Love's Melody Lost
See part 1 for all disclaimers and copyright information.
Anna was the first to arrive in the dining room. The long highly polished table was elaborately set with starched handmade linens, antique silver cutlery, fine crystal glassware and china place settings. The formality of the scene was more than a little daunting. Anna reminded herself that there had been much more to Grahamís previous life than she had gleaned from the newspaper accounts. The understated way Graham lived at Yardley now was a far departure from her earlier life. She was a world-renowned artist, recognized in every civilized country, and surely she would have traveled in the most elite circles. She would have been feted at every turn. It made Anna wistful to think she would never know that part of Graham.
Angrily she reminded herself that Graham Yardley obviously had all the companionship she needed with the arrival of Christine. Whatever diversion Anna had provided was surely unnecessary now. The only person who would miss their moments together was herself. She felt at once helpless and irrationally saddened.
"My donít you look nice!" Helen exclaimed as she bustled into the room, mercifully delivering Anna from her introspection.
"Helen!" Anna greeted her with relief. "You must have been working for hours in here! Itís wonderful."
Helen beamed with pleasure as she began setting up the large buffet along one side of the room. "Youíre right, it did! And it couldnít have been a happier chore. For just a moment there this morning, when she was telling me what she wanted done, Graham seemed like her old self."
Helen had no idea that her words had wounded Anna, who instantly thought that all it had taken to motivate Grahamís recovery was Christine's return. Helen continued, unaware of Annaís growing depression. "I do wish she would let me serve, though! She insisted that I prepare a buffet, and that I eat with you, but it just doesnít seem right! If only I had time I could have found help!"
"I donít have much experience, but I could probably manage the serving," Anna said dubiously. In her state of mind, anything seemed preferable to sitting down to dinner with Graham and Christine.
"Nonsense," Graham said from the door, having heard Annaís remark. "Iím sure we can all manage ourselves just this once, Helen."
Anna turned at the sound of Grahamís voice, her heart freezing at the sight of Graham and Christine together. Christine, who had changed into a revealing black evening dress, stood with her arm wrapped through Grahamís, leaning slightly so that her body pressed against Grahamís side. They made a stunningly attractive couple, and Anna had to admit thatís what they were. There was a connection between them that was undeniable, regardless of the years that had separated them. Christine held onto Graham as if she owned her, and Graham seemed content to let her. Anna averted her gaze, unable to tolerate the insurmountable evidence that Graham was still very much involved with Christine.
"At least let me help you set up," she said to Helen, grateful for any diversion.
"Thank you, dear," Helen replied kindly. Annaís reaction to Grahamís entrance had not escaped her. She could only imagine what the poor girl was thinking. And she probably didnít know Graham well enough to know that Graham was behaving exactly as she would with any guest at Yardley.
"You really didnít need to open the guest room for me, Helen," Christine commented as she allowed Graham to seat her to Grahamís right at the table. She smiled without the slightest trace of warmth, her gaze fixed on Anna. "It wasnít necessary, you know."
Anna glanced at Graham, whose face remained expressionless. But Christine had made her point, if she wanted to make it clear where she intended to sleep. Why she felt it necessary that Anna understand her claim on Graham, Anna couldnít imagine. As if it would make a difference even if Anna did care. Anna gritted her teeth and resolved to make this the last meal she shared with Graham Yardley and her Christine.
The dinner proved to be every bit as difficult to endure as Anna feared. Graham, although attentive to Christineís needs and unfailingly courteous, remained distant and distracted throughout the meal. Christine appeared not to notice Grahamís preoccupation, regaling them with social gossip and endless anecdotes of her travels. It did not escape Annaís notice that Christine never mentioned anything remotely to do with music. For her part, Anna had nothing to contribute, and remained silent. She breathed a sigh of relief when at last she could depart with the excuse of helping Helen clear the table.
"You know you donít have to do this, dear," Helen chided when Anna joined her in the kitchen. " But I do appreciate it."
"I work here, too," Anna said, more sharply than she intended. "Believe me, itís a pleasure compared to sitting in there."
Helen studied her speculatively. "I gather the company wasnít to your liking," she commented mildly.
"It was wonderful to finally share a meal with Graham," Anna admitted. Anna had enjoyed Grahamís presence immensely, despite Graham's obvious distraction. She only wished it hadnít required Christineís arrival to prompt Graham to join them.
"Christine can be a bit overbearing, but you must remember sheís always been indulged by every one."
"Including Graham apparently," Anna said ungraciously. She sighed in disgust, as much with herself as the situation. "Oh, I donít know, Helen, it just annoys me the way she hovers over Graham. She poured her wine, she served her food - the next thing you know sheíll be cutting her meat! You know very well Graham doesnít need that kind of help!!"
"Maybe thatís the only kind of help Christine has to offer," Helen suggested sagely.
Anna stopped what she was doing and stared at Helen. "What are you saying, Helen?"
"Christine has always been more glitter than substance. And Graham has always demanded a great deal from people - even before their accident, Christine was frightened by Grahamís intensity. If she were to truly confront Grahamís needs now, she would be overwhelmed. "
Well, she certainly seems to be meeting some of Grahamís needs without any problems! Anna thought angrily. She knew she couldnít discuss Christine rationally, not with the scene in the library so fresh in her memory.
"I donít know what Iím saying any longer," Anna said wearily. "I think I just need to get some rest. Iím going to say goodnight to Graham and head upstairs."
She found Graham and Christine just rising from the table upon her return. Before she could say her goodnights, Christine spoke, seemingly oblivious to Annaís presence.
"Why donít you play something for me, darling?" she asked, grasping Grahamís hand.
Graham could have been carved from marble, she was so still. Slowly, she disengaged Christineís fingers from hers, moving Christineís hand to the crook of her arm. When she spoke, her voice was carefully neutral. "I think not. I need to work."
"Surely youíre not going to work tonight!!" Christine protested, her cheeks flushed with ire.
"Yes," Graham replied with finality.
For an instant Anna thought Christine was about to argue, but the other woman quickly relented.
"All right, if you must. But do promise me youíll breakfast with me!"
Graham nodded. "Of course. Now let me show you to your room." As she led Christine from the room, she said softly, "Goodnight, Anna."
For Anna it was anything but a good night. She tried to read, but she couldnít concentrate. She dozed off in her chair, only to be awakened by a noise in the hall. She knew Grahamís step by now. The person passing by her door toward the master suite was not Graham Yardley.
There was no doubt, of course, about what she had witnessed earlier in the library. It was clear from what Helen had said and from what she herself had witnessed, that Graham and Christine had been lovers before their accident. It seemed apparent that they were about to resume that relationship now. Graham obviously had never stopped loving Christineóthat was the real reason she had secluded herself for so many long and lonely years.
Anna wasnít disturbed by the physical nature of their relationship, but she was stunned by her own response to that kiss. She couldnít bear to think of Graham making love to Christine. That reaction was something she had no reference for, and she was at a loss as to how to cope. She told herself she should be happy that Graham had a chance at happiness, but what she felt instead was a deep sense of loss. Annaís emotions were in turmoil. One thing she knew for certainóshe could not face them together in the morning!
After a fitful few hours of tossing and turning, she rose just before dawn, dressed by the last of the moonlight, and went out for a walk. Unconsciously she followed the path Graham took each morning down the steep slope to the edge of the cliff. She stood where she had seen Graham stand. Anna closed her eyes and tried to imagine what it was that drew Graham to this lonely precipice. After a moment, she thought she knew. Waves crashed below with a deafening roar, sending needles of spray hundreds of feet up the cliff. The air was so sharp it stung her skin. The wind blew harder here, fresh from over the water, carrying the rich scent of sea life. It was much colder there as well. This would be the first place at Yardley where the morning sun would fall. Condensed in this one spot, in the dark just before dawn, ones senses were so assaulted, you did not need to see to know the essence of the world around you. For a brief instant each day, on the edge of this cliff, Graham Yardley was not blind.
