The Golden Tiger
WARNING: The stories on this page are about the love between two women and may contain explicit love scenes. If you are not 21, or are offended by this type of love - do not go any further. By continuing you are consenting that you are of legal age to read further.
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Sean knelt in the center of the room with her eyes closed, hands resting gently on her thighs, waiting for the test board to convene. The other students knelt along the sides of the polished wood floor, their voices hushed in an effort not to disturb her concentration. It was one of the hottest nights of the already oppressively hot summer, and despite the window fans, the air was still and heavy.
Sean’s dark hair was held back by a white silk head band tied about her forehead, and sweat already dampened the wavy tendrils just above her collar. Her uniform was immaculately pressed, the jacket tied over the white canvas pants with the red belt that denoted her rank. As the senior student in the class, she was about to test for the black stripes which would signify her first step toward the rank of chodan, or first degree black belt. It had taken her four years of mental and physical determination to reach this point. Every student in the room looked to her as an example, knowing that eventually they would reach the same moment of truth.
Somewhere in the recesses of her mind, Sean was aware of their presence. She welcomed their support, but she thought only of her breath flowing in and out, holding only that in her awareness, clearing all other images from her mind. Her face was composed, reflecting physical and mental calm. Clear, emerald eyes were a stark contrast to her dark hair and honey rich complexion. Her features were finely formed, but not fragile. There was strength in her face, and a peacefulness. What would happen here in the next hour was beyond her control; there was no longer time for nerves or self-doubts. What she was called upon to do, she would do.
"Face the door!" a student called as the black belted test board gathered at the door to the dojang.
"Chariot! Attention!" came the command, and each student snapped to attention with their hands at their sides, their feet together.
"Kung Ye! Bow!" As one, the class bowed to their teachers.
The black belts, led by their chief instructor, Master Janet Cho, bowed in return and moved to stand in front of the long table where the test forms were piled. Each woman was dressed in a formal white uniform, the arms and legs of the crisp cotton bearing strips of black to indicate their level of dan, or black belt.
The class faced them, hands clasped behind their backs, their feet shoulder-width apart, their eyes fixed forward. The room was completely silent except for the faint humming of the fans.
"Tonight is a special night for all of you," the small Korean woman in the center of the room began. She was a first generation American-Korean and spoke with the cadence of her ancestors, her tone gentle but commanding. "Tonight Sean begins a year of work and study that will culminate in her testing for black belt. Much will be expected of her this next year, for it will be a year of transition. As she moves forward, she must necessarily move away from all of you. She must learn to teach by her example the responsibility of the rank she seeks, and part of that responsibility will be to guide you on your own path. Sometimes that requires criticism—criticism that comes from a place of caring—but still a difficult gift to give. She can no longer be your friend—she must become your teacher. You will gain much more than you imagine you are losing, because all of you have helped her reach this point. Without you she could not have practiced as hard nor had the support she needed to overcome her own obstacles. Each of you should be proud of yourselves."
The woman met each face in the class as she spoke, and ten strong women gazed back at her.
"Tonight is also a special night for me. Each time one of my students begins this journey, I am reminded of why I do this work. Your gains are a gift to me for which I thank you. I am especially honored tonight to have with me on the test board Master Drew Clark, who was one of my first students. After attaining her black belt, Master Clark left Philadelphia for the armed forces training school in Virginia, where she has taught martial arts for ten years. We are pleased to have her back in Philadelphia, and back in the Golden Tiger Kwan. Please face Master Clark and welcome her to your school."
The students again snapped to attention and faced the tall blond woman who stood on Janet Cho’s left side. Where Master Cho was small and compact, this woman was tall and lean, her features angular and chiseled. Her bearing was intensely serious, military, and she radiated physical power. There was a tension about her that was reminiscent of a great jungle cat, coiled and ready to spring. Her deep blue eyes never wavered as she also smartly brought her hands to her sides. The class bowed and she returned their bow.
"Thank you," she said, her voice deep and firm.
At that, Master Cho, Master Clark and Sabum Roma seated themselves behind the table, and the class returned to kneel along the side of the room. Only Sean remained standing.
"Chun be! Ready position!" Master Cho commanded, and Sean brought her fists and outstretched arms in front of her, into the ready position. The test had begun.
