"Morning Chief," Reese said when she entered the station an hour later.
"What are you doing here?" Parker asked abruptly.
"Sir?" Reese questioned in surprise, halting halfway to her desk.
"Didnít you just finish the night shift two hours ago?"
"Yes, sir, but Iím scheduled to work today -"
"Conlon," the Sheriff said with a sigh, "youíre a civilian now. I know I told you that you needed to be available twenty-four hours a day if I needed you, but I didnít mean that you actually had to work twenty-four hours a day!"
"I know that, Chiefóbut I offered to take Smithís shift without asking you, and I fully expected to work today. Iím fineóI slept last night between shifts. Iím used to sleeping at odd hours."
He looked at her in exasperation, but he wasnít angry. She didnít have any idea how unusual she wasóany other officer, no matter how good they might be, would have jumped at the chance to be relieved of a shift. She seemed to actually want to take hers. He knew she didnít have a family, and probably hadnít had much of an opportunity to make friends, but at the rate she was going, she never would. That she seemed perfectly content with her solitary life, and her work, perplexed him. It would have been odd, even in a man, but in a young woman like heróhe was at a loss to figure it.
"Okay, okayóbut no more doubles unless I approve it." He caught the flicker of unease in her usually impenetrable gaze. "What?"
She faced him, squaring her shoulders, unconsciously coming to attention. "I told Smith I would take the last half of the night shift until his baby is born. It shouldnít be more than a few days. I didnít clear it with you because you told me that as Deputy Sheriff I had clearance to reorganize the shifts as needed."
"I was thinking more along the lines of an emergency when I told you that, Conlon óalthough having a baby certainly feels like an emergency at the time. With any luck his wonít be two weeks late like mine was."
He shrugged in defeat, leaning back in his swivel chair to gaze up at his tall second-in-command. "Go ahead, Reeseóbut take time off during the day if you need it. Iím depending on you to keep things organized around here this summer. Weíve got a small force, compared to the crowds weíll have to deal with, and Smith probably wonít be worth a fart in a wind storm once his kid is born."
"Yes, sir. Thank you," Reese replied.
"Speaking of kidsódid mine show up at your place for her class this morning?"
"Yes, she did."
"She was early."
"Good. I thought she must either have been up and out early, or that she slept through it. She didnít answer when I knocked on her door this morning."
Reese was pretty sure that Brianna hadnít been home at all the night before, and she was uncomfortable keeping that from her boss, a man she was coming to like. On the other hand, Brianna wasnít exactly a child, and Reese felt she owed her the chance to work things out with her father in her own way. At least for the time being she had given her word to keep silent. Besides, she was fairly certain she could keep an eye on Briannaís nighttime excursions, now that she was aware of them. She said nothing.
"She do okay?" he asked gruffly. He felt like he knew less and less about his daughter with each passing day. They didnít talk as they used to when she was small, when he seemed to have all the answers to her endless questions. Now he didnít have a clue as to what motivated his only child, or what might make her happy. He couldnít help but think that if his wife were still alive, she would know what to do with his headstrong offspring.
"She did very well."
"Yeah?" he said with a smile of pride. "Good."
"Whoís out on traffic?" Reese asked, not wanting to linger on the topic of Brianna. "Jeff?"
"Yeah. Things wonít get busy until eleven or so when the tour buses start arriving."
"Iím going to catch up on some paper work then, and go out around noon. That okay?"
"Sure. I have to be at the town meeting at ten. Thereís likely to be some heat over the move to build that condo unit out at the end of six. The mayor wants me to talk about the manpower shortage, and more tourist influx. Same old story."
"Gladys coming in for the phones?"
"Eleven till five."
"Right," Reese said, pulling a stack of evaluation forms, payroll vouchers, and other employee paperwork in front of her. "Iíll catch up with you at town hall then."
Nelson Parker nodded and tossed a wave as he headed out the door.
Reese left several hours later, leaving her patrol car at Town Hall and walking west along Commercial to get lunch at the deli. She carried her sandwich to a small sitting area behind the Galleria, a collection of shops catering to the tastes of quick stop tourists who wanted a piece of "authentic" Cape Cod memorabilia. The deck in the rear was equipped with picnic tables and a great view of the harbor. Reese sat on the bench with her back to the table so she could watch the tide on its way out. The site and smell of the water settled her in some deep way that she had no words for. She only knew she would never live far from the ocean again.
She glanced east along the shore, trying to pick out her mother's studio. An image of her mother and father and her on one of their rare family outings to the beach came to her. It hadn't been too long before her mother left. She had never asked him about her mother, had never tried to find heróbefore now. She wondered why that had been. Her father and she were as close as a stern, reserved man and a solitary, private daughter could be. She respected him, even if she did not always agree with him, and he was proud of her accomplishments. He was deeply disappointed when she left active duty, even though she remained in the reserves, and they had not spoken since her move to Provincetown. He did not know she had contacted her mother; she wasnít even sure he knew that his ex-wife lived here. Reese knew she needed to call him soon, but she wasnít sure quite what to say.
That thought brought Brianna Parker to mind, and the rift that seemed to be growing between her and Nelson. Maybe part of it was the inherent differences between fathers and daughters, like men and women, but Reese knew that for Brianna it was much more than thatóthere was the complication of her sexuality to be dealt with. If she were to help Brianna in any real way, she needed to know more about that.
She stood, adjusted her cap against the sunís glare, and moved quickly through the crowded aisle back to the street. A few minutes later she was at the gym.
Marge greeted her with a grin. "Hey youóanything new?"
"Nope," Reese replied, grinning back. "But I would like to talk to you. Can you get away sometime this afternoon?"
"How about now? Annieís hereóshe can watch the place. Is this business or pleasure?"
"Letís say itís personal," Reese responded.
"Damn! Youíre a tough woman to get information out of!"
Reese nodded toward the door. "Come on. Letís take a walk."
They joined the crowds, and started toward the far west end of Commercial Street. There the narrow one-way road joined the confluence of six A and Route six at the jetty that led to Long Point. They didnít say much until they had settled on the same bench where Reese and Victoria King had sat the previous day. Reese scanned the narrow, treacherous walkway, amazed once again that Tory had braved it.
"So, whatís up?" Marge asked, startling Reese for a second.
Reese pushed the image of Victoria Kingís face from her mind.
"Did you know that you were a lesbian when you were a teenager?"
