Disclaimer 1: Uber. The characters are fictional and are not based on any persons appearing on PBS.
Disclaimer 2: This story is sexually explicit. The sex is between two consenting adult women. It takes a while to get to the sex, but it's there.
Disclaimer 3: Some blood and violence; a few lines dealing with attempted sexual abuse.
Disclaimer 4: Because it takes place in Kenya, there is some dialogue that is in Swahili, but translated into English.
I wish to thank and acknowledge Towandababe for her assistance in story content--with medical information and weaponry, and helping me put into print the action I saw in my head. Thanks for asking all the right questions. Also, she did a great job as my beta reader and editor. And a thank you to Sarah, my other beta reader who helped me define the characters.
You can also find Portia's stories at Mary D's The Bard's Corner
Send feedback to PortiaOnly@aol.com
Under The Kenyan Sky: A Romance
by Portia Richardson
"These are the programs that mean so much to you. Think about the PBS programs that you can't miss—our home repair shows, The American Experience, Nature and Mystery!" The pledge host, Rita, bubbled over with excitement. ". . .our cooking shows with wonderful and innovative chefs like the one you just met, Serena Hewitt. With your pledge of $120.00 or more we will send you Serena Hewitt's cookbook, 'Frills on Summer Grills.'"
Kate Chavez stood in the hallway at the edge of the set waiting for her cue to join Rita in front of the camera. She nervously chewed on hours' old bubblegum while frowning at the set and the host. The last thing she wanted to do with her time back in the States was to perform during the semi-annual pledge month frenzy, but here she was.
Looking at Serena Hewitt and how well put together she was, Kate wondered if she shouldn't have found time to get a decent haircut. Serena's hair was long and obviously recently trimmed. Her bangs fell evenly with her eyebrows, the hair that rested on her back was perfectly straight, not a strand out of place. Kate's black hair was longer than usual, well past the middle of her back and her bangs practically hid her blue eyes. And her clothes. Serena Hewitt was impressive, dressed in an ethnic print, peasant skirt and emerald green top that matched both the green in her skirt and her eyes. She looked prepared for anything--an outdoor barbecue, a trip to the lake, an evening at the theater or an afternoon in a TV studio. Kate, on the other hand wore an outfit that was inappropriate for a special guest spot on television. Not only hadn't she managed to get a haircut, but she hadn't purchased an outfit for these pledge drives. She wore a white tank top and beige khaki slacks. The one thing Kate had going for her was her remarkable tan. She might not have been dressed as a professional, public television star, but she'd definitely come across healthy and sexy with her olive skin and well-toned arms. Not that she cared what anyone thought, anyway.
"Now, let's take a look at 'Kenyan Heartsounds: Journey to the Past,' one of PBS's most requested Nature programs." For the next two minutes, the host, guests and volunteers remained rooted to their places and stared at the monitors placed throughout the room. Serena Hewitt paused in her clean up of the makeshift kitchen and watched the monitor above her. Kate Chavez's voice coming from the TV was melodic as she narrated the sequence of wildlife excerpts. The long, blonde-haired chef turned to look at the exotic-looking woman whose own eyes had found something interesting on the floor. As the video ended, Kate looked up and her eyes met Serena's. Caught, Serena smiled, then gave the woman a friendly, toothy grin. In response, Kate shook her head in embarrassment as she rolled her eyes at the monitor.
"That entire program will air later this evening, but right now, the person who created such beautiful work is here with us. Let's welcome Kate Chavez, filmmaker, conservationist and protector of Africa's wildlife."
Kate took the gum out of her mouth, considered sticking it on the wall, then casually handed it to the stagehand as she stepped across the set.
"Thank you." Kate stepped up onto a platform, smiling and extending her hand toward Rita.
"Amazing work, Kate. So happy you could join us today."
"Glad to be here, Rita. I love PBS and I know your viewers who feel the same way. . . ." Kate smiled warmly into the camera, working the television audience who viewed her. Serena sighed as she filled another platter with chicken and beef satay. While Kate hawked the virtues of public television she thought about how interesting that work must be--out in the wild, roughing it day after day, risking her life to tell the animals' stories, fighting developers and poachers, living a life so dissimilar from her own. Being brave everyday, taking chances. She wondered if she could do anything like that, make that kind of sacrifice and quickly decided she couldn't. Though it might be fun for a while, maybe even a few months. Kate, according to what she was saying to the audience, had been living in Kenya for the past five years. Serena admired that kind of dedication.
After ten minutes of interview, interspersed with clips from 'Heartsounds," there was applause from the in-studio volunteers. Kate motioned a thumbs up sign to the audience and said, "Goodbye! Or in Swahili, Kwaherini!" Her shoulders fell once she was out of camera range and she expelled a mighty sigh. "God, how I hate this." She said to no one, but Serena heard.
"How many stations have you had to visit? This is my twelfth one this month."
"Ugh, I've lost count. I feel like such a whore, but it's in the contract." Kate said.
"At least, I can check out the local restaurants."
"Local restaurants?" Kate let out a snort. "I've been eating McDonald's and Burger King for the past sixteen days."
"Are you trying to kill yourself?"
Kate grinned. "Nah. At least not via my arteries. It's just easier this way. I never said I liked the stuff."
"No one can survive on Whoppers and McRibs."
"Can I have some of whatcha got there?" Kate asked while reaching for one of the skewered chickens.
"Here," Serena said while handing her a dish piled high with skewered meat and field greens on the side. "I fixed you a plate."
Kate couldn't help but smile. "For me? Thanks." Kate picked up a skewer, and pulled one piece off and popped it into her mouth. She then slid the rest of the chicken off the thin skewer. Serena took note of the long, tapered fingers and felt her breath catch in her throat.
Before she could talk herself out of it, Serena said, "Would you like to have dinner with me, tonight? There's this seafood restaurant in Annapolis that's supposed to have some of the best Chesapeake crabs in the mid-Atlantic." Serena hoped that her invitation didn't sound like a come-on line, though it was. She never behaved this way, never so forward, but there was something about this woman that she found intriguing. "The thought of you eating another cholesterol sandwich somehow saddens me." She touched her hand to her heart, shook her head then quickly turned a small frown into a broad smile.
"Well, we wouldn't want to have you sad, would we?" Kate laughed. "I'm staying in that area, so sure."
"Me, too. Did they put you up at the Little Inn of Annapolis?"
"Nice place. Good food."
"Everything you say related to food and eating?"
"I guess you'll find out over dinner." She gave Kate a wink and a flirty smile.
Kate picked up three more skewers and started out of the studio. "So, we'll meet in the lobby about what? Seven?"
"Seven's good." Serena called out, but she wasn't sure if Kate had even heard. The studio's big metal door opened and Kate was gone. "Wow."
Kate was sitting in bed, her notebook computer next to her. She had just put the final changes on a new grant proposal and wasn't pleased with it. It needed a hook, but she didn't have one. She needed money to keep her research and film program alive in Kenya. There were no bells and whistles, just the grit of daily operations. She had three full-time Kenyan wildlife assistants and two free-lance film production people to pay and feed, SUVs to keep in decent enough condition not to leave them stranded in the grasslands, supplies to purchase. Of course, she was building up debt trying to keep Lisa Calltreaux behind bars. Kate shook her head. Thinking about Lisa was not something she wanted to do. The only thing good about returning to the States was a breather from all that was happening in Africa.
Kate's mind turned to Serena. She was quite lovely and there was no doubt that Serena was hitting on her. That dinner invitation said it all. If Serena hadn't asked, Kate would have. She liked how Serena had scolded her about her eating habits and had offered her a plate of food. In her life, no one had ever bothered about the simple necessities when it came to her. Kate's mother never took an interest and her father had always been too busy with his shop. Kate was a self-made survivor, survivalist, and loner. Those weren't the labels she would have chosen for herself, but she hadn't been given a choice. Now they defined her. But the chef hadn't known. Instead, Serena had stopped to consider her and for a moment, take care of her. That was nice. It was different.
Kate found her friendly, unlike the usual diamond in the rough she found so compelling. That had been the attraction to Lisa, a woman whose passion had shown in many ways. Lisa was uncontrolled and as fierce as any animal she had encountered in the wild or the Park Reserve. Serena was everything Lisa wasn't.
It was six-fifteen. She could shower, spritz on a little Cool Water cologne, wear something sexy, then turn on the charm for a couple of hours with the cook. Maybe, they'd end up in bed. Not a bad idea since Kate hadn't been with anyone in over a year. She desperately needed some sexual relief. A night with a sexy stranger would do her good and the situation was set up to meet her foremost requirement — no strings attached. Kate closed the notebook, stood and stretched, then headed off to the shower.
Six-fifteen. Clothes were strewn about—on both of the double beds, over chairs, on top of the chest of drawers. Serena couldn't decide what to wear. Elegant silk, casual cotton, a sleeveless top to show off her well-defined arms, a playful halter top that really did her hard abdomen justice. She felt like she was going on a date, but then told herself that it wasn't a date, just two PBS personalities getting together to talk trash.
After meeting Kate, an idea popped into her head and she couldn't shake it. While she made one set of calls, her agent made others. Finally, she'd spoken with someone interested in her idea. She hoped Kate would go for it. She knew better than anyone that life was short and she had put things on hold for too long. Now was the time for action, to go after what she wanted. It was a sudden life decision, but one she felt good about making.
Serena chose a bright yellow polo shirt and jeans, slipped on a pair of Birkenstock sandals and cleaned up her room by dumping everything onto the closet floor and sliding the door closed. After making a quick stop in the bathroom, she left to join Kate for dinner.
The paper tablecloth was covered with cracked crab legs and crabmeat, the paper bibs both women wore read "Captain Martin's Crab and Seafood Shanty." They had ordered buckets of the succulent crabs and with two healthy appetites, finished every crab leg on the table.
"This is the first meal I've had in a long time that didn't begin with the phrase, 'supersize it.'"
"Ah." Serena tossed her napkin onto the table. "That was good." She licked her lips and for the third or fourth time that night, Kate's stomach flipped over with desire.
"You eat with such passion." Kate stared into Serena's eyes.
"I've been told. I guess I'm just an oral kind of person."
"Really?" Kate's eyebrow arched mischievously.
The invitation was there, but fear overpowered Serena's opportunity to take the next logical step. Instead, she changed the subject. "Uh, I hope you don't mind that I asked you so many questions about your work. You are just so unbelievably brave and strong. And it's awesome the way you get so close to the animals--that they allow you so near, and your camera work is just spectacular. And your script! I was on the edge of my seat the first time I saw 'Heartsounds.'"
"Thanks. I love what I do. Had I known you'd be so interested, I would have brought my slides, though." Kate answered playfully. She continued to stare into Serena's eyes. Kate knew the charm she possessed, and in the past all it took was a special look from her crystal blue eyes to get what she wanted.
"Well, the thing is, I kind of have an ulterior motive."
"I was thinking. . ." She took a sip of water. "This afternoon, as I listened to your spiel, I thought it might be a really cool idea if we did a joint project. I'm working on a Millennium cookbook and program series, jumping on the Y2K bandwagon. Each book will focus on a different region of the world. I'm thinking of calling it 'Cooking: The Last Thousand Years.' I thought I might start in Africa. And the hook would be cooking for you and your crew, filming at your camp. Plus, it would bring in money for both of our projects. I'm a great fundraiser."
"A joint project?"
"Right. I'd make sure everyone was well fed while you did your filming and wildlife work. Just give it some thought."
"Interesting idea." Kate decided that she could humor Serena. There was no way this silly proposal would ever see the light of day. A city cook in the Park Reserve?
"I can tell that you're skeptical. If you're utterly opposed to it, I can drop it now."
"No, go for it."
"You mean that?"
"Sure. What'll it hurt?"
Serena wanted to burst. There had been no way to gauge Kate Chavez. Rumor had it that the filmmaker was difficult, aloof, quick-tempered, demanding, and forceful. Serena had heard this from her agent, who had gossiped with one of the accountants who had listened as Kate's former producer described her with venom and contempt. Sitting across from her now, Serena saw nothing but a charming, sexy woman who seemed a bit out of place wearing a bib. She wasn't at all standoffish and Serena found her to be quite amusing with a dry sense of humor. Adding this to what she had viewed in the film, she surely liked everything she saw.
"We should walk off some of this food before it settles."
"So that's your secret. I was wondering how you could shovel down so much food and have such a gr . . . and look so healthy."
Serena lowered her eyes and smiled. "Yep, I workout a lot. So, let me just take care of this." She picked up the bill.
The natural progression after returning to the inn was to head for the bar, which turned out to be very smoky and noisy. Serena suggested drinks in her room and Kate, with great anticipation, followed behind. The sway of Serena's hips as she walked down the carpeted corridor was already so tempting. Kate could almost picture those hips moving against her hand and licked her lips in response to the image. She couldn't remember a time she had been so physically moved by someone. She wanted very much to end up in bed with this woman.
"Here we are."
As Serena fumbled in her bag searching for the room's cardkey, Kate maneuvered herself between Serena and the door. She smiled at her, then bent to kiss her. Serena's arms dropped to her side, surprised by the kiss. When she realized that it wasn't ending, Serena's arm slipped around Kate's waist and pulled her closer, kissing deeper.
Their chemistry was powerful--strong, reactive, impulsive, and heated. For many minutes they stood in the corridor making out. Eventually, Serena pulled away, blushing, perspiring and her chest rising and falling with need. She suggested they finish whatever they were starting inside.
In her hotel room, Serena poured the requested scotch over ice for Kate and grabbed a bottle of Perrier for herself.
"I don't really."
Kate took the glass from Serena and sipped. "Good scotch. I'll have to remember to empty the honor bar in my room." She set the glass on the round table next to the window, and followed Serena to one of the two recliners in the room. Before Serena could sit, Kate had wrapped her arms around her; bent to own her lips again, seeking the heat of her tongue against hers once more. She stepped back and stared at Serena as she cleared her throat and grinned. "Umm." They stood, arms locked around each other until it became awkward.
"How long have you been here? Staying here?"
"Just since last night."
"You've certainly made yourself at home." Kate looked at the dozen framed pictures around the room. Most of the pictures were of Serena and a man about her age. Each picture seemed to capture a vacation--a ski trip, rollerblading, standing outside the Louvre. A few of the pictures included the couple and another woman dressed identically in Northwestern University sweatshirts.
Serena followed Kate's eyes and saw that she was looking at the photographs. "My friends. From school."
"You and the guy seem close." Kate had just made a decision. If Serena was interested in sleeping with her, which she knew she was, it wouldn't happen. Kate was not in the business of training lovers or being party to experimentation. She liked being with a woman who knew what to do. Years ago, Kate had had a brief affair with a heterosexual woman. Minutes after making love, the woman had broken down in tears of guilt and confusion. What should have been a pleasant interlude between them was spent offering comfort to her. Kate didn't want a replay of that night.
"Yeah, you might say that." Serena didn't want to talk about Elliot.
"Hey, it's getting late. I'm going to call it a night."
"I'm trying to finish a grant proposal and I have to do two pledge drives tomorrow in DC and Virginia."
"Are you sure? I'd really like you to stay. At least finish your drink, Kate."
Kate smiled and tapped her temple. "Gotta keep a clear head."
"Well, okay." She followed Kate to the door. "I'm glad we got a chance to . . . . It was good meeting you. I love your work."
"Yeah, me too--that it was good meeting you."
"I'm off to New Jersey tomorrow."
"Well, thanks for dinner." She turned, opened the door and left.
Serena watched her for a moment, then closed the door. "What was that all about?" she asked herself. Then, turned toward her graduation picture and looked at Elliot. "Oh, you."
Four Months Later.
Today was supply pickup and mail day, so Kate Chavez had driven over one hundred miles from her camp to downtown Nairobi. First thing, she had the SUV worked on. After a three hour wait and haggling over the cost of repairs, she drove to the grocery and hardware stores for weekly purchases. Those errands completed, she stopped at the pharmacy to pick up more first aid supplies. Finally, she drove to the post office where she kept a large box which more times than not contained grant rejection letters, demands from producers, pleas from her agent and occasionally letters from fans requesting pictures or help with school projects.
Kate sat in her midnight blue, Oldsmobile Bravada. The driver's side door was open and one of her long legs dangled out the door. She pushed her sunglasses to rest on top of her head and tore open a plain white envelope. Pulling out a sheet of paper attached to a contract, she quickly read through the letter. "Shit."
Two months had passed since Kate learned that Serena had persevered. As much as she wanted to say no way, forget about it, not gonna happen, Kate was resigned to the fact that Serena was coming to Kenya and they'd be working together. The filmmaker could have said no, but Serena with Kate's agent had managed to bring in a hefty amount for Kate's research and next film. She needed the money and couldn't have done it on her own.
Serena had arrived the day before and as planned, she checked into one of the local, western-style/primitive ambience hotels, met with Dafton, who would be her adviser and assistant and arranged to have him and their supplies arrive at the campsite two days later. She and Dafton first met at the British Culinary School of the Arts three years ago where she had taught a seminar. He had been her best and most imaginative student. The two had remained in contact since and Serena was thrilled to have him working with her. She also spoke to the producers at Nairobi Broadcasting Company and learned that her shooting dates in-studio were scheduled for weeks later and that a full studio kitchen would be available to her. The editors would be working with her later, pulling together the footage Kate would be shooting on-location.
Later that afternoon, Serena bookstore-hopped, picking up any and all books related to African cooking, several books on indigenous plant and herb life in Kenya, two Kenyan history books, and the requisite tour guidebooks. In her hotel, she read through the cookbooks, took notes and familiarized herself with the pronunciation of seasonings and spices.
Over dinner, she wondered about her upcoming first meeting with Kate on the filmmaker's turf. More than anything, she wanted everything to go well. They'd be working together for about a year and it could and should be a positive experience. Since they met six months ago, not a day had gone by when Kate Chavez wasn't deep in Serena Hewitt's thoughts. She had replayed their introduction, the conversations over dinner, the walk back to the Inn many times. The morning after, she had purchased Cool Water cologne, the fragrance she was certain Kate had been wearing. She sniffed from the bottle and occasionally dabbed a bit on her pillow, but never wore it. It was Kate. It was special and she wouldn't claim it as her own. And now, she sat in a restaurant in Nairobi, Kenya, Africa counting the hours 'til she'd be face to face with this woman again. Was she being compulsive? A stalker? A silly young girl? Or was she finally opening herself up to living instead of just existing? What would her parents have thought? Elliot must be stunned. Serena ran her fingers through her short hair and smiled.
Kate stood in the lobby of one of Nairobi's finest hotels, The Norfolk, listening to her Walkman and waited for Serena. Her hair was pulled back into one, long, loose braid that hung down her back with soft dark bangs resting on her forehead. She wore her usual work clothes--a pair of khaki pants, a forest green long-sleeved, button down shirt, and camel-colored hiking boots. It was 12:28pm and Kate decided that if Serena didn't arrive promptly at 12:30 it was a sign of her lack of seriousness about Kate's time and work. The chef had a couple of minutes to show herself. Even though Kate found Serena attractive, she would not let those impulses come to the surface. She might look good, but she's still an interloper. Showing up where she doesn't belong and making me responsible for her safety. I'm not a fucking tour guide. Within minutes, Kate had worked herself up into a moody anger just as she felt a tap on her shoulder.
"Hi, Kate. Waiting for me?" Serena reached up and pushed one of the earpieces away from Kate's ear. "I'm here." She grinned.
Kate pushed her hand away. "So you are." Serena had cut her hair short and it looked windblown and perfectly disheveled. Surprisingly, she was not dressed in the requisite African khaki, but tropical, wearing a Hawaiian shirt with pineapple drawings scattered over it and bright yellow gauze pants. She was nothing short of sexy. The chef sure didn't make it easy. Kate turned away.
Serena was taken aback. Not even a hello. Now she knew, Kate wasn't happy about the new arrangement. But there was no turning back. She had committed herself to this and once Kate signed the contract, so had she. "We're going to need some help. Storage is down the hall."
"How much you got?"
"A lot, I'm afraid. They were kind enough to put it in storage, so I wouldn't have to lug it all up to my room." Kate stared in dismay, then trailed behind her.
A man dressed in a maroon and gray uniform stood at the door and guided the women inside. "Please point out your belongings to me, Miss, so that I might retrieve them," he asked formally.
Serena scanned the storage room filled with suitcases, trunks and boxes. "Let's see. That's mine." She pointed to a footlocker. "The one over there." She pointed again.
"That, too. Those three boxes." She stood arms akimbo and stared into the room. "Can we get one more on the cart? Just that crate and . . ." Serena looked at the purple duffel bag in the corner, "that bag."
"Jesus Christ. There must be twelve pieces here. Why in the world would you bring all of this stuff?" Kate stared angrily at Serena.
Serena raised an eyebrow and smiled. "Well, really the duffel bag is mine and nothing else. All of this is for you and your crew packed and addressed by *your* agent."
"Just this bag is mine." Swinging the duffel over her shoulder she moved passed Kate and the bellhop toward the door. "Where are you parked?"
Two small boxes were the last to go into the back of the Bravada. As Kate slammed the door, she headed for the driver's side. "You might wanna go around to the passenger's . . ." she looked up, expecting to see Serena, but it wasn't the newcomer. It was Lisa.
The scrawny, blonde stared at her. She looked more emaciated than usual, but there was still that incredible muscle tone that cried out danger. "Kate. Surprise! I just love dropping in on my friends, stopping to chat, say hello." She winked at her. "Catch up." Lisa dripped sweetness, but her eyes pierced the filmmaker.
"What are you doing here?" Kate asked calmly, pushing Lisa and stepping between her truck and the woman.
"You mean why aren't I in prison? You didn't really think that they'd be able to keep me there? Come on."
"Hope springs eternal. How'd cha get out, Lisa?"
"Your flimsy evidence worked on an incompetent judge, but it looks like the Kenyan justice system is fair. I've got no complaints. You're not going to make a fuss about this, are you?"
Serena came around the truck from the front and stood listening to the dialogue. She hadn't thought it possible, but Kate had grown colder. She could feel the chill from eight feet away.
"I hope they at least gave you your passport and told you to get the hell out of the country. Why don't you go home?" She asked angrily.
"Unfortunately, my luck is only beginning to turn. I'm out until the trial gets underway. If it goes to trial. I can't leave the country." She gave Kate the once over and grinned. "But believe me, dear Kate I would never desert you. Even if I could leave, my only joy comes from being near you." The smile remained plastered on Lisa's face.
Kate opened the door and said to Serena as she flopped on the seat. "Get in. Let's get outta here."
"What?" Lisa pouted as she stood at the driver's window. "You don't share those feelings anymore? You used to. What happened? Her?"
Serena looked inquisitively at Lisa, then turned to walk back around the SUV to the other side.
Kate started the Bravada as Serena leapt in to the passenger's side. The truck was already rolling before the woman had closed the door. Kate wasn't waiting.
They drove in virtual silence for several minutes. Serena was too afraid to broach the subject of what just went on and Kate obviously had no desire to discuss it. Serena glanced behind to see Lisa become smaller and smaller. When Kate was sure she was out of Lisa's sight she picked up her cellphone and dialed a number.
"Kate Chavez." She listened as she turned onto the road leading out of the city. "Oh, I'm sure you were expecting my call," she said sarcastically. "What the hell is going on?" Another long pause. "What do I have to do?" Pause. "Don't tell me that. I don't want to hear that." Pause. "Who? Oh, yeah. That bastard would sell his mother and kids for the right price. Just great." She listened to the person on the other end and shook her head as she drove. "So you're telling me there's nothing I can do or anyone over in your office? " Pause. "This is just rich. Just rich." Pause. "And I don't suppose my camp will have any protection either? Of course not." Kate pressed the disconnect button and drove on, biting her lip.
Many minutes passed.
"Are you all right?"
"Who was that woman? Lisa?"
Kate turned, fixing on her. Her blue eyes narrowed and she said, "A mess I need to clean up." As she drove, she turned to look at Serena. "Do you know how to use a gun?"
