Safe Harbor: Part 4

by Radcliffe

Chapter Seven


Marge greeted Reese with a grin when she walked into the gym that afternoon after work. "I thought you might not make it," she said.

Reese glanced up at the clock behind Margeís head. It read five-thirty, exactly the same time she arrived for her workout every evening.

"How come?" she asked in surprise. "I said Iíd be here."

Marge shrugged elaborately. "Silly me! I should have known that was as good as a guarantee!!"

Reese just shrugged at the gentle chiding and set about her routine. She finished three sets of leg and back exercises in ninety minutes, then went to the locker room to shower. She put on pressed tan chinos, a navy blue denim shirt, and a light beige blazer that covered the holster she secured under her left arm in a shoulder rig. She checked the mirror - the gun didnít show - and went out to meet Marge.

They walked down Commercial Street toward town and turned in at the Cactus Flower. It was still too early in the season to worry about reservations, but that would change within the next few days. They got a good table at the front windows overlooking the street, so they could watch the slow stroll of passersby as they dined. They both ordered margaritas while they looked over the menu.

"This isnít a date, you know," Marge announced after they had given their orders to the waitress.

Reese sipped her drink - it was strong and tart, and gazed at the woman across from her calmly. "It hadnít occurred to me that it might be."

Marge laughed. "This is Provincetown, Sheriff! When one woman asks another woman out to dinner, itís usually a date."

Reese nodded solemnly. "Then why isnít this a date?"

Marge stared back, totally nonplussed. The startling handsome woman across from her was impossible to figure out. She gave nothing away in her expression, or her voice. Nothing seemed to surprise her, or throw her off stride. Marge wondered what, if anything, could shake her calm control. She also wondered what price that kind of control exacted.

Reese seemed completely without pretense, and Marge answered in kind. "Itís not a date for two reasons - my expectations, and my intentions."

"How so?" Reese inquired. She voiced no challenge, only honest interest.

"Iíd be a fool to think youíd be interested in me. For one thing, Iím twenty years older than you-"

Reese smiled at that, shaking her head. "Hardly," she said, studying Margeís tanned, well-developed form.

"Close enough," Marge grunted.

Reese waited while the silence grew. "And the other reason?" she asked quietly.

Marge blushed as she said, "Youíre too damn butch to go for an old jock like me. I figure your tastes run more to the femme type."

Reese leaned back while the waitress slid their plates in front of them, contemplating Margeís words. Marge was the second person in as many weeks to say that to her. She had never thought of herself as butch, and tried to imagine how she appeared to others. It was something with which she had no experience. Up until this point in her life, her rank had determined how others related to her, and how she related to them. The rules of conduct, including who you could "fraternize" with, were clear. They were frequently circumvented, but not by Reese. It wasnít that she agreed with the rules so much as she had no reason to challenge them. She had spent her life either preparing to be, or being, an officer. Her professional and personal life was one and the same.

"Iím not so sure about the butch thing, but Iím pretty sure I donít have any particular "type" of anything," she said after a moment.

Marge snorted as she busied herself with her food. "Trust me on this, Sheriff - if you go in for the politically incorrect terminology, you are as butch as it gets. Donít let it bother you."

Reese smiled. "Well, whatever you call it, it comes naturally to me. So - this is just a friendly dinner then?"

"Yes."

"Fair enough."

"Since weíre being all revealing here," Marge continued, "howíd you end up in our little town?"

"I needed a job, and this was the right one for me," Reese remarked.

"So you didnít come here looking for love?" Marge asked half-seriously.

Reese smiled a little ruefully. "Not precisely."

"And you didnít leave anybody behind? No attachments?"

"No," Reese replied. "I donít have any attachments."

Marge shook her head. "You are definitely something of an oddity around here. Most people come here to find someone, or to escape something."

"Iím not all that different. Itís just not what youíre thinking."

"And I donít suppose youíre going to fill me in?" Marge prodded gently.

Just as gently, Reese replied. "Not tonight."

They finished their dinner in easy conversation. When Marge saw Reese glance at her watch for the second time, she asked, "You have to be somewhere?"

"The clinic," Reese replied. "Iím supposed to stop by there and have some stitches removed. The doctor said sheíd be there until ten."

"Donít rush. Sheís always there late. I live just down the road. She doesnít seem to do much except work!

"It must get pretty busy, especially when youíre the only doctor in town," Reese commented, remembering Victoria Kingís resolute determination to make that dangerous journey over the rocks to aid the injured man. Her dedication was clear, and admirable.

"Sure itís tough, especially if you use it as an excuse to avoid a social life! Donít you think there are plenty of doctors who would just love to live up here during the season and work for her?"

Reese regarded her silently. She felt a strong desire to come to Victoriaís defense, and a strange surge of anger at Margeís criticism. Both responses confused her.

Marge didnít miss Reeseís sudden withdrawal. "Hey, I like her," she said seriously. "I always have. Sheís a great friend to the people of this town, and there are more than a few who would like to know her better, if sheíd let them." She shrugged as she reached for their check. "She doesnít seem to trust anyone to get too close, and thatís a damn shame."

"Iím sure she has her reasons," was all Reese said.

**********

Randy was on his way out the front door when Reese walked up.

"All through?" she asked the receptionist.

"I am," he said petulantly. "The last patients are in rooms, but at the rate sheís going it could take her another hour. She can barely walk, and it serves her right - traipsing out on that jetty like some macho superhero! I wouldnít be surprised if she isnít on crutches tomorrow! And it wouldnít be the first time either!!"