Anna leaned against the crumbling stone wall that rimmed the cliff and cried. She cried for Graham, for all she had been, and all she had lost. She cried for herself, because she loved her, and would never know her. She cried for the years she had spent not knowing herself, only to discover too late what form her love truly took. As she cried the harsh wind dried her tears. When the first faint wisps of summer sunlight flickered across her cheeks, she opened her eyes to a day that dawned clearer, and lonelier, than any she had ever known. She sat on a worn weathered bench to watch the sunrise, and thatís where Graham found her.
"Anna?" came the deep voice she could never mistake for another's.
Anna looked up to find Graham beside her, in the same clothes she had worn to dinner, rumpled and exhausted.
"How do you always know?" she asked quietly.
Graham smiled faintly. "The air moves differently when youíre near."
"You should have been a poet, not a pianist," Anna breathed around the tears that threatened again. "Although maybe there isnít any difference. Please, sit down."
Graham acquiesced, stretching her long legs out before her, leaning back with a sigh. Her hand lightly grazed Annaís shoulder where she rested it along the top of the bench.
"How is your work coming?" Anna asked, unsettled by Grahamís nearness, but loath to move away.
Graham shrugged tiredly. "I wish I knew. Iím trying only to capture the essence of what Iím hearing. I donít dare analyze it yet. Iím afraid to discover it is trash."
"Have you slept?"
"Ah, Anna - always so concerned. Why do you care?" she asked not unkindly. Annaís caring confounded her. Many people in her life had professed to care about her, but only Helen remained, and she had loved Graham all her life. Why a stranger should extend kindness now, when she was bereft of all her talents, she could not comprehend.
"Because I -" Anna hesitated over words she was not prepared to face. "Because you deserve to be cared about Graham. And youíre avoiding my question. Did you sleep?"
"As much as one can in one of those godforsaken chairs from the last century," Graham admitted. "Anna," she continued with a weary sigh, "tell me about something you love. Tell me about something beyond my view."
As Anna spoke, Grahamís tension ebbed, and her breathing grew quiet and deep. Anna told of her favorite cities, the movies that made her cry, and the books she had read a dozen times. She talked of her family, and her friends, and her dreams. She talked long after she thought Graham was asleep, because she wanted to keep her near, because it pleased her to imagine that some part of Graham heard her secrets. When at last she fell silent, the day was fully born.
"So," Graham murmured, to Annaís surprise awake after all, "You love New York City, French movies with subtitles, wild flowers, and - what else?"
I love you, she answered from her soul. "Yardley -" Anna whispered with an ache in her heart, "I love Yardley."
"Yes," Graham uttered as she pushed herself upright. "I can tell that you do." She frowned as she turned her gaze toward the old house. "Is it seven-thirty yet?"
"Seven-twenty," Anna confirmed.
"I must say good bye then. I have a breakfast engagement."
Anna spoke without thinking. "Surely Christine will understand if you get some sleep! Youíve been up all night!"
"Iím afraid that Christine never had any patience when my work disrupted her plans," Graham remarked calmly. "Iím sure thatís one thing that hasnít changed."
She leaned to brush her hand along Annaís shoulder. "Thank you for these moments of peace, Anna. Iíll see you at dinner."
With that she was gone, and Anna was left with an empty day looming ahead.
When Anna returned from running errands, grateful for any mindless task to divert her thoughts from Graham, she was unreasonably glad to see that Christineís jaguar was no longer parked in the drive. Just the sight of it was unsettling. Instead, the familiar truck bearing the logo Womenworks was parked in itís place. Daphne Herrald and her two-woman crew were the landscapers she had hired for the heavy clearing and hauling that needed to be done. She not only liked their work, she liked the women. They were working full-time at Yardley now, and Anna planned on keeping them on part-time after the summer. They were fast, efficient and friendly. And most importantly, they seemed to appreciate Grahamís special circumstances. It was impossible to tell when Graham might take it upon herself to stroll down one of the many garden paths, or decide that she wanted something from the kitchen garden. After Grahamís mishaps with her own carelessness, and the near disaster with the painter, Anna was always worried. Without Anna watching over them, these women were meticulous with their tools and careful to clean up after themselves.
Anna noticed Graham and Daphne deep in conversation as she rounded the corner from the drive. Graham, leaning one hip against the balustrade in her familiar stance, hands in pockets, smiled down at Daphne who stood several steps below her on the walk. Daphne looked tanned, fit, and if the expression on her face was any indication, quite taken with the master of Yardley Manor. Daphne and the women on her crew made it no secret that they were lesbians, and it certainly hadnít mattered one way or the other to Annaóuntil now. If Daphne wasnít looking at Graham with something very close to lust in her eyes, Anna was sadly mistaken.
The low-pitched murmur of Grahamís sonorous voice reached her, and as always, Anna was stirred by it. Seeing Graham and Daphne together, as innocent as it surely was, made Anna realize how much Grahamís physical presence affected her. She had thought her strikingly handsome from the first night they met. She found herself captivated by the delicacy and sinewy strength of Grahamís hands as she sketched a phrase in the air. The wind blowing Grahamís hair into disarray always left Anna wanting to brush the locks off her forehead. And she could scarcely look into Graham's fathomless dark eyes without feeling something twist deep within her.
She nearly gasped as all the images which were Graham cascaded through heróand left her unmistakably wanting her. In that instant, she understood fully her aversion to Christine. It was knowing that Graham had once loved heróperhaps did stillóand the fact that Graham touched her with love. Anger raged within her when she thought of Graham wasting her precious passion on someone who did not cherish it - on someone who had abandoned her when Grahamís need was greatest. Anna understood with sudden startling clarity exactly what she wantedóGrahamís passion, in all its forms, for herself. The insight was so undeniable that it left her staggered. She couldnít question her desire, her body ached with it.
She turned away from the women in the garden. Her reaction to the sight of Daphne and Graham together followed too closely on the heels of Christineís arrival. She seemed to be assaulted at every turn with her longing for Graham, and the impossibility of her desire. Foolishly, she had allowed herself to believe that Graham felt something of the connection she herself could not deny each time she saw her, or heard her step in the hall, or her music in the air. She should have known that for a woman of Grahamís intensity and unrelenting passion, her love for Christine would be inextinguishable.
Anna fled into the house, desperately trying to escape her own heart. She stood unpacking groceries, her mind strangely blank when a short rap on the door interrupted her.
"Hey!" Daphne said as she pushed open the door. "I thought I saw you drive upócan I talk to you a sec?"
Anna nodded distractedly. "Sure."
"Youíre getting a lot of soil erosion on the edges of the paths -- especially on the back slopes. What do you think about putting in some ground cover along there? Itís labor intensive to do the planting, but in the end it will preserve the area," Daphne stated. She looked at Anna curiously when she didnít answer. "Anna? You okay?"
Anna forced herself to focus. "Yes, sureóground cover? I had noticed thatóbut thereís so much around here that needs attention, it just slipped my mind. Did you speak to Graham?"
Daphne looked surprised. "No, why would I? You hired me. You make the decisions."
"I just thoughtóI saw you talking to Graham when I came homeó" her voice trailed off uncertainly. God, she was a mess!
