Once she was safely home, Ray showered, dressed in warm clothes, and ate a hot meal. Then, despite the fact it was only 11 am, she downed a shot of Jack Daniels. She added coke to the second shot and sipped it slowly as she sat down at her desk. Leaning heavily on her left elbow, she rubbed her face with her right hand before reaching for the phone. She dialled a long string of numbers from memory and sipped her drink while she waited for the connection and the familiar cold greeting.
"Hi Dad," she said, trying but failing to smile. "We have a situation."
Only four words but they sparked days of endless stress for Ray. After the call to her father, the Director of FALAR, she prepared a detailed report, adding the pictures from her underwater camera. Next came a conference call with the Executive Committee where her memory, judgement and integrity were all brought into question before in a flash of anger, Ray ended the call. Within moments, Ray's phone began ringing with individual members of the committee wishing for more information. The following morning Ray was woken by a call advising her that official charges of Malicious Intent had been laid against Donny. Another conference call discussing the ramifications of this incident was scheduled for later that morning. She was also informed that Turtle had been contacted and had confirmed all that Ray had reported finding at the dive sight. As far as the committee was concerned, Ray was now completely in the clear. Nevertheless, she took call after endless call during the next two days, the final one being her father's assistant giving her the details of her flight back to California where she was required to present her findings in person to the legal minds handling the case. Exhausted she replaced the handset and groaned into her hands quietly. She glanced at her watch and cursed, rising from her chair and stretching out her back muscles.
The knock on the door was so unexpected that Ray doubted she had even heard it until it sounded again, this time louder. It was a few minutes after midnight and Ray considered ignoring whoever it was. Then the thought that maybe it was Turtle crossed her mind and Ray all but ran to the door.
Donny stood at the door wearing what Ray would soon nickname his 'pity, poor me' expression. "Doctor Sanchez, you have to help me," he whined.
"No. I don't," Ray told him flatly and began to swing the door closed.
"But I didn't do anything wrong!" he pleaded, his hand stopping the door as he stepped into the threshold.
"Then you have nothing to worry about, do you? Now get out of here and let me sleep." She watched his face closely, knowing his mood would change in a second.
"Why did you tell them those lies?" he asked, the whine vanishing from his voice. He leaned his upper body closer in an effort to make Ray move back but she knew the tactic well and refused to move.
"I told them what I know about the incident, Mr. Donovan, and sent pictures of what I found. Any conclusion they may have come to after that has nothing to do with me. Now again, please leave."
Donny lowered his voice and smiled coldly. "You realise that you have ruined my fucking career?"
"I didn't do anything, Donny. You did it yourself. Go home."
"Home? I don't have a fucking home anymore! I'm not going anywhere until I hear you tell the foundation that you lied about all of it!"
Ray forced a bored tone into her voice, fighting back fear and anger. "That's not going to happen, Mr. Donovan and I do not and will not respond to threats."
"Oh, that's not a threat," he snarled. "But I can show you one if you like."
"Do you honestly think you can scare me?" Ray asked and Donny seemed to snap.
"You fucking bitch! You can't do this to me! I wasn't trying to fucking kill her!"
"So what were you doing," Ray asked, allowing some emotion into her voice. "Trying to keep Maria away so you could assess the site alone? Flunk her out of the program? Give you a better shot at a placement?" She had guessed it and Donny bristled.
"Listen," he began but Ray had heard enough. All the stress of the past few days rushed to the surface and were given wings to fly.
"No! You fucking listen! This is life, you stupid fool! You fucked up, Donny! You went too far and now you are being held accountable. That does not give you the right to come to my house and threaten me like a pathetic schoolyard bully because the world doesn't turn the way you want it to! This is your own entire fault and you were busted! Now you get to learn what being responsible is all about, little rich boy! So grow the fuck up and get the hell out of my face!" As she had allowed her temper to fly, Ray had slowly taken small steps toward Donny until with her final words she had forced him down the top steps of her small porch. "Go. Home," she repeated again before turning her back on him, stepping back inside and slamming the door behind her.
Out in the darkness, Turtle dropped her cellphone back in her pocket and watched until Donny returned to his jeep and roared off. "Damn," she whispered, shaking her head in admiration and grinning as she turned and walked away.
