Please see part 1 for all disclaimers and copyright information.
Sean spent the day in a haze. The only time her mind was clear was the fifty minute intervals she spent with her patients. Between sessions she sat at her desk and aimlessly rearranged the pens and pencils. Every few seconds she would be ambushed by a kaleidoscope of images—Drew’s eyes, her hands, the sounds of passion, the taste of her. And Drew leaning over her the night she was hurt—panicked, terrified—and clearly somewhere else. Her professional instincts told her that whatever Drew was fighting, it was serious. Serious enough to keep them apart, and that was something she passionately did not want.
It was more than just Drew's physical appeal, although, god knew, that attraction was powerful. But she had admired physical beauty in other women before and had never been drawn to them the way she was drawn to Drew. It was the woman herself who captivated her—the contrast of fierce discipline, commitment, and self-control combined with caring and compassion. What moved her the most, she was forced to admit, however, were the glimpses of suffering Drew revealed in her unguarded moments. That’s what made Sean ache to hold her, not with desire, but with love.
She chose the work she did because the pain of others compelled her, touched her deeply, made her ache with emotion more intense than any pleasure. She was drawn to pain because, inevitably, it was pain that bound all creatures in their valiant struggle called life. In our pain we are most human, and often, most alive.
She sighed and pushed back from her desk. She needed to get ready for class.
Chris was surprised to find Drew at the door when she answered the bell late in the afternoon.
"Drew!" she cried.
"Hello, Chris. Is Master Cho in?" Drew asked quietly.
"In the garden. Go on back." Chris didn’t attempt to follow. It was clear from the tone of Drew’s voice and the dark look on her face that she was here on a private matter.
Janet looked up from the chair where she sat reading and closed her book gently. She had been expecting Drew’s visit for some time now.
Drew bowed formally. "Forgive me for interrupting—"
"I am glad you came. Sit down, please," she answered, pointing to the chair beside her. She waited patiently while Drew searched for words.
"I’m going away for a while," Drew said at length.
"Ah—where will you go?"
"Virginia, I think. The army has asked me to run an intensive training course for recruits."
Drew shrugged. "Six, eight weeks. Permanently, if I want the job."
Her voice was flat, but the trembling in her hands betrayed her agitation.
"Now tell me why you will go."
Drew thought of the reasons she had been giving herself but could not bring herself to lie to her old friend.
"I’m not ready for a regular life. I thought I was, but since I’ve been back—I’ve—the dreams are back. I thought they were gone—it’s been years. But now it’s worse."
"And you think they will stop if you go away?"
Drew raised her hands in a frustrated gesture. "I don’t know—but I have to do something."
"Perhaps the dreams have come back because this is a safe place to have them—where you have friends, yes?"
Drew forced herself to say the next words. "It’s not just the dreams—" How could she explain that now she dreamed of Sean, terrifying images, all with Sean’s face. "It’s—" she stopped, helpless.
"Ah, yes—I think I see. There is now the situation with Sean."
Drew started, shocked. "You know?"
Janet Cho lifted a shoulder gently. "I know that she looks at you with an open heart, and eyes that hold you. I know that you reach for her and then pull your hand away."
"I slept with her last night," Drew confessed.
"And now, you are afraid?"
"It was the wrong thing to do," Drew said harshly. "I was only thinking of myself. There’s something about her—I felt it right away—when I look at her I feel calm, balanced—safe. And I wanted her. I didn’t know she’d never been with a woman before. It’s not right for her to learn this way—not with me. I should never have involved her."
"There have been others—since Dara?"
"No," Drew said, her voice breaking. "I couldn’t—I didn’t want to."
"Then I think there is something powerful between you and Sean—"
"My need," Drew rasped, "my weakness. I held her and I couldn’t help it." She got up abruptly and began to pace in the small, enclosed space.
"Do you think there is no need in love, Drew? We are human because we need love."
"Not this way," Drew raged. "Not without something to give, strength to answer need."
Janet Cho remained silent. Drew was deaf now, unable to hear beyond her pain, unable to see beyond her self-doubt. Her heart would open, or it would not.
"I will miss you, Drew. Be kind to yourself, forgive yourself."
"Forgive myself? Never."
