Comdex - 4 - Interlude

They say everyone has a twin somewhere. What do you do when your twin is dead and her rich husband fixates on YOU?

Many thanks to my original editor Wendy, and my new Holly and Stan. Props to Maggie for her encouragement.

COMDEX

I awoke in a hospital bed with an IV drip in my right arm, and I could hear the incessant beep of a heart monitor. The lights were low, I was pretty well swaddled in blankets and felt warm and kind of fuzzy. Jeeves was setting in one corner of the room. When he saw I was awake, he quietly left the room. Linda sat next to me, holding my left hand. I felt calm, tranquil, and more than slightly light headed. “I’ve been sedated, haven’t I?” I asked.

WARNING This scene contains a description of the rape of one of the characters WARNING

Comdex - Interlude
Chapter 4
Copyright 2004/8 Beth Williams

Sunday, December 9, 2001

I awoke in a hospital bed with an IV drip in my right arm, and I could hear the incessant beep of a heart monitor. The lights were low, I was pretty well swaddled in blankets and felt warm and kind of fuzzy. Jeeves was setting in one corner of the room. When he saw I was awake, he quietly left the room. Linda sat next to me, holding my left hand. I felt calm, tranquil, and more than slightly light headed. “I’ve been sedated, haven’t I?” I asked.

Linda nodded, “Yes, you scared the hell out of everyone.”

“How long have I been asleep?”

“Would you believe, 32 hours?” Linda asked, worry clear in her voice. “Oh, Honey, I’m so sorry.” tears streamed from her red swollen eyes. “I thought bringing everything out into the open would ease the tension — not make it worse.”

Not so strangely, considering the sedation, I really didn’t feel anything at the moment. “What’s going to happen now?” I asked.

“I don’t really know. Hal had one of Cendar’s doctors come to the estate. This suite is like an ICU. My guess is, Jeeves went to let him know you’re awake.”

As if on cue, the door opened, and Jeeves entered with a man I assumed was the doctor. Through the open door, I could see Hal, who looked terrible.

“Good afternoon, Kate, I’m Dr. Tom Richards, I work for Cendar. Mr. Stevens assigned me to your case. How are you feeling?”

“Tired, exhausted, really, I suppose part of that is the drugs I’ve been given?”

He nodded.

“Why was I out so long?” I asked.

“Well, it’s not often I’ve had a patient with hysterics pass out. And, I’ve never treated a transgendered person before.”

“What!” I looked wildly at Linda, and could hear the heart monitor’s beeping increase in speed.

“Shush, Hon; we had to tell Jeeves and the Doctor when they decided to cath you. They were more than a little surprised. Jeeves had strong words with Hal about that one, let me tell you.”

“Mrs. Stevens, please. We only want you healthy and whole,” Jeeves assured me. “I was royally pissed at Hal for his deception, but I know how much you've given up, just how much you’ve already done for him and the company. Please, I know how to be discreet, don’t worry about me.”

Jeeves startled me. First, he had never spoken a single vulgar word in my presence before. Nor had he ever criticized Hal before. I was struck by his sincere tone and manner — he was being honest with me. In addition, for the first time since I had met him, he was not affecting a butler’s subservience; I realized I didn’t really know him.

“Okay then, Jeeves. I’m embarrassed to ask, but what is your first name?”

He looked uncomfortable, “Andrew is my given name, and my friends call me Andy.”

“Then let’s start over with each other, Andy, and be honest. I was born John Albert Williams. For many years I’ve spent occasional time as Beth, and when Hal encountered me at Comdex, he was certain he’d seen his dead wife, Kate. Between Hal, and Linda, I let myself be convinced to take Kate’s place. And to be perfectly honest, I must admit Kate and I share a lot in common. The similarities are incredible, so much so that Hal often forgets I'm not Kate. That's the problem. I’m living with a ghost. I am disappearing, John is, that is, and it scares me. It's getting hard to live with. As for keeping you in the dark, we decided to limit who knows about the real me. I can see where we screwed up. I am sorry, Andy, you should have been told.

“I suppose the biggest question in my mind is, what’s happened to me?”

“I was rather hoping you’d be able to tell us,” Dr. Tom replied. “There’s a tremendous hormonal imbalance in your blood right now. Also, your liver functions are way outside normal parameters. That, combined with the stress you’ve apparently been under evidently combined to trigger a panic attack. Have you been taking any hormones?”

“Yes, but only the ones prescribed for me.”

“Where are they?” he asked.

“In my medicine cabinet upstairs,” I answered.

Jeeves left the room and returned a few minutes later and handed the medicine bottles to the doctor. “Let's see...Enjuvia, Diane-35, and Aldactone; have you been taking all three of these?” he asked incredulously.

I answered that I was taking them just as prescribed, and according to the labels on the bottles.

“Well it could certainly be the reason your liver functions are off the scale.”
He pulled out the clinic’s PDR and began reading the physician information for each of the drugs. “Well, I think someone has made a mistake here. You’re receiving at least twice the estrogen that you should be, and lacking testicles, the anti-androgens aren't needed at all. Even if they were, you are way over the necessary dose. Either the pharmacy or the doctor made a mistake. How long have you been taking them?”

I told him I’d been taking them since the 29th, and that Dr. Kline had given me an intramuscular injection that day as well.

“Well, it may not be actionable, or malpractice in the strictest sense of the word, but you are certainly taking far too high a dose of these drugs, and it could have seriously damaged or destroyed your liver. I want to set an appointment up for you with an endocrinologist who specializes in gender dysphoria immediately. I think if you moderate their use, you’ll be fine. Your emotions should also even out.”

“In the meantime, I want you to go back to sleep. I’m going to continue to monitor your condition until I can get someone competent out to the estate on Monday.” With that, he went to the clinic office, leaving me with Linda and Andy.

A few minutes later, he returned and injected something into the drug lock of my IV. “Nighty, night,” he said, before returning to the office. Things got all cottony, and then blurry. My last memory was Hal walking in, eyes red, looking down on me in bed. I fell into a deep, and thankfully, dreamless sleep.

Monday, December 10, 2001

When I awoke, Linda was sitting in the chair next to me, lightly snoring, and a nurse I didn’t know was keeping watch. As I struggled to sit up, the nurse came over, “Hi, Mrs. Stevens, my name is Wendy. Please, let me help you sit up.” She raised the end of the bed for me.

Linda heard the whine of the motor, and slowly began to stir. I asked for something to drink, and Wendy gave me orange juice. She said the doctor had okayed any breakfast I wanted. I asked for bacon and French toast, and Wendy called it into the kitchen.

When Dr. Tom entered, I asked what time it was, and was only moderately surprised to find it was a little after 10:00 in the morning.

“Dr. Norma Ledbetter, and Dr. Saul Bellows will be out to see you this afternoon,” he informed me. “Dr. Ledbetter is an endocrinologist, and Dr. Bellows is a psychiatrist. Both have extensive experience with transgendered patients. They’ve also worked together for several years. Assuming everything goes as I expect, you can plan on resuming your regular routine this evening.”

I laughed derisively, “Routine? What routine? Since this began, everything seems to be spinning out of my control. No one seems to understand that crappy little fact,” I snarled.

“Well, I can see the sedatives are wearing off,” he remarked dryly. He proceeded to listen to my heart and lungs; then did the other indignities physicians do when they examine you, and finally pronounced that I was indeed among the living. “One of the things we found in your blood work up was your sed rate was up, indicating a slight infection. It may have contributed to your current condition.”

He wheeled an equipment cart over, and I saw it was one of Cendar’s prototype diagnostic machines. He attached the various leads to my body, placed my arm in the blood pressure cuff and let the machine do its own examination. It rather gently pricked the tip of my little finger, and collected a minute blood sample which it then whisked into the built in analyzer. In less than five minutes, the computer delivered a diagnosis and recommendations. Dr. Tom handed the printout to me.

It was an amazing experience. Not the least of which was that the output was understandable. The language was in straightforward English — not medical gobbledygook. The computer essentially said I was healthy, and what was I doing laying around — and by the way — I needed to get more exercise and lose weight.

“Impudent piece of junk!” I snapped. “What does it know about exercise?”

Dr. Tom laughed, the door opened and Vikki brought in my breakfast. “Are you alright Mrs. Stevens?” she asked with obvious concern.

I bit off a sharp retort, and with great effort, smiled, “So the doctor tells me, thank you for asking. Mmmm ... that smells wonderful.”

Vikki smiled as she laid the tray down on the bed table. Linda decided to go shower while she had a chance, and mercifully, everyone left me alone to enjoy my breakfast. I turned on the TV and watched CNN while eating.

As I finished, Dr. Tom entered (which gave me a good appreciation of the surveillance capabilities of the medical suite). “I’d like to remove the IV and catheter, and give you a chance to get clean before your guests arrive.”

I quickly agreed — any reason to get out of here sounded good to me. The doctor removed the IV first. I noticed a bit of bruising around the puncture site. Dr. Tom asked Wendy to go get slippers and a robe for me. Then he asked that I lay back, lowered the bed, and removed the catheter. “I thought sending Wendy out would ease your mind a bit. Your surgery is amazing; if I hadn’t needed to insert the catheter, I doubt I’d ever have noticed anything different about your genitals — short of doing a gynecological exam.” Pulling my nightgown down, he helped me sit up.

Wendy returned, and held the robe out to me. She then led me across the hall to the showers — I was clearly still a patient. The hot water coursing down my body did much to ease the tension I was feeling. Linda brought me clean clothes. By the time I was finished, I felt almost normal. Unfortunately I no longer knew what normal was.

“Okay folks, I’m going upstairs till the other doctors arrive.” Dr. Tom looked like he wanted to object, but my attitude suggested it would not be wise. I took the elevator to the first floor, and wandered out to the atrium. The flowers, the sunlight, and the warmth helped soothe my jangled nerves. Linda sat with me. I didn’t feel much like talking — I didn’t really trust myself to be coherent. I just sat and enjoyed her closeness.

Noontime, Vikki pushed out a tea cart, loaded with tea and finger foods. Linda and I nibbled in silence. “How are the kids doing?” I finally asked.

“Once they realized you were okay, they were okay. Hal has been spoiling them rotten. He wouldn’t leave you, so he had a couple of the security officers take Tim to the range. He also arranged horseback riding for Lisa. By the way, “your” horse is a monster! Have you seen it yet?”

I nodded. “Hal is talking about getting Lisa a horse of her own He mentioned a friend of his raised Morgan's.” When Linda saw the confusion on my face she explained, “Morgan's are a breed that originated in Massachusetts and are supposed to be a great all around breed. Anyway, Hal promised to take Lisa to look for a horse.”

“Then Sunday, when it became clear you wouldn’t wake before noon, he took Tim and Lisa to church while I sat with you.”

“You're kidding, right? It was all I could do to get Hal into church at all!”

“Hon, it was his idea. He looked really rocky, but they went to church, he wouldn’t even drive. Maybe I shouldn’t tell you, but more than once I heard him whisper, ‘Please God, don’t let me lose her again.’”

“Oh my God, what am I going to do? It’s her ghost I can’t take. I might survive if Hal would let me. But if he doesn’t figure out that I am not truly Kate, then neither Kate nor Beth will survive,” I began to cry quietly.

Linda held me, trembling, “Will John survive?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I whispered.

--------------

I chose to meet the doctors In the second floor guest office. It was quiet, had overstuffed chairs, and had a warm homey feeling. Moreover, it had not the slightest hint of a doctor’s office.

Norma Ledbetter, a petite redhead with startlingly bright green eyes, She was . I guessed her age to be fifty something. When she smiled, her entire face lit up, and the smile truly seemed to stretch from ear to ear. “Good afternoon, Mrs. Stevens. It’s nice to meet you. Please call me Norma,” she said, reaching out to shake my hand.

“Hi, Norma, please sit down.”

Norma, Linda and I sat down; Vikki brought in a coffee and tea service then quietly left the office. Linda sat close to me on the couch. Norma began “I’ve spent the last hour with Dr. Richards reviewing your case. I must say, it is a bit unconventional. I understand you are having trouble with your hormone dosages. How long have you been in treatment for your gender identity issues?”

“Since the middle of November,” I answered.

“What?”

“Well, my breasts were done on the 19th; the orchiectomy and vaginoplasty were on the 20th. The doctor started me on estrogen, and the other hormones. So, I suppose you could say themiddle of November.”

“Let me get this straight, you’ve only been in treatment for less than a month? That’s outrageous! How long have you been in treatment by a psychologist or psychiatrist?”

“I haven’t been. Linda and I talked about it, but I haven’t seen anyone yet.”

“Then how in the world did anyone begin reassignment surgeries and hormones? God, no wonder you are so screwed up. This is the reason the Standards of Care were developed.”

“Norma, whoa, slow down. Please start at the beginning, assume I’m totally ignorant — because I’m beginning to think I am.”

We were interrupted by the arrival of doctors Bellows and Richards. Dr. Bellows was a 50 something black man with a complexion the color of well oiled mahogany. Large in every direction, his voice was low, melodious and delightful to listen to. It reminded me of Paul Robeson in the classic ‘Old Man River’ from the musical ‘Showboat.’ “So, this is the patient? It’s a pleasure to meet you. Please call me Saul,” he said taking my hand in both of his.

Norma turned to Tom and Saul. “It seems we have a problem greater than you originally called us for, Tom. Our patient has never heard of the Standards of Care, nor has she been under any formal transition plan, nor has she been under the care of a mental health professional.”

“Norma, I’d asked a minute ago, could you explain what you are talking about?” I asked, growing somewhat frustrated.

“Sorry. First of all, what name would you prefer we use?”

