place.
Sedona is about two hours north of Phoenix. Ellen met me at the Phoenix airport. She smiled, laughed, and squeezed me. Since we had a drive ahead of us, we stopped at an Italian place for dinner.
“What’s happening? Why am I here?” I asked her.
“Oh, you were so right -- we need you here for a few weeks.” She handed me a small orange pill to take.
When I pressed her to explain, she laughed. A big part of the problem, she told me, was Julia. When I pressed more, I learned that Julia had been a member of the Family for about two years; while she’d grown up in the Southwest, she’d been at the Family estate in Lucerne for about six months, and back in Sedona for a little over three months. A big part of the problem, Ellen explained, was that Julia was driving some of the guys on site crazy. Why? How? I’d find out when I got there, she assured me. She thought things would be much better by Monday when construction resumed.
The drive was scenic and the site spectacular. The sky was crystal-clear and full of stars. The “main” building was large, larger than our Silicon Valley home. The two “guest houses” were good sized two bedroom houses. The “staff” one was about a hundred yards from the main house, and our place was another few hundred yards past that, not visible from the main house.
Good Southwest construction, thick walls, shaded porch. I got my bags from the back of the rental car and followed Ellen inside.
Once I saw Julia, I understood part of the problem.
Julia looked to be in her late twenties, and was a bombshell. Short hair, narrow waist, gorgeous, full bosom, hips, legs, large brown eyes -- and radiating sex and sexual frustration. The way she looked at me, I felt like a mouse under the gaze of a very hungry cat.
“Julia,” Ellen said softly, “This is Rob Flynn. He’s a member of our Family.”
Damn, I thought I saw her twitching.
Ellen looked back to me. “Rob, why don’t you wait here for a bit while Julia and I talk.” As she led Julia off to the back of the house, Julia looked back over her shoulder at me.
I visited the half bath next to the kitchen. My nose felt a little stuffed up. I turned off the porch light and stood out on the front porch, marveling at the night sky.
I don’t remember what happened, whether Ellen used the spray on me, or just her voice. Doesn’t matter. I do remember being led into the bedroom, seeing Julia naked on top of the bed.
Friday night to Sunday morning are a delirious blur, making love with Julia. Some times the two of us, some times Ellen’s voice, or that other woman’s voice. Some times with the silver sprayer for her, some times with the gold sprayer for both of us. On the bed, on the floor, in the shower, bending her over the couch, taking her on the kitchen table.
My mind cleared some Sunday morning; I was in the shower, alone. Ellen handed me a towel when I got out.
“Where is she?” I asked.
Ellen smiled. “Asleep -- she’s sore, and needs the rest.”
I could feel it in my stomach muscles, in my back, in my thighs. “Is this part of the cure?” I asked.
Ellen laughed. “I think so. Hungry?”
My stomach growled. I don’t think I’d had much to eat. “Yes!”
After I dressed, we walked to the other guest house to meet folks, Javier and Alicia. We had a very good meal, and talked about the construction.
After lunch, Ellen pulled out a set of prints for the job. We walked through the site.
What a mess. Well, mostly the sheetrock. I could see spots where they’d covered outlets, a really dumb thing to do. I found a roll of painter’s tape and littered the place with blue tape tags, duplicating them on the prints.
We sat on the front porch. Ellen asked, “What do you think?”
I sighed, looking at the gorgeous view. “I think I’m going to have a come-to-Jesus session with the general contractor tomorrow.” I shook my head. Then I chuckled and gave her a sideways glance. “But I understand -- if Julia was walking around the site, I’m surprised more isn’t screwed up. Rule 1 is she stays indoors during work hours.”
Ellen laughed and nodded. “I agree. You may need to take long lunches, though.”
“I may need a long vacation after this!” I replied.
She laughed again, then dug out a business card, which she handed to me. “I told Jeff we’d probably walk the job today. He said you could call if you wanted.”
I shrugged. Why not? I dug out my family phone and gave him a call.
“Jeff?” I said when he answered. “This is Rob Flynn. I think Ellen mentioned me; we’ve walked the site, and I’m looking forward to talking to you early tomorrow. What time will you be out?”
We talked for a while; he insisted on coming out and walking the site with me as soon as possible. Okay, no problem.
He was mid to late 30’s, weathered complexion. I was glad I was wearing well worn levis, an old flannel shirt, and my favorite hiking boots.
We shook hands and Ellen disappeared. We walked the site. I kept things low key, but methodically pointed out problems, comparing the prints to what I saw. He didn’t argue.
As with Ellen, we ended back on the porch. I leaned against a post and looked at him.
“Okay, Rob, we’ve got a lot to clean up. How long are you here?” he asked.
“For as long as it takes. Oh, and this site is off-limits to Julia during the day.”
That brought a smile to his face. “You’ve met her?”
Had I... “Oh yeah. Under control.” I hoped.
He chortled. “Some of the younger guys...” He shook his head.
“I can imagine,” I agreed with him.
He nodded his head. “Rob, thanks for all the notes on the prints. What say we go get dinner and go over them once more? We can figure out where to start.”
“Tamales?” I suggested.
He broke into a big smile. “I’ve got just the place.”
The tamales were great; that became one of my favorite places to eat. We went through the prints and put together a priority list.
When I got back to the guest house, I asked Ellen, “How is she?”
She smiled. “Asleep again, but she had two good meals and a hot bath. How’d your meeting go?”
I nodded. “He’s a good guy. I think he’s pleased I’m not an asshole. It could have been far, far worse. I think we can work together.”
She laughed and hugged me. “That’s great. Why don’t you go wake her?”
Somehow I made it out the door to meet Jeff Monday morning. We walked the job again with the subs. When one of them complained, I told him that my Uncle Bob used to mark problems on his jobs using his framing hammer... Jeff smiled and nodded at that.
I got along well with the crew. I told ‘em I expected to get what we contracted for, and expected good, solid work. If they thought I was being an asshole, talk to Jeff, or talk to me.
Long lunches... Talk started about Julia... All the time she was on the site, she wore white cotton gloves. Weird. Tuesday afternoon we got in a big load of materials; I helped load them in, pretty quickly taking off my shirt. Hadn’t realized I had scratches on my back. Improved my stature...
Julia -- Wednesday afternoon when I got back to the guest house she was sitting talking to Ellen. I’d not seen her coherent prior to that. And she was wearing the white cotton gloves. That night we actually had dinner and conversation! Julia was Kendra’s equivalent for the Sedona site -- security, physical conditioning, that kind of thing. She gave me a sly look and said she’d vary my exercise...