"I had a pretty good idea," Marge answered.
"How did you handle it?"
"I tried to kill myself," Marge said after a moment.
Reese stared at her intently, her chest tight, sorrow for Margeís pain mixed with rage at a world that would drive a young person to such desperation. Her jaw clenched while she searched for words. "Can you tell me about it?" she asked at last.
Marge gazed out to the ocean, lost in memory.
"It wasnít quite as dramatic as you might imagine. I grew up in a little town in the middle of nowhere. My parents were good, hardworking people without much imagination. I was a surprise, you might say. From the time I was small I preferred boysí clothes, boysí games, boysí toys. All I wanted for my birthday was a six-shooter and a pair of jeans. My parents thought if they bought me dolls, I would forget about the guns. It didnít work. By the time I was ten, I was in love with the rec director at the playground down the street. She was tough and taught the girls to play baseball, and if I got there before everyone else, she would play catch with me. I got there early every day for an entire summer. By twelve I had a special girlfriend I would gladly have died for. We went everywhere together, spent every night in one anotherís houses, and slept over with each other frequently. We never touchedónot in a sexual way, but there was no doubt that I loved her in the way boys and girls do. Our friendship lasted into highschool. One day, when we were sixteen, she told me she had been to bed with her boyfriend. Up until then, we had both dated, but no one had ever come between us. At that moment, my life changed forever. I knew then that she didnít feel what I felt, and never would. She was no longer mine, in the deepest part of herself, the way she had been. It broke my heart, and there was no one to tell."
Marge paused, and Reese could see the pain of memory etched in the lines around her mouth.
"Iím sorry," Reese began, knowing there were no words to heal this particular sorrow.
Marge shook her head. "It was a long time ago, but it was probably the greatest pain of my life. I had no idea what was to become of me. It felt like everything beautiful in my life disappeared. My innocence certainly died. I couldnít stand the pain, and I knew I felt the way I did because I was somehow very different from my girlfriends. I had no name for it, except "Queer," and I knew that was not a good thing to be. So, I started to drink, and managed to stay drunk through my last year in highschool. Thatís what I meant when I said I tried to kill myself. It wasnít pretty, but it was very nearly effective."
She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, shaking off the vestiges of the past. Turning questioning eyes to Reese, she asked, "What made you ask?"
"A girl," Reese said. "A girl who canít tell her father sheís in love with another girl. She acts pretty tough, but I get the feeling sheís scared. Mostly scared that someone will keep them apart, I think. Iím trying to understand what thatís like."
"Why?" Marge asked, not with censure, but with true curiosity. "What makes you care?"
Reese shrugged. "I have a feeling sheís not the only kid in town in this situation, Provincetown being what it is. She says she has no where to go to be with her girlfriend. I need to understand what life is like for these kids if Iím going to interact with them fairly."
"Theyíre not like other kids, Reese. They have to fight hard to survive. Most of the time the whole world tells them they shouldnít be the way they are. They shouldnít dress the way they do, they shouldnít enjoy the things they do, and God knows, they shouldnít love the way they do. The boys get beat up, or they act out sexually all over the place in unsafe ways, and more often than not, the girls who admit to themselves what they feel end up leaving school or underachieving. If theyíre not being self-destructive with drugs or alcohol, theyíre getting into trouble some other way. Youíll do them more harm than good if you try to prevent them from being who they are. Thatís about all they have."
"I canít let them have sex in dark alleys or under the pier!"
"Because itís not safe! If I canít see them, I canít protect them! If a group of redneck toughs stumbles across two boys, or two girls for that matter, making out in some dark corner, they could do them real damage!"
Marge nodded in reluctant agreement. "Youíve got a point, but there isnít much you can do about it. They have to be together somewhere, and most likely it wonít be at parties, or dances, or at each otherís homes the way it is for straight kids. These kids feel like outcasts, and just about everything they see and hear reinforces that. They donít have much alternative to the dunes or the piers if they want privacy."
"A coffee house?"
"Good idea, but you have to remember that although Provincetown looks like the center of the gay world, most of these lesbians and gay boys donít live here. After the season ends, this town is about as prejudiced as any other. And the few gay kids arenít going to want to make any public announcements, I wouldnít imagine."
"But at least for the four or five months of the season they can blend in a little," Reese observed, beginning to see the dilemma Brianna and her girlfriend faced. "Isnít there some place these kids can go?"
Marge nodded. "Thereís a little hole in the wall out on Shank Painter Road that caters to the kids. The music is god-awful, and the foodís even worse, but at least theyíre welcome there. A couple of old queens own the place. They donít sell alcohol until ten oíclock at night, which is how they get around having under age kids in the bar."
"Thatís just up the road from the station," Reese remarked, wondering if Nelson Parker gave the place any thought. He certainly hadnít mentioned it to her as place she ought to keep an eye on.
"Yeah. I think theyíre calling it The Lavender Lounge this year."
"Thanks, Marge. The information helps. I didnít know about this place. Iíll have to drop by."
"Reese," Marge warned, "if you go in there looking like a cop, youíre going to scare some kids away. They donít have much as it is."
"Point taken," Reese remarked. "Iíll go in disguise."
"Yeah, right. With that build, and that walk, she just about screams "cop." Marge chuckled. "Try to blend in. Better yet, take a date."
"Are you volunteering?"
"Hell no. Then youíd just be more obvious," she laughed. She grew thoughtful, then suggested, "Why donít you ask the doc! She can interpret for you."
"I hardly think I need a guide," Reese said, uncomfortable with the conversation suddenly.
"I just meant, sheís a lesbian, and sheís good with the kids," Marge said, not missing her friendís discomfort. "Hey, Reese! Did you ever have a crush on one of your girlfriends?"
Reese stood abruptly, her face expressionless. "I didnít have any girlfriends. All my friends were Marines."
As Marge joined her for the walk back to town,
she wondered about the strange life her new friend had lived.
Reese fingered the button on the microphone clipped to her shirt.
"I copy, Gladys."
"See the couple at the Lobster Potóthereís a child missing."
"Ten-four," Reese said curtly as she began to hurry the few blocks to the restaurant. It was not unusual for children to wander away from their parents, but it was always cause for concern. Traffic was heavy and unpredictable, and with the miles of beachfront, the water posed a very real danger as well. She found anxious parents and a boy who looked to be about ten waiting for her.