Serena nodded. This was not what she had anticipated of her first hours in Kenya.
The Bravada stopped in the middle of camp. There were eight tents of varying size that formed the perimeter of the camp.
Kate spoke to Serena as they stepped out of the truck. "That's the only kitchen we've got over there. You get water from those barrels which we restock once a week. Be careful with water. It's a limited supply. You know not to drink any water without it being purified. Filters *and* iodine tablets?"
"All the water at this camp is safe, but if you go elsewhere, don't drink it."
"Hepatitis. Yes, I read about it."
"And that goes for the river which looks clean enough, but it's especially contaminated, laced with bacteria and parasites."
Serena's eyes widened. "Sleeping sickness. I know all about it. Don't worry, I'll be extra careful. That is something I don't want to experience," she answered excitedly.
"We've got three generators that pump in some energy, plus rely heavily on solar power." Kate pointed out objects as she spoke. "The shower is behind these two tents. That tent is yours, the one next to it, the bigger one, is mine. Two of the guys bunk together, the other one snores, so he doesn't share his tent. The other tent is for storage, meetings during bad weather and when my freelance people come out to work, they stay in there. There's a short wave radio in there, all of our electronic equipment--phone and fax, plus all of our film equipment. The phone and fax are for emergencies only. It'll cost you about 7-10 U.S. dollars per page to fax, so use it sparingly. All of this is hooked up via satellite." Kate raised her chin to point to the small satellite dish that allowed the camp entrance into the late 20th century. "That small tent over there, that's for your assistant. Now you and your assistant are going to have your own stuff, right? We're already stretched pretty thin out here."
"Yes, he's coming out tomorrow with everything."
"Victor, come 'ere a sec." Kate shouted to one of the Kenyans looking out at the two women from his tent.
As he approached, she introduced him to Serena and asked him to round up everyone to help unload the truck. Already Serena loved the camp. It was almost as she had imagined, probably from the numerous viewings of Kate's video, "Heartsounds." She even recognized her crew. There was Victor, Kate's right hand for the past three years. Tall and lanky, the overly cautious one who in the videos always warned of danger as the risk-takers proceeded. Jimiyu, a Kenyan whose first language was Swahili and spoke broken, but precise English. He was born into a family of herders and hunters, learning to treat the animals as he did a member of the family. He was the most fearless of the group, seeing no good reason not to run directly into a family of cheetah or taunt a hyena for the right picture. He had long, muscular legs that looked like they had spent a lifetime running. He was older than Victor by five years and had numerous scratches on his body from close interactions with wildlife. Jack was the perfect balance between Victor and Jimiyu. Levelheaded, he weighed each situation and advised accordingly. He was short and overweight. The last few buttons of his shirt had popped open, exposing his dark belly.
"Glad to meet you." She shook hands. "Hi, how are you? Hamjambo." She smiled and accepted the welcome from each man.
Kate busied herself unloading the SUV and sorting through the boxes. She moved back and forth between the truck and her tent, dropping packages at the entrance, then returning to the vehicle. At the back of the truck, she took one more look at what was left, patted Jack on the back and said softly. "Jack, Lisa's out. Tonight, we clean guns. I don't want to be taken by surprise." She walked toward her tent, pulled the flap back and entered. For the next ten minutes, Kate's arms were the only part of her seen as she grabbed boxes and pulled them inside.
Serena wasn't sure what to do. She wanted to talk about the joint project. Kate would be responsible for shooting Serena at work as well as her usual filmmaking duties. Serena took a seat on one of the picnic benches and waited patiently for her return. An hour passed and Serena decided to unpack her few items and when Kate was finished with her work, she could find her.
The tent was far from homey. There was a cot, a couple of blankets and a small pillow. A rickety endtable was placed beside the cot on which there was a lantern and several containers of mosquito coils. Several were already lit and burning inside, giving off an unusually sweet aroma. On the other side of the tent, a large bucket containing a first aid kit, a handheld flashlight, a headgear flashlight, a towel, a small shovel, and toilet paper. She did a double take of the last two items. "No way."
Serena hurried out of the tent and looked around at the camp. Seven tents, a small kitchen area and *no bathroom.* That hadn't even occurred to her.
"Excuse me." Serena called out to Victor and Jack who sat at one of the picnic tables smoking cigarettes. "Excuse me," she said as she approached them.
"Yes, Mama." Victor greeted her with the Swahili version of 'yes, Miss.'
"Umm, I . . . where are the restrooms? The restroom? Bathroom?" She looked at Jack and with deliberation asked him. "Choo kiko wapi?"
Victor laughed. "Anywhere you like, Mama." His outstretched arm panned the land where they stood. "You have your shovel, no?"
Serena turned red. "Yes, I have my shovel." Smiling weakly, she nodded and returned to her tent. "God," she exclaimed under her breath.
Sitting on her cot, Serena fiddled with the lantern and the box of matches left next to it. Seven or eight attempts later, she finally lit the lantern and watched as it held its flame. She unpacked and put away her few items.
Now what? Afternoon had turned to dusk and still no Kate. Serena stepped out of her tent and back into the camp which was spookily quiet. Several lanterns had been lit and were strung on rope between tents and on the tables.
Serena's stomach growled as she looked at the items on the counter. It didn't come as a surprise to see that there wasn't much in the way of food--dozens of packets of freeze-dried camp food entrees, side dishes and desserts, and cans of vegetables and fruit. She couldn't believe that this was what they survived on. The three small battery-charged refrigerators contained eggs, soy milk, a few tomatoes and onions. Putting her hands on her hips, she glanced around the camp. Nothing, no one. Hours had passed and other than her brief contact with Victor and Jack about the bathroom, she had spoken to no one and no one had approached her.
"Use the cowbell, Mama." The voice came from one of the tents, but Serena didn't know which one or to whom the voice belonged. She was standing just outside of Kate's tent and was about to clear her throat to announce herself. She slapped the cowbell and waited. Finally Kate flung the flap back and glared at Serena.
"Hi." Serena smiled.
"Oh. Dinner ready?" Kate asked casually.
"Dinner? Uh, no. I really don't know much about the camp. What you usually eat, what time, how much to make. I'm not familiar with your setup at all."
"According to the contract, you're supposed to cook, right? And shoot your series, of course. But here at the camp, you're supposed to cook?" Kate inquired, then stared as if she had never been so bored.
"Uh, yeah. But. Umm." Serena felt uncomfortable. "Could I come in and talk to you?"
Kate stepped out, closing the flap behind her. "What is it?" She stiffened.
"Look, I know you don't want me here. That's obvious. I'm sorry. Maybe it was a mistake, but you had several chances to nix it. I'd appreciate it if you could take a few minutes to show me the ropes, help me settle in. I promise, I'll stay out of your hair after that."
"I think I told you all that you needed to know. Tent, kitchen, shower, barrels." She shrugged. "I don't know what else to tell ya."
Kate turned and stepped back into her tent, leaving Serena still standing at the closed flap. Serena shook her head. What had she gotten herself in to?
Dinner was abysmal, but what could be expected from a packet of Chicken Tetrazzini and vegetables that only required water and heating?
"Sorry about the meal. I promise starting in the next few days nothing but one delicious dining experience after another." She winked. "This will just be a bad memory."
Kate chewed her last bite of the entrée, following it with a long swallow of the remaining water from her cup. She stood and walked back to her tent. Victor glanced at Serena who watched as Kate's tent flap closed. She lowered her eyes and shook her head.
"She has some worries. It'll be okay. She is a good person."
"Yeah." She stood and began clearing plates, her own, then Kate's.
"Do you need some help, Mama? Serena?" Jack asked.
"No, you guys go ahead and do whatever it is you do in the evening. I'll clean up. Thanks for asking, though."
As she cleaned, she thought about her first meeting with Kate. She had been so personable. Serena considered the difference.
The next morning Serena awoke early and with her shovel and toilet paper, ran as far from camp as she could get without completely losing sight of it. She couldn't believe that she would be squatting in the Kenyan soil for the next year. Hey, I wanted the adventure. After using the "toilet" she gathered her clothes and toiletries and headed for the shower. It took a few minutes to figure out how to use the solar shower. She learned that just before dawn was a perfect time to shower undisturbed, but it was impossible to have warm water. Solar—sun—heat. Duh. As she dried herself with a towel, she listened to the sounds of her first morning in the flatlands of this old country. Here, in the middle of nowhere, about 150 kilometers or 90 miles from the outskirts of Nairobi, in a place where only six people currently lived, Serena heard incredible sounds. She closed her eyes and listened. Animals were waking in the distance. Growls, chirps, yawns, which undoubtedly would have been loud if she had been next to them, whispered in harmony and it was a joyful noise.
She slid on her underwear and pants, thought about putting on her bra and decided that she didn't need it. It was hot and she didn't want to have that kind of binding sticking to her all day. She pulled the over-sized T-shirt over her head and brushed her hair. Suddenly, she stopped and listened to something much closer.
"No. Stop. You can't do this. Stop it. What are you doing? Stop."
Kate's voice, coming from her tent. Serena started toward the tent, but hesitated.
"Why are you hurting . . . ? Don't hurt . . . . Please. Please don't do this. Look at their faces."
Serena ran to the front of the tent. She was just about to barge in when Victor's hand grabbed her arm. "Don't. She's dreaming. She is having a bad dream."
"Is she all right?"
"She'll be fine, but say nothing to her. She would not like that we hear this."
"How long has this been going on?"
"This particular dream? The things that she says now? About eight months. She keeps much inside. It has to come out. Before this, she had others. Please don't say anything. It would hurt her. She will be angry."
Serena stared at the tent, then turned to Victor. "I won't," she whispered.
An hour passed before Kate made her way out of her tent, walked through the camp and headed to her "toilet." She returned and with long strides, headed for the shower. About ten minutes later, with wet hair, and wearing green pants, a white cotton top and her usual hiking boots, she joined Serena at the picnic table.
Serena rang the camp's cowbell and the men joined Kate at the table which had been set with plates and messkit flatware. The chef smiled at each man as she walked around the table serving breakfast. "I hope this is better. Once I set my mind to it, I can make something out of not much at all."
"Breakfast burritos. You name it, it's in here. Hearty breakfast for us Kenyan cowboys." She laughed. The men grinned, but didn't understand. Kate waited to be served.
They ate well and finished off all that she had made. "That was really good," Kate said.
Kate turned to her all male crew. "Hey, you guys going to be ready soon? I want to get out to the base of the mountain before noon."
"Yes, when you're ready. The truck's loaded."
"And you used the checklist? I don't wanna be out there without the stuff we need."
"We are set."
"Okay, then. She started toward the SUV, then turned back to face Serena. "Hey. We'll be out until nightfall. Maybe seven o'clock. Your friend should be here before then. I don't expect you'll need it, but here's protection." Kate withdrew a handgun from behind her back and handed it to Serena who had been trailing behind her. "Don't get trigger happy. Use it if there's trouble."
What could that possibly mean? No explanation? Serena took the gun and examined it. She was comfortable handling firearms, and had become an accurate shooter. It was not as heavy as the weapons she had used at the shooting range a while ago, so she trusted her ability to handle it.
The men piled into the Bravada and waved goodbye. Kate didn't. She started the engine, backed out, then made a U-turn and headed out of the camp. Serena was alone.
She spent the day reading one of the histories of Kenya she had purchased. Knowing the history of a people helped to understand why and how they cook and eat the way they do. Were they a conquered people and where did those victors originate? It was this research and study that made Serena one the top-selling cookbook authors in the country and second only to Julia Child on PBS.
She had finished reading about Arab merchants arriving in Kenya and was well into the chapter on the Portuguese invasion of the 15th century when she looked up from the book. She thought she heard a vehicle in the distance. She left the book open, turning it upside down and placing it over the gun on the table. She listened. Perhaps it was Dafton, her assistant. She did hear a truck or car.
A beat up Jeep Wrangler rolled into the campsite and Lisa, the woman from yesterday jumped out of the SUV. "Where's Kate?"
Serena stood, but didn't move from the picnic table. "She's not here." This woman made Serena edgy and scared.
"Oh? Where'd she go?" Lisa asked sweetly.
"She didn't say. I think some mountain."
"And her crew? Where are they?" Lisa moved closer to Serena who has frozen in her place.
"Uh . . . uh . . . the crew? They're . . . umm."
"Is there a problem?"
"No. No problem." She hoped her voice didn't sound as shrill as it did to her.
"Then are they with her?"
No point in lying. She'd find out eventually and that meant in the near future. She nodded.
"When are they due back?"
"Soon. Any minute."
"Really?" Lisa looked up at the sky, then her watch. "I don't think any minute. No, not any minute. What did she tell you about me? "
"You're afraid of me. There's no reason to be frightened. Kate and I are friends who are having some difficulties right now." Lisa sighed and lifted her hands in surrender. "Difficulties that she's created, but I'm willing to work it out with her. In fact, I've brought a few peace offerings. I'm just trying to open up the lines of communication."
Serena's eyes enlarged as she watched Lisa stick her arm in the Jeep. Her own body tensed, leaning into the table, edging closer to the handgun hiding under her book. She wondered if Lisa was reaching for a gun as well. Was this how she was going to die? The victim of a madwoman in Kenya.
Lisa dumped a variety of objects onto the ground beside the Jeep. She then grabbed a sombrero-size, straw hat from the passenger's seat and plopped it onto her head.
"Guilty as charged. I took some of these things when I left her . . . this camp. I'm returning her belongings. I'm sure she probably didn't even miss this stuff, but . . . I'm certainly willing to start clearing the air if I can. Could you tell her I brought these?"
"Oh, look." Lisa stared at the ground. "The hammock. She loves this thing. Here I'll help you put it up."
Serena continued to stare.
"I'm really not going to hurt you."
Serena cautiously walked over to Lisa as the twitchy, far too thin woman picked up the hammock she had dropped. "How about over there between those trees? I think that's where it was before." The two trees were a perfect distance apart for the hammock. "You'll have to try it out. Read your book while lying in it. There's nothing like it to kill an afternoon. You'll have to try it as soon as it's up, okay?" Lisa rattled on.
Serena imagined that Kate would relax there, fall asleep in the sun or read or listen to her Walkman while her long legs stretched out in the hammock. She had been lost in this fantasy. Lisa stood at one tree and had securely tied one end of the hammock to it. "Aren't you going to help me?"
Serena was walking over to pick up the other end of the hammock when she heard another vehicle. Maybe this was Dafton. Although, Lisa wasn't threatening her in any way, she was picking up bad vibes from her. Something about this woman was spooky. One thing she did know was that she should be in jail, according to Kate. If she did something bad enough to warrant prison, then Serena wanted nothing to do with her. Let it be Dafton.
It was Kate's SUV. Serena stood up and checked her watch. It was only four-thirty.
"Well, I don't want to upset her. Nice seeing you again, sweetie. Enjoy the hammock." Lisa ran to her Jeep, pulled the sombrero off her head, shook it vigorously, then threw it in the backseat.
Lisa left and Kate entered the camp about the same time, both of them kicking up clouds of dust. The Bravada had barely come to a full stop when Kate jumped out of it. "What are you doing?" She ran over to Serena who stepped back.
"What the hell are you doing? Why is that hammock there? Who was that? Was that Lisa?"
Serena blinked quickly. Something was terribly wrong. Victor, Jack and Jimiyu also leapt from the SUV and moved toward the hammock where they stood looking at the trees.
"I . . . I don't. I was reading when your friend, Lisa showed up. She left all of this stuff for you." She pointed at the pile of objects on the ground. "And the hammock."
"Did you do that? Did you put the hammock there?"
"Well, no. I was just about to help her when I heard you coming. Lisa was tying it."
Kate grabbed Serena, holding her by the shoulders, blue eyes, large and unyielding. "You weren't over there helping her?"
"No." She shrugged Kate's hands off of her. "Don't worry about your stupid hammock, my hands never touched it."
Kate realized that she was out of control. "Sorry. It's not the hammock. It's where the hammock is. Those trees are mango trees. The fruit isn't in season now. Nothing but hard rocks. But, the mango tree . . . There are these worms that live in the trees. They like our skin . . . to burrow into it. You've got to be careful. You can put the hammock over there." She pointed to other trees. "That's where it used to be anyway. Just don't sleep under those trees."
Serena realized that it wasn't anger, but fear. Kate had been afraid for her. "Sure."
Just as quickly as the concern had appeared, Kate's coolness returned. "Lisa's sneaky. Don't turn your back on her. She's dangerous, too. What did she want?"
"Hmm." Kate picked up the belongings. "That it?"
"Yeah. Why are you guys back so early?"
"Ask Jimmy?" Kate rolled her eyes and marched into her tent.
Jimiyu smiled with a hint of embarrassment, "Perhaps, I was not as thorough with my checklist as I should have been."
It was another night of camp rations. Serena managed to spice them up and create a decent enough meal, but not one that she'd ever put in a cookbook.
Later that evening as Victor, Jack and Jimiyu smoked cigarettes and recalled various, strange encounters with wild animals, Serena quietly stepped from her tent wearing on her head an elaborate hardhat with elastic straps and Velcro holding a flashlight in place just above the forehead. The light was to guide the way into the darkness, but she didn't turn it on. Modesty was an issue for her. She was discreet, particularly about normal bodily functions. It was perfectly natural to have to relieve oneself, but she felt very self-conscious about walking through the camp with her shovel and toilet paper. Not everyone needed to know when she had to go. As she walked, a feeling came over her very similar to a déjà vu. She swallowed and pushed the image down. At the very edge of the camp, she flipped the light on and it illuminated what seemed like miles. So much for discretion.
When she returned, Kate was standing next to the table, sipping tea and talking to her crew. She turned when she saw the light, barely acknowledged Serena, then returned to her conversation. Serena entered her tent, then a few seconds later joined the rest of the camp.
"Kate, could I talk to you a moment?"
"Uh-huh." Kate stepped away and moved toward Serena. "What?"
"My assistant didn't show up today. He was supposed to be here by late morning. I think something happened to him."
"What did he tell you?"
"That he'd be here today."
"No, what exactly did he tell you?"
"Two days ago he said that he would come out day after tomorrow."
"Let me tell you something about this place. When a Kenyan uses the word 'tomorrow' that really means sometime in the future. What he told you was that he wouldn't see you the next day, but sometime after the next day."
"But we agreed on today. And anyway, he lived in London for the past seven years. He's very Western."
"Hmm." Kate grunted skeptically. "He's back home, now. He's not trying to screw with you. It's the way they are. They see time very differently. We survived without your cooking before, we can continue eating rations as always."
Serena was sure Kate didn't mean it the way it came across, but she felt bad nonetheless. Kate had basically said, we didn't need you before, we don't need you now. Kate looked down at her, waiting to see if she had anything else to say.
"Oh, I bought this for you. Here." Serena handed her a leather bound journal. "I thought maybe you could write down your adventures, keep a log. It's African. I think Kenyan."
Kate looked at it, then flipped the journal over. Made in Nigeria. God, tourists are all the same. One African country is just as good as another. "Thanks," she said coldly. She dropped it on the table and drank from her mug. Serena wondered if she'd survive this camp. So far it looked like it was running a close second to the worst time of her life.
Two more days passed. It was all she could do not to beg Kate or Victor to drive her back into Nairobi. This was a test in patience. Dafton probably wasn't even aware that she was worried, frustrated, lonely, and eager to get started.
Kate had said only the minimum required of her. Serena was becoming friendlier with the men, but as is Kenyan culture, they weren't particularly comfortable around her. Men and women were not friends, only mates or potential mates. Although, these men were very Americanized (and who wouldn't be after spending time with Kate), she guessed much of their life's views were engrained into them from childhood. They were kind, but distant.
She had asked twice if she could accompany them on a shoot and Kate without hesitation struck the very idea of it down. "Someone needs to be here when the other cook arrives. And anyway, we're busy. You'd only get in the way."
Jimiyu's eyes had turned to Serena and he gave her a long look of empathy.
Now, when Serena heard the soft roar of a car in the distance, she assumed that Lisa was returning or Kate and the guys were back. She had pushed Dafton's arrival out of her mind. A Ford Expedition pulled into the camp. A man of six feet six unfolded his long frame out of the truck and stood to his full height. Serena raised her head to the sky and whispered, "Thank you."
"Serena." The tall Kenyan spoke to her with a soulful, rich upper-crust British accent. "I've finally arrived. I can't believe I'm out here in the middle of nowhere. Several times I almost turned back. I swear to you if I had seen so much as a grasshopper or cricket, I would have declined your exciting offer for this adventure."
"Where have you been?" She said, then ran to him and gave him a strong hug.
"I had to get my house in order, as it were. It is true that I am treated no better than a pile of dung, yet the restaurant finds me indispensable. The manager was quite the piece of work, bitching and moaning about my leave, just hours after throwing out a beautiful souffle I had created. We had quite the knockdown, drag out row. You are looking fabulous." He placed his hand on top of her head and gave her newly cropped hair a shake. "I love it."
"Thanks. I can't tell you how happy I am to see you."
Dafton walked behind the SUV and began pulling out boxes of cookware, utensils, even beautiful earthenware dishes from the storage area of the Expedition. "Help me fetch these things, mate."
Serena grabbed a box and headed toward their 'kitchen.' Moving back and forth between kitchen and truck, they soon had a well-stocked cook area.
"Are we the only people out here? Where's this camp we're supposed to be cooking for?"
"They're out working. I'll show you around and tell you all about them."
He dropped a long, brown arm around her shoulders and said, "I'm just dying to hear every detail about this woman who made you drop out of your life in America and come here. It must be love."
"I feel pretty stupid, actually. I don't know what I was thinking. She's not the person I thought."
"Serena, from your letters you said you had only met her once. How much could you have known?"
"I know. It's foolish."
"Don't tell me about foolish. I can understand you coming here for love. After all, I left London where I could be an out and proud gay man to get over being dumped by Duncan. Now, I'm back home and so far in the closet it isn't even funny. That's love."
"Well, this ain't love."
"No. She's definitely not straight. She's a controlling, temperamental. . . Ah, never mind. It's me."
"Come, sit down and tell me all about it and her and the boys. Are they ruggedly handsome? Dashing? Wild and untamed?" He flung his long legs over the picnic bench and sat down.
Serena sat down and poured a cup of tea from the carafe she had filled earlier. "They are not your type in so many ways." She laughed.
When Kate, Jack, Victor and Jimiyu arrived back at the camp, the smell of real food permeated the grounds. Dafton and Serena had turned the camp into a cooking laboratory. Cookbooks were opened on the picnic table, the shorter chef tasted an ingredient, then jotted something into her notebook. She moved next to Dafton who stood at the stove staring into a pot and they whispered conspiratorially. The filmmaker and crew had been back for over ten minutes before they were even noticed.
"Oh, nina njaa. Kitu gani hiku?" Jimiyu worked his way across the camp to the kitchen.
Dafton turned around. "A hungry man is a good thing." Dafton responded to the Swahili comment and then, "I am Dafton and to answer your question, it is kuku. We're having chicken tonight."
"Ah. Nitapenda kukujulisha na, Dafton. Ninaitwa Jimiyu."
"The pleasure is mine. "
"Daf, the other guys are Victor and Jack and that's Kate." Serena said over her shoulder while she stirred the contents of the pot.
He waved at the other two men still unloading the truck and gave Kate a long, lazy once-over. "She's gorgeous," he whispered. "Now I understand."
Serena blushed and returned to their cooking.
That night was wonderful. Dinner was splendid. Dafton and Serena worked well together and though she took some of his suggestions, the final product was her creation. It was a traditional and simply prepared meal of chicken cooked in coconut milk and spices, but the camp didn't get this sort of dinner often. Everyone had seconds and Kate even had thirds. She joked with her crew and even shared a laugh or two with Serena and Dafton. The Kenyan chef had a way with people. He was funny and outrageous, keeping them laughing with stories of his family in Nairobi and his friends in London. His mood was infectious.