"Step into a straddle stance, left punch out," Master Cho directed. "Hut!"
Sean sank into a low stance, feet widespread, thighs low and parallel to the floor. As she punched her left fist out, her breath exploded from her in an audible kiyap!
"Waist level punches! Hut!"
For ten minutes by the clock, Sean alternately punched her left and right fists forward, holding the deep and perhaps most difficult karate stance without moving. Her quadriceps trembled slightly with the effort, but she ignored the discomfort, concentrating on keeping each punch centered on the solar plexus of her imaginary opponent.
"Koman! Halt!" her teacher instructed, and Sean stepped back into her ready stance, awaiting the next command.
"Right back stance, knife hand block! Hut!"
What followed was twenty minutes of foot and hand techniques; kicks, blocks, strikes and combinations—all designed to test her stamina and form. Sean moved purposefully from one position to the next, back straight, knees bent, in the deep linear stances which typified Tae Kwon Do. Sweat soaked her uniform and ran in rivulets down her cheeks, dripping from the well-formed angles of her jaw.
Next, she moved into self-defense drills with several of the higher ranking students as her opponents, countering punches and kicks with blocks, strikes and kicks of her own.
Forty minutes had elapsed before Master Cho called a halt.
"30 seconds for a water break, then everyone get your sparring gear on."
Sean gulped down half the bottle of sports ade she had packed and quickly strapped on her foot and hand protectors, slipped her mouth guard in, and pulled her head gear on.
"You will spar each student in the class, beginning with the white belts."
Each match lasted two minutes, during which time the two opponents attempted to "score" a hit by kicking or punching her opponent anywhere above the belt. Head contact for the lower ranks was not allowed. Sean was careful with the lower ranking students, especially the white and gold belt women, keeping them at bay with long-legged kicks and then moving in quickly for a light punch to the chest or abdomen. With the blue and green belt intermediate students, she allowed herself more power, forcing them to counter to avoid her lightning fast hands.
When she had sparred with the ninth student, an aggressive young college student who was only a year behind Sean in training, she had had to use all her concentration to avoid the quick kicks of her agile younger opponent. She felt every one of her thirty-five years as her arms and legs began to tremble with the sustained exertion.
When the match finally ended, both students stood at attention, waiting for the command to rest.
Drew Clark leaned over and murmured something to Master Cho, who nodded her head affirmatively after a moment's consideration. "You will finish your test with a match against Master Clark," Master Cho announced. "Black belt rules!"
Several of the students cast sidelong glances at each other in surprise. Black belt rules meant head contact was allowed, and Master Clark was a fourth dan—a very experienced fighter. Anticipation swelled in the ranks, along with apprehension.
For the briefest instant, surprise flickered across Sean’s elegant features. Then she bowed deeply, replying, "Yes, ma’am!"
Drew Clark pulled sparring gloves on her hands after slipping her feet into the foam foot covers that protected her opponent from the full force of the kicks. She slipped a mouth guard in but left her head gear in her gym bag. She walked purposefully to the center of the room and faced Sean. She was a head taller than Sean, who was tall at five-eight.
Sean faced her squarely and looked into a face that stared back at her without a flicker of emotion.
"Bow to your partners," Cho called.
Each woman bent sharply at the waist, returning again to lock eyes. Sean’s green eyes were clear and calm.
"Free-spar ready positions!"
Sean and Drew dropped one leg aback, knees bent, so that only their forward raised fists and their sides were exposed to their opponents.
Sean moved forward quickly with a front round kick to the head, followed by a hand combination, hoping to take her opponent by surprise. Drew countered quickly with a forearm block then swept Sean’s forward leg with her foot, a move designed to break the opponent’s balance. With someone less physically agile than Sean it could have knocked her to the floor. As it was, Sean had to pivot on one leg to reestablish her footing while avoiding a back fist that came perilously close to her chin. She managed a side kick that forced Drew back in an evasive move, but still Sean had not made contact. As she snapped her kicking leg back to avoid a hand trap that could topple her over, she turned quickly with a back side-kick that nearly caught Drew in the chest as she closed for a strike. Sean followed her kick in, toward her opponent, as she had been taught, attempting a jab hook combination when Drew landed an upset punch to her abdomen. Sean had sensed rather than seen it coming, and she tensed her abdominal muscles to accept the force of the blow. Still, it stung, and she tried not to be distracted by it. Her adrenaline surged in response to the pain, and she swiftly blocked the follow-up punch from Drew with her forearm. She punched a back hand jab immediately and caught Drew squarely on the chin. Drew’s head snapped back from the force of the blow, and for an instant, Sean was paralyzed. She hadn’t intended to hit her so hard—one of the sacred rules of free-sparring was to maintain control at all times, to avoid injuring your sparring partner. That second of uncertainty was her undoing. Drew absorbed the blow without a break in the flow of her movements and dropped to the floor on one bent knee. She chambered a side-kick, the most devastating of karate kicks, as she slid forward, and thrust upward with her foot catching Sean squarely in the center of her unguarded chest. At the last second, Drew tempered some of the power of her kick, but it landed with enough force to send Sean to the floor.