"Iím Deputy Sheriff Conlon," she said. "What happened?"
"Our daughter," the father began, "sheís lost. We were just walking, looking in the windows. When we stopped for ice cream for the kids, Sandy was gone. We thoughtó"
"Bill - " his wife interrupted in a cautionary tone.
"Itís my fault," the young boy said tremulously. "I was supposed to be holding her hand, but then a couple of guys on rollerblades came between us and we got separated. She was still right beside meó" he choked back sobs and hung his head.
His mother pulled him close. "Itís all right, Greg, weíll find her. Itís not your fault."
"How long ago did you last see her?" Reese asked gently, trying to keep them calm.
The husband and wife looked at each other in confusion. "Maybe a half hour?" he said uncertainly.
"And her full name?"
"Sandra Lynn James. Sheís six."
"What is she wearing?" Reese continued, jotting notes on her small pad.
"Blue jeans, a yellow tee shirt and red sneakers," her mother informed Reese.
"Sheriff," the father said softly, "our daughter is handicapped."
Reese looked up quickly. "How?"
"She canít communicate very well. Sheís not very verbal; sheís easily distracted. She wonít react the way a child usually does if theyíre lost."
"What will she do?"
He shrugged. "Itís hard to say. She might sit for hours watching something that catches her attention, or she may just wander."
"Can she swim?"
The mother stifled a cry and grasped her husbandís hand.
"No," he said desperately.
"Tell me what she likesówhat does she like to do?"
For a moment both parents appeared confused.
"She likes the color red," her brother said into the silence, "and she loves birds, any kind of birds." He took a step toward Reese, his face determined "I want to go with youóto look for her."
Reese knelt down until her face was level with his. "Your parents are pretty upset. I need you to stay with them, to make sure theyíre okay. And I need you to think of anything else about your sister that will help us find her. Iím going to give you a special number that you can call to reach me anytime. Okay?"
He searched her face, then nodded. "All right."
"Good," she said as she straightened. "Gladys," she signaled into her mike.
"Go ahead, Reese," a staticy voice replied.
"Wake up Smith, and have both him and Jeff Lyons call me. Inform the Chief, and the doctor, of what we have. If someone finds a little girl, they may take her to the clinic."
Reese turned to the family. "I want you to wait at the police station. Iíll have an officer take you there in a minute. I want to start a store-by-store search back along the way you came. Do you have a picture I can take?"
"Yes," the childís mother replied, fumbling through her handbag for her wallet. "Hereís her school picture." She smoothed the picture tenderly with the tips of her fingers before handing it to Reese.
"Please find her, Sheriff."
Reese tucked the photo into her front shirt pocket. "Yes, maíam, I will."
Reese radiod headquarters as she walked to the nearest shop. "Gladysóhave Smith pick up this family and transport them to the station, and have Lyons start a car check at the town line."
"You donít think someone took her?" Gladys gasped in alarm.
"Itís routine, Gladys," Reese replied grimly. "And call me with any information you get, okay?"
Reese spent the next two hours personally talking to every shopkeeper west of the place where the Joneses could last be sure their daughter had been with them. She scanned the crowds constantly, checking the benches and doorways along the route where the child might have stopped. There was no sign of the child. Finally, she phoned the station to speak with Nelson Parker.
"Itís no good, Chiefówe need help. Itís going to be dark in an hour and a half, and it will be twice as hard to sort through the crowds. Sheís either injured somewhere, someone has her, or sheís hiding somehow. Can you get volunteers, with a copy of her picture, to start a street-by-street search?"
"Thereís a womenís health group thatís pretty organized. They can pull people together faster than I can at random. Where do you want them?"
"Have them meet me at the Town Hall in half an hour."
On her way there, she stopped to have photocopies of Sandyís picture made. She was gratified to find fifteen people waiting for instructions when she arrived. As she handed out the childís picture and organized the volunteers into pairs with specific assignments, she saw Victoria King and her office staff arrive. She motioned for the doctor to join her.
"Is there anything special I should tell them about the child?" Reese asked. "You spoke with her parents?"
"I did, and aside from what sounds like some form of autism, sheís perfectly healthy. My biggest concern is that itís getting colder, and if sheís out all night, hypothermia is a real danger."
"I know. I want her found before dark." Reese turned back to the volunteers, directing them off to their search. "Iíve called the Coast Guard to begin scanning the shore, and the water. Where will you be if I need you?"
"Randy and Sally are both out searching, so I closed the office. I might as well wait there. You can page me. Iíve got the Jeep, so Iím mobile. Hereís my cardó" she answered, scribbling her beeper number on the back. "Will you call me when you have something?" She searched Reeseís face, knowing that she must be feeling the stress. Her dark blue eyes were more intense than usual, if that was possible, and her voice a little brusque, but her face betrayed nothing of her emotions. God, was she always this controlled? Tory couldnít help but wonder at what cost the stoic sheriff maintained her calm. As a physician she knew how high that price could be. "Reese?"
Reese was staring out over the harbor, her concentration barely penetrated by Toryís voice. "Do you see that?" Reese asked softly.
Tory followed her line of sight, perplexed. "What? The kites?"
Reese nodded, her gaze captured by a particularly decorative red wide-winged kite. "She likes birds, her brother saidóand the color red."
Tory stared at her, and then up at the sky. "Where would she go to get closer to them?"
"Toward the wateróout onto one of the piers," Reese said grimly. "Will you call the sheriff and have him send one of the men out to check the piers at the west end? Iíll start closer to where she was last seen."
"Yes, of course."
Reese looked down at her, fixing her eyes on Victoriaís as she gently took her hand. She pressed Tory's fingers lightly. "Thanks."
Tory felt the brief touch to the bone. The sounds of the crowd receded as her gaze locked with Reeseís. She was riveted in place, scarcely drawing a breath. In that moment, she realized that Reese Conlon was the most intriguing woman she had ever met. And she was beautiful. "And Iím in big trouble," Tory thought. She swallowed, wondering if she would ever be able to look away. Thankfully, someone demanded Reeseís attention at that moment, and Reese released her hand, turning aside.
Tory took a shaky breath. Right, find a phone, Tory girl, you can do that. Just walk away from her. She has no idea what sheís doingóshe hasnít a clue to the effect she has on any lesbian with a heartbeat.