As bad as things had become at the camp, Dafton's presence had turned it around. The night was a good omen.
These days were in many ways some of the best Serena had lived in almost ten years. She was being challenged in her profession, steering away from the conventional and moving toward the avant garde in cooking. Dafton had been a godsend. Victor, Jack and Jimiyu had taken Dafton's lead and had really gone out of their way to make the camp feel like a home to her.
One evening she threatened Jimiyu who had made fun of her with her bathroom shovel. He leapt over the picnic tables, slipped between tents, hid from her as she howled and yelled after him.
"Now, you're scared. You don't want to get hit with this shovel. You know where it's been."
The two dropped breathlessly on the picnic table just as Kate walked into the camp with her own shovel, the long stick poised on her shoulder.
"Kate, quick bring your shovel over. Jimmy's been asking for trouble and I think the shovels will teach him a lesson."
"No, don't do it," he pleaded in a heavy Swahili accent.
Kate's upper lip turned up. "You givin' me orders, Jimmy. You know my shit shovel has a mind of it's own." She flipped the shovel off her shoulder and followed its outstretched lead in a zombie-like fashion. "See? See, what'd I tell you?"
Jimiyu jumped up and Kate and Serena began the chase. They laughed so hard that they could no longer continue the game and Jimiyu held his stomach all the way back to his tent.
Dinner was another huge success. This night, Serena was being driven mad by Kate's long glances and warm smiles. They ate family style with bowls of food placed strategically around the table. "Could you pass me the rice?" Kate asked.
Serena picked up the bowl and passed it across the table. Kate's fingers grazed over Serena's and the contact sent a shiver through her. It effected Kate, too. Momentarily, her eyelids hid her eyes as she sighed from the touch. Kate cleared her throat. "So when do you guys want me to start shooting your cooking show? The big rains are due soon. We'll have rain for about four months and it'll be heavy."
"We'll start next week? Is that good?"
"Fine with me."
Eight weeks had gone by since Dafton had joined the team. Everyone had fallen into a routine and they were very comfortable with one another. Kate shot sequences of Serena and Dafton at work, jabbering about food, discussing tastes and creative combinations of traditional favorites. Serena had previewed each video and was quite pleased.
One morning, Victor and Jack left early for Nairobi. The second Bravada had been giving them trouble for about a week and Kate wanted everything in order before the rains. They were sent into town with the videos of Serena and Dafton which they'd drop off with the editors. Jimiyu had decided to stay in the camp and organize equipment, do some repair work on one of the film cameras, some usual maintenance on the satellite dish, and to eat. He explained that no where in Nairobi could he get such wonderful food, so why go. He and Dafton spoke in their native Swahili only breaking into English when Serena was around. She wondered how Jimiyu would feel once he learned Dafton's sexual orientation. Kenya was not an open country for homosexuality. Gay men were ostracized, beaten, tortured and even taken to tribal doctors for treatment in the more rural villages. Jimiyu seemed very traditional. She made a mental note to chat with Dafton about it.
Serena had been reading while listening to the chatter of Swahili coming from the men and the rhythmic beat of traditional drumming coming from Kate's boombox. Kate played her music loudly and this particular CD seemed to be a favorite right now. She played it almost every time she went into her tent.
The music stopped and the two men and Serena glanced up to see Kate exiting her tent a few minutes later, a 35 millimeter camera around her neck.
"Hey. I'm going up to the grasslands to see how our cheetahs are doing, plus I'm gonna get some measurements before the rains. We'll have to get a pool going on how much we'll get this season."
"Come?" Jimiyu asked.
"Nah. I think I can handle it Jimmy. If Victor and Jack are having a day why shouldn't you?"
Kate walked to the driver's side door. Jimiyu glanced at Serena who had been watching Kate intently. He grinned, then looked at Kate and with his eyes motioned that she invite Serena. Kate stared at him, and opened the truck's door. Just as she was stepping up, she stopped, looked off into the distance, her hand on the doorframe, frozen in mid-action. She slid her tongue across her teeth, then thrust it against her cheek in contemplation. "Uh, hey. You wanna come along?" Her voice trailed off slightly. "Grab whatever you want to bring and let's go. Snacks would be nice."
Serena couldn't believe it. She leapt from the picnic bench. "I'll be ready in just a minute."
Fifteen minutes later, after packing up goodies and making a trip to the woods to void her bladder, the two women were no more than a cloud of dust particles at the camp.
As they drove, Kate filled Serena in. "I've been following the same pack of cheetahs for the past year and a half. One of the females delivered a small litter just before you arrived at the camp. They're pretty big now, but not nearly grown. They could kill you, though, so you should still use precautions when approaching them. The cubs are dangerous and the mother will fight off anyone who gets too close. I'm especially interested in them because it's my first opportunity to watch development from birth through infancy and hopefully adulthood."
"It is. The cheetahs are carnivorous. Do you have a problem with that?"
"Nope, so am I." Serena grinned.
"Yeah, I guess so. Except you know it can get gross?"
"What do they feed on?"
"Their food of choice is antelope, but if they can't get that, they'll down a hare and I pity the slow baboon who can't get away."
Serena felt her breakfast somersault in her stomach.
"I've been trailing them back into the grasslands. That's how I knew for sure rain was on its way. They're moving back into this area. All of the animals have been on hunts as far as the swamps. But now, they feel the rains. They're heading home. Those that survived the drought, that is. Lots of carcasses from fallen animals, too weak to keep up the good fight for food."
"As we get into the grasslands, you'll see for yourself. Look over there." She handed Serena a pair of high-powered binoculars and went on. "See that white in the middle of nothing? Bones. Looks like an adult elephant from here."
Serena adjusted the binoculars. "Yes, I think those are elephant bones.
"Probably a very old or very ill one. The adults can usually keep up and it's far too large to be one of the kids. We'll see more of that."
Serena placed the binoculars between the seats and looked out again. "As dry as it is, it is still beautiful. The mountain is just majestic." She gasped suddenly. "What is that?" She pointed at a tree. "I've never seen anything like it." One bao-bao tree was filled with birds' nests. Possibly as many as two hundred covered branches, rested in the forks of limbs, dangled precariously on thin, twig size branches. It was like a high-rise apartment building for birds. Many birds twittered near their homes, but most were vacant as the birds were out hunting food.
"Uh-huh." Kate's mind was focused elsewhere. "Now the cheetahs I'm scouting for are in a pack of seven. There is the matriarch, three daughters and now three grandchildren. There will be a male, but he won't be with them. He'll be near, so remain ever vigilant. If you don't see that combination, then those aren't the ones I'm looking for."
"What does it matter?"
"The study has to be precise." Kate stared at her as if she were an idiot.
"Yeah, of course." Serena became suddenly quiet. She probably ruined everything by that moronic question.
They drove in silence for awhile. Kate came to an abrupt halt, turned off the Bravada and stared out the front window. For a few moments, Serena actually feared that she might force her out of the SUV and abandon her in the middle of nowhere. She watched her from the corner of her eyes.
"There they are," she whispered. Kate was completely focused on the seven animals off in the distance. Serena was fascinated by the change in expression. Kate had been very matter-of-fact in detailing information about the cheetahs, but once they were in view, she softened and wonderment shone in her eyes. "Okay, we're going to do everything very slowly. Polepole. Slowly. All right? I'll get out first, you get out on my side. They're heading this way, so we're just going to stand and wait. Look, do you see what they're doing? There's an antelope. I think they're going to go for the kill, C'mon. You ready?"
"Yeah." Serena whispered.
"Remember, all movements slow. We don't want to spook them or intrude."
Kate put the camera strap around her neck, the telephoto lens protruding from her chest, and quietly opened her door. Serena crawled over and stepped out behind her. She stood next to the taller woman.
"I'm going to go to that dune. I can get some better shots over there."
Suddenly, there was a roar followed by several more of varying timbers. And the seven cheetahs began their chase. The antelope had been inattentive, believing that the cheetahs weren't interested and lost its only chance for escape. Within moments, the beast had been felled and the hungry cheetahs began to devour their prey.
"God, look at that." Serena said once the dust cleared and she saw all that was happening.
Kate had been snapping pictures non-stop, getting wonderfully memorialized photographs of the chase, the kill, the divvying up of the spoils. Her camera turned to the cubs who were allowed first taste. "That one is Diego. The big cub. He always goes first. Pretty much demands it. Big like the Mexican artist Diego Rivera. That's how he got his name. Kate had given names to all the cubs and she recited them with explanations.
Kate touched Serena's arm and motioned to her. Softly she said, "C'mon. Polepole." Kate moved toward the dune, then dropped onto her belly. Serena took baby steps in slow motion and slid her body down next to her.
"Soon, others will come to feast. It'll be a big party. The cheetahs, then maybe a lion will venture by. A few others. Finally the slim pickings will be left for the vultures circling above us," Kate spoke sotto voce.
"This is incredible." Serena's soft reply was incongruent to the excitement she felt. She was almost giddy, flying high. She felt one with nature for the first time. The brittle grass she rested in tickled her nose, the smell of the earth was ripe with old and new animal droppings, the sun shone bright, making hallucinogenic waves in the air. The sky was a vibrant blue with heavy white clouds that hypnotized her with their softness. The growling of animals in play and in battle over food echoed in her ears. But it was the sight of Kate stretched out, long and lean, her ass rising round and inviting, her dark hair falling around her beautiful face that moved Serena the most. She was so attracted to the woman before her that it made her shiver.
"No. I'm blown away by all of this. It's awesome."
"Yeah, it is."
On the way back to the camp, Kate and Serena disagreed again. No matter how she tried not to, Serena managed to always say the wrong thing to her.
Kate shook her head. "I think you're being very naïve. Did you watch 'Heartsounds?' Can't you see what I'm trying to show people?"
"All I'm saying is I think zoos serve a purpose. They protect animals and teach valuable lessons to young people." Serena responded confidently. This was a good and factual argument. "You've got to admit, some of those animals wouldn't last long out here in the grasslands, up in the mountains, at the swamps. And. . .and people get to see these animals up close and personal in their own habitat."
"People don't get to see them in their own habitat. It isn't their habitat no matter what glossy name they give it. They can call it 'Big Cat Country' or whatever they want, but it isn't here. I'll tell you this--and maybe you'll see it the longer you stay here--once you've been here and seen how they really live, it hurts to think of them living any other way."
"But even you'll admit their survival rate is low out here in the wild? A gazelle might not even reach adulthood out here--starving, walking miles and miles for a sip of thick, muddy water. Or a gorilla. What chance does the gorilla have against poachers? Whereas in a zoo, they are given nutritious meals, they have shelter, comfort, they can grow old. My local zoo has a host of middle-aged and elderly animals."
Kate drove in silence for a while, gathering her thoughts. "A couple of years ago, I had a consult at a zoo. A zoo I had gone to as a child. While I was there, I happened onto the elephant show, so I sat to watch." She felt a lump grow in her throat, and she swallowed hard in order to continue. "I was sitting there and the trainer came out with these colorful platforms. Three elephants followed him onto the stage and he introduced each one. The first, Clarabell. Suddenly, I was seven years old and I was sitting in the audience at the elephant show. Clarabell came out. I realized right then that this was the same elephant from twenty-five years ago, doing the same show. Is that an existence? So the elephants or gorillas or alligators live to be thirty, forty, fifty, some older? So what? To live in captivity performing tricks that may have been beaten into them, definitely forced on them. Is that living?"
Her eyes left the bumpy road and she gave Serena a long glance in hopes that she was getting through to her. This was her mission. She wanted people especially children to love and respect wildlife and she didn't think it could happen at a zoo.
"I see your point."
"We don't need zoos anymore. We have cd-roms, videos, IMAX movies. Zoos are a joke. It's just animal prison."
"So you get to be out here, seeing them one-on-one and no one else does? You can't think that's fair? And I bet you first fell in love with animals from going to the zoo?"
"And that makes it right? I got to go to a zoo, so nothing changes? No, I disagree."
"But they do get a life. Perhaps it's not as risky and unpredictable as one in the wild, but it's a good life. "
"Would you say that to a child born into poverty? Your lifespan will greatly decrease if you continue to live in your world, so we're going to cage you to give you a chance at living to see 25. Of course, not."
"No, no I'm not."
They continued their drive back to camp in silence.
That evening, Dafton took control of the kitchen and surprisingly Jimiyu helped. He diced and sliced and laughed with the tall chef. The unlikely foursome sat at the picnic table into the wee hours talking about their various life experiences. Not surprisingly, Kate was vague except when it came to her precious wildlife Reserve. Passion poured from her then.
"So, what's Lisa Calltreaux have to do with all of this? Serena told me she's a bit of a problem out here." Dafton inquired.
Jimiyu turned to face Kate and waited for her response. Serena was pouring wine and stopped, also waiting to hear more about the mysterious and scary, Lisa Calltreaux.
"Lisa," Kate began then sipped from her wine goblet. "Lisa is an anthropologist. We met at UCLA in undergrad. We were very competitive even from the first 'anthro' class. We vied for the same jobs, the same awards. Truthfully, I was better. I was honest, had integrity, had a desire to do a good job with my work. . ."
"Ah, you shouldn't have such a low opinion of yourself. Stop the self-degradation, please stop it." Dafton chided.
Kate smiled. "Yeah, well. Hey, it's true." She paused, then, "Lisa pretended to have these qualities. She could be convincing, but a lie doesn't hold up forever."
"She is a very mean woman." Jimiyu added.
"Both of our Master's theses dealt with this part of the world and the work we wanted to do out here. At the time, those proposals became part of a national competition which I won. I was coming to Kenya, managing this Reserve. My second year here, Lisa pleaded with me to bring her on to do some research. We finally agreed on terms and she joined the team."
Jimiyu lowered his head in remembrance of the Lisa days at the camp. "Big mistake."
"I never fully trusted her, but months passed and she never gave me reason to doubt her sincerity. She worked hard, she took on shifts that no one else wanted, sometimes double shifts. She'd secure the Reserve and it's miles wide and long. It would take all afternoon and she'd volunteer to go back and do the next inspection."
"So what happened?"
"I blamed myself when poachers got in. I couldn't figure out how they had done it--come in unnoticed, stole animals, murdered them or left them for dead after taking the body parts that would bring the most profit on the Black Market. Lisa was inconsolable. Each event had happened on her watch. She had fallen asleep or was late getting to her post or thought she heard something, but was too spooked to investigate on her own. She had her rifle, ready to use should she see poachers. Here in Kenya, poaching has become so bad that those of us running Reserves have every legal right to shoot poachers on sight. Shoot to kill. I didn't consider Lisa as a possible suspect. She knew the risks involved in poaching and as far as I knew, there was no incentive for her to do such a thing."
"Yeah, so I thought. She put on quite the show, but something wasn't right. I had to listen to that other voice. The one telling me Lisa was a coward, a thief, a liar, an opportunist who might benefit from these events."
"And she was?" Serena stated the obvious in a question.
Jimiyu stood and started clearing the table. Dafton lightly touched his hand and shook his head. "I'll do it. Sit."
Jimiyu wanted no part of this story. He didn't want to hear Kate describe what she found, to see her pain or feel the ache in his own heart, but he sat.
"First, fences weren't destroyed. Locked gates were undamaged, yet poachers and thieves entered, stole animals and disappeared into the night. I knew it wasn't the work of alien abduction. As my suspicions grew, I was also dealing with my sponsors, the board of the competition. My reputation was on the line. Not that those things mattered that much. I was most concerned about the animals. They needed me to protect them."
"How did you prove it?"
"I followed her. She was making an inspection round and I followed far enough behind not to be heard. With my binoculars, I saw her open gates, watched her herd elephants into these massive trucks, watched a few locals cover tire tracks. Lisa left the Reserve and I followed again. I could have fired a warning shot or even fired at them, but I thought there might be a band of poachers. I wanted them all. I followed them to a warehouse on the edge of Nairobi. The place was huge and I crept around peering through windows until I hit paydirt. I got it all on video." Her voice cracked and a tremor remained as she continued. "Three elephants that had been there awhile, not the new arrivals. They were being beaten and tortured. The elephants were gaunt. Can you imagine a gaunt elephant?"
Jimiyu shook his head. Dafton and Serena stared slack jawed as they listened.
"Locals with canes were beating these starving animals. I can show you. I've got the tapes." Kate said, standing and leading them to the media tent.
In the tent, her fingers traced over the labels of the dozens of tapes until she found the one she sought. She slid the tape out of its cardboard box and into the VCR. She powered up the television and hit play on the tape machine. The four people stood in front of the television screen and watched as the screen changed from a dull black to a cobalt blue, to a square of multi-colored vertical bars. First they heard the audio and moments later the horrific video began.
"Don't even try to feed these fuckers. My buyers want product that will do as commanded. Break these fuckers and break them tonight."
The video was shaky. Kate's hand, normally quite steady trembled in response to the scene she captured with the camera. The first image was of a tall Afrikaner, well-muscled and tanned from the sun, platinum blonde hair falling over his eyes. "Goddamn, fucking product. Let 'em know who's boss, goddamnit."
A slender Kenyan entered the scene. He was very dark and appeared even darker next to the white man. The men were of equal stature and were obvious partners. Whereas the white man's demeanor was of anger, the black man was cool and smooth. "That language is so unnecessary, John. The elephants don't know a vulgarity from an endearment. I personally don't want to hear it." Though the man was softer spoken, a fierceness was at the surface. You didn't need to hear anger in his voice to know he was a cold and heartless man. His brow furrowed. "They look emaciated. Who's going to buy?"
"It's the only way to break them."
"Fatten them up."
One elephant turned and looked down at the Kenyan as if he understood. There seemed to be gratitude in the big, gray beast's eyes.
"How's this one doing?"
"Lot of trouble. Won't take orders. Won't listen."
"Hmm." He thought for a moment. "Break him, but don't make him look weak."
"Beat the shit out of it," another voice was heard, a voice Kate, Jimiyu and Serena recognized. "That's how you deal with these. Beat 'em. Beat 'em all. I want my money this week," Lisa said.
"This one simply cannot take anymore," the trainer/beater said with a frown. "It's been three weeks. He has a spirit that cannot be crushed."
With two long strides, Lisa Calltreaux stood next to the trainer and grabbed the long cane from him. He surrendered it easily and watched. "This is how you do it. Beat them! Beat them. " She began to strike maniacally at the elephant's side, slapping the cane repeatedly against its strong hide. " Close to the camera's microphone, Kate could be heard gasping in disbelief, stifling her breath. The camera shook more as she continued to record the event. "I . . . want . . . my . . . money." She struck again and again. Kate wondered why the elephant didn't fight back, perhaps too weak.
The camera moved to her immediate area outside the opened window. She tilted the camera down and her hand came into frame, reaching out for a crate. She placed the camera on top of the crate and dragged it under the window. Leaping onto the crate, she picked up the camera and continued to shoot the scene inside. Now she had an excellent vantage point of the elephant's legs and saw that they were shackled.
The camera tilted up again. Sweat beads appeared on Lisa's head. "Do I have to do everything?" she questioned as she continued the beating. "I lined up the buyers. I made the deals. I got you into the Reserve and now I have to do this? You're as useless as this piece of gray turd. At least I can make tens of thousands off of it. What are you three bringing me?" The beating didn't let up. As she ranted and raved at her partners, subordinates, conspirators, she rhythmically beat the elephant until finally it's big, thick legs, gave out and it knelt before her. "See!"
In the audio foreground, Kate whimpered as the elephant bellowed in pain in the background. The camera slowly moved across the downed elephant's body. It's skin sagged, loose and wrinkled around its bones. It's sunken eyes blinked, then closed, slowly opened again and looked at its captors, perhaps etching their faces in its mind forever. Just as the big mammal closed its eyes again, it glanced at the window and made contact with Kate and her camera. Barely audible, Kate said, "Don't worry, I'll help you. I'll help you."
Now, Kate stood with Jimiyu on one side of her, Serena on the other and Dafton beside the American chef. She bit her lip nervously. Jimiyu lowered his head, staring at his shoes. Dafton's eyes jumped from the final image on the screen to Jimiyu to Kate. The early conversation about animals in captivity made sense now to Serena. She glanced over at Kate, then pressed her hand against Kate's forearm, comforting her without being intrusive.
A gesture that Kate had almost begged for. She needed this touch. There had been no one there to comfort her through all of this. Her staff treated her with respect and with that respect came distance. Kate had nurtured the distance, thinking it best for a well run camp, but since that day she had longed for closeness. She ached to have someone hold her and tell her things would work out, that it wasn't her fault, that she had done the best she could. Serena's touch was doing all of these things, yet she suddenly pulled away.
Clearing her throat and straightening her posture, Kate took a deep breath, then reached and hit the stop button on the VCR. "Well, there you have it."
"What happened after this?" Dafton asked what was on Serena's mind.
"I got the elephants out. All of them. They were taken to the hospital, treated, and put back into the wild. The one you saw never recovered. But there were so many others before that. There was evidence of gazelles being stolen and sold, lions, leopards, baby giraffes, rhinos, many more elephants. She was trying to get them all--little by little, but she was going to empty this Park. Lisa and her pals were arrested and now, we wait for the trial. I no longer manage this Reserve. I'm allowed to continue my research here, but that's it. The day-to-day of running this place was pulled from me. I guess in a way that's good. I can concentrate on other things." Even as she spoke the last words, she knew they weren't true and the others knew this as well.
Kate ejected the tape and returned it to its place on the shelf. "I need. . .uh, excuse me."
She shuffled out of the tent and headed for her own, but stopped when she heard Serena call out to her. "Kate. Come to my tent. We can talk."
"I don't want to." Kate didn't turn around.
"Then we'll just sit," Serena offered softly.
Kate's shoulders fell. She didn't want to be alone again. "Okay," she whispered.
Serena moved quickly across the camp toward her tent. She held the flap open and waited for Kate who stood motionless in the center of their site. "Kate, c'mon."
Kate Chavez allowed Serena's sweet invitation to break down the barrier and she followed the voice to the tent. As she walked through, Serena lightly touched her arm again.
Inside, all her strength evaporated. "God. What did I do?" The tears which had been controlled during waking hours for so many months suddenly poured from her. Her body shook with anxiety, blame, guilt, failure, anger and hatred. Serena pulled her to her and held onto Kate as the taller woman clung to her. "All that was expected of me was to take care of them. To keep them out of harm's way. Instead, I delivered evil to them. I brought her here and kept allowing her to go back out there, to do more, to cause more pain, to torture more of them. I did that."
Serena felt the tears drop into her hair, felt the heavy breathing of the woman sobbing against her, tightened her hold in hopes of steadying the trembling body. Kate cried, sobbed, whimpered, and then cried some more.
"Come. Sit on the cot. She guided her to her small, uncomfortable cot and sat down next to her. Kate's head rested on Serena's shoulder while Serena gently stroked her dark hair and murmured soothing words. "You saved most of them. You helped them. If it weren't for you, she'd still be doing it. You put her out of business."
For over an hour Serena simply sat beside her, gently rubbing her thumb over Kate's hand which rested in her lap. Kate had drained herself of tears and coughed several times before sitting up. Her nose was red and eyes still moist. Mucus flowed from her nostrils and mingled with tears. She wiped the liquid away with the back of her hand, then wiped her hand on her pants. She stared at Serena whose name really suited her at the moment. She looked serene and at peace as if she had no where else in the world to be than beside her at that moment. Kate continued to look intently at her, then raised her hands to hold Serena's head between them. "Thank you."
Serena didn't give it a second's thought. She did what seemed the most logical and expected thing--she leaned forward and kissed Kate. She tenderly kissed her closed mouth and didn't break contact. Kate thought it was like a freeze-frame in a video production. Everything stopped. Their breathing, the noises of the wild. She waited for the image to fade to black, for that curtain to drop, and it did when she closed her eyes. Serena pecked gently at those lips and whispered, "You did everything right."
It was at that moment that the image became alive again. Kate opened her eyes and pulled away. "Uh, I'm sorry." She stood. "Hey . . . you know."