Sean lay stunned, more from the surprise of the attack she hadn’t even seen coming than from the actual force of the kick. Drew knelt quickly beside her. There was a tiny cut on Drew’s lip and a trickle of blood streamed down her chin unnoticed.
"Are you all right?" the deep voice questioned, one had pressing lightly against Sean’s abdomen. "Take a deep breath."
Sean did so and said with a slight quaver in her voice, "I’m okay. Thank you, ma’am."
"When you have the advantage, Ms. Grey, always use it. You should have dropped me with a head kick after you landed that punch. If this were a real fight, you’d be dead now."
Sean stared up into the serious face of the woman above her, mesmerized by the eyes that stared into – no – through her.
"I’ll remember that, ma’am," she answered softly.
Drew reached a hand down to help her up. "Good fight, Ms. Grey."
Sean followed the tall woman’s form with her eyes as she walked to the sink to wash the blood off her face. Her words echoed in Sean’s mind, and the spot where Drew had rested her hand against her stomach seemed to tingle. Her teacher, Master Cho, was a strong and demanding teacher, but never had Sean experienced the sheer force of personality as she had felt with Drew Clark. There was a deadly seriousness about her, the intensity of which took Sean’s breath away. She jumped at the sound of her teacher’s voice.
Sean stood at attention once more, facing the test board.
Drew had returned, a small Band-Aid on her lip.
Master Cho stepped forward, saying, "Congratulations, Sean, you did well. I am proud to promote you to black stripe."
She attached three black stripes to the tail of Sean’s red belt—the highest level to which she could be promoted before she received her black belt. To receive three stripes after only one test was unusual, and an honor.
Sean bowed deeply and then shook her teacher’s hand.
"Thank you, ma’am."
Master Cho dismissed the class, and the students swarmed Sean to pound her on the back and shake her hand. She barely heard the words of congratulations as she looked past the group to the austere blond woman who stood alone, watching her contemplatively.
"How is your lip?" Janet Cho asked as she pulled her Jeep Cherokee into the early evening traffic. She glanced over her shoulder at the rangy form of her former student, who was leaning forward in the back seat, her arms folded on the back of the front passenger seat.
Drew grinned slightly, her blue eyes laughing. "It’s nothing. She caught me by surprise. A very nice follow-up to that long kick of hers. I should never underestimate a student of yours, Master Cho."
Cho smiled inwardly, recalling a night many years ago when she had had to use every trick her twenty years in the martial arts had taught her to fend off a young black belt testee in a free-sparring match. That woman sat behind her, her finest student, equaled only by a younger student who sat beside her now—her lover, Chris Roma.
"Perhaps I should have warned you about her legs. She was a professional dancer when she was younger, and she has the best kicks I have ever seen."
"Except for yours, Master Cho," Chris said from her seat beside her.
Janet laughed and reached fondly for the hand of her young lover. "You flatter me, and I love it. I’m too short for really good offensive kicks. I’ve had to learn to use my feet in defense, unlike you tall Americans."
"She is very good," Drew commented, remembering the total concentration on Sean’s face as she met each challenge that evening. She remembered too the firm muscles beneath her hand and the unguarded eyes that had met her own as she knelt above Sean. There had been a trust in the gaze that Drew was used to seeing in the eyes of her students, but, for some reason it had moved her more deeply than it usually did. It reminded her once again of the great responsibility she had in teaching these young women to defend themselves in a world that so often claimed them as victims. She pushed those thoughts away, as she had for the last eight years, refusing to allow the anger to surface and claim her mind once more.
