Please see part 1 for all disclaimers and copyright information.
Drew was in a long dark alley, and there were menacing shadows on all sides. Fear rose in her throat as she forced herself deeper into the darkness. She knew someone needed her—she had to keep going despite her terror. An arm reached for her, and she thrust the body away with a swift kick. She fought off the hands that clutched her clothes, stumbling as she reeled forward in the near total blackness.
She couldn’t get her breath—her chest was heavy and tight. Finally she reached the end of the alley. It was a dead-end, and a woman lay crumpled at the foot of a brick wall. She reached a trembling hand down and turned the woman face up. Through the blood and the bruises she could make out Sean’s distorted features. As she stared in horror, the face changed and it was Dara staring back at her, terrified eyes beseeching her.
"Oh god, no!" she cried as she came awake in the still room. She looked wildly about, gasping, the terror of the dream still fresh. She groaned and dropped her head down on her knees, struggling to contain her sobs.
A soft knock finally penetrated her consciousness.
"Drew—it is Janet. Can I help?"
Drew rubbed her face and took a deep breath. "No, please—it was just a nightmare. I’m okay."
"If you need me, you will tell me, yes?"
"Yes," Drew called, knowing she couldn’t share the images of her pain. She had never talked about it to anyone—she was silenced by the enormity of her guilt.
She lay back, knowing she would not sleep again that night. Sean’s face rose unbidden, as Drew had first seen her kneeling in the dojang, calm, centered—a sculpted face framed by tousled dark hair. And those eyes—so green when she opened them, so soothing.
Suddenly the image was replaced by the memory of Sean tonight, lying dazed and bleeding—so still she thought for an instant—
Drew groaned in frustration and reached for the light. She had to stop the images—and she especially had to stop thinking about Sean. Sean was more of a threat than the reemergence of her nightmares. At least the nightmares were familiar. She had no reference for the strong reaction she had to Sean—she had felt it that first night during the test. She was captivated by the calm stillness Sean projected—a state that so eluded Drew. Each time she taught, it was the same. Sean seemed to radiate a sense of balance, a self-acceptance that expanded and enfolded those around her. At least, Drew felt that way when she looked at her. Some of Sean’s peace touched her.
Drew squeezed her eyes shut and then opened them to the harsh light, hoping to banish all thought. She reached for a book from the bedside table and forced herself to read. She would think no more tonight.
In the morning, Janet Cho greeted her warmly. "There is coffee, and Chris has made muffins."
Drew poured a cup and sat at the small kitchen table with her old friend.
"We had an injury last night, Master Cho. Sean’s nose is broken."
"Ah, is it bad?" Janet asked.
Drew shook her head. "Not so bad—she’ll be bruised for a while, but no surgery is needed." She went on to relate the details of the accident and then voiced her uncertainty, "Perhaps I don’t know the students well enough to teach them yet."
Janet touched her arm very lightly. "You are an excellent teacher, Drew. Don’t doubt yourself. Gail is a good student—a little lazy sometimes—but she is young. She has done that kick many times before—it is well within her capabilities. She misjudged—not you. I will spend some time with her on control, I think. I would like you to teach Sean her next form—the first black belt form.
Drew hid her reluctance. She wanted to stay away from Sean—the woman had already intruded into her dreams. "Yes, of course. As soon as she comes back."
"Oh, Sean will be there tonight," Janet Cho said with certainty.
As Drew and Janet approached the door to the dojang an hour and a half before class, they discovered Sean stretching in the hall outside. Drew couldn’t hide her surprise.
"Shouldn’t you be resting?"
Sean grinned. "I’m fine, ma’am."
Drew shook her head as she stepped aside. "Well, come on in then."
Sean stopped at the doorway to bow before she entered and then bowed in turn to Master Cho and Master Clark. "Good evening," she said formally.
Both women bowed to her and returned her greeting.
"Sean—stretch now—I want you to work on forms tonight with Master Clark."
"And, Master Clark—you and I will do some weapons work before class, yes? I want to see what you taught the army."