"I'm going to go on back to my tent."
"You can stay."
"Nah, I don't think so."
They were reliving the night of their first dinner again. Kate looked around nervously, half expecting to see the dozen pictures of Serena with that young man and other woman. The photos she had seen in the hotel room. The only photo in the tent was of another good looking man. Immediately she thought it must be a boyfriend she left in the States.
Kate laughed nervously, unsure where to look. Finally she said, "New boyfriend, huh?"
"Him? No, that's my brother."
The filmmaker nodded. "Oh. Good-looking guy. How much younger is he?"
Serena lowered her eyes, then smiled up at Kate. "He's eleven years older."
"Wow, he looks great for his age. He looks like he's about nineteen or twenty." She sniffled, the residue of her emotional release still fresh.
"Yeah, old picture."
"So, thanks again. And I had a good day with you and the cheetahs, too. Ya know?"
"Me too, Kate."
Kate stepped out, then re-entered. "Um, Lisa was my lover. I got really suckered, huh? I was so sure she was a different person. I trusted her and she betrayed me. I let my guard down. I can't afford to do that again. I've seen first hand the damage done when I stop thinking with my head. You understand that, right?"
"Yes," then added, "I do."
Not only did Kate refuse to acknowledge the closeness they had shared in Serena's tent, but all steps they had taken towards a friendship no longer existed. Kate made it clear that she was off bounds. Serena was met with a glare, when she had reached out to caress Kate's shoulder as she served lunch one afternoon. She also got the look when she had, casually and without thinking, grasped Kate's arm as she made a point on some inconsequential subject one evening. Invitations to accompany Kate on explorations were nil. Even Dafton couldn't pull the filmmaker out of her shell. So it was surprising that Kate suggested a game of gin rummy days later.
While Jack wrote a letter to his parents, Victor stood on the edge of the camp smoking cigarette after cigarette and the usual foursome played cards. Kate was especially animated and laughed heartily, told several silly puns which only Serena understood and drank some of the wonderful wine Dafton had brought to the camp. A slight drizzle had begun and Jimiyu and Kate stared up at the sky.
"It is coming soon." Jimiyu stated.
"I've been smelling it for days. This first one's going to be big I think."
"No, no. It will start off easy. Two days, easy rain, then much rain."
"You are on," he tried to say with an American accent.
"Okay, if you win, I'll do all the repairs for a week."
"And if you win, Kate?" He paused, then asked hesitantly, "What do you want?"
Dafton sprayed the mouthful of wine onto everyone at the table. Serena tilted her head at Dafton, then turned to hear what Kate hoped to win.
Kate paused. She turned and looked Serena in the eyes and repeated the question slowly. "What do I want?" The answer was apparent. She turned to Jimiyu. "What I want you can't give. Only the chef can."
Dafton and Serena gasped in unison.
"I want Thanksgiving. Turkey, mashed potatoes with gravy, green beans, cranberry sauce and sweet potato pie for dessert." She laughed as she collected the cards and returned them to the box.
"But the bet is with me, not Serena."
"I don't know, then. I'll think of something. You know I will."
Serena couldn't sleep. She had been in bed for two hours, listening to the rain. That look had been unmistakable. Kate had flirted with her openly and then got up and went to bed. The woman was a mere fifteen feet away, in her tent, with a smirk on her face, knowing that she was driving Serena out of her mind. Serena had masturbated to orgasm four times in those two hours. And it still wasn't enough. She wanted Kate so badly. She sighed. "Argh! Kate Chavez. You're driving me nuts!" she said as she punched down her pillow. She turned and opened the drawer beside her cot and retrieved the slender, white vibrator. She bit her lower lip trying to decide. The best orgasm came when the vibrator's power was set at its highest speed. Unfortunately, this was noisy. However, the rain had picked up and drowned out most of the other night sounds. No one would hear and everyone had been asleep now for hours, anyway.
She jumped up and placed the vibrator under her pillow, then covered it with a blanket. She slid her hands under both and turned it on, slowly increasing the power. It was on the highest speed and she heard it well in the tent, but knew it wouldn't be heard outside of her small cloth room. Just in case, she ran outside and stood between her tent and Kate's and listened. Rain came down harder and she was sure that no one could hear anything coming from her tent. She had her ear against the side of it and couldn't hear a thing. She ran back in and just as she crawled back into bed, she glimpsed her reflection in the mirror. Her white t-shirt was damp from the rain and her nipples were visible. Rock hard and visible. The image excited her and she leapt into the cot. Ten minutes and a sexual fantasy later, she bucked hard, straining her neck and arching her back as she came. She was almost too weak to turn the toy off, but managed. She fell asleep with it in her hand.
The cloudbursts of the night before brought forth a sunny day that smelled of brand new life. The ground was soaked through, yet Serena was determined to run her usual two miles. She needed this time alone to gather her thoughts, fantasize, remember, talk to herself. She had been going for a run every morning since arriving at the camp. It was usually just dawn when she started out and by the time she returned, the African sun was beating down on the camp.
After her run, she showered and dressed, then moseyed over to the equipment tent to find her large Calphalon simmering pot. Rummaging through her boxes, Serena was searching for it when Kate entered carrying a boom microphone with a fuzzy covering over its head. Serena looked up from where she squatted and watched Kate unnoticed. The filmmaker looked gorgeous in blue chinos, a cobalt blue cotton shirt and her usual hiking boots. Serena swallowed hard, then turned away as Victor entered the tent.
Kate picked up where she had left off in her conversation with her aide. Outside, near the truck, they had been discussing Jimiyu's snoring. "So you're telling me you guys slept okay last night?"
"Good, Kate. I did anyway. It was quiet."
Serena stood, stepped between them and excused herself. She returned to get some utensils a moment later and heard more of their conversation.
"Well, I couldn't sleep it was so loud. Even the rain didn't drown it out. That incessant noise, like a . . . humming." Kate said while watching Serena's reaction.
Serena froze at her box of cookware and slowly turned to the conversation.
"One must do what one must do. Sometimes it can't be helped." Victor suggested.
"Luckily it lasted less than half an hour. "
"I've heard longer."
"Good thing there's only one in the tent. Imagine how it would be if there were two of them going at it." Kate arched her brows.
Victor and Kate laughed. Serena walked to the opening and stepped out just as Victor grabbed a box of film and headed for the SUV.
"Funny," she said with a sarcastic sneer.
"You're real funny."
"What I do?"
"The two of you. It's so childish."
Kate stared innocently at Serena, but Serena glared back. Just as Victor was returning to the tent, Kate said, "Friendly advice--take the batteries out." She smirked as Serena threw the pan to the ground and stalked to her tent.
"What's wrong with Serena?" Victor asked.
"Who knows. Who cares."
Dafton, who had been reading a mystery novel looked up from the paperback and toward Serena's tent. He then slowly turned and stared at Kate. He shook his head, then walked over to the tent and called out in a whisper, "Serena, love? Are you all right?"
"Not now, Dafton. Please."
Dafton glared at Kate who fully understood his reprimand. She rolled her eyes, then slowly walked over to stand next to him. The two stood eyeball to eyeball until Kate finally turned away.
She didn't ring the cowbell, didn't announce her intrusion, she just walked in. "Hey, look. I'm sorry."
Serena was seated on the edge of her cot, eyes focused on nothing, tear stains making identical tracks on either side of her nose.
"Okay?" Kate shifted from one foot to the other. "Okay?" She waited, glancing around nervously.
Serena slowly tilted her head up to face her. "Why do you have to be like that? Why do you do it? I'm stumped here. One day, you're nice and friendly, the next, you make fun of me. For your information, my arms were sore last night. I was getting some of the aches and pains out. But I don't have to explain myself to you."
"I'm sorry. Look, it's like this. I'm not being gruff for the sake of it. This is a different land, a different culture. You can't behave like you're in New York City or Chicago or LA. This is nowhereland Kenya."
"So to teach me your lesson for the day, you use sarcasm, insult and ridicule? Don't you think I know where I am? I know it's different."
"Victor didn't even know what I was talking about."
"You know, Kate, you spend so much time with the animals, understand their motives, their needs, all of that." Serena's index finger poked in the air, punctuating each phrase. "You completely get their nature, but when it comes to human beings, you don't have a clue."
"Jeez. Lighten up. I was kidding."
"Like I said, not funny." Serena stood, walked passed her and out the tent. Kate followed and headed to the Bravada.
"Victor, Jack. Come on let's go." She said as she stomped to the truck. Serena stood beside Dafton who put a fatherly arm around her. As Kate passed Jimiyu, he whispered something to her in Swahili. It was loud enough for Dafton and Serena to hear, but Serena didn't understand.
When they were all in, Kate tore out of the camp, burning rubber.
"Dafton, what did Jimmy say to her?"
"Umm, let's see. I reckon the translation would be. . .." He lifted his head to the sky and thought. "Umm, he told her that if she chooses to remain in hiding, then she must refrain from lighting a fire."
Whatever feelings Kate possessed, she kept to herself. Serena just couldn't understand why it was always hot or cold with the filmmaker. She had finally come to the realization that what she thought might have occurred between the two would not come to pass. Now, Serena concentrated on producing a quality cooking show and working on the manuscript for her new book. She could still enjoy Kenya, working with Dafton, learning as much as she could from the team about life on the Reserve. She had tried for weeks to be the woman's friend, but Kate blocked her at every turn. Serena had reached the point where Kate's opinion mattered little. She seldom asked her to taste their concoctions, never inquired if Kate wanted second or third helpings of a meal, barely glanced up when Kate would return from the grasslands with a smile on her face. Serena didn't want to be the butt of anymore jokes, the snickering innuendo, the pathetic girl who waited for compliments. Kate was her own woman. So was she.
A week before the most torrential of rains began, a freelance crew of two came out to the camp from Nairobi. Both were American and were making good livings in Kenya helping out on various nature films. Albert was a typical geek editor with stringy black hair and a habit of biting on any writing utensil he could find--sharpies, pencils, pens, highlighters. He wore the same black jeans and t-shirt day in and day out. He didn't seem to notice the beauty of the land around him choosing to spend every day and night at the editing machine, running film and video back and forth through the system. Despite his lack of interest in the real world of the Park Reserve, he was able to turn the beautiful footage shot by Kate into a lush, coherent work. Individually, every frame could have been a postcard; together, the images made up a heart-wrenching story of animals' fights for survival in a land often without mercy.
Then there was the other freelancer, Rachel. She was the sound person and arrived at the camp equipped with reel-to-reel machines and other sound devices. She would be adding music, ambient and animal sound to the footage. She would also add the more man-made sounds of an SUV traveling across the rugged ground, coming to a halt, the door opening and closing. When the product was complete, every sound would appear to have been made in real-time on site. Rachel was a 'pro,' according to Kate who raved about her endlessly.
She was five-eight, thin and looked to be about thirty-five, but it was hard to tell. She had spent most of her life out in the sun and her face was weather-beaten and very freckled. Her hair, strawberry blonde was always pulled back in a ponytail. She oozed sexuality, but only when Kate was around. And Kate's attraction to that sexuality was evident.
In the days that the freelancers worked at the camp, Kate stayed close by, watching over their work as any director would. But there was more to it. Serena sensed it every time she walked in the tent and saw them working. Albert was non-existent. It was all Kate and Rachel. They stood close, touched often. Serena knew she was jealous, but couldn't control it. She whined to Dafton that Kate was acting like a lioness trying to get the attention of a new sexual companion. "She might as well be rubbing her scent all over her," she complained.
The day the freelancers finished their work, Serena was happy to see them go and eagerly helped them pack their truck. She was left flat-footed and in shock when Kate announced she was going into Nairobi, too. And Serena didn't miss the meaningful looks exchanged between Kate and Rachel. She stood in the middle of the camp and watched her leave. Dafton waved goodbye as did Serena, but Serena raged inside. She knew what the Nairobi visit was all about.
Two days later, Kate was a different person, relaxed, even casual in her interactions.
The rains came hard most days. And those days when it was sunny, there would be intermittent showers. It was a strange time of year for those living on the Reserve. Work stopped, there was a strong feeling of cabin fever even though there were miles of open space, afternoon naps dragged on into the evening, and in the wee hours of morning, each tent's lantern's burned as occupants read or wrote letters or worked on small, personal projects.
"I'm going to shoot some footage of the cheetahs." Kate stepped out of her tent and announced. "Anyone wanna come?"
The only two around camp at the time were Dafton and Serena. Kate's aides had gone to the city to pick up supplies and wouldn't be back until the next day. The two chefs looked up from their work and shook their heads. "Sure?" Kate asked again, looking directly at Serena.
"I'm sure I don't want to go. Thanks." Serena's voice trailed off as she answered.
Kate shrugged and departed.
"So this is how you're handling it?" Dafton peered over his sunglasses.
"Yes, this is how I'm handling it."
"I already know how you feel about her and I think she fancies you."
"Yeah, I can tell she does--the insults, ignoring me, going off with Rachel. All signs of really liking someone."
"She's like a young lad. She teases you for a reaction."
"Let's cook, all right? I don't want to talk about it. Ever. All right?" Serena turned back to the small food preparation counter and diced tomatoes.
They had been working on several dishes and the day moved quickly. They were able to lose themselves in cooking since they were the only ones at the camp and didn't have to slap hungry hands stealing ingredients nor get distracted by stories of bravery around wild animals. The only break Serena and Dafton took was when she spilled an extremely spicy and colorful piri-piri sauce on her apron. While she went to retrieve a new one, Dafton quickly rinsed the soiled apron and hung it to dry.
The food they had prepared were complicated stews that both agreed would be more flavorful the next day. They had also made a beef jerky which they would let cure all week. Dinner was a mix of leftovers and a promise of a spectacular meal the next evening. That night, Kate retired early to her tent, leaving Dafton and Serena sitting at the table talking over her loud music.
"Daf, I've been meaning to talk to you about Jimmy."
"He really loves your cooking."
"Well, you know what they say, the way to a man's heart. . ."
"Does he know you're gay?"
"Do you know he is?"
"What?" Serena couldn't have hid her surprise if she tried.
"Yes, mate. He's quite the homosexual."
"No way. Are you sure? Kate made it clear to me that homosexuality is really frowned down upon by Kenyans."
"Well, I'm gay, and Jimiyu and Victor are both queer. The only straight person in this camp is Jack."
"Yes, I'm telling you."
"How do you know? Are Jimmy and Victor lovers?"
"No. Jimiyu and I are lovers, however."
"No way! When did that happen?"
"The second week. He came on strong after the second night, but I played hard to get."
"And Kate has no idea?"
"Lovey, Kate doesn't see what she doesn't want to see." Dafton leaned back, stretched his legs out, crossed his legs, and smiled. "She seems to be blind to everything and everyone around her."
"I really don't believe you. I need some kind of proof."
Raising an eyebrow, Dafton smiled. "Proof? A description of birthmarks? The name he calls me in bed? The name I call his little friend?"
"Sorry." He put his hand over his heart in apology and shook his head, then added, "It is so NOT little."
"Oh, Serena. Somebody at this camp needs to have sex. What kind of example would we be to the animals, eh?"
Suddenly, a downpour of rain came from out of nowhere, opening up the skies and soaking the two before they could even run to their tents for shelter. At her tent, Serena called out from the opened flap, yelling over the rain to Dafton who stood in the opening of his own tent. "Dafton, you're being careful. I don't want you to get hurt. You're still healing from Duncan."
"Don't worry about me. I'm doing fine."
"He might be . . ."
"He's not experimenting or curious or even lonely. He knows what he wants. Goodnight."
"'Night," she yelled across the camp.
By the time Serena returned from her run, Kate had already left for the day. While both chefs, examined the jerky they had made, and returned the stew to the burner to simmer for a few hours, Serena grilled Dafton about Jimiyu. She wanted details, explanations, histories. After hearing it all, she couldn't believe that Kate was so in the dark about what was going on at her camp. But then, Dafton and Jimmy had been an item for about four months and it hadn't registered on her radar screen either.
"What's that noise?" Serena looked up from her book.
"It's coming from the tent."
"Sounds like the fax machine."
They both walked over to the tent and saw that indeed a fax was coming through. Serena picked up the first page. It was from Kate's agent and the cover page read: "I have some good news and some bad news. Good news is on the second page, bad on the third. You choose which one to read first."
"Agents," she added as an afterthought.
"Take the bad news first."
"Okay, it's coming out."
They waited, then Serena whipped it out of the tray just as the last centimeter was completed.
"'Bad News' it says. She read quickly to herself, then aloud. "'Lisa Calltreaux has filed a suit against Kate in the States for defamation of character. Two, the videotape was sent to an expert who confirmed that it had not been doctored, however Calltreaux is trying to get the contents withheld from trial. Some Kenyan law about taping people without their consent.' According to Kate's attorney even if the tape is withheld, Kate's testimony will be the nail in Calltreaux's coffin. They'll probably get a deposition soon, and she'll be the major witness for the plaintiffs. Things still look good, just complicated.'"
"And the good news?"
Serena picked up the second sheet. "Kate's been nominated for an Emmy award for Best Documentary." Serena's eyes traveled down the page. "And it seems I've been nominated as well for Best Educational/Informational series. Wow."
"Thanks, I can't wait to tell Kate."
It was about three-thirty in the afternoon and Serena decided to relax in her cot, read a little and take a short nap. The stews were on low heat and they would be perfect for dinner in a couple of hours. She stretched out in bed and read for a few minutes before she nodded off.
Around five o'clock, Jimiyu, Victor, and Jack had returned to the camp and they unloaded supplies into the equipment tent. Jimiyu handed Dafton a long, slender box which Dafton immediately tore open. Inside were a long wooden spoon and fork made of cherrywood. "My grandmother made these for my mother when she married. I went to see her yesterday and told her about you. She gave me these to give to you."
"She says that they have fed our family many years and she hopes that they will keep me well fed." He said with a smile.
Dafton reached out and took his hand. "Thank you. Thank h. . ."
A shrill scream pierced the overall quiet of the camp. A second scream followed and the men all turned to Serena's tent. Jack and Victor both ran to their tents and grabbed their guns. Jimiyu held his arm out to stop Dafton from venturing further as he crept toward the tent, expecting to pounce on Lisa Calltreaux or one of her goons.
A few feet from the entrance, Jimiyu was practically bowled over when Serena came charging out. Her screams were blood curdling and her face was bright red. "Help me! Help me!"
Jimiyu grabbed her, but she twisted out of his arms. "What is wrong?"
"My god, help me." Serena turned in circles in the middle of the open area. She pulled at her clothing and screamed louder. She pulled the sleeves of her shirt up to her elbows and stared at her arms in disbelief, letting out another scream. "Oh, my god!"
Jimiyu ran to her again and tried to pull her to him, but she escaped his grasp. She pinched her face and then screamed. She pinched her arm, then her body froze as she watched something just under her skin slither up her arm. Then she saw movement elsewhere on her arm. She lifted her shirt and saw the skin on her abdomen crawl. "Oh!" She screamed again, just as the Bravada pulled into camp.
Kate jumped out of the SUV. "What's happening?" she asked as she ran to Serena.
Serena's arms flailed out, pushing both Jimiyu and Kate away. "Get away. I've got it. I've got it. I'm going to die!" She screamed out, her eyes bulging, beads of sweat covering her forehead.
Kate looked down at Serena's arms and saw the movement as well. She made a request of Jimiyu in Swahili, then turned back to Serena. "I'm going to help you. You need to calm down."
Serena didn't understand. She lifted her pants leg and saw movement under the skin of her leg. She began to gasp and pant.
Jimiyu came running back holding a vial and a syringe. Kate grabbed Serena and held her tight as she dragged her toward her own tent.
"Hii hapa." Jimiyu offered the medicine to Kate.
"Ahsante," she thanked Jimiyu, then turned to Serena who was still struggling to free herself from Kate. "Unahitaji kupiga shindano." She shook her head, realizing that as often happened when she was unnerved, she spoke Swahili. She repeated herself in English. "I'm going to give you an injection." Then to Jimiyu and the others, "Jimmy fill the syringe. Jack, get me that big jar of Vaseline and some clean cloths." "You," she said, looking at Dafton, "stay outta the way." Victor held the flap of Kate's tent open for her as she pulled the still screaming Serena inside.
"Jimmy, c'mon gimme the needle."
"Hii hapa. Here it is." He said, following Kate into the tent. Kate lowered Serena to a small cot, then grabbed the syringe from Jimmy.
"Okay, okay. It'll be better in a few minutes."
"I've got it. I've got it. I'm going to die," Serena screamed as she tried pushing Kate away.
"No you're not. Stop squirming. I need to give you this shot."
"It's sleeping sickness. I see them. They've taken over my body. We can't get them out." Serena screamed out hysterically.
"Victor, Jimmy, hold her arms down. Jack get in here and hold her legs for me. " Kate commanded.
As the three men held her down, Kate jerked down Serena's pants and jabbed the needle into Serena's hip. Once the shot was in, the men let go, but had to grab her again, when the flailing started. "Get away from me. All of you. Get away."
"Somebody go get the big first-aid kit. Hurry."
Jack let go of Serena's arms and ran out. He returned a few moments later with the big metal box. Kate rummaged through it quickly, pulling out another vial and another syringe. She pierced the vial with the needle and filled it. The men squeezed Serena's arms and legs, trying to stabilize her. "This will relax you." Kate poked the second syringe full of medication into Serena's other hip. She paused for a moment, looking down at the young woman's round bottom, then sighed and pulled up her pants. This did not go unnoticed by the three men trying valiantly to hold onto the squirming, nearly hysterical woman.
"No, I don't want it," she whimpered.
"You don't have a choice," she whispered to Serena. Kate looked up at her aides and said, "Grab a couple of sheets from the top drawer," she pointed at her makeshift bureau, "then put them over the top of the bed. Cover it completely." The men quickly covered it and tucked the corners between the mattress and the ground.
"It is ready."
Kate again dragged Serena across the room and stretched her out on the sheets. "You guys go on and have dinner. I've got it under control here."
"I have sleeping sickness. They're going to eat into my brain. Then they'll kill me."
"That's not true. Ssh."
Slowly, Serena began to calm down and she looked at her arm. The skin still slithered and crawled. She was repulsed and turned away. "How long do I have?"
Kate grabbed the cloths and Vaseline from Jack. "Only the Fates have that answer. But this isn't gonna kill you," Kate answered as she stroked Serena's hair. "You'll be fine by morning."
The cowbell rang out. "Who is it?"
"Dafton. Is Serena all right?"
"Yeah, she'll be fine. Did she go near the mango trees?"
"No. She never does. Neither one of us . . . uh-oh."
"What?" Kate demanded. "What?" she asked again impatiently.
"Yesterday, she spilt sauce all over her apron. I rinsed it and wasn't thinking and threw it on a branch to dry. On the mango tree. Today after it dried again after the rain, I gave it to her. Nothing happened to me, though.
"Go look in her tent and tell me if you see the apron."
She waited and a minute later he called out that it was on her cot.
"You guys need to put on some protection, go in there, strip the cot. Get rid of all of it.
"Okay," Dafton replied trying to be as helpful as possible. "We'll do that."
Kate popped the lid on the Vaseline and began to rub it into Serena's skin. She started with her hand, putting on a thick coating. She soon realized that she would need to strip her down in order to administer aid to her and get rid of the parasites. She pulled Serena to a sitting position and slowly unbuttoned her shirt. She wasn't wearing a bra and Kate could see the parasites traveling over her chest. She pulled each arm out of the sleeves and dropped the shirt in a pail near the bed. Kate lowered Serena back onto the bed, lifted her ass and pulled her pants and underwear down, around her ankles and off. She dropped those clothes into the pail as well. Returning to Serena's hands, she began to coat her with Vaseline. Her hands, her forearms, upper arms, shoulders across her chest, bypassing her breasts, to her waist, abdomen, down her legs, not looking at the triangle of fur between them. She rubbed the ointment on her calves, her ankles and her feet, then worked her way back up the other side. Finally, the only section of her front left to do were her breasts. She stuck her hand in the jar again and coated Serena's breasts with the viscous lubricant, then began massaging it in. She felt their firmness and in spite of the medical treatment she was administering, she found herself getting turned on. Especially when she dabbed Vaseline on Serena's nipples and watched as they hardened under her fingers. She looked away, but continued the coating.