Janet Cho faced her class. As always, the eager faces before her stirred many emotions—love, pride, concern, duty. From a distance, her hand guided them in the physical quest for spiritual growth. By hardening their bodies, they hardened their spirits. By listening to their bodies, they learned to listen to their hearts. There were many paths to personal growth. This was but one, but it was here, under her eyes, they had chosen to face their weaknesses and learn their strengths. They honored her with their trust. She honored their struggles.
"Master Clark will not be with us for some time," she began.
Sean didn’t hear the words that followed. She hadn’t expected this—she had imagined that Drew might not want to see her again. She was too old to believe that every sexual encounter led to a relationship. She had even imagined that Drew might never even give her a reason for not wanting to see her. But she had never imagined that Drew would simply leave, without a word. She thought she could deal with the disappointment if one night were all she had with Drew, although she didn’t quite know how she would stop the wanting. But this—this was more than she could bear. She needed to hear the words, no matter how hard, that she wasn’t wanted, that she wasn’t needed. Maybe the words would be hard to accept, but the silence would destroy her.
She broke from the line and stepped to the side of the room.
"Sean?" Master Cho questioned.
"I’m sorry, ma’am. I need permission to leave."
Master Cho bowed. "You are dismissed."
Sean bowed. "Thank you, ma’am."
She drove hurriedly to Drew’s apartment, no clear plan in her mind. She drove instinctively, answering only to her need to know what was happening.
She held her breath until she heard the lock click on the door. And then Drew was there.
"Sean," Drew murmured.
"I’m sorry. I had to see you."
Drew looked uncertain for a moment, then stepped back from the door.
"Come in. There’s coffee—"
They faced each other awkwardly, until Drew finally motioned to the small couch pushed beneath the open window.
"Sit down, please."
"Master Cho said you were leaving."
"Is it permanent?"
Drew stared at her hands, which were clenched in her lap.
"I don’t know. Yes—probably."
Sean took a deep breath. She could leave now and imagine her own reasons. Try to forget, try to stop thinking of the way Drew had touched her—on her body, in her heart. Or, she could have the truth. She wasn’t sure which would be the harder.
"You don’t have to tell me—you don’t owe me an explanation, but you mean something to me—no—I’m in love with you. I’m not going to have any place to put those feelings unless I know why you’re leaving. Is it me?"
"No," Drew murmured, "it’s me. I wasn’t thinking very clearly last night. I didn’t think about what it all meant to you—"
Sean interrupted gently, "I’m thirty-five years old, Drew. It took me ten years of a bad marriage and five years of celibacy to realize I wanted to love a woman. It took you to make me realize that. I am responsible for being here last night—because I wanted you. I will not accept, however noble, your bearing all the responsibility for last night. Please!"
Drew smiled, a small bitter smile. "You waited all that time for the wrong woman, Sean. I’m sorry."
Sean expected it to hurt, she just hadn’t expected how much. Not until that moment had she realized just how deeply Drew had affected her. How was she going to get over her? She turned her face away to hide the tears.
"I’ll go," she said softly.
Sean nodded. She did not look back as she headed for the door.
"Be well, Drew," she whispered as she closed the door behind her.
Drew dropped her head back on the couch, willing the sound of Sean’s voice from her mind. She knew it would take much longer to will her from her heart.
"Sean!" Susan called, rapping at her door, "Sean, let me in."
"It’s open," came the muffled reply.
Susan crossed to the bed where Sean lay face down with her arms under her head.
"Are you crying? What’s wrong? You’ve been up here for hours."
"Oh, Suse," Sean cried, "I’ve gotten myself into a mess."
"I’ve fallen in love with someone who doesn’t care about me. If that isn’t bad enough, she’s leaving the city."
"Oh, hell!" Susan picked at the bedspread. "Sean, honey? Are you sure you’re in love? I mean, you know—"
Sean rolled over to stare at her sister. "It hurts, Suse—that I can’t see her, that I can’t touch her. I close my eyes, and I see her everywhere! I’m lying here and my body aches for her."
"Oh," Susan said, "I’m sorry, Sean, really."
Sean grasped her hand. "I know you are."
"What can I do?"
"You’re doing it. You’re here, you’re listening. You’re not telling me to get over it."
"Ha!" Susan said without humor, "I’m the last one to tell you to get over her. We don’t seem to love that way."
"How in hell have you been managing?" Sean asked bitterly. "I don’t think I can stand it."