And that night, she took me, rode me, and suckled me to sleep. I need that so much...
I got some of my own work done, besides working closely with Jeff. Julia and I started running in the early evening just before sunset. There were trails all over the property. Ellen left, replaced by Linda, who had Julia and me in a fog for a few days. Linda left and Suzanne replaced her.
Suzanne was a great help. She was used to working with construction and maintenance people as well, and helped Javier and his crews immensely.
But that phone call... All the little loose ends...
Hands -- I’d done so much photography of hands. My friend Ira in college, he was always putting on hand cream, worried about the skin on his hands. I remember meeting a famous politician at a Sunset event; from his face, you’d think he was in his late 40’s. But if you read the skin on his hands, he was mid 60’s at least.
I knew, explicitly and implicitly, no photography of Family members, even hands. If I closed my eyes, I could see Bernadette’s hands, or Linda’s, or Kendra’s. Soft, smooth, supple.
Julia’s hands -- one of those clues. Her hands were soft, smooth, supple as well. Why the gloves? I never asked her, but I saw it as we showered together. She had ridges about halfway down her fingernails, almost like a new nail had been growing in, the old part dullish yellow-gray, and the new part pink, smooth, and strong. I massaged her feet one night and her toenails were the same.
So many little things I should have caught and put together earlier. Reactions to some of my remarks, anomalous reactions that puzzled me. The way some of the ladies spoke, especially when they were together. The music they liked on the radio was another clue. Little things out of place -- only out of place if you’re trying to fit them into the wrong pattern. Once you know the right pattern, all falls into place.
JoAnne called. She found Bernadette’s records. She told me her maiden name, graduation date, and her birth date. Time stopped for a moment; I had her repeat that. She did. And she told me all the school had was a post office box in California. Did I want her to dig more? No, that was all I needed. Thanks. Yes, I’d keep in touch.
I squeezed Suzanne’s hand as we started our descent into San Francisco. Soft, smooth, supple skin and strong, healthy nails. What would I expect from Family-select eugenics?
Since the phone call I’d probed gently, observed more closely, seeking to confirm.
Damn, everything fit. Suzanne’s behavior, the photography prohibition, Julia’s nails, all the little bumps and seeming discontinuities.
“What is it?” Suzanne asked, kissing my hand.
I looked into her eyes. Clear and youthful -- another place age shows itself. “Nothing much, figuring things out, that’s all.”
“You’ve changed, the last few weeks,” she told me.
I smiled as I kissed her hand. “And so have you.” We’d had some wild lovemaking in the last week and a half, the two of us, the three of us, the two of them.
“I’m happy,” she said simply.
“I am too,” I agreed. But what was I going to do? I couldn’t ignore what I knew. Do I let it slide, or do I bring it out in the open?
Don’t know. One day at a time. I had a good idea of what, but I didn’t know why. Well, some self-evident reasons for why, but they begged many, many other questions.
Kendra met us at the airport; I’d expected staff, someone such as Kathryn or Penny. She helped us with our bags, and once we were in the car, started filling us in on Family gossip. Ellen was very pleased with the way I’d turned things around at Sedona. She’d also spoken to Julia recently, and was glad I was getting plenty of exercise. We chuckled at that, at least until she told me we were going to work more on my strength and flexibility. I was encouraged, though, when she reminded me that massage was part of that regimen. Lucky for me, we wouldn’t get back to the house until after four in the afternoon, so I wouldn’t start back on the grind until the morning.
So good to be back “home,” back with the Family. Hugs all around. Linda let me know she still felt cheated out of a night in the little house... After what we’d done in Sedona? “Yes, dear,” is what you say.
More-or-less business meeting with Ellen after dinner. She was happy with how Sedona was going -- Jeff liked working with me. I’d go back for a few days in two or three weeks to check on things, but all the rough interior work was done, and they were into the seemingly endless finish and detail work. She apologized for making me miss the first art show of the season; Suzanne or Kendra could help me with the one coming up in three days. Ooch -- I remembered; a two-day deal at the old Novitiate winery up on the hill in Saratoga. I told her one each day probably, and I’d need half of Friday to get things together. Not a problem. I needed to meet next week with the finance types on quarterly filings.
And I got cornered afterwards by Bernadette and Linda for a not-so-business meeting. I know I looked at Bernadette differently. But she was still beautiful, and I loved what she did to me. They’d decided Bernadette could have me tonight, and Linda had me on Thursday night. I reminded them of the art show on the weekend -- I needed to be up and out of the house by eight on both Saturday and Sunday. Well, in that case, someone else could have me!
In bed with Bernadette, anxious, unsettled. I whispered to her, “You know what I need.”
She whispered back, “Yes I do,” and pulled me to a nipple.
So hard to get up in the morning... “When can we have more time together?” I asked her.
She sighed as we hugged. “Next weekend?”
It was good to get back to the grind. When I told Kendra I’d missed her morning classes she laughed. I walked up to her, grabbed her, and kissed her, squeezing the back of her head. When I helped her straighten up I told her, “I mean it -- I missed you.” The other ladies in the room applauded and whistled.
So for a supposed “light” day, she worked us hard. And I enjoyed it. Deb grabbed me for the two-person work. She worked me, teased me, and turned out my lights. Kendra and I worked more together after the others took off. That ended with Kendra riding me. Showering together afterwards, I asked if she’d spend the night with me Saturday and help at the show Sunday. The way she kissed me, I think she said, “yes!”
Suzanne gave me much the same answer when I asked her about Friday night and Saturday, but she said, “yes,” explicitly after we kissed.
Kendra ran me and worked me more in our afternoon session. I knew I was stronger and faster, as well as being more flexible. The massage session afterwards was just Bernadette. When she quizzed me on how I was feeling, I told her I’d had something like a stuffy nose for the first few days in Sedona. She chortled and told me that was a side-effect of a drug I’d been given. Given for what? To help me survive Julia... She stretched me out on the table and worked a few weeks worth of kinks out of me; I could tell I hadn’t had a massage in a while. She worked so long and so hard that we both needed a shower, together of course, and only had a few minutes to hold me before we had to dress for dinner.
The show went well. Suzanne was great to work with, as was Kendra. Kendra and I spent Sunday night together as well, and dragged in to her class Monday morning. Picking up a bagel later, Bernadette thanked me for wearing Kendra out! I moaned and hung on to her, not quite feigning exhaustion.