I suppose I should have been expecting the question. It really exposed my own terrors and fears; and naturally, the tears began to flow again. “I’m sorry; I suppose that’s part of my problem right now. For all of my adult life I’ve been John Williams. For the last 20 years or so I’ve spent at least a couple of weeks a year as Beth Williams. A month or so ago, I was attending Comdex — a computer trade show — as Beth. My path crossed that of Hal Stevens. He took one look at me and ran away. I am, in appearance, in the way I speak, and by all accounts, the way I think, a virtual twin to his wife Kate.

“Kate died in the 9/11 attacks, though her body was never recovered. After he got over the shock of seeing me, Hal searched Las Vegas until he found me. He had the harebrained idea that I could step into Kate's shoes. He and, I’m sorry to say, Linda here, convinced me to do just that. The breast implants, and genital modifications were just the means to ensure I wouldn’t be noticed. Dr. Kline prescribed the hormones to help my breasts become more realistic. The trouble is, Hal can’t separate me from his dead wife, and I can’t live with her ghost.” I began to sob quietly. Linda put her arm around my shoulders and pulled me close while handing me a tissue.

“Well, that is quite a story,” Saul commented, “but it remains a question, what should we call you?”

“Right now?” I sniffled, “I’m more Kate than anyone else.”

“Then Kate it is,” Saul said smiling in a warm and reassuring way. “Norma, you’ve seen her blood work?”

“It is so screwed up, I’m surprised she can even function. It’s almost as though she were going through puberty and menopause at the same time. It’s going to take some time to sort it out. Are you going to take her case then, Saul?”

“I really don’t see much choice. With the body changes, the hormones, and the fact that she is living as a woman — and more importantly, being accepted as a woman — she definitely needs someone to manage her case. And, modesty aside, you and I are among the best. And that doesn’t even address the need to keep this quiet, and away from the press.”

“Do I have any choice in this?” I asked.

With a gentle laugh, Saul answered “Not really. Well, yes you do, but I don’t think you’d like the alternatives. By all the reports, if you’re not suicidal then you are damn close to harming yourself. Close enough that if you weren’t under competent care I would be ethically bound to seek a commitment to a state hospital for you. And leaving aside that I’m a stockholder with a vested interest in Cendar, Hal would not allow that. It would become very ugly, very public, and very unpleasant. Besides, will it be so difficult working with me?” he asked, again with his warm smile.

“I see what you mean. So, where do we go from here?”

Norma began, “First, we need to get your hormones balanced, then begin moving towards complying with the Standards of Care. Those are a series of guidelines for managing gender dysphoria and sexual reassignment. Frankly, you should not be in the position you find yourself.”

“The Standards of Care are very specific recommendations,” Saul continued, “designed to ensure the patient has the best possible chance to succeed in their desired gender. You, or rather Hal, simply threw money at your body, and you are experiencing the results.”

The two of them were whipsawing me back and forth. I'd never really examined how the medical community helped someone transgendered. I had just “thrown money at” my own issues. “Do you really think this will work? I’m so confused.”

I turned to Linda, “Hon, what do you think? What should I do?” My heart began to race at the implications.

Linda softly smiled, held my hand, and whispered “I love you. Whatever it takes, I’ll be there for you.”

Looking from face to face, I realized I wasn’t alone. “I guess I really have no choice. What do we do next?”

Saul clapped his hands. “There, see! You can face this. I promise we’ll do everything to help you make good and appropriate choices. First thing is to get you stabilized. Norma will see to that. I’m not sure how, but I know she will get you balanced. Me? I’ll work on unkinking your brain, and help you see where you want to go. And, I do believe Mister Hal Stevens and I are going to be spending as much time together as you and I will. He has some growing up to do, and damned little time to do it! I've known Hal to pull some bonehead stunts before, but this takes the cake!”

“Saul, I think I’m going to put her on a trans-dermal patch with a low dosage of estrogen for a week or two, then, depending on her blood work, change her over to an oral; and, no more of the androgen blockers.”

“Okay, I’ll leave that up to you. Tom, you will be the physician of record. I expect you to arrange daily blood draws for the next couple of weeks. Can you make it out here every day?”

“No problem, the owner of my company will see to it,” he said dryly, referring to Hal.

“Excuse me, but is there any reason not to be seen at the company offices?” I asked.

“No, that works as well. But what I want, is to be certain you are seen every day. And, I want blood samples daily, with the results going to Norma and myself. And, I think I want you on Prozac for a while — at least until we sort out some of the issues. Now the important thing for you to remember, is that Norma and I are very good at what we do, and we will help you through this. You and I will be meeting at least once a week for the next few months.”

I agreed. After doctors Norma, Tom and Saul allowed me to escape, I asked Linda “where are the kids?”

“Hal took them to the mall. They wanted to do some Christmas shopping. Honey, he’s been fantastic with the kids. He knows he’s part of the problem, and he truly wants to help.”

“What about Annie?”

“She’s frantic with worry. She went to the mall with Hal and the kids. She and Lisa are getting along great. Oh, and by the way, there will be additional guests at dinner.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, the Mooney’s arrived yesterday, you know about Simon, and Janie and Hiram arrived this morning. They’re all settled in and having a good time,” she informed me.

“So, everyone but me is doing great,” I snapped.

“Hon, everyone is concerned for you. We all care, and are scared for you.”

I went to my room and lay down for a nap.

It was about 5:00 when Linda came in to wake me. “Rise and shine sleepyhead,” she said, gently rubbing my back.

I rose, showered and dressed for dinner. When I finally went downstairs to the dining room the kids were there, Lisa came over and gave me a hug. “Are you alright, Dad?” she whispered in my ear.

“I don’t know, I think so. The doctors say everything will be okay in a few weeks time.” Lisa sat close to me on one side, Linda on the other at the dinner table. Everyone else came in about then. We just about filled the table with my family and the guests.

Hal sat opposite me. “You’re looking well, Kate,” he said.

I didn’t know what to say. I felt my heart begin to pound. Linda reached over and took my hand in hers.

Vikki served dinner. Hal looked sheepishly at me and shook me to the core when he asked Tim to say grace. His heartfelt “Amen” at the end was clearly sincere. To say I was distracted, would be an understatement — I can’t even tell you what we ate that evening. I do know that 14 people around a table make an incredible amount of noise — the kids getting to know each other, the adults making polite conversation — except for me. I sat there like the skeleton at the feast; somehow unable to make a real emotional connection with anyone or anything. I suppose it was a reaction to the medications. All I know is that I felt numb.

After dinner, we went up to the movie room and watched an advanced release of the Lord of the Rings — Fellowship of the Ring. How Hal got it, I have no idea — but I truly enjoyed it. I forgot myself for nearly three hours. After the movie, everyone left for their rooms while Linda and I headed to her room.

Hal stopped us in the hall. “Kate, please take the master suite. I’ve had Jeeves move some of my things to one of the extra bedrooms. You and Linda should have the larger space.”

I wanted to be angry; I wanted to shout at him. I simply did not have the energy. I let Linda lead me to the room, where we changed and slipped into bed. I took my meds, including a sleep med. When Linda pulled me into a hug I melted into her arms and quietly sobbed myself to sleep.

Tuesday, December 11, 2001

Linda gently shook me awake at 6:30, “Come on, Hon. Time to face the world. You need to start living again.”

I just groaned. Linda pulled me out of bed and pushed me into the shower; where she joined me, washing my hair and just generally pampering me. Afterwards, I did my makeup, and dressed in a simple black suit with a pale pink silk blouse.

Linda handed me the meds the Doctors had determined I needed — a healthy dose of anti-depressants. I asked Linda about the kids, and she said they were still asleep — their bodies were still on West Coast time — and for them it was still the middle of the night.

Downstairs, Vikki had my usual breakfast ready. I enjoyed sitting in the atrium eating my oatmeal; the normalcy somehow comforting. All too soon, Andy was there to drive me to the office — Hal had left for the office an hour earlier. I was grateful to have a driver, it had snowed, and besides being cold, the roads were icy and treacherous.

The office was a madhouse. Janie, Hiram, Jack Mooney, and Simon were all waiting for me. Their concern was evident. All they really knew was I had gotten sick on Saturday, and hadn’t been well enough to come to work. I had Annie escort them to HR for orientation and all the other processing that goes along with a new job.

Later, Annie took Janie, Hiram and Simon down to the computer center. I was certain Simon would quickly take charge; I was also afraid that Simon would quickly take charge. I needed to keep in mind that Simon was a two edged sword. His excellent skills were the mirror image of his acerbic personality. I resolved to check in later in the day to see how he was progressing.

Jack, I took over to the medical center and introduced him to the team he would be working with. Jack was an expert systems guru. He would be tasked with developing quality assurance testing for the software underlying the diagnostic equipment. It was hoped that Jack, as an outsider would bring a fresh perspective to the QA process. Jack made himself at home, and I returned to my office.

On my desk was a large bouquet of roses. Attached was a note: “I hope these brighten your day, see you at lunch, lots of love — Hal.” Lunch with Hal I thought I could handle; we would have to redefine our relationship.

It was strange. The feeling of Kate’s presence was overwhelming. But, today it was somehow comforting. Oddly I felt compelled to explore the private side of my dead “twin.” I picked up the black framed picture of Kate and her twin daughters. The little girls looked remarkably like Lisa in preschool.

I called Annie and asked if she could come into my office. When she arrived, I asked her to join me on the sofa. “Annie, can I ask some questions about Kate? — they may be painful, but I really need to know.”

Annie looked down at the picture in my lap and gave a deep sigh. “I should have seen this coming. What would you like to know?”

“Can you tell me about my twin’s babies?”

“What do you mean your ‘twin’?” she asked. “Oh, is that how you’re trying to cope?”

“I think that’s how I have to deal with things for right now. The doctors are going to keep me pretty well whacked until I start dealing with things better. Soooo ... . I thought it might help to see Kate as my twin — heaven knows we seem to be identical.”

“Okay then, what would you like to know?”

“Can you tell me about the babies? Everything, I mean. I realized just a little while ago that they would be only a year younger than Tim.”

“I was thirteen when my mom and the twins died.” Annie began to cry softly. “They were typical, bubbly toddlers. I adored them. Becky and Tracy were like little sisters to me. I used to help mom with them after school. They loved playing dress-up. Even more, they loved to climb up in my lap and cuddle. They always wanted to play and laugh and sing. Most days they would get up from their nap about the time I got home from school. The first thing we’d do is watch Sesame Street. Then they almost always wanted to play “school.” Really, they just wanted to be with me — and truthfully — I loved being with them.

The day of the accident, my mom was returning from a “Gymboree” play session in Burlington. It was the first big snow of the season, and a fuel truck lost control, crossed the median on 1A and slammed into her car. My mom, Becky and Tracey died almost instantly in the accident. After they put the fire out, there were only charred, barely recognizable remains. It was decided the three of them would share a casket.”

“It was Kate that came to my school, and told me the news. I shouted, screamed she was lying, I tried to kick and hit her, but Kate just held me while I cried my eyes out. I remember it vividly; she put me first, ahead of her own pain. I moved into Steven’s Hall that evening, and Kate, Hal, and I began to put our lives back together. Soon after the funeral they legally became my foster parents. Legally, my last name is Stevens”

Annie seemed to run out of steam, so I reached over, and pulled her close. We sat there for I don’t know how long; hugging, cuddling, bonding, and helping each other come to grips with the loss of Kate.

“Annie, you want me to love you?” I asked, brushing her auburn hair away from her face. Annie nodded, “but I can’t survive and be your lover. Will you let me be your foster … foster mother?”

She looked me in the eyes, whispered, “Yes,” and began to sob.

“Honey, it’s not right that you’ve had to lose your mother twice. I’ll help, and I’ll love you, but, you have to help me, too.”

“I know, Kate. I’ll try.”

“You’ll have to do better than try. Otherwise you’ll lose me, too. But then so would Linda, my kids, and Hal. It’s been really close for me this last weekend. I thought of ending it. I still don’t know if I’ll make it. But I’m going to try, for my wife, my children, you, and Hal.” By this time, I’d joined Annie in dripping tears.

We sat there, and I sensed a change in our relationship. I hoped what I felt was true.

The phone rang, and I gently unwrapped myself from Annie and went to answer it. “Yes?” I said.

“Mrs. Stevens, Dr. Richards is here,” the receptionist told me.

“Damn! Okay, please send him in.”

“Annie, my doctor is here for my daily checkup. Will you be alright?”

Annie wiped her eyes, and headed for her office. “Yes, I think I will. I still can’t get over how much like her you truly are. Thanks ... Mom,” she whispered as she closed the door.

‘Mom? Well,’ I thought, ‘Maybe Annie and I will be all right.’

Dr. Tom came in, and proceeded to poke, prod, and prick my poor defenseless body. “Dr. Ledbetter sent over a time release estrogen patch. We need to place it on your abdomen or hip,” he said.

I removed my skirt, and pulled down my slip and underwear, and Dr. Tom placed the patch on the left side of my abdomen. After putting my clothes back on, we sat down and chatted.

“Do you know how long it will take before I’m anywhere near normal?” I asked.

“Not really, I’m just a glorified messenger. I’m actually kind of fascinated by all of this. I’ve always been a diagnostician, and never really had the opportunity to observe such a radical change in a person’s endocrinology.”

“Great, so I’m just a guinea pig to you!” I snapped back.

Tom didn’t rise to the bait. Instead, he chuckled. “And such a pretty little piggy!”

For a moment, time stopped. Tom realized he’d just potentially pissed off his employer. I confess, I enjoyed the look on his face. Then the absurdity of it all hit me, and I began to giggle at him. “I suppose I deserve that, but can you at least tell me how long I’m going to be so bitchy?”