"Oh, that was just small talk. I ran into her out back, she asked me how things were going. Sheís always soócharming, you know? Every woman in my crew has a crush on her!" she said with a laugh.
"Including you?" Anna asked, trying to match Daphneís light tone.
Daphne studied Anna carefully. She looked shaken and pale. "Oh hellóis that what youíre thinking? I have a lover Iím nuts about, and weíve got two great kids. Graham is fascinating, not to mention gorgeous, and I do think sheís incredibly attractiveóbut looking is as far it goes with me."
Anna busied herself with unpacking, avoiding Daphneís intense gaze. "Itís none of my business anyway. I didnít mean to put you on the spot."
"I assumed you two were lovers," Daphne said, a question in her voice.
"No," Anna whispered almost to herself. Taking a deep breath, she turned to Daphne. "Why did you think that?"
"I could be on dangerous ground here - lots of room to offend if Iím wrong." Daphne shrugged, flashing her trademark grin. "But what the hell. After twenty years of seeing women in all stages of togetherness, you get a sense for it. Itís the way you are around each other. Your face lights up whenever she appears. Your eyes follow her whenever sheís in sight. I know damn well it kills you every time she heads down that goddamned slope to the cliff. I can tell you stop breathing. It takes more guts than Iíve got to watch her do that without screaming."
"Graham doesnít leave you any choice," Anna murmured, "she doesnít know how to be anything but proud."
Daphne nodded. "Iíve never met anyone like her. She listens for you, you know. In the middle of our conversation just now I saw her smile, and her whole body relaxed just a little. Ten seconds later I heard your jeep. Sheíd been listening for you to come home. She knows how to find you when youíre in the garden. She walks right to you. How does she do that?"
"I donít know," Anna sighed. "I donít think I know anything about anything anymore."
Daphne considered letting it go, but Anna looked so miserable. Graham had seemed pretty frayed too. "First time youíve ever been in love with a woman?" she asked kindly.
Hearing it put so matter of factly gave her pause. "Iíve never been in love before," she said after a moment, knowing it was true.
"Sometimes," Daphne continued cautiously, "itís just a false alarm."
Anna met Daphneís gaze steadily, a muscle tightening in her jaw. "No."
Daphne could tell she meant it. And something was really wrong. Annaís usually clear blue eyes were clouded with pain, her face was drawn and tired, and she looked on the verge of breaking into tears.
"Does she know how you feel about her?"
Anna studied her hands, her cheeks coloring. "Itís not that simple. Graham is - complicated. She was horribly hurt." She took a deep breath, smiling tremulously. "I donít think Graham gives me much thought."
"This is serious, isnít it?" Daphne asked softly.
"I wish I could helpó" Daphne began.
Anna appreciated her sympathy, but she interrupted her with a shake of her head. Even before Christineís arrival, Anna noticed a reticence in the way Graham treated her. She was always welcoming and seemed to enjoy Annaís companyóbut still there was the distance. Just when Anna thought Graham was becoming more comfortable with her, something would cause her to withdraw. Anna was never sure what she had said, or what painful memory she had triggered. Often Annaís encounters with Graham left her unsettled, and she was slowly becoming aware of an inner void that seemed to deepen each day. With Christine here now, and Grahamís apparent attachment to her, there seemed to be little room for Anna in Grahamís life. She smiled at Daphne ruefully.
"The only one who can help is Graham."
In the days that followed Anna saw little of Graham. She kept to her usual routine, spending time with Helen in the morning, working on the grounds in the afternoon. Graham had not sent for her, and Anna did not seek her out. She saw Graham and Christine together often as they walked about the grounds, or sat together on the terrace in the afternoons. Graham spent every evening, if not the entire night, alone in her study.
Aside from the times Graham denied Christine entry to the music room, Christine was never far from Grahamís side, and her possessive attitude was intolerable for Anna. Anna tried her best to be polite, but the sight of them together, Christine constantly touching Graham in some way, made her irrationally angry. And that made her even more short-tempered. After all, it was none of her concern if Graham Yardley behaved like a fool around that woman! She began to wonder how much more she could endure. She tried to avoid them as much as possible, even taking her meals with Helen in the late afternoon, offering excuses as to why she couldnít be present for the now routine dinner gatherings.
The worst parts of her day were the evenings. Although she usually worked until she was physically exhausted, she didnít seem able to sleep. Once it had been a comfort to retire to her rooms, and fall asleep with a book open on her lap. Now even that consolation eluded her. Every time someone passed in the hall she couldnít help thinking it was Christine, on her way to the master suite at the opposite end of the hall. Rationally, she knew there were any number of reasons Helen, or Christine, or Graham herself might pass in the hall, but she was anything but rational. She was driving herself crazy imaging Christine in Grahamís bed!
She threw down the book she had been trying to read for three nights in a row and snatched her denim jacket from the coat rack by her door. Despite the warm early summer days, evenings by the sea were still cool. She needed to walk off her anxiety and deepening sense of despair. Unconsciously, she took the meandering path through the lower slopes of the back property, skirting along the sea wall. Yardley stood several hundred yards uphill, and with its lights flickering through the trees, it cast a magical shape against the darkening sky. As if to accompany that otherworldly aura, Anna caught the strains of a wistful melody floating in the air. She began the steep climb up the wildly overgrown track toward the source. The terrace doors stood open to the darkness of the night, which blended into the blackness inside the music room. Graham was alone, playing.
Anna leaned against the balustrade on the far side of the terrace, listening, straining for some glimpse of the woman in the shadows. The melancholy tenor of the music seemed to echo her own internal anguish. She made no effort to stop the tears. She had no idea how long she stood there, joined with Graham in some unnamed longing, when a voice quite near startled her from her reverie.
"She is absolutely magnificent, isnít she?" Christine remarked casually as she joined Anna on the terrace.
"Yes," Anna said softly, having no reason to deny what the entire world had recognized. Only a few of her caliber born each century, one reviewer had said.
"Oh, I wasnít talking about her music," Christine laughed. "But then Iím sure youíve noticed what an exquisite specimen she is. You seem to have developed quite an appreciation for all her attributes. Believe me, in her case, her genius extends beyond the piano. She brings that remarkable intensity to absolutely everything she touches. And everyone. Fortunately Graham was too seduced by her music to notice anyone for more than a night or two- before me of course." She laughed, appraising Anna in the dim light of the moon. She found Anna naturally lovely, with her work hardened body, feminine yet strong, and her clear eyes and shimmering hair. She was the type Christine had amused herself with over the years since Graham. Under other circumstances - she thought briefly, then reminded herself of her intentions.
"Now you did surprise me at first," she continued mockingly. "I wouldnít have thought youíd find Graham to your tastes, although God knows women of all persuasions used to throw themselves at her. And living here with her - I can imagine that would be a temptation even if women werenít your usual pleasure."
"I was just on my way in," Anna said as she made to leave. She had no intention of allowing Christine to goad her into a discussion of her feelings for Graham. And she was in real danger of doing her bodily harm if she stayed.
"Youíre no match for the competition, you know," Christine said lightly.
Anna stopped abruptly, incensed. "I am not competing with you," she seethed.
Christine laughed, tossing her head in dismissal. "Perhaps not, although from the way you look at her I think youíre deluding yourself. Unfortunately, Graham has no way of knowing whatís in your eyes, does she?" She pushed away from the balcony railing, stepping quite close to Anna as she did so. Anna could smell her fragrant perfume. "I wasnít speaking of myself, although knowing Graham, I have no concerns. Iíd wager sheís much too honorable to take you to her bed just for sport. Although Iím sure you wouldnít take much convincing, would you?" She ran a finger lightly down Annaís arm, laughing again when Anna hastily pulled away. "She is too hopelessly romantic to let old passions fade, and unlike you, Iím not above physical persuasion. Regardless of what she says, her body never lies."