And Tory realized with a shock that that was probably trueóReese didnít know. And if she didnít know, what did that say about her? Tory considered what little she knew of Reeseís past. Some part of her had always assumed that Reese was a lesbian, because she seemed like one, and because Tory found her attractive. But perhaps she wasnítóor perhaps she didnít know that she was! Tory shook her headóeither way, it lets me out. Thereís no way Iím getting involved with someone whoís just coming out, or God forbid, straight!
She watched Reese stride down the sidewalk toward the center of town and willed her heart to stop pounding. It didnít work, but she tried to tell herself it was only her worry over the little girl.
It was close to eight oíclock when Tory tossed the last chart onto the cart beside her desk. It had been dark for two hours. She couldnít imagine how the parents must feel, or how frightened the child must be. She hated it when children were sick. It was often impossible to explain to them what was happening, or why she had to do things that hurt them. Too often, she simply had to do what needed to be done, accepting that sometimes she caused pain in the name of healing. But it never got easier. She thought about Katherine, the woman she had loved for ten yearsóthrough med school and K.Tís surgical residency, until it had ended four years ago. Katherine had the surgeonís wonderful, and irritating, ability to detach herself at will from emotions that threatened her equilibrium. A necessary skill for the operating room, but a deadly one for a relationship. Katherine had been so damn hard to resist, though, that Tory had forgiven her for every hurt but the last. Even her disarming grin and her pledge of undying love could not sway Tory then. That was part of the reason Tory needed to avoid any fantasies about the enigmatic Deputy Sheriffóshe had that same irresistible quality of bravado and rakish appeal that Katherine had had. Once was enough! Reese Conlon might be charming, and gallant, and braveóbut she was dangerous, too.
Tory jerked in her seat when the phone rang. "Yes?" she said abruptly.
"I have her, Doctor. Weíll be there in five minutes. The parents are on their way," Reese stated over her car phone.
"Whatís her status?" Tory asked as she rose from behind her desk.
"Sheís not talking. Sheís not even crying. But I donít see any obvious injuries. Weíre just up the streetó"
"Bring her back to the procedure room."
Tory looked up a moment later to find Reese standing in the door of her examining room with a bundle in her arms. A tousled blond head poked out of a green flak jacket emblazoned with the Marine Corp insignia.
"Put her up on the table," Tory indicated brusquely as she reached for a stethoscope. Reese settled the child carefully on the paper-covered surface as Tory turned to the little girl with a smile on her face.
"Hi, sweetie," she said. "Iím Dr. King. Can you tell me your name?" She laid her hand gently on the childís knee as she spoke. The little girl's skin was cool to her touch.
"Reese, thereís a blanket in the warmer behind you. Get it for me, will you?"
Reese wrapped the soft flannel around the young patientís shoulders as Tory placed a plastic thermometer sleeve against the childís earlobe. The little girl watched her in silence, but she didnít seem to be afraid.
"Her temperature is a little low, but not dangerously so," Tory commented as she placed the bell of her stethoscope against the small chest. She noted the strong steady beat with satisfaction. Looking down, she realized the girlís shoes and socks were missing.
"What happened to her shoes?" she asked as she slipped the stethoscope into her pocket.
"I took them off," Reese replied. "They were wet."
Now that she was satisfied that the child was in no danger, Tory really looked at Reese for the first time.
"Youíre soaked, Reese! What happened?"
Reese shrugged. "She climbed out to the edge of a tide pool, following the kites, I think. The tide had come in quite a ways before I found her."
Tory shuddered inwardly at the image of a small child trapped by the swirling waters, unable to climb out and unlikely to be able to swim. She knew that rescue had come barely in time, and only then because of the intelligence and tireless dedication of the woman beside her. A woman, she noted now, who was shivering slightly while she waited to help further.
"You need to get out of those clothes, Reese," she said gently.
"Iíll stay if you need me," Reese responded quietly.
Tory shook her head. "Sheís fine. Her parents should be here soon. Go on."
"Iíve got clothes in the squad car. Iíll just be a minute," Reese said, reluctant to leave. She had known instinctively that the little girl was in no danger, but she was captivated by watching Tory King work. Tory took charge with a degree of command that Reese was used to, but with a gentleness and empathy that had been absent in the world of men Reese had inhabited. Reese was moved in a way she didnít understand, stirred by the interplay of fierce concentration and compassionate warmth that suffused Toryís elegant features.
Tory gave her a stern but fond look. "Go!"
Reese smiled, snapping a crisp salute. "Yes, maíam!"
She slipped out as Sheriff Parker entered with the little girlís parents rushing before him. The satisfying sounds of relieved cries and a happy reunion followed her retreat.
It took a few moments for Tory to convince the childís parents that she was absolutely fine, but finally they began to relax after the hours of frantic worry. At length she glanced toward the hall, stunned to silence by what she saw. Reese stood quietly at the door, watching. She had pulled on a pair of faded grey sweat pants and a tee shirt, well-worn clothes that accentuated the shear physicality of her form, stretching tight across her broad shoulders, exposing the highly defined muscles in her arms, clinging to her narrow hips and strong thighs. Toryís throat tightened as her heart began to race. She wanted to look away; she wanted to deny the unmistakable wave of desire; she wanted not to find this unusual woman more beautiful than anything she had ever seen. Mercifully, the parents spied Reese standing there and descended upon her, releasing Tory from the gaze that unwittingly held her captive.
Reese was clearly uncomfortable with the attention as Mr. James gripped her hand, shaking it furiously as he exclaimed, "Thank you so much, Sheriff. I canít tell you how much we appreciate what youíve done!"
"Youíre welcome - really," Reese responded, while trying to extricate her hand from his vice-like grasp. At last he stepped aside, only to be replaced in an instant by his wife. She gazed up at Reese for a moment, her tear-reddened eyes fixed on Reeseís. Then, unexpectedly, she laid her palm against Reeseís cheek in a gentle caress.
"I donít know what I would have done if you hadnít found her," she whispered softly.
Tory watched, transfixed, as Reese tenderly placed her hand over the womanís trembling fingers and clasped them softly.
"I would never let you lose your daughter," Reese murmured.