I could tell Tom was struggling to keep a straight face. “I am not EVEN going to go there,” he said. “First a little piggy, now a bitch ... ? Can we PLEASE not use animal references?”

Ouch. My laughter changed to deep belly laughs, and I simply could not stop. Annie opened the door, “Is everything all right?” she asked.

“Yep, just this lunatic doctor is trying to kill me with what he uses for a sense of humor!”

“Uh, Mom? I don’t think he’s the one seeing the shrink.” Then she began to laugh.

I just groaned.

They say that laughter is the best medicine. For the first time in my life I believed it to be true. The laughter cleared away many of my doubts, leaving me delightfully light hearted.

Dr. Tom left, promising to return the next day. Annie went back to her office, and I made an attempt to read the précis of the presentation for the FDA. I was scheduled to meet with a “medical devices” committee in January to discuss the continued testing of the diagnostic modules Cendar was developing.

Just before noon, there was a gentle knocking on the door connecting my office to Hal and my apartment. “Come in,” I called out. The door opened and there was Hal. He seemed unsure of himself, and slowly walked in. “Hal, thank you for the roses they were lovely.”

“Hi Kate,” he said. With a pleading look in his eyes, he asked; “Can I take you to lunch?”

“I think I’d like that very much,” I said grabbing my coat. “What did you have in mind?” I asked as we left the building.

“I thought maybe seafood today? It’s just a short drive to Legal Seafoods,” he said, escorting me out to the parking lot and opening the passenger door to his Hummer.

“Hmmm ... , I’ve heard about Legal Seafoods, but I’ve never been there, sure, why not?” I said with a smile. Hal closed my door and walked around to the driver’s side.

“I’ve been so worried about you honey,” he said as we left the parking lot. “I don’t know how to help you; I don’t even know how to not make it worse.” He pulled out onto route 3, accelerating smoothly onto the highway. “I’m still having trouble coping with who you are. Sometimes I forget about Beth and John entirely. Dr. Bellows has royally reamed me about this, and will continue to do so. But I see you, and I just want to protect and love you.” I just sat there, letting him talk.

Soon we passed by the Sun Microsystems campus, and pulled off the highway to the Burlington Mall. After parking, Hal opened my door and helped me out of the Hummer. Sighing, I took his arm and let him lead me into the restaurant.

Despite everything, it was softly comforting to have someone so solicitous and caring. That Hal wanted to protect me was clearly evident. We had to wait nearly twenty minutes for a table, and so we sat there on a bench, hand in hand while Hal tried to make small talk.

“I’m so glad your kids were able to come out for the holidays. I don’t think I’d have made it through the weekend without them. You know, I think Tim did real well on the
range, and Lisa has the right instincts to be a great rider. I think she fell in love with Velvet.”

“Who’s Velvet,” I asked.

Hal’s eyes gave a blink or two. “Damn, I did it again. Velvet is your horse — Kate’s horse. It was a bit comical seeing Lisa on Velvet. That horse made her look tiny. Anyway, she did very well. I am trying to get another, smaller horse for her. You know both of those kids are something else. You and Linda have done a fantastic job with them.”

That struck a nerve. I found myself tearing up at the thought of my kids — and how they would react if I did hurt myself. Sometimes love is like a fairy tale; everything is perfect, and no one ever gets hurt. But, sometimes love is like a straitjacket; painful and confining; it limits your possible choices. Life can be an existence where you put up with the intolerable to keep those you love from being hurt. As painful as things were, I knew I had no choice. Ending my life was not an option. The pain it would inflict on Tim and Lisa — much more than even Linda — was something I would move heaven and hell to avoid.

Hal looked at me in concern, “What did I do this time?” he asked. “I thought the kids would be a happy thought.”

“Hal, for being so smart, you are a total idiot. Yes, my kids are a happy thought, but did you ever think about what I am going through? I would have gladly ended my life on Saturday. I could have, would have then ... . but I can’t, now. I thought about my options, and I refuse to do that to my children — no matter how badly you hurt me.”

I turned away and fumbled in my purse for a tissue. As I wiped at my eyes, I felt Hal draw closer, then, a gentle touch on the shoulder. I flinched, but did not pull away.

“Kate, I am sorry. I would do anything to take away the pain. I want you to be happy.”

I looked in his eyes and could not help but sense his love and his pain for me. Timidly he turned me towards him. I began to weep quietly, and allowed him to pull me into a hug. I sobbed into his shoulder as I fought to control my emotions. Yes, I knew, intellectually, that much of the emotional roller coaster was the result of the hormones. Knowing that made absolutely no difference at all to how I was feeling.

Hal made little shushing sounds, holding me tight, patting my back, and kissing my hair. It was nice; eventually I calmed down and dried my eyes. Thank goodness the mascara was water proof.

The hostess informed us a table was ready, Hal asked if we could have a booth instead — preferably private. The Hostess told him it wouldn't be a problem, but would take a few more minutes.

“Kate, would it help if you and Linda went away for a week or so? Just the two of you? I’m sure Annie and I can keep an eye on the kids. Things have happened awfully fast. Maybe a chance to slow down and catch your breath would help?”

“I don’t know Hal, the doctors want to monitor me. I really don’t know what I want.”

“Well, why don’t you talk it over with Linda after lunch? I’m sure something can be worked out, even if it means having Tom travel with you.”

I had never would have thought of that. It seemed incredible that one person could command such resources as to be able to afford what Hal took for granted. As I mulled over this latest thought, the hostess informed us a booth was ready.

I ordered the scrod with a baked potato, while Hal had the wild Alaskan salmon. “Where do you think Linda and I could go?” I asked.

“Someplace warm?” he suggested.

I smiled. Hal knew the only thing I really didn’t like about New England so far was the cold. We spent the rest of lunch chatting. After the earlier emotional outburst, I asked what else he’d done with Tim and Lisa.

Hal was wary; he made it clear he did not want to upset me again. With gentle coaxing he described the shopping trip to the mall, and taking the kids to church on Sunday. I was surprised by the terms he used for church. It was clear my collapse Saturday had deeply affected him. Even more surprising, was his apparent need for a spiritual relationship. He wouldn’t say much of the Mall trip, only indicating that the kids had a ball shopping for Linda and me. The only real detail, was Lisa’s dilemma on whether to shop for me as John, Beth, or Kate. Apparently she was quite comical in her confusion — though Hal refused to tell me who she eventually bought for.

After lunch, Hal wanted to drive back to the office, but I persuaded him to walk with me to the mall. Amongst the Christmas decorations, it was clear some of the stores were already offering Spring fashions. I wandered into the Banana Republic looking at the casual clothes, lamenting the failure of designers to design larger sized clothes. I found a floppy straw hat with a wide ribbon accent that I decided to buy. Rather I chose it and tried to pay for it ... . Hal beat me to the punch. I should have been frightened by the gleam in his eye, but was still logy from the various drugs.

After looking around for about an hour, I was persuaded to return to the office. Annie had a new report for me to read through, and that occupied my time for most of the afternoon.

About 4:00 Annie informed me I had a visitor. Dr. Saul Bellows beamed his broad smile at me as he entered the office. “Hi Saul, to what do I owe this visit?” I asked.

“Well, Hal asked me to check in with you, it seems he has this idea of you and Linda taking a vacation on short notice.”

‘Damn that devious gleam in his eye,’ I thought to myself as I remembered his behavior at the mall. “Annie!” I yelled, “Will you get that devious bastard of a husband of mine in here?” I was beginning to do a slow burn.

Smiling without a trace of humor or pleasure at Dr. Bellows, I asked in my sweetest, most catty voice “Why don’t you have a seat while we wait for Hal?”

Dr. Bellows looked positively ashen, a trick with his color skin. “Uh, I take it you didn’t know?” he managed to stammer.

“No, I most assuredly did NOT know, and Hal is doing his domineering, ‘I’m in charge’ alpha male dominance thing again.”

“Well, I think I’d rather see this anger than the sullen despair of yesterday,” he said. “Think before he gets here. Are you sure you want to fight over this?”

“Damn straight I do. This is one of the things he does that absolutely makes me feel helpless and of no importance. It makes me feel small.”

At that, Hal entered the room. “What the bloody hell do you think you’re doing?” I screamed. “You miserable excuse for a human being; what makes you think you have the right to make arrangements behind my back? Do you remember the last time? I nearly walked out on you. Is that what you’re trying to do? Just say the word. I’ve about had it with everyone telling me what to do and who to be.”

“Kate, please, may I get a word in?” Hal asked.

“Go ahead, let’s see how much deeper you can dig yourself into a hole.” I slammed back in my chair, arms crossed, fuming visibly.

“Okay, first, I’ve done nothing yet. All I’ve done is ask some questions. You and I talked about it at lunch. So, I asked Dr. Bellows what he thought and asked him to stop by. And I did ask Linda for her opinion, but honest, I haven’t made any arrangements yet, except that I asked my travel agent what cruises were available, since you wanted someplace warm and all she did was get the pricing; oh, and I did ask Annie about a couple of gowns for the formal night, ‘cause you can always use them anyway. I talked with Tom about accompanying you, and what equipment he should pack and made sure everything could be packed and ready by tomorrow morning. Then I tentatively asked the field test manager if he could put together a beta set of the equipment if I needed something to bribe the cruise line with. I asked the kids what they thought, and they said it would be fantastic for you both. Oh, I also did ask our pilots to be sure the jet was serviced and ready should anything be decided, and they said it would be fully stocked and fueled by 8:00 am in the morning, and if you were planning a cruise this time of year it would probably be from Ft. Lauderdale, and that’s only 4 hours flight time, but really, I didn’t make any real plans.”

The look on his face was priceless, shock, terror, and fear all played across his face. Here was one of the richest, most powerful men in America reduced to babbling. Finally, a look of abject pleading settled on his face as he ran out of steam. I was suddenly reminded of a little boy caught with his hands in the cookie jar, trying to explain his way out of being caught red handed. He kept going on about the details he’d researched and put into place “just in case” Linda and I wanted to go. Never, ever did he accede to my accusation, while frantically telling me every little detail. I couldn’t help it, when Dr. Bellows began to chuckle I lost it and began to giggle.

Finally, it got through to him that we were laughing at him. He sort of ran out of gas and stood there with a hurt look on his face.

“Okay Hal, relax! But do you hear what I’m trying to say to you? If I am going to survive, you are going to have to stop this. Maybe once in a while it will be okay to “surprise” me. But I am me, not your original Kate. This is one of the things I’ve been trying to get across to you. I can’t exist if you do not give me the space to be me — and respect that.”

“Yes dear, I hear you.”

“May I interrupt?” Dr. Bellows said. “Hal, this is one of the things I’ve been trying to get you to understand. Your fixation on the original Kate is poisoning your relationship with this lovely and delightful woman. If you truly care, you’re going to have to get that through your mind.”

“So Saul, what do you think, can I take a vacation?” I asked, smiling sweetly him.

He laughed deeply. “I think it safe to say you could do with a break from Massachusetts. So, are you thinking of going somewhere?”

“Hal, where are Linda and I going?”

Hal blinked, “Huh?”

“I never said I didn’t want to go, I simply said I wouldn’t allow you to control me.”

“Well, there’s a Princess Cruise Line ship, the Grand Princess, leaving Ft. Lauderdale for the Western Caribbean. I thought maybe you’d like to stay in Ft. Lauderdale for a couple of days, then take the ship and cruise through Thursday, then fly back for the party on Friday the 21st. You’d only miss one sea day that way.”

“What did Linda say?”

“She thought it would be good to get you away from me,” he admitted.

I confess I chuckled at that. Hal just looked a little more hurt. I got up from my desk and walked over to him, and gave him a hug. “I’m not ready to give up on you,” I whispered in his ear. “It’s just this has not been easy for me.” I turned to him and gave him a kiss, wrapping my arms around his neck.

“So,” I said breaking away, “when do we leave?”

“In the morning, if you wish.”

“Where will we be staying till the cruise?”

Hal squirmed a bit more, “Well, I thought the Mandarin Oriental Miami; it’s the best in town.”

I laughed. “Okay, since LINDA wants to; I guess I should get packed, or did you have THAT done too?”

“Damn, you’re good ... I had Annie call out to Gowns R Us for some evening gowns, but honest, that’s all!”

“Well Dr. Bellows, since you’ve certified that I’m certifiable, I guess I’ll go. Do you need anymore time today? It seems I’ve a lot of packing to do.”

“No, I guess I’ll be on my way, though I must admit this was an unexpectedly productive session. You should probably plan on seeing Dr. Ledbetter this evening, since I think Hal, just might, perhaps, have arranged that.” He chuckled as he left the room.

I just glared again at Hal.

“Annie,” I called out. She walked in timidly, looking around.
“I don’t see any blood,” she quipped.

I laughed, “No, I decided to let him live intact, for now. It looks like Linda and I are going on vacation. Hal admitted under torture, that he’d asked you to order some things. When will they be here?”

“Actually, because they are three hours behind, I expect them to be in by 8:00 in the morning. I ordered two formal gowns for you and Linda. We can check the fit in the morning. If needed, we can have them altered and delivered to you before the ship leaves. I think you have plenty of clothes appropriate for a cruise in the closets at the estate, so we should be able to outfit you pretty well. Linda can shop off the rack at one of the malls in Florida for anything extra that she needs.”

“Yeah, SHE can find clothes that fit at Banana Republic,” I grumbled.

“Okay then, shall we head on home?” I asked Hal and Annie.

I rode home with Hal. In truth, he was trying, and that was important. I thought he might need a little time with me. I even held his hand, and we chatted about what he and the kids might do while Linda and I were gone.