She touched Annaís hand ever so lightly as she passed into the night. "I was speaking of the music, my dear innocent - the music is Grahamís true mistress."
With that she was gone, leaving Anna to stare after her with a mixture of anger and pity. She had issued some kind of warning, although Anna couldnít imagine why she felt it necessary. God only knew, Anna was no threat to her claim on Grahamís affections. What amazed her was that a woman who had supposedly loved Graham Yardley for over two decades did not understand what Anna realized the moment she heard Graham play. Music was not Grahamís mistress, music was Grahamís life. To love Graham was to welcome the force that sustained her, even though it threatened to destroy her as she struggled to bring it forth from her soul. Anna could no more be jealous of Grahamís music than she could be jealous of her indomitable will, or her passionate ardor, or her sensitive spirit. The day the music truly deserted her would be the day her heart ceased to beat. Anna prayed for the day the music would flow unbidden from Grahamís soul, for then she would be truly healed.
Anna glanced once more into the darkened room, imagining Graham absorbed in the sound, comforted by her nearness.
Grahamís music lingered in Anna's mind throughout the morning as she occupied herself with outside work. She spent most of the time with contractors and subcontractors and by noon she was ready for a break. She wandered down to the stone bench under the huge sycamore, recalling wistfully the afternoon she and Graham had spent there. She turned from the memory of the brief closeness they had shared. It only made their estrangement harder. She stretched out on the bench in the dappled shade afforded by the overhanging branches, draped one arm over her eyes, and slept.
When she slowly approached consciousness again, she was aware she was not alone. Even without opening her eyes, she sensed her.
"How long have you been here," Anna questioned, rolling onto her side to study the woman seated on the ground, her back against the bench where Anna lay. She looked weary in a way that went beyond fatigue, but the strain belied by a tightness in her fine jaw was absent. She seemed strangely peaceful. Graham turned her head toward Annaís voice with a soft smile, a smile that eased the tension from her face. Annaís heart turned over at the sight of her vulnerable beauty.
"Not long - an hour, I think," Graham replied.
"What have you been doing?" Anna asked tenderly, brushing a stray twig from Graham's dark hair.
Graham shuddered involuntarily at the light touch that strayed unintentionally against her cheek. As often as Christine touched her, nothing she did affected her like this. Graham felt the first tingle of caution even as she warmed to the touch. She must take care where Anna was concerned, yet she couldnít seem to do without her company. These last few weeks since Christineís arrival had been doubly hard. She had to contend with Christineís constant demands for her attention, and her persistent attempts to rekindle Grahamís ardor. Along with that, Graham had little time to spend with Anna. She missed her humor, and her compassion, and her wonderful way of bringing life to Grahamís inner vision. Just her quiet, soothing tone brought Graham some semblance of calm. Graham found she even missed Annaís undauntable insistence that she sleep, or eat, or get out of the sun - the kind of demand Graham had never accepted of anyone. She had been lonely for a kind of connection she no longer thought she needed. She tried to ignore the growing agitation and discomfort for days, but finally, almost against her will, she had gone in search of her young employee. Finding her asleep, she had been content just to be near her.
"I was listening to you breathe, thinking that the cadence was much like a refrain. Suddenly the music Iíve been trying to compose began pouring through my mind." Graham said slowly, as if speaking in a dream. She was amazed at how easily it had come, after all the solitary struggle night after night to no avail, just by sitting quietly with a sleeping woman. "Iíve just been here listening," she finished quietly.
Anna watched the transformation of Graham's face as she spoke. The tense muscles softened, the fine lines about her eyes and lips relaxed, and suddenly she looked years younger. When Graham sighed and leaned her head back, it took all of Annaís control not to guide Grahamís head into her lap. She wanted to hold her desperately. Only her fear that Graham would retreat, as she had so often, stilled her hand.
"Iím so happy for you," Anna said quietly.
Graham reached for Annaís hand, taking her by surprise. "I believe that you are." She brushed her lips softly across Annaís hand, then laid it gently down. With a sigh, she pushed herself upright. There were issues she needed to attend to, no matter how pleasant her moments here had been.
"I have consented to Christineís desire to give a small dinner party in honor of Helenís birthday. I would like you to attend," Graham stated flatly.
"Oh Graham, I donít think so! I donít really belong there -" Anna said in a rush. She couldnít imagine a worse scenario. Trapped with Christine at some formal affair!
Graham shook her head slightly. "You do belong. Helen cares for you a great deal, and you are a part of this household. I want you there."
Still Anna protested. "I work for you, Graham - Iím not part of your social world."
"I have no social world, Anna, " Graham remarked darkly, all semblance of her recent serenity gone. "There will be some family friends, people Helen has known for years, and some recent acquaintances of Christine. If it werenít for the fact that Helen has had precious little thanks for the task of looking after Yardley all this time, I wouldnít hear of it." She ran a hand through her hair, glowering at some distant vision, before she continued wearily, "It will be difficult enough for me - I need you there."
Anna could not fathom the reason, but there was little she could do in the face of Grahamís direct plea. "Of course, Iíll be there."
Graham nodded. "Good." Looking as if she were about to leave,
she turned abruptly and cast Anna a serious look. "And Iíll expect you at dinner
from now on, Anna. Every night." Not waiting for a reply, she stepped out from
the shadow of the tree, disappearing into the bright sunlight, leaving Anna
staring after her.
Guests had gathered in the foyer of the ballroom, which had been opened and refurbished under Annaís watchful direction all that week. Helen, as the honoree, was seated on a plush velvet sofa, conversing with friends and sampling the ample hor díouerves and champagne. Tuxedo-clad young women moved through the crowd offering food and drink. Anna kept one eye on the kitchen, making sure the caterers had every thing they needed, and the other on the grand staircase that flanked the reception area. Even though it was nearly the appointed time for dinner to be served, neither Graham nor Christine had arrived. She was about to signal the maitre d' to begin seating people when a low murmur of excitement rippled throughout the crowd. Anna had no doubt of the cause. She looked to the top of the curving marble staircase for confirmation.
Graham and Christine were descending. Christine, her gloved hand resting on the sleeve of Grahamís extended arm, was dressed in a low-cut evening gown, accentuating her figure while revealing a good deal of décolletage. Graham was a study in understated elegance in a tuxedo of soft dove gray silk, white tie, white silk brocade vest and tails. Whereas Christine, radiantly beautiful, drew the attention of the majority of those gathered, Anna could not take her eyes off Graham. As they reached the bottom stair, Graham handed Christine down into a crowd of well-wishers, obviously friends Christine had acquired since she and Graham parted. Graham moved away, remarking politely to those who stopped to greet her, yet determined to avoid conversation. If you didnít know her, you would not have thought this was her first social gathering since her injury. She looked perfectly composed and entirely in command. Anna, who knew differently, could detect the signs of strain from across the room. As unobtrusively as possible, she made her way through the crowd to Grahamís side.
"Helen is sitting on the divan just to the left of the entrance," Anna said. "I havenít had a chance to talk with her this evening, there have been so many people I donít know. Perhaps you could see me over and pave the way for me?"