Five days later Ray stepped off the plane and back onto Wahuii soil. She was exhausted both physically and mentally. She had lost count of the number of meetings she had attended and could not begin to remember even half the names of the people she had met with. But for now, it was over. In a surprising change of character, Donny had fully admitted to all allegations made toward him, his lawyer quoting stress and pressure as the main factors in his moment of bad decisions. Regardless, Maria was to receive ample counselling thanks to FALAR and had been secured a position at SeaWorld on completion.
With only five students left in the program, Ray had been instructed to assign each fledgling Marine Biologist to the post she believed best suited them and despite her argument that she had not yet had sufficient time to evaluate the students properly, the foundation was adamant. They had been contracted to find the top five students and they had done exactly that. The assignments had been made and immediately the committee had decided that the Judge was to be benched for 18 months, until the next applicants were ready to be tested.
Frustrated but understanding that she had no better option, Ray had returned to Wahuii, the prospect of an 18-month vacation still seeming unreal.
She picked up her jeep from the airport parking lot, paid the fee and cruised through the warm tropical night listening to her favourite Diana Krall album. The air was still, the smell of recent rain mixing with the perfume of exotic flowers and she breathed deeply, feeling the stress of the last week drift away. She drove aimlessly, not intending to but ultimately ending up down by the docks. Ray turned off the engine and just sat, listening to the gentle hush of the lapping waves, the tapping of lines against masts and the slow jazz piano melting it all together.
As it had done during every quiet moment during the last week, Ray's thoughts turned to Turtle and her belly flipped as memories of the kiss crashed into her mind. She had gone over and over things but still none of it made any sense. She had always been able to appreciate an attractive woman but she had never actually been physically attracted to one. Until now. And there was no denying it; she was very, very attracted to Turtle. Drawn to her even, and after that kiss, Ray doubted she could ever question Turtle's attraction to her. She sighed, leaning her head back against the headrest. The ache in her belly had moved lower and she realised her thoughts of Turtle had begun to arouse her.
She removed the keys from the ignition, threw them on the passenger seat and got out of the jeep. She kicked off her sandals and walked across the cool parking lot, her hands burying themselves in the pockets of her cotton capris. At the start of the dock, she paused, glancing back at the dark beach toward where Turtle lived. The temptation was almost too much and to stop herself from walking that way, Ray turned and walked slowly down the wooden dock. The air had grown heavier and it wouldn't be long before rain would begin to fall again. Sheer compulsion rushed through her body and Ray began to jog down the dock, feet falling silently, faster and faster until there was no more wood. She flew, arms outstretched, body arching, seemingly to float above the dark water before she dropped, slicing through into the alien world she so loved.
Down in the silent, weightless world everything seemed so much easier to understand. Undulating like a dolphin, Ray moved through the cool water, spinning turning, playing simply for the pleasure of freedom. She stayed down as long as she was could, came back up for a breath and then down she went again, washing the confusion from her troubled mind. It was simple, she knew then, turning back towards the dock. Whether it had happened before and whether or not it would happen again, she wanted another woman.
Climbing the steel ladder back up to the dock, Ray ran her fingers through her hair, remembering that Turtle had said it was gorgeous and smiled. Rain began to fall, a warm shower to cleanse the salt from her skin and slowly she walked back to her jeep, finally at peace with her emotions.
Later, freshly showered and wearing a button-up tanktop and shorts, Ray sipped a fresh cup of hot chocolate and gazed out of the unshuttered window. Rain ran in endless streams down the dark glass and once again thoughts of Turtle surfaced. The ache that she now expected duly followed and she shivered. Was she gay? Could someone suddenly become a lesbian?
A loud knock on the door made her jump and she looked at the clock on the wall. Nearly one in the morning. Probably Donny again, she thought to herself and unconsciously tugged the neck of her tanktop higher. Swinging the door wide, prepared for a confrontation, she was shocked to find the visitor was not a student.
"Turtle." The woman stood in the rain, thoroughly soaked, her hair and clothes plastered to her body. But her eyes, Ray noticed, seemed to glow with intensity.
"I have never run away from anything in my life, Ray and I'm not running from this."