Reeseís blue eyes lifted above the womanís head and found Toryís gaze. The depth of Reeseís compassion lay open before her, and Tory was amazed that she ever could have questioned Reeseís feelings. Reeseís caring, exposed for an instant, had the intensity of a mortal wound. Tory comprehended in that moment that what Reese hid so well with her strict professionalism and rigid discipline was a degree of empathy that clearly verged on painful. That she hid it unconsciously, probably even from herself, came from years of habit. Tory had no doubt of that. She wondered what hurt had necessitated those barricades, and found herself even more intrigued by the impossibly handsome, impossibly compelling sheriff. Reese blushed under Toryís intense scrutiny, finally looking away. The parents continued their thanks as they gathered their children and followed Sheriff Parker out, leaving Tory and Reese alone in the sudden silence.
"Well, I -" Reese began.
"Have you -" Tory said simultaneously.
They laughed, each relaxing as the hours of tension finally dissipated. Reese leaned against the doorjamb and regarded Tory with a smile.
"You were saying?"
"Iím starving. How about you?"
"I didnít have dinner, and I donít remember lunch." Reesse glanced at her watch, frowning. "Unfortunately, itís eight oíclock on a Saturday night. Weíll never get in anywhere."
Tory held up one finger, motioning her to silence as she lifted the phone from the wall behind her. She dialed a number from memory. "Claire? Tory King. Can you fit me in? Yes, right away would be great." She paused for a second, glancing up at Reese. "No - for two."
She laughed, coloring slightly. "Donít jump to conclusions. Weíll be right over."
"The Flagstaff," she said as she replaced the receiver, "letís go."
"Wait a second," Reese protested, gesturing to her attire. "Look at me. I canít go like this!"
Any further looking at Reese Conlon was exactly what Tory did not want to do. "You look great," she said, meaning it. "Besides, this is Provincetown. There is no dress code. No arguing!"
For once, Reese accepted the order, sensing there was no room for negotiation. In truth, the crowd was casual as the hostess led them to a corner table with a beautiful view of the harbor. When chilled champagne in a bucket appeared at their side, she raised an eyebrow in question.
Tory shrugged, embarrassed. "Old friends. I knew both the owners in Boston years ago." And now theyíre trying to match-make!
She busied herself pouring the champagne, disconcerted by Reeseís silence. She looked across the table into Reeseís searching eyes. "What?" she asked.
"Tell me about Boston," Reese replied. The look on Toryís face when she mentioned it told Reese whatever happened there haunted Tory still. She wanted to know what caused that fleeting glimmer of pain.
Tory could pretend she didnít understand, but decided in an unguarded moment not to. She rarely spoke of her personal life, but she wanted to now. Reese was looking at her as if her next words were the only things that mattered, and Tory wanted her to know. She wasnít ready to ask herself why.
"I lived there for ten years, during my residency, and a few years after. My lover trained there also, and we both went into practice at Boston General when we finished. Claire and Sheila, the women who own this place, were good friends of ours. They moved here to follow their dream of owning a restaurant, and when Katherine left me, they convinced me to move here. At first I thought it would just be temporary, until I got my life in order. But now I know that this is my life."
"Had you been together long, you and Katherine?" Reese asked, her eyes never leaving Toryís face.
"Since medical school - almost twelve years." Without being asked, she continued. "I was an ER attending. She was a trauma surgeon, and dashing as hell. All the women were after her, and finally she strayed. I found her with one of the nurses in an on call room in the middle of the day. She said it was the first time, but Iíll never know, will I? She left me a short time after that." She couldnít keep the pain from her voice, and she was shocked to find tears in her eyes. Tears that she knew were not so much for Katherine, but for her own disappointment in love.
"Iím sorry," Reese murmured, hearing the tremulousness in Toryís voice. "That was stupid of me. I didnít mean to stir up old wounds."
Tory smiled grimly. "Donít be sorry. I thought what we had was forever. I was mistaken. I wonít make that mistake again."
Reese understood the subject was closed. "My dojo is about finished. Still interested in training?" she asked, searching for safer ground.
"Absolutely," Tory responded enthusiastically, grateful to turn the conversation away from herself, and genuinely eager to discuss their mutual attraction to the martial arts. "When?"
Reese laughed. "You remind me of Brianna. Always ready to go."
"Thanks, I think. Howís she doing?"
"Really well. Sheís got natural ability, and if she stays with it, sheíll be good."
"Iím glad to hear it. Sheís needed some direction."
Reese debated discussing her concerns about Brianna with Tory, but decided she shouldnít betray the girlís confidence. She sensed Tory would know what to do if things got out of hand, and resolved to talk to her if and when the need arose.
"So how about tomorrow morning? Six thirty?" Reese asked.
Tory laughed ruefully, realizing that for Reese, Sunday was no different than any other day of the week. She obviously had no concept of sleeping in.
"Iíll be there. Now letís order. I have to go home and go to bed."
Reese looked at her in surprise before Toryís gentle laughter informed her of the joke.
The meal passed quickly as they spoke of the tourist season and exchanged light gossip about the small town inhabitants. The food was excellent and the effect of the shared champagne relaxing. They had just ordered coffee when Tory realized that Reeseís eyes were riveted on someone across the room.
"Excuse me a moment," Reese said, as she stood and moved resolutely away.
Tory glanced after her as she approached two women seated across the room. The loneliness she felt at Reeseís sudden absence surprised her. For a time, she had forgotten where she was, or what she needed to do the next day. She had been totally immersed in the moment, and enjoying Reeseís company tremendously. Reese was unexpectedly insightful, humorous, and entirely focused on Tory. It was a heady mixture, considering how physically attractive she was as well. In that way she reminded Tory of Katherine, and for the briefest of instants, Tory panicked. Then she took a breath and reminded herself that they were just having dinner, not getting engaged. When Reese returned a few moments later, she was strangely quiet.
"Are you all right?" Tory asked at length.
Reese looked up in surprise. "Yes, of course."
"Do you know them well? Jean and Kate?" Tory asked, indicating the couple across the room.
"No, not really," Reese responded quietly. "Kate is my mother."
Tory was momentarily at a loss. God, this woman was full of surprises! She remembered how vague Reese had been about her past, and knew it was a painful subject. "Did you know that she was here in Provincetown?" she asked carefully.
"I knew," Reese said, as she slowly stirred her coffee.
"And - ?"
"AndóIím not sure what, really," Reese continued. "I know she was part of the reason I came here, but Iím not sure what I hope to accomplish. I havenít told my father sheís here, and that must mean something."
"Will he be angry?"
"Iím not sure. I think so. He still hasnít accepted my leaving the Marine Corp, and Iím certain he would think she was part of the reason."