"And perhaps rescue myself from the perilous chore of trying to get from here to there on my own?" Graham asked cynically. At Annaís swift intake of breath, Graham realized she had struck out at the wrong person. Anna had offered her a way to preserve her dignity without sacrificing her pride. It had been pride that had gotten her into this situation to begin with. Christine handled the fact of Grahamís sightlessness by ignoring it, and had not considered what the evening would demand of Graham. Graham couldnít bring herself to tell Christine she wouldnít be able to manage in such a large gathering without help. Given enough time to familiarize herself with an area, she could accomplish an astounding degree of independence. With the workers in and out of the dining area and ballroom all week, there simply hadnít been the opportunity. Now she could not safely move about on her own. She had no doubt that Christine would have been solicitous of her every need, and by allowing that, Graham would have been diminished in her own eyes, if not that of every person there. "You are quite astute, Anna. You seem to have gleaned the obstacles my infirmity presents," she continued self-mockingly. "It would not do to have me stumbling about."
Anna, stressed herself from the pressures of the evening as well as the constant visage of Graham and Christine everywhere she turned, didnít even try to control her anger. "You are the least infirm person I know," she seethed. "What you are is too damn pig-headed for your own good. Everyone has some kind of need, Graham - once in a while. Are you so self-sufficient that you consider yourself above that?"
Grahamís only response was to raise one elegant eyebrow. "Clearly I have done something to offend you. Whatever that might be, I sincerely apologize. As to the question of my needs, Ms. Reid, let me assure you they are not a matter for discussion."
"Then you can find your own damn way across the room!" Anna snarled. "Iím too tired to argue you with you when youíre in one of these stubborn, insufferably arrogant moods!"
Graham caught Annaís hand as Anna was about to turn away. Anna stared in amazement at the fingers lightly grasping hers. How on earth does she do that?
"Now is not the time to discuss my moods or your opinion of them. I donít want to argue with you, nor do I wish to offend you further. I would, however, be honored to escort you to the reception line, and to dinner," Graham continued as if Anna hadnít just railed at her in a tone of voice no one else had ever dared use. Graham offered her arm, trying to hide her tension and her increasing disorientation as people pressed around them. After a momentsí hesitation, Anna slipped her fingers around Grahamís forearm.
"What about Christine?" Anna asked as she and Graham made their way through the crowd. Graham was exquisitely sensitive to the pressure of Annaís hand, and had no trouble guiding them through the crowd from the faint cues Anna transmitted through her touch. From the first time Anna had taken her arm to walk with her through the gardens, there had been that effortless communication. She doubted that Anna even realized the extent to which she provided Graham with a sense of her surroundings.
"Christine has never lacked for escorts at these affairs. Sheíll soon have some young woman - or man - enthralled. You need have no concern about her." Anna wasnít so sure as she caught Christineís angry glance at them from across the room.
Nevertheless, the meal passed uneventfully, and Helen was obviously having a wonderful time. She couldnít wait to usher everyone into the ballroom where a string quartet was waiting to provide the music. Graham had made it clear there was to be no piano in the room. Helen laughed with delight when Graham asked her if she would like to have the first dance with her.
"Oh my goodness, no! You are much too tall for me and far too good a dancer! Iíd much rather watch you dance," she cried fondly.
"I think not, Helen," Graham replied flatly.
"You must dance with Anna at least, Graham," Helen chided. "Itís only proper that you do. She is here at your request, after all, and unescorted. Besides, she looks so lovely tonight!"
"Does she?" Graham murmured, thinking of the last time she had danced. It had been with Christine at the reception following what was to be her last concert. To her surprise, she couldnít remember what it had felt like.
"Oh yes," Helen enthused. "She has done something with her hair - itís pinned up in some way, and it shows off her face so nicely. She has beautiful cheekbones, rather like a model. Sheís a golden tan from the sun, and seems to glow- naturally. To my mind sheís one of the most beautiful women here."
"What color is her dress?" Graham asked almost against her will.
"A deep blue, like her eyes, and itís cut down off her shoulders in a - well, I wouldnít exactly say itís revealing, but she does have an attractive figure."
"Where is she?" Graham brought herself to ask.
"Just inside the door- to your right. And thereís no one nearby, if you were to walk directly there from here," Helen added as if it were an afterthought. She knew better than anyone what it took for Graham to make this appearance tonight, and what it required for her to preserve her pride.
"Thank you, Helen," Graham said as she bent to kiss her softly on the cheek.
Helen held her breath as she watched Graham make her way toward Anna. She neednít have worried. Grahamís instinct was unerring. Within a moment she was at Annaís side. The orchestra was just beginning the opening waltz.
"Would you honor me with this dance?" Graham asked as she offered her hand to Anna with a slight bow.
Anna was nearly speechless. She had never danced with a woman before, and to dance with Graham, alone, in front of all these people! "Surely Christine will expect this dance!!" was all she could manage.
Graham straightened, a flicker of ire crossing her fine features. "Christine is neither mistress of this house nor of me. It is not for her to decide. Now will you give me this dance?"
The guests who ringed the room receded from Annaís view. All she could see was the woman before her, hand outstretched, waiting. Graham was imperiously commanding, handsome beyond description, and intently focused on Anna. Anna could no more have denied her than she could have stopped her own heartbeat.
"Yes," Anna said softly, taking the elegant hand. "I would love to."
Graham made it impossible to be nervous. She danced with the same grace and fluidity with which she played. When Anna stepped into her arms, Anna knew only gently swirling motion and the warmth of Grahamís body against her. She was unaware of those watching but she was acutely aware of every facet of Grahamís presence. She felt the rise of Grahamís chest against her own breasts, the faint pressure of Grahamís thigh against her leg, and the possessive press of Grahamís hand on her back. She had never felt so intimately connected to anyone in her life. The sensations slowly coalesced into an ache of desire.
"Youíre shaking," Graham murmured.
Anna laughed unsteadily against Grahamís shoulder, praying her arousal wasnít so obvious. "I think itís nerves. Just donít let go of me."
Graham bent her head until her lips brushed the hair at Annaís temple. "I wouldnít dream of it," she whispered. She drew her close, and their bodies moved effortlessly together.
Christine watched them dance. They fit together well - too well. Graham held Anna protectively within the circle of her arms, her cheek nestled against Annaís fair hair. Annaís eyes were closed, her left hand softly, unconsciously, stroking the stray wisps of Grahamís unruly black mane where it brushed against her collar. She trembled visibly, and Christine knew perfectly well why. She had felt the power of Grahamís presence herself, and knew what it was to melt with desire in her arms. Anna and Graham melded to one another like lovers, although she was certain Graham had not yet conceived of it. Might never accept it. But Christine had no intention of leaving that up to fate. When the dance ended she intended to reassert her claim on the errant master of Yardley Manor.
Anna was the first one awake the next morning. She was glad she wouldnít have to face anyone, not even Helen. She doubted that she would have been able to hide her feelings under any circumstances. Last nights events were still too fresh and her anger too potent.
The dance with Graham had literally left her gasping. When at last other couples began to join them, Graham quickly steered them off the floor and out onto the balcony that extended along one entire side of the ballroom. Candles in glass holders cast a dim light over the area. They walked to the rail and stood side by side facing outward. Their hands were nearly touching on the rail.
"Youíre a wonderful dancer," Anna managed when at last she could control her breathing. She glanced at Graham, who appeared lost in thought. After a long pause Graham seemed to have heard the remark. She smiled faintly.
"Thank you. You are easy to lead," she said. After some hesitation, she continued. "And you are also easy to follow. I must apologize for my Ďpig-headedí behavior earlier this evening. You were right in surmising that I needed help. I couldnít bring myself to ask. There was a time, Anna, when the world was mine to command, and no one ever suggested otherwise. Now, I continue as if I were still that person- stubborn arrogance I think you said."