Drew bowed formally. "Yes, Master Cho. Knife or jo stick?’
"The jo," Janet replied, referring to the five foot staff. It could be used as a thrusting weapon, like a spear, or swung like a baseball bat. It was excellent practice against the sort of weapon that could be picked up off the street.
"I will attack," Janet stated.
Sean watched from the corner of the room where she was performing her pre-workout stretching routine.
Drew turned into a sideways defensive posture, one leg back, both hands up—the forward hand extended, the rear hand guarding her chest. Her stance, however, was less rigid than the classical karate stance—she looked relaxed but wary. Sean flinched when Master Cho attacked with a flurry of swinging blows directed at Drew’s head and chest. Drew deflected them with her forearm, circling Master Cho, looking for a chance to launch her own attack.
Then, with a feinting movement to the left that distracted her opponent, Drew dropped to the floor and swung her foot behind Master Cho’s knee. The leg sweep brought the woman down, and only Drew’s hold on Janet’s uniform jacket prevented her from landing heavily on her back.
Sean was breathless over the display of skill and power she had witnessed—Drew moved with such speed! There was such intensity in her face as she met each strike with her own force. The blows must have hurt, but there was no sign of it in her reactions—she bided her time and then counterattacked without hesitation. Sean had never seen anything like it. Drew was magnificent!
"Oh, that was a good move—thank you for breaking my fall," Janet Cho said as she rose. "Now the knife."
Drew nodded, once again waiting, her eyes on the steel weapon in Janet’s hand. As the thrust came at her midsection, she side-stepped, blocking the knife arm with her own arm, then trapping it against her side. With the weapon arm immobilized, she was able to raise a vicious snap kick to the midsection followed by an elbow strike to the back of the neck. As Janet anticipated each strike, she allowed her body to absorb the blows until at last she was lying on her back with Drew poised above her, the knife now in Drew’s hand. The face that looked down at her was fierce with concentration, the blue eyes cold. Drew plunged the knife down with a piercing cry. The point hovered millimeters above Janet Cho’s throat.
"I think I see your Aikido in that move, Master Clark," Janet Cho said calmly. Drew leaned back on her heels and smiled.
"Yes, ma’am. But on the street, we must use all our weapons—"
Both women stood and bowed to one another.
"Thank you, Drew."
"Thank you, Master Cho," Drew responded. As she turned away, she caught Sean staring at her. Sean blushed and ducked her head when Drew’s eyes met hers. Drew wondered briefly just what Sean had seen during those moments when Drew was too occupied to keep all her shields in place.
"Are you sure you’re ready to work out tonight?" Drew asked as she approached. Her voice was soft with a concern she couldn’t hide. She remembered Sean’s dazed and bloody face from the previous night.
Sean met Drew’s gaze and noted for the first time how blond her eyelashes were, and how fine the lines at the corner of her eyes. She knew they would deepen when Drew bestowed one of her rare smiles. She had noted that last night when she stood with Drew at the front door of her home. She remembered she had had to tilt her head up just a little to see Drew’s face. That was when Drew had smiled—that smile that was like the sun breaking through the clouds.
"Sean?" Drew queried, concerned by her silence.
"Yes, ma’am. I feel fine."
"I expect you to tell me if you have problems during the workout—understood?"
Drew looked at her quizzically, prompting her reply.
"Yes, ma’am!" Sean shouted, blushing faintly at her own consternation.
After the class had assembled, Drew took Sean aside and spent the entire hour and a half teaching Sean new moves and reviewing her previous forms. As always, Sean’s technique was excellent, and she worked hard. Drew attributed her uncharacteristic lapses in concentration to the effects of her injury.
Sean wasn’t sure what was bothering her, she just felt unaccountably agitated. She’d find herself staring at Master Clark’s hands, noting the strength in the broad palms and long tapering fingers. Then she would realize she had missed a command and find herself blushing again. Nevertheless, she was pleased when Master Clark commented that she had done good work. The words felt like a gift.