His obvious distress belied the criticism in his voice. He was clearly worried about Tory, and Reese immediately liked him. He continued to fuss while he unlocked the door for Reese.

"Do you think sheíd let me cancel patients just because she needs to be in bed? Of course not!" He held the door open as he spoke. "You might as well go back to her office and wait. Itís more comfortable there, and sheíll find you when sheís finished. She insisted that I go home on time! Could do without me, she said. Ha! Wait until she sees that appointment book - good luck! Then weíll see who doesnít need me!"

Reese had to smile at the slender, attractive young manís tirade, but her thoughts were of the woman who had made a selfless gesture despite the cost. She was suddenly very anxious to see her.

"Iíll go on back. Thank you."

Reese settled into the chair before Victoriaís desk, rested her hat on her knee, and let her eyes wander over the photos of the previous Olympian. Eventually she heard the approach of slow footsteps, and turned to greet the doctor. Victoria looked pale and drawn, but her eyes held a smile.

"Have you been waiting long?" Tory inquired as she eased herself into the leather chair behind her desk. She tried to hide a grimace as another spasm clamped onto her calf, forcing her to gasp.

"Not very," Reese said quietly. "Is there anything I can do?" Victoriaís pain was obvious, and watching her struggle with it made Reese feel helpless and uneasy.

Tory looked at her in surprise. "God, you get to the point, donít you? Why is it that my "handicap" doesnít seem to put you off the way that it does most people?" She was too tired and in too much pain to hide her bitterness.

"You have an injury, Doctor. "Handicapped" is not a word I would use to describe you," Reese remarked as she moved boldly around the side of Victoriaís desk. "Now, what needs to be done here?" she finished softly.

"I need to get this damn brace off," Tory said through gritted teeth, "but if I do Iím not going to be able to get to my car."

"Weíll worry about that later," Reese said as she knelt down. She pushed up the leg of Toryís jeans and studied the hinged metal device that extended from just below her knee to the arch of her foot. Her face was expressionless as she took in the criss-crossing of surgical scars and skin grafts over the damaged atrophied muscles. "Doesnít look too complicated," she said evenly. "May I?"

Reeseís actions had taken Tory completely by surprise. She stared into the deep blue eyes that searched her face, suddenly terrified that she might cry. She was so used to fighting the endless discomfort and awkwardness alone, that the straightforward offer of help almost overwhelmed her.

"Please," she whispered, her throat tight.

Reese released the velcro bindings and gently eased the brace off. Victoriaís leg was swollen from the calf down, and her ankle was beginning to discolor. Tory gasped with pain as Reese softly massaged the injured tissues, bringing a sudden rush of blood to the area.

"Iím sorry," Reese murmured. "We need to do something about this swelling. Ice?"

"Thereís a cold pack above the sink in the treatment room," Tory managed, struggling with the physical pain and the unexpected emotional turmoil Reese had unwittingly provoked.

Reese retrieved the pack, snapped it open, and wrapped it around Victoriaís ankle with an ace bandage she had found. "I think thatís the best I can do," she said apologetically.

"Itís more than enough," Tory replied gratefully once she caught her breath. "Were you a medic in the Marines?"

Reese laughed as she leaned against the edge of Toryís desk. "Military police - before law school. We had our share of minor injury calls."

"Just give me a minute, then Iíll see if I can get the damn thing back on again."

"Why?"

Tory regarded Reese solemnly. Reese was so damn easy to talk to, and the scary part was that she wanted to. She wanted to admit just once that she couldnít take it any more, that she was just too damned tired. Realizing just how much she wanted to trust those blue eyes holding her own so steadily made her wary. Something this compelling could get out of hand.

"I canít walk that far without it," Tory replied, trying to laugh.

"How much do you weigh?" Reese asked.

Tory did laugh at that. "My god! Have you no sense at all? Donít you know thatís a dangerous question to ask of a woman whoís not entirely in control of her faculties?"

Reese buried her hands in her pockets, and answered with a straight face, "I must have missed that in basic training."

Tory could tell by the determined glint in Reeseís eyes that this would be an up-hill battle. Graciously she acquiesced. "A hundred and thirty pounds."

Reese nodded. "Not a problem. Grab your brace." As she spoke she slipped one arm behind Toryís shoulders and the other under her knees. "Hold on," Reese said as she straightened, cradling Tory securely against her chest. Toryís arms came around her neck.

"Okay?" Reese asked.

For the first time all day, Tory wasnít aware of the pain in her leg. What she was aware of was even more disconcerting. A cascade of sensations assaulted her - hard muscles, a slow steady heartbeat, the light sweet smell of perspiration. Reese was an intoxicating combination of tenderness and strength, and Toryís response was automatic. She flushed at the surge of arousal, and drew a shaky breath, hoping that the woman who held her could not feel her tremble.

"Yes, Iím fine," she murmured, allowing herself the luxury of resting her head against Reeseís shoulder.

Reese made her way easily to her patrol car and settled Tory into the front seat. "Where to?" she asked as she started the engine.

"Straight out six A toward Truro. Iím just a mile outside town."

Within minutes Reese pulled into the drive of a single family home that overlooked the expanse of Provincetown harbor. As she stepped from the car a dark shape came hurtling through the night toward her.

"Whoa!" she cried as a huge dog planted its front feet on her chest.

"Jed! Get down!" Tory yelled as she tried to extricate herself from the car. At the sound of her voice the dog immediately dropped to the ground and raced to her.