Reese was silent for a moment, staring across the moon lit harbor, trying to find the words to explain what she felt six months ago when her life changed so drastically. She had given herself many reasons why the Marine Corp, the only family she had ever known, no longer suited her. She had given herself just as many reasons why Provincetown was the place she should be, but she had never admitted what part her motherís presence played in these decisions. She turned her gaze to Tory, hoping the uncertainly she felt didnít show in her face. Tory regarded her calmly, waiting without judgement. Reese felt her acceptance and the tension ebbed from her body. She stretched her long frame and gave Tory a wan smile.
"Yes, I suppose she was," Reese began slowly. "Iíve known for awhile she was here, but itís been years since we had contact. I grew up trying not to think about her. Most of the time I succeeded. My father made it impossible for us to see one another when I was young, and we never spoke of her." She looked at Tory quickly. "Donít misunderstand. I love my father, even though he was wrong. He probably acted out of wounded pride, but I never doubted that he loved me. For most of my life, I loved the Marines, too."
Tory laughed. "Oh, I donít doubt that. In uniform or out, you will always be a Marine!" Suddenly serious, wanting very much to know, she asked, "So why did you leave?"
It finally felt like time, Reese thought to herself.
Reese gazed past Tory to the moonlit water as she chose her words carefully. It seemed important for Tory to understand. "I was born and raised a Marine. I had never left home. It was time to leave - time to build my own life. I think I wanted my mother to be part of it."
"I hope it works out," Tory said softly.
Reese nodded, pushing her empty cup to the side. "Thanks." She glanced at her watch and said apologetically, "Iím afraid I have to go. I have to get back to work - "
Tory was becoming accustomed to Reeseís
devotion to her job, recognizing that working was what made her comfortable.
She wished their evening wasnít at an end, and wished even more that she hadnít
enjoyed it quite so much.
At six-twenty the next morning, Tory passed Brianna Parker in the driveway of Reeseís house. The split-level cedar shingled dwelling stood on a hill overlooking the wetlands at the end of Bradford Street. Tory turned to greet the teenager as she took a moment to appreciate the view. Brianna followed her gaze out over the marshes and dunes. They were alive with the flutter of gulls and other birds searching for breakfast.
"Hey, Brianna," Tory said, "pretty spectacular morning!"
"Yeah, I guess," the teen responded unenthusiastically.
Briannaís face brightened. "No, it was great. Senseiís teaching me to breakfall!"
"All ready! Hey, thatís terrific!"
Brianna looked away, her smile fading. "Yeah."
Tory had the feeling the youth was about to say more when she abruptly mumbled a goodbye and retreated hastily. Tory wished she knew how to make a connection with her. Each time Tory saw Brianna, she seemed a little more withdrawn, and a little more unhappy.
Tory hastened up the drive, wanting to be on time. The side door to the attached garage was open, and she stepped over the sill into a large square space that was almost completely covered with tatami mats, a traditional shock absorbent material found on the floors of most dojos in Japan. Along the near wall were a bench and a rack for shoes. On the wall opposite the bench was a small hand-carved shelf with a vase of flowers, several ornamental statues, and a picture of a formidable appearing Japanese man. Tory bowed in the direction of the kamiza, or traditional altar, to show her respect for the training hall and Reeseís teacher, then slipped her shoes onto the rack provided. Reese had been kneeling on the mat with her eyes closed when Tory entered, and she looked up now with a smile.
"Welcome. Iím glad you could make it."
"Thanks. Iíve been looking forward to it." As she spoke, Tory sat down, leaning over to remove the metal brace from her right leg. She replaced it with a much lighter short plastic air cast that prevented her ankle from dropping into its paralyzed position.
"Tell me about that," Reese said, indicating the support.
Toryís hands tightened and her shoulders grew tense with the automatic resistance to any inquiry about her condition. Invariably it was accompanied by thinly disguised pity, discomfort, or misconception of her abilities. It didnít matter that Reese had never seemed the least bit judgmental or dismissive. Toryís response was fostered by years of anger and disappointment. She couldnít find the words to answer.
After a moment, Reese asked, "How long has it been since youíve trained with anyone?"
Tory met her eyes defiantly. "Since before my accident."
"Well, then, I guess weíll just have to find out together what you can handle. Can you stand with that?"
Reese was so direct, and so matter of fact, that Tory began to relax.
"Yes, but I canít really walk well with it. My balance is affected."
"So we start from stationary positions. Can you take a fall?"
"Leg sweep? Shoulder throw?"
"Either," Tory stated with assurance. She decided not to add that no one had thrown her since her injury, but she had practiced her drills and cane defenses diligently since her rehab was finished. She would be fine. She hoped.
"I thought we might alternate," Reese continued. "We can work on grappling one day, and you can teach me the cane the next. Sound okay?"
"Yes - fine."
They bowed to one another, and for the next hour Reese reviewed with Tory the fundamentals of jujitsu grappling techniques. Since Tory already held an advanced belt in a style that employed joint locks and takedowns, much of what they practiced was familiar to her with only slight variations. They were evenly matched in terms of stamina thanks to Toryís rigorous conditioning from kayaking. Her mobility was hindered, but most of the techniques were designed to be performed in very close quarters, and she was able to adjust.
When they bowed to one another at the end of their session, she felt invigorated in a way she hadnít for years. She felt strong and capable. She didnít want to stop, even though she knew she would be sore the next day.
"Thanks. That was excellent," she exclaimed.
"So - same time tomorrow?" Reese responded.
Tory was momentarily caught off guard. It hadnít occurred to her that Reese would want to train quite so seriously. Once again she was aware of the other womanís persuasiveness and compelling intensity. She felt herself pleasantly challenged by the offer, and nodded her assent. Reese rewarded her with that dazzling smile which burst from nowhere and seemed to flicker away all too quickly.
"If I have an emergency, Iíll call -" Tory began.
"No need," Reese interrupted. "If you arenít here, Iíll know it is for some very good reason. I know youíll be here when you can."
"Are you always so immune to uncertainty?" Tory asked unexpectedly.
Reese regarded her seriously. "Is that what you think? Iím uncertain sometimes- just not about what I believe-" She looked at Tory pointedly, "or about those I trust."
Tory blushed, pleased. Reese had a way of making things seem simple, and she knew she never wanted to disappoint her. That thought was enough to disturb her for the rest of the day.