He didn’t think it would be too hard to occupy them. They were still exploring their rooms and the estate. Hal said he’d arrange horseback riding lessons for Lisa, and maybe driving lessons for Tim. After all, there were plenty of roads for him to practice, on company property. Maybe he would arrange tennis lessons for both of them. In any case, they would stay busy.

Once back at the estate, I called Linda and Lisa into my room. “What do you think I should take on the cruise?”

Lisa roller her eyes at me; “Wow, this is sooo weird; helping my dad? … choose clothes for a cruise as a woman.”

I giggled, “Yeah, isn’t it? So, what do you think?” We sorted through the closet, selecting four casual tops, two pair of Capri’s, two pair of shorts, my swimsuit, a couple of tee shirts, a couple of skirts, and a cute pair of shortalls, that with the two dresses should be more than enough. Of course, Lisa insisted that I try everything on. After my impromptu fashion show, we looked through what Linda had brought, and decided to do a little shopping in Florida.

Sure enough, Dr. Ledbetter showed up just after 6:00. “I have to tell you,” she said, “I’m not real keen on you being away for a week. Your blood work is starting to stabilize, but you’re still critically imbalanced.”

Hal interrupted, “Norma, I’m sending Tom along with one of our prototype diagnostic units. He’ll be monitoring her, and communicating with you daily.”

“Well, that’s something, anyway. Beth, based on your blood work this morning I've changed your patch. Can we go somewhere private so I can show you how to attach your hormone patch?”

Norma and I went up to my bedroom. After removing enough clothes, she showed me where to place the patch — just below my navel and slightly to one side.

“I want you to alternate sides. The patch should be changed every four days. It’s waterproof and you should hardly know it’s there. Understand?”

I told here I thought I could probably remember her instructions. As I put my clothes back on, I asked, “Won't you stay for dinner?”

Predictably, she declined. After leaving enough patches to last two weeks, she left. Dinner was fun — for the first time in days I enjoyed the time around the dinner table. As usual, the food was good. Comfort food; spam, fried potatoes and green beans, yes I know I have weird tastes, but there you are.

Tim was chattering about the observatory on the roof, and Lisa was talking all about our upcoming trip. With the kids talking to the Mooney kids, Simon, Hiram, and Janie all seemed totally befuddled at the “domestic tranquility” surrounding them. After dinner, I invited Simon into my office. It was time for a little chat.

“Simon, I’ve not been at my best the past few days, but before I take off in the morning, I want to make one thing crystal clear to you. I’ve already had a report of you being heavy handed and abusive. This was not entirely unexpected, knowing you as I do, nor is it necessarily a bad thing. You are in charge of IT operations, I expect there to be times when it's your way or the highway. But you will treat my people with respect. Right, wrong, or otherwise, you will treat them as you would be treated. If you do not, Annie has specific instructions on how to rein you in. For instance, you may have noticed the room next to yours is vacant. Annie is empowered to fly to Florida and offer an employment package with Cendar to your ex-wife. She will not, however inform your ex that you currently work for Cendar. Instead, she will move your ex into Stevens Hall, into the room next to yours, as a matter of fact. Moreover, the position she will be offered will be IT employee management liaison; in other words ombudsman for IT workers.

“Can't you just imagine how delightful that would be? But of course, you are going to be a good boy, aren’t you? Of course you are. Oh, and that would just be the start of all sorts of fun things I can think of. But of course I’ll never have reason to do that, will I? No, of course not. I’m glad we had this little chat, and do remember me while I’m away. Thank you for coming by Simon, and I’ll see you when I get back.

I managed to hear a whispered “Bloody Hell,” as he left my office.

Hal walked in as I was desperately trying not to laugh out loud. “What did you say to him? He looked as white as a sheet.”

“Oh, not much, just that if he screws up and bullies people, I’ll move his ex-wife into the room next to his.”

“Ouch, you play dirty.”

“Hal, you said Dr. Tom was going with us?”

“Well, yes. I hope that’s okay with you. I really am sorry for this afternoon, it’s just that I really want what’s best for you.”

“Do you know if he is married, or has a girl friend?” I asked.

“Actually, I think he is pretty serious about someone, why?”

“I was thinking we should probably have her come along — we’ll be paying for a double room, anyway.”

“Good idea. You want to give him a call, or should I?”

“Do you have his number?”

Hal pulled out his PDA and looked up the number. I dialed and Tom answered on the third ring. “Hello?”

“Tom, it’s Kate Stevens. Hal and I were wondering if you had a girl friend that you might want to accompany you? Cendar’s treat.”

“Wow, that’s generous. Yes I do, but I don’t know if she can get off work. She’s working on the diagnostic hardware, and that’s a pretty hot project right now.”

“Tom, you mean she works at Cendar?”

“Yes, that’s where we met, last year.”

“Call her and ask if she wants to go. Don’t worry about her job, I think her boss will be overjoyed to let her go — that is unless they want Hal to be upset with them.” I laughed, “Call me back, and tell her not to worry to much about clothing, Linda and I are going shopping in Ft. Lauderdale, anyway. Be sure she knows Cendar will pay for anything she wants or needs. After all, a happy doctor makes for a happy patient.”

We said our goodbyes, and I spoke to Hal. “I just did it, didn’t I?”

“What are you talking about?”

“I just did to Tom what you did to me earlier, didn’t I?”

Hal nodded.

“It’s kind of nice to have that kind of power. I bet it’s kind of addictive. I’m sorry I jumped so hard on you earlier.”

“No, you were right, I do get kind of domineering,” Hal admitted.

I walked around the desk and we embraced. “Do you love me?” he asked.

Sighing, I looked him in the eyes “I suppose I do, but you are so exasperating sometimes. I can’t constantly be haunted by your expectations and the memory of the original Kate.”

Hal bent down and kissed me. “I love you more than anything. Try to relax this next week, when you get back, then we’ll work on making me a little less a ‘miserable excuse for a human being’ as you so aptly put it this afternoon.”

“Hon, I’m sorry, I’ve been so screwed up the last few weeks. Yes, we will work on both of us.”

The phone rang, Tom said his girlfriend Meredith would love to go, and would meet us at the airport in the morning.

Hal and I went upstairs and joined Linda in the bedroom. We just sat around watching TV until bedtime. Hal said goodnight, Linda and I changed for bed, and were soon asleep.

Wednesday, December 12, 2001

I woke up early, a little after 5:30 in the morning. After brushing my teeth, I pulled on a robe and went downstairs. Grabbing my Bible from the office, I wandered into the gallery. In the northeast corner I found what I was looking for. Pulling a chair over, I sat down. The painting was of Kate, Becky and Tracy, and another woman standing behind them. It was a formal portrait. Kate and the little girls wearing matching dresses. I read a little in my Bible, but I was drawn back to the picture time and again. I don’t know how long I sat there taking in the details. Kate was seated, wearing a necklace with a heart shaped locket and two little half hearts. The little girl’s necklaces each had the other halves of the hearts. Tracy and Becky stood in front of Kate, who had a hand on each of their shoulders, seemingly half hugging, half protecting her daughters.

I sensed someone approaching. Hal walked up behind me, and wrapped his arms around me.

“Good morning, Sweetheart, trouble sleeping?” he asked.

“Not really, just woke up early and thought I’d read my Bible.”

“What are you reading?”

“The book of Ruth; it’s an incredible love story.”

“Well you picked a good location to read about love. Kate absolutely adored the babies. Their death was a horrible blow to her. I don’t know what either of us would have done if we hadn’t had Annie to take care of. She needed so much support and love, and we were the only ones who could give it to her. In helping her, we managed to help ourselves.”

“Do you know the twins look just like Lisa did when she was that age?” I asked.

“Really? I’m not surprised, considering how similar you are to Kate.”

“Who is the other woman in the portrait?”

“That’s Gwen Anderson, Annie’s mom. When I commissioned the portrait it seemed appropriate.”

“She’s lovely, and now that you mention it, I can see a lot of Annie in her. You know, Annie’s calling me ‘Mom’ now?”

“No I didn’t, but somehow it feels right.”

“Are you okay with me going away?”

“Kate, if that’s what you need then it’s more than okay. I’ll miss you, but you already knew that. I want you well, and I know that I’m mostly to blame. Hey, are you ready for breakfast? I’m sure we can find something. I could make you an omelet if you like.”

“Sure, that sounds good. Wait a minute, you mean I can really go into the kitchen? Vikki never lets me in there,” I said jokingly. Hal just laughed

We walked into the kitchen and I watched as he began to gather ingredients. Hal took the leftover potatoes and spam from the night before out of the refrigerator. He grated the potatoes to make hash browns. While the potatoes cooked, he made an enormous omelet with some dried onion, the leftover spam, and cheddar cheese. I was “allowed” to make toast and set out tea and orange juice while the food was cooking. It was fun, just doing something so simple with Hal.

About the time the food was finished Vikki came in, and being suitably scandalized, banished us from the kitchen. While Hal and I laughed, Vikki served us in the breakfast nook; adding fresh fruit to what we had prepared.

Hal and I chatted amongst the flowers as the sun rose in the east. Surprisingly, he asked if he could plan our itinerary for Thursday and Friday, promising that we would have a good time, but asking if he could leave the details a secret. It was so out of character for him to ask, I smiled sweetly and told him sure, I’d trust him on this, but remember to include Tom and his girlfriend. Near the end of our meal, I asked Vikki to prepare a breakfast tray for Linda. When it was finished, I took breakfast up and served Linda in bed.

“Well, you seem chipper enough this morning,” she quipped.

“Maybe my body’s adjusting to the hormones, but I do feel better this morning. Are you ready for our adventure?”

“You better believe it. I can’t wait to get you alone; I intend to work my evil ways on you!” Linda made suggestive faces at me.

Laughing, I left her to finish her breakfast and crawled into the shower.

I dressed in woolen slacks, and layered a thin white sweater over a pale blue blouse, and a heavier sweater over that.

While Linda showered and dressed, I woke Lisa and Tim. In case you’ve never had the pleasure, waking a 15 year old teenage boy on vacation can be a challenge. Waking one whose been playing on the computer till late at night is even harder. I finally threatened to pour water on him if he didn't get up.

Lisa and Tim went down to breakfast While Linda and I finished packing.

I went to my jewelry case, and looked for the necklace I had seen in the portrait downstairs. Sure enough, the locket with the hearts was there, as were the half hearts that Tracy and Becky had been wearing. I found two longer chains, and placed the half hearts on them. Fastening the locket and hearts around my neck, I pocketed the other two.

Annie was downstairs, and I asked if she would come into my office for a minute. When she came in, I asked her to close her eyes, and I placed one of the necklaces around her neck.

When I told her she could open her eyes, she turned and looked in the mirror, “Oh my God, do you know what this is?” she asked, bursting into tears.

“Yes I do. Since you’ve decided to call me Mom, I wanted you to have something to remind you of me while I was gone.” I pulled my necklace out where she could see it. “You want my love, and I want to give it to you. Will you wear that necklace for me as a reminder?”

Sobbing, Annie nodded, and I pulled her into a tight embrace. “I think, under the circumstances, the original Kate, the twins, and even your mom would approve.”

I reached for a tissue, and helped her dry her eyes, “Come on. I’ve one more person to reduce to tears this morning. Let’s go find Hal.”

Hal was in the atrium, chatting with Tim and Lisa. “Hal, could you join Annie and me for a moment?”

When Hal joined us, I pointed out the necklace, and handed him the remaining half heart. “I’d like you to wear this while I’m gone. I know the chain is a bit dainty for you — you can get a heavier one. But I would love to have you reminded of me while I’m away.

Hal’s eyes teared up, “Kate that’s very sweet of you, but do you know what you’re doing?”

“Yes I do, remember where you found me this morning? I practically memorized every detail of that portrait. This feels right to me.”

“As long as you know, yes, I would love to wear it.”

I reached out and placed it around his neck. It looked vaguely silly, such a dainty feminine chain around his macho neck.

While Hal, Annie and I were in my office, the FedEx truck arrived with the promised gowns. Annie and I gathered Linda and went upstairs to try them on.

***********************

Hal entered his office downstairs and called Jeeves, requesting him to come down to the office as soon as convenient. Five minutes later he entered the office.

“Good morning Andy; who is our best security officer?”

“That depend on how you define “best.” If you mean in combat skills, probably Pat Newmeyer. He’s young, fast, and smart, and when it's called for, mean as a snake.”

“Is he married or single?”

“Single, no one has been able to pin him down.” Jeeves laughed, “He has quite a reputation with the ladies as a matter of fact.”

“Next question, of our single female agents, who has the best EMT training?”

“That would be Sheila Rose. What is all this leading up to?”

“I’d like to have a team accompany Kate and Linda; quietly and unobtrusively. A “married” couple who just happens to go on any excursion Kate chooses would seem to be the least conspicuous. And honestly, I don’t want another tongue lashing from Kate. Damn, she has a temper.”

“Well, it’s your own fault you know. I wouldn’t like being manipulated either.”

“Your point is well taken, Andy. Will you make the arrangements? I’d like them to have the cabin next to Kate and Linda. I suppose I’m going to have to call in some favors, but I want them protected. And one other thing. Can you arrange to have them met at the airport in Miami, two officers to act as “tour guides” for Kate.”

“That’s no problem; I’ll contact Sheila and Pat and get them moving. Is Kate armed?”

“Damn, I forgot to suggest that. Kate likes a SIG P226. Can Florida provide one, and the necessary documents? Can we get permissions from the British and Mexican Governments for Kate to carry while in the Caymans and Cozumel?”

“I’ll call the consulates and see what can be arranged,” Andy replied. “We may have to offer something in return, maybe early production models of the new diagnostic stations?”