Financial review kept me busy all day Monday, missing my afternoon session with Kendra, but concluded Tuesday in time for me to arrive only a few minutes late. I started in on the treadmill.
Only to be interrupted a while later by Ellen, Linda, and Bernadette. We sat on the floor; I’d just gotten warmed up. Amazing the shape I was getting into!
Ellen was frowning. “Feel like traveling?” she asked me.
“Lucerne?” I replied. Wasn’t I supposed to be going there about now?
She shook her head. “No, that’s postponed, indefinitely. Back to Sedona, I’m afraid.”
“What’s happening?” I asked.
Another sigh. “Got a call from Jeff. He’s concerned that Julia is going weird on them again.”
I nodded. “Define ‘weird’ for me,” I requested.
Linda answered. “I spoke to him -- I’d summarize as short-term memory lapses, some irrational behavior. We’re very concerned.”
Ellen added, “She agreed to stay away from the site; I told her we’d have people out there as soon as we could. Javier and Linda will make sure she’s safe, as best they can.”
“What’s the plan?”
“Deb is figuring out flights to Phoenix for the three of you,” Ellen said.
Linda told me, “Bernadette and I are coming along.”
“To evaluate her?”
“Should I keep my schedule flexible?” Kendra asked.
Ellen pondered for a moment. “Might be a good idea. Rob, you’ll be there for a week or two, at least. If ... No, too early to tell... Better clean up and start packing.”
We got on a six o’clock America West flight to Phoenix. Eduardo made us a picnic-style dinner which was superb, and the envy of those around us. We had a car reserved. I drove, getting on the road at about eight thirty. Bernadette was in the back seat, Linda sat next to me.
“Should we call Javier?” I asked as we got underway.
“Ellen was going to fill him in, and let Julia know we were on the way. They have our cell numbers.”
“And we’ll be out of range in about twenty minutes, and stay that way for a little over an hour,” I told them.
“Shit,” Linda said, quite eloquently. She got out her phone. She spoke with Javier. They could see lights on, and motion. So far, so good, but Javier was worried. She told him we were on the way.
“How we doing?” I asked.
“Doesn’t sound good -- Javier lapsed into Spanish on me -- he sounded quite troubled,” Linda informed us.
“Hypotheses?” Bernadette asked.
Linda shook her head.
“Alzheimer’s?” I suggested, remembering an aunt. As soon as the word was out of my mouth, I regretted it. Oops. Big oops.
I glanced over to Linda, who gave me a very curious look, a frightened look.
“Rob, why would you suggest that?” she asked very cautiously, deliberately pacing her words.
What the hell -- in for a penny, in for a pound. “An aunt, not part of my bloodline, she married into the family, had serious Alzheimer’s which came on quickly. She was about the same age -- early 70’s.” There. Said it, even if it was speculative.
“The same age?” Linda asked, effort apparent in her quest to keep her voice in control.
I sighed, shaking my head. “Julia’s fingernails, the way they’re growing out. The old part looks like the nails of someone in their seventies.” Should I mention the hair? “Also a textural shift in her hair, about two inches out.” That part of the pattern fit -- Suzanne’s hair was short, and seemed to have funny ends.
A deep sigh from Bernadette in the back seat.
I glanced over to Linda again. “Should I pull over so we can talk?”
She shook her head. “Not unless you want to.”
“Rob, what have you figured out?” Bernadette asked.
“Well, some things I know, and some is speculation.”
“What do you know?” Linda asked.
I nodded. “Bernadette, the only black woman with your name to graduate from Harvard Med turned 64 in August.”
Another deep sigh from the back seat.
“And I love the way you hold me -- please don’t stop,” I added. I put a hand on Linda’s thigh. She put a hand on top of mine.
“And the speculation?” Linda asked.
“I’m the only family member under 60 years of age? I don’t know. So many little things point that way.”
“Such as?” Linda followed up.
“Language patterns, choices of music, memories of contemporaneous events, responses to remarks I’ve made...”
“What kind of remarks and responses?” Linda asked.
“Kendra talking about studying with a particular Yoga teacher -- Scaravelli or something like that -- either Kendra studied with her when she was a year old, or Kendra is in her sixties. Suzanne talking about her dad and the photography he did, working with the f/64 group when he was young and she was a little girl.”
I sighed and shook my head. “And Suzanne weirded out on me -- we were talking, and I told her she reminded me of an aunt or grandmother, I’m not sure which. I couldn’t figure out why she responded the way she did. She’s probably old enough to be my grandmother...”
“Yes, she is,” said Bernadette softly from the back seat.
“Oh my,” sighed Linda. “Tell me more about Julia -- what do you think happened?”
“Julia’s body, particularly her nails and hair, tells me something happened to her four months or so ago. Like I said, the old part of her nails look like those of a seventy-year-old. The new part looks young.”
“So what do you think happened?” Linda continued to prod.
I sighed again. “Another tailored virus? Dorian Gray? I’ve been to Miami; I know Ponce De Leon didn’t find his fountain down there! It’s so fantastic, but it fits so well! It explains so much, fits all the loose pieces together. But the questions that begs! Why me? Why us? Why not so many others, our so-called ‘leaders’ and ‘captains of industry,’ the Pope? You tell me...”
Linda sighed and held my hand. After a few miles of silence, I asked, “Bernadette? You all right? Linda? Talk to me, please...”
Linda sighed again. “Rob, you’re right. I’m 68. Suzanne is 73. Julia is 74. Ellen is the youngster of the group, 54...”
I squeezed her thigh. “Linda, I’m still part of the Family -- I’m not turning back; I’m not running away. I just need to know better where I’m heading. You’ve done so much for me -- both of you have. I trust you, and I want to trust you. Help me, please...”
I felt a hand on my shoulder from the back seat.
Bernadette said, “It is a kind of virus. It’s been around for at least a hundred years; we don’t know how much older it might be. As to why so few, why not so many others... You made a remark earlier, I think, about someone being ‘eugenically flawed,’ I think was the phrase?”
“Yes, Miriam, the pianist. ... Wait -- given that part of the pattern, the older you are when you’re given the virus, the younger you become?”
Linda laughed. “That’s why I’ve argued for telling you from the beginning!”
Bernadette managed a chuckle. “Pretty close. Remember the one you were given?”
“Don’t think I’ll forget that, even if it’s the only time I’ve been sick in my life!”
“Rob, this other one is incredibly, immensely harder on the body. That’s one of the reasons why it’s not more prevalent. It takes months of intense preparation, and even then, you’re on life support for days.”
“One of the reasons?” I asked.