"Just keep doing what has to be done, Sean. Go to work, go to class—"
"Oh god—I don’t think I can. When I walk in there and she’s not there, I think I’ll fall apart." She began crying again, despite her efforts to stop.
"You have to, Sean," Susan whispered, lying down beside her and pulling her close. "You have to."
One night, ten days after returning to the army base training camp in Virginia, Drew found herself standing outside a bar she hadn’t entered for eight years. Eight years since she stepped out this door into a night that would change the course of her life. Eight empty tormented years.
Of course, none of the old faces remained. Life on and around an army base was transient—so many people just passing through. Drew had actually been one of the more permanent residents of the town that existed only because of the nearby base. The bar had been a gathering place for women who couldn’t be too careful about exposing their sexual preferences within the claustrophobic living quarters of Fort McGee.
She didn’t recognize the bartender, or the woman seated by the door checking I.D.’s. The decor wasn’t much different—the place still looked a little dingy. Still, it was filled with laughing women, relaxing after a week of work. In the case of the army recruits, it might have been their first time off base in weeks.
After ten days of staring at the walls of the small room that the army had provided for her, she had to get out. She didn’t know where else to go. This bar was the only haven she knew.
She took a seat at the long, well-worn bar and ordered a beer. She raised the mug slowly, glancing sideways up and down the bar. It was strange being here—she had expected more of a reaction. She had replayed the events of that night so many times—from here in this bar to the street where it had ended—that she expected the room to be filled with ghosts. But, it seemed that her memories held those events with perfect clarity, while the years had tarnished the reality. There were no condemning voices, no demands for retribution, no restless souls here—other than her own.
Sighing, she drained the glass and signaled for another. Her heart jumped when her eyes met a pair of deep green ones staring at her in the mirror over the bar. The dark, ruffled hair and willowy figure reminded her of Sean, but it was the eyes that always captured her. She lowered her gaze, feeling the disappointment like a knife in her depths. It wasn’t Sean, it wasn’t going to be Sean—not now, not ever. She had given in, just that once, to her need to touch those black curls, to hold the slender figure, to kiss the full generous mouth. And she had wanted her from that moment—seeing her night after night at the dojang, watching her move in that fluid, graceful cadence of the dancers, accepting the soothing comfort of her smile, her presence. She refused to listen to the warning sounds in her head, surrendering, irrevocably, to her desires. And now she was haunted—haunted by the vision of Sean, head tipped back, eyes half-closed, accepting her kiss, accepting her hands, rising to her touch as she entered her. The image of Sean as they had loved haunted her days, but it was the image of Sean lying bruised and bloodied that tormented her nights.
The nightmares continued, unabated. The pleasures Sean had brought her would have been worth the price of the night terrors if she hadn’t believed that Sean deserved better than her. She had failed, once before, with a woman she had loved—at a price too high to bear. She would not fail another.
"That glass has been empty quite a while—can I buy you another?"
The green-eyed soldier slipped onto the stool beside her, signaling the bartender for another round.
"Thanks," Drew said. Her voice was harder than Sean’s, without the mellow timbre that Drew found so soothing.
"I saw one of your training sessions out at the base. The hand-to-hand knife defense. It was impressive," her companion continued. "I’m a drill instructor—Mary Burger."
Drew shook the extended hand, liking the firmness of her grasp. "Drew Clark," she added.
"I heard you had left last spring. I was surprised to see you back this fall. Couldn’t stand civilian life?"
Drew fingered the handle of her mug, tracing the contour with one long finger. "Guess not—here I am."
Mary stood, placing a hand on Drew’s arm. "Come on, let’s dance."
Drew felt too weary to protest and allowed herself to be led to the floor.
The night she had spent with Sean had thrown the world into turmoil. She had kept her feelings carefully contained, in some manageable corner of her mind, so that she might continue to function—and suddenly there had been Sean. She ripped the barriers from her heart, and the restraints from her body, leaving her a victim of her own needs, desires and fears. She had run, only to find herself face to face with her demons, back in full force. Not only didn’t she have the comfort and tender joy of Sean’s presence, the wounds of her past now were bleeding as well.
Mary stepped into her arms, fitting herself with practiced ease against Drew’s tall form, and wrapped her arms around Drew’s waist. The heat of her hand barely registered in Drew’s consciousness. She was remembering another woman in her arms, the pressure of her breasts and thighs stirring a fire she had long thought extinguished. She danced with the memory, Sean’s face fluttering in her mind.