"Is it safe to come around?" Reese called as she eased toward the passenger side of her vehicle.

"Heís perfectly safe," Tory called as she thumped the dogís massive chest in greeting. "Heís just excitable."

"What is it?" Reese asked as she leaned down and lifted Tory from the seat.

"Mastiff. Thatís Jedi - Jed for short."

"That must make you Princess Leia then," Reese remarked as she walked up the sidewalk toward the wide deck that encompassed the rear of the house.

"What makes you think Iím not Luke Skywalker?"

"Just a hunch."

Tory laughed and settled herself more comfortably within the circle of Reeseís arms. Reese held her while Tory slipped her key into the door, suddenly conscious of the soft swell of Toryís breasts pressed against her chest, and the subtle fragrance of her perfume. In the dim light of the moon, Toryís face in profile was timelessly beautiful. From out of nowhere, Reese began to tremble, and an unfamiliar warmth suffused her.

"Let me down," Tory said firmly, "youíre shaking."

Reese lowered her gently, keeping one arm around her waist for support.

"I guess Iím not in as good shape as I thought," Reese said a little uncertainly. She couldnít remember feeling this light-headed after a twenty mile forced march in full packs. She wasnít sure what was wrong with her, but she was acutely embarrassed.

"Nonsense," Tory replied as she pushed the door open. "Youíre in superb shape, but enough is enough." She reached for the light switch by the door, illuminating a large living room facing the water.

"Just steer me over there," she said, indicating a large sectional sofa fronting the wall of windows and sliding glass doors that opened onto the deck. "Half the time I fall asleep down here anyway. One more night on the couch wonít kill me."

"More ice?" Reese asked as Tory propped her leg up on several pillows.

"Not just yet. But Iíd love a drink, and youíve certainly earned one. If you wouldnít mind pouring me a scotch, Iíd be grateful forever."

Reese brought her the drink, and a light beer for herself. "Gratitude is not necessary. You more than deserve this after the day youíve had."

Reese sat on the sofa, stretching her legs out to accommodate Jed, who had pushed himself against the entire length of the front of the couch. When he raised his massive head and rested it on her thigh, she began to stroke him absently. She still felt oddly agitated.

"Brianna Parker came by the clinic today," Tory remarked. "She said that you insisted I clear her before she could start training with you."

"Is she okay?" Reese asked, grateful for something to take her mind off her own sense of disquiet.

"Sheís fine. Itís a good thing youíre doing for that girl," Tory added, watching Reese closely. The sheriff seemed distracted, and even more remote than usual.

Reese turned to her in surprise. "How so?"

Tory sighed. "I guess you probably know that Briannaís mother died three years ago. Thatís awful enough at any age, but itís especially hard for a teenager. I gather from what Nelsonís said that Bri has been getting a little wild. It sounds like working with you may be just what she needs."

"I hope it helps," Reese said at length. "I know what itís like when your whole world seems to change overnight. It can be a dangerous time."

"Was it for you?" Tory asked softly, wanting a glimpse of what lay beneath this formidable womanís steely exterior.

Reese gazed out over the moonlit water, thinking of herself at that age. She remembered how she felt when her mother left - the uncertainty and the anger. Her father loved her, and he taught her the things he knew - he taught her about responsibility, and discipline, and honor. He taught her the way he had been taught, the Marine way. He expected the best from her, and he got it. In return he provided her with a life that was orderly, dependable, and predictable.

"It might have turned out differently for me," she mused half to herself. "My parents divorced when I was fourteen. My father is career Marine, and he raised me to follow in his footsteps. Iíve spent my entire life in the Marines, one way or the other. Itís true what they say- itís made me what I am, but those first few years until I was old enough for ROTC and college were hard."

"I imagine all of it was hard," Tory ventured, beginning to understand why Reese seemed so controlled. The Marine Corp undoubtedly produced fine soldiers, but at what cost?

"Donít misunderstand. I loved the Marines, I still do. Iím still in the reserves. But when I was Briís age it wasnít easy. Sometimes it got pretty lonely -" Reese stopped, suddenly self-conscious. She never talked about herself, and she had no idea why she was now.

"What about your mother?" Tory probed gently.

Reese unconsciously squared her shoulders in that military gesture that was becoming familiar to Tory as she replied flatly, "She wasnít in the picture."

"Iím sorry," Tory said, "Iím prying."

Reese smiled, that fleeting breathtaking smile. "I didnít notice."

Tory laughed. "I doubt thereís anything that escapes your notice!" Suddenly serious, Tory added, "Youíve been more help than I can say today, Reese. Iím not sure how I would have managed without you - this morning on the jetty, or tonight." Even though she meant every word, she didnít want to think too hard about why she was admitting her need now, when she had refused to for so long. She didnít want to think too hard about how different Reese seemed than anyone she had ever met, or about how easy it had been to accept her help. She didnít want to think about how deeply she had been touched by Reeseís calm, unwavering presence. "I - I just wanted to thank you -"

Reese shook her head, halting Toryís words. "Doctor King-"

"Please! Itís Tory!"

"All right," Reese amended almost shyly, "Tory- it was an honor, and my pleasure. So please donít thank me for something I was glad to do."

Tory looked into Reeseís intense, penetrating eyes and something visceral stirred in her. She caught her breath, moved by the simple honesty of Reeseís words. Her voice was thick with emotion as she replied, "Itís more than a job to you, isnít it?"