It was clearly a struggle for her to admit this much, and Anna had no need for her to humble herself. "Itís alright, Graham," Anna interrupted her quietly. "I canít begin to imagine how difficult this evening must have been. It pleased me to help in some small way. Besides, if you werenít so stubborn, I probably wouldnít -" She stopped abruptly, embarrassed by what she had been about to say. She was rapidly losing all semblance of control around this woman! There was no denying what had happened to her as they danced, what was happening to her now. Grahamís nearness aroused her in a way she had never known. She had wanted Graham to touch her so much she was afraid the entire room would know. All she wanted now was to be in her arms again.
Graham tilted her head, waiting for the words that didnít come. She sensed Annaís hesitation, and thought her still offended. She had no way of knowing Anna was struggling to keep from caressing her.
"What is it?" she asked as the silence lengthened. "Anna, have I made you that angry?"
Graham flinched in surprise when Anna stepped closer, Anna's hands on Grahamís shirt front. She had known as they danced that she was on dangerous ground. The feel of Anna in her arms had awakened her senses. She had allowed herself the brief touch of her lips to Annaís temple. What she had wanted was to claim her mouth. Annaís hands on her now rekindled desire so long buried it was almost painful to experience. She caught her breath at the paroxysm of arousal, clenching her jaw against the swift burning spasm.
"Youíve a stud thatís come loose," Anna whispered throatily. She shivered as Grahamís hands came to her waist. She fastened the small diamond stud, aware that they were so close their entire bodies touched lightly. Grahamís body rippled with tension, and her grip on Anna tightened. Anna slid her fingers up to Grahamís collar, her vision suddenly cloudy. "And your tie needs straightening." She gasped as her breasts, swollen with desire, brushed against Grahamís chest.
"Oh god," Anna whispered as Graham drew her slowly against her own tight thigh. She lifted her eyes finally to Grahamís, and saw raw hunger in Grahamís face. Anna needed her kiss like she needed air to breath. She thought she might die with wanting. She slid her hand to the back of Grahamís neck, willing her lips closer. "Please," she implored.
"Anna-" Graham murmured thickly, knowing this was wrong, unable to stop. In another moment she would be beyond caring, she would have to have her. She was seconds away from committing the biggest error of her life when a voice from the past called her irrevocably back to reality.
"Graham, darling!" Christine stated calmly, as if she hadnít just found her in a passionate embrace with another woman. "I know you hate these affairs, but you simply must be civilized about it. You cannot disappear and deprive us all of your company."
Graham straightened slowly, stepping back away from Anna. She spoke into the darkness, her voice cold as ice. "You seem to have managed without my company for quite some time, my dear."
"And more fool I," Christine replied as she stepped to Grahamís side. She pointedly ignored Anna, who was watching Graham in stunned bewilderment. "I have every intention of making it up to you. Now stop being such a cad, and take me back to the party." As she spoke, she slipped one arm about Grahamís waist, unabashedly caressing her with the other, sliding her hand up the length of Grahamís thigh as she pressed against her.
Graham grasped the hand that stroked her, but she did not pull away. Instead, she turned to Anna, her face remote.
"Forgive me, Anna, it seems I have obligations to attend to. Good night."
Anna collapsed against the railing, shaking, dazed by Grahamís departure. Her body was wracked with hunger for a woman who could arouse her with a glance, and then leave her without a second thought. She had come within a whisper of humiliating herself tonight, and yet - Graham had responded, hadnít she?
Anna slammed the cabinet door as the question that had haunted her all night echoed in her mind. What did it matter if Graham had responded - what would it have mattered if sheíd actually kissed her? The fact that Graham was aroused by a woman who was obviously trying to seduce her proved nothing. What mattered was that it took only a word from Christine and Graham forgot everything else. How many times, in how many ways, did she need to have that made clear?
"Iím going down to clear the brush from around the lower fountain," she growled as Helen joined her in the kitchen around seven-thirty. "I wonít be up for lunch."
Helen stared after her in confusion. She had just run into Graham coming out of her study, and she had snarled at Helenís cheery good morning. What had happened to every one overnight!?
As it turned out, Anna was forced to abandon her work early that afternoon. A storm blew up unexpectedly, as was wont to happen on the Cape in summer. Carrying her tools up to the gardenshed, she saw Christine and Graham on the rear terrace. The wind was blowing too hard for Anna to hear their conversation, but Christine was obviously upset. She grasped Grahamís arm, pressing close to her. Anna had no desire to witness any more of their private moments. She was about to turn away when Graham, looking gravely serious, bent her head and kissed Christine. Christine clung to her, pulling Grahamís willowy figure even closer, fervently returning the kiss. Anna did turn from them then; she needed no further proof of Christineís hold on Graham.
"I wonít be down for dinner tonight, Helen," she said when she found Helen in the laundry room. "IóI have some work I need to finish."
"Arenít you feeling well?" Helen asked in concern. "Has something happened?" She was well aware of the changes in Anna since Christine had arrived. She was quiet and reclusive, clearly unhappy. Helen hadnít wanted to intrude, but she was becoming more and more worried, about both Anna and Graham. Despite Christineís constant attention, Graham was restrained and brooding. And it hadnít escaped Helenís attention that Graham absolutely refused to play for Christine. Graham was walking the grounds late at night again, a sure sign that she was troubled. And now, Anna too!
"Iím really fine," Anna said, forcing a light tone. "I just - canít. Not tonight."
Helen watched her retreating form as she hurried from the room and wondered if those hadnít been tears on her cheeks.
Alone in her room, Anna stood for hours looking out to the sea. She struggled to make sense of her confused emotions, but the images of Graham and Christine were all she could envision. She knew she couldnít watch them together day after day. It was too painful, finally more painful than the alternative. Perhaps if last night had never happened she could have learned to live with the reality of Graham loving someone else. Maybe with time, seeing her, but always being apart from her, wouldnít tear her heart out. That was impossible now. Being in her arms last night had changed everything. Their skin may have been separated by the convention of clothing, but what the shear force of Graham's embrace had evoked was irreversible. She had known the length of Grahamís body against hers, had stroked the coiled muscles of her back, and felt the heat of her leg between her own. She would never be able to deny her longing, or control her desire, or tolerate the sight of Christine in Grahamís arms. She was not so big a fool as to believe she could stand that. Just as she reached the only decision open to her, a knock sounded on her door.
"Anna? Itís Grahamómay I come in?"
Anna wiped the tears from her eyes, struggling to compose herself.
"Hello," she said softly as she opened the door.
Graham looked concerned. "Are you all right? Helen said not to expect you for dinner."
"Yes. Iím fine."
"I see," Graham replied. She gestured with her hand. "May I come in?"
"Of course." Anna remained standing, too restless to sit.
Graham sensed Annaís distress, and she worried she was the cause of it. She had agonized over her lapse the evening before, finally leaving the gathering over Christineís protests to spend the night pacing in her study. She had overstepped her bounds, and she had no excuse for it. For a brief moment she had forgotten everything - the loss of her sight, the loss of Christine, even the loss of her music - all had faded into the awareness of Anna against her, breathing life into her with her desire. She had succumbed to the physical demands of her body, and God only knew what she might have done if Christine hadnít interrupted them. She had been perilously close to making love to Anna right there on the balcony. The vestiges of arousal lingered throughout the night, and even now, with Anna near, she struggled to maintain her distance. She had hoped Anna might overlook her indiscretion, but now she wasnít sure. "What is it, Anna?" she asked seriously.