Ray nodded curtly and stepped to one side. "Come in. I'll get you a towel," she said as she shut the door behind the woman.
"I don't want a towel," Turtle told her distantly, sweeping the dripping hair from her face.
"You're soaked," Ray insisted stubbornly.
"I don't want a fucking towel, Ray! I want to know what this is! What the hell am I feeling?"
Huffing out a breath, Ray crossed her arms across her chest protectively and shrugged. "You think I know?"
Turtle began to pace, clearly agitated. "I see you and I can't breathe right. My body feels like I have a fever. I shake, I tremble, I almost have to throw up and yet I need to see you. I lie in bed at night and all I want is to hear your voice. I remember… god, I can't forget kissing you and I can't concentrate on anything else! You are all I fucking think about!" She closed in on Ray. "What is this? Are you gay? Are you making me gay?"
Walking past the woman, Ray ran her hands through her own damp hair. "I'm not gay, Turtle. And even if I was I don't think it's something someone else can make you."
"Then what is this? I'm going crazy!"
"And you think I'm not?" Ray shouted back. "You think I'm enjoying this? I see you walk away at the end of the day and I ache! I want to think of something, anything that I can talk to you about and make you stay a minute longer. I watch you move in the water and it kills me!" As quickly as it had come, the anger and frustration died. "For god's sake, Turtle. You're standing there and all I can think about is…." Silence hung for a heartbeat while they looked into each other's eyes.
"Is?" Turtle asked, needing to hear the answer.
"The raindrops," Ray answered simply. "The drops running down your face, your neck. I want to taste them. I just want…," Again words failed her and Turtle took a step forward, her eyes begging for the answer as she breathlessly asked the question.
"What? You just want what, Ray?"
Resistance, denial and fear vanished and Ray took a breath. "You," she said simply. "I want you." Admitting it seemed to take the life out of her and she turned, once again raking her fingers through her dark hair. "What the hell do we do," Ray asked, not expecting an answer, definitely not expecting Turtle to step up behind her. With a hand on Ray's hip, Turtle urged her around until they were facing each other.
Gently, with trembling hands Turtle touched Ray's face, left laying against her jaw while the right traced down her cheek. With Turtle so close, Ray was almost hypnotised. Her own hands moved to Turtle's waist, fingers sliding around to her back as they moved slightly closer.
Their lips met gently, softly, testing, remembering, and opening the door for a wave of relief, of hunger. Desire pulled their bodies even closer, fully touching, the cool wetness of Turtle's clothes soaking into Ray's and she gasped, wondering if her skin steamed at its touch.
The kiss deepened, mouths opening and tongues exploring. Hands traced up and down backs, across shoulders, they gently caressed jaws and cheeks, laced lazily through hair. They groaned, breath quickened and hungrily they fed. Ray moved them closer to the wall, turned and pressed Turtle against it. She felt for Turtle's hands and found them immediately, their fingers lacing together as they touched. Ray lifted her arms, pulling Turtle's up with them and she held the blond woman's arms above their heads. Their bodies melded closer and the realisation of what the other woman wanted, of what they wanted, fueled the fire and stoked their confidence.
Ray's hands slid to Turtle's waist and slowly, almost shyly she pulled the damp material up and over the woman's head. She wore no bra beneath and her nipples had hardened to sensitive buds. Trailing her hands from Turtle's broad shoulders along her collarbones, down the valley between her firm breasts, then down her ribs and across her flat, taut stomach, Ray forgot to breathe. "Damn, you're beautiful," she whispered.
This was the body she had been entranced by as it glided through the water, arms pulling, legs pushing. At the memory of those muscular legs, Ray dropped to her knees. As she worked at the fastener of the jeans, she could not resist the chance to nuzzle the flesh before her, kissing gently; her tongue flicking out to taste the rain that ran over Turtle's salty skin. Loosened, the jeans slid down, Ray's fingers taking the pair of white underwear at the same time. Her eyes followed her hands as they glided down Turtle's legs. Down the sides, around the back of tight calves, up behind the knees and up further to a firm pair of cheeks. A triangle of trimmed brown hair met her eyes and Ray stared, fascinated by the sight of another naked woman, of this naked woman. Unconsciously her hand moved over the hair and immediately Turtle gasped, instinctively pushing her hips closer to the curious hand.