Reese flushed, but she held Toryís gaze. "You may not believe this, but I took an oath to serve and protect, and every day Iím glad I did."

"I do believe you. Iíve seen you in action," she said quietly. She thought that Reese had to be the most straightforward person she had ever met, and at the same time the most complicated.

"Good," Reese said as she stood. "Then you wonít object to me coming by to take you to the clinic tomorrow. Remember, you donít have a car."

"You donít leave much room for argument, do you?" Tory remarked ruefully, realizing that Reese had once again made help impossible to refuse.

"That is a skill I learned in officerís training school!" Reese rejoined, her eyes laughing.

"Then I accept, Sheriff," Tory teased lightly.

Tory watched her as she strode gracefully to the door, smiling at the quick salute Reese tossed her as she left. She settled back against the couch, blaming the effects of the scotch for the sudden rush of heat that stole through her.
 
 

Chapter Eight


"Itís open," Tory called, glancing at the clock. She smiled when she saw it was exactly six a.m.

Reese entered, carrying two paper cups of espresso.

"Thought you might need this," she said, sliding onto one of the black and chrome stools in front of the kitchen bar counter. "Itís a double."

"Itís a start," Tory groaned, leaning on her cane as she reached with her free hand for the coffee.

"I could make some more," Reese suggested, pointing to an elaborate espresso machine nearby.

"Sit," Tory commanded. "Iím up already, and Iíll be functional in just a minute." She sipped the rich brew, noting that Reese looked fresh in her crisply pressed uniform shirt and pants. "I suppose youíve already run ten miles or something else equally obnoxious."

"Havenít you noticed itís raining outside?" Reese asked mildly. "I only ran five."

Tory stared at her, beginning to smile when she caught the barest flicker of a grin on Reeseís handsome face. "I could learn to hate you," she replied.

Reese laughed. "God, I hope not!" She paused, then asked, "Howís the leg?"

Tory looked away for a second, then met Reeseís questioning gaze. "Hurtís like hell, but itís been worse."

"I guess staying home is not an option?"

"You do like to live dangerously, donít you?" Tory asked softly, amazed that Reeseís concern did not rankle her the way it did coming from others. For some reason Reeseís attention did not make her feel less than whole.

"It wouldnít do for you to be out of commission," Reese said seriously. "The town needs you too much. So if itís a question of one day off to prevent a bigger problem, Iíll risk suggesting it."

"Thanks," Tory said. "But Iím used to these episodes, and I can tell if thereís a real problem."

"Good enough," Reese said.

"Itís really just my ankle. The nerve is severed, so I canít flex it. Itís either the brace or an ankle fusion."

"Wouldnít the fusion be less painful?" Reese ventured carefully, appreciating that this was a sensitive issue for the independent physician.

"Probably," Tory admitted. "But Iíd also be less mobile. Iím still good in the water without the brace, and I can work out with an air cast if Iím careful. Besides, Iíve always hoped-" Her voice trailed off as she looked away.

"Hoped what?" Reese urged gently.

"That Iíd row again. Iíd never be able to get into the cleats if my ankle were fused."

"How long has it been since youíve rowed?" Reese asked quietly.

"Since the day of the accident - almost ten years. I guess itís pretty ridiculous to keep hoping, isnít it?"

Reese shrugged. "If itís something you want that much, it makes sense not to close any doors. You know how much pain you can take - and if itís worth it."

Tory looked at her gratefully. "Thanks. My friends and family might not agree with you. They think I should have let them do it when I was in the hospital the first time."

"The first time?"

Again Tory dropped her gaze. "There were problems - infection, some muscle necrosis. It took the surgeons a few tries to get it cleared up."

Reese regarded her steadily, revealing none of her churning disquiet. Her training had taught her not to personalize pain, nor to be distracted by another soldiersí injury, because even a split secondsí loss of focus could mean the loss of more lives. But the knowledge of Toryís suffering penetrated that shield and Reese had to consciously dispel the vision of Tory in a hospital bed, fighting to keep her leg. Tory would not have wanted her pity then, or her sympathy now.

"Does the kayaking help?"

"Some - Iím on the water, the rhythm is good. The damn shell is so heavy, and of course, my body is restrained. Itís nothing like the feeling of being alone in a scull," she cried, her frustration evident.

Reese remembered the needle thin sculls from the pictures in Toryís office, no more than a sliver between the rowers and the water. She also remembered the long, clean line of Toryís legs as she pulled through her stroke. "Iím sorry," she said softly.

Tory laid her hand on Reeseís forearm, squeezing gently. "Hey, itís okay - really. I only get morose when the damn thingís acting up. Believe me, most days Iím just glad itís there. But thanks for not saying Iím being a fool."

"You said you still work out?" Reese asked.

"Yes, Hapkido, remember?"

"I donít usually forget when someone humiliates me!"

"I canít imagine anyone getting the best of you!" Tory laughed. "As you saw, I do mostly weapons work, with the cane - which fortunately for me is a traditional Asian weapon."

At Reeseís nod of understanding, she continued, "With a light air cast I can stand long enough for self-defense drills, and mat work is not a problem. The only things I really canít do anymore are forms. The katas are too much of a strain."

"So, would you be willing to teach me the cane?" Reese asked.

"If youíd be willing to work on the mat with me," Tory countered immediately.

Reese smiled happily. "Absolutely. I havenít had a training partner in a long time. Just let me know when your leg is better."

