Please see part 1 for all disclaimers and copyright information.
It took five weeks for Sean to return to the dojang. It was more than just the knowledge that she would miss Drew so much more there. She couldn’t find her own inner balance, the composure she needed to focus. Her heart was too weary to face the challenges. She just couldn’t.
Finally, she had cried herself out. She began to reassemble the order of her days, and, although her soul ached, her strong will reasserted itself.
When she stood at the door and bowed to Master Cho and Sabum Roma, some part of her came home.
"Good evening, Master Cho, Sabum Roma," she said softly.
Janet Cho smiled. "Ah, Sean is back, yes?"
Sean smiled too. "Yes, ma’am."
Her teacher watched her carefully that night, looking for the signs of Sean’s heart. What she saw was a new depth of communion between body and spirit—Sean had looked inside herself and found greater self-knowledge and self-acceptance.
Janet thought of another woman who fought fiercely. A skillful fighter, selfless and brave. Her friend had a warrior’s soul, and Master Cho would trust her with her life, but her friend lacked the inner harmony that might save her own life if tested. Because Drew Clark did not recognize that her greatest enemy lay within her own heart. It had been said that the greatest warriors did not fear death, and thus never hesitated in battle. Master Cho feared that for Drew, death might be all too welcome a foe.
"Sean, you will spar with Gail."
Sean nodded, pulling on her head gear. She tapped her leather gloves gently to settle them and faced her partner.
"Black belt rules—Bow. Begin!"
Sean fought with control and precision, using her long legs and quick hands to advantage. Again and again she slipped a hand past Gail’s guard to make light contact with Gail's chest or ribs. Sean took care with her punches, keeping the contact tolerable; but she took each opportunity to score.
Gail responded by raising her own level of fighting, extending herself with double kicks powered by her strong legs, blocking crisply and following with combination punches that scored on Sean's torso and head.
When Master Cho called time, both women were exhausted.
"Now," Master Cho stated triumphantly, "you fight as you would need to fight on the streets—with your mind and your body as one. Remember this fight—remember the stillness of your thoughts, the calmness of your body. This is what you must have to win."
Sean and Gail bowed to one another, knowing they had fought each other as well as their own demons, and each had emerged a victor.
"Thank you, Sean," Gail said.
"Thank you, Gail", Sean answered quietly.
The lights in the office were burning when Sean pulled into the carport. Ellen was working late again. She had been there well into the evening every night for weeks. On impulse, Sean took the stone path down to the office.
"Hey," she said as she let herself into the small room. It was stuffy despite the cool autumn nights.
Ellen looked up from her reading. "Hi, Sean. So you made it back to class."
Sean nodded, settling one hip on the corner of the crowded desk. "It was time to go back. It helped a lot."
"I’m glad," Ellen said sincerely. She started to say more, then stopped herself. She and Sean, by unspoken agreement, had not discussed Ellen’s personal life after that one morning three months ago.
"What?" Sean probed.
"I was wondering how Susan’s doing," Ellen said softly.
Sean blew out a long breath. "She’s in therapy—"
"Susan’s in therapy?" Ellen asked in surprise.
"Twice a week for the last two months."
"My god, I can’t believe it!"
"Losing you really shook her, Ellen. This may be the only good thing to come out of the whole mess." Sean spoke more harshly than she had intended, but she felt every ounce of her sister’s pain.
"Maybe," Ellen said. She continued softly, "I’m not seeing Gail any longer."
Sean’s surprise was evident. "What happened?"
Ellen laughed without smiling. "I discovered that lust wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It’s hard to live on sex alone. I was lonely."
"Susan is lonely too," Sean said gently.
"It sounds like she’ll be fine," Ellen said sadly.
"Oh, come off it, Ellen!" Sean exploded, shocking Ellen with her intensity. "Susan is miserable! She loves you—she’s never stopped loving you! She’s in therapy, and I’m damn glad she is, because she’s trying to understand how she lost you. But you have some part in this, too. Susan is an open book, for god’s sake. You know how hard it was for her when our parents split up. She was terrified that would happen to you two, so she kept one foot in the only safe place she had."