Bernadette spoke up again. “Rob, have you heard of the varicella zoster virus?”
I frowned. “Oh, chicken pox, and shingles?”
“Right you are. There’s a vaccine for it now. Kids get chicken pox, and in the vast majority of them, the virus goes dormant in nerve roots. It can reappear later in life as shingles.”
“One of the problems with the virus, your Dorian virus -- not only does it take quite a toll on a healthy body, but any other virus, any infection or disease present in the body goes wild. About twenty years ago we had a Family member who we thought was clean -- she didn’t know she’d had a mild case of chicken pox as a baby, and they had no way of testing... She died a very, very painful death.”
“But Julia was tested for everything under the Sun...” I proposed.
I saw Linda nodding. “Everything we can test for, yes...”
“Holy shit,” I muttered.
We were silent the rest of the drive. We pulled into the site a little after eleven. Bernadette got the gate for us. They had me stop just inside the gate, and opened their checked luggage, getting something out of Bernadette’s bag.
I drove us to the guest house. Lights were on inside.
“Rob, wait here,” Linda told me. I nodded. She and Bernadette got out. I reclined my seat and closed my eyes.
“Okay, let’s get the bags.”
I opened my eyes to see Linda leaning in through the passenger door, picking up her carry-on. I got out, glancing at the clock -- I’d snoozed about 20 minutes.
“What’s happening?” I asked as we gathered at the back of the car.
Another long sigh, from Bernadette. “She’s sedated. We ... tried to talk to her, but she’s not really coherent. We ...”
I hugged both of them, and they hugged me.
We managed to get the bags moved in.
“It’s cold in here!” I complained. The place also looked to be a shambles, things scattered all over.
Linda nodded ruefully. “She had the air conditioning turned up all the way, and was wearing about eight layers of clothing.”
Julia was resting in the main bedroom. Clothes, linens, books scattered. What a mess.
The other bedroom was untouched. That’s where we landed.
“Do we watch her in shifts?” I suggested. “I can go three or four hours.”
Linda shook her head. “No, we don’t think there’s any need. You can go to bed; we’ll be along in a bit.”
I shook my head. “No dice, especially if you’re going to talk to Ellen, or to Lucerne.”
To my surprise, both of them smiled a bit. We hugged again.
After unpacking, Bernadette checked Julia’s pulse and blood pressure. She closed the door, and Linda hung something on the doorknob.
In response to my questioning look, she said, “An alarm -- she touches the knob on the inside and it makes a racket.”
We went downstairs to the little office, pushing debris around so we could sit and get to the phone.
“I should have brought a camera,” I muttered.
“I’ve got to agree with that,” added Bernadette.
“Rob,” Linda said seriously, “You’ve got to keep quiet -- not a sound. You’re off in bed, not here.”
I nodded. “I understand.” I turned to Bernadette, putting an arm around her waist. “I’m quiet when my mouth is full,” I whispered to her.
A complex smile filled her face. “Later -- we’ll all need comforting.”
We sat down. Linda used the speakerphone to call Ellen, who conferenced in some people from Lucerne. When one woman spoke, the room whirled -- that voice! She was the voice who sent me off to such incredible places in trance! Someone tapped me on the forehead, and I was back in the room.
Linda gave her report, trying to remain clinical, but I could tell she was working at it. Recapping, Jeff had called Ellen, reporting that Julia was ‘going weird’ again, talking nonsense, exhibiting short-term memory problems. When Ellen and Linda spoke to her a little later, she had difficulty communicating, but agreed to stay in the guest house. Javier was concerned, and frightened. When they arrived, Julia was incoherent. She was sedated and resting. The only things they could check, bp, pulse, oxygen levels, were all nominal. Bernadette wanted to know how her course through ‘the process’ had been. ‘Nominal’ was the reply from Europe, and all the screening tests were negative. What did they propose as the next step?
Bernadette wanted to take Julia to a private clinic outside Pittsburgh for tests, most importantly, a PET scan of her head to determine neurological function. Yes, the Europeans agreed. They would arrange for the Family jet to fly from Toronto to transport Julia; they would make the arrangements. Some side conversations in French, and the woman told us that Doctor Gilbert and an assistant would be on the plane, which would arrive in the morning at Sedona. They would have records with them. Would Doctor Carter like to accompany them to Pittsburgh? Bernadette answered that she would, indeed.
Then the woman asked about Mr. Flynn. How is he? Bernadette wrapped an arm around me as Linda answered. Mr. Flynn was upstairs asleep. He was quite concerned about Julia, since she’d been fine when he’d left. Then she went on a short but very intense diatribe strongly suggesting full disclosure to me, as I was a very intelligent individual, and one who had a track record of correlating anomalous data to find patterns. Bernadette threw in her two cents, adding that especially in light of these developments, she considered it unethical to not inform me.
Yes, yes, the European said, they were discussing this matter. Mr. Flynn is healthy? Who has he had contact with since his return?
Linda smirked. Yes, he is healthy. Since his encounter with Julia, he has had contact with Suzanne, Kendra, Bernadette, and herself.
“My! I am quite looking forward to meeting him in person!” the European woman said enthusiastically.
Both Linda and Bernadette laughed; Bernadette pulled my head to her bosom to keep me quiet. I put my arms around her.
Linda’s smirk vanished. She said that while Mr. Flynn’s previous ‘contact’ with the subject had produced a marked improvement in her condition, she felt that it was too risky to attempt that again. Oh yes, far too risky, the European agreed. Doctor Carter should take blood samples from him for a repeat screening. Bernadette agreed, giving me another squeeze.
Very well, if nothing else ... the plane should arrive around ten in the morning; they would call to update us in eight or nine hours. Doctor Carter would accompany Julia, with Mr. Flynn and Doctor Klein remaining. If need be, someone from Toronto or Saratoga would be sent to join Mr. Flynn. Given the circumstances, he would not be given the process until midyear at least, and they were leaning to full disclosure. His preparation should continue, as well as the development of his skills. I got another squeeze from Bernadette at that. The call ended shortly thereafter.
Sighs and hugs.
“I’m hungry,” I suggested.
That brought a wave of laughter from the ladies.
Bernadette stood and hugged me. “I want fasting blood samples from you in the morning. I can give you something else, though... If you want...”
I pulled back from her a bit. “Bernadette, I want very, very much.” I looked to Linda. “And I hope you need to be held as well.”
She stepped closer, putting a hand on my back. “Rob, I do, very much.”
Linda bent down to pick up some papers, but stopped. “Tomorrow, or later.”