Ray stood, concern on her face. "Did I hurt you?" she asked hurriedly. "Are you okay?"
"You're killing me," Turtle groaned, fusing their mouths together again. Together the women moved toward the bedroom. Feeling the mattress hit the back of her knees, Ray sat and crab-walking back further onto the bed, Turtle crawling with her, never breaking the kiss. Hands roamed, teasing and testing before Turtle straddled Ray's hips and sat up with an evil smile and a smouldering fire in her eyes.
"My turn," she said softly and reached for Ray's shirt.
The buttons melted in her hands and the shirt opened wider, giving Turtle a view of warm, smooth, sweet smelling skin. She bent her head and tasted, nibbling at the flesh, licking away the salty moisture. As her hands moved down the line of buttons, her mouth followed, loving the newly exposed skin beneath. At the waist of her cotton shorts, Turtle became aware of Ray's quickened breath and the realisation of what she was doing to another woman nearly drove her wild. Practically ripping the rest of Ray's clothes off, Turtle sank back into the fiery embrace and passionate kiss.
The feel of another woman's naked body against her own was completely alien, and yet to Turtle, lost and alone in her life for so long, it felt completely right. With the rain dancing down on the wooden deck beyond the open balcony door, she stopped listening to her thoughts and finally obeyed her body's demands. Ray's breasts were sucked deep into her mouth, her tongue knowing immediately how to flick, rub and pulse against the hard nipples. Her fingers understood how to kneed and squeeze the soft, firm mounds. Her thigh knew it was meant to slide between Ray's legs and rub against the hot, wet, aching core of her lover. Her hips did not need to be told how to push against Ray's searching hand, her soft muscles relaxing and allowing two fingers access into her heat. Perhaps though, her fingers did need that reminder before they slid through Ray's untamed curls and deep, deep into a warm sea. Then there was no thought; no words; nothing but the two women and their cries of passion, joy, ecstasy and finally, blissfully, release. But once was not enough to feed a woman starved of perfect love. Again and again, they explored each other's body, finding all the secrets, the untouched places, answered all the little voices that cried out for attention and love. Finally, as the eastern sky began to lighten, the lovers lay entwined, exhausted but happy.
"Turtle?" Ray murmured against a warm neck.
"I think I like being a lesbian." Smiling anew, arms tightened, bodies crept closer and sleep settled over the women as gently as a blanket.
Turtle woke to feel a gentle breeze on her bare back and the sensual warmth of Ray against her front. She knew immediately where she was and remembered all that had happened. Her mind expected a rush of embarrassment and shame but none came. Instead, she felt comfortable and safe. Rolling onto her back she looked at the white ceiling fan turning slowly beneath the pale ceiling and she let her mind drift, but no thought would stay long enough for her to follow it. There was only Ray; the feel of Ray, the taste of Ray, the smell of Ray's skin. But would Ray feel the same or would she feel embarrassed and ashamed? The thought made Turtle's blood run cold and she briefly considered dressing and leaving.
"I really hope you're not planning on the Morning-After-Dash-For-The-Door," Ray murmured suddenly.
At the sound of her voice, all of Turtle's fears vanished. "What are you? A mind-reader, too?"
"Yeah," Ray chuckled, turning over, resting her head on one hand and sliding the other over Turtle's naked waist. "It was my second major after marine biology."
"Hmm," Turtle smiled, gazing into Ray's deep brown eyes. "Well it's a good thing you went with your first choice," she told her, turning slightly and brushing a strand of kinky hair away from Ray's face. "I'm not going anywhere."
"Good," Ray replied, leaning down to kiss Turtle. "That makes it a lot easier to make love with you again."
They spent the whole day together, finding completion and contentment in each other's company. They touched when they felt the need, they kissed as the desire struck, they made love slowly and with abandon, and as night fell, they fell asleep in each other's arms, warm, exhausted and finally at peace.
"What about this one?" Turtle asked,
Ray was waiting on her small back deck and at the question, turned and leaned back against the railing. Turtle stood in the doorway wearing a black skin-tight sleeveless t-shirt and a pair of cut-offs. At the sight, Ray smiled widened.
"You can wear anything you want," she repeated again. "But please, please wear that."