"Right!" Ellen said heatedly. "Right here with you!"
Sean looked shocked. She bit back a retort, trying to calm down. She forced herself to look at the life she and her twin had made for themselves. From their first breaths they had been together. Even the distance in miles during Sean’s marriage had not severed their deep emotional connection. They could finish each other’s sentences from across the room. And for the last five years, they had built a safe haven for each other—more than a home, an emotional sanctuary as well. Ellen and Susan had only been together a year before Sean had moved home to live with Susan. She wondered now if her returning had made it too easy for Susan to keep Ellen at a distance.
"I never realized—" Sean began.
"I know," Ellen interrupted, "and I was too insecure to make an issue of it. I took the easy way out, too, Sean. I didn’t want to bring up the hard stuff. I just kept hoping it would all work out. So, I settled for less and less until I turned to someone who obviously wanted me." She snorted in self-deprecation. "At least, she wanted my body!"
"Oh, Ellen—you’d think we would have done better, all of us."
"Why?" Ellen said, a touch of her old humor returning. "Because we can help others step back from their lives and find new solutions? You think that makes us experts on our own lives? We all have blind spots when it comes to ourselves."
"You, Susan and I are a family, Ellen," Sean said vehemently. "We need to work this out." She stopped and studied Ellen. "That is, if you still love her."
"I do, Sean. With all of me. But how can I expect her to forgive me for what I’ve put her through—and what about trust? I’ve ruined it all, haven’t I?" she said despairingly.
"You can’t ruin love, Ellen. You can test it and try it, and you can hurt those who love you—just as they can hurt you. But you can’t ruin it. Stop tormenting yourself."
"What do you think I should do?"
Sean laughed. "There’s this antiquated thing we therapists call ‘talking!’ Maybe you and Susan should try it."
"What a novel idea," Ellen rejoined, feeling hopeful for the first time in months.
Sean was later than usual getting to class because she had spent an hour on the phone with a patient in crisis. By the time she was satisfied that the woman could wait until the morning to see her, she had barely enough time to gather her gear and navigate the rush hour traffic into the city.
As she tied her uniform and dug in her bag for her belt, Master Cho approached saying, "You will teach class tonight, Sean."
Sean knew that Master Cho expected her to teach as a requirement for her black belt, but she had hoped for more time to prepare! She looked up, startled, then answered smartly, "Yes, ma’am!"
"Good, good. Ah, I see we are all here. You can bow the class in whenever you are ready."
Sean followed her teacher’s gaze, and the breath stopped in her chest. Drew Clark stood at the door. Sean could only stare, unwilling to believe her eyes.
"There is a black belt waiting, Sean," Master Cho chided gently.
Somehow, Sean found her voice. "Face the door!"
Immediately, the entire class turned as one to face Drew.
"Chariot!" The snap of hands to sides was like thunder in her ears.
She bowed as did everyone in the class, but her eyes never left Drew’s face. Drew returned the bow, her eyes on Sean.
On wooden legs Sean moved to the front of the room. Master Cho stood to her left, Master Clark stood to her right, with Sabum Roma on her far side. Sean was acutely aware of the tall, militarily erect form beside her. The air seemed charged, electrified.
"Line up," she called, and the class fell in to formation behind them. The black belts and Sean turned to face the golden tiger emblem on the front wall.
The senior students began the litany Sean had repeated countless times.
"Tenets of Tae Kwon Do—"
Sean knew she was repeating each word, but she couldn’t hear her own voice over the blood rushing in her head. When at last the bowing-in ceremony was over, Master Cho took her seat at the front corner of the room, her favorite spot to watch each student.
Chris Roma and Drew Clark joined the class at the head of the first row of students.
Sean’s mind was completely blank. She put her hands behind her back to hide the trembling. She called the class to attention and twelve bodies moved, fists outstretched, legs spread, eyes on her. All she could see was Drew, as she had remembered her as she lay struggling for sleep, so many lonely nights. Blond hair silvered with grey, piercing blue eyes, tense, waiting, controlled body. Exquisite in her power.
The passing seconds seemed to Sean like hours, and then Drew nodded imperceptibly, her face softening for a brief instant. Sean found her voice.