When they moved into another song, Mary tilted her head back and studied the handsome face before her. "How come I get the feeling it’s not me you’re dancing with?" she asked quietly.
Drew blushed and unconsciously stepped back an inch, putting distance between their bodies. "I’m sorry," she murmured, "I’m a little tired I guess."
Mary nodded sagely. "Uh-huh—and I’m a major general. It’s okay—I admit I was hoping for more than a dance, but—"
Drew shook her head, smiling sadly.
"Does she know how lucky she is?" Mary asked.
"Not so lucky," Drew said softly.
Ellen unlocked the door to the office she shared with Sean and was startled to find Sean seated at the desk in the small room they used for the business aspects of their practice. She had not seen Sean for several days, and she was taken aback by the fatigue etched in her face.
"What are you doing here so late?" Ellen asked, dumping the files she was carrying onto the end table.
"Catching up," Sean replied tiredly.
"Me, too. I’m weeks behind in my insurance forms."
Sean nodded, pulling another file toward her.
Ellen stretched out in the one overstuffed chair in the room and propped her feet on the waste basket.
"What’s wrong, Sean?" she asked at length.
Sean glanced up, her eyes brimming with tears. "It shows, huh?"
Ellen nodded. She never quite got used to looking at the woman who was the reflection of her lover—ex-lover she reminded herself. The same fine features, the same ocean deep eyes. But, where Sean was cool and calm like the desert at night, Susan was fire and wind, burning up the landscape with her energy. Ellen loved them both for their generous and loving natures, but it was Susan who had stirred her passions. She had often wondered if anyone could stir Sean’s passions. Not that she doubted Sean cared deeply for people, but the core of her remained aloof, observing the passions of others, but never giving freedom to her own. She imagined it would have been terribly lonely had Sean been aware of her isolation; but, until now, there had never been any sign that she was unhappy.
"You look really sad."
"Sad?" Sean echoed. Was that what this was—this empty, aching desolation? This feeling of being severed from all the joy and laughter in the world?
From the peace of her own heart?
"I’m not sad, Ellen—I’m completely lost."
The flat acceptance in her voice unnerved Ellen. She had heard the tone before, and knew it went hand in hand with deep pain.
"What’s happened?" she asked gently.
Sean stared at her wondering where to begin. She pushed her chair away from the desk and stared down at her lap. The tears that fell felt like old friends.
"I met a woman, Ellen. I fell in love with her. Then she left."
Sean nodded, raising one trembling hand to wipe the moisture from her face.
Sighing, she tried a tremulous smile. "I never would have believed this could happen to me. I was so sure that that kind of passion just wasn’t for me. Love, I thought, would be a quiet friendship, a comforting companionship. I never dreamed it would consume me the way this has—devouring me from the inside out. I can’t believe she’s gone—and that she’s taken every shred of my composed, orderly life with her. Every cell in my body misses her."
"Why did she leave?"
"I wish I knew—god, how I wish I knew. There’s something—something that she’s hiding, something that keeps her away from everyone, even when she’s sleeping. We made love—we were closer than I imagined possible, and then, within hours, she was gone."
Ellen wasn’t that surprised. She’d noticed how Drew seemed always at the edges of the life around her—holding herself apart. She was amazed that she had allowed Sean to penetrate those defenses even for one night.
"She might come back?"
"I don’t know. And, if she does? What then?" Sean said despondently. "She made it pretty clear that she doesn’t want me in her life."
Ellen chose her words carefully, not wishing any further pain for her friend. "Do you want to be in her life?"
Sean looked surprised, and alive for the first time that evening. "Yes," she said emphatically. "Yes, I want us in each other’s lives. She awakened something in me that no one, no one, has ever even come close to. She did it with her spirit, with the strength of her wanting, and caring, and with her need. I’m thirty-five years old and I felt like I took my first full breath the night she touched me."
Ellen believed her. She knew it would take a powerful combination of strength and vulnerability to reach into Sean’s heart, and Drew Clark seemed nothing if not those things.
"I hope she comes back, Sean. I really do."
"God, so do I," Sean whispered.
Continue on to Part 5
beyond uber index <> homepage