Turtle crossed to her, placing a hand on the railing on either side of her, effectively trapping Ray where she stood. "You like this?" she purred.
"Uh huh," Ray grinned, grabbing Turtle's hips and pulling her closer. "Enough to take it off you."
Their lips met and although they had now kissed a thousand times, electricity sizzled through their bodies as if it was the first time. The women slipped into their own world where nothing else mattered. There were only lips, tongues and warm breath, hands, arms and willing bodies.
"Whoa! Looks like I'm interrupting, Little Ray," a familiar voice suddenly boomed.
The women broke their kiss but neither released their hold on each other. "It had to be Big Ari?" Turtle groaned.
Ray laughed. "It had to be Big Ari," she confirmed.
"Well then there'll be no need for an announcement," Turtle shrugged, watching the big man climb the steps to the deck.
"You saying BA have a gossip mouth?" he asked in mock hurt.
"No. I'm saying BA have a big gossip mouth," Turtle clarified.
Standing on the small deck, Big Ari crossed his arms over his massive chest and adopted a fatherly expression. "Little Ray, you okay with this beach bum woman kissing you?"
Ray smiled and laid her head against Turtle's cheek, enjoying the feeling of a blush climbing into her cheeks. "Yeah, Big A. I'm just fine with it."
"Huh," the man grunted. "And you, Turtle. You be kissing women now?"
"Just this one, Big Man. Just Ray."
"Heh. Turtle and Ray. Sounds like a match to me." He looked intently at Turtle for a while before nodding and smiling to himself. "Been a long time since I've seen that in your eyes, girl. Ray, I'll talk to you later. I too busy gossiping and breaking the hearts of Wahuii men to talk now." The man had turned and threw the last words over his shoulder as he walked around the building.
Ray laughed and leaned back to look at Turtle's face. "What's wrong," she asked, seeing the confusion on her lover's face.
"Since he saw what in my face?"
"Sexual satisfaction? Post-orgasmic bliss?" Ray helpfully suggested.
Turtle burst out in laughter. "You think very highly of yourself," she joked.
"And you don't?" Ray countered.
"Oh Darling, I think very highly of you indeed. Astronomically so."
Ray laughed. "That's not what I meant, and you know it."
Turtle chuckled. "Well, obviously I must be modest but I will admit to still needing a lot of practice. But you did seem to be enjoying yourself."
"And so were you," Ray reminded Turtle. Leading the way down the steps to her jeep, Ray forced a grin from her face. "Your screams gave you away," she shrugged casually.
"Scientist brain," Ray deadpanned. "Two plus two equals four."
"I'd much prefer if it were one plus one equals two. I like two."
"Sweetheart, considering how many times I've heard you scream in the last 24 hours, I don't think we need to be concerned with which equation I choose to use."
"Well, yeah. It's just that I don't really like group sex. You know, the three or four dozen times I've tried it," Turtle argued with an equally blank face as she climbed into the passenger seat of Ray's jeep.
"Perhaps you just need more practice?" Ray suggested. "Where are we going again?"
"Take the main road back toward the airport," Turtle directed. "As for practice, I don't think that's it. It was more the pressure, ya know? Like public speaking. You look up from your speech and suddenly everyone is pointing at you." She waited for the response, fighting the smile while Ray shifted up through the gears, gathering speed.
Finally, as they cruised down the road, Ray just shook her head and looked across at Turtle. "I got nothing," she stated flatly and immediately they both exploded into laughter.
It was a beautiful day, the air still heavy with the scent of flowers, the sun warm, and birds chirping and soaring in the trouble-free sky. With Turtle's wrist resting on her shoulder, fingers gently twisting in her hair, Ray knew she had never felt such peace.
"Tell me about this place," she prompted, glancing over at Turtle's dreamy gaze. In response, the woman smiled and took a deep breath.
"Saint Peter's, or Pete's as it's known, is a hospice for anyone who needs round-the-clock care. Most of it is taken up by the elderly or psychiatric patients but there is a separate wing that's reserved for kids. Little Pete's. Some of them are fighting cancer and other stuff, some are recovering and a few are just orphans with nowhere else to go. There are a bunch of kids there that were born without limbs, or like JJ, lost them during their lives. I had no problem taking care of my son but during some new treatment or after an operation, that's where he always wanted to be. Sometimes he and I would just go and spend the day there."