Serena moaned softly and opened her eyes, making eye contact with Kate. Almost immediately, they closed again and she drifted back to sleep. Kate's hands traveled down Serena's body, returning to areas that already had a Vaseline coating, finding spots she missed. She slowly spread Serena's legs, and rubbed the lubricant onto her inner thighs. She tried to respect Serena and not look at what was so close. She moved to the side of the sleeping woman and gently turned her on her side. Kate covered her shoulders and back with the Vaseline, then moved down to her ass. It would have made more sense to just smear the Vaseline on and get it over with, but Kate found herself kneading Serena's strong ass and squeezing the flesh. Kate felt herself become wet and immediately felt shame. She moved down Serena's legs quickly, covering each one, then made sure that the soles of her feet and each toe were covered as well.
Kate returned Serena to her back and then began to rid her of the parasites. The pentamidine mix she had injected into Serena would kill most of them, but what she wanted to do was get them out of her body as quickly as possible. Often, the parasites would die, but their scraps could confuse the body. The immune system would turn on the dead parasites and wreak havoc. By giving her the shot, then suffocating them with the Vaseline, then squeezing the skin to push them out, Serena would be back to normal in a few hours.
Kate began her work. She started at Serena's hands and gently squeezed about an inch at a time, working slowly and methodically. The thin, creamy worm was pushed out and she wiped it away with a cloth, then moved to the next inch. She worked throughout the night, prodding Serena's body, pushing against the skin, pinching the dead parasites out. Serena was as limp as a ragdoll and it was easy to maneuver her to inspect every bit of skin where the parasites might have hidden.
Several times Serena awoken and cried. "I don't want to die. Please save me." Kate, held Serena tightly and whispered calming words into her ear. "It's okay. You're going to be fine. You're going to make it. 'No matter how long the night, the day will come.' That's an African proverb. It's true, Serena. Ssh. This will be over soon. You're going to be fine."
Barely opening her eyes, Serena groaned, then through a cloud of exhaustion and delirium said, "You said my name. You've never said my name before."
Kate was astonished. Surely she had said her name prior to now, but she really couldn't think of a time.
"You said my name." Serena burrowed against Kate's shoulder and whimpered, then fell asleep again.
By morning, Kate was exhausted. Her own clothes were covered with Vaseline stains from where she had wiped her hands or held Serena's body against her. Her fingers hurt and she stopped to rub them. When she stopped, Serena awakened.
"Uh. . ." she said as she opened her eyes. "What's going . . . where am I?"
"You're in my tent. How do you feel?" Kate poured a cup of hot tea and started to hand it to her.
Serena raised to her elbow, but slipped back onto the sheet. "Ow." She tried again and the same thing happened. "What is this?"
"Why do I have Vaseline all over me?" Serena peered under the sheet. "And why am I naked? What were you doing to me?
"You had an accident and freaked out."
"What kind of accident?"
"What do you remember about yesterday?" Kate asked as she sat the teacup on the ground.
Serena managed to sit up, strategically weaving the sheet around her body to cover private parts. She put her hand on her forehead, massaging her greasy temples and thought for a few moments before looking up. She glanced down at her arms and her crossed legs. "I had worms in my body. Under my skin. Parasites, right?" Lifting the sheet, she stared at her stomach trying to detect the frightening movement from yesterday. "The worms from the mango trees?"
Now you remember the tree. Last night you were screaming bloody murder about having sleeping sickness.
Serena whispered. "You took care of me? Are they all gone? Are they out of me?"
"Yep. It was an all night job. I'm beat, but you're clean. There're probably a couple dead ones lurking, but you are no longer playing host to thousands of those fuckers."
"Look in that bucket."
Serena bent to where Kate had pointed. She squinted, too afraid to fully examine the contents. She saw what appeared to be hundreds and hundreds of quarter inch pieces of string in the bucket. "That was in me?"
"How'd you get them out?"
Kate sat cross-legged in front of Serena and took her hand as she explained the procedure. "First, I gave you a drug mixture, the root of which is used for sleeping sickness." Kate smiled and continued, "which by the way, you don't have. Then, you were bouncing off the walls, so I gave you a sedative. Next, I put the Vaseline on you to suffocate the parasites. They need your pores to breathe, so I cut off their oxygen supply. Then, I squeezed and pinched. . ."
"Hold it a sec. You totally skipped over the part about my clothes. I'm completely naked, here."
"Obviously, I stripped you to put the Vaseline on."
Serena smiled. "So?"
"Did you, I don't know . . . like what you saw?"
"Well? I do remember some things."
"I was acting as a healthcare professional. You were ill. I was not looking at you that way."
"Not even a tiny bit."
"Well, I . . . absolutely not."
Serena nodded. "It's okay if you did. I would have checked you out, too. Unless, you found me repulsive?"
Kate squeezed her hand and shook her head. "You are beautiful." Immediately, Kate was embarrassed by her revelation. "As beautiful as one can be bright red and with worms sliding out of her body, ya know?"
"Will you help me up and maybe could you get some clothes for me and maybe you could help me wash?" Serena inquired in an innocent, yet flirtatious voice.
"I'll get your clothes, but I think you can wash yourself."
Serena reached under the sheet. "My god, I have Vaseline everywhere and I mean everywhere."
Knowing where Serena had just slipped her hand sent Kate's stomach skipping. She wanted to touch her there and other places so badly. Standing quickly, she said, "I'll go get your clothes."
The men were all relieved to see Serena back in good form. Dafton apologized repeatedly, kicking himself for being so careless. Serena remembered bits and pieces of that night, but most of it was a blur. The one positive outcome was that Kate's interaction with her was so very different. Kate had become attentive, interested, quick to offer assistance and let Serena know that her contribution to the camp was appreciated. Kate was also a runner, but she normally ran at sunset. Never had she invited Serena to join her, but recently she had changed her schedule and the two ran together each morning, sometimes chatting, sometimes just listening to the sound of their shoes hitting the soil. Mostly Kate talked about her commitment to the animals, how she felt responsible for their well-being and that this was her purpose in life.
More times than not, Serena accompanied the group or traveled only with Kate to the grasslands to watch the animals migrate to a land heavy with grain, fruit and other animals. Serena always waited for the invitation and Kate usually offered it just moments before departure. Then, she'd have to wait for Serena to grab her camera, watercolors, and make a trip to the bush to use the restroom.
This particular afternoon, Serena and Kate arrived at the location to view the cheetahs. They immediately spotted the family Kate had been researching, though Diego the feistiest of the cubs was missing. Days earlier, Kate had watched him clumsily attack a baboon, sinking his fangs into its neck and crushing it. She had stared at him with the fascination of a researcher, taking notes about his very first kill. Perhaps he was off on a solitary hunt.
The two women set up their 'work stations.' Kate retrieved a still camera from the truck along with a tripod and quickly set it up. She pulled out the videocamera suitcase and checked the battery, sound and tape. Serena meanwhile removed a TV tray from the truck and placed her watercolor paints and water on the table, five brushes of various sizes and then set up an easel and stool. For the rest of the afternoon, they worked in virtual silence only acknowledging the scene before them with an occasional "aah," or "wow." Kate walked to the truck for more 35 millimeter film and passed behind Serena. She glanced at the watercolor of the cheetah family and was amazed at how she had captured each cheetah's personality.
Serena could feel Kate's eyes on her and her body warmed with that unseen gaze. She stretched her neck, moving from side to side relaxing her neck and shoulder muscles.
Suddenly, Kate's hands were on her shoulders. "Achy?"
"Umm. Just stretching." She lowered her head and allowed Kate more access to her neck. "That feels good."
"You're pretty tight. How's this?"
Goosebumps popped up all over Serena's arms. "Ummm."
Without thinking, Kate bent and kissed Serena's neck and a moment later, Serena had turned in her stool and pulled Kate down to kiss her lips. Whatever distance they had tried to put between each other was now lost. Serena's mouth opened, her tongue sliding out to touch Kate's lips and when Kate's mouth opened, their tongues met. The kiss deepened. The chemistry they pretended didn't exist, bounced between them. Kate's hands moved from Serena's shoulders to her arms, down her arms, then back up to her shoulders. Serena didn't break away as she stood and was pulled into an embrace. Minutes passed and Serena thought she would shatter with pent up excitement. She could hear birds and animals near. She could smell the ripeness of the land. She could feel the sun beating down on her. But those senses were overshadowed by this kiss. This kiss. This kiss was what she had longed for and living this life in Africa under the Kenyan sky wasn't all that meaningful without it.
Serena broke away, but Kate leaned in an gently nibbled Serena's lip, then kissed her deeply again.
This time it was Kate who pulled back and smiled. She drew a deep breath. "I've wanted to do that for a while. Okay, out of my system. I think we can go back to our work now, don't you?"
"Not a chance." Serena kissed her again and again and again that afternoon.
It was well into evening before they made it back to camp. On their return, Dafton immediately gave Serena a knowing snicker and a raised eyebrow when his hypothesis was proven as he watched Serena turn crimson.
"Another fax came for you. It's about Lisa Calltreaux."
Kate was well aware of the bad news received in the fax almost two weeks earlier and had talked to each member of the camp about strategy. In the end, Kate decided that she would let her attorney handle the legalities of the situation.
This new communiqué from the attorney told her all the legalese she needed to know. She was to come into Nairobi on Friday and give a videotaped deposition just so they'd have it on file. The trial would start shortly thereafter.
Three days later, Dafton, Serena, Jimiyu and Kate were packing up the Expedition and Victor and Jack, the Bravada. Since they all needed to be in town for various reasons, they had decided to break camp and relax in the city for a few days.
Dafton was sitting behind the wheel of the truck, Jimiyu in the passenger's seat and Kate, wearing a white t-shirt, a plaid flannel shirt over it, khakis and a baseball cap that said, "UCLA" was settling down in the back while Serena threw the last of their bags into the truck's storage area.
"All set," she said and lifted a leg into the big truck and pulled herself up.
"Good. Then we're ready to move out."
"Ah, shoot. Let me just make one pit stop." Serena jumped from the Bravada.
"God, Serena. The loo again? C'mon mate."
"Sorry." Serena ran back into her tent grabbed a roll of toilet paper and ran into the bush.
"What's with her and the bathroom, anyway? I don't think she's ever left this camp without stopping to pee. She must have the weakest bladder on earth."
Dafton looked in his rearview mirror at Kate. "You're not serious? You know why. She has told you?"
"No. Told me what?"
"Certainly she's told you about her family?"
"No, she's never mentioned her family. Except for the picture of her brother in her tent."
"Serena always stops off because she's afraid of what will happen if she doesn't."
"Hey, Dafton. Wanna try being more cryptic? I'm real close to understanding ya." She leaned forward. "What do you mean?"
Dafton quickly glanced in the direction of Serena before continuing rapidly. "When she was about ten years, her family took holiday. It was to be the last large family outing before her brother graduated university. He had been offered a position in California and they were in Chicago. They drove to Disney World and on their return Serena had to take a leak. You know how the kiddies are. Her mum had asked if she had to go just a bit earlier at the hotel and she said no. As soon as they started on the parkway, Serena had to go desperately. Her dad pulled over and straight away she ran off into the woods not too far from the car. Her brother was in the passenger's seat, mum in the back with Serena. So while she's off taking care of her need, this other car, trying to make better time by driving on the shoulder plows into her family's car. The driver walked away with a few cuts and bruises. Her mum and dad were killed instantly. Her brother, Matt was left in critical condition in hospital for several days. Now, he's in a home. Nurses turn him every two hours, he takes his meals through a tube. The poor girl's certain that if she can avoid a urinary emergency, everyone will be safe."
"Oh my God. I had no idea. She never said a word."
"Really? She told me probably the third day after we met." Dafton turned to look at Kate. For some reason, when it came to Serena, he felt a special defensiveness and a need to protect. He loved her like a sister. In their interactions, he made sure Kate knew this. He added, "But then I asked."
Kate crossed her arms and glared at him just as Serena came running back and jumped into the truck. "Okay, let's get this show on the road," she said as she slammed the door. Kate and Jimiyu were silent. Dafton started the SUV and put it in reverse, backing out of the camp. There was a definite change in mood in the truck. "What's up? What's wrong with everybody?" Serena inquired.
"Nothin'." Kate answered as the four rode into Nairobi.
In Nairobi, Victor and Jack quickly parted company after dropping the truck off at the repair shop. Jimiyu and Dafton said their good-byes to the two women as they pulled their bags from the back of the truck. The women drove to the Norfolk Hotel and checked into a room with two beds. They vowed that since they had to be in the City, they would pamper themselves at the hotel. If they could line up massages, they would, room service, or meals in the restaurant, morning coffee on the terrace. And in between, Kate would give her two depositions. One was scheduled for later that day and the other, just before noon on Saturday.
Serena wished Kate luck and asked once more if she wanted her to accompany her to the lawyer's office. Kate shook her head and started for the door with Serena following behind her.
"I'll be thinking of you. You look great."
Kate brushed her hand across her dress slacks, ironing out an invisible wrinkle. Then she pulled on the collar of her silk blouse and straightened it. "Thanks, Serena. I'll need good thoughts."
Serena reached up and kissed her on the cheek. "See you soon. I'll make appointments for massages."
As soon as the door closed, Serena smiled and ran to the bed. "A bed! A real bed. That I can bounce on." She stretched out in it. "I can turn. Left, now right. I can roll over two full turns. Ah, bed! Tell me, how long has it been?" She laced her fingers behind her head and smiled. Suddenly, she jumped up and ran to the bathroom.
"And a bathtub. Not a shower. An endless supply of hot water not dependent on the sun. Yes! Yes! Yes!"
She stripped down quickly, turned the water on and filled the tub and poured in complimentary bath salts. She slid in and smiled as her body was covered with fragrant water.
Kate had left the hotel at twelve-thirty. It was now six-thirty and she hadn't returned. Serena had taken an hour's long bath, browsed the nearby shops, walked over to the open market and purchased some pottery and baskets, then returned to their hotel room. She took a long shower, napped for an hour, stared out at the skyline from the terrace, and wondered what was taking so long.
Finally, the door opened and Serena jumped up, flinging the door open fully.
"I was just about to call out the search party."
"Urgh. You wouldn't believe it. I'm about to collapse." She said as she stepped in and moved across the room. "It was pure hell."
"What happened?" Serena closed the door.
Kate kicked off her shoes. "Well, first. . ." She sighed. "I was in this uncomfortable monkey suit all day."
Serena laughed and helped her out of her jacket.
"Thanks. Second, you wouldn't believe the questions and the insinuations from Lisa's lawyer. They were trying to paint a real nasty picture." Kate unzipped her skirt un-self consciously, and let it fall to the floor, then slid the pantyhose down her hips and legs. Serena licked her lips and closed her eyes for a brief moment to regain her composure. Kate didn't seem to notice as she sat on the bed.
"What do you mean?"
"Her lawyer claimed that I was a woman scorned and with a vendetta. Let me tell you, in Kenya, they practically vomit at the thought of lesbianism. So this guy is trying to portray me as this deranged pervert who was pissed off after being dumped by her."
"Questions like, 'Ms Chavez, is it true that you and Ms. Calltreaux, a woman in your employ at your camp entered into an unnatural relationship?' Easy answer. No. There was nothing unnatural about it, but I just said, no. 'Ms. Chavez isn't it true that when Ms. Calltreaux, your hire attempted to end the relationship you threatened her with a promise to get even?' No. 'When Ms. Calltreaux believed she was alone, that you were in fact following or rather stalking her?' No, I was observing her actions because I didn't trust her. 'Ah-hah, you believed that she would divulge your sexual affair?' No, I believed I'd catch her poaching wildlife, which I did, sir. Then I asked him if he might want to ask some questions about the crimes she's being charged with. That's when he told me that he was asking the questions, blah-blah-blah."
"Jeez. How did you keep your cool?"
"I lost it a few times. I'm just whipped, Serena. At least I don't have to go back tomorrow. They have all they need from me." Kate began unbuttoning her top and Serena's breath caught in her throat. She watched as Kate's blouse slid off her back and onto the bed. Now Kate was in her panties and bra. "I need a shower. Tell me you booked a massage?"
"I did. . ." Serena's voice cracked and Kate looked up and grinned at her. She tried again after clearing her throat. "I did, but I'm afraid you missed the appointment."
"Shit. I knew it."
"I. . .I could give you one, if you like. I'm not a professional, but not bad."
Kate nodded. "It's a deal. Let me clean the Kenyan judicial system off my body and I'll be right back.
With Kate in the shower, Serena busied herself trying to set a mood. She turned on the light, turned it off, turned on a lamp with a dimmer, lowered the illumination. She repositioned the vertical blinds to darken the room. Serena searched her purse for a cinnamon tic tac and popped it in her mouth. Checking her short hair in the mirror, she ran her fingers through it. She took several deep breaths, telling herself that it was just a massage. She walked to the bed and pulled down the coverlet, blanket and sheet. She practically skipped to the vanity area just outside the bathroom and picked up a container of baby powder and the bottle of Cool Water she kept. Back at the bed, she spritzed the sheets and placed the powder on the table. More deep breathing. The shower was turned off. Serena gulped. Five minutes later, Kate returned. Blinking, Serena feigned composure. Kate had entered the room with the towel wrapped around her waist, her breasts bare. She grinned again at Serena who stood enthralled.
"Gonna give me that massage? Nice lighting."
"Huh? Yeah. Huh?"
Kate stepped in front of her, gently touching her arm as she passed and stretched out on the bed. "Ready."
"Yeah, ready." Serena licked her lips again and sat delicately beside Kate on the edge of the bed. She placed some baby powder in her hands and rubbed them together, then began work on Kate's shoulders.
"Umm. That's the exact spot." Kate purred into her pillow.
Serena was starting to perspire. She pumped more powder into her hands and spread it on Kate's back.
"That feels good and smells good."
Serena pressed into Kate's flesh, feeling the hard muscles loosen and relax under her.
"You're not saying anything."
Serena pressed into her lower back and wondered how she might suggest losing the towel.
"You all right?"
"Yeah, perfectly fine." Her hands were shaking.
"If your hands hurt, you can stop."
"No, no. It's just the position I'm in. It's a little hard to. . ."
"Why don't you straddle me?"
Serena whimpered and Kate laughed.
"No, this is. . .that's okay." She responded hesitantly.
"C'mon. It'll make it easier."
Serena paused to consider it. God, how she wanted to, but if she did, she wouldn't be able to hide what her body was feeling. She knew how wet she was. Serena's thin pants were soaked through. Well, she wanted Kate and this way, Kate wouldn't have to wonder how much. "Okay," she whispered.
Straddling Kate's lower back, she didn't dare put her weight down. She hovered over her, but Kate lifted her ass slightly and contact was made. Serena let out one low moan as she continued her massage. She finally relaxed and pushed on her muscles with earnest. Kate moaned beneath her and Serena sweated. Neither woman said anything. The room was totally silent save Serena's breathing that was shallow and rapid and Kate's that was long and sensual.
The massage was so relaxing that Kate fell asleep and with that, Serena calmed as well. She slowly pulled the towel further down, exposing Kate's rear and kneaded her cheeks. It was divine, touching her. For twenty minutes, she lost herself in the feel of Kate's flesh and nearly jumped when Kate awoke and asked, "Why didn't you ever tell me about your family? About what happened to your brother and parents?"
"Uh. . .what? How did you find out?" Serena was motionless. Her hands rested on Kate's butt. "Dafton told you."
"Yeah. Why didn't you?"
"It's kind of a downer. I figured you were already ticked about me being here, I didn't want to come across as more of a burden than I was."
"But, that's important stuff. You should have told me."
Serena, unaware began to gently glide her hands across Kate's rear. She didn't even notice when goosebumps appeared. "I'm sorry. There was never a good time."
"When I asked you about your brother, that would have been a good time."
"No, it wouldn't have." Remembering that day when Kate had needed her comfort.
"Maybe not." Kate concurred, remembering as well. "We run together everyday, Serena. We talk. There must have been some time you could have shared this?
"I didn't want you feeling sorry for me. That's not what I wanted at all."
Kate decided to let that part of it rest. "So you were ten? It must have been horrible. How did you cope?"
"A lot of therapy. Child psychologists. Family therapists. I've been through a long line of doctors, none of whom have the insight to answer my only two questions."
"Why did my parents die and I live? Why is my brother a vegetable and I walk and talk?"
Serena swung her leg over and dropped beside Kate in bed. "Serena," as Kate turned to face her, she said the only thing she could think of, "those things happen. There is no explanation."
"That's what they tell me."
"What happened after they died? Where did you go?"
"You want my life story?"
"Uh-huh." Kate smiled at her as she shifted onto her side.
"There was no blood relative to take me. My dad's best friend took me in. He and his wife lived down the street from us, so I just moved in and grew up there. He was a lawyer, so he got a good settlement for me from the accident and I lived with them until I went off to school."
"Thank God there was someone. I guess they're like parents to you now, huh?"
"They were. They had kids, too. Their son, Elliot was in my class and he felt so sad for me. A very sensitive boy. By the time I was sixteen, we were dating and living in the same house. It was kind of funny. His mother reminding me to be a good girl and his father winking at him all the time."
"You lost your virginity in their house?"
"Yeah, the night of his seventeenth birthday. It was my birthday present to him."
"You are so cheap!"
"Hey, I wasn't cheap, just easy." Serena laughed. "Anyway, we applied to the same colleges and decided to go to Northwestern together. I really needed him. He was my security blanket, someone I trusted."
"But you came to Kenya and he broke up with you?"
"No, we broke up long before I met you. Years earlier."
"But the pictures in your hotel room?" Kate was slightly confused.
Serena sucked her lips into her mouth for a moment, then whispered, "I have a hard time letting go."
Kate reached out and stroked Serena's face. She ran her fingers through her hair. Serena looked at her, then reached and pulled the blanket over her body. "Do you wanna hear this story? If so, stop distracting me."
"Sorry." Kate tightened the blanket around her and grinned broadly.
"We were beginning our junior year and Elliott asked me to marry him. I put him off for months. Finally, he gave me an ultimatum. I loved him, but as a brother, not a lover. We broke up. I thought I should find another guy and go out; that my lack of physical desire for Elliott was because he and I grew up together, but as I looked around campus, my eyes kept turning to my roommate, Heather, the girl in the pictures. Heather and I had joked around about having a hot little affair behind our boyfriends' backs, but I realized, I wasn't joking."
"Ooh, the straight girl goes gay."
"I wasn't straight. I knew it, but wouldn't admit it. Finally, Heather caught on and we praised our good fortune for being able to live together as roommates and have each other in a number of creative ways every night."
"Serena, I never would have suspected." Touching Kate's cheek she said, "I'm full of surprises." She continued. "For the rest of my junior year and all of our senior year, we were lovers. It was great. We read the Kama Sutra and hung out at the women's bookstore memorizing sections from 'The Joy of Lesbian Sex,' giggling about the things we'd try back at our apartment. I don't think I opened a textbook during that time. I don't know how we graduated."
"And what's become of the love of your life?"
"She wasn't the love of my life, but I did love her. The thing is, I liked Elliott a lot. He was there for me at my worst times, through nightmares and depression. I mean some really, really bad times. I wanted to stay his friend, so we tried. The three of us would go on ski trips together and stuff like that. About three weeks before graduation, Heather called it quits with me. She had fallen for Elliott. Just like that, she said, 'I can't live this kind of life. It's not right for me. Elliott's so sweet. Do you mind if we get together?' What could I say?"
"Damn straight I mind." Kate suggested.