"How’d it go?" Susan asked as she joined Sean on the terrace late that evening.
"Huh? What?" Sean asked. She had been watching a few clouds in the moonlit sky float by, relishing the faint breeze on her skin. For some reason, all her senses seemed heightened, more alive. She was surprised to register a tingle of arousal—it was such a rare occurrence, she barely recognized it at first. But there was no mistaking the faint aching pressure between her legs and the heaviness in her loins.
"Earth to Sean! Come in, please!"
Sean started guiltily. "Oh, class you mean? It was fine."
"Your nose okay?"
"My nose? Oh, my nose! Yes, no problem."
Susan peered at her sister carefully in the half-light shining out from the house. Her normally grounded, matter-of-fact twin had a slightly dreamy, almost vacant, look on her face.
"Sean, you’re not taking drugs, are you?"
Sean turned to look at her sister. "Drugs? Are you crazy? You know I hate drugs!"
"Well, you looked awfully spacey—where is your mind?"
"Oh, nowhere special. I was just relaxing," Sean answered evasively. She didn’t want to admit to her sister that she had been thinking it would be nice to touch herself out here in the still twilight, or that when she looked at her own hand on her thigh, she’d seen the long-fingered hand of another. She didn’t want to admit it to herself, because she had no idea what it meant.
"Ellen and I are fighting again," Susan said in a small voice.
Sean finally gave her sister her full attention. "Oh, Suse—how come?"
Susan shrugged. "The same stuff—she wants us to have a baby."
"A baby! She’s never said that before!"
"Well, she’s saying it now. She’s thirty-two, she wants to have children before she’s too old to be a good parent. You know, the usual biological clock stuff."
"Well—how do you feel about having children?"
"I’m not keen on having one out of my own body, but I think kids are neat, and it would be something to have a child with little parts of Ellen in there. It’s just such a big step—and there are so many ways to fuck up!"
Sean thought she began to understand. "Is that what you’re scared of? That you’ll fuck up and make the kid’s life miserable?"
"Well, why not?" Susan demanded bitterly, "I’m a thirty-five year old alcoholic who’s afraid of intimacy—what kind of parent would I be?"
Sean took her hand and squeezed gently. "You’re a bright, funny, loving woman who would make some child a wonderful parent. But you have to really want it, Suse—Ellen, the commitment, the child—all of it. It’s too important for all of you not to be sure."
Susan sighed. "That’s the problem—my heart says ‘yes’ but my head says ‘no’. Oh, well—she’ll get over it. She always does."
Sean didn’t see any point in stating the obvious. Ellen had been looking pretty unhappy lately.
"Do you think you two will still come to my dojang party for Master Cho’s birthday next weekend?"
"Absolutely," Susan responded. "Ellen wouldn’t miss it, and I want to see what other crazy women are into this medieval torture stuff."
"Oh, do shut up, Suse!"
~The evening of the party was clear and warm. Sean, Susan and Ellen had set up long tables on the broad stone terrace with sandwiches and an ample bar. The CD player was stacked with dance music, and outside speakers broadcast the sound. It was the first time all of her classmates and teachers had been to her home. Sean was a little nervous. She had been anxious all day wondering if Drew Clark would come, and the fact that she was anxious about it made her even more anxious. By seven o’clock she was a wreck.
"Sean," Ellen said, grasping her arm and pulling her over to the stone banister which flanked the stairs leading into the garden, "What’s up with you? This is not the calm, cool always collected Sean Grey who I know and love."
Sean shrugged. "Just a little anxious about the party."
Ellen shook her arm lightly. "Sean, dear, this is Ellen. I’ve seen you address a room full of stuffed-shirts without blinking an eye and host a dinner party for fifty. This is not about the party."
"I’m a little embarrassed about it," Sean finally confided.
"About what?" Ellen asked.
"I think—oh god, this is hard—I think I have a crush on one of my teachers!" Sean finished hurriedly, blushing furiously.
"That tall, blond hunky one, I hope," Ellen said.