"Left front stance," she called.
As the class stepped sharply, breath exploding from them, Sean caught the spirit of the women before her. Women willing to do more than they ever dreamed physically possible, willing to return night after night, bruised, aching, tired, to begin again, pushing themselves a little further along their own paths, for their own private reasons. They were united in their willingness to pay with their sweat and their humility for the chance to do battle with life on their own terms.
Sean asked them to display their skills to their teacher, unconsciously guiding them from one technique to the next in a choreographed pattern of flashing hands and arching legs.
Thirty minutes later, when she called a halt, their bodies were soaked with sweat, their chests heaving. But they looked at her with faces filled with pride. They knew they had done well. She bowed to them, a symbol of her deep respect for their effort. Then she turned to Master Cho and bowed to her. Janet Cho stood and returned her bow.
"Well done, Sean," she said simply.
"Line up for forms," their teacher said. "Master Clark, you have Sean, please."
Drew bowed. "Yes, Master Cho."
She and Sean moved to the front corner of the room.
"Your highest form, please, Sean," came the rich voice Sean remembered.
"Yes, ma’am," she replied with effort.
Sean faced Drew, searching desperately for composure. She steepled her hands in front of her face and took a deep breath. She willed herself to listen to her breath flowing easily, unbroken, from deep in her body, and slowly, her mind and body fused.
Drew watched the transformation with the same amazement she had felt the first night she saw Sean, six months before. The subtle melding of mind, body and spirit produced a nearly visible aura of calm focus. She had never seen anyone except Janet Cho do that, and Janet Cho was a master. This was a strength, an inner harmony that Sean brought with her to this dojang. She had honed it here perhaps, but it sprang from the essence of her. This was the power that had drawn Drew to her, and the beauty she had missed each day she had been gone.
When she finished, Sean closed her eyes for a moment, then bowed to Drew.
Drew approached slowly, choosing her words carefully. "The spirit of the form is flawless, Sean, and something some of us never master. The timing of your back sidekick, however, needs work. Watch me—You have just blocked a face punch from your first attacker, Sean—here—" she punctuated her words with a knife hand block that could easily break an arm. "But—you hear a sound behind you. There is another man—he has a knife. Now—you pivot, your leg up, your knee high, and as you come around, he is there, but your leg extends fully at the moment you complete your turn. Not after your turn, because by then, he is upon you."
As she spoke, she moved, agile and fluid, coiled like an animal, and then her leg drove outward and upward, easily high enough to crush a man’s skull.
"Do you understand? It is not enough to be able to perform each movement in the form. There must be purpose to the movements—sometimes a deadly purpose. Because the stakes might be your life."
Each word seared Sean’s brain with the passion behind it. She understood in that instant that Drew was completely and totally committed to preventing whatever had happened to her from happening to another woman. And Sean had no doubt that Drew spoke from experience. She had just relived part of it before Sean’s eyes, whether she was aware of it or not.
"I understand, ma’am."
"Do you?" Drew asked quietly.
"Yes," Sean answered firmly.
Sean gathered her gear hesitantly, not sure what to do. She wanted to speak to Drew, but decorum, as well as personal uncertainty, held her back. Was Drew back to stay? Did she even want to tell Sean?
Finally, yielding to her need, ignoring her qualms, she approached Drew, who had removed her jacket and was folding it neatly in preparation for stowing it away.
"Are you back to stay?" she asked quietly.
Drew did not look up. "Yes."
"I’m glad," she replied. She began to turn away.
Drew straightened suddenly. "Sean—I—" When she met Sean’s eyes, she hesitated. Struggling, she finally said less than she wanted to. "There’s an Aikido demonstration in Bryn Mawr Saturday morning. Would you like to go?"
"Yes," Sean answered immediately.
"I’ll pick you up? It will be easier, driving—?"
"Yes," Sean responded, refusing to think about anything except what her heart demanded.
Sean found Susan in the TV room, engrossed in a Batman rerun. She sagged into a chair and opened a coke. By unspoken agreement, they had kept no alcohol in the house for the last three months.
"Good class?" Susan asked, her eyes riveted to the screen.