"Give me a week," Tory replied just as enthusiastically. "Now weíd better get out of here before weíre both late for work!"

Reese looked at the clock over the stove, amazed to find it was close to seven. She couldnít remember the last time she had lost track of the time.

Randy was just unlocking the front door when Reese pulled into the lot. He watched with raised eyebrows as Reese walked Tory to the door.

"Well! Good morning," he crowed with exaggerated emphasis, looking pointedly from Tory to Reese.

"Sheriff Conlon needs her stitches out, Randy, if you could manage to let us in?" Tory said, frowning at his innuendo.

"Oh, of course, Doctor! Right away Doctor!" he continued with a grin, his tone lightly mocking.

"Cut it out, Randy," Tory muttered as she passed him.

He managed to follow them down the hall on the pretense of opening the exam room doors. He leaned against the door of the treatment room while Tory removed the sutures from Reeseís brow.

"Just keep it clean. It should be fine," she said as Reese stood to leave.

"Sure thing. Thanks, Doctor," Reese said. She nodded to Randy as she brushed past him into the hall.

Randy craned his neck to follow her progress toward the door.

"Oh my, what a butch thing she is!" he announced once she had gone.

"Randy!" Tory said in exasperation.

"Oh, come on now, Doctor King, what would you call her?"

Tory grinned at him. "An incredibly stunning butch thing!"

Randyís eyes widened in surprise. He couldnít ever remember his solitary employer commenting on a woman before. He had given up nagging her to get a date when he saw the pain in her eyes whenever he teased her about it.

"And just what was Sheriff Heartthrob doing driving you to work?" he persisted, curious and hopeful that someone had finally managed to capture Toryís attention.

Tory looked suddenly serious. "She drove me home last night - I couldnít."

"Damn it Tory! I would have stayed! Why didnít you ask?"

She sighed. "I know. Iím just not used to asking."

"Then how come you asked her?"

"I didnít. She didnít give me any choice."

Good for her! Randy thought, but had the good sense not to say. It was about time someone refused to be intimidated by Victoria Kingís staunch reserve. Then again, remembering the commanding air of the woman who just left, he didnít imagine anyone intimidated her.

"So-o-o..?" he questioned suggestively.

"So nothing!" she replied curtly. "She would have done the same for anyone. Thatís just the way she is."

Right, Randy muttered as he watched Tory move stiffly away down the hall.

**********

Reese entered the office whistling, much to Nelson Parkerís amazement.

"Do you mind telling me whatís so wonderful about the first day of Memorial Day weekend?" he asked grumpily.

"Excuse me?" Reese asked, perplexed.

"Never mind!" he snapped. "Youíre on seven to seven today, okay?"

"Sure," Reese responded. "No problem."

"And youíve got traffic detail at the pier from one to five."

"Yep."

He looked at her closelyóshe was relaxed, smiling faintly, and, if he didnít know better, not totally present. In the two months he had known her, he had never seen her the slightest bit distracted. His curiosity was more than piqued.

"So what gives, Conlon?"

"What do you mean?" she asked, genuinely confused. "Not a thing." She glanced at him as if he were acting strangely.

"Never mind," he muttered. "Anything new on the clinic break-in?"

Reese shook her head. "No. The things that were missing are impossible to trace. Unless weíre lucky, weíll never know. Thereís too much traffic in and out of there to making finger printing valuable. Not much to do but keep an eye on the place."

"Well, youíd better swing by there a couple of times a shift for the next few weeks. I hope that will discourage any repeat break-ins By the way, nice job out on the jetty yesterday. I heard the guy was a mess."

"I didnít do much. If Tory hadnít been there, I think the guy would have bled to death before the EMTs got him out. She deserves the credit."

"Chances are youíll have plenty of work for the doc before this summerís over. We spend half our time dealing with accidents, overdoses, and minor brawls - and all of them end up at her place."

"Thatís a heavy load for one doctor," Reese commented, remembering how exhausted Tory had seemed the night before.

"Donít remember her ever taking a vacation in the three years sheís been here," Parker noted.

Something about discussing Victoria made Reese uncomfortable-she had no idea why. She shook off the sudden urge to drive by the clinic. Impatiently, she grabbed her keys.

"Iím going out for a tour before I start the traffic detail," she announced. Maybe that would dispel the odd anxiety.

"Sure," the Sheriff called to her departing back.

Reese traveled out Route six to Truro, then circled back to town along 6A, purposefully avoiding the turn onto Bradford that would take her past the clinic. She stopped instead across the street from her motherís gallery. She sat with the engine idling for a few moments, wondering why she had come. For the first time in her life, she didnít feel entirely sure of herself. Impulses were not something she had ever been prey to, and yet here she was. She cut the engine and climbed from the car before she had any more time to think.

"Reese!" her mother exclaimed when she opened the door.

"Bad time?" Reese asked uncertainly.

"Not at all. Itís wonderful to see you. Come on back and have some coffee."

"Sure," Reese replied, following the other woman through the house to the kitchen.

"How are you?" her mother inquired.

"Iím fine. I was just passing by, and-" Reese faltered, not able to explain.

"Reese," Kate said softly, "you donít need a reason to come by. Being able to see you is a miracle."

Reese looked away, then faced her mother directly. "It was part of the agreement, wasnít it? That you not see me?"

Her motherís distress was palpable. "Yes. I wouldnít have agreed, but twenty years ago, a lesbian mother had no rights at all. And I couldnít fight it. Your father had pictures."

Reese grew very still. "He had you followed?"