"I kicked her too hard," Drew continued, "I’m sorry."
Janet Cho shook her head. "No. It was not too hard. She must learn to accept the pain—for on the street, she must fight despite the pain if she is to survive."
A quick gasp from Drew silenced Master Cho, who glanced quickly to her old friend.
"Ah—I am so sorry, Drew. I did not think. Please forgive me."
Drew shook her head, fighting off the memories. "No, you are right. Sometimes I forget that they still have much to learn."
"And now I will have you both to help teach them. Yes?"
Janet Cho had offered Drew a position at her school as a teacher as soon as she heard that Drew was leaving the Army and returning to civilian life in Philadelphia. She had not yet heard Drew’s answer. Drew herself had been uncertain. At forty she had retired from the Army, and she wasn’t sure what she wanted from the rest of her life. She loved the martial arts. There had been years when only the demands of her training and teaching had provided any comfort in her life. Teaching women to survive, whether they were soldiers or students, had been her only purpose for many years. The demands and responsibilities of that task were enormous, and she was weary. Weary with caring, weary with the fear that she might not be giving enough. She thought again of the trust in those green eyes and made her decision.
"If you and Sabum Roma will have me."
Chris Roma, fifteen years younger, outgoing and eager, clapped her hands in delight. "All right!"
Drew leaned back in the seat, relieved. She didn’t know Chris Roma very well—she had been a young white belt when Drew left Philadelphia. Chris had started training after meeting Janet Cho at a self-defense course Master Cho had taught for graduate students at the city college. Against Janet’s better judgment she had accepted her lover as a student. They had been involved romantically for a year when Chris enrolled at the school, and Janet hadn’t been sure they could separate their personal issues for the necessary distance between student and teacher. It was only because of Chris’s deep respect for her lover’s skill, dedication, and commitment to teaching that they had been successful. Within the walls of the Golden Tiger Kwan, Janet Cho was her teacher and nothing else.
Drew had been concerned that Chris might not welcome another teacher, especially one who outranked her. She had been wrong to worry—Chris was mature beyond her thirty years and accepted that each person progressed at her own speed, in her own time, each according to her abilities. She welcomed Drew, and the chance to advance her own skills through working with her.
"Here we are!" Janet announced as she pulled in front of a neat stone row house in a quiet section of the city, known as Society Hill. Here were some of the small historic homes for which Philadelphia was known, their carefully preserved facades echoing the gentility of the city’s heritage.
"You know you can stay with us as long as you like, Drew."
"I appreciate it—both of you. I’m anxious to get settled though. I’ll go apartment hunting soon."
The women quickly unloaded their gear and headed for the brownstone, eager to talk and get reacquainted.
Ten miles away, Sean pulled into the long drive that led to her family home in Gladwyne—a stately wooded enclave of wealthy old families not so affectionately termed the "Main Line". She shared the house that had been her childhood home with her twin sister, Susan.
"Suse? You home?" she called as she pulled the heavy walnut door closed behind her.
"In my office," came the reply.
Sean moved through to the kitchen and pulled a lager from the refrigerator, snapping the top off as she crossed to the dining room. Her sister’s office was what had formerly been their father’s study.
"Hey," she said, leaning against the door and surveying the disaster that was her sister’s work space. Computer sheets spewed from the printer onto the floor, portfolios lay open on the long oak work-top, and the face that looked up at her was smudged with ink.
"Hey, yourself! How was it—did you do okay?"
Sean thought once again that she would never get used to looking into her own face and finding not a reflection of herself, but nearly her polar opposite. Where she was reserved and introspective, her twin was excitable and extroverted. They were like two halves of the same coin—individual, and yet eternally joined.
"I got my stripes—three of them."
"Oh—Way to go! I knew the old battle-axe would recognize your incredible talent."
"Suse! She’s not an old battle-axe!" Sean responded in mock exasperation. Her sister, who loathed authority in any form, couldn’t understand how her sister could subject herself—willingly—to what she called "abuse".