"Uh-huh," Sean said, curiously unanimated. "Drew’s back."
Susan sat up suddenly. "Did you talk to her?"
"Not much. She asked me to go to a martial arts exhibition this weekend."
"Like a date?" Susan exclaimed.
Sean shrugged. "I have no idea. I’m completely in the dark."
"How do you feel?"
"Numb. I can’t believe she’s here—I’m afraid there won’t be anything between us."
"Are you still in love with her?"
"My heart nearly stopped beating when she walked in the room. I wanted to throw myself at her. Yes, I’m still in love with her."
"Are you sure you should see her? You’ve been hurting so much, Sean."
"I have to know where we stand, Suse. I just can’t go on without knowing."
"I wish I could make everything all right for you, Sean. I can’t stand seeing you so sad."
Sean smiled. "Right back at you, sister."
Susan smiled a small tremulous smile. "Ellen called."
"How was that?" Sean asked carefully.
"I cried when I heard her voice."
"Oh, Suse," Sean cried.
"She wants to talk. I said yes."
"Good," Sean said in relief. "I know she loves you, Suse. Give each other a chance."
"I’m so scared."
Sean hugged her close. "I know, Sweetie, I know," she murmured, thinking they both had good reason to be frightened.
Susan pulled the door open and came face to face with Drew, who was just reaching for the bell. Susan jumped in surprise, giving a little yelp.
"Sorry," Drew said, feeling awkward. She wondered how much Sean had shared with her sister about their brief encounter, and then realized probably all of it. That might account for the hard stare Susan was directing at her now.
Despite their exact physical resemblance, Drew had no difficulty telling Susan and Sean apart, even at a distance. Where Sean radiated stillness and deep quietude, the air around Susan was charged. Right now she looked like a thundercloud.
"I’ve come to pick Sean up. Could you tell her?"
"Why don’t you come in?" Susan said, trying to be gracious.
"Thanks," Drew said. Susan continued to stare at her. Drew accepted the searching gaze, waiting.
"Damn you, Drew," Susan finally whispered. "You hurt her so much."
Drew paled and looked down briefly. When she raised her eyes, Susan saw the pain that was a reflection of the hurt in her sister’s eyes. She was shocked by it. She accepted that whatever had forced Drew away, it hadn’t been a lack of feeling for her sister.
Susan shook her head. "Women are such fools," she muttered, including herself in the statement. She touched Drew’s arm lightly. "She’s in the kitchen. Why don’t you go on back."
Aware of the gesture of truce in Susan’s touch, Drew sighed,
Sean heard footsteps approaching and assumed Susan had forgotten something again. She finished pouring her coffee, calling, "What did you lose this time?"
She turned to find Drew leaning against the doorway, watching her. Sean just stared helplessly. Drew looked lean and taut in her tight black jeans and denim shirt. The sight of her alone was enough to bring heat to Sean’s depths, but it was the look of undisguised desire in Drew’s face that threatened to overpower her. She leaned back on trembling knees against the counter.
"I’m not going to be able to stand up if you keep looking at me like that," Sean whispered.
With a groan almost a growl, Drew moved, and Sean was in her arms. Drew’s mouth was on hers, possessing her; Drew’s hands roamed her body, claiming her. Sean cleaved to her, pulling her closer. When Drew at last released her, Sean was gasping. She dropped her head against Drew’s shoulder.
"I couldn’t stay away," Drew rasped, kissing the wisps of dark curls on Sean’s brow. "You were all I could think about—I had to see you again."
Sean heard the desperation in Drew’s voice, and she knew that Drew had not returned without reservations. There was resistance, too, in the arms that held her, and for now, Sean accepted it. Drew was here, it was a start.
Sean tightened her hold, relishing the tight fit of Drew’s thigh between hers, the curve of Drew’s breasts against her, the answering surge of hips. Drew rewarded her with another deep groan, bringing her hands to Sean’s face. Tenderly she cupped Sean’s jaw, turning her face for her kiss.
"How important is this Aikido thing?" Sean murmured, running her hands over Drew’s shoulders toward her breasts.