We left the room, turning out the lights downstairs.
“Someone talk to Javier and let him know things are under control?” I asked.
Linda stopped on the stairs. “You two go ahead; I’ll give them a call. Rob, I want you up early to meet the general contractor.”
“Got it,” I told her. I put an arm around Bernadette and we headed upstairs.
She did something to the box on the door, opened it, and checked Julia again. Resting peacefully. Door closed and alarm box set in place again.
“Questions?” I asked when we were in our bedroom. Glad it had a king-sized bed.
Bernadette sighed and nodded. “Brief ones? I’m exhausted.”
I stepped closer and put a hand on her back. “Not too tired to hold me?”
She smiled. “Never that tired... Ask away.”
“The ... process -- it stops aging?”
She nodded. “Stops, or slows it to the point where it’s imperceptible.”
I frowned. “Not my subject, but what are the cellular changes accompanying the transformation?”
She smiled and hugged me. “Oh, you’re a catch! We’re still studying that.” Her voice changed, lower, not at all as happy or energetic. “We expected to learn a lot from Julia. We’re getting our wish.”
I held her.
We’d just gotten in bed when Linda came up.
“They’re glad we’re here. I’ll be a few minutes.”
With that, Bernadette placed a hand behind my head. I moaned, “Yes, please!” and moved to a nipple. She squeezed me into place, I sighed, and let go.
I woke in the dark to someone or something howling. By the time I sat up, figuring out where I was, Linda and Bernadette were up. “Stay there!” Bernadette commanded. She grabbed something from the nightstand and followed Linda out the door.
God, that noise didn’t sound quite human, yet I knew it was Julia... I stood by the door as I heard what had to be the alarm gadget on the door. More howling, sounds of wrestling and a thud, and the howling diminished. Almost five in the morning... I walked into the hall and to the other bedroom. Picked the howling alarm box off the door and turned it off. Inside, Linda and Bernadette were holding someone wrapped in the bedcover -- must be Julia.
“Let me help,” I said as I stepped into the room.
Both Linda and Bernadette were panting. There was an empty syringe by Bernadette. The needle was bent some. Ooch -- that must have hurt.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“Turn on the hall light,” Linda requested. We’d been operating on full moonlight. I turned on the hall light.
The bedroom was a mess, more so than before. The ladies stood up. Linda had some scratches, but other than that they were unscathed. I helped them lift a very limp Julia to the bed, and cover her once more.
“She’s out for eight hours,” Bernadette said.
“You sure?” Linda asked. “What time is it now?”
Bernadette looked at a bedside clock. “Okay, six to seven hours. I’ll whack her up with Vitamin T in four or five.”
“Vitamin T?” I asked.
“Thorazine -- a major tranquilizer,” Linda told me.
She was shaking. I held her. “I’ve got you,” I whispered. She clutched me suddenly, burying her head on my shoulder. I could feel her heart pounding rapidly.
We took turns visiting the loo. Linda was still shaking when we got back into bed. Bernadette seemed to be taking it in stride, at least on the outside. I looked to her for help.
“Hold her,” she whispered. As I moved closer to Linda, Bernadette put a hand on my head. “Down, suck on her.” Linda opened her arms to me. As I settled in, I heard Linda sigh. Bernadette squeezed me and started whispering. Oh, so good...
I woke to the clock radio, and in Linda’s arms. She pulled me to where I wanted to be, holding my head just right...
Some time later I was traded to Bernadette, who held me just as well, possibly better.
“Rob,” Linda said, rubbing my back, “We need to get up -- you need to meet Jeff.”
With sighs all around, we got up. Not enough time to shower, I got dressed, running a brush through my hair, not bothering to shave.
God bless Linda -- she’d loaded up the coffee maker before she came upstairs! At least I had a mug full of hot coffee as I was heading out the door.
“What are you going to tell Jeff?” Linda asked me.
I shook my head. “That I don’t have a clue what’s going on, and she’s going to get medical attention. How’s that sound?”
She nodded. Bernadette came down the stairs and said, “That’s all I could tell him.”
I got another round of hugs and walked to the site.
Javier saw me, and walked to the construction site. I told him Julia had slept well. She was going to see doctors later in the day for tests.
Jeff was already on-site. He gave me a questioning look. I shook his hand. “Jeff, I don’t know what the hell is going on with her. She slept well last night. She’s going to have some tests done. Sure scared the shit out of me. How are we doing, other than that?”
He shook his head. We talked about the job. Some of the workers were a little spooked. That was understandable. How long was I here this time? Don’t know -- as long as needed, at least a week.
I walked the job site. I praised one guy for a nice job, and talked to Jeff about some other work that was going to have to be redone. When a sub and one of his workers appeared, they looked at me apprehensively. I shook my head and told them I expected them to do better -- a lot better. They relaxed. Then Jeff cussed them out. Jeff and I walked off. When we were out of earshot, I told him, “We make a good team.” He managed to laugh, and so did I.
I saw Linda drive off around a quarter to ten. She came back about half an hour later, another car following her.
I turned and saw Jeff looking at me from about thirty feet away. I walked over to him. “House call,” I told him. “See you in a while.” He nodded, and I walked back to the guest house.
By the time I got there, Bernadette was starting to get into the front passenger seat. Julia was in the back with another woman. A woman was in the driver’s seat. Linda was standing on the porch and walked toward me.
I could see the torment in Bernadette’s face as she turned to me. I held her, and she held me. “I’ll miss you -- I need you,” I whispered to her. We kissed fiercely. I closed the car door after she got in. Linda put an arm around my waist. We waved as they drove off.
“That was quick,” I said.
“No screwing around -- they’ll start tests on her this afternoon,” Linda told me.
I turned to her. “What do you need?”
She sighed. “Alicia is going to help me pick the place up. I need you in my arms.”
“Good -- that’s where I need to be.”
I saw Alicia walking to our house.
“I’m sticking with the crew for the day,” I told her.
“Good idea. We may go off-site for dinner.”
“You like tamales?”
She smiled. “Yes, I do.”
“I know just the place.”
We kissed, and I headed back to the job.
I ended up working with Javier, and I worked hard. When quitting time rolled around, I was drenched in sweat. When I walked into our house, Linda grimaced and said, “Shower!” pointing up the stairs. I kissed her, and took her advice.
When I got out, I realized I’d used the master bath. The place was picked up again, the bed made. My clothes were still in the other bedroom, though.
Linda was sitting looking out the window when I went downstairs. She stood up and we hugged. “Any news?” I asked.