As June unfolded and summer approached, they managed to get together five or six mornings a week. Tory found that she had to rise an hour earlier so she could row and still reach the dojo by six-thirty. Usually she saw Brianna leaving as she arrived, and she knew with certainty that Reese had been up for several hours. She was impressed with Briannaís determination and Reeseís tirelessness. She found her own endurance increasing, and noted with cautious optimism that her ankle and leg seemed a little stronger, and that she was moving better with the lighter air cast. She wasnít deluding herself with the hope that her leg would ever be normal, but each small improvement cheered her.
In addition to the physical benefits of her new training regimen, she had to admit she was enjoying Reeseís company. Reese was single-minded in her pursuit of any endeavor, whether it was training, policing, or simply talking. When she was with you, she was intensely present. Tory tried not to think about just how much she looked forward to her time with Reese, or how much she liked Reese's slow, easy smile and her deep, resonant voice.
On the last Saturday in June, Tory found Reese in her customary position, kneeling in the dojo with her eyes closed, meditating while she waited. When she smiled a greeting, Tory remarked, "Was that Briannaís girlfriend with her this morning? I saw them out front as I was leaving."
"How did you know?" Reese asked in surprise. "Caroline came to watch a class."
Tory laughed. "I think it was the way she was hanging onto Brianna - or maybe that she looked like she wanted to lick the sweat off Briannaís neck."
"Not too subtle, are they," Reese remarked grimly. When they had arrived Bri had one arm flung possessively around the young blondeís shoulders, and Caroline had her hand tucked in Briís back pocket. It hadnít escaped her notice that Carolineís eyes never left Bri the entire time they were in the dojo, and the look in them was positively hungry. Reese had hoped they would be a little more restrained on the street.
"Why should you expect them to be any different? Itís young love. They donít have any awareness of anything but each other. They probably wouldnít notice a ten car pile-up across the street most of the time." She smiled to herself as she removed her shoes and changed leg braces. "Does Nelson know about this?"
"No," Reese said with concern. "Bri is afraid to tell him. Sheís afraid heíll try to keep them apart."
Tory nodded. "She might be right, but thereís no way theyíll be able to keep it quiet for long. Especially if they go anywhere together in the light of day. Anyone whoís ever been in love, or lust for that matter, could tell with just one glance."
Reese wondered briefly if she would have known if she hadnít found them locked in one anotherís arms that night. Would she recognize what sheíd never experienced? Was there really something so consuming that she could lose herself, and her eternal vigilance, even for a minute?
"Maybe I should say something to her," Reese mused aloud.
Tory answered carefully, fighting her own defensiveness. "Reese, those girls are acting like any two teenagers in love. Theyíre high school seniors, nearly adults. If you ask them to hide what they feel, youíre telling them thereís something wrong with what theyíre doing. Itís bad enough that most of the world thinks so, it would be devastating for them if someone they obviously trust said so too. You must realize Bri trusts you, or she never would have brought her girlfriend here! Sheís asking you for your acceptance."
"Iím worried about them," Reese countered. "A young gay boy was beaten up outside a bar in Truro two weeks ago, and I saw a report from Easton yesterday about a suspicious robbery of two gay men that looked like gay-bashing. We havenít had any problems here- yet."
Tory frowned. "Iíll certainly keep an eye out at the clinic for anything that looks like it was gay-motivated. But the best thing you can do for those two girls is exactly what you are doing. Keep the streets safe, and offer them a supportive adult presence."
"Iím not too comfortable in that role," Reese admitted. "I know so little of what theyíre experiencing."
Tory regarded her with more than a tinge of disappointment. It was pretty clear from that admission that Reese wasnít gay. She hated to admit she had been hoping otherwise. "Itís no different from what straight teenagers experience, Reese - just more difficult for some of them who are afraid, or sadly, ashamed. Just remember your first time."
Reese looked at her oddly. "Thatís my point, Tory. I never had a first time."
The statement was delivered so matter of factly, Tory wasnít sure how to respond. Was it possible that a thirty- something woman, especially such an interesting, attractive one, had never been in love? Or was she simply saying she had never been a crazy teenager in the throws of hormonal insanity?
Thankfully, Reese saved her from her own confusion by saying, "Marge says thereís a bar where a lot of the kids go. I thought Iíd check it out but Marge insists I look too much like a cop. Would you like to go undercover with me and take a look?"
"Reese," Tory said, trying to keep a straight face, "there is nothing on this earth that could make you look like anything but a cop - but, sure, Iíll go with you. When?"
"How about tonight? After dinner - my treat."
"Tonight is fine - and your treat only if itís on me next time."
Reese smiled, "Deal."
As Tory knelt to bow in for the start of their workout, she wondered just what she had let herself in for. She didnít have time to think about anything further. By its nature, their workouts were intimate in the sense that of all the styles of martial arts, jujitsu was the one that required the most bodily contact. Usually, such contact is automatic and completely devoid of any sensual connotation, as the mind and body are engaged in a different realm of endeavor - that of self-defense. Reese and she were working on finishing pins, which required them to literally lie across each other, applying pressure to the opponentís elbow until they were immobilized. Tory wasnít thinking of anything except how to dislodge the person who had her flat on her back, with her arm locked out and a forearm pressed against her trachea. It was not a position she wanted to be in, and she responded automatically.
Reese felt her struggling, attempting to reverse the pin. She let up on the pressure she was exerting against Toryís wrist joint. "Tory, wait," she said.
Tory immediately relaxed. This was not a contest, it was a training session, and as the most experienced stylist, Reese was in charge.
Reese pushed herself up on her arms, looking down at Tory with a smile. The weight of her body rested lightly along the length of Toryís body. "Youíll wear yourself out if you thrash about, especially if your opponent is much heavier."
Tory looked up into the blue eyes just inches above her own, and suddenly the dojo receded. She was instantly aware of the pressure of Reeseís thigh between her legs, the firmness of her body, the subtle swell of her breasts beneath the cotton gi, and the faint blush of perspiration on her tanned chest. Toryís heart beat a little faster, her skin tingled where Reeseís fingers had held her, and she had the insane desire to press her lips against the moist skin of Reeseís neck. She gasped at the onslaught of sensations, shocked at the sudden wetness between her thighs.
Reese immediately rolled off of her, exclaiming, "What is it? Did I hurt you?"