"Pretty important," Drew muttered, her lips moving downward to claim a nipple through the fabric of Sean’s T-shirt. She bit gently before attempting to continue. "I’m one of the guest demonstrators." She insinuated one hand between their bodies, pressing Sean’s abdomen, moving lower.
Sean grasped the hand that explored her, nearly sobbing. "Stop! Anymore and I won’t be able to stop—please Drew—"
Drew moaned, her face buried in Sean’s hair. "I want you so much," she whispered.
Sean took a deep breath, struggling to clear her head and control her raging senses. "Damn you, Drew! Your timing is terrible!" she laughed shakily.
"I know. I’ll make it up to you," Drew said, meaning more than just this interruption.
Sean shook her head. "Nothing to make up for, Drew. Some things just can’t be helped—so we learn to live with them. We have time."
Drew searched the face softened by passion and felt welcomed. There were promises there, promises she was afraid to hear—or to make. She had been managing moment to moment for so long that the concept of a future was foreign to her. But when she looked at Sean a tiny flicker of hope stirred. With reluctant effort she pulled back from Sean, saying, "We’d better go—I’m not sure how long I can keep from touching you."
Sean took her hand and led them resolutely through the house. She knew if she looked back at Drew they would not leave that day.
Sean sat mesmerized on the benches facing the exhibition area, marveling at the fluid grace of the Aikidoka. The circular flowing defensive blocks and large forceful throws reminded her of dance. And watching Drew after the long weeks of absence was intoxicating. She had forgotten how imposing she was, tiger-like in her fierceness and strength, agile and quick in her movements. Sean was a little disappointed when the program ended. She so infrequently had the chance to really watch Drew, and she had been enjoying herself.
Drew folded her hakama, the long black over-trousers that symbolized a high-ranking Aikidoist, and left the mat area to join Sean.
"It was beautiful," Sean pronounced as Drew sat down. "I really enjoyed it."
Drew smiled, "I’m glad." She gazed away for a moment, then questioned hesitantly, "It’s six o’clock. Would you like to have dinner somewhere?"
Sean pressed a little closer to Drew. "I’m not too good at hiding my feelings, Drew. What I want is to be in bed with you. Is that a possibility?"
"Are you sure?"
"It’s the only thing I’m absolutely sure of right now. I’m dying from wanting you."
"Let’s go," Drew growled, grabbing her bag and keys.
Neither said a word on the ride to Sean’s house, but the pounding of their hearts seemed audible.
Drew lay still, staring at the shadows flickering on the ceiling. Sean was lying against her, one leg thrown up to cover Drew’s own. A long graceful arm lay curled across Drew’s chest, holding her possessively. Drew tried not to think about what she was doing. When she thought about the rightness of her actions, she feared she was cheating Sean. Her immediate reaction was to flee. When she allowed herself to feel her need for the woman who lay beside her, she panicked. Never had she wanted this to happen—never, never again. And, yet, here she was, because she had let her senses rule her—she ached, and she sought comfort; she desired, and she sought release; she cared, and she sought expression. Was it fair? No. Selfish? Yes. Madness? Most definitely. And yet here she was, and for now, at least, she could not bring herself to leave.
She shifted slowly, not wanting to awaken Sean. Her movement brought a slight protest from Sean, and the arm around her tightened.
"You’re not leaving are you?" came the sleepy voice.
"It’s late," Drew murmured, pressing her lips to Sean’s forehead.
"So? Do you have an appointment?"
"I—" Drew hesitated, reluctant.
"Drew," Sean said quietly, fully awake now. "I want you to stay—I want you to be here in the morning. If you need to leave, it’s okay. I’ll just miss you."
Drew turned so that the length of their bodies touched. "You make things so easy—and so difficult."
Sean insinuated her leg between Drew’s, thrilling to the warmth of her touch. "How so?" Sean asked languidly. She began rocking her hips against Drew’s, sliding her leg back and forth with each stroke.
"Oh," Drew gasped, pulling Sean’s hips more firmly against her. "Because you—" Her voice trailed off as Sean slid a hand between them, reaching for the moisture between Drew’s legs.
"Because what?" Sean murmured, fingers lightly teasing.