“They arrived just before you came in. Bernadette wanted to start with a PET scan. They’ll call.”
“You got a lot done,” I suggested as we drove to dinner.
“Superficial chaos -- it didn’t take us long. Oh, the clothes you were wearing are in the laundry -- remind me to dry them when we get back.”
“Do we move to the big bedroom?”
Dinner was good, but we were quiet. I was happy to see Linda enjoying tamales and beer.
We were back home when the phone rang, a little before nine. Linda got it, and put it on the speaker. “We’re here,” she announced, waving me closer.
I put an arm around her, pulled up a chair, and sat down, pulling her to my lap. She kissed the top of my head and wrapped an arm around my neck.
“Okay,” Bernadette said. I held Linda closer -- I could hear the emotion and turmoil in Bernadette’s voice.
“I’d like to thank Dr. Kirby and his staff for their responsiveness to our requests, and the use of their state-of-the-art facilities. Doctor Gilbert and I have been reviewing initial tests with the radiologists and neurologists here. I’ll be brief. Doctor Klein hypothesized Alzheimer’s disease.”
Linda and I looked at each other. She had? Thought that was me.
Bernadette continued. “We may perform a biopsy, but we believe that is not the case. Our interpretation of the PET scan is an advanced case of new-variant CJD.”
“Mad cow,” Linda whispered in my ear.
“From the comparison with a CT scan performed five months ago, the disease,” Bernadette explained, “is progressing at an astonishing rate. We don’t believe a biopsy is warranted, and feel that the only course open to us is to provide what palliative care we can. Further exclusionary studies are underway, but we believe they will not contradict our diagnosis. We propose transferring her to Toronto.”
I held Linda close. I thought I understood what she’d said; if I did, it was grim.
Our European voice said what sounded like a soft prayer in French, then asked, “How long?”
Bernadette answered flatly. “Weeks at most. Questions?”
The European voice said, “Doctor Carter, Doctor Gilbert, thank you. I don’t know what more any of us can do.”
I spoke up. “Bernadette, please come back so I can hold you.”
Linda held me and cried softly.
“I will, thank you,” Bernadette said. “If there is nothing else, that’s all I have.”
“May God bless us all,” the European said. That ended the call.
I sat holding Linda. We both cried.
We made it to bed. I held her to my shoulder, trying to protect and comfort her, trying to ignore the age difference. “I’ve got you,” I whispered. “You’re safe in my arms.” She held me and cried.
Awake in the middle of the night, listening to the coyotes serenade the moon. I knew she was awake next to me.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
She sighed. I pulled her closer.
“What do I tell Jeff and the gang? Inoperable brain something, she won’t be back?”
I felt Linda nod her head. “Yes, that works -- inoperable brain tumor.”
Linda was usually a lot more helpful. “Okay, I’ll tell them tests revealed an inoperable brain tumor, something which had been present for some time, and just recently started causing problems. She’s going back to Toronto where Family can care for her. How does that sound.”
“Okay,” Linda said flatly.
I hugged her close. “I’ve got you,” I told her again.
I woke to the alarm clock, and held her (let her clutch me) through a few snooze cycles.
“I need to get up,” I told her, “to meet Jeff.”
I kissed her on the head. She stayed in bed.
I stopped by and told Javier and Alicia. Alicia crossed herself at the news.
Met Jeff by his construction trailer. He gave me a questioning look. “Round up anyone who wants to know, and I’ll tell you what I know, and it isn’t good,” I told him.
It took about fifteen minutes for the crews to gather. Javier brought his crew.
“Good morning,” I told them all, as I stood on the little step outside Jeff’s trailer.
“You know Julia developed some problems recently.” I heard Javier translating into Spanish.
“Yesterday, she was taken to a medical center where tests were performed. We got results of those tests late last night.”
I paused, not only so Javier could translate, but to compose myself.
“Julia has an inoperable brain tumor. She’s had it for quite some time; it’s just recently started to cause problems. She won’t be coming back; she’s going to Toronto to be with Family.”
I saw a lot of workers making the Sign of the Cross. “May God have mercy on her,” I added. “May He have mercy on all of us.”
That brought nods and murmurs.
One of the subs said something to Jeff, who shrugged. I could guess that one.
“So that means you’re going to be looking at me from now on, unless we can find someone prettier.”
That got some nervous laughter; the group broke up and headed back to work.
Around lunch time, Javier told me his wife had taken lunch up to our place; Linda wasn’t feeling well.
I nodded and headed for the house.
“Honey, I’m home,” I announced as I went in the door. No answer. Mmm -- home-made chile verde enchiladas in the kitchen.
Linda was still upstairs in bed.
“How are you?” I asked, kneeling and holding her.
She sighed. “I don’t know.”
“Get up and have lunch with me?”
She sighed and rolled to her back. She’d been crying.
I held her. “You’re okay -- it can’t happen to you. You know that.”
She held me.
I got her up, and through continuous effort, got her through the bathroom, dressed, and downstairs to have some lunch with me. I practically forced her to eat, but she did eat.
The architect was coming out; Jeff, Javier, and I agreed with each other and disagreed with the architect on equipment placement, air conditioning, emergency power, stuff like that.
“What are you going to do this afternoon?” I asked Linda.
“I don’t know.”
“I guess,” she said flatly.
“I have to go -- I’ll be back as soon as I can. Holler if you need me.”
She barely returned my hug.
As I walked back to the job, I pulled out my cell phone once I was out of sight of the guest house. I called home. Deb answered.
“Hi sweetie,” I greeted her.
“We heard the news,” she said, emotion in her voice.
“Yeah, a mess. I need a favor, now.”
“Can you get a hold of Bernadette?”
“I think so, why?”
“Have her call me on my cell as soon as possible.”
“Is it an emergency? Can we help?”
“It’s not an emergency, I just need to talk to her as soon as I can. Okay?”
“I’ll take care of it, Rob. Hang in there.”
“Oh, I will. Looks as if I’m going to be here for a while.”
“That’s what Ellen said. She told us we’d probably get to rotate through to keep you company...” She sounded a bit more upbeat.
“Then I’d better get plenty of sleep while I can!”
She laughed. “I’ll get on it right away.”
“Thanks sweetie -- glad you’re around to help.”
The architect showed up. The topography of the site made his placement less than ideal, and the one we wanted was a whole lot better. I was catching on that he wasn’t sure where I stood in the great scheme of things when my phone rang.
I stepped off to the side to answer it. “This is Rob.”