"Well!" Ellen pronounced. "And how does the good Doctor Grey feel about this ‘crush’?"
"She feels ridiculous—that’s how she feels! I’m thirty-five years old, a responsible professional—and straight, I might add."
Sean hesitated before she answered. "I never questioned it before, I never had reason to. All I can say is that I’m terribly attracted to this woman, and I’m afraid it shows."
"What attracts you to her?"
"How about everything? She’s fiercely intense, focused, powerful—not to mention kind, and caring—and beautiful." Sean didn’t add what else she sensed—the hidden pain, or rather, the torment, that Sean had glimpsed that night weeks ago.
"Would you sleep with her?"
"In a heartbeat!"
Ellen gazed down the long expanse of lawn to the trees below.
"This is more than a crush, Sean. What are you going to do about it?"
"Hope that it goes away before she notices, or before I make a fool of myself."
"Why?" Ellen asked in surprise.
"Because I have absolutely no indication that she is interested in me, and even if she were, there’s the problem of her being my teacher."
"Oh, Sean—get a grip. You are both adults. We’re not talking about the impropriety of a high school student and a thirty-year old teacher. It might create some problems in the—what do you call it? Dojang?—but, it is not inherently an unethical situation."
"I think she might see it that way."
"Didn’t you tell me that your head teacher and a student were lovers?"
"Yes, but they were lovers before Sabum Roma started training. That’s different than becoming lovers with one of your students."
"It’s a pretty fine distinction!"
"Not necessarily—would you sleep with one of your patients?"
"Of course not!"
"Even after the therapy had ended?"
"No, Sean—you know that."
"Well, how about just being friends with an ex-patient?"
Ellen hesitated. "Almost certainly not. But the patient-therapist relationship is a long way from what you’re talking about."
"There is still a lot of room for abuse. Many female students have been taken advantage of by male instructors. There is a tremendous power imbalance, especially in a formal school like ours."
"Do you feel like your attraction is coming from some unhealthy place?"
"No, but she might. That’s all I’m saying."
Ellen turned around and looked toward the house. "I think you’re way ahead of yourself here, Sean," she said. "First let the woman know you’re interested—then let her decide if that’s a problem or not. You can’t write the whole story by yourself."
Sean didn’t ask the question she really wanted answered. How, exactly, did you go about letting another woman know you were interested in her? With men it was easy—with this she felt completely out of her depth.
"Hey," Susan called from the house, "they’re here."
By eight o’clock the terrace was crowded with women and a few men, partners of the heterosexual women in the class. Master Cho sat quietly, Chris Roma at her side.
"Happy birthday, Janet," Chris said softly.
Janet smiled gently. "Thank you, love. It is a nice birthday—they are a wonderful group, aren’t they?"
"Yes—and they all care about you, and each other."
Janet nodded, a slight frown on her usually smooth face.
"What is it?" Chris asked, ever sensitive to her lover’s quiet moods.
"Drew is not here. I was afraid she would not come."
"She is not one to make friends—but I think she needs to. She has been too long inside herself, and she suffers."
Chris knew of the nightmares—she couldn’t help but know. Too frequently, she and Janet had been awakened by muffled cries coming from the guest room down the hall during the few weeks that Drew had stayed with them before moving to her own apartment nearby. Chris didn’t know the circumstances and she didn’t ask. Her lover and Drew had been friends for many years before she met Janet Cho, and the confidences they shared would never be revealed except by Drew herself.
"She’s happy at the dojang, don’t you think?"
"Ah, yes—thank goodness for the students. There she has women to care about—but, it is too safe."
"She can care about them from a distance, but they do not touch her heart. And, she does not have to accept the responsibility of being cared about in return. That is necessary for her to teach, but it is a hiding place, too."
"Is there anything we can do?"
Janet smiled and stroked Chris’s hand. "No. Someday, I hope, she will let another claim her heart—when the want is greater than the fear."
"Is that how it was with you?"
Again the small smile. "Ah, yes—but, with me the fear was of you not wanting me."
Chris laughed. "Then you will never have anything to fear."