"So now you volunteer to help out?"
Turtle sat up straight and pulled her hand from Ray's shoulder, but Ray gently grasped it in her own before Turtle answered. "Those brats saved my life, Ray. After I lost JJ, I was dead inside. I had nothing left. Nothing that meant anything to me. Those kids knew and they'd phone me every day and make me promise to go see them either later that day or during the next. See, it's an unwritten rule at Little Pete's. Some of those kids could die before you next visit so if you promise to go, you had damn well better get there."
Suddenly Turtle's eyes closed and Ray could see she was fighting tears. "Crap. I'm sorry, Turtle. Let me pull over."
"No, no," the grieving woman replied. "You're gonna have to get used to this," she smiled. "Sometimes when I think or talk about him I cry. But the alternative is for me to not think or talk about the little bugger and I refuse to do that. He was worth a lot more than a few tears," she smiled sadly. "Anyway, the kids say I lost my boy but I gained 12 girls and 9 boys."
At that Ray laughed. "I think I like them already."
"Oh, you're gonna love 'em," Turtle told her. "The ironic thing for me is that I hate kids. But these…," she shook her head, smiling with deep affection. "I don't know. They're demons, the lot of 'em."
Ray smiled, believing for a moment that she could actually feel herself falling deeper in love with the woman next to her. "So today I get to meet the horde?" she asked.
"Yeah," Turtle said simply. "Well that and I wanted to show you something. Take the next right and watch the switchbacks. They're kind of sneaky."
As the jeep crept slowly back down to sea level, Ray could almost make out a large white building built along the beach of a wide, calm bay. Moving down passed the main part of the hospice, Turtle directed Ray to drive out onto the sand of the beach and down around a corner that effectively separated Pete's from its juvenile counterpart, Little Pete's. Pulling to a gentle stop beside a palm tree, Ray looked out at a flat smooth beach literally heaving with children. As Turtle had warned her, Ray could see a few youngsters without hair, a couple sitting immobile in electric chairs and a dozen or so sitting in the sand listening to a story being read to them by a woman dressed in the white clothes of a nun.
"That's Sister Amy," Turtle said. "The other one over there in white shorts and t-shirt? That's Momma K. She's the Head of Little Pete's. She became a nun before turning to medicine. 'Sometimes God needs a small helping hand' she says." Just then a great cry went up from the children and with a huge grin, Turtle rolled her eyes. "My peeps are calling. I'll be back in a few to introduce you around."
Then she was gone, swallowed up by a crowd of smiling, happy faces. Ray strolled over the warm sand watching Turtle interacting with the children and feeling her heart swell. Momma K had moved to a picnic table when her charges had raced to Turtle and Ray joined her there, feet on the bench, sitting on the table.
"So you must be the Doctor Sanchez Turtle has been telling us about," the woman said in greeting, holding out a small but strong hand.
"Call me Ray, please," the biologist smiled, shaking the offered hand. "And you're Momma K?"
The nun laughed. "That's right. Used to be called Sister Katherine but the children decided otherwise." She spoke in a clipped English accent and Ray was instantly reminded of the actress Julie Andrews playing Mary Poppins.
"I heard there was some trouble during one of your dives," Momma K said without preamble. "I do hope no one was hurt?"
"Luckily no," Ray told her. "Badly scared but no physical harm. Thanks to Turtle, anyway," she added after a moment, her eyes drawn to the blond woman that ran around in the sand with the children.
"Ah, yes," the nun smiled, noticing the look in Ray's eyes as she spoke Turtle name. "She has a habit of being in the right place at the right time, that one. She's one of god's genuinely kind souls." At the tone of the woman's voice, Ray turned into a very acute, intelligent gaze. "Forgive me child, but do you truly love her?"
Ray stared at the woman, completely lost for words. Nodding, Momma K smiled warmly and looked down at the beach to where Turtle had a few children in the cool water. "Let me tell you something of her, to help explain. You know of JJ?" At Ray's nod, the nun continued her voice cool, matter-of-fact but failing to hide a deep sense of compassion.