It was Ellen. “Rob, how are you doing? What’s wrong? Why do you need to talk to Bernadette?”
“Hi Ellen. I miss you. It’s nothing major, a personal thing I need help with. How is the group out there taking things?”
“As you’d expect. It’s a great loss. We’re running down Bernadette -- she should call you within the hour. Is there anything else I can do to help?”
I knew Ellen had signed the contracts for the job. I stepped back to the pack so they could hear me.
“Yes, there is. We’re meeting with the architect on an issue, and it would help if you were to tell him that as far as this job is concerned, I’m God.”
She laughed. “I’d be happy to!”
I handed the phone to the architect. “It’s Ellen.”
He took my phone. “Yes? Yes... I understand. Oh yes, no problem at all. Yes, thank you.” He handed the phone back.
She chuckled a little. “You won’t be having any problems with him. Are the others behaving?”
“Yes. Jeff and I work together well. I try not to get in his way.”
Jeff smiled at that.
“I’ll call later this evening to check in. Oh, you know you’ll be there for a while?”
“Might want some of my photographic equipment; too early to tell.”
“You can buy what you need, or we can send things to you. Let us know. Take care, Rob.”
“Thank you Ellen -- give the Family hugs for me.”
“I’ll do that. Bye.”
My, how attitudes change! He agreed with our suggestion. Jeff suggested marking up a set of prints and initialing them so he wouldn’t have to do a change order. That was a nice touch -- a formal change order, as suggested by the architect, would have cost us money.
Bernadette called about an hour later. “Rob, what’s the matter? What do you need?”
“Thanks for calling. When will you be here?” I asked her.
“Ah, I’m not sure -- we’re in Toronto, and I thought I was flying back to the Bay area.”
“I’m worried about Linda.”
“She cried a lot last night -- we both did. I held her, did my best, but this morning she didn’t get out of bed. When I took a break for lunch, she was still in bed. I had to practically drag her out of bed and force her to eat lunch.”
“Oh... What does she say?”
“Almost nothing. I try to get her to talk, but she doesn’t, or only says a few words. I hold her, tell her she’s safe, that it can’t happen to her. I don’t know what’s going on.”
She sighed. “Okay, I’ll get there as soon as I can.”
“What’s going on? What can I do?”
“Rob, she’s depressed, and concerned...”
“We’re all a little depressed, but she’s completely safe -- it can’t happen to her! She should understand that!”
Another sigh. “Rob, she isn’t concerned about herself. She’s concerned about you. We all are.”
Holy shit. I hadn’t thought about that. “Okay, I’m not too bright some times. What should I do, or not do?”
“Rob, you’re extremely bright -- and persistent. You proved that to us on the drive from Phoenix! Engage her; talk to her about it; you need to understand it better as well. I’ll give her a call and talk to her too.”
“Okay -- thanks. I’ll keep holding her, but I need to be held as well.”
“Oh Rob -- thank you so much for what you said. I need to hold you, and I need you to hold me.”
“As soon as I can...”
“Okay -- I’ll call when I have an updated schedule.”
Enough for one day. When I got to the house, the phone was ringing, and ringing, and ringing. I ran upstairs. Linda was in bed again, the phone by the side of the bed ringing.
I picked it up. “Hello?”
Bernadette sighed. “I called right after I spoke to you. The phone’s been ringing for almost five minutes. I was about to hang up and call you.”
“I’ll put her on the phone.”
“I don’t want to talk to anyone,” Linda muttered.
I sat the phone down and pulled her to sitting, and not gently. “You’re going to talk to Bernadette, because we love you, and you need to pull out of this.” God -- where had that come from? I handed her the phone.
She said, “Yes,” softly, nodding her head, listening.
She paused. “Go shower,” she told me.
I kissed the top of her head. She’d said that with more energy.
I stripped in the bathroom and sat on the can. I could hear her speaking softly.
I had my eyes closed, rinsing shampoo out of my hair when the shower door opened.
Arms around me, a body against mine. We kissed.
“Thank you, Rob,” she whispered. “I...”
“Shhh...” I silenced her. I held her, kissed her again, then got the soap and washed her from head to toe. Once covered with soap, she made a wonderful washcloth, smiling and getting more energetic.
“What do you need?” I asked as we dried each other.
“Tamales?” she responded.
I chuckled. “As you wish...”
“And talk?” she added, a little more subdued.
“Good,” I answered.
We weren’t too talkative during dinner.
“Tell me?” I asked when we got home.
“Let’s sit on the porch,” she suggested.
There was a rocker on the front porch, similar to the one on “our” house. I remembered rocking with her in that.
“I remember being with you in one of these, rocking, being held. Thank you for so much, Linda,” I whispered, and kissed her neck.
She held me tight, so tight for a while, eventually relaxing.
“Tell me?” I inquired again.
“Oh Rob, where to start...”
“Okay... It’s so frightening -- we think we’ve done everything, tested everything. She’s the ... I think fourth one they, we’ve, lost in the last decade. Bernadette and I were there for Suzanne; everything was nominal.”
“You know, when I think back on it, when I first saw Suzanne, her hair was short and covered, and she always wore gloves. It wasn’t for six or seven months that I saw her without gloves on.”
“And you know why... We work so hard, and yet we lost her, and the others...”
“One of the ones they lost, I wasn’t there, and we found out it was just before Bernadette and me. Of course we changed a lot of things. But they didn’t tell us about him.”
“What did you two change?”
“We brought in modern medicine! Modern life support, modern diagnostics; well, they were already using pretty good diagnostics, but we turned that up a notch or two. It was easier for the two of us, the one after that, and Suzanne.”
“What happened to him?”
“Oh Rob -- that’s why I’m scared. I’m scared for you. We thought he was clean... But we were wrong, and he died, horribly. When it goes wrong, it goes wrong horribly.”
“So we wait a few years before I do it; cross a few more i’s and dot a few more t’s...”
She gave me a confused look, smiled, then sighed, shaking her head. “No, it needs to be soon. But we know how to test better.”
“Why? Suzanne was in her seventies.”
She shook her head, then leaned on me, resting her head on my shoulder. The view was superb. “It’s different for men... What killed him was ... prostate cancer. It spread rapidly through his body, killing him in a month. When we had access to the records, we realized -- we need to do men as soon as possible, before there’s a hint of prostate cancer. It’s just too prevalent. We’ve done one prostate biopsy on you...”
“You have?” I thought that was a fairly painful procedure.