Sean watched the party from the doorway of the dining room. She was touched by the tender scene between her teachers. She could not hear their words, but the gentle touches that passed between them as their heads bent close spoke of love. She looked for her sister and Ellen and found Susan in the midst of a group of laughing women. No doubt she was accosting them with questions about their masochistic tendencies. She couldn’t find Ellen.
Just then, the doorbell rang, and she moved through the quiet house to answer it. As she crossed through the dim living room, she saw Gail Driscoll follow someone through the doorway opposite her and into the library.
She opened the front door to find Drew standing there, Sean’s denim shirt in her hand. Sean liked the way Drew looked in faded jeans and a white oxford shirt.
"Hi," Sean said shyly. "I’m glad you could come."
"Sorry I’m late," Drew said, holding out the shirt. "Thanks for this."
Sean took the shirt and tossed it on the mail table. "We waited to give Master Cho her present until you were here," she said, as they approached the group outside. "Can I get you something to drink?"
"A beer would be good."
Drew crossed to where Janet and Chris were sitting and bowed to Master Cho. "Good evening," she said.
Janet Cho smiled. "It is, yes. Thank you for being here."
Drew looked momentarily uncomfortable, and then made a conscious effort to relax. She watched Sean wend her way through the crowd with two bottles of beer, looking comfortable in a white tank top and black cotton trousers. She seemed to stand out from the other students, not just because she was a good deal older, but because she carried herself with an air of certainty that suggested she was at peace with herself. As always, her presence had a soothing effect on Drew.
"Thank you," Drew said as she accepted the damp bottle. "Your nose looks normal finally."
Sean laughed and touched her face self-consciously. "It actually looked much worse than it felt."
A fleeting shadow flickered across Drew’s face, and she lifted the bottle hastily to her lips. When she spoke again, her voice was steady.
"You handled it well. You would have made an excellent soldier."
Sean laughed out loud, a full, throaty laugh that animated her usually cool features. "Oh, not at all! I’m almost as bad as my sister when it comes to taking orders."
"Not that I’ve noticed," Drew remarked.
"That’s different. In class I understand that the discipline is to make me strong, to keep me focused on the task, to remind me of the seriousness of what we do. It’s a discipline I accept as necessary—it actually makes me feel safe. I wouldn’t welcome that kind of control in every aspect of my life—as I imagine a soldier must do. It may be too safe—I would feel stunted, too infantilized."
Drew nodded. "You’ve got a point. Even though I hope—we all hope—that some of what you gain in class will support you in the rest of your life."
"It does," Sean agreed. "It helps a great deal in my work—I’m more resilient, I can listen to my clients—their fears, their pain—I can hear it and feel for them without being immobilized by it. I feel more balanced." Sean stopped speaking when she realized Drew was staring at her, an intense searing stare.
"What?" Sean asked quietly.
Drew started and looked away uncomfortably. "I’m sorry. I was wondering how you do what you do—listen to all that pain."
"I try to remember that there are all kinds of pain, and that the human spirit is amazingly strong—and that with love and time, there can be healing," Sean answered gently.
"You really believe that?"
"I do. I’ve seen it. Some pain never completely disappears, but we find a place for it—like a distant sound, we can hear it, but the intensity diminishes until it blends with all the other rhythms of our life. One song among many."
"You’re a poet, Sean," Drew remarked.
Sean blushed. "Hardly. It’s just the way I’ve found to make sense of the human condition."
"It’s good there are people like you to do this work," Drew said softly.
Their eyes met and held for a moment, and both of them knew there were words left unspoken.
Sean looked into Drew’s blue eyes, knowing there was a secret there, wondering if she would ever know it. Drew searched the gentle depths of Sean’s, wondering why she felt so welcome.
They both jumped as a voice at their elbows demanded, "Hey, Sean—when are we going to give Master Cho her present? This party is starting to rock!"
Sean looked about and realized that people were beginning to dance, and that the alcohol was flowing freely. As the senior student, it was Sean’s responsibility to present the gift.