"Yes. We werenít very discreet. Jean and I were young and terribly innocent. It didnít occur to either of us that loving each other could be wrong. Iím so sorry, Reese! I was selfish, I know, but I was so unhappy for so long! Not with you! You were the best part of my life! And then I met Jean, and I felt alive for the first time!" Her eyes were wet with tears as she looked at the woman her daughter had become. "I am so terribly sorry!"

Reese shook her head. "You chose life. If you had stayed, I can only imagine it would have been worse for all of us eventually. I donít blame youóif I ever felt what you felt for Jean, Iíd do the same."

Kate studied the tightly controlled, perfectly contained features of her daughterís face and asked boldly, "And have you ever? Felt that way for someone?"

"No." Reese looked past her mother to the smooth water of the harbor, looking inward to a life she never examined. "Iím like him, you know. I was happy in the military, and Iím happy now. I love the order, and the duty, and the responsibility. I donít need anything else."

"You have your fatherís best qualities, Reese. I can see that. You remind me of why I married him - seeing you in that uniform - not a wrinkle, not a fold out of place. It reminds me that he represented something decent and honest and admirable. Or so I thought. Your father never made room in his life for love, Reese. I hope that wonít be true for you. If it finds you, donít turn your back."

Reese smiled ruefully. "Iím not sure I would recognize it."

Her mother laughed, squeezing Reeseís hand gently. "Trust me - youíll know."

**********

Reese spent the next four hours directing slowly moving cars and hordes of weekend arrivals through the congested, narrow streets in the center of town. Tour buses crowded the pier, disgorging packs of mostly elderly people who milled about uncertainly, seemingly oblivious to the cars passing within inches of them. Lesbian and gay couples of all ages and description poured into town for the first gathering of the summer season. Commercial Street was wall to wall pedestrians, interspersed with vehicles attempting to navigate around them. Reese greeted Paul Smith, her relief, with a grin.

"Welcome to bedlam, but I guess you expected it!"

Paul looked up and down the street, shaking his head. "Yep, looks about like I thought. Once the sun goes down, most of the out-of-towners will leave. Then all weíll have are the gays - until two or so."

He looked harried, and Reese remembered that his young wife was pregnant. "Whenís your baby due?"

"Any second. Cherylís so big now she can hardly sleep, and sheís getting really spooked about being home alone at night," he said worriedly.

Reese looked at her watch, then said, "Listen - how about I relieve you at midnight? I can duck home now and sleep for a while."

He looked at her hopefully. "Youíd do that?"

"Sure - itís only for a few days. Just let the Sheriff know, okay? Iíll be home if you need me."

She waved away his attempts to thank her, walking off to retrieve her cruiser. The enthusiasm and holiday spirit of the people surrounding her was contagious, and she doubted that sheíd be able to sleep much. She might as well work. Besides, she was anxious to see the Provincetown that only came to life at night.

At ten minutes to midnight, Reese pulled her squad car into the small lot behind city hall, across the street from the Pilgrimís Monument, and one short block from the center of town. She found Paul and sent him home. Standing with her back to the pier, she looked up and down Commercial Street. It was nearly as crowded as it had been at noon, but the entire atmosphere had changed. There was a Mardi Gras energy in the air, as same sex couples of all ages, styles, and garb strolled the sidewalks and spilled out into the street. Men in impossibly revealing shorts, leathers, and spandex passed singly or in groups, openly appraising each other. Women, mostly in couples, and occasional knots of youths were very much a presence as well. They held hands or draped their arms about each other, delighting in their visibility. Reese had never seen so many gay people in one place before. It was clear that Provincetown was every inch the mecca it claimed to be.

She started west along Commercial, toward the Coast Guard station that marked the end of the most populated walk in Provincetown. For the most part, the crowds were congenial and controlled, parting like the sea for the bicyclists and rollerbladers who dared navigate the packed one way street. Reese took her time, glancing in the shops she passed, most of which were still open and would remain open eighteen hours a day until after Labor Day. The merchants of Provincetown had a very short season, and worked nonstop during the three months of summer. The restaurants and many bed-and-breakfasts were also dependent on a heavy tourist trade during the summer migration of gays and lesbians in order to survive the near desolation of the empty winter months.

Reese walked down to the entrance to the Provincetown Gym and stuck her head inside. Marge was behind the counter, piling tee shirts and sweats onto the shelves behind her. Marge smiled a greeting. "Hey, handsome! I thought this was Paulieís shift!"

"It is, but heís home with his wife, waiting on the baby. Iím filling in for a few days."

"Ainít it beautiful out there?" Marge remarked with a grin.

"Everything Iíve been told is true. Itís changed overnight," Reese agreed.

"And it isnít even busy yet!"

It was hard not to catch the enthusiasm that pervaded the small fishing village. Reese nodded, knowing that the hardest three months of her year were in front of her, and not minding a bit. This was the reason she was here - to make sure that the town and its people were safe and prosperous through another cycle.

"Iíve got to get going. I just wanted to say ĎHi.í"

Marge waved her on, saying, "How about dinner again soon?"

"Sure," Reese agreed. "How does September sound?"

"Oh, come now, Sheriff," Marge teased, "youíve got to find some time to enjoy the goings on around here. Iíll take you to the tea dance!"

"Deal," Reese acquiesced, "as soon as I get a day off."

"Itís a date!"

Reese raised one eyebrow. "Oh really?"

Marge laughed, "Get out of here. Go make our streets safe for the youngíuns!"