"On his last day, after his organs finally began to shut down, JJ asked Turtle to take him out of the hospital to somewhere he could die peacefully. The poor boy was just too tired to keep fighting, you see. Of course, the silly doctors wouldn't let her take him. She broke a security guard's nose before she finally got him out of the hospital. She took him home to their beach and held him as he died. But even then, she wouldn't let him go. They had to sedate her to take him away."
"Jesus," Ray whispered, tears falling down her face.
"Oh, he wasn't there that day, child," she said gently, regrettably. "After his crossing, Turtle couldn't bear to have him trapped in the cold earth so he was cremated and his ashes placed in a stone vase. She shut down for a long time but eventually, with help from the children, she found some peace again. One day, from this beach actually, she swam out with the vase and let herself drift with the tide for a while. Then she swam down as far as she physically could, deeper than anyone ever has I'd imagine, and she left the urn there, sinking down into the currents that could take it anywhere."
Momma K paused and turned to see Ray almost sobbing. "Oh dear, child," she said hurriedly searching for a handkerchief. "I didn't mean to upset you, so. That's just the way she loves, you see? She loves these children almost like she loved her son and I truly doubt she can love any other way. I would much sooner not see her hurt again. That's why I ask you."
Ray nodded and took a deep calming breath. "Love or the way I have felt it before doesn't begin to describe it," she admitted, relieved to talk about it. "It's like all those books and movies say, like I've found the other half of soul. It feels so perfect and so right. I think I knew it the first moment I saw her but…. I've never been attracted to a woman before so..."
"Oh goodness, child. That doesn't matter."
Ray blinked. "But you're a nun."
"Yes," Momma K giggled delightedly. "I am. So I am well qualified to tell you that there isn't enough love in this world. When you find it like I believe the two of you have, enjoy it! The God I willingly devote myself to knows those bigoted fanatics who say 'A must go with B' are quite wrong. Scared and wrong." Momma K smiled as Ray absorbed what she had just said. "One more thing you should like to know. That day Turtle swam the urn down," she paused to ensure Ray was following her. "As she floated slowly back up to us again, a sea turtle swam up beside her. It just stayed there with her until she made it back up to the surface, and then it was gone. That, my dear child is the work of my God."
Ray stared at the small English woman in amazement. "Momma K, Sister Katherine, you are the most forward, blunt and no-nonsense person I believe I have ever met."
The nun smiled her huge, dazzling smile and patted Ray's hand. "Yes. I think we shall be good friends, us two."
Ray could only laugh and as she did, she saw Turtle making her way toward them. Impulsively, Ray stood and met her six feet from the table. Taking the woman's face in her hands, Ray kissed her with the softest, most passionate kiss of her life. With a deep smile, Turtle pulled her into a warm loving hug.
"I love you, too," she whispered, feeling Ray melt a little in her arms. Behind them, the children broke out into the playground taunt, spelling 'kissing' in a singsong voice. As one, the women broke apart and Turtle turned to face them. "Okay brats and sprats this is your new friend, Ray. She's the one who helped me with the board, but she doesn't know it yet. So Davey," she said, pointing to a paraplegic boy in a wheelchair. "You're going to be our monkey?"
With a huge grin, the boy turned his chair and wheeled over the sand. Ray smiled as she saw that the wheels had been replaced by a wide track, much like a tank or earth excavator and gears had been employed to allow the young boy to push his own chair over the sand toward a power boat. Shaking her head, she slipped her arm around Turtle's waist and kissed her cheek. "Smart," she said.
Following her gaze, Turtle just smiled and kissed her back.
"Ain't one of you spose to be a boy?" a young gravelly voice asked from beside Ray.
Without thinking, Ray looked down at the boy and replied. "Ain't you spose to have legs?" A collective gasp went up from the children and nuns.
Tilting his head to one side as he considered her response, the double amputee finally nodded. "Curve ball. Got it." After a heavy, relieved silence, he looked back up at Ray. "So you a doctor, huh?"
"Marine Biologist, yeah," Ray replied, beginning to like the young boy.
"So you'd know how to spell photosynthesized sub-oceanic particles?"
Ray looked at the boy with the same blank expression she had given Turtle earlier. "S-o-u-p," she said.