“I suppose, maybe you could request a representative of the Ministry of Public Health to participate in the final documentation and development to facilitate the Spanish documentation. Offer to pay all expenses. Offer a complete set of the current and production models of the equipment. Really get their attention. If necessary, a little 'mordida' may be needed. Just do what it takes.”

“Okay, consider it done.”

“Thanks, Andy. Please just make sure Kate is safe.”

“Hal, everyone at Cendar wants her safe; I’ll do everything I can.”

***********************

The gowns fit exquisitely. After Annie packed them in a garment bag, the three of us went back downstairs.

“Well, are we ready to go?” Linda asked as we came down the stairs.

“I think so,” I replied. “Andy told me he’d brought our luggage downstairs.”

Linda and I hugged the kids, told them to be good. I put on a coat — it had snowed, again; picked up my purse, and went out to the car. Annie, Hal, Linda and I left for the airport with Andy driving.

We made good time to the Beverly Airport, less than half an hour. With everything and everyone loaded on the plane, Hal took me into his arms, and kissed me like there would never be a tomorrow. He was an incredible kisser. I felt like I was the center of the universe, and the only thing that mattered in his world. His kiss sent shivers down my spine that were not the result of the 23 degree weather. “Have a good time, I’ll see you next week,” he said.

I climbed up the stairs and into the plane. The stewardess closed the door, and within minutes we were airborne.

When we reached our cruising altitude, Tom unbuckled his seat belt, and introduced us to his girl friend, Meredith Lewis. “Meri, this is Linda Williams, and I think you’ve met Kate Stevens before? And this is Annie Anderson. Ladies, this is my fiancé, Meredith Lewis.”

“Fiancé? When did that happen?” I asked. “Last night she was just your girl friend.”

Meredith blushed brightly. “Well, she needed help getting everything ready, and I’ve been looking for an appropriate time to ask her to be my bride. When I went over to her house this morning, I popped the question, and she said yes!”

“Congratulations. I’m really glad you were able to come along with us. I don’t know what Tom has told you, but my doctors think I need a vacation, and I also need a babysitter. So ... . Tom got drafted, and I didn’t want him to be lonely. Please anything you want or need, just let Linda or me know.” I walked over to the stewardess and requested champagne. As soon as it was served; “I propose a toast, to the newly engaged couple, may God richly bless you and your union.”

“Does anyone know anything about the hotel we’re staying at?” Linda asked.

Annie sighed, “Yes, and I’m so jealous. The Mandarin is incredible. The spa will really pamper you, and the views are magnificent. You won’t want to leave.”

“I don’t think we’ll be there all of the time. Hal asked to schedule Thursday and Friday; and there is absolutely no telling what his devious mind will come up with.”

Annie suggested Linda and I try on the gowns provided for us, and unsurprisingly, they fit perfectly. “Meredith, did you bring a formal with you?” Annie asked.

“Call me Meri, please. No, I was hoping to rent something on the ship.”

Annie pulled out a tape measure and clipboard. “How about I see what Gowns R Us can do for you?”

“You’re kidding, aren’t you?”

I just laughed, “Nope. All you need to do is tell Annie what you would like, let her measure and prod, then get out of the way. It’s like being in the middle of a hurricane!”

“Mom, no it’s not!”

“Oh yes, my dear, it most certainly is. Do you have your samples on the laptop?”

Annie measured Meri, and I helped, inputting all the details into her laptop. The measurements were quickly turned into a three dimensional model complete to hair style, coloring, and face shape. Soon, we were all gathered around the computer screen looking at various designs. Looking at the samples on her personal model; Meri decided on a strapless dress with a deep v neckline ruched over the mid-section flowing into an asymmetrical mid-calf length skirt all done in a deep electric blue silk. Annie suggested a second and Meri chose a highly beaded LBD that showed off her legs to great effect.

Annie pushed her process button; the computer worked on the designs for a few moments and announced there was a file ready for uploading to the manufacturing department. Annie loaded the file onto a CD and requested the pilot to have it sent to the “Gowns-R-Us boutique. A few minutes later, the stewardess informed us the pilot had successfully transferred the file to Las Vegas.

Annie and I went into the bedroom where I could talk privately to her. “Can you do a clutch purse in the same fabric for both of those gowns?” I asked.

“Certainly, mom.”

“Okay, here’s what I’d like you to do tonight. Get Hal to open my jewelry cabinet. There’s a great string of black pearls and earrings that would go well with the LBD, and I think I remember a sapphire cabochon necklace and ear rings for the blue dress. Would you overnight them to me at the Oriental?”

“No problem. Are you playing matchmaker?” she asked with a silly grin.

“Of course; Don’t I have a wicked track record of matching people together to protect?” I smiled mischievously.

“You know, I keep saying it, but sometimes it’s scary just how much you act like the original Kate.”

“I hope that’s a good thing.”

“Of course it is, Mom,” Annie and I shared a hug.

The rest of the flight was uneventful, and we touched down at Opa Locka Airport. It had been a short flight; the time was 11:30 am. We taxied into the general aviation area, and as we left the plane, two Ford Suburban SUV’s pulled up beside the plane. A pleasant looking man in his mid thirties got out of the first SUV, and a woman in her 20’s exited the second.

The lady walked right up to me; “Mrs. Stevens?” she inquired.

“Yes, I’m Kate Stevens, and you are?”

The two drivers held out their ID’s, both Florida, and the much harder to duplicate Cendar card. “Gerri Klein, and this is Ed Moore, we’re with Cendar Security. We’ve been assigned to provide you with transportation and to guide you around while you’re here in Miami. Here is your Florida CCW, a two-way radio direct to our monitoring station, room keys, and traveler’s checks. I also have credit cards for Dr. Thomas Richards, and Meredith Lewis. Mr. Stevens has requested that we be available to you at any time for the next few days. So, should we get started and take your luggage to the hotel?”

“Why do I need a CCW permit. I’m not carrying anything.”

“Mr. Stevens suggested that you probably should, and we will provide you with a SIG P226 when we get to your hotel. Probably just overkill. You’ll have one of us with you all the time, but better safe than sorry.”

Hal’s paranoia and efficiency are frightening to behold; providing what I assumed, (knowing Hal), were armored SUV’s seemed a bit excessive, but it was thoughtful of him.

The flight crew had placed out luggage in the vehicles, so there was little to do but say goodbye to Annie and the flight crew; then climb in and start our vacation.

It was about a thirty-five minute drive to the Mandarin Oriental. Our luggage was handled by the bellman, and we went upstairs to check out our rooms.

You might remember that I was impressed by the Bellagio. I was overwhelmed with the Mandarin. Our suite had a separate bath, a relaxation area, a kitchen, sitting area, and two separate bedrooms. The “relaxation area” contained a hot spa, a deep soaking bath, glass enclosed steam room, and a tear drop ceiling fountain. Tom and Meri’s suite was next door. Stepping out on the balcony revealed views of Biscayne Bay and the Miami skyline.

After settling in, I went into the bedroom and changed into a tropical print top, and khaki shorts. I went back into the sitting room while Linda changed into more casual clothes.

Gerri was in the sitting area. “Mrs. Stevens, I know you’re a capable shooter, and Mr. Stevens indicated your preference was a SIG P226 with two 16 round magazines. This one is equipped with tritium sights, and a Lasermax internal laser sight. I’ve also provided three different purses with built in holsters. There’s a backpack style, a classic style in black, and a casual shoulder bag. Not knowing your preferences, I also purchased a fanny pack style.”

I took the backpack style and transferred the contents of my purse to the backpack. Stepping next door, I asked if Tom and Meri wanted to go shopping this afternoon or what would they like to do. I also gave them the new Cendar backed credit cards and told them to use the cards for anything they wanted on the trip.

Meri was all up for shopping, while Tom was typically male in his response. Kind of a half hearted, “If you want to, Dear,” response. Linda was ready by the time I walked back to our room. Off we went, four women (well, three plus me), and two men getting ready to assault the mall.

Gerri recommended the Galleria as having the best selections. After parking, Linda, Meri and Gerri went straight to Banana Republic, while I took Tom aside. “Tom, have you purchased an engagement ring yet?” I asked.

“Not yet. I asked on the spur of the moment. What with getting ready for this trip I ran out of time to get a ring before we left.”

“Can I be snoopy?” I asked.

“That depends. What do you want to know?”

“What do you know about diamond rings?”

“Not much, why?”

“Well, while Meri and Linda are shopping in a store that doesn’t carry my size clothing, would you like to look for a ring while we are here?”

“I don’t have a checkbook with me, so what’s the point?”

“The point is, you need to get her a ring, and it’s partly my fault you haven’t done so yet. Besides, it’s fun, so let’s look. Money really isn’t an issue if can find what you want. Come on, it’ll be fun!” I took his hand and pulled him down the mall. “If you find something, I can put it on my card and you can take care of it later.”

“Does she like yellow or white gold?” I asked, “And do you know does she like solitaire or square cut? What’s her ring size?”

Tom just kind of sputtered, like I was speaking in tongues or something.

“Sheesh, don’t you know anything about jewelry?” I asked.

“Not really,” he confessed as I pulled him into a Zales Jewelry store.

“Okay, let’s start simply. What color jewelry does she wear?”

“Ummm, I’m not sure.”

“Think! When you’re kissing her; is her necklace silver or gold? How about her ear-rings. Are they silver or gold?”

“Mostly gold, I think,” he said.

“Okay, let’s go with gold then. How big a diamond do you want to get her?”

“Big?” he guessed.

“Tom, you’re hopeless.”

“Look here, why don’t you look in the case and tell me what you like.” I turned to the salesman, “Can we see what you have in a 1 to 2 carat diamond solitaire engagement ring?”

The salesman was like a shark smelling blood in the water. He quickly laid several trays of rings on the counter. Tom just stared at them with a total lack of comprehension.

I just sighed. I separated the true solitaires from those with accent stones. “Now Tom, do you like this style, or this?” Tom chose the rings with accents.

“Very good. You see, you can do this.” I had the salesman put the rejected tray away — no sense in confusing the poor boy.

I separated the rings again. This time, I put in one row, the rings with round cut center stones, in another the pear shape, in another the square cut, and finally, the rings that were more metal than stone.

“Now Tom, do you like the round stones, or one of the other shapes?”

Tom looked through the rings and finally decided he liked the marquise cut diamonds the best. By process of elimination, we had gone from over 98 rings down to 3.

“See? Now that wasn’t so hard, was it?” I teased.

“So now what do I do?” he asked.

“Go get Meri and see which one she likes, but stress how much research and time you put into this. Which one do you like best?”

He pointed to a ring that was narrow, the center marquise stone accented by 2 smaller square cut stones on either side. I asked to see the IGL certification. The ring was yellow gold, the center stone was a very good marquise, Color F, and VS2 clarity. The two side stones were not certified, but the salesman told us they were each  ¼ carat, Color D VS2 clarity. I explained the details to Tom, so that he could at least appear to know what he was doing.

I thanked the salesman, said we’d probably be back, and, my, but your prices are high. He paled at the thought of a lost sale, and I suggested that if we came back, he might want to rethink the price on that particular ring — especially in light of the fact the side stones were not certified. I smiled sweetly and waved as we left the store.

We got to the Banana Republic just as Linda and Meri were finishing paying for their purchases. They wanted to go down to Abercrombie and Fitch; Tom asked Meri if they could stop at another store first. Slightly puzzled, Meri agreed, and we all followed Tom back to Zales.

It was hysterical. Tom showed her the rings, and then attempted to explain the ring he liked, and hoped that she liked also. Unfortunately, he got all the details wrong, and I sniggered as Meri struggled not to laugh when he described the ring as being a very good cut, marquise clarity VS2d ring. He tried to look and sound sure of himself, but in the end he could tell he’d blown it and we were laughing with him.

“Look, I like this damn ring. I don’t know anything about diamonds or jewelry. If you like this one, we’ll get it, or you can choose your own, or, oh hell!” He jammed his hands in his pockets and stared intently at has feet as his face turned bright red.

Meri looked at him, threw her arms around his neck and gave him a huge kiss. “I absolutely love it. Thank you, and I absolutely love you, too — even if you don’t know a thing about jewelry.”

Tom looked at her in shock, “You mean it?” he said.

“Of course, Honey. It’s a beautiful ring. Let’s see how it fits.

After the build up, it was almost anticlimactic when the ring slid on her finger, a perfect fit.

Proving that he was at heart a romantic, in spite of everything, he took her hand and dropped to one knee, and said, “I love you Meredith Louise Lewis, will you marry me?”

Meri tearing up, nodded, and pulled Tom to his feet and kissed him again, while everyone in the store clapped and cheered. While they were liplocked, I discreetly spoke with salesman, and suggested the price was too high. He spoke with his manager, and after figuring out that I was serious, discounted the ring by twenty percent. Considering the store probably had a two to three hundred percent markup, a 20% discount would hardly dent the store's profit margin. I winced only slightly at the cost; $5450.00 plus tax. He ran my credit card while Meri was still showing the ring, twisting and turning the stone to catch the light. I slipped the receipt into my purse and asked. ”Who’s ready for more shopping?”

Altogether, we spent the best part of the afternoon shopping. Gerri mentioned that we had 6:30 reservations at Azul, the 5 star restaurant at the Mandarin, so we all raced back to the hotel to get cleaned up and presentable. Gerri changed in the second bedroom, while Linda and I helped each other. I took a moment to call home and chat with the kids. They were, as promised, having a great time. Hal was pleased when I told him of Tom’s engagement — it seems he had known about the romance, but hadn’t known how serious it was.