Reese smiled to herself as she rejoined the throngs in front of Spiritus Pizza, the central gathering place for the dozens of men and women who sat on the curb, occupied the benches, or leaned against the light poles to watch the spectacle of life passing by. There wasnít much in the way of public drunkenness, or obvious drug use. Generally someone in the gathering managed to keep the heavy partyers under control or off the streets. Reese was glad of that. She didnít want to spend her shift hassling people over fairly harmless substance use, but sheíd have to if it became too publicly blatant. She was paid to enforce the law, and she would, but she reserved the right to use her own judgement as to what constituted a real violation.

She glanced down the alley next to Spiritus and noticed movement in the shadows at the far end. It was dark enough that she pulled out her flashlight, playing over the ground ahead. Two people, wrapped in an embrace, pulled apart as she approached. Her light flickered over the face of a pretty blond teenager. The girl looked like any of the leather-clad youth who crowded the streets. She had the requisite multiple piercings along the edge of her ears, a small silver ring through the rim of her left nostril, and a tattoo showing along the inner aspect of her left breast. The lace up vest she wore with nothing under it was still open to the waist from what no doubt had been an interrupted caress. A typical teenage rendezvous, except this girl was holding tight to Brianna Parkerís hand, trying to look defiant. Brianna stepped forward, her shoulders braced, obscuring the girl from Reeseís view.

Reese spoke before Brianna could. "Itís not safe down these alleys. You two head on back to the street."

Neither of them said a word as they sidled past her, hurrying toward the end of the alley. Reese took her time, giving them the opportunity to disappear into the crowd. She glanced at her watch. It was one-twenty in the morning. She was willing to bet that Nelson Parker did not know that his seventeen -year-old daughter was out on the streets, or what she was doing there. She was glad it wasnít her daughter. She was positive she would make a mess of handling what didnít have to be a problem. As she walked east back to city hall, she thought about herself at seventeen. She had never had the desire to sneak out to be with anyone, male or female, and for the first time in her life, she wondered why not.
 
 

Chapter Nine


Reese pulled up the short driveway to the rear of her house at six-fifteen a.m. The night had passed uneventfully. By two-thirty the streets of Provincetown had been deserted. The bars had closed at one, and for the next hour the street in front of Spiritus Pizza was a mob scene. Predominantly men, the crowd swelled as those who had yet to find partners for the night cruised each other. There were also a fair number of men and women who just wanted to partake vicariously of the sexual energy that literally filled the air. The party-like atmosphere would be sustained for the next twelve weeks, as new vacationers and week-end visitors flooded into town, carrying the excitement of being openly gay and unafraid, perhaps for the only time all year, with them. Periodically Reese walked down one of the narrow alleys between the crowded establishments to the harbor beach, checking that no one decided to sleep off too much alcohol on the sand. High tide was at five-forty, and by then the waves, still vigorous even in the secluded harbor, would be up to the pilings of many of the buildings. Already the decks behind the Pied and the Boatslip, two of the most popular lesbian and gay bars, were surrounded by water. Reese didnít intend to have any drownings on her watch. She knew that the shadowed areas under the piers were favorite spots for quick sexual encounters, but she wasnít interested in busting two adults for a fast grope in the dark. She was on the lookout, however, for groups of teenagers hanging out on the beach. Nelson Parker had warned her that drug use, and distribution, was becoming more of a problem with the youth of the small community, and that many of the suppliers seemed to be teenagers from neighboring townships on the Cape.

Reese hated drugs, and especially those who provided it. Too often, the kids who tried it were simply acting out of the normal rebellious, unfocused discontent that seemed inherent in the nebulous world between childhood and adulthood. Unfortunately, they became trapped by the very real physical and psychological seductiveness of the drugs, and the drug culture, without meaning to. That they were victims, she had no doubt, and the perpetrators of the crime were the suppliers, not the addicts. She was determined that Provincetown would become a very unpopular place to commit that particular crime.

Reese pulled to a stop, cut the engine, and sat for a moment looking at the person huddled on her back steps. Brianna Parker stared back at her, her gaze steady and defiant.

"Youíre early," Reese commented as she approached. "Class doesnít start for forty-five minutes." Reese could tell by the look of surprise on Briannaís face, a flicker of expression quickly masked, that Brianna had not been thinking of their seven oíclock appointment for her first jujitsu class. "Come in the kitchen and wait while I shower and change," Reese said as she passed the teenager, fitting her key into the back door as she spoke.

"If you havenít eaten, thereís bread for toast and juice in the fridge," Reese said as she tossed her keys on the table. She continued through to her bedroom, leaving the youth to sort things out for herself. When she returned in a clean white tee shirt and crisply ironed gi pants, she was pleased to smell coffee brewing. There was a plate of toast sitting in the middle of the breakfast bar. Reese gabbed a piece to munch on as she poured a cup of the welcome coffee.

"Thanks," she said as she leaned against the counter facing Brianna, who was perched on one of the high stools that flanked the counter dividing the cooking area from an eating area large enough to accommodate eight at the glass and chrome table.

Bri stared at the woman facing her, impressed by the taut muscles outlined under the tight tee shirt as well as her piercingly direct gaze. Reese presented an awesome figure. Bri took a deep breath.

"I came to talk to you about last night," she managed to say without a hint of the unsteadiness she felt.

"I thought you came to train," Reese responded.

"Maybe you wonít want me to now," Bri said, a slight quiver in her voice.