“Yes, we have -- early on; you wouldn’t remember it. Just like you weren’t aware of Bernadette getting her blood samples the other morning -- I had you. Oh Rob -- it’s so wonderful to hold you like that, but I wonder, Bernadette and especially Suzanne and I wonder, if we’re doing the right thing.”
“When you hold me like that, you’re doing the right thing,” I told her, wrapping an arm around her.
She sighed. “You know what I mean... How ... It’s almost like we’ve taken away your free will...”
I reached over and pinched a nipple.
“Ow! What was that for!” she exclaimed.
I held her head in my hands. “Free will.” I kissed her.
As I held her, I said, “I chose to join the Family. I choose to continue on that path. It’s my choice. Yes, I understand you make it far easier and far more pleasant for me to take certain paths. But I trust you -- and everything you’re telling me now tells me that I should continue to trust you.”
After a few minutes of silence, I asked, “So tell me about it? What’s it like?”
She sighed and sat back. I pulled her closer and started us rocking again.
“You go to Lucerne. You’re put through every medical test known to man, and then some. You’re given vicious enemas to clean you out, and are locked in a sterile environment, given a regimen of drugs and a liquid diet for two weeks while you’re retested. Anything shows up, we don’t go forward.”
“It’s easier now. Before... God, it was horrible. People regularly broke bones from seizures. Now, when we go ahead, you’re given general anesthesia. We do major cut-downs on you, connecting you to machines which relieve your system of much of the burden of removing toxins. They also help with oxygenation, nutrition, and maintaining a safe core temperature. You’re put in a thermal control suit as well; without some assistance, people develop fevers that are life threatening. You’re given the virus, introduced into your blood, and watched carefully for a week. If all goes well, you wake up feeling like you’ve been run over by a truck.”
I held her and rocked her.
“Will you be there?” I asked.
“Oh yes,” she whispered, voice full of emotion.
“Then before I go to sleep, I’ll tell you I love you, and that no matter what happens, I forgive you, and I’ll see you on the other side.” I held her closer.
She held me.
“How did you feel afterwards?”
“Like I’d been through hell. I can’t fathom how you could go through that conscious, or at least starting out conscious. They’d partially sedated people in the past, to control fever-induced problems such as hallucinations and seizures. I hurt, I was hungry, I was weak -- and that was with them monitoring and maintaining blood sugar levels. But the first time I looked at myself in a mirror... I laughed and I cried. Then I threw up, because I’d eaten too much too fast, and snuck a look at my reflection in a serving tray.”
“How about Bernadette? Suzanne?”
“Bernadette was before me. I took her through, staying up for days, monitoring everything I could, yelling at people, amazed and disgusted they hadn’t thought of so many of these things before. It was easier on Suzanne.”
“And those that didn’t make it?”
She sighed again. “Julia -- new variant CJD. One to prostate cancer. You heard of the one with chicken pox. One with a fungal infection under a toenail. The fungus spread through her body, taking her vision, then her nervous system. Others, childhood diseases they didn’t remember and we couldn’t test for at the time.”
“I know better why it isn’t well known...”
She almost laughed. “We found out that the Soviets researched it -- we read their reports -- they infected an entire rural, very isolated village with it. Their superiors didn’t believe the reports, that people were dying from so many different things. They gave up on it. It’s very hard to transmit, though, blood to blood contact, harder than HIV.”
“So if it was unleashed, it would wipe out most of the planet...”
“Rob, if you were completely clean, and we think, we hope, we pray you are, without intense preparation and support, you’d only have a one in four chance of survival, it’s that hard.”
She sighed again. “Okay, here’s the part I think you’d have a hard time figuring out. Have we done anything about contraception?”
I thought about it. I’d mentioned unprotected sex with multiple partners to her, or was it Bernadette? “Not to me, but I assumed you were protected. Something about the process?”
I felt her nod her head, still resting on my shoulder. “Yes, in more ways than one. We have a menstrual period about every four months, and it’s brief and easy. That’s a relief. Ovulation is concomitant with that extended schedule, a few times per year. We ovulate, and produce good eggs -- even Suzanne, even our Mistress. But with ovulation that seldom, the opportunities for impregnation are far fewer. And even if -- we understand better now; we’re getting a handle on it. Something about the egg’s enzyme coat is different, and normal sperm can’t penetrate. We’re pretty sure that once you’ve gone through it, you’ll produce sperm with the proper protein coat. We had a very small sperm sample from one of the other men in the Family, and his sperm was able to penetrate and fertilize. They didn’t have enough to try in vitro fertilization.”
I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. “So the new race is sterile, and the way there is almost certain death?”
“That’s about it. We’re hoping you change that.”
“I thought there were other men in the Family?”
“Another side-effect of the virus, or rather the fever accompanying it, is that they were rendered sterile. A lot of fun still, but sterile.”
“And you think I’ll be different?”
“Yes, we do. We’ve replicated it in animal models. Keep the testes at reasonable temperatures, and the damage doesn’t occur. The high fever, inflammation, severe swelling causes sterility. There are a number of viruses which have that effect.”
“Severe swelling?” I knew my voice was higher.
She managed a chuckle. “You’ll be sedated, don’t worry. Post-pubescent males contracting the mumps, among other diseases, run that risk -- swelling up to the size of oranges, and when the swelling subsides, they don’t work right anymore.”
I shuddered. She chuckled and held me.
“Why did Julia upset you so?” I asked. “Was she a good friend?”
Another sigh and snuggle. I put an arm around her again.
“No, I hardly knew her. Bernadette and I reviewed all her tests and records; we were a remote part of the final decision to go ahead. Thank you for making me talk to Bernadette. I understand it better. The thing that was so frightening to me, is still so frightening -- her body is perfectly sound. It took away her mind...”
I shuddered again, and held her. To have my mind destroyed, and my body left untouched...
“What’s going to happen to her?”
“They did another CAT scan when they arrived; there was noticeable change in less than a day. She’s being kept sedated, and on minimal life support, providing hydration, keeping her comfortable, but not prolonging her life. They expect she’ll last a week, two at the most. When it compromises her brain stem...”
We watched the moon rise over the Red Hills.
It was getting cold.
“I’ll hold you,” I told her. “And I need you to hold me.”
I pulled her to standing. We hugged.
“I’ll hold you. Thank you for everything, Rob.”
“Thank you, Linda. Thank you for talking to me, trusting me, and holding me.”
We went inside and got ready for bed. I held her head to my shoulder. “I’ve got you,” I whispered to her again. “You’re safe in my arms.” I felt strong, and protective. She sighed and snuggled closer.