"I what? Tell me!" Sean insisted, her strokes escalating.
"Can’t—" Drew gasped, "I’m gonna—"
"Oh, are you?" Sean breathed against her lips, her fingers dancing rapidly, "Are you now?"
"Yes!" Drew cried, arching her back, groaning with each pulsation.
Sean held the gasping woman in her arms, smiling with satisfaction.
It was just light when Drew slipped out of bed, pulled her clothes on, and made her way down to the kitchen. She found a pot of coffee on the burner and helped herself. She wandered out to the terrace, halting in the open doorway when she saw the figure seated on the low stone wall.
Ellen looked over her shoulder and beckoned to Drew.
"Come on out. I could use some company with my guilt. How about you?"
Drew grimaced. "How did you know?" she asked, joining her atop the wall.
Ellen shrugged. "It’s my job to know these things, remember? We shrinks are, oh, so perceptive."
Drew thought she understood the bitter undertones in Ellen’s voice. She sipped the strong coffee, welcoming the warmth in the chill November air.
"We’ve given them hell, haven’t we?" Ellen remarked.
"Yes," Drew conceded. "How’s Susan?"
Ellen picked at the seam of her jeans aimlessly. "She’s deeply hurt, and frightened, and struggling to make sense of something I should have known better than to do. She’s picking up the pieces after a three-week binge that I’m the cause of. The hardest part of it all is that she’s forgiven me."
"Yes," Drew acknowledged. "That makes you loathe yourself, doesn’t it?"
Ellen nodded. "This is where I’m supposed to say we should forgive ourselves, or love ourselves, or some such palaver. But, frankly, I can’t do it. I’d rather someone take me out and beat me."
Drew laughed. "Maybe we can just sit here and beat each other."
"Okay," Ellen said. "You go first."
Drew was silent for a long moment, and then she asked quietly, "Why’d you do it, Ellen? Susan so obviously worships you."
"Ouch," Ellen said. "You’re good at this." She took a deep breath, searching for honesty. "I was angry with her because she wouldn’t live with me and start a family—and leave Sean. I was jealous, and I felt unappreciated; and I didn’t have the guts to say so. I did it because I’m a coward—I didn’t put up a fight, I just ran to a convenient pair of arms."
Ellen tossed the dregs of her coffee onto the ground. She looked at Drew and began, "Okay—my turn.
"Sean is the kind of woman who holds the deepest part of herself back from everyone—except Susan," Ellen continued. "For her to open herself to you is something close to a miracle. How could you abandon her, leaving her to believe you didn’t care for her? She could bleed to death from a wound like that."
Drew stared at Ellen, absorbing her words the way she would absorb a blow, letting the pain of the truth pierce her. "Point and match to you."
Ellen clearly saw the grief in Drew’s face, heard the sorrow in her voice. She had no doubt that Drew was an expert at swallowing her pain while it destroyed her inside.
"Not good enough, Drew. You have to say why."
"Try—if not for yourself, then for Sean."
Drew closed her eyes, her hands clenched at her sides. "I need her," she whispered harshly, "and I don’t want to." That was all she could manage.
"There is always need in love, Drew. It’s human to need," Ellen said gently.
"Not like I need her," Drew said. "It feels like she’s my sanity. The world makes sense when I’m with her."
"Ah," Ellen said, "and Susan make me feel more alive than I’ve ever felt without her. So, we need them to make life worth living—so, we’re closet weaklings. Let me share a secret with you, Drew. Loving women like us, with our flaws and our broken places, is what they need. We’re all here to help each other heal."
Tears shimmered on Drew’s golden lashes and finally fell, years in the waiting. Ellen reached for her instinctively, cradling her in the shelter of her arms.
"Oh, Drew," she murmured, "it’s not as selfish as you think. You’ve unlocked Sean’s heart—something no one has ever been able to do. That’s a tremendous gift."
Drew heard the words, not quite ready to believe them. Nevertheless, for the first time in eight years, she allowed someone to comfort her.
Sean stood at the kitchen window, watching Ellen hold the woman she loved as she cried. She couldn’t think of anyone she trusted more to take care of her lover’s tender heart.
Continue on to Part 6
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