Reese raised an eyebrow, her eyes never leaving the troubled teenís face. "How so?"

Bri shrugged. "IÖI came to ask you not to tell my dad."

"I wasnít planning to. But you should."

"Yeah, right," Bri snorted. "Like he wouldnít kill me."

"Heís got to know sometime. Maybe you should give him a chance," Reese suggested mildly as she refilled her coffee cup. "I donít know him real well, but he seems to be okay about the gay thing."

"Oh, sure - itís okay with him, maybe, for some other kids - but not for me!"

Reese looked at Brianna, then nodded. "Youíre right. Thereís no way to tell how heís going to react. But he for sure is going to be a lot better about it if he hears it first from you."

"I will tell him! Just not now!" Her fear broke through and her eyes filled with tears. "Iím only seventeen, he can keep me from seeing Caroline if he wants to. And if her father finds out, heíll kill her!"

The girlís anguish was palpable, and Reese suddenly realized how many additional terrors being gay added to the already tumultuous world of adolescence. It was something she didnít know much about, and in a town like Provincetown, she needed to. She decided that, for the moment at least, she didnít know enough to make a good decision, or to offer meaningful advice.

"Iím not going to say anything to your father, and if I decide itís necessary at some point, Iíll tell you first. You can decide then whom he hears it from. In the meantime, I want your word that you and your girlfriend will stop meeting in dark alleys, or under the pier."

Bri tried to cover her surprise. How did she know about the pier?

"Itís dangerous, Brianna, especially for two women." Reese raised her hand against Briannaís protest. "Thereís no point in pretending that you and Caroline could stand up to a bunch of guys. Thatís not sexist - thatís reality. One way a woman defeats a man is to use her brains - first to avoid the fight, and then if she must fight, to win the fight. Donít stack the odds against yourself."

"Thereís no where for us to go," Bri muttered, knowing the truth of Reeseís words. "Thatís why I need to learn to fight."

Reese crossed the kitchen into the hallway beyond and returned with a folded bundle which she handed to Brianna.

"This is your uniform, your gi. It is only to be worn in the dojo, when we train. I leave for work at seven. If you are here at five forty-five, any morning, we will train for an hour. It will take time, and patience, and work, but I will teach you to defend yourself. Is that still what you want?"

Bri reached for the uniform. For her it represented her first steps toward self-determination. "Yes."

"Then letís get started."

After Bri changed into the uniform Reese had provided her, she followed Reese through the breezeway to the garage. She copied Reeseís actions, bowing at the threshold before entering the thirty by forty-foot space, then removing her shoes and placing them beside the expanse of mat covered floor. She waited uncertainly as Reese crossed to the center of the mat and knelt, her hands resting gently on her thighs.

"Kneel and face me," Reese said. When Bri complied, Reese continued, "It is customary for the student to bow to the teacher, or sensei, at the beginning and end of each class. This is not to show obeisance, but to convey respect and to offer thanks for the opportunity to train. I will also bow to you, to honor your commitment to learn."

After the initial ceremony was completed, Reese stood and motioned Bri to her feet. "Basics first. You need to learn how to fall before I can teach you to throw; you need to learn how to block before I can teach you to punch and kick; you need to learn to move out of the line of attack before I can teach you how to counter an attack. These are the foundation for all that you will learn in the months, and hopefully the years, to come."

Bri nodded her understanding, eager to begin, and anxious to prove her serious desire to learn. In the hour that followed, Reese introduced her to the fundamentals of jujitsu, demonstrating forward and backward rolls, proper fighting stances, blocking drills, and the first joint locking technique. Bri was young, supple, and athletic. She made good progress. She concentrated on Reeseís every move, trying to imitate the way her teacher stood, turned, and rolled. It seemed impossible to her that she would ever be able to attain the grace and power that Reese manifest with every move, but she was determined to try.

"Grab my lapel," Reese instructed. As Bri complied, Reese said, "Kata dori," indicating the Japanese term for the attack. Reaching up, she trapped Briís hand against her shoulder, turned her wrist, and with both hands applied a wristlock. Bri gasped slightly at the pain in her stretched wrist, but held on wordlessly. As Reese leaned slowly toward her, the pressure in her wrist forced Brianna to her knees.

"Kata doriónikkyo," Reese named the defensive maneuver.

When Bri stood, Reese grasped her jacket. "Now you."

Bri repeated the movements exactly as she remembered Reese had done, and was awestruck as Reese went to her knees before her.

"Very nice," Reese commented. Bri flushed with pride. "These techniques are powerful, and potentially devastating. They are only to be used here, in the dojo, or on the street when you have no other choice but to use them."

"Yes, sensei," Bri answered quietly.

Reese turned away with a smile. She sensed that Brianna would be a good student, and she had enjoyed the chance to teach her.

After they had bowed to each other, and Reese had knelt to carefully fold her hakama, the black skirt-like garment worn by experienced practitioners, Bri lingered uncertainly at the door. Reese looked over to her, a question in her eyes.

"Can I come tomorrow?" Bri asked softly.

"I am here every morning at quarter to six. If you come, we will train."

Bri smiled and bowed slightly, naturally. "Thank you."

Reese smiled and bowed back, watching as Bri walked away down the drive. She remembered how she had felt, when she first began nearly twenty years before, and how her life had been enriched by her training. She hoped she could provide that, in some small way, to this young woman. At the moment, however, there were more pressing things to consider. And more that she herself needed to learn.

 

Part 5

 

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