"Anyone who makes grown women do push-ups because they forget to say ‘Yes Ma’am’ is a sadist," she said half seriously. She held up a hand to stop her sister’s protests. They had had this conversation before. "I know, I know—you love it, you love her, you love Tae Kwon Do. You’re seeking your higher power—heaven forbid I should complain about anyone’s higher power. Still, you’re a masochist. You proved that by marrying Michael Montrose."
Susan had never liked Sean’s husband and had protested vehemently when she had married him at twenty. Not only had it meant that Sean moved to another city, she also gave up dancing, deciding to study psychology. The sisters had remained close, and after Sean left her ten-year marriage, Susan had welcomed her home.
"A momentary lapse in judgment—and I am not a masochist!"
"Oh, I forgot—psychologists can’t have neuroses—you’re all normal and healthy."
"You should know," Sean riposted. "You’re married to one."
"Ellen and I are not married. We’re—we’re seriously involved."
"Is that what you call a six-year monogamous relationship? Seriously, when are you going to give in and live with her?"
For the first time Susan looked uncomfortable. "I don’t know. She keeps asking, but I just can’t do it. Look at Mom and Dad—and you, for crying out loud! Marriage equals death for a relationship. At least we still have good sex."
Sean bit back a retort. Ellen Tyler and she shared an office in the renovated carriage house that adjoined the main house. They were friends, and she knew how much Ellen longed to cement her relationship with Susan by living together. Sean also knew how much Susan’s steadfast refusal hurt Ellen. Still, Susan was her sister, they shared the same history, and she understood Susan’s reluctance. She even shared it herself. After her divorce five years previously, she had had no interest in relationships, casual or otherwise. She didn’t miss the sex—she hadn’t found it all that earth shattering to begin with. She had her friends, her sister, her work to occupy her. If occasionally she longed for someone to share her quiet moments with, it was a feeling she could live with. Life was good—she was content.
"Maybe you and Ellen should see a therapist together?"
Susan shot her a horrified look. "Oh please! Isn’t AA enough? I can’t face anymore processing in my life."
Sean laughed. "Okay—I give. What are you doing, anyhow?"
"Tokyo is going crazy, and I’m trying to keep all my boats afloat. I’ll be done in a while—I just need to make sure all my clients’ millions don’t turn into confetti. Want to watch a movie in about an hour?"
"Sounds great! I’m exhausted. Let me shower—you pick the film."
When they met later in the library, Susan was prepared with her choice of film. "You’ll like this one—it’s about a lesbian psychiatrist and a bunch of women on this writer’s retreat."
Sean handed her a bowl of popcorn and curled up beside her on the large sofa.
"What’s it called?"
"Claire of the Moon."
Sean munched popcorn and let her body dissolve into the soft cushions as the story of two women learning to love each other unfolded. She liked the way the two main characters looked—they were attractive in a light butch/femme way. The psychiatrist was pretty uptight—type casting?—but then, she had been hurt by love. The other one was straight except all that meant was that she slept with men. Emotionally they didn’t touch her. The women danced together and apart throughout much of the movie—drawn closer by need and desire—pulled apart by fear.
At one point, Susan exclaimed, "If they don’t get together soon, I’ll die. I can’t stand this foreplay!"
Sean laughed, "Don’t you know that’s most of the fun? Once the tension breaks, it’s only sex."
Susan looked at her aghast. "Excuse me! Only sex? No wonder you can stand being celibate!"
Sean shrugged. "It’s not so bad."
Susan clicked the remote to pause. "Don’t you miss it?" she asked, uncharacteristically serious.
Sean pondered the question. "What I miss is something I never had. I don’t miss the act—it wasn’t all that much fun. And what I wanted from it was closeness—intimacy—and that just wasn’t there."
"Maybe it was Michael?"
"I don’t think so, Suse. He isn’t the only man I ever slept with, and some of them were damn nice guys. It just didn’t happen to me."
"Did you ever think about women—?"
Sean tossed a pillow at her. "With you and these movies around how could I not? These two are beautiful to look at , and beautiful together. So are you and Ellen. You and I share the same genes—I know that. I’m just not ready for anyone, Suse. Maybe I never will be."
Susan nodded and clicked the movie back on. She didn’t believe her sister for a minute.
"Line up for one-steps," Master Drew Clark called. "Gail—you’re with Sean. The rest of you pair off by rank."