The boy accepted her answer with another sage nod before holding out a roughly calloused hand. "Tommy. Leukaemia survivor."
Ray shook the hand with an equally serious nod. "Ray. Friend of Tommy."
Finally, the boy smiled and wheeled his chair closer to Ray. "That's Davey out there. Kid thinks he's some kind of fish. That thing he's sitting on is what Tut-Tut wants to show you. She said you helped her with it. That true?"
Confused, Ray looked to Turtle who smiled and said one simple word. "Hydrofoil."
The boat took off, Davey for a brief moment dragging heavily behind but as the speed increased, the boy rose out of the water and suddenly seemed to fly over its surface. Beside her Turtle was counting down under her breath and when she reached zero, Davey pulled a cord on his chest and a paragliding parachute flew out behind him, opened up and in a moment of perfect grace, lifted the boy high up into the air. Suddenly Ray understood. A special chair had been fixed to a larger version of the board Ray had seen in Turtle's shop, this one sporting a wide hydrofoil at the front. The children all cheered and Ray found herself with tears in her eyes again.
"Can you imagine not being able to walk around or move by yourself? Being reliant on someone to help you all the time?" Turtle asked quietly beside her. "It was one thing JJ always hated. He and I came up with this idea years ago. We decided that swimming is all well and good but really, flying has to be the ultimate freedom." She turned to Ray and looked her in the eye. "Thank you, Ray. From me and from my JJ."
Her tears fell and Turtle pulled Ray into a tight hug, one Ray hoped would never end. The children, however, had other ideas.
Long into the afternoon, Ray helped Turtle teach the braver children how to use the 'flying chute', a few how to body surf and after a lot of cajoling, got Tommy in the water. He rode on Ray's back while she swam around and around, eventually exhausting herself completely.
At dusk more nuns and nurses came out like mother hens to usher their chicks inside and suddenly free, the two women sat on the table beside Momma K.
"So what's next, Tut-tut?" she asked. "You have nearly all of them swimming, most of them flying and once again, all of them smiling. What else are you planning?"
"What about diving?" Ray asked, surprised that it had not been mentioned.
"Nope," Turtle shook her head. "The pressure is too hard on their organs."
"Well, of course it is but with," Ray thought quickly," a suit with layers that inflated and deflated to maintain constant pressure, why not?"
Both Turtle and Momma K looked at Ray as if she had just recited the answer to life. "Are you serious? That could work?" Turtle eventually asked.
"Well yeah," Ray laughed and shrugged. "How do you think mammals do it, dummy?"
With a bark of laughter, Momma K rose to her feet and headed back toward the building. "I'll leave you two smarties to it. All that horribly polite chatter I'm supposed to say to you Ray, thank you again Turtle and good night to you both."
Turtle was too lost in thought to reply and all the way back to her house and out onto the beach she remained quiet. Finally, sitting on the cool sand beneath a glowing moon, she swore. "It could work, Ray. It could really work!"
Lying on her back beside the beach bum genius, Ray chuckled. "Ya think?"
"Well, yeah. I mean if you balance the ratio between buoyancy, internal pressure and the psi of salt water at these temperatures…."
"Then factor in the pressure needed for air flow and circulation…."
"Someone weighing 80 pounds at 20 feet…."
"For fucksake! Turtle!"
Startled, Turtle stopped and looked down at Ray's laughing face. "Yeah?"
"Just shut up and kiss me."
Turtle smiled and dropped back onto an elbow, turning to kiss Ray. "Sorry. I get distracted."
"That's okay," Ray grinned, moving a lock of sun-bleached hair out of Turtle's eyes. "You know, I think I can answer one more question for you."
"And what question would that be, Miss Regal?" Turtle smiled, kissing her exposed wrist.
"What Big Ari said earlier? I think I know what he was seeing in your eyes."
"Okay," Turtle murmured, nuzzling Ray's warm neck.
"I wasn't lucky enough to see it myself but from what you've said and what others have told me, I think I know what's back in those gorgeous eyes of yours."
Lifting herself enough to look into Ray's eyes, Turtle suddenly knew the answer. Lying with her soul mate on the same beach that her son had faded away from, Turtle knew.
"His smile, Tut-tut. JJ's smile is in your eyes."