"You’re right. I’d better do it before we completely lose everyone’s attention!" She looked regretfully at Drew, not wishing to end their conversation.
Drew nodded. "Of course."
Sean circled through the crowd, informing the students that she was going to get Master Cho’s gift. The ten women gathered in a semi-circle before Master Cho, who was flanked by Drew and Chris.
Sean stepped forward with a large rectangular object. She bowed, as did the other students in the group.
"Happy birthday, Master Cho," she said, a sentiment the others echoed.
The gift was a hand-painted golden tiger, done by one of the students. The frame was also handmade and gilded by another student. The idea had come from all of the students, and they had all helped pay for the supplies.
"Ah, yes—" Janet Cho said as she surveyed her gift. "You have captured the spirit of the tiger well—may you all carry a little of the tiger’s tenacity and power in your hearts. Thank you."
As the students wandered back to their friends and partners, someone, probably Susan, dimmed the terrace lights and turned the music up. People began to dance in earnest.
Sean saw Ellen emerge from the house looking upset.
"You okay?" Sean asked.
"Fine," Ellen replied abruptly. "How’s the party going?"
Sean motioned with her arm toward the laughing, milling crowd. "Great. Suse is having the time of her life. I think she’s insulted every one of my friends."
Ellen remained curiously silent. At length she said, "Is Drew here?"
"Yes," Sean said, "she’s over by the stairs."
Drew was sitting on the broad stone wall that enclosed the terrace, watching the dancers. Even Janet Cho and Chris were dancing in one dim corner.
"Why don’t you ask her to dance?"
"It wouldn’t be appropriate."
"You know—she’s my teacher—"
Ellen cut her off with a rude snort. "Oh, please—she’s what? All of five years older than you? You’re not in the dojang now, Sean. This is just the real, old fucked-up world out here."
Sean was taken aback by Ellen’s rancor. Ellen could always be counted on to see the humor in every situation.
"Are you sure you’re all right? Is it Susan?"
"Must everything be about Susan?" Ellen snapped. "Go ask the woman to dance, for god’s sake!" At that, Ellen pushed her way through the crowd and disappeared.
Sean remained just outside the doorway, paralyzed by uncertainty—and uncharacteristic self-doubt. She had never done this before, never even imagined doing it. But when she asked herself honestly if she wanted to, the answer was yes. Finally, she willed her legs to move.
It was fully dark now, and Drew was only a silhouette against the sky as Sean approached. Drew sat with her arms out to either side on the wall, her legs lost in shadow. The dancing bodies seemed to fade into the background as Sean moved closer, until all she could see was the woman before her. When she finally faced her, she was at a loss for words.
"Would you like to dance?" she asked at last.
It was the last thing Drew expected, and she was momentarily stunned. Before she could think, she answered, "Yes," and pushed herself off the wall. Her hand moved automatically to Sean’s back as they moved to a space near the edge of the crowd.
As Sean turned to face her, the music slowed, and before she knew it, she was in Drew’s arms. She slid one hand to Drew’s shoulder and rested the other on her waist. Drew covered the hand on her shoulder with her own and encircled Sean’s waist with her other arm. They moved naturally together, and Sean felt the light pressure of Drew’s body against her own. She trembled, and hoped that Drew didn’t feel it. The places where their bodies touched felt electrified. Without thinking, she leaned her cheek against Drew’s shoulder, and the arm about her tightened. She felt Drew’s heart pounding against her breast. Drew’s body felt at once strong and soft. The muscles under her hand rippled as they moved, but it was the softness of another woman’s breasts against her that stunned her. She wouldn’t have believed how exciting it felt to be this close to a woman. They danced in silence, each listening to the sounds of the other’s body. When the music ended, they stood with their arms still enfolding each other, each reluctant to break the hold.
Finally, Drew stepped away. "Thank you," she said huskily.
Sean nodded, unable to speak.
Drew took another step back, putting distance between them.
"I must go."
"Yes," Sean said numbly. "I understand."
Drew shook her head. "No, Sean, you don’t."