"No, I couldn't. They went off to Madrid that summer. In September they married. That December I called to see if they might want to meet up for the holidays, she told me that he didn't want me in their lives, particularly her life anymore. Period. End of story. I haven't seen Elliott and Heather since. Elliott's parents, as much as they loved me and treated me like a daughter, were still his parents and when I hurt their son, there was no place for me in their home. My last family Christmas was eight years ago. I've been alone since."
Kate pulled Serena to her. "God, I'm sorry."
"It's no big deal."
"You're wrong. It's a huge deal. I'm so sorry." Kate held onto her, stroking her, cuddling her.
At first, Serena lay stiff in her arms, but finally surrendered to her touch. Her body began to shake as she cried. "Why does everyone keep leaving me? I've been alone ever since. I've been alone," she whispered.
"Ssh. It's okay." Kate said, but she thought to herself, 'Not anymore. Not anymore.'
They missed dinner. They had held onto each other all night. Both waking at different times to console the other. Serena kissed Kate's cheek and assured her that Lisa Calltreaux would get what's coming to her. She noticed that for the first time since she'd been sharing living space with Kate, that Kate had slept peacefully, without nightmares. She had slept through the night without calling out for help and pleading with invisible captors.
At seven the next morning, Serena awakened to see a fully clothed, Kate opening the door. She directed the young Kenyan dressed in a white caftan to the table beside the window. Kate glanced over at Serena and smiled warmly, then turned back to the man. "Thank you."
"Ugh. How long have you been up? Good morning."
"You are spoiled in just one day." Kate walked the waiter to the door and closed it behind him. "Usually you're already up and finishing your run." She said making her way to the bed, holding a glass of cranberry juice and toast.
"Nope. Your food's over there. Get up and get it." Kate sat beside her and drank some of the juice and bit into the toast.
"You're really not going to give me any?"
Kate's eyebrow raised at the innuendo and she laughed. "I don't know what you're asking for, but if you mean my toast and my juice, then the answer is no."
Serena looked dejected. The old Kate was back so quickly. The night had been so tender and now, she was cold. "Okay."
"I'm joking, baby. Here, wanna bite?" Kate offered the toast to her and Serena bit down, chewed, then smiled up at this woman she adored.
"Serena. . ." Kate hesitated before continuing.
"I love it when you say my name. Yes?"
"I want to go home." Kate mumbled.
There was no guessing what this meant. Kate didn't want to go back to the States or back to California. Home was her camp ninety miles northwest of Nairobi. "Okay. We'll leave as soon as we get in touch with the guys."
"I've called them. Everyone will come back Sunday night." Kate had been self-conscious about stating her wishes. They had only just arrived and she knew that Serena needed a break from the dirt and grime of living in the field, but she was out of sorts here. She belonged back at the camp. There, she felt grounded.
"So what you're saying is we'll have the camp to ourselves all day and night today and most of tomorrow?" Serena sat up and broke off another piece of toast and popped it into her mouth.
"Whatever shall we do?" Serena wondered aloud.
"The LA Dodgers game on satellite or those loser Cubs?"
"Hey, don't talk about my Cubbies. This is their year, I tell ya!"
Kate laughed. "Let's go home."
Serena had wanted to cook something special for Kate on their return. Perhaps, she would have made the dish she had requested months ago, but she didn't have an opportunity to buy a turkey or gather the right vegetables at the market.
She realized that more than cooking for Kate, she just wanted to be near her, share her space, hear her breathe, hold her.
When they arrived at the camp, Kate set about lighting mosquito coils, a product very much like incense that produced a fragrance that repelled the insects. She lit them around the picnic table, near the tents, and inside her own. She reminded Serena to do the same in her tent. This way, they could wear casual summerwear and not hide behind netting all day. Serena retreated to her tent and unpacked the few things she had taken and the even fewer items she had purchased. Kate did the same. And waited for Serena while Serena waited for her.
Two hours passed before Serena finally stepped out of her tent and strode across to Kate's. Her heart was pounding. She was too nervous to do anything, so she drifted to the place she knew best, the kitchen.
"Kate, I'm going to make some lunch. A sandwich," she called out. "Do you want anything?"
Kate peered out of the tent and answered. "Whatever you're having?"
"I'd like to have you." Serena muttered to herself.
"What?" Kate inquired, only hearing her voice, but not picking up on what words had been spoken.
Taking some leftover grilled chicken out of the mini-fridge, Serena began to slice it into thin layers. She didn't hear Kate moving behind her, toward her.
"Uuuh." Serena said in surprise. Kate was behind her pressing against her body, arms wrapping around her waist.
"You're so sexy in the kitchen." There was to be no more teasing. Kate's hands slid up Serena's apron, inside the sleeves of her oversized t-shirt and rested on her breasts.
"Oh. Umm." The knife remained poised in her hand in mid-slice. Her head fell back and her chest pushed out allowing Kate to gather more of her full breasts in her hands. Serena felt herself melting.
Hot, airy breath spoke to her. "You know, I've noticed that you don't wear a bra. It drives me crazy. Your breasts are so firm. They feel so good." She massaged them, rubbing her palms against the hardening nipples, squeezing the flesh.
"Uu-uh. Oh." Serena moaned, but she wanted to scream out. She dropped the knife on the counter. "Oh, Jesus Kate. You always do the unexpected." She said haltingly, in between long exhales and short inhales.
"No, I'm predictable."
"Umm. Oh, yes." Serena responded to Kate pinching her nipples. "No, you're not. Not in the least."
"It's more comfortable for you not to wear a bra, isn't it? That's why you don't?" she whispered in her ear.
"But you had to know that it gets me all worked up. Seeing you in these t-shirts, seeing these bounce underneath." She whispered. "Sometimes seeing your nipples hard through your shirt. You knew that, too, right?" She asked while continuing her sweet assault. The lower half of her body now pressing into Serena, then slightly moving away, then back into her.
"No, I didn't think that." Serena closed her eyes. "Jesus. Umm."
"I know you did. You're a tease."
"I didn't mean to, honestly." She bit her lip and pushed back to meet Kate's gentle thrusts.
"I guess it's possible." She slowly slipped her hands out of the t-shirt and turned her around. "Maybe you were unaware." She smiled down at her and took note of how Serena's eyes were barely opened and how her hue had changed to a soft pink. "But you had to know when you kissed me at your hotel room when we first met how that would effect me?"
"You kissed me."
"Nah-ah, you did the kissing."
"You're wrong. I reacted to your kiss."
"Maybe." Kate leaned forward and pulled Serena to her kissing her passionately. A few moments later, she stepped back. "But lately, you've been flirting with me. The kissing when we were out in the grasslands . . . that was all you."
"Again, you started it, but yeah, mostly me. I'll agree," she replied.
"Yeah." Kate lifted the apron over Serena's head. "So you've been doing this flirting and kissing and walking around with these breasts. Just what are you after?"
"Well, these are the only two I have. What am I suppose to walk around with?"
"Hmm. You've got a point." Kate moved backward, pulling Serena forward by the hands. Serena checked out Kate's long tan legs and was glad that the filmmaker tended to wear long pants. If Kate found Serena's breasts distracting, Serena found Kate's legs more so. She had weekly visions of numerous kitchen mishaps resulting in a lopped off finger while staring at those legs, imagining them wrapped around her.
Kate walked a few feet until she bumped into one of the picnic tables. She rested against it, pulling Serena just a tad closer, then lowered her head to Serena's chest. Her hands caressed Serena's breasts through the t-shirt just as her mouth opened and she began to suck on one of them as well. Quickly, the t-shirt became wet with Kate's saliva and when she pulled away, she could see Serena's dark areola and nipple through the shirt. "Umm. I like this." She announced as she made her way back to suck some more.
She liked the feel of her breasts being fondled and loved through her shirt. It was exciting to not reveal much, but in a sense to be so exposed. "Oh. Oh. Kate." Serena's fingers swept through Kate's hair. Kate continued sucking one breast while her hand pinched and tweaked the other nipple. "Oh."
Kate's face moved away, tilting up to stare at Serena who slammed her body into the filmmaker's. Standing between Kate's opened legs, her shorts-covered mound pushed against Kate's center. Kate returned her face to Serena's chest and bit her nipple through the shirt. "Um, um." She sucked and massaged and sucked some more. Serena began to shake. While Kate's one hand moved across her breast, pinching, squeezing, and rubbing, the other arm held Serena close around the waist. Slowly, that hand moved down to knead her ass, then without warning, found it's way to the hem of her baggy shorts and slid upward. With deft fingers, she lifted Serena's underwear away from her skin and moved inside them. Her hand felt the furry mound, only spending scant seconds moving her fingers through the hair. Kate pushed down and in, opening Serena's lips and resting her fingers against her inner lips and clitoris.
"Oh." Serena loved the touch.
Momentarily, she withdrew her mouth from Serena's nipple and looked up at her. "You're soaked. You're so wet. Oh, God."
Serena squeezed her eyes closed and gritted her teeth. Inhaling and hissing, Serena was sure her body was about to soar off the ground or that she'd melt into it. "Umm. Oh. Oh, please yes. Yes, Kate. Touch me. I need it. I need you."
Kate's fingers slid up and down those soft, swollen lips. Serena's hips moved forward and back trying to create the action she so desperately needed. "I can't believe how wet you are." Kate repeated.
"Please." Serena lowered her head, then threw it back. "Please do something. I'm. . ."
She was almost at the point of panicking. Serena wanted Kate's fingers either inside of her or rubbing her clitoris so badly that she feared she'd collapse, die, or dissolve into a fleshy mess without the touch.
"You feel so good to me. Serena, I wanted to do this to you last night. When you were giving me that massage, I wanted to turn over and do just this to you."
"And when you were on top of me and I could feel how excited you were, I wanted to."
"I was very excited." She said as she lurched forward, still trying to get those fingers to do her bidding.
"And I could smell how ready you were for me and I wanted to." "Why. . .didn't. . .you?" Serena bit her lower lip.
"It wasn't. . ." Kate slid her finger across Serena's clit.
"Aaaah." Serena squeezed her legs together and then opened them again.
". . .the right time."
"Tell me this is the right time. Please tell me it is." She began to rock against her hand.
"It is." Kate slid the finger across her clitoris again, then began moving her finger up and down against her.
Serena's upper body fell forward as her lower body moved rhythmically against Kate's finger. Serena's mouth was close to Kate's ear and she sucked the lobe briefly before whispering, "then fuck me. Please fuck me."
Kate loved the sound of that request whispered in her ear by Serena. When she heard it, she felt her own clit contract and harden. Her finger moved faster against Serena's clitoris. She pulled Serena down to her, so that their faces met and kissed her, thrusting her tongue into her mouth repeatedly, moving that tongue all around the inside of her mouth as a preface to what her fingers would do inside of her later.
Kate moved with fluidity, slipping out of Serena's grasp, removing her hand momentarily, provoking a pout and whimper from Serena, turning her around, changing positions. Now, Serena was leaning against the table, Kate standing over her. Kate continued her long strokes and listened to Serena pant, breathe and moan. Her own breasts felt heavy and ached against her tank top. Kate knew her shorts were getting damper and damper. Serena was pushing so hard against her, still trying to get Kate's fingers inside of her, but there was no hurry. Kate wanted to tantalize her, build up the tension, hear Serena beg for her.
"I'm holding you. Can you get your top off?" Kate asked huskily.
Serena licked her lips and pulled the top over her head while Kate supported her. When her breasts were revealed, Kate smiled, then sighed. "God, they're beautiful." She leaned in, puckered her lips and gently kissed one nipple then the other. Then she sucked the nipple into her mouth, raking her teeth over it, flicking her tongue across it; all of these actions purposeful and meant to induce rapid insanity. Serena groaned and sighed in desire.
So far, Kate had scooted away from Serena's every attempt to caress her. Kate wanted to make love to her. She had waited a long time, held back the passion that she had felt from the very beginning. But Serena had waited, too and her need to touch, hold and make love to Kate was just as strong. Stealthily, Serena reached up and managed to lock her hand on one of Kate's breast, then she pinched the nipple quite hard. Kate let out a yelp and then a deep moan as her eyes closed. Serena continued caressing and pinching, caressing and pinching until Kate finally pulled herself away from Serena's grasp. And in one motion, she grabbed the waistband of Serena's shorts and pulled them down along with her underwear. The baggy shorts fell to the ground and Serena lifted one foot then the other and relieved herself of them entirely. Kate kicked them out of the way. She pushed Serena higher onto the table and spread her legs, standing between them and slipped two fingers deep inside her.
"Aaaaah." The back of Serena's head banged onto the table. "Uh." She inhaled between gritted teeth over and over. "Umm. Oh, yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Oh, God, yes." She whispered this mantra.
Kate pushed deeper into her and began to thrust hard against and in her. Serena lifted her legs and wrapped them around Kate's waist. Her sandals pressed against Kate's back.
"You are so hot. You're so hot inside. My fingers are soaked and you're like a fire." Kate moaned as she continued sliding in and slipping out. "I've been thinking about this for months. "Fucking you. Fucking you, fucking you, fucking you." With each pronouncement, Kate pounded deeper and immediately withdrew from Serena. As she plunged into her, Kate's body moved forward and back in need.
"Slower. Slow down. I want this to last."
"I want you to come all over my fingers. I want to feel that."
"Shit." Serena moaned, her head moving from side to side, her fingers wrapping into fists and pounding the table.
"Your clit is so hard. It's just so hard against my finger. I love it."
"Here. Have some of this?" Kate's other hand which had been caressing Serena's breasts disappeared. Serena felt that hand between her legs, too, then suddenly, that hand was near her lips and she was being offered three glistening fingers to kiss and lick. When Serena's lips closed around those long fingers and began to suck greedily, Kate's eyes closed in surrender and she sighed. She could feel Serena tighten around her fingers, one hand being sucked by her mouth, the other sucked in and held by the tunnel between her legs.
Serena's hips gyrated. Soon Kate's fingers slipped out of her mouth. Serena bit her lower lip trying to hold back what was about to be unleashed completely. Her lower body lifted and fell on the table as Kate continued to drive deeper into her and Kate's thumb slid back and forth over her engorged clitoris.
"Your fingers are so. . ." Serena pumped those fingers. "I'm gonna come. I'm coming. I can't hold it anymore," she whispered and stared up at Kate. "I'm coming." She whispered again with trembling anticipation. She squeezed Kate's fingers with powerful muscles and held her deep inside of her as her body contracted and pumped. "Uuuh. Oh." Her shoulders lifted off the table, then slammed back into it. Serena's body jerked, her neck arched and became stiff as she held her breath and gave herself fully to Kate.
Kate was sweating over her. She couldn't believe how responsive Serena had been and how she had used words that she had never expected from her. She had never heard Serena say 'shit' or 'fuck' nor had she thought she would announce her approaching orgasm. Serena could be demonstrative, but Kate hadn't pegged her as sexually expressive. The truth, Serena had been guarded with her because Kate had forced her to be.
She leaned forward and kissed her, then rested her head on Serena's chest. "That was great," Kate said. She could hear Serena's rapid heartbeat. Slowly, she started to remove her fingers from the place they had remained.
"Kate?" Serena whispered, while holding onto her wrist, keeping her fingers lodged inside of her.
"Yeah?" Kate looked up.
She made her request softly. "I want to feel you inside me some more. If you can. . .?"
Kate smiled as she raised her body. "That wasn't enough?"
"So am I." Kate pushed the two fingers deeper, then slid them out and added a third.
"Umm. That's it exactly." Serena slid out of her sandals, then raised her legs and placed her ankles on top of Kate's strong shoulders. This position helped to grip Kate's fingers and Kate barely moved them as she began to give Serena what she had asked for. Her three fingers moved inside of her, hinting at a retreat, but never leaving her body; promising power and delivering.
Serena's body rocked. The feeling was tremendous. She hadn't had any fingers other than her own inside of her in eight years. And what she recalled of that previous time was nothing like this. Kate wasn't just making love to her with her fingers, but with her whole body. It was as if Kate's soul, her personality, all of her person was moving inside her. Serena's back was damp and sticking to the table. She could feel her juices dripping down the crack of her ass. She felt Kate's fingers wiggling inside her. Those long, beautiful fingers she had noticed the day they met were driving her over the top again. Already, she could feel her second climax approaching.
"You're so good. You've got incredible fingers. Umm. Kate, yes."
Kate's hips undulating in a dance that only fanned her desire.
Soon, Serena was in a sexual trance, exhaling and inhaling deeply through her nostrils. Her pelvis thrust forward, taking all that she could. Kate's fingers filled her completely and as improbable as it was, to Serena, it felt as if they were expanding, taking more and more of her, driving her to the brink, then stopping, waiting. Kate's thrusts were skilled and she slid across the patch that was slightly rougher and most sensitive inside of Serena. That was all it took. Her liquid poured onto Kate's fingers and she tightened then released them with her strong muscle. She sighed and licked her lips. Moments passed and Serena's legs slid down Kate's body, going limp and dangling from the table. "Oh, God," she finally mustered.
Kate slowly removed her fingers and just before her hand completely left that area, she brushed against Serena's clitoris causing Serena to buck. She leaned forward and pulled Serena up and into her arms.
'Oh, Serena." Kate whispered into Serena's neck.
"That was so unexpected and wonderful."
"I want to take you to my tent. We can get comfortable."
"I want to take you in your tent, too." Serena laughed.
Kate bent to pick up Serena' s shorts and sandals and Serena took that opportunity to reach out and caress Kate's ass.
"Sorry. Too inviting." She was still breathing hard as she watched Kate gather her things.
Securely held within Kate's embrace, Serena struggled alongside her toward and into the tent. Her legs were still shaky and even travelling the fifteen or so feet was an exertion.
Inside, Kate turned up the flame on her lantern and pushed play on her portable CD player. The music blasted from the speakers and Serena noted that it was the same CD that Kate had been playing for several weeks. It had a heavy, primal almost erotic drum beat with rich woodwinds in the background and beautiful harmonies from a group of African women.
"It's kind of loud." Kate said, while turning the volume down and then looked at Serena who stood at the opening of the tent. "Aren't you coming in?" Kate smiled at her, loving the way her naked body glowed in the lantern light.
"Yeah, I was just checking out your place. I'm seldom allowed in the inner sanctum. The one and only time I was, I was out of it most of the night."
"Your bed's huge. How do you rate?"
"All this is are three foam mattresses and two sleeping bags piled on top of each other. But it's comfortable. Come feel."
Serena lowered herself onto the bed. It took up the majority of the floor of the large tent and it smelled of Kate. Through the scent of the mosquito coils, she could still smell the Cool Water, the sweat, and the womanliness of the filmmaker.
Kate sat down next to her and stroked her naked thigh. "Why can't I keep my hands off of you?" Her hand moved up and down her leg and then on the next upward stroke, she kept going. Around her hip, onto her waist, to her abdomen, up to her ribcage, Serena's underbreast, her breast, her nipple. Moving up again, she traveled to her neck, her lips, her cheeks and into her hair. Kate's other hand came around and followed a similar path on the other side, except it never continued on its course passed her breast. She rubbed Serena's nipple between her finger and thumb and Serena slowly reclined onto the bed, her legs spreading again.
Kate followed Serena and lay on top of her with her long hair gently tickling Serena's chest.
"Kate, take off your clothes. I want to feel your breasts against mine." With one hand, Kate reached behind her head and pulled the tank top off. Her breasts like the rest of her body were a beautiful bronze with tan areola and nipples. Still in her shorts, she moved up Serena's body and dropped down onto her, letting her nipples come in contact with Serena's, then pushing down so that their breasts rubbed against each other's. Kate lifted again and her hard nipples danced across Serena's breasts.
Both women moaned at the contact. Serena reached out and grabbed two handfuls of Kate. Squeezing a breast in each hand, circling the nipple with her fingers, using her palms to caress them into a harder state. Kate moaned deeply. "Oh, that feels good."
Serena really wanted those shorts off. She wanted to see all of Kate. She was ready for the whole picture. Kate continued to moan and Serena was amazed at how hard her nipples had become. They were like small fingers. She needed to suck them. With some effort, she pulled the six foot tall woman up her body and opened her mouth to accept the gifts.
"Mngu. God." Kate couldn't remember her nipples being so erect. "Yes." They ached, but not half as much as the ongoing ache between her legs. She needed to either slow down or go faster, but this pace was killing her. She pulled away from Serena.
"Hey. Why'd you do that? I was enjoying myself." Kate laughed. "I can't take it anymore." Kate sat up, crossed her leg and untied her boot. She kicked if off, slipped off her sock and then did the same with the other shoe and sock. Serena raised herself onto her elbows and watched her as Kate stood and slid off her shorts and underwear, kicking them away. Serena gasped when she saw Kate's full nakedness. She was exquisite. Long, brown, muscular legs, a beautifully sculpted triangle of dark hair with a thick strand of glistening juice gathered at it's lower point.
"Umm. You look delicious." Serena reached for her and pulled her back into bed. Her hands immediately shot between Kate's legs, caressing her inner thighs, relishing the softness of that area. Serena's stomach flipped over when she felt the wetness and knew that she had caused it. Kate was on top of her again, spreading Serena's legs with her thigh, rubbing her body against her, causing another budding of desire from Serena.
Kate moaned in Serena's ear as she rubbed her mons against Serena's.
Serena's hand slipped from between them and she reached for the CD player. "Can I turn this off?"
Kate looked up startled. "Uh, sure. I'm just used to having it up loud when I'm . . ." She stopped when she realized what she was about to say.
"When you're what?" Serena hit stop while at the same time pushing her hips forward and into Kate.
Kate groaned, then said, "Nothing."
"When you're what?" Serena continued to press her body into her.
Kate complemented Serena's push with one of her own. The sensation of mound against mound was powerful. Already she was getting prickly. Her body was reacting to the pressure at the point of contact, at the very tips of her nipples, on the top of her head and the soles of her feet. She could hardly speak, but she managed. "I just like to have it on."
"I know. You play it at a billion decibels almost every time you come in here unless you're sleeping."
"That is your fault." Kate was getting into the banter while increasing her arousal, following Serena's rhythm of pressing and retreating, pressing and retreating.
"Yeah, I told you. These breasts." She bent to kiss them. "They drive me crazy. I'll tell you the truth. Practically since you've been here. . . Oh, yes. God. This feels good." She stopped speaking briefly and let her body take charge. She was getting closer and closer. Kate's arms shook as she held herself up, while pressing down and rubbing herself against Serena. Grinding, grinding. Serena was really rocking against her and even though she couldn't see it, Kate knew that her clitoris was peeking out from between her lips. She could feel her hardness against Serena, her clit being tickled and aroused by Serena's hair. "Oh, yes." She exhaled and quickened her pace, just as Serena slowed.
"Since I've been here?" Serena whispered and then moaned.
"I've wanted you. I'm in here getting myself off five times a day, thinking about you."
"Oh, God." Serena resumed her hypnotic rhythm, surprisingly turned on even more. "You were in here playing with yourself?"
"Umm. Umm. Umm." Kate sighed repeatedly. She was going to fall soon. She was ready. "I . . . couldn't help it." Kate's face rose to the fabric ceiling of the tent, her eyes closed, and she screamed out, "I want you." The lower half of her body became spastic as she rubbed herself furiously against Serena while Serena pushed herself as hard as she could into her, giving Kate the friction she needed. Kate tensed and burst. Her body shaking, her arms finally giving out and causing her to drop onto Serena.
"Jesus Fucking Christ." Kate groaned. "Oh, baby."
Serena held her in her arms. Even though there was a huge difference in height, about six and a half inches, she seemed to fit nicely into her curves.
Kate lowered herself beside her. "I don't wanna suffocate you." She closed her eyes and took several deep breaths. "God."
Serena's eyes were hidden behind very heavy lids. Her voice was husky and seductive. "Oh, I loved that. That was something."
Kate inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly. She reached down to touch her triangle, to feel her still throbbing clitoris. Serena propped her head up on her hand and watched her.