"No," Tory replied, acutely embarrassed. In all the years she had been training, nothing like this had ever happened. She had to drag her senses away from impact of the woman beside her. Trouble, trouble, trouble she chided herself as her body trembled. Fool, fool, fool echoed back to her.
"Tory?" Reese continued, worried. Tory was shaking, she could see it. The very thought that Tory was hurt made her stomach clench. "Is it your leg?" They were lying side by side, inches apart. She reached out instinctively, brushing her fingers against Tory's cheek.
"No, Reese, itís not my leg!" Tory said, sitting up, struggling to keep her voice calm. "Just a cramp. Itís gone now." She looked into Reeseís troubled face, knowing she didnít have a clue about what just happened. Tory fought to ignore the increasing pressure throbbing through her pelvis. God! Did she have to be so damned attractive?! "Really, Iím okay. Letís just switch techniques for a while."
They finished their workout, both unusually subdued. Tory was trying to keep her mind off what had been an unmistakable rush of potent physical desire. Reese was trying to understand why the mere thought of Tory in pain moved her in a way nothing ever had.
"Do you want to take a day or two off?" Reese asked after they finished.
Tory glanced at her, seeing the concern in her face. Itís not fair to make her worry just because you canít control yourself!
"Are you tired?" Tory teased lightly.
"No, I just thought-" Reese stopped, blushing slightly. "I guess youíll tell me if you need a break, huh?"
Tory smiled gently, finding Reese even more attractive in her slight uncertainty. "You can trust me to take care of myself. But thanks for asking."
Reese grinned. "Marge would say Iím doing Ďmy butchí thing. Right?"
It was Toryís turn to blush. And exactly how would Marge know? She busied herself with her gear, rejoining, "Actually, yes. But on you it just seems natural. Donít worry about it.
"So, Iíll see you tonight?"
"Yes, of course.
They met outside Front Street, a favorite restaurant of the locals and tourists alike. Reese wore a white open collared shirt and well-worn blue jeans with highly polished black boots. Tory was equally casual in black jeans and a scoop neck black singlet that molded to her well-developed shoulders and arms. Reese had called ahead for reservations, and they were seated immediately. The waitress, who knew Tory by name and Reese by the usual town gossip network, was attentive in a nonobtrusive way. Tory was aware that they turned more than a few heads as the restaurant filled up. Reese seemed totally unaware of the notoriety, sipping a glass of red wine as she leaned back in her chair, recounting for Tory the four years she had been stationed in Japan.
"The part I loved best of course was the opportunity to train with the Japanese at one of their own schools. My teacher in the states had written ahead with an introduction, which helped pave the way. The Japanese are much more receptive to American students than they used to be, including women, but it certainly helps to have a personal connection. I had been training for close to ten years by the time I got there, which didnít hurt either." Reese grinned a little ruefully as she emptied her glass. "Iím boring you, arenít I?"
"On the contrary," Tory remarked, reaching to fill both their glasses. "I was just thinking how I envied you. My own training took a back seat to my rowing for many years. About the time you were in Japan, I was getting ready for Barcelona."
Reese caught the flicker of pain that clouded Toryís expressive features for an instant before the other woman visibly drew herself out of the past. Reese reached spontaneously for her hand and held it gently.
"Iím sorry for the pain, Tory," she said softly. "You donít have to talk about it -"
Tory shook her head. "Iím pretty well over it. Itís just so damn frustrating! I had come close to winning the gold in the previous Olympics, and I was in the best shape of my life. It was just a warm-up run, not even the preliminary heats. One minute I was flying. The sun was on my back, the surface was perfect - like glass, and I knew it was my time. The next thing I knew they were fishing me off the bottom, with my leg in pieces. I looked down at my foot hanging there - I couldnít feel it, and I knew it as all over." She took a deep breath, dispelling the memory. "Then I spent the next year just hoping I would walk again." She looked at Reese apologetically. "Now this is really awful dinner conversation!"
As she talked, she had unconsciously entwined her fingers with Reeseís. Tory studied their interlaced fingers as they lay against the white tablecloth. Reeseís compassion and unspoken sympathy seemed to flow into her through those long, strong fingers. It was comforting, and not the least bit pitying.
"Reese," she said softly, her throat suddenly dry. "If people see us like this, theyíre going to assume this is a date." She kept her voice light, but she couldnít control the slight quiver in it. She felt raw and uncomfortably vulnerable.
"Are you telling me it isnít," Reese asked quietly, no hint of banter in her voice.
Tory jerked in surprise, her pulse racing. She searched Reeseís face for the suggestion of a joke, and found only Reeseís serious blue eyes gazing back.
"Reese, I am a thirty-eight year old woman. I have finally recovered from losing a lover I thought I would grow old with. Iím not sure "date" is a word in my current vocabulary. Most importantly, I have no idea what the word means to you."
"Iím afraid my answer may not make sense," Reese began. "I am thirty-seven years old and Iíve never been on a date. I think what it means to me is spending time with someone I find interesting, someone I want to know better Ė someone- special."
"And eventually?" Tory asked gently.
Reese flushed but she didnít look away. "Uncharted territory."
"Oh, Reese," Tory sighed, giving her hand a little shake. "Youíre putting me in an impossible position! Dates are not about friendship - not in the ordinary sense - dates are about the possibility of something more, something deeper." She hesitated briefly. "And dates usually occur when two people are sexually attracted to one another. I canít afford anymore heartbreak, Reese - and you, my beautiful friend, are heartbreak material."
"Are you trying to let me down gently?" Reese asked with a hint of levity. She didnít want to make Tory uneasy, and she understood Toryís reluctance to become involved again. She couldnít clearly describe what she felt, it was too new. She only knew that sitting there with Toryís hand in hers felt completely natural, and completely right. And she also knew she didnít want to let go.
Tory appreciated Reeseís attempt to lessen the pressure on her. But for her own preservation, and in fairness to Reese, she needed to be clear. "Iím not ready to take a chance on someone who may not even be a lesbian. Iím not sure I want to risk anything anymore. Iím sorry." As she spoke she gently disengaged her hand from Reeseís.
Reese shook her head, smiling softly. "Donít be. Until now the only words that ever applied to me for certain were "recruit" and "soldier". I never gave anything else a thought."
Tory laughed. She congratulated herself on steering their relationship onto safer ground. She steadfastly ignored the way her pulse raced everytime she looked up to find Reeseís disconcertingly appraising eyes upon her.