And then she was gone.
When Janet Cho opened the dojang two hours before class, she was not surprised to find Drew there before her, working out. Her uniform was soaked, and Janet knew she had been there for hours. She returned Drew’s bow and moved in silence to one end of the room. She watched Drew practicing a weapons form, noting that Drew, if possible, appeared more intense than usual.
"You have something on your mind, yes?" Janet asked when Drew stopped for water.
Drew looked at her old friend in surprise. "No—why do you ask?"
Janet shrugged, "You have that look that says you want your head to be quiet."
"There is nothing," Drew said firmly.
Janet did not press. Instead, she joined Drew, and they practiced black belt forms together. As the students began to arrive, Drew turned to Janet saying, "I cannot stay for class tonight."
"We will be here when you are ready."
Drew bowed. "Thank you."
She stayed away two weeks, and during that time, class continued as normal—except for Sean. She had lost her focus. She forgot forms she knew by heart, her balance was bad; she was frustrated and self-critical. Finally, after class one night, Master Cho called her aside.
"What is troubling you, Sean?"
Sean was acutely embarrassed. She knew she wasn’t doing well in class, and the added pressure of her approaching black belt test weighed on her mind.
"I’m sorry, Master Cho. I’m trying but I can’t seem to concentrate."
"That is because your mind is elsewhere. You must learn to use your training to center your mind—feel only your body, listen only to your body. Let your mind surrender to your body. Trust yourself—the calm is there within you. Let it out."
Sean nodded. "I will try."
"Good. You will succeed. Be patient with yourself."
"Master Cho," Sean asked before she could stop herself, "is Master Clark coming back?"
"She will be back," her teacher said.
When Drew returned, Sean settled down. Just seeing her helped. When Drew hadn’t returned to class after the night of the party, Sean had been afraid she would never see her again. Even though there was no way to bridge the distance between them, it was wonderful just to see her. Drew behaved toward her as she always had, although every now and then, Sean could feel Drew’s eyes on her from across the room. When she looked over, there was that same searching stare she had first seen the night of her test. In an instant it would be gone. By the same token, Sean took every opportunity she could to watch Drew. When Drew would demonstrate a technique for the class, Sean watched the way her body moved, the crispness and efficiency of her techniques, the focus in her eyes. When she imagined the woman within the warrior, she remembered how Drew’s body felt against her, and her cheeks would flush unbidden.
What neither of them realized was that their secret glances did not go unnoticed. While they both sought to keep their interest from the other, Janet Cho watched in silence.
Sean pulled up to the dark house, surprised that Susan had gone out. Usually she worked week nights at home, preferring to sleep at Ellen’s on the weekends. She frowned as she parked beside Susan’s car in the car port. If she was home, why was the house dark?
"Suse?" she called into the eerily empty house. "You home?"
She flicked on the kitchen light and caught her breath. There was an open bottle of vodka on the table, and it was nearly empty.
"Susan," she cried, running for the stairs to Susan’s room. "Are you here?" She pushed Susan’s doors open but the bedroom was empty. Sean began to panic. Something was not right—really not right.
She searched Susan’s wing of the house, then her office and the library. Finally she headed for the terrace. She found her on the wall overlooking the garden. She had a glass in her hand.
"Susan," Sean said calmly, "what are you doing, Hon?"
Susan looked over her shoulder and took a swallow from her glass.
"Hi, Sis. Care to join me in a drink?"
Sean’s heart plummeted. "What happened, Suse? What’s wrong?"
"Ellen left me," Susan said.
Sean’s jaw dropped. "No! You mean you had a fight, right?"
"No, Sean," Susan said, enunciating each word carefully. "I mean, Ellen left me—for someone else."
"Ellen? Ellen is having an affair?" Sean couldn’t get her mind around it. Ellen, her friend and partner, the woman she saw every day of her life—was having an affair?
"Are you sure?" she asked.
"Yes! I’m sure. She told me. Somebody named Gail."