"Is that what you do in here? Touch yourself like that?" Her voice was low and so deep that she barely recognized herself.
"Can you show me what you do? Please?" She asked softly.
She was craving more and Serena didn't have to ask a second time. She spread her lips with her index and middle finger and presented herself to Serena. Serena sat up and followed Kate's hands wherever they went. Kate moved her hand away from her triangle and slid up her body to massage her breasts. Almost immediately she was moaning. Having Serena watch her made her want to put on a show. She stared at Serena, looking at her soft skin, admiring her breasts as she breathed, how they went up and down, so full, heavy and creamy. Her hand went back to where it had begun. She spread her lips slightly, making room for her finger and stroked her clit. "Umm. Oh." Her hips started moving. Serena leaned in closer and stared at the wetness, the deep pink of her clit, the coarse black hairs that were abundant.
"I can't believe I'm doing this in front of you."
"Tell me what you're thinking when you're in here doing this." Serena reached out and gently glided her hand over Kate's body and watched as goosebumps rose all over her.
Kate laughed and shook her head.
"Okay, let me guess. You've just come back from watching your cheetahs. You've driven for miles over bumpy terrain and each hump, every dip, the vibration of the truck feels good. You've been out in the sun with all that good Vitamin D beating down on you and you're feeling so hot." Serena looked up and smiled sweetly. "That's it, Kate, touch yourself."
"Oh. Oh." Kate scooped some of the liquid that was still pouring from her onto her index finger and continued her languid stroking.
"So, you get back here and you see me and think. 'Why is she still here?'" Serena laughed.
"No, I think, why is she wearing that shirt? I can see everything. God, Serena's hair is so shiny and looks so soft. I'd love to feel it on my thighs, between my legs. And I think, I wish she'd follow me in here and take care of this."
"Then I turn the music on." Kate moaned. "And I strip down quickly and I'm ready for you. I imagine you . . ." Kate panted. "Eating me. And I start moaning and I reach over and turn the music up cause I know I'm gonna scream." Kate's finger slid faster and faster over her swollen center and she growled from a place deep in her throat. "And I'm fingering my clit and begging you to eat me, eat me."
Serena pushed Kate's hand away and moved quickly between her legs. "Like this. Serena's mouth pressed against Kate's center and within a moment, her chin, mouth and nose were covered with Kate's wet heat. Serena moved against her like she was an extension of Kate's vagina. Her tongue slid between her outer and inner lips, gnawing, licking and kissing them. She narrowed her tongue and quickly licked around Kate's hole. She heard Kate grunt above her. Serena's short blonde hair moved back and forth over Kate's wiry dark hair. Her lips sucked on Kate's pulsating clitoris. Slowly and gently pulling it into her mouth and licking it as she let go. Kate's legs were up against Serena's shoulders and Serena could feel the sheet being pulled and bunched around her. She knew that Kate had fistfuls of the sheet in her hands. Only for a moment did she stop, stare at Kate's womanhood, then say softly, "Nzuri," before returning to her feast.
"Oooh." Kate cooed her response. "You are beautiful." Kate's stomach flipped a number of times. "Eat me. Oh, Serena eat me." Kate still lost in her fantasy spoke to her dream lover and real lover who were now one in the same.
Serena licked and nibbled for a long time, bringing Kate close, but forbidding closure. She had settled in and was in no hurry to stop. "I'm going to come in your mouth. Baby, baby. Uh-uhm. Oh." Kate licked her lips. Her head tossed and turned from side to side. She bit the inside of her lower lip. She grunted. She felt her body rising and Serena rose with her, never letting go, lapping and sucking. Kate dropped back onto the bed, then lifted again. Grabbing Serena's hair she held her in place and pushed her face into her. She grunted again and then she sat up, pushed away from Serena, her body trembling. Kate's head fell forward, long hair hung around her face and lay matted on her forehead. Serena watched as Kate's abdomen contracted. She knelt in front of her, smiling warmly.
After some moments, Kate looked up and returned the smile and pulled Serena to her, opening her mouth to kiss her. She tasted herself on Serena's lips and on her tongue. Slowly, she began to recline and pulled Serena toward her. "Sit on my face. I want to taste you."
Serena crawled up the bed and straddled Kate's head, slowly lowering her center to Kate's waiting mouth. As Kate kneaded her ass, she used her tongue to perform unhurried strokes against Serena's clitoris, sometimes moving from her opening, up against the swollen lips, and back to her core. Though Serena had been a quiet lover opting to whisper her delight, softly command a specific action, delicately moan appreciation, having Kate's mouth between her legs brought out something more primal in her. She screamed out how good it felt; groaned loudly and deeply when Kate's lips surrounded her inflamed clit, ground down hard on Kate's face as she moved faster and faster on top of her.
Serena's eyes closed and she caressed her own breasts, rubbing her hands over them, cupping and squeezing them while Kate drove her closer to ecstasy. Even before this afternoon, Serena had known she was in love with the filmmaker. It had been love at first sight. She had lied to herself and Dafton when she said it wasn't. And equal to the love she felt was the lust for her. Serena began to weep as she slid over Kate's mouth. She had wanted this badly, had longed for it every night since August. Now she wanted to tell her. In the heat of passion she wanted to proclaim it unequivocally, but she dared not. The feelings were strong within her, but she held back emotionally. The only betrayal coming from the tears she couldn't control Physically, she was far past restraint.
Kate's nose was wet with Serena as were her forehead and chin. She followed Serena's lead since she seemed to know just the course to take. Serena's hips moved above her in circular motions. Her liquid fire poured from her and dripped onto Kate who drank of it and wished that it would be never-ending. It was not to be, however. Serena's body shook and she exploded.
"Ah, ah. Oh, Kate." She screamed. Her hands grasped the pillow on either side of Kate's head, she lifted her body away from Kate's still active mouth. She was sobbing as she dropped on top of her and slid down. Kate scooped her limp body into her arms and held her tight.
Serena was a watershed of tears. "I'm sorry. It was just so intense." She hiccuped and continued crying.
"I'm right here." Kate was briefly reminded of the woman who cried after having slept with her years ago. But she knew these were different tears. Serena's love was just so out there.
Serena was spent. She couldn't move. Tears fell, wetting Kate's breast as she held her close. For several minutes they stayed wrapped in each other's arms, until Serena slowly slid away and fell asleep beside her, her arm wrapped possessively across Kate's chest, her hand holding her shoulder. They slept like this until just past dusk.
"Hi." Serena looked up and caught Kate staring at her.
"It was everything I had dreamed." Kate's voice caught in her throat.
"For me, too."
Again, they lay quietly holding each other.
Serena looked up, raising her eyebrows at Kate, smiling. "I don't think my body. . ."
"No, no. Food. Weren't we going to have lunch?" Kate said, while playing with a few strands of blonde hair on Serena's forehead.
Serena laughed. "Oh, yeah. What happened?"
"You happened. You happened to me."
"Yeah." Serena extricated herself from Kate and sat up. "Let me go out and throw something together. How about chicken sandwiches?"
Kate pulled her back. "Not yet." She hesitated. "I think we need to talk about all this before we . . ."
Serena didn't want to hear it. Kate wanted no emotional attachment. Well, Serena was already emotionally attached and now she had succumbed to Kate physically. She was lost and she knew it. "We can wait a few minutes. I'll be right back."
"No, I want you to know that. . ."
"Let's eat. Okay?" Serena pulled away from Kate and rolled out of bed. "We'll talk later," she said as she slipped on her shorts and tank top, slid into her sandals.
Kate watched her. Serena's body was magnificent. "All right, but as soon as you get back. We need to make sure that we're both . . ."
Serena smiled, turned and stepped out of the tent. She knew Kate was going to remind her about her 'no strings clause.' She didn't want to deal with it yet. She was in love with her and simply had no control over it. So what Kate didn't share those feelings? That didn't mean they'd have to stop this. If Serena could handle it, Kate should be able to. She wasn't going to make any demands on Kate's emotions. She just wanted to be near her, with her, inside of her.
Kate smiled to herself for having been so foolish for so many months. All of those days she could have been making love with Serena. Wasted. Kate placed intertwined fingers behind her head as she thought about the last few hours. She had been with a lot of women over the years, but not one climbed so high with her and never was it like that the first time. Serena was simply remarkable.
She was lost in thought and didn't hear the cowbell at first. She opened her eyes and smiled. "Baby, you don't have to do that. Just come inside," she said seductively as she sat up. The sheet fell to her waist as she waited to greet her.
Lisa Calltreaux barged in pointing a gun. "Don't say a word or I'll shoot you right on the spot."
Kate pulled the sheet up. "What?" She asked in surprise.
"I've seen it all before, remember?"
Kate started to swing her legs over to stand.
Two men entered, one of whom Kate recognized from the horrible video she had taken almost a year ago. He would be going to trial soon, too.
Lisa looked at the men. "Well?"
"The girl's taken care of. Taped up. She won't be screaming out, not that it matters. We're the only ones here. The camp is deserted. She's tied."
"Don't you hurt her!" Kate shouted, the sheet falling into her lap.
Lisa and the men gazed appreciatively at Kate's chest, then Lisa said, "You are in no position to make demands." With the gun still pointing at her, she commanded, "Stand up," then turned to her goons. "Gimme two minutes, then send a flare up letting August know to bring the truck. Go!"
She motioned with the barrel of the gun for Kate to get out of bed. "C'mon. Up and at 'em. We've got things to do."
"I'm not doing anything."
Lisa bent and lifted Kate just above the elbow, bringing her to her feet. "Don't underestimate me, Kate. I," she shook her head, "don't like it. Up, up, up."
Kate stood next to her, but didn't budge. Lisa pressed into her, holding the gun at Kate's temple. "Do I have to dress you?"
Kate held her ground, belligerently crossing her arms. Lisa put her free arm around Kate's shoulders and leaned into her. "Get dressed. Don't make me tell you again." Delicately, Lisa caressed the tendrils of Kate's hair rubbing against her nose. She sniffed. "Umm. Somebody's been naughty. Your hair smells like pussy."
Kate jerked away and Lisa gave her a shove. "Dress! Or I'll go sniff out your precious little friend and give you a hundred reasons to obey."
"All right. My clothes are over there."
Lisa waved the gun in that direction and Kate deliberately chose the khaki pants and a long-sleeved safari shirt folded neatly on the chair rather than what she had been wearing. She dressed quickly. She sat and put on her socks and began lacing and tying her hiking boots. Both women turned at the sound of an approaching truck. Lisa walked to the opening and peeked out. Turning back to Kate, she smiled broadly. "Our ride's here."
Kate Chavez stood and confidently walked toward Lisa who immediately pushed her through the opening. Kate stumbled forward, then righted herself just as the two goons from earlier grabbed her.
"Tie her hands," Lisa said, and then to Kate, "and if you don't behave we'll hogtie you."
"I don't know what you have planned, but you're not getting away with it. I won't let you."
One man stood directly in front of Kate, drew back his arm, then propelled his fist forward and punched her in the gut. She doubled over in pain and only rose to her full height when she heard a muffled cry a few yards away.
It was dark, but the lantern light provided enough illumination for Kate to see Serena sitting on the ground, tied to the leg of the picnic table, her mouth covered with duct tape. Their eyes met, but there was nothing either could do to help the other.
Serena watched in horror as Kate's arms were yanked behind her. She heard her scream out in pain as her wrists were bound by heavy rope. She saw them drag her to the truck and throw her into the back just as she heard Kate yell out to her, "I'll get us out of this."
"Ha! Don't count on it." Lisa stared at Serena, jumped into the passengers' seat, then slammed the door of the SUV. The others got in and the truck sped off into the darkness, leaving Serena struggling in vain to free herself.
Kate had been unceremoniously dumped in the back of the SUV. Her body thrashed against the inside of the vehicle, first one side then the other as the driver sped off the Reserve, taking the southern trail.
On one wild turn, Kate crashed into the side, hitting her arm on a metal notch, some kind of hook. Her shirt ripped and she knew that the hook had taken out a chunk of skin. She was bleeding, but her mind was on the hook itself, not the injury. Rolling slightly she attempted to maneuver her body in front of the hook, then tried lodging the hook between the knots. She missed once, twice, three times. She kept trying. If she could get the hook in between, she might stand a chance at loosening the ties.
She didn't know how much time had passed--a few minutes or half an hour, she had been so concentrated on this one task. Finally, the hook was properly in place, she began to pull, stretching the rope back and forth, creating a larger hole. She felt it starting to give and quickly glanced toward the front at her captors. Kate was confident that she could free herself, but escaping from the truck would be next to impossible with four heavily armed people watching her every move.
"Penny for your thoughts, Kate?" Lisa called to her.
"Well, then I'll tell you what I was thinking."
"Spare me your madness." Kate answered while preoccupied with what would hopefully be a Houdini act.
"No, no, no. This concerns you. I was wondering if I should watch you die or just come in after the deed is done to see your bloody corpse."
"You are seriously demented."
"Yes, it will be bloody." Lisa laughed. "That's a promise I intend to keep."
Kate kept working, nudging the rope. Finally she stretched it enough that it gave completely. After that it was easy to manipulate the hook and get herself untied. She sat as still as possible in the truck, not changing position.
"Sweetie, we're almost home. I have a surprise waiting for you."
One of the goons guffawed.
"And it's big and furry."
Serena didn't know how much time had passed. either. Everything had happened so quickly. She had left Kate's tent to make sandwiches. She bent to look in one of the mini-fridges and when she stood, her mouth had been covered with a hand. Instantly, she knew it wasn't Kate. The hand was rough and large and she sensed it knew brutality.
Within a moment, the hand had been replaced by duct tape. Another man joined the first and tied her feet, then dragged her to the picnic table and secured her around one of the legs with thick rope and the heavy gray tape.
As they tied her, she saw Lisa Calltreaux entering Kate's tent. While she struggled, she heard brief snatches of conversation between the two women. She heard Kate's pleas and Lisa's threats. She saw the flare brighten the night sky. She watched Kate and Lisa step into the common area. Kate was beaten, tied, and thrown into a truck. Now there was nothing.
She blacked out from lack of air and she wasn't sure how long she had been under, but suddenly, she heard a truck, voices, the sound of people running toward her, she felt them tugging at the rope, her lips stung as the tape was pulled away. Through the fog of confusion and terror, she recognized a voice.
"Serena? What the hell happened?" Fear laced Dafton's voice.
Jimiyu cut through the rope and tape with a knife and then Dafton brought her arms around to the front, rubbed circulation back into her aching limbs.
"Kate. They've got Kate." She said gasping for breath. She tried to get to her feet, but she was simply too weak. "Help me. We've got to find her."
Her long, thin Kenyan friend swept her up into his arms and ran with her to the rented SUV, stretching her out in the backseat. He climbed in behind her as Jimiyu charged toward the truck with a videocamera, two rifles, a handgun and three boxes of ammunition. He had also grabbed a pair of Serena's hiking boots from her tent. He threw everything beside him in the passenger's seat, then jumped in the seat behind the wheel.
"I think." Dafton said while alternately rubbing her arms and legs. She sobbed beside him.
"Lisa Calltreaux," Serena said.
"We were here last night, but Victor called and told us you and Kate were heading back, so we cleared out. We were camping not far from here. Jimiyu saw a flare go up and knew that there was danger."
"When? How long ago? Can we find them? Where they took Kate?" Serena was crying uncontrollably.
"Yes, Serena. We will find her." Jimiyu looked into his rearview mirror at Dafton.
"It's only been about 15 minutes. As soon as we saw the flare, we pulled ourselves together and drove out. We passed Lisa's truck going like a bat out of hell leaving here. Jimiyu raced back."
"Why didn't you follow her? Kate was inside."
"For all we knew, mate, Lisa had shot you and Kate point blank in the head and left you here to die. We only had one truck. We had to make a choice."
Jimiyu was driving as fast as possible as the truck bounced and jumped across the bumpy terrain. Serena finally sat up and looked out, searching for any clue. She looked past the front seat and out of the windshield. She saw tracks, but couldn't tell if they were fresh, if they were coming or going, if it was Lisa's truck. "Are those their tracks?"
"Yes." Jimiyu responded affirmatively, but it was instinct that had taken over. He had no idea about the tire tracks. He could track an animal without questioning his method, but he was just as stumped about this as Serena. He knew he had to keep driving out this way. It was the direction that Lisa had taken and it was the only one out of the Reserve from this side.
"We have to find her."
Dafton stared at Serena. He was panicked and scared, but Serena was far beyond that. Her eyes had a hardness he had never witnessed. Her expressions leapt from fearful to murderous. God, help them all if something dreadful had happened to Kate. He knew Serena would take no prisoners. And he knew that she would never recover.
"Dafton, I need that you check guns. Do you know to load them?" Jimiyu's English was getting sloppy and his eyes bulged from their sockets as he drove on.
"I'll do it." Serena answered adamantly while reaching over to grab a rifle and a box of shells. She leaned back in her seat, placed the shells in the rifle, checked it and snapped the safety in place. Methodically, she did the same to the other rifle, then the handgun, a Glock 9mm. When she had finished the handgun, she stuffed it into the back of her shorts, placing the spare clip in the pocket of her shorts.
They were off the Reserve. The roads were paved, but narrow. Kate couldn't see out, but she felt the difference and heard the sounds. The road was smooth, but branches slapped against the truck on both sides. She had no idea where she was or how long the journey would last. She knew the further she was removed from the familiar, the less chance she had of survival. She had to make a move, but what?
Soon, she was aware that the streets had widened and she heard the sound of other cars. Just as she had decided to create some kind of diversion, the truck came to a sudden stop. She heard doors open, the footsteps of people moving toward the back of the truck. When the door opened, Lisa and her men stood staring at her.
"C'mon sweetie. Let's move out."
Kate didn't move.
Lisa grabbed Kate at the ankles and dragged her across the truck and to the opening. As Kate pretended to struggle to sit up, she kicked the door with her foot as hard as she could. She heard the sound of a skull making contact with metal, then the scream from one of the men who now lay in a fetal position on the ground. Lisa pulled out her gun.
"I'd hate to change my plans, Kate. Don't make me kill you right here. I do have a divine justice planned for you." Lisa looked at the two standing men and said, "Help him up, I'll take her inside.
Quickly Lisa realized that Kate had freed herself from the rope bondage. Kate was fast, but a bullet would be faster and she reminded the filmmaker of this as she marched her in front of a large building. Kate could smell tea and coffee being processed. She was in the factory area of the city where building after building prepared the Kenyan teas and coffees that were the country's leading export.
Inside, the abandoned factory was in poor condition. Windows blown out, dirt and dust on the few pieces of equipment, a musty, dank smell of neglect was thick in the air. One large room and far in the back several smaller rooms, probably old offices. No longer in use, this was the perfect place for a misdeed to be conducted.
"Why are you doing this? You can get out of the country. You wouldn't even be extradited back here. It'll be over."
"As long as you're alive, it won't be over." Lisa said matter-of-factly.
"You think you won't be suspected? They'll come after you for murder."
"I'm not going to kill you. That's not in my plan."
The three men entered the factory. The one who had punched Kate back at the camp now held his sore head. His eyes were glazed over as he leaned on the other guy for support. When he looked up and saw Kate, he straightened and looked dead into her eyes.
"Let me take her out."
"You'll get your chance, but first our sweet Katie has some papers to sign." Lisa maneuvered Kate toward a table and pushed her into the only chair. "No need to read 'em dear. Just sign away."
"In your dreams."
She placed the gun on the opposite side of the table and bent to whisper to Kate. The filmmaker felt Lisa's spittle in her ear as she spoke. "This could save your life, Kate. I don't want to kill you. Not really. I just can't go to jail. If you sign these papers then that'll be the end of it. They say you lied, that you were out to destroy me, that it was all about a misunderstanding."
Kate looked up and whispered back to her in a reasonable and forthright tone. "I can go to a judge and tell 'em that. Why sign?" Kate was in Lisa's head and knew what was coming. She recognized a suicide note when she saw one.
"Because you could tell me you were doing that and then screw me again. I'm not going to spend the next thirty years sitting in an African prison."
"But I could tell them that this was signed under duress. I could still talk. That is. . ." She paused for effect. "If I'm alive. Which I won't be, will I?"
"Kill me, now. I'm not signing." Kate eyed the gun and wondered if she could get to it before Lisa.
"You goddamn lesbian bitch."
"And you are?"
"One of the last people you'll ever see." Lisa stood tall and stared down at her. Just then, Kate lunged for the gun.
It was in her hand. She kicked the chair out of the way and turned to face her captors. She lowered the gun when she saw three guns aiming at her heart. Lisa laughed hysterically. Kate knew she was defeated.
Even if she died, Serena would live. Serena wouldn't be a part of this. She had been left alive at the camp. She knew how Serena felt about her and if she had been given the chance, Kate would have explained her feelings for the chef. She was glad she hadn't. This would be painful enough.
They had driven off the Reserve and now they sat at a crossroads. There were three possibilities--left, right, or forward. Jimiyu closed his eyes, meditated on the choice. When he opened his eyes again, he was moving forward.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, I am."
Soon they were on the outskirts of Nairobi and now the choices were becoming frequent. Too many streets, too many pathways, that might lead them to Kate or lead them nowhere.
"Jimmy, the building in that video Kate took. The video with the elephants. Do you know where it is?" Serena busily laced up her hiking boots while staring forward.
"That particular building has come down. All of those old factories are set for demolition."
"Is there a certain part of town where the factories are?"
"Yes, it is not far."
"One thing I know about Lisa from Kate is that she's lazy. She'll return to what and where she knows."
Jimiyu agreed and headed toward 'Caffeine Row,' the tea and coffee industry of Nairobi.
Dafton watched her. He had never seen her so single-minded. Everything was done with care and a steadiness he found disconcerting.
Jimiyu was there in minutes. He began driving up and down the streets. It wasn't a large area to cover, but there were alleys, dead ends, and unlit streets to investigate. There was silence in the truck, yet the adrenaline that pumped within the three was thick, almost palpable.
Street after street, nothing. Jimiyu turned into an alley thinking he saw movement, but when he approached, he saw only trash blowing between the buildings. He backed out and moved to the next street.
"We've got to find her."
"I know, I know."
Dafton's eyes were glued to the right, Serena's to the left, Jimiyu's searched in all directions. They each wondered if this was a wild goose chase. Maybe Lisa took her into the city or maybe they never made it out of the Reserve. Maybe Kate was dumped on the road or in some brush that they had already passed.
Serena's heart was pounding. She was finding it difficult to breathe. She had been struggling to stay focused, but as more time passed, she was falling apart. Losing Kate was not a possibility she could live with. She couldn't. Kate was a part of her and she couldn't cope without her. Irrationally, she replayed what had happened less than two hours earlier. Why hadn't she paid attention to her surroundings when she left Kate's tent? Why hadn't she heard the men? She should have lit lanterns immediately. If she had put up more of a struggle, maybe Kate could have been warned. They had to find her. She loved her.
Lisa shoved Kate forward, nudging her on with a gun pointed at her back. "Straight ahead. C'mon." They crossed to the far end of the factory. Lisa pushed a large green button next to one of the office doors and Kate heard the door unlock. Lisa opened it and pushed Kate inside.
The room was just an empty twenty by forty space, a wall with a door, two concrete walls opposite each other and opposite the door, a wall made up of a metal pull up door. The room had probably been part of a loading dock at one time.
Lisa stood in the doorframe, casually holding it open with her foot. "Welcome to your home. Don't think about decorating, you won't be staying long."
"I guess this is goodbye. Kate, sweet, sweet, Kate. Honorable Kate. Animal-loving Kate. I almost hate to have to do this. You were such a good lay. I never told you this, but you could fuck like nobody's business. I sometimes wonder how good it might have been if I had just. . .I dunno. . .liked you. Ah, but that was not to be. Now, here we are. I won't stay. I just can't bear to watch. It'll be over before you know it. Since you'll be just a memory, I want you to know what everyone else will about you. When this is all over, your life, your reputation, your dreams will all be destroyed. Gone, gone, gone." Lisa nodded her head. "This is my justice. Everything you took from me, I'm taking back."