Sean stood facing Gail Driscoll, the blue belt who ranked second in the class. She was a handsome young woman, fit and strong from rugby, which was her passion after Tae Kwon Do. Her shoulder-length hair was slightly shaggy, which lent her a roguish air. She had a natural talent for the art and would have been further along if she had applied herself a little more seriously. As it was, she was young and full of spirit, and all the world seemed to beckon her with some new adventure. Sean liked her in an older sister kind of way and occasionally envied her naïve optimism.
"I want ten one-steps, one after the other. I expect to see advanced techniques from the senior students. Face each other. Bow. Begin!" Drew called. She moved up and down the room, correcting stances on the newer students, offering advice to the intermediates. When she reached Sean and Gail, she stood quietly to one side, her arms folded, her legs spread. Gail, she noted, was using fairly routine techniques that they practiced many times, performing adequately but without much initiative. Sean, as she had come to expect over the month she had been teaching, was improvising new combinations that were her own originals. Her technique was crisp and controlled. Drew respected Sean’s quiet determination and tireless effort. She brought an air of calm dedication to each class and set a good example for younger students.
"Let me see something that befits your rank, Gail. Sean, put out a high section punch to the face."
"Yes, ma’am," they replied in unison.
Sean punched forward with her right hand, holding the position so Gail could institute a defensive combination. Gail countered swiftly with a high forearm block and turned to finish with a high hooking kick. She lost her balance slightly as she kicked and caught Sean full in the face with the heel of her foot. Sean dropped instantly, blood streaming from her nose.
"Oh god," Gail cried. "Oh Jeez—I’m sorry."
Drew knelt beside Sean whose eyes were closed. For a brief moment Drew was in a darkened alley with another woman whose face was covered in blood. Fear and anguish threatened to choke her, and she whispered, "Dara?" in a strangled voice.
Sean moaned and opened her eyes. Through a haze she could see Drew’s face, panic-stricken, staring down at her. The blue eyes were glazed, uncharacteristically vulnerable, and a sea of pain washed through them. The hand that reached for her was trembling.
"Oh god, no—" Drew moaned.
Sean heard the agony in Drew’s deep voice and struggled for speech.
"It’s all right, Master Clark. I’m okay—except I think my nose is broken."
Drew shook her head, confused, and then realized where she was and what had happened.
"Lie still, Sean. Don’t try to move yet. Gail, soak a towel with cold water and bring it to me." She glanced up at the young woman beside her, who stood terrified in place.
"Go on, Gail. Do it!" Drew snapped. As Gail rushed off, Drew turned once again to Sean. She slipped her fingers into the palm of Sean’s left hand.
"Squeeze my fingers, Sean—harder. Good—now the other hand. Good. Now move both legs." She nodded in relief as Sean complied. "Now, tell me who you are."
"Sean Grey. I’m at the Golden Tiger Kwan, and Gail just decked me."
Drew laughed a little shakily. "Very good. Now—can you see me clearly?"
"Yes," Sean replied, not adding that Drew looked as pale as she felt.
Drew pressed the iced towel against Sean’s face and slid one arm under her shoulders.
"Sit up very slowly—lean against me."
"I’ll get blood on you," Sean protested.
Drew laughed and pressed Sean closer. "No matter—it’ll wash. Gail—dismiss the class—I’m driving Sean to the hospital."
Despite Sean’s vigorous protests, Drew had insisted, and they soon joined the waiting crowd in the university hospital emergency room.
"How does it feel?" Drew asked.
"Awful—how does it look?"
Drew pulled the towel away a few inches and scrutinized Sean’s face carefully. "It’s swollen, but straight. With any luck, the fractures aren’t displaced and won’t require surgery."
Sean sighed. "I hope not—I don’t want to miss class."
Drew shook her head, marveling at Sean’s composure. She had seen soldiers complain more over sore muscles than this woman did.
"Master Cho is going to flay me alive for letting this happen," Drew said dryly.
Sean started in surprise. "Why? It’s not your fault!"
"Oh, but it is. Everything that happens in that room is my responsibility. I pushed Gail too hard—she tried something she wasn’t ready for."
Sean contemplated the words in silence. She knew very well the code of ethics practiced by her teachers and how seriously they took their responsibilities. This, however, seemed extreme.
"With all due respect, ma’am, accidents happen. I’ve hit a few people harder than I had intended a few times. You included."