Sean had a sick feeling in her stomach. It couldn’t be. It couldn’t have been Gail Driscoll and Ellen in the library the night of the party. It couldn’t be.
"Where are you going," she cried, as Susan moved unsteadily toward the house.
"To get another drink."
Sean grabbed her arm. "Oh, no you’re not. Not after six years of sobriety, you’re not!"
Susan shook her arm off roughly. "Leave me alone, Sean."
"Not on your life. You’ll kill yourself with this much alcohol!"
"You’re not fine! You’re coming inside with me. I mean it!" She spun Susan around and barely ducked her head in time to avoid the glass Susan flung at her. They both stood in stunned silence.
At last the tears came, and Sean gathered her twin into her arms, holding her tightly.
"It’ll be okay, baby. I’ll talk to her. We’ll sort this out."
Suddenly Susan pulled away.
"I think I’m going to be sick."
Sean got her inside and held her head while she vomited until her stomach was empty, and then some. She crooned soothing words to her, brushing the tangled hair from her eyes, fighting the desire to kill both Gail and Ellen for hurting her sister like this—and for putting a drink in her hand after six years.
Sean was waiting in the office the next day when Ellen arrived. She was happy to see that Ellen’s face was pale and drawn.
"We need to talk, Ellen."
"So you know?" Ellen said tiredly.
"I don’t know your side of it. And I want to. Susan was drunk last night, Ellen. I want you to explain to me why."
Ellen closed her eyes. "Oh god! Is she all right?"
"Of course she’s not all right!"
"I didn’t think she would drink—believe me, I didn’t. I would have stayed with her until you got home if I had." Ellen sank onto the office couch, tears streaming from her swollen eyes.
"Tell me what’s happening."
Ellen shrugged helplessly. "I didn’t mean for it to happen. It just did. Isn’t that how these things always happen?"
"Is it Gail Driscoll?"
"My god, Ellen!" Sean snapped, "Are you crazy? She’s twenty years old! What could possibly have possessed you?"
"She’s not twenty! She’s twenty-two. And, she’s crazy about me and I needed that. I needed to feel like I was really wanted."
"And you think Susan doesn’t want you? Do you think she drank herself into oblivion because she doesn’t want you?"
Finally, Ellen got angry. "Six years, Sean. We’ve been together six years, and I get to sleep with her two nights a week. I get to wake up with her—if I’m lucky—two mornings a week. She’s kept me at arms length all these years, and I’ve finally had enough! I want a full-time lover, a full-time life!"
"And you think you’ll have that with a woman ten years younger than you? Ten big years younger?"
"It happens," Ellen said defensively.
Sean stared at Ellen, her emotions in turmoil. She knew how much pain Ellen had been in, and how Susan’s resistance to living with her had continued to distance them. But all she could see at that moment was the naked anguish in her sister’s face.
"What about Susan? Have you stopped loving her?"
Ellen began to cry again, racking sobs that shook her slender frame.
"Oh god—I don’t want to love her! I keep praying I’ll wake up and I won’t anymore."
Finally Ellen’s pain reached Sean. She moved to the couch and gathered her into her arms. She pressed Ellen’s face to her shoulder and rocked her.
"What a mess!" Sean muttered. She forced Ellen to look at her. "Are you in love with Gail Driscoll?"
Ellen lowered her eyes. "More like seriously in lust."
"Terrific. And how do you think you’ll feel in six months when you’ve finally stopped fucking each other’s brains out?"
"I hope we’ll still have a relationship," Ellen said hollowly.
"Will you stop seeing her long enough to talk this all out with Susan in therapy?"
Ellen laughed bitterly. "You know as well as I do Susan won’t go to therapy."
Sean raised her hand to stop her. "If she would, can you put a halt to this affair and try to sort out the issues?"
"I don’t know if I can."
"Ellen, please! Susan loves you, she needs you. Please!" Sean cried desperately.
Ellen rose despondently. "I have to think about it, Sean. I feel like I’m at the end of the road with Susan."
"Just think about it, please. For all of us."
Continue on to Part 3
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