At 6:15, I was had just finished dressing, and called down to the maitre`d to request a nice vintage champagne to be ready for an engagement party. Linda, Gerri and I went downstairs to find Tom, Ed, and Meri waiting in the lobby.

As we entered Azul, the view practically took my breath away. Floor to ceiling windows looked out over Biscayne Bay. The kitchen was open, marble clad and magnificent. We were seated, and Meri just absolutely glowed. Two dozen white roses were delivered to Meri during dinner, with a note of congratulations from Hal.

The cuisine at Azul was very different than any I had ever encountered. Who would ever have thought of drizzling chocolate on foie gras and then serving it with cherries for an appetizer? The entrée I had was ginger studded crispy snapper, glazed with a Vietnamese sauce, Mango Slivers and Kim Chee Vegetables. It was strange, but wonderful.

We said our goodnights, and Gerri suggested getting to bed early, as there was a full day planned for Thursday. When I tried to get the details, she smiled enigmatically and told me, “Mind your own business. It’s to be a surprise. But, please be up, ready to leave by 8:30 am. Be prepared for a day of moderate exercise outside, so dress accordingly and wear sturdy shoes.”

After dinner, Linda and I retired to our room, and enjoyed a deep and sensuous intimacy until we fell asleep late in the evening.

Thursday, December 13, 2001

I woke to sound of knocking at the door. Linda was up, and answered the door. It was room service. I put my robe on and padded out to the sitting room. “Good morning, Hon,” Linda said, “I ordered breakfast, I hope you like it.”

I sat down to bacon and eggs, toast and juice. “Thanks, Babe, I wonder what’s on the schedule today.”

“Knowing Hal, it’ll probably be exciting — and expensive. We need to hurry to get ready, Gerri said she’d be here about 8:15.”

Linda and I finished breakfast, showered and dressed. Instead of a purse, today I chose the new fanny pack, packing only the essentials. 8:15 Gerri came to the door, and Linda and I were ready. We met up with Tom and Meri, and Ed in the hall. Gerri led the way, and we followed. I was puzzled when she pushed the top floor button of the elevator, but she just smiled at the look on my face. Exiting the elevator, she led us to a stairway that went to the roof.

Once on the roof I saw a helicopter in Cendar livery, rotor slowly turning. “Hal thought you might like to see the everglades and the Keys today, so this morning we’re flying to the Everglades National Park for a quick tour, and then we’ll fly down to Key West for lunch and sight seeing. Late in the afternoon, we’ll fly back up the Keys, and be at the hotel in time for a late dinner.

We climbed aboard the helicopter, and the pilot introduced himself as Max. Max checked that we were properly fastened in, brought the rotor up to speed, and we took off. We flew southeast out over Biscayne Bay before turning south over Key Biscayne.

Max changed course once we were past Homestead Air Force Base and headed directly for Shark Valley Visitor Center, Everglades National Park. Once there, we boarded a tram and toured the freshwater marsh. The variety of bird life was amazing, and of course, there were the obligatory alligators. When the tram tour finished, we were hustled back aboard the helicopter for a short hop across to the Gulf Coast Visitor Center.

Here the mode of transportation was by boat. Occasionally we would see the snout of a manatee breaking the water's surface. Once we found ourselves surrounded by a pod of swimming dolphins. The boat cruised through a maze of the mangrove harbors with an incredible assortment of marine and bird life.

From there, we flew directly to Key West. Max landed at the airport, and we took a taxi down to Duval street. Ed and Gerri suggested THE signature bar in Key West for Lunch, so we walked into Sloppy Joe’s. The crowd was loud and boisterous, and as we entered, someone grabbed my left breast. I swung around, and someone else pinched my butt. I jumped straight up and looked around, but there was no way to tell who it had been. Linda looked at me, blushing I told her what had happened, and she burst out laughing. Leaning over, she whispered “Well, you WANTED to be a girl … welcome to the club.”

Sloppy Joe’s was a favorite of Ernest Hemingway, it’s an informal, raucous bar and grill, famous since the end of prohibition. I had a Sloppy Joe (duh), while Linda opted for the house salad, and between us we split an order of conch fritters. It was a fun and noisy lunch, with live entertainment — though the best entertainment was the people working and playing there. Desert was, you guessed it, Key Lime Pie — heavenly!

From Sloppy Joe’s we wandered down to the harbor, and in and out of the little shops lining the streets. There was so much to see, I suggested we rent bikes, and soon we were rolling through the quirky, artsy town.

Too soon, it seemed, Gerri and Ed shepherded us back to the airport, and just before sunset, we lifted off the ground. If you’ve never had the chance to see a sunset from a helicopter flying over the ocean, then you’ve missed one of the most spectacular sights in the world. Max followed US Route 1 back to Miami, and shortly after 7:30 we landed at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.

Linda and I said good night to everyone, and retired to our room, where we ordered a light dinner and relaxed before turning in for the night. If Wednesday night had been sensuous and intimate, then tonight was hot and wild. We started in the spa, relaxing to the caress of the water jets. Later we moved from the water’s caresses to a more intimate personal caress. Linda wound up on my lap, straddling my fully inflated penis. I’d never made love in a spa before. The combination of warmth, loving embrace, strategically placed water jets, and arousal pushed me to one of the best climaxes of my life. Linda opened the valve, and we showered off. Linda dried and brushed my hair out, and then I returned the favor. Freshly bathed and powdered, we finally went to bed.

Linda had other thoughts than sleep though. She made a big production of examining my left breast, and yes, the asshole who’d grabbed it earlier bruised it. Linda’s “Should I kiss it and make it better?” led to a wonderful series of kisses. I had noticed that my nipples were a bit swollen and tender — though I thought it too soon for the hormones to have had an effect. It felt good beyond belief. Soon, I scooched around so I could kiss and nibble hers at the same time. Pretty soon, I had moved a bit further down, and Linda no longer paid much attention to my boobs. She had other concerns as I did my best to discover how many climaxes she was capable of in one night. I felt incredibly loved and cared for. Linda finally asked me to stop, and I turned around to hold her.

I was beginning to doze off when Linda surprised me. I was lying next to Linda, more or less on my back, with Linda snuggled against my breast and right side when Linda clicked her remote control, and I found myself becoming hard. “Now, what should we do about THIS?” Linda giggled. I suggested opening the valve and letting me go to sleep. “Oh no, my pretty; no sleep for you!

Linda rolled over on her back, and pulled me on top. My breasts hung down and she quickly latched on. With a moan of pleasure, I entered my beloved, and made love in the most conventional of positions. One of the nice things about my surgery is that I do not become soft as soon as I climax. I was able to continue until she was fulfilled; then, in our post coital afterglow I was able to remain inside her as we held each other. Finally, when she was ready, my valve was opened, and I gradually deflated.

We wound up falling asleep, naked and intertwined.

Friday, December 14, 2001

I couldn’t remember that last time I’d awakened so contented. It was late, after 8:30; and Linda was still asleep. I got up, relieved myself, and showered. I woke Linda, and was just getting dressed when Gerri called. “I just wanted to be sure you are up. You and Linda have appointments at the hotel spa at 9:30. Enjoy!”

I turned to Linda and told her. She smiled at the thought of a day of pampering. We unpacked our bathing suits, and walked down to the spa. I won’t bore you with a blow by blow description, but it was totally and completely decadent. The treatments lasted until dinner, and included treatments for hands, face, body, feet, and soul — it was heavenly. I kind of blissed out with a goofy smile on my face about halfway through.

Linda and I lazed our way back to our room. We wound up ordering room service, and watched movies on the in-house movie channel.
Afterward, I called Hal to check up on the kid. “Hi, Honey. How are the kids?”

“They’re having a great time. Lisa is learning to jump her new horse, Corona. It’s all I can do to get her to come in from the stable. She’s really enjoying it. Tim had his first time behind the wheel. Andy took him up to the Nashua site; you would have thought he was competing in the Indianapolis 500 from the excitement in his voice.”

I laughed, “Well it sounds like they’re having fun. Speaking of fun, thank you; yesterday and today have been the most incredible days in forever. I really appreciate all that you’ve done.”

“Kate, I need to tell you something, because if you found out without me telling you I’d be in the dog house again. I really REALLY do not want that.”

Smiling at the sound of desperation in his voice I replied, “Okay, what did you do THIS time?” I hoped he could hear the amusement in my voice.

“You know Ed and Gerri, your tour guides are really security officers?”

“Duh ... I figured that out as soon as I closed the doors on the armored car they drove up in.”

“Please don’t be angry, but I’ve arranged a team to be with you on the cruise. The only time you have to see them is on shore excursions. Honey, I just needed to be certain that you are safe.”

“Oh Hal, it’s not that big a deal, and I appreciate your concern. Thank you for letting me know, though, ‘cause you would have been in it deep if I’d found out from someone else. You know, this has become one very expensive holiday.”

“Babe, you’re worth it. Anything I have, anything I can do, whatever it takes I’ll do for you. You just have a good time. I’ve called in some favors, so you might be in for a couple of private tours not normally open to passengers. Just have fun, rest up for the holidays.”

“Thanks, Hon, talk to you soon. Night”

“Good night Kate, sleep well.”

Worn out from relaxing, well fed and content, Linda and I went to bed and fell into a deep and peaceful sleep.

Saturday, December 15, 2001

This time I could remember the last time I had been this contented; it was the morning before! I smiled at the memory, and reached over to kiss Linda awake. I noticed the message blinking light on the phone, and when I checked, it was Gerri letting Linda and me know she would pick us up at 9:00 for an appointment across town. She didn’t tell us what the appointment was.

So, a shower, dressing and breakfast later, Gerri picked us, and Meri, up. When asked where we were going, all we got was a cryptic “You’ll see.”

Gerri pulled up to a Victorian style townhouse, and told us, “Mr. Stevens ask that we take you to the best salon in Miami. This is J Sisters, and they have an awesome reputation for nails and waxing. Mr. Stevens also asked that I tell you to get whatever treatments you desire, he wants you to enjoy yourselves.”

Meri, Linda, and I walked up the steps and entered the salon. “Oh … my … gosh,” Meri exclaimed, “This is the salon that introduced Brazilian bikini waxing to the US.” (I cringed at the thought). Linda noticed my reaction, and laughed.

One of the owners met us, and we sat down to determine exactly what we were going to have done. We all agreed on manicures and pedicures. Meri and Linda both decided to get a bikini wax, and ganged up on me until I agreed. I wanted a facial, and maybe to get my brows shaped. Meri wanted a cut and styling. Linda decided on getting rid of her grey streaks and adding highlights.

Six hours later, Gerri picked us up. Linda and I decided to return to the hotel and just lay around the pool for a while. I knew, (boy did I know), no stray pubic hairs would show.

We dressed for dinner, and tried the hotel’s other restaurant, Café Sambal. Like everything else about this amazing hotel, the food was fantastic. We were joined by Tom, Meri, Ed and Gerri.

After dinner, we took a long walk on the beach and let dinner digest. I was feeling well rested, at peace for the first time in months, and really looking forward to the cruise.

We all stopped at the lobby lounge and enjoyed a late night glass of wine. Linda and I said our goodnights, and went up to bed.

Sunday, December 16, 2001

Linda and I woke about the same time, to a brilliant sunrise streaming into our bedroom. I rolled over on top of her. “I love you, are you ready for another day in paradise?”

“You better believe it, Lover. Want to wash my back?” she wriggled her eyebrows at me.

“That’s the best offer I’ve had today.”

We enjoyed a slippery, soapy shower. It was still early, so after dressing we went down to the lobby for breakfast.

Café Sambal sits right off the lobby, and Linda and I had a great view of the people coming and going. Our waitress had just finished serving us when Annie and Hal walked into the lobby. I jumped up from the table and rushed out to greet them. “What are you two doing here?” I asked as Hal swept me into a hug and kiss.

“We wanted to deliver a couple of things and see you off,” Annie said, while Hal’s kiss went on.

“And I wanted to see you before you left,” Hal said while I gasped for air.

“You Nuts! What time did you get up to get here?” I asked, while hugging Annie.

“Actually, we left last night and slept on the plane,” Hal explained.

“Have you eaten? Come join Linda and me,” I said, walking over to our table. Linda got up and hugged Hal and Annie before we all sat down. We ordered more food, and had the waitress take away our cold plates.

“One of the big reasons we came down, is we’re bringing an entire diagnostic suite down for the Grand Princess; levels one and two prototype hardware units, remote telemetry package, and the diagnostic computer. We’re also providing a tech rep for the next sixty days. And finally, we brought enough supplies to run tests on the entire ship’s population. Tom will be using it on you for monitoring, and I decided — unless you overrule me, it is your division after all — to install the equipment and provide training as part of our testing program.”

“Besides,” he said with that infuriating grin, “it opened a lot of doors, and got promises for many extra privileges for you and Linda. I think the equipment is being delivered even as we speak.”

We finished breakfast, and Linda, with a twinkle in her eye leaned over to whisper to me, “Do you want to take Hal to our room, or not? It’s okay if you don’t, but he certainly has been nice.”

“Annie, would you like a tour of this most amazing hotel?” Linda asked, giving me an opportunity.

“That would be nice,” Annie replied. “I hear the spa is fantastic.

“Hal, would you like to help me finish packing?” I asked — knowing that everything was packed and ready to go.

“Sure, if you’d like me to,” he said helpfully, innocent as a lamb being led to slaughter.

“Great, come on,” I took his hand.

Once in the elevator, I punched the floor number and turned to kiss Hal. His reaction was immediate, and urgent. We reached the floor, and thankfully, no one was in the hall. I opened the door, and he immediately saw the luggage — packed and ready for the porter.

“Hmmm, I thought you needed help packing?”