Drew nodded, not fully accepting the rationalization, but appreciating Sean’s efforts to assuage her guilt.
"Thanks. They’re calling you—I’ll wait."
"No, that’s okay—I can call my sister."
"I’ll wait, Sean," Drew said with finality.
Drew pulled around the circular drive to the front of the house and parked.
Sean hesitated, and then asked tentatively, "Will you come in for a moment? Have something to drink?"
Drew started to refuse and then realized she wanted to be certain that Sean would be all right. The doctors had said her nose was cracked but would heal without surgery. Still, she had sustained a significant blow to her head.
"For a minute." She cut the engine and hurried around the front of her black sports car, reaching the door as Sean pushed it open.
"Can you make it?" she asked, slipping her hand under Sean’s elbow.
"Yes," Sean laughed, "Thanks."
As Sean pushed the front door open, an anxious voice called, "Is that you, Sean?" Susan appeared around the corner and stopped in her tracks.
"Oh my god! What happened? Ellen! Ellen, come here! Sean is hurt!" She rushed up to Sean, clutching her hands. "What happened? Oh god! Sean are you all right?"
Sean pulled Susan into her arms and hugged her tightly. "I’m absolutely fine, Suse honey, relax. I just got hit in the nose."
"Looks like you got hit in the nose with an ax," the rangy red-head who approached behind Susan commented. "You’re a mess. How about a beer?"
Sean laughed at Ellen’s usual aplomb and nodded. "First let me introduce my teacher," she said, turning to Drew who still stood in the doorway. "My sister, Susan—her lover, Ellen—Master Drew Clark."
"Just ‘Drew’," Drew said as she shook each woman’s hand in turn. She noticed that Susan was staring at her with anger.
"Are you the one who did this to her?" Susan demanded.
"Well, it was my fault—"
"Oh, stop—" Sean said in exasperation, "both of you. My face got in the way of someone’s foot and that’s all there is to it!"
Drew was surprised by Sean’s commanding tone and then realized that there were many sides to Sean she wouldn’t see in the dojang. The student-teacher relationship was very one-sided, and she generally made it a point not to socialize with students outside of class. This night had been exceptional in more ways than one.
"Perhaps I better leave—if you’re sure you’re all right."
"Nonsense," Ellen interjected, "stay for a while so Susan will be convinced you’re not a maniac. Will you have a beer or something?"
Drew smiled, enjoying Ellen’s dry humor. It seemed a perfect foil for her lover’s excitability.
"Thanks. A beer will be fine."
"Let me get out of this," Sean said, indicating her bloodied uniform. "I’ll meet you on the terrace."
It was almost midnight, and the hot, heavy air of late August had just begun to cool. The women stretched out on chaise lounges with their drinks. Sean crossed the patio in blue jeans and a sleeveless tee shirt and handed Drew a denim workshirt.
"You might need this. Your tee shirt is still soaked.
Drew was wearing her cotton uniform pants and the sweat-stained shirt she had worked out in. It was still damp and none too comfortable.
"Maybe I’ll change—"
"The bathroom is inside and to your right."
Ellen turned to Sean when Drew stepped inside and commented, "That is one gorgeous woman. She’s got eyes to drown in and a body that doesn’t quit. How come you never mentioned her?"
Sean laughed a little self-consciously. "She’s my teacher, Ellen. She’s only been here a few weeks. I hardly know her."
"Is she gay?" Ellen asked.
Ellen, as Sean very well knew, was relentless about details. She loved therapy because she loved the details of people’s lives, and it was intense interest in all things personal that made her such a good therapist. For in addition to curiosity, she had boundless compassion.
"I don’t know. Does it matter?"
"Ah, no—but such a loss if she isn’t."
"Pig!" Susan exclaimed good-naturedly, slapping Ellen on the arm.
Drew joined them at that moment, the shirt tucked into her uniform pants. It was a little small for her and accentuated the breadth of her well-developed shoulders. She had rolled the sleeves up to reveal muscled forearms. She sank to the chair and reached for her beer.
"What a night," she sighed, losing herself in the stars overhead.
The four women sat in silence for a few moments, enjoying the breeze.
"How do you feel?" Drew asked softly to Sean.
"Not bad—a little headache."
"I know. Let’s forget it, shall we? I’ll be fine."