"I took nothing from you. What ever has happened to you, you brought on yourself."
"Shut up, will you? Will you do me that favor? See ya."
Lisa yelled out the door to the goon who had been itching to pummel Kate. He entered the room as she held the door open. "Nandi, she's all yours. Do what you want, but don't kill her before dinner." Lisa smiled at Kate.
"I'm not hungry." Kate said.
"I wasn't talking about your dinner." Lisa answered sardonically.
"I'll come around in a few minutes. Leave the front opened for me." Nandi advanced toward Kate.
"No problem." Lisa said. She winked at Kate and closed the door.
"You're gonna wish you'd never met me bitch." He stared at Kate.
Dafton shouted, "Wait! Wait. Back up."
Jimiyu put the truck in reverse and drove back to the intersection.
"Is that the truck we saw leaving the Reserve?" Serena scrambled across Dafton's long legs and hung over his lap looking out of the window.
Jimiyu stared down the street. "I think so."
"That's it. I'm sure. That's the truck." Serena shouted.
Jimiyu began to turn down the street.
"No. Jimmy, we'll go on foot. Park over there." Serena was taking charge.
As they leapt out of the SUV, she tossed both men a rifle. Creeping down the street, staying as close to the building as possible, Serena softly gave orders about their approach. "We don't know anything. I think there are four of them, but it could be a lot more. Let's take our time, do it slow, but do it right. First, we have to find her. We don't want to ambush them and still not have her. We've got to find her first. Agreed?"
Jimiyu and Dafton said yes.
"Okay, we'll circle the building to see what we're dealing with. If you see someone, don't shoot unless you have to. We don't want to attract attention. Try to get away from them without being seen. If you can't, shout my name--not help, not run, just my name. I'll do the same Jimmy. If it comes to that, then we storm the building. . ."
"Three of us storming the factory? We don't know what's inside." Dafton was absolutely frightened. He had signed on to cook not to be a mercenary.
"Kate's probably inside. Serena turned to him. "I'm in love with her, Daf. Help me save her."
Dafton gulped, then nodded.
As they reached the front of the factory, Serena gave her last order. "Dafton, come with me. Jimmy, we'll meet back here in three minutes. No more than three minutes."
Dafton and Serena moved left, Jimiyu right. Dafton watched as Serena skulked like a panther in the night. There was something that had come alive in her that he had never seen. She was driven, yet elegant in her drive. Her body was sleek and quick.
"Dyke!" Nandi's eyes raged at her.
"Do I scare you? Are you worried about your manhood?"
"No. I'm gonna teach you about men."
"With what?" Kate stared openly at his crotch. "You don't look like you have much to offer in that department."
Nandi stood in front of her and glared. He unbuckled his belt, letting the buckle dangle in front of him. "Bitch, you are mine!"
"That's what you think." Kate reached out and grabbed for the belt, yanking it through the loops and into her hands. She dove at him, knocking him to the floor. They struggled for several minutes, each getting the upper hand at different times. Nandi was straddling her stomach and in an attempt to subdue her, grabbed her shirt collar and pulled Kate forward, then slammed her head into the concrete floor. He did this repeatedly and she screamed out in pain. Wooziness moved front and center and she feared she might blackout, but determination set in. She knew she had to hold on to the belt and that she had to stop his attack. She blinked several times as he continued to bang her head squarely into concrete. With her leg and hip, she managed to throw him off balance. She flipped him over and now she was in control, straddling him. Kate wrapped the belt around his neck and pulled back on it as hard as she could. He gagged, flailing wildly, trying to escape her clutches. Her head ached and she took long deep breaths in order to stay conscious. As she held him with one hand, her other hand had moved to her shirt pocket. Months ago, she had hung this long-sleeved shirt and pants over her chair for just this purpose. She had known the moment Lisa was released from jail that their lives were in jeopardy. She had anticipated an attack from Lisa and tried to prepare as best she could. The shirt's pocket held a small syringe. She unbuttoned the pocket and removed it. With her mouth she popped the orange cap, turned the syringe on him and plunged the needle into his shoulder. "Sleep well, asshole."
Right then, she heard a cranking sound and watched as the large metal door began to lift. She was sitting on top of Nandi, still holding the syringe when she saw first two paws, then the body of a thin cheetah. She shook her head trying to hold back the dark curtain that threatened to fall over her vision. The door stopped when it was about five feet off the ground. A slab of raw meat was thrown into the room and the ravenous cheetah came charging in. Kate stared in disbelief. She stood and dragged Nandi to his feet. The tranquilizer had already started to effect him. He was groggy and moving in slow motion and so was she. Kate knew she had to stay alert, but it was becoming more and more difficult. She held him out as a shield in front of her, while searching his pockets for a gun or key.
"How the hell do we get out of here?" She heard herself speak, her voice slurred and thick.
"It opens automatically in 10 minutes. After dinner." That said, the thug slumped in Kate's arms, his head lolling around like a bobber on a fishing line.
"Ssh. What's that?" Serena whispered.
"I don't know. It came from down there."
Serena and Dafton tried melting into the brick wall of the building. There was a commotion further down which probably meant there were people. She had to make a decision, keep going or turn back. She chose the former.
Serena saw the metal door as it was dropping back into place. She crouched and barely made out the cheetah entering the room. She also thought she saw one, possibly two people inside. A large transport truck was blocking her view of the other side. She put up a hand holding Dafton back and slowly crawled toward the ledge of the dock. The cheetah must have come from the truck; probably held captive until released into the room. She crawled under the truck and slid to the other side. Peeking out, she saw a man walking to the front of the truck, she heard the door open, the truck start, the door open again, and the ignition turned off. Just as she was about to slide out, the man's body fell to the ground his eyes opened, staring blankly at her. His neck was twisted in a bizarre fashion and Serena gasped. She heard footsteps again and then arms reaching for the man, pulling him into a sitting position. Someone squatted in front of the man, only two feet from Serena. She held her breath and waited. The person dropped the man onto the ground, moved around the truck to the other side.
"Serena? Serena?" Dafton whispered.
Slowly, she slithered back the way she had come, crawled out and wedged herself between a concrete wall and the back tire of the transport truck. Dafton had called out to her. He was in danger. Perhaps captured. She pulled the gun from the back of her shorts and hunched over, trying to remove the safety quietly. She closed her eyes as she heard the loud click of the safety removed. Serena stood upright, ready to face the enemy.
Jimiyu and Dafton stared at her and the gun pointed directly at them. "Hey, don't shoot. It's us."
"There's a guy over on the other side. He's dead."
"I know. I killed him." Jimiyu said.
"Are you all right?"
"Fine. We must move quickly. I believe Kate is inside this room." He motioned with his head to the metal door.
"I just saw a cheetah in there."
"I believe they want the cheetah to kill her. He wouldn't try to eat her unless he's been starved." The last part of the statement was meant to reassure, but knowing Lisa Calltreaux's modus operandi, the cheetah would be both angry and starving.
Serena's hand went to her mouth as she gasped. "C'mon. Hurry. We've got to get her out."
As they made their way around the building to the front, Serena thought she'd burst in guns blazing, taking out all she could. Then she thought again, she needed to select her targets carefully, not wanting to accidentally shoot the woman she loved. She patted her shorts' pocket where she'd placed the second clip. She was thankful for the training she'd received years ago in the use of firearms and the practice she had continued at shooting ranges. She was going to save Kate, even if it meant shooting to kill.
The cheetah had moved closer. She watched its nostrils flair and once Kate concentrated on the animal, trying to focus through her haze, she recognized it. It was Diego. He had been starved. His ribs were poking out and his face was drawn, almost hollow. He finished the meat quickly, then glowered savagely at her and Nandi. She knew she was in trouble. She knew the power of his jaws.
The cheetah moved closer, continually sniffing into the air, approaching his prey. Her shirt was covered with dried blood from the injury she had sustained in the truck. She let Nandi drop momentarily as she quickly removed her shirt, wiped the blood still on her arm onto the cloth and wrapped it around Nandi.
The man moaned as he sank further into oblivion. She lifted him to her, dragging him in front as she circled the room with the cheetah. The animal reached out and Kate thrust Nandi toward him. The cheetah sniffed again taking in the smell of the blood. It licked its chops and nudged the still man with his nose. Kate barely held onto him, not wanting to get that close to the hungry cheetah. She was becoming weaker. Her strength was quickly leaving her body. The cheetah growled and she jumped back in surprise, dropping Nandi to the floor. Immediately, the cheetah sprang, mouth open, revealing sharp teeth and fangs. His first bite was into Nandi's arm where Kate had draped her bloody shirt. He ripped the shirt, then Nandi's own shirt, until he reached flesh. She cringed when she heard him bite down and the bone crack between his jaw. Nandi screamed out only for a moment.
The cheetah quickly finished off the flesh on the arm, then ripped open his chest, tore at his pants and began eating fabric and flesh as it became available. Kate watched in horror. She edged away, sliding her hand over the wall, trying to keep herself upright and mobile. She moved toward the metal door, hoping to find a way out. The cheetah growled and reached out for the movement he caught in his peripheral vision. He made contact, ripping at her pants, tearing at her flesh, cutting her leg open. Kate fell to the floor, shrieking, but kicked herself away quickly. The cheetah was too busy with Nandi to pay much attention to her. She would be the second course.
Kate turned away when she saw the cheetah clench Nandi's face in his jaw, bite down and rip it apart. Blood was everywhere and she was beginning to slide in it. Her leg bled profusely and the pain was unimaginable. The wound on her arm had opened up again and that bled. Staying focused was more of a challenge. She blinked when she saw a second cheetah magically appear, then a fourth, then eight more. Her vision was shot and her head throbbed. She wiped her arm across her bare chest. Nandi was now bits of flesh and bone and all the blood was draining from him. The metallic blood smell overwhelmed her. Her leg pulsed and she looked down at that wound. It was gaping open, tissue and muscle exposed. She felt nauseous and threw up. When there was nothing other than spittle left, she tossed that, then had dry heaves. Nandi had said the door would open in ten minutes. Surely it had been that long. What if the door didn't open?
Serena had pushed Jimiyu behind her. Her face was red, her eyes dark and menacing. At the front of the factory, she tried the knob and it turned. She squatted as she slowly turned the knob and pushed the door slightly ajar. She stuck her head inside and looked around quickly. One man and Lisa all the way at the back. She couldn't see around the door. There could be guards as close as two feet. She turned and said to her friends, "I think there's just two of them. I don't know. There should be another guy. Two tied me up and one drove the truck. There's at least a third guy somewhere. Are you ready?" She looked at Dafton who was shaking. "If you can't do this, I understand."
"Then take your safety off."
She stood. "Let's do it." She kicked the door and she, Jimiyu and Dafton went running into the building, racing to the other side. Lisa and August looked up in surprise.
Serena held her Glock on Lisa. Her intent was clear. "Where is she? I won't ask again, and don't think I won't use this gun on you!"
Lisa reached for her own gun and Serena shot it out of Lisa's hand, the fractured metal ripping through her flesh, shattering her bones. Lisa screamed in agony as the gun fragments fell to the ground and she grabbed her bleeding hand.
"Where is she?"
August moved his hand behind his back and Dafton blew him away. He dropped to the ground, a shot to his chest. He gasped, then gurgled, then nothing. Dafton stared down at him in disbelief.
Lisa continued screaming. While Serena ran to her, Jimiyu went to Dafton who stood over August. "C'mon. We do not have time." Jimiyu's eyes panned the room, looking for others, looking for Kate.
"Look what you've done, you little cunt." Lisa was on her knees squeezing her hand.
Serena squatted beside her. "Where's Kate?" Her eyes were steely, almost maddening.
"She's having dinner with the cheetah." Lisa motioned to the door. "She should be finished about now." Lisa laughed.
Serena stood. "Guys, over here. She's in here."
The three met at the door and Serena looked down. "Oh my God." A stream of blood poured from underneath the door. She turned the knob and nothing happened. Frantically she glanced around for a key or switch and saw the green button. Serena pushed it and heard the door unlock. "Be careful."
She pushed the door open, just as she heard the metal loading door begin its ascent. Jimiyu stepped around Serena who was now paralyzed in fear. The room was a sea of red. There was blood everywhere. She couldn't make out much of anything else and she was too afraid to focus on finding the person she hoped was in here and prayed wasn't.
Jimiyu began shooting into the opening of the metal door still in motion thinking another man might be hiding on the other side. He was temporarily unconcerned with the cheetah who lazily rested in the middle of the floor lapping up the remains of a person's leg.
Serena stepped across the threshold and moved into the room. She looked at the cheetah. Jimiyu now had his rifle trained on the lethargic, sated animal. She saw the blood, so much blood. Her hand shook and the handgun fell to the floor. Serena stared at the remains of the body, then her eyes closed, her lips quivered, and she broke down. "Kate," she choked out. "Kate."
The filmmaker looked up and for the first time became aware of her surroundings and the people in the room. "Serena?" Her voice was dull and weak.
Serena opened her eyes to face the bloody remains again. She heard her name, then looked toward the automatic door. She saw her. "Kate? My God. Kate!" The filmmaker was awash in blood. Her face and chest covered in it. Her pants leg was soaked through with blood which still flowed from her. Gingerly, she stepped over and around the blood and vomit and made her way to the woman she loved. Once Serena's arms went around her, Kate slid to the ground, slumping over into unconsciousness.
Four days later.
Kate had had surgery and the doctors informed Kate's team that she would make a full recovery; that the beating to her head had caused what they were sure was minor, non-life threatening swelling and the coma was probably temporary, 'just a method her body had chosen to begin to heal.' But how could Serena believe that? Her brother was in his eighteenth year in a persistent vegetative state at that very moment.
Kate had lost a lot of blood, she was weak, but she was a fighter. "We just have to wait," the doctors said repeatedly. "This isn't unusual," they assured Serena. Even Victor, Jack, Jimiyu and Dafton were upbeat about the prognosis. Only Serena saw the flip side of this coin. She had been through it before. She couldn't believe she was going through it again. This time would be different. She had given up on her brother finally, but no matter, she wouldn't desert Kate.
She found herself going through the same motions she had back then. She prayed constantly and tried bargaining with God. Then in a rage, she screamed out that it was pointless. "Why pray to you? You're not merciful. You took my parents, you took my brother. You left me alone and now this." The hospital administration demanded she leave the hospital.
When she returned the next day, calmer, more centered, she began to chat. She talked endlessly about everything all day. She didn't know if Kate heard, but she told her stories about Elliott, Heather, life in London, dancing until 4am at a club with Dafton. She told her dreams and confessed her fears. The next morning, she arrived at the hospital prepared to do the same battle. She talked incessantly about people she had met and celebrities she wished she had. She sat next to Kate and squeezed her hand and whispered that Kate should squeeze back to let her know she could hear her. Kate's hand didn't move. Serena lowered her head and thought back to another time.
On the few days she had been allowed to see her brother alone, she would climb into his bed and press her tiny ten year old body into his, encouraging him to take some life from her, to open his eyes. Now, she did the same with Kate. She stretched out in the bed beside her, damn the world for calling her love wrong, and softly pleaded, "Take enough to come back. Take all of my life if that's what it takes." Still, nothing. Not a flutter of eyelids, not a deepening of breath.
When she showed up at the hospital on the sixth day, she carried dozens of Kate's journals. She pulled the guest chair close to the bed and began to read. She read Kate's stories aloud about life on the Park Reserve, the surreal afternoon she spent with a family of chimpanzees, the night she spent sleeping in the truck, her tires trapped in sludge. She skipped over the journal entries related to Lisa Calltreaux and she skipped the Nigerian journal she had given the filmmaker.
She read from the journals until her throat hurt, then she sat, holding the opened book, watching as the pages wrinkled and puffed from the cascade of tears dropping onto them.
This was where she sat and what she did on that ninth day of Kate's coma.
Kate stirred with a groan and sigh. Filtered light entered the room through blind-covered windows. She blinked several times, allowing her eyes to adjust to the light. Turning her head, she tried to figure out where she was. The room smelled of alcohol and other medicines; the sheets she lay upon white and rough; next to her head, a host of life-preserving machinery. She was in the hospital.
Blinking again, she started to rub the sleep from her eyes and saw the I.V. tube taped to her arm. She shifted and groaned again, then yawned. She closed her eyes, then reopened them in a panic. Frantically, she tried to stretch to feel under the sheet. She had remembered her last conscious thoughts, recalled how badly Lisa, Lisa's men and the cheetah had battered her. It was the memory of the cheetah's violent swipe at her leg that had alarmed her. Her leg had been in bad shape, ripped apart. She had realized almost immediately that if she survived, her leg wouldn't. She'd lose it. Kate stretched again and screamed out in agony. Her hands patted wildly over the sheet trying to feel below her thigh.
"It's not phantom pain. It's real. You've still got everything you came in with." Serena was up and standing next to her. Already she was crying in relief.
"Huh?" Kate looked up at her.
"Good afternoon. Welcome back. You've been missed."
"Whoa. I have a killer headache. How am I?"
"You'll live. They expect a full recovery, though you might feel some aches and pains during the rainy season." Serena grinned and Kate responded in kind.
They were both silent, lost in their individual thoughts for several minutes.
"I saw a man get eaten," she whispered. "I saw his face clawed off and saw him disemboweled and his organs eaten."
"I'm sorry Kate."
"I don't think I'll ever lose that image."
Serena squeezed her hand.
"Serena, I'm sorry you got dragged into all of this." Kate could barely speak having been non-verbal for several days. "This must be very hard on you."
"This is the easy part."
"I'm so tired."
"Go back to sleep. I'll tell the doctors. We'll get you something for your head."
By the time Serena reached the hospital the next day, all of the guys had been there. They hadn't awakened Serena who was sleeping well for the first night in days.
Kate was sitting up. Her bangs had been trimmed and she smiled broadly when Serena walked in. "Finally."
"Hey." Serena pecked her on the cheek and took a seat beside the bed.
"Daf was by with Jimmy and Victor and Jack were here."
"They told me that the Park police put Diego down. He'd tasted human blood and was now a risk to people's safety on the Reserve."
"They also told me a wild story about your daring rescue. I wanna hear your side of it."
Serena pulled her chair closer and began the tale of how she saved her lover's life. Over an hour later, Kate was still riveted to the story. She watched as Serena's eyes lit up and even though Serena down-played her actions, Kate knew the guys had been honest about what had happened. Serena had been a mean, lean, fighting machine.
"You see, I couldn't let you die. I had to get you back. I knew this wouldn't have happened if I had just . . ."
"Ssh. Serena, don't even say that. This didn't have anything to do with what you did or didn't do. Lisa was crazed and this was going to happen whether you were around or not."
"But . . ."
"I don't mean to minimize what you did. I thank you, but if you hadn't succeeded, that wouldn't have been your fault."
"I did nothing when those men came into our camp. I had time to call out to you or at least fight them enough to slow them down."
"They would have killed you. You know, if it had been my time to go, that would have been it. No matter what you could have done, if it was my time, that's the way it is. Here we say, 'When it is a monkey's day to die, all trees are slippery.' Do you understand that?"
"I hope so. If you hadn't gotten out of the car to pee that day, your parents still would have died, your brother still injured. I think that's the way life is. When your number comes up, there's no way to avoid it and when you're still in the game, you're still in, no matter what. You need to get over thinking you're the one picking and choosing who lives and who dies. It's too awesome a responsibility."
Serena nodded again. Kate put her thumb under Serena's chin and lifted her face so that she could look into her eyes. "Thanks again for saving my life, though."
"Hey, my pleasure."
"Okay, why are all my journals here?"
"I've been reading them to you. You were in a coma for almost ten days. I thought they might push you back over to this side."
"Ah, I see. That explains all the weird dreams I had and this déjà vu feeling I kept getting." Kate bit the inside of her lip. "Did you read all of them? The one you gave me?"
"Not necessarily. Just do you know what's in each one?"
"Yes." Serena blinked nervously.
This time it was Kate who nodded. "Then I guess I should say something. I just don't know what. I'm embarrassed."
"You don't have to say anything."
Kate stared at her hand, finding something utterly fascinating about her fingernails. Finally she took a deep breath and stole a glance at Serena. "I'm so in love with you."
"Don't sound so excited about it." Serena knew already. The Nigerian leather journal she had given Kate shortly after her arrival was dedicated to those feelings. Page after page was written Serena's name, pictures of her that Kate had taken candidly around the camp were taped into the book, hearts were drawn around the pictures. She laughed when she had thumbed through it, that someone like Kate had expressed her feelings in such an oddly juvenile manner. It was adorable.
"It's just that I don't know where that leaves us. You've got this big book to finish. You're planning on leaving the Reserve. I don't wanna be without you, but what choice do I have? Kenya is my home. I won't be happy anywhere else. In spite of all that's happened, I love this place. Where does that leave us?"
Serena shook her head.
Kate shook her head, too. "We were just starting something here. We have the worst timing in history."
Serena couldn't have agreed more. An hour after making love for the first time, she was assaulted, Kate kidnapped and almost killed. "Well, we'll never forget our first time."
"Exactly. We can't get that back, but I want other firsts with you. How do we do that if you're leaving?"
Serena stood up and paced. She returned to the bed and leaned down to kiss Kate's lips. "I love you, too. I'm in love with you, so we have to figure it out. There's got to be a way."
Kate pulled her back down and kissed her passionately.
Serena broke away and exhaled. She grinned and shook her head. "You haven't lost any of your skills."
"Maybe, while you're recuperating, you could travel with me. Just for a while. Kenya would still be our base. I have to go to Brazil next. Have you ever made love in Brazil?"
"That would be a first."
"What about Beijing? Have you ever walked the streets of China in love?"
"Another first. The Ukraine? I was wondering if you'd ever held a lover in your arms in the Ukraine."
"I never have done that."
"Excellent, we're three for three."
"But does that mean we'll be eating Ukrainian food? What do they eat anyway?"
"And what about Rome, Serena? Has a half-Chicana, half-Greek girl ever told you you're her world in Italy?"
"Nope, but that sounds like something I'd like to hear in Rome."
"And have you ever made love in the grass, overlooking the lights of Los Angeles on a summer night?" Kate asked.
Serena eyes shifted from side to side, then smiled guiltily and embarrassed, "Well, yes I have done that."
"Oh." Kate paused to consider. "Well, have you ever met my father in California?"
Serena laughed and pulled Kate to her, holding her head against her chest. "No, never met him."
"We've got enough firsts to keep us busy for a while."
Kate had been under doctor's care at the hospital for almost a month. Physical therapy so far had been painful, yet hopeful. Kate ran the gamut from feeling frustrated with her own body to elation with thoughts of Serena and the promise of all the sweet things love could bring racing through her brain.
Tonight would be her last night in the hospital and then she'd be sprung to return to the Reserve. She was counting the minutes.
Serena had met with Kate's doctors and nurses, spoken for an hour with the physical therapist and had just filled several varieties of medications for Kate. Now, Kate sat up in bed watching as Serena filled the large plastic bowl with warm water. She carried it slowly to the bed and set it on the table.
"Are you ready for your sponge bath, patient Chavez?" Serena smiled.
"Yes, yes I am."
Gently, Serena squeezed water from the sponge onto Kate's bare shoulders, then massaged soap onto them. She rubbed Kate's back, lifted her arm and washed her pit, then the other one. She rubbed more soap onto her body and slid the sponge across her, letting the warm water wash over her.
"You'll get sick of this soon enough."
"I don't think so. I love touching you." Serena returned the sponge to the water to dampen it again. As she moved back to Kate to finish her bath, Kate took her hand, opened it up and the sponge found a home back in the bowl. She brought Serena's hand to her breast and guided her over and around it.
"Oh?" Serena said as she lightly pulled on Kate's nipple, "You're feeling better."
Kate nodded, then let her head loll back as her eyes closed in desire. "Much."