“Actually, I was thinking more about loving.” I kicked off my shoes and resumed kissing him. Between the kisses and caresses, we managed to undress and find our way to the bed.

“Damn, you feel so smooth and soft,” he said kissing his way down my body. “You know how sexy this looks?” he asked touching my pubic hair. “It’s like a tiny landing strip. And the skin on either side is smooth as velvet.” His kissing and touching was getting me aroused. When I reached and fondled his penis and testicles, he groaned in pleasure.

“Would you please come inside me?” I whimpered.

Hal, knelt between my thighs and applied lube to me and him, and gently entered. It was wonderful. Hal is a masterful lover, and he built the pace slowly and steadily. I climaxed once, and was ready for him to just finish, but he had other plans as he began to again kiss my breasts. Maybe the hormones were working already, his touch was electric, and I felt myself again approaching climax. Hal really began thrusting faster and deeper. The power and strength of his climax when it came was enough to push me over the edge again.

“Oh my ... . That was incredible,” I sighed when I could breathe again. I snuggled deep into his side.

“I take it I’m forgiven?” Hal asked, mock seriously.

“Well, at least for this morning,” I replied smiling.

He pulled me to my feet, and we quickly rinsed off in the shower before getting dressed again.

I asked Hal if he would deliver Linda and me to the ship, and he said he thought something could be arranged. He pulled out his cell phone, and called Annie, telling her to come upstairs with Linda, and then our “tour guides” and asked if everything was ready. He smiled, and called for a bellman.

Annie mentioned delivering a gown to Meri, and that they would meet us on the ship.

After the bellman took our luggage, Hal, Annie, Linda and I took the elevator to the top floor and up the stairs to the roof. “Hal, don’t you think this is just a little excessive?” I asked, grinning at the helicopter.

“Well, it makes an impression when you arrive in one, and I really wanted to impress the ship’s crew as to your status.” I just shook my head as we climbed aboard, and strapped in.

“Hi, Max,” I called. Max, as usual, just kind of nodded. He powered up the helicopter and we took off and flew north to Port Everglades. Max circled the port, where three cruise ships were docked, a scene of frantic activity. Max circled in closer to the Grand Princess.

A makeshift helipad had been marked on the concrete apron next to the Grand Princess. Max landed, and as the four of us exited, we were met by the Senior First Officer.

“Good Afternoon. Welcome to the Grand Princess. I’m Sarah Matthews; the Captain has asked me to expedite your arrival, and to show you to your suite. If you will follow me please?” Sarah led us through the maze that was Port Everglades. “Normally, we only allow ticketed passengers on board, but we felt you should see where your equipment will be installed.” As we entered through a cargo hatch, Sarah handed Linda and me our stateroom key/ID cards. “Please smile, and insert your card in this kiosk,” she asked, pointing to a security point. Linda and I did as requested, and were rewarded with beeps from the machine, indicating that our picture had been taken.

We followed her up a stairway to the Gala deck. “This is where our medical center is located. Dr. Francis Connors is our senior physician. I’ll leave you in his care. The Captain has extended his greetings, and will send an officer to escort you to the Bridge at 6:00 if you would care to observe our departure?”

Linda and I gratefully accepted. Sarah introduced us to the Doctor and returned to her other duties.

“Mr. and Mrs. Stevens, it is a great privilege to meet you. I’ve been watching the development of this technology for several years now, and am delighted to participate in your final trials.” Dr. Connors led us around the Medical Suite, explaining the operation, and pointing out the state of the art equipment. “You may not know, but we were the first ship to have tele-diagnostic capabilities. We work with the Cedars Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, California. But this new capability takes us to a whole new level”

Hal and I watched for a few minutes as the Cendar tech unpacked the equipment. “If you’ve any questions, one of our staff physicians, and his fiancé, who worked with the program development — both from the development team — will also be aboard this trip. Kate will introduce you to Dr. Tom Richards and Dr. Meredith Lewis, later today or tomorrow.”

“Wow, do you always provide this level of service?” Dr. Connors asked incredulously.

Laughing, Hal said, “No, but when my wife goes somewhere, I like to be certain all the bases are covered; especially since she is Dr. Richards’ patient.”

“Nothing serious, I hope?”

“Serious? Yes. Life threatening, no,” I answered. “Hal is just a big baby about my safety.” I smiled at him to let him know I wasn’t upset.

“Well let’s get you upstairs so you can get unpacked. Dr. Connors, can you point the way?”

“Certainly,” Dr. Connors looked at our tickets, then led us out of the medical center and to a bank of elevators. “Just take the elevator to the Lido deck, and turn towards the bow. Your stateroom is on the port side, just past the Neptune’s Reef pool.”

Hal, Annie, Linda and I followed his instructions and found our stateroom with no difficulty. I thought I had entered a flower shop. There were flowers everywhere.

I turned to Hal …. “Yes, guilty, I had the flowers delivered. Don’t shoot me!”

Annie and Linda burst out laughing; I just gave him a mock glare. Then I smiled, “Thank you, they’re lovely.” Hal breathed a sigh of relief.

“Annie and I need to leave soon. We both wanted to be sure you got to the ship and see you off. So ... . If I can get a kiss, Annie and I will leave and let the two of you relax.”

Proving impossible, as usual, Linda proceeded to kiss the hell out of Hal, while I gave Annie a long hug.

I tapped Linda on the shoulder, “Okay, my turn,” Linda grinned from ear to ear and turned to hug Annie. Hal was in shock, so I put my arms around his neck and picked up where Linda had left off.

I stepped back, and smiled up at him. “Thank you for everything, I’m sure we’ll have a delightful time.”

“You just be careful. Tom and Meri are across the hall.”

Proving once again the inexhaustible depths of his paranoia, he continued, “Next to you will be Pat Newmeyer and Sheila Rose, your protection officers. On the other side will be our tech rep, Dr. Doug McCue, and his wife Nancy. Pat and Sheila are armed and will accompany you on shore excursions. Damn, I almost forgot.” Hal reached into his jacket pocket. “Keep these ID cards with you anytime you are carrying. The British and the Mexican Government issued these credentials. They were damned difficult to obtain, but again, you are more than worth it.”

“Hal,” I said gently, “I'm not going to need these. It's a cruise ship, not the bloody wild, wild west.”

“Just be careful, Hon. I feel safer if you have something at hand if things go sour.” He turned, “Annie, if you’re ready, we need to get back to Massachusetts before the kids tear everything apart.”

Annie and Hal each collected one last hug and kiss and left.

“Babe, you are going to give him nightmares doing that!” I said, laughing, to Linda.

Linda just stuck out her tongue at me. “And did you screw his brains out back at the hotel>” she teased.

“No, but he certainly made love to me with an amazing intensity. I think I need a nap.”

“Hmmm ... . Sounds like a good idea. Come here!”

We pulled back the covers, and practically ripped our clothes off. Linda took charge, inflated my penis, and climbed on top of me. I must admit, I was really beginning to enjoy letting someone else take charge during sex. I climaxed just before Linda, then we lay there dozing until the ship’s announcement system startled us awake.

I looked at the clock and saw that it was 4:00. I suggested to Linda that we might want to get up and moving, so after a quick shower, I fixed my makeup then we dressed. For me, it was a skirt and lightweight sweater.

I sat at the table in the living room looking at the literature and map of the ship. It was huge! It has been compared to a small city, and that was no understatement.

At 10 minutes before 6:00 there was a discreet knock. I opened the door. “Mrs. Stevens?” a uniformed woman in her early twenties asked.

I nodded my head. “And this is Mrs. Linda Williams, my best friend.”

In delightfully accented English she said, “Mrs. Stevens, I’m Claire Woolsey, Senior cadet aboard the Golden Princess. Captain Breton has asked that I escort you to the bridge. If you ladies will follow me?”

Claire led us forward, through a locked door, up a short stairway and onto the bridge. The bridge of the Grand Princess extends out past the sides of the ship in such a way as to be able to see the length of the ship. Having worked for Raytheon, I was not surprised to see the bridge looked more like a computer center than anything else. Clair led us to an officer with 4 stripes and a sunburst on each of his shoulder boards. “Captain Breton, my I present Mrs. Katherine Stevens, and her companion, Mrs. Linda Williams.”

Captain Breton was a well built sandy haired man with steel gray eyes. He looked to be about 5’ 10” and spoke with a pronounced English accent. “Mrs. Stevens, how very good to meet you. I trust you’ll enjoy your stay with us. And you also. Mrs. Williams,” he said as a sort of afterthought.”

“Please, Captain, if you are comfortable doing so, call me Kate. Linda is my best friend, but she is also Cendar’s Chief Operating Officer for West Coast operations.”

With that, Captain Breton gave Linda a reappraising look. “Very well, Kate, I’m honored. We will be slipping our mooring in about 30 minutes. If you ladies would like to look around, please feel free. I’ve instructed all of my officers to grant you ever courtesy possible.”

Captain Breton proceeded to show us the various controls and visual information screens around the bridge. At 6:15 he excused himself, and went over to the helm, where he talked with the port pilot. At 6:30 precisely, Linda and I watched from the wing of the bridge as the heavy cables mooring the ship to the pier were slipped. There were at least six. (I lost track). forward. and 6 aft. The engines began to thrum and at the pilots direction, the 110,000 ton ship pulled away from the pier at Port Everglades.

Linda and I stayed on the bridge for another 30 minutes until the pilot left and departed the ship in a small launch.

“Well, that was neatly done. May I escort you ladies to dinner?” Captain Breton asked.

“Why yes, thank you Captain. That would be lovely,” I said. The Captain offered his arm, and I let him lead us to the Di Vinci dining room on the Fiesta deck. Throughout our walk, he entertained us with information about the ship.

We were escorted to a table for eight. Dr. Tom and Meri were already there, as was a couple I did not know, and a woman Captain Breton introduced as his wife Lois. Tom introduced the other couple as Pat and Sheila Newmeyer, Cendar security officers.

“That does lead me to a rather thorny issue. I’m neither used to nor comfortable with having armed persons aboard my ship. I trust you shall be discreet, shall we say, and that I will have no reports of gun toting maniacs running loose on my ship?”

Pat laughed at that. “Captain, believe me, none of us want anyone to know that we are armed, nor do we want to be obviously identified as being anything other than happy tourists. It’s fine to treat Mrs. Stevens special, and that is simply because she is. She is one of the richest and most powerful women in the world. But the rest of us are simply “tourists” as far as anyone else is concerned. In fact, if convenient, having one or two of your more conspicuous security officers accompany them will allow Sheila and me to do our jobs more effectively.”

The wait staff brought our menus. After a few minutes we placed our orders for appetizers, soup, salad, and entrée.

“Very well Mr. Newmeyer, we’ll do it your way. I will ask that you meet with the Staff Captain and acquaint him with your needs and capabilities. I trust that should something untoward were to happen you will obey his orders and directions.”

“Certainly Captain; if you will have an officer make the proper introductions I will meet with him? Her? At their convenience.”

“Excellent. The Staff Captain is Nicholas Bourne. I’ll have someone escort you in the morning, say, 9:00?”

“Great, thank you for your cooperation.”

“One must bow to the inevitable. My orders were quite specific, let me assure you.”

“Captain, I certainly hope we are providing something worth all the trouble we are putting you to.”

“My dear lady, if your equipment works half as well as my medical staff seems to think it will, I would be willing to do nearly anything you could possibly ask or imagine. With the threat of terrorism, and the frequent outbreaks of illness within the cruise industry, anything that augments the medical department is a godsend.”

Conversation slipped into more friendly topics, as we chatted and ate our way through five courses. For me that was, proscuito wrapped melon, beef consume, Caesar salad, and prime rib; all of it unbelievably good. I split a crá¨me Brule with Linda, feeling virtuous in not ordering more!

After dinner, Linda and I went forward to the Princess Theater and watched the evening’s live entertainment. It was better than I expected; with a comedic magician headlining the act.

Linda and I explored the ship after the show. We stopped in at one of the bars, the Wheelhouse Lounge, and listened to an excellent jazz trio. I’d finished my drink (a sweet concoction called a Marco Polo), and the waitress brought another and a glass of white wine to Linda. I told her that we hadn’t ordered it, and she pointed out a couple of 50 something men sitting across the room, and said they had sent them to us. I looked at Linda, “What do I do now?” I asked.

I picked up the drink and took a sip, Linda looked me straight in the eye, “Just look over at them and smile. And unless you really want to get laid, do NOT do anything else at all.” At that, I sputtered, dribbling sticky red liquor down my blouse. Linda laughed uproariously.

I dabbed at the liquid before I looked over to the table and smiled. Then I turned to Linda. “Now THAT was uncalled for!” Then my angry glare broke into a fit of giggles. “You don’t really think they were making eyes at me, do you? It’s you they’re interested in, I’m just sitting here.”

“Hon, there are men who love plus sized women. And don’t look now, but guess who’s walking this way?”

“Oh Lord, no!”

“Relax; just be sure they see your wedding bands. Unless they’re total assholes they’ll take the hint and back off.”

“Good evening, ladies,” the first one said. “My friend and I noticed you’re all alone, which seemed such a shame for so lovely a pair of ladies. Would you mind if we joined you?

Linda, noticing my discomfort, invited them to sit down, Do you like jazz too?” She asked.

I said, “Thank you for the drink. We’re about ready to leave, we’re on an early morning excursion.

Linda scooted over by me making room, “I’m Linda, and this is my best friend, Kate.”

The second sat next to me, “I’m John and this is Rob, what do you think of the music?”

“The music is better than I expected. I enjoy jazz, but my husband’s really the connoisseur.”

“Is your husband on the cruise?”

“Nope. He and Linda’s husband are both busy this week.”