Anna spoke the painful words before she lost courage. "Graham, Iíve been meaning to speak with you for some time. Iíve decided to move back to the city."
Grahamís head jerked as if she had been slapped, her face draining of color. "But why?" she gasped. She felt the words like a physical blow. Her chest ached, and she struggled for breath. "Is it because of my behavior last night? Anna?! I have no excuse - Iím sorry, I - what can I say? It wonít happen again, you have my word! Please believe me!""
Anna laughed at the bitter irony. "I do believe you. Itís not about last night, and if it were, it is I who should apologize."
"Then what, for Godís sake?" Graham demanded, her voice hoarse with strain.
Anna looked away, unable to face her suffering. She knew her resolve would weaken if she saw Graham in pain. "I need to be closer to the university, and Iím ó"
Sheís young and she wants a life, you fool! Graham stopped her, unable to stand the crushing truth. "You donít need to explain," she said harshly. "This is no life for you here, isolated on this godforsaken pinnacle of forgotten land! I understand, of course you must leave."
No you donít understand! Anna wanted to scream. But how can I tell you that I canít stand to see you with Christine? How can I sayí I love youí when I know it will only drive you away! Graham looked so vulnerable, Anna bit her lip to keep back the words. She longed to bring the smile back to Graham's face, to stroke the lines from her brow. She wanted to fling herself into her arms. Oh god! Must she really leave?
Graham summoned every ounce of her formidable will, forcing the pain into the recesses of her soul. That was something she had grown used to doing, and now it served her well. She would not let Anna know this was destroying her; she would save her pride.
"Christine will be leaving tomorrow. Can you stay until I arrange some business affairs?" Grahamís tone was empty of any emotion, and her expression revealed nothing of her inner despair. She had expected this, but now that it had happened, it was so much worse than she had imagined! For a short time Anna had brought life to this desolate place, to her desolate heart. She had not dared to hope that Anna would stay. Yardley, and all it held within its walls, was dying. It was selfish and foolhardy to think that Anna would have any reason to remain.
"Leaving?" Anna cried. "But I thoughtó"
Graham looked toward her, a question in her eyes. "You thought what?"
Anna was more confused than ever. She could do nothing save tell the truth.
"I thought you and she were lovers. I thought thatís why she had come back."
Graham walked to the fireplace, extending one long arm along the mantle, facing the empty grate. "Yesówe were, once. I was twenty-five years old and my whole life was music. I never knew, nor wanted -anything more. Oh, I didnít lack for company. There were -dalliances- usually with women impressed by my reputation. The reality generally proved much less to their liking. Then suddenly Christine entered my life. She was so young, so beautiful, so vital. She showed me a passion that nearly matched my music. I was mad about her, mad for her. But it was my passion, not hers. She never really felt the same, but I refused to see that. I wouldnít believe that my love was more than she wanted, or, as it turned out, not the kind of love she wanted. She tried to tell me that I was too demanding, too possessiveótoo intense for her, I think she said. I have yet to understand how love can be too intense."
Graham laughed bitterly. "I wouldnít hear what she was trying to tell me. I was so certain of myself. I thought with my music and Christine by my side I had all I needed in this life." She paused, her hand clenched tightly around the mantleís edge. When she spoke again, her voice was tight with pain. "The night of the accident, she told me she was leaving me to get married. I nearly went mad, thinking of her with him - all the time she had been with me. I was wild, raging with jealousy. I swore I wouldnít let her leave me. I frightened her, although god knows I never would have touched her in anger. She tried to jump from the car, and when I grabbed for her I lost control of the wheel. I just managed to pull her under me when we started to roll. The next thing I remember was waking up in the hospital. I heard my fatherís voice. When I opened my eyes, I knew instantly that I was blind. The darkness was everywhere, but nowhere deeper than in my heart. It was all my fault, you see. I had been too proud and too arrogant to hear that she was unhappy, that she in fact did not share my passion. She did not love me, and I nearly killed her."
Grahamís voice broke with the all too familiar bitter memories. She had almost killed Christine, the woman she swore she loved with all her heart. Losing her sight had seemed like a small price to pay. And now Anna would be gone too. She tried unsuccessfully to hide the tears that coursed down her cheeks. She fought desperately to seal the pain away once more. She flinched when Anna brushed the tears from her face.
"Please donít," Graham managed. "I didnít mean for you to see this. Please forget it, wonít you?"
"Iím so sorry, Graham. I didnít know," Anna whispered tenderly. All thoughts of her own despair dissipated in the face of Grahamís agony. "I saw you together in the garden today. I saw you kissing her. I canít believe she could leave you again."
Graham shook her head, not comprehending Annaís words. "I told her today that I had no wish for us to be together again. Anna, I was kissing her good bye."
Anna could only imagine that Graham was afraid to trust Christine again. Regardless of her own tangled emotions, she had no desire to see Graham suffer any more than she already had. "Graham, you mustnít be afraid. You can try again. Perhaps youíve both changed. It could be different now. You neednít be aloneó"
"Anna," Graham said vehemently, "you donít understand. I donít love ChristineóI donít want to love her. She has come here to escape her boredom, or to torture her husband with the reminder of our affair, but eventually she would tire of the charade, and she would leave. If I let her stay, it would be a mockery of love. I wonít have that!" She shook her head fiercely, her voice strident in protest. "No! Christine does not love me - perhaps she never did."
The words brought both a deep sadness and a curious sense of relief as she spoke them. Exhausted, Graham sank into the chair, trying to find a way to cope with Annaís leaving. She bowed her head into her hand, too weary to struggle any longer. "Iím sorry. Please excuse my outburst. All of this has been - hard for me. Just give me a moment, then Iíll go."
Anna took a deep breath. "Graham, I donít want to leave Yardley. This last month has been difficult, especially when I thought you and Christine were reuniting. I didnít think Iíd be needed any longer. But I have been happy here, happier than I have ever been, and I donít want to leave."
Graham drew a shuddering breath. "Are you sure?" The eyes she turned to Anna were wounded, nearly devoid of hope. She hadnít the strength to contain her despair, and the sight of it ripped at Annaís heart.
Her situation with Graham was no clearer, but at least she wouldnít have to face Christine every day. She knew she would be miserable if she left. She couldnít imagine never seeing Graham again. At least now she would have time to make some sense of her tumultuous desires. Anna cupped Grahamís face gently in her hands. "Iím very sure. I want to stay."
Graham pressed her lips to Annaís palm, her relief nearly palpable.
Only time would tell if Anna had made the right decision.
With Christineís departure, a semblance of harmony returned to Yardley. With the end of summer, Anna resumed her classes three days a week, which left more than ample time to manage the household needs and Grahamís business requirements. She met with Graham at the end of her day, and more often than not, they merely talked. Graham was keenly interested in Annaís studies, and Anna found herself recounting her days in detail while they shared a glass of sherry. It was something she looked forward to each day, and it seemed that Graham did as well. Their relationship had developed into a comfortable but reserved companionship.
Neither of them made further mention of the episode on the balcony the night of Helenís party. Anna did not know how to broach it, and Graham seemed to avoid any possibility of intimacy. Although Graham welcomed their conversations, she was physically remote. She was careful not to touch Anna even when it would have been natural to. Her caution in this regard did not escape Annaís notice, and Anna interpreted it as an unspoken declaration from Graham that their brief physical interlude had been an aberration of circumstance. It had been a tense and stressful period for both of them, and in the intensity of the moment that night, Graham had responded to Annaís overture. Obviously, it was not something Graham wished to repeat.