Drew nodded in agreement.
"Where are you from, Drew?" Ellen asked.
Drew started at the question. It had been a long time since she had been in a new social situation. She had immersed herself in work in Virginia and rarely spoke to anyone outside of her professional circle.
"Not far from here, actually. I grew up in Rosemont. But I’ve been gone a long time," she finished awkwardly.
"What do you do?" Ellen continued unperturbed.
"I teach martial arts. For many years I taught army recruits hand-to-hand combat as well as more formal styles of martial arts, like Tae Kwon Do and Aikido."
"I didn’t know you knew Aikido," Sean exclaimed. "Do you still train?"
"Yes, I do. In fact, the school is quite near here. Fortunately, my old teacher is still active, and I’ve been able to continue with her. You should come watch a class sometime," she added impulsively. As soon as the words were spoken, Drew wished she could have them back. She had no idea why she had said them, and she wasn’t sure it was a good idea to appear too friendly with one of her students.
"I’d really like that," Sean answered. "I love to see different styles, and I’ve always found Aikido beautiful. Will you tell me when it would be a good time to come?"
"I’ll check with my sensei and let you know," Drew responded, hoping her reluctance wasn’t obvious.
"Oh, terrific, Sean," Susan exclaimed. "Now you can find some other way to get yourself hurt!"
"Hey, Suse—I’m okay. Really. And I’m not about to begin another art form—not for a long time. Maybe never. I’ve got too much still to learn." Sean ruffled her sister’s hair. "I promise I won’t let anything happen to me, okay?"
Drew was moved by the obvious affection between the two sisters. She thought regretfully that it took more than a promise to keep someone safe. She felt the despair she lived with every day begin to surface, and she struggled to bury it once again. For some reason, old torments had returned to plague her since her return to Philadelphia—pain she thought she had successfully banished.
"I’ve got to leave," she said abruptly, rising as she spoke.
Sean looked up in surprise and then pulled herself up from the chair.
"I’ll walk you out."
Drew turned to her at the door, scrutinizing her face.
"You’ll have a shiner tomorrow," she noted regretfully.
Sean fingered her swollen nose. "I was afraid of that. I wouldn’t mind so much, but I’ll never be able to hide it from my patients. Some of them are going to be upset."
"Are you a doctor?" Drew asked.
"I’m a clinical psychologist. Ellen is my associate. It takes a lot of work sometimes keeping my personal life private. Patients are always curious about their therapists."
"I know what you mean. Students are often the same way with their teachers," Drew mused.
Sean looked uncomfortable. "Has this created a problem for you?" she asked.
Drew smiled at that. The time she had spent with Sean felt more natural and effortless than anything she had done in a long time. "No. I’ll see you in class, Sean."
"Good night, Master Clark," Sean said, bowing automatically. Drew returned her bow and descended the wide front stairs into the night.
As Sean closed the door, she thought how that one unguarded smile seemed to lift years from Drew’s face. She found herself wondering about the woman behind that impenetrable facade.
"She is fascinating," Ellen commented as Sean rejoined them on the terrace. "How much do you know about her, Sean?"
Sean shrugged, wishing she could divert Ellen’s attention from this subject. She didn’t feel comfortable discussing Drew—it felt like an invasion of the privacy that Drew guarded so carefully. And Sean found her own curiosity unsettling. Drew intrigued her too. She recalled Drew’s panic right after Sean was injured, and the image of Drew’s pale face and haunted eyes lingered.
She did not think the pain she had glimpsed was something Drew would consciously share. Sean was used to hearing the pain of others, allowing it to touch her so that she might help another heal. But this had not been willingly shared, and Sean felt irrationally protective of Drew’s vulnerability. And considering she knew so little of her, the intensity of her own response disturbed her. She couldn’t quite forget the anguish revealed in Drew’s face, and her own heart ached in sympathy.
"I don’t know her, Ellen. I see her four times a week in class—that’s all."
Ellen didn’t comment on the strange hollowness in Sean’s voice, nor the distant look in her eyes as she spoke.
"Well, I’ll let you off the hook for a while. But do try to be a little more curious, won’t you?"
Sean didn’t want to admit just how curious she was. As she trudged tiredly off to bed, she couldn’t get Drew off her mind.
Continue on to Part 2
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