“Too bad, he doesn’t know what he’s missing.”

“I know,” Linda said, “but Kate and I have been looking forward to a girl’s only trip, forever!”

“Yeah,” I said; “Pampering all week long, no responsibilities, and wonderful food.”

“And no sex!” Linda exclaimed, and I had the presence of mind to give her a high five.

The trio finished their set, and one of the cruise director’s assistants began setting up for Karaoke. Rob and John were enthusiastic, wanting to participate; all I wanted to do was run away. Linda looked at me, “But you just LOVE Karaoke,” she teased.

John ordered another round over my protests.

Linda huddled over the Karaoke lists with them, much to my chagrin, and John and Rob were amongst the first requests turned in.

By this time, I was feeling the third drink. There must have been more liquor in the drink than I had thought.

Rob was called first, and he did a credible job on an old show tune, “On the Street Where You Live” from My Fair Lady. John was next, with “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You” an old Elvis hit. Unfortunately, he sang the song while staring at me. Next, the host called “Now, with ‘Man I Feel Like a Woman’, Kate Stevens!”

I glared at Linda. While I have a reasonably decent voice, I did not intend to sing tonight. John had ordered yet another round, and EVERYONE was urging me forward.

Against my better judgment, I allowed myself to be pushed forward.

The music began.

“Let’s go girls!”

If I was going to make a fool of myself, I decided to go all out.

“I'm going out tonight-I'm feelin' alright”
“Gonna let it all hang out”
“Wanna make some noise-really raise my voice”
“Yeah, I wanna scream and shout “

The crowd started clapping along and I really began to vamp it up. All to soon, I was at the end of the song.

“I get totally crazy”
“Can you feel it”
“Come, come, come on baby”
“I feel like a woman”

The audience clapped politely, except to one table that went totally crazy. I wasn’t the only one making a scene. Linda, John and Rob were screaming and whistling. I was totally spent from the adrenaline rush. I got back to the table and Linda gave me a hug. I drained my drink in one long gulp.

“You were fantastic,” John said. Rob agreed, and Linda nodded — the traitorous bitch, oh was I going to get her later! We sat for a few more minutes, watching lame renditions of songs ranging from show tunes to rap.

“Oh, look at the time,” I said. “We need to say good night. Thanks, again for the drinks.”

The guys stood up, Linda and I shook hands and beat a hasty retreat to the safety of our room.

Linda started singing as we entered the elevator.

“Oh, oh, oh, go totally crazy-forget I'm a lady”
“Men's shirts-short skirts”
“Oh, oh, oh, really go wild-yeah, doin' it in style”
“Oh, oh, oh, get in the action-feel the attraction”
“Color my hair-do what I dare”
“Oh, oh, oh, I wanna be free-yeah, to feel the way I feel”
“Man! I feel like a woman!”

Once we reached our room, I turned to Linda; “Oh my gosh, I’ve never been so scared!” I said, “and YOU, argh!! I pushed her to the bed.

Linda was rolling on the bed laughing so hard she couldn’t even sit up. “I do think John had the hots for you,” she said, triggering another laughing spell.

“You were no help!” I said, smacking her with a pillow.

“Girl, you just are to hot to handle. Bet you could of got laid by either or both of them!”

“Linda!” I wailed. “You’re not helping!”

“I know, but watching you blush is soooo much fun.”

I flounced off to the bathroom, washed up and got ready for bed.

Linda jumped in bed a few minutes later, turned over, and pulled me close. “I love you; this has been the best vacation I’ve ever had. You are truly my best friend, the love of my life, and now my best girl friend. Thank you, John Beth Kate.” She kissed me, and pulled me into a snuggle as she patted my head and gently rubbed my back.

“You know?” she whispered, drifting off, “We could have kissed and said we were lesbians,” she giggled. Her breathing slowed, becoming steady as she fell asleep. I was asleep shortly after.

Monday, December 17, 2001

I woke to find Linda had slipped out of bed. After using the bathroom, I looked and found her on the balcony, wearing a bikini, and reading a LaVyrle Spencer novel. The weather was warm and balmy, and I was glad to see our balcony was private. In one corner was a hot tub, and I slipped my nightgown off and settled in. “I need this today. I had way too much to drink last night. Be a dear, and get me a big glass of water,” I pleaded.

Linda brought a pitcher of water, and one of orange juice. I let the spa knead the stiffness out of my body. “What time is it?” I asked.

“9:00. We’ll be in Princess Cay in about an hour, according to the Princess Patter. Want some breakfast?”

“Oh yes, definitely, with tea?”

Linda chuckled, “You shouldn’t have drunk so much.”

“You had just as many,” I protested.

“Yes, but I sipped mine, and there was less alcohol.”

Linda slipped inside and ordered breakfast while I drank water and orange juice. After 15 minutes of pummeling by the water, I got out, showered off, and pulled on my swimsuit. I wore a pair of shorts with a tee shirt over it. Pulling my hair back in a pony tail. I wrapped it with a scrunchie.

Today we were going snorkeling. Linda and I both prepared beach bags, and yes, I carried my backpack purse. I knew I would catch hell if I neglected it.

Linda and I knocked on the door, and Tom and Meri were ready to join us. We were met at the tender by a polite young woman with a security brassard, “I’m Delores, and I will be your escort today.” We boarded the tender and proceeded to the beach.

Princess Cays are part of the island of Eluethera; Princess had purchased land and turned it into its own tropical paradise. Leaving the tender, we walked through the “village” and rented snorkels and masks before walking north to the reef.

Linda and I had fun looking at the brightly colored fish. One in particular I would have liked to bring back for an aquarium. It was a bright electric blue, with a dazzling yellow vertical stripe.

I wound up laying out on the beach. Linda went to get soft drinks; Meri agreed to slather my back with sunscreen, and the three of us baked in the tropical sun.

About 1:00 Tom suggested lunch, so we packed things up and went to “Grill Crazy” the island BBQ restaurant. It was fun to sit in the shade, eat BBQ and listen to Caribbean music played on steel drums. After lunch, Linda, Meri, and I went back to serious sunning, while Tom sat in the shade, reading Red Rabbit, the latest Clancy novel.

3:00, we packed it in and headed back to the ship. I’m sure Delores was happy to have us back safely aboard so she could get on with more important tasks.

Linda and I showered, dressed “smart casual” as defined by the day’s activity list, and headed off to afternoon tea. Afterwards, I couldn’t resist the casino. We spent an hour, and about $100.00, proving the management had a good thing — but it was fun.

After dinner, we caught another show, and then turned in early.

Tuesday, December 18, 2001

I woke up feeling MUCH better than on Monday morning. Linda and I ordered room service, and we ate breakfast on the balcony. Tuesday was a “sea day” we spent the day cruising to our next port. Mid morning, we could see the island of Cuba off to the west.

I had decided to learn to dance. Hal would be taking me places where it would be expected, and the ship offered ballroom dance classes. I signed up for morning and afternoon classes. Linda declined, stating: “I have already mastered the feminine terpsichorean social graces, so run along, my little ugly duckling; you need all the practice you can get!” This was followed, of course, with a derisive laugh. I just stuck my tongue out at her.

To tell the truth, the classes were brutal. I had no idea “dancing” could be so physical. The morning left me drenched with sweat. A light lunch with Linda and it was back to the salt mines. In the afternoon session, I was surprised to find John from Karaoke night. We hit it off, and were paired for the afternoon. John asked if Linda and I would be in the ballroom in the evening, and I told him that I certainly hoped so. There was something predatory about his smile, but I sloughed it off, attributing it to my lack of experience with men.

After the dance lesson, I hurried back to my room for a quick shower before Linda and I were due at the salon.

Now, I admit, I was reasonably proficient with my makeup. However, tonight was the first “formal” dinner. When I was exclusively John, (well, more or less), I had found the whole concept of a “formal” dinner foreign to me. As Kate, though, I was adamant about presenting my best; therefore, a trip to the salon for a complete makeover. They did a professional hairdo and makeover, and then Linda and I dressed in our evening gowns. I was confident there were few women who would come close to the class and elegance Linda and I presented.

We were among the first in line for “formal” portraits. Afterwards, we attended dinner in style. The ladies were elegant, the gentlemen handsome in their evening wear. The dinner was, as expected, wonderful beyond words.

Linda and I finished dinner, and strolled down the promenade deck to the ballroom. There John and Rob joined us and we began to dance. I traded off with Linda a couple of times, winding up with Rob more often than not. After five or six dances, the heels I was dancing in began hurting more than I was willing to endure. I told Linda I was going to change, and John offered to walk me to my room.

We rode the elevator to my floor, and chatted amiably about the dinner and the dance. I inserted my room card and entered my room. I heard the door close behind John, then felt an enormous blow and pain in the back of my head. Then all went black.

When I awoke, there was something in my mouth; my arms were tied, spread-eagle to the headboard. My clothing had been ripped from my body, and I felt a great deal of pain in my head.

John stood at the side of the bed, stroking himself. “I’m glad to see you are awake, my sweet. I know you like it rough. I know you’ve been lusting after me from the first day. Then today, dancing with me, rubbing your body against me, I knew you were the perfect slut. Cheating on your husband; as if he would ever let someone as pretty as you out of his sight. I pegged you early on as being an easy cunt. You are someone who wanted a real man. Well babe, I’m here, and I am SO glad you like it rough.

John climbed on the bed, between my thighs. He tried to enter me. “What the fuck! Where’s your fucking cunt? Damn girl, you must be horny, to want sex so bad. What a fucking freak. Damn, I’ve never known a whore without a cunt. You must really want it bad up the ass.”

He lifted my legs and brutally rammed his dick up my bottom. He reached down and bit my breasts, first one then the other. Grunting he thrust deep inside me. I’ve no idea how long he raped me. It was one scene from hell to another. Finally, his hips bucked violently against me, and I knew he had climaxed deep inside.

As he became flaccid, he became violent. He began hitting me with his fists. “You fucking cunt.” He hit me with his fist. His fist slammed into both sides of my face, then my nose. “You wanted this so much, well bitch, you got it.” He slugged me on my upper chest, I heard a bone crack as my left collar bone collapsed. He withdrew, and wiped his penis off against my abdomen. He leaned close to my face.

“Listen carefully, you fucking slut freak. If you say anything to anyone, neither you nor your friend will make it off of this ship alive. And anyway, no one will believe a fucking slut cunt like you. You are just a piece of ass, a fucking freaky worthless piece of ass. You’re a fucking worthless piece of shit. No one cares about you. If they did, you would never have invited me to fuck you.

He got up from the bed, looked at the damage he had done, walked up close to my face, and leaned down; “if you tell anyone, you and your friend are dead. You’re just a worthless piece of shit. No one cares about you. You’re just a worthless freak, without even a normal pussy.” The last thing I heard, was his laugh before he slugged me, and when I woke up, the room was in darkness.

I lay there I don’t know how long. John was right. I was a freak. If he was right in that, maybe he was right in everything. Had I encouraged him? I didn’t think so, but, he never would have followed me unless I encouraged him, would he? Was a smile enough to merit this? I kept coming back to the truth. I was a freak. I was in hell. My world collapsed down around my head. If I was a slut, and if I encouraged this, then, how could I continue to live?

Kate wasn’t a slut. John wasn’t a slut. Beth wasn’t a slut. But if I was a slut, then who was I? John spoke truth. I was a freak. If that was truth, was everything else true? Had I invited him? If I did, was I then the slut he said I was?

My depression deepened. If half of what he had said was true, I did not deserve to live. I lay there in the darkness. Finally, I knew who was at fault. If was me. I was the trollop. I was the whore. I was the woman battered beyond belief.

The light came on. “Kate, are you here?” I heard Linda calling; I turned away to the best of my ability. Linda entered the bedroom. “Oh my God! Honey, what happened?” she asked as she began to untie my bonds. “Kate, can you hear me?” she asked, and through the pain, I nodded yes. “Babe, let’s get you into the bathroom.” As she moved me, I screamed in pain as the broken bones of my clavicle rubbed raw against each other. My left arm dangled helplessly. As she helped me off the bed, I could see her react to the blood, sperm and feces on the bed.

It was a look of total disgust. Even Linda was disgusted with me. “Who did this?” she asked.

“John,” I mumbled through swollen lips.

She helped me into to bathroom, and I stumbled/sat down on the toilet. “Kate, can you hold on while I get Dr. Tom?”

Numbly, I nodded. Linda left me there on the toilet, and went in search of Dr. Tom.

I looked around. There was nothing there.

I stumbled into the living room, saw my purse, grabbed it, and headed to the bar. I grabbed a bottle of vodka, and went back into the bathroom, trailing blood everywhere I went.

From my purse, I took out the bottle of Vicodin given to me so long ago, at the beginning of this misadventure. I poured a glass full of vodka, and swallowed the Vicodin, followed by the vodka.

‘So, it has come to this,’ I thought. There were no tears left. All that was left was pain. I hurt for my loss. I hurt for the thought I could no longer love or be loved. I hurt for the pain I knew my kids, and yes even Linda and Hal would feel. I needed the pain to stop.

I ran a full tub of water, poured in bath oils and turned the Jacuzzi jets on low. I slipped into the bath. The warmth of the water was like a gentle hug.

‘Done,’ I thought. ‘Lord, I’m sorry. I’m so very sorry. I just can’t hurt like this any longer. Please forgive me’ I pleaded. ‘Watch over Tim and Lisa, help them to understand.’ Things began to blur a bit. I sighed and closed my eyes.

I lay back, the water enfolding me in the last hug I would ever know. I turned up the hot water, and relaxed. The heat, the alcohol, and the drugs took me away, and there was no more.

To be continued



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