Anna for her part tried her best to forget what had passed between them, and to content herself with the relationship they were slowly, carefully building. Graham was not so quick to withdraw from her at the slightest mention of her past; in fact, to Annaís amazement, Graham occasionally alluded to some previous event with an ease that was absent a few months before. Graham was beginning to trust her, and for now that appeared to be the most she could hope for. Anna resigned herself to what they could share together, because she knew in the final analysis, she would be miserable without Graham in her life. She tried not to think of what she would do if what they had now was all Graham ever wanted.
Perhaps the only person at Yardley who was able to see just what was happening between the two of them was Helen. She knew the extent to which Graham was capable of closing off parts of herself, and of denying her own wants and needs. Graham had deluded herself for years with Christine. Helen wondered if she would be as successful disavowing her feelings for Anna.
When Helen brought tea into Graham late one afternoon, Graham greeted her warmly. She was at work at the piano, as relaxed as Helen had seen her in many years. Helen thought approvingly of how good Graham looked. She was no longer unnaturally pale, nor wraithlike thin. Her lean form was stronger from the time she spent outside. She had taken to joining Helen and Anna most evenings for dinner, and their conversations were light and easy. Helen thought she understood the reason for Grahamís emergence from the torpor that had enveloped her, but she wondered if Graham truly did. As Graham grew more peaceful, Helen couldnít help but notice that Anna became more despondent.
"Thank you, Helen," Graham said fondly as she rose, stretching from her seat at the piano. She felt wonderfulóher world was filled with sound, the way it had been when she was young. Her blood stirred with long-forgotten excitement. She attributed it to the ease with which she was working and the satisfaction that brought her. She refused to admit to herself that Annaís return was the moment she waited for all day.
"You look happy, Graham," Helen remarked.
"Happy?" Graham said, wondering if that was what she felt. "Yes, perhaps thatís it. At any rate, Helen, the music is returningóand that is more than I ever expected to have again in this life."
"Iím happy for you," Helen said, and she truly rejoiced in the change in Graham over the last few months. But she couldnít help but wonder if that was all Graham wanted from life. The passionate woman she had known would never have been content alone. Graham had needed the sustenance of love to balance the soul-draining demands of her work. She had made a disastrous misjudgment in relying on Christine so completely, and she had paid a dreadful price for it. Helen only hoped that that disappointment had not destroyed Grahamís ability to accept love when it was offered from the heart.
Anna tossed her knapsack on the hall table, waving to Helen as she headed toward the music room. She knew Graham would be there, as she always was at this time of day. She tapped lightly on the door before entering. Graham lifted one hand, the other poised over the piano keys.
"Just a minute. Iíve nearly finished."
Anna crossed quietly to stand beside Graham, watching as she played, marveling at the graceful sweep of her fingers on the keys. As her hands literally caressed the instrument, her face reflected all the emotions the music gave form to. The combination of watching Grahamís face and hearing her creation stirred Anna unexpectedly. As the notes dissipated in the air, Graham became motionless, her hands lying still on her thighs.
"Itís wonderful," Anna breathed softly.
Graham lifted her face to Anna, an uncharacteristic uncertainty clouding her features. "Do you really think so?" she asked quietly.
Sometimes Anna felt as much a prisoner of Grahamís blindness as Graham certainly was. She felt so much more than her words could communicate, and she wished that Graham could read in her face how deeply she was moved. As it stood alone, Grahamís music could bring her to tears. She knew that from standing outside this room, stilled in mid-step by what she heard. She knew because she had sought out the recordings Graham had made years before. She played them when she was alone, imaging Grahamís face as she listened. For her, nothing was more heart-rending than watching Graham play, raw passions exposed, as the music swirled in the air. For Graham not to see what she was capable of stirring in others pierced her heart.
Instinctively, she placed both hands gently on Grahamís shoulders, leaning over to whisper, "It makes me ache. Will you play it for me from the beginning?" She had never asked before.
Graham reached up to cover Annaís hand with her own, surprised once again by the warmth of her skin. She lingered like that for a moment, then settled her hands on the keys.
Anna moved reluctantly away, not wanting to dispel that rare moment of affection. Still, she knew Graham had taken another step toward allowing Anna into her life. Graham had not been willing for anyone to hear more than fragments of a work in progress for years. Anna settled into a nearby chair from which she could watch Graham play. She found herself holding her breath as the melody swelled to fill the air. She would not have believed that there could be such a thing as too much beauty, but the sight and sounds of Graham Yardley overwhelmed her. She closed her eyes and let the golden tones carry her away. When the room stilled, it took her a moment to find her composure. She was trembling, and her voice seemed to have deserted her. When she opened her eyes, she found that Graham had turned to face her, her head bent, waiting.
"I've never imagined anything so exquisite," Anna said quietly. "Your music is a gift to the world, Graham. Thank you so much for sharing it with me."
Graham lifted her head, her face wet with tears.
"I thought it was gone forever," she murmured, her voice breaking.
The sight of her tears was Annaís undoing. She meant only to take Grahamís hand in hers, but she found herself pulling Graham up into her arms instead. She held her close, whispering, "Oh god, Grahamóyour music breaks my heart. You break my heart."
Graham struggled with the response Annaís embrace wrought. Annaís body was pressed to hers; she felt the rise and fall of Annaís soft breasts with each breath; their hearts seemed to race as one. Annaís nearness, and her words, filled her with a longing so intense her carefully maintained barricades threatened to crumble. And she feared that if she gave rein to her emotions, she would be captive to them as she had been with Christine. She knew she could not survive another disappointment. If such pain ever returned anew, she would surely break. What Anna touched in her was a place too dangerous to expose. For the sake of whatever sanity she had left, she could not let that happen.
Anna felt Graham stiffen, but she only pulled her tighter. Was there no way for Anna to show her how precious she was? "You are so rare! There is such grace and beauty and tenderness in your soul. And you donít even know it, do you?! You are so specialóI canít begin to tell youó" She had no words, only sensations. Admiration, respect, protectiveness, sympathy, and sweet, swift longing. Everything condensed at once until Anna had to give form to her feelings or explode. Her hands moved from Grahamís back to cup her jaw, then slid into her hair as she groaned softly, "If only I could tell you-" Her lips met Grahamís as the words escaped her in a rush.
Graham gasped at the contact, her control all but shattered. For an instant she knew only the well-spring of desire that rippled through her, the moist heat that flooded from her. With a groan she opened herself to the raging fire, embracing its source. Even as she pulled Anna roughly to her, giving herself fully to the kiss, a suffocating dread began to eclipse her passion. She felt more vulnerable than she had during the first seconds of her blindness, when she opened her eyes to a darkness more terrifying than anything she had ever experienced. This was what she truly had isolated herself from all these years - this horrible power that love wielded over her.
"Anna, no-" Graham rasped, catching the hands that brushed down her shirt front toward her breasts. She grasped Annaís wrists softly, gently disengaging from their embrace. She struggled for air for an instant, her brain whirling, then finally managed to whisper hoarsely, "You honor me, Anna. With your appreciation, with your deep kindness. I am only too glad to give you what I can with my music. That it pleases you means more to me than I can say. But that is all I can give, Anna - Iím sorry."
Grahamís withdrawal was like a knife slashing through Anna's depths. Must she always be left with this terrible emptiness? She didnít want to let her go, but she knew she must. She could not force Graham to feel as she felt, to want what she wanted.
"Itís I that am sorry," she replied shakily. "I canít seem to stop throwing myself at you. Youíve made it perfectly clear -"
"Anna, donít," Graham murmured. "There is no need for an apology."
Anna drew a long breath, steadying herself. When she spoke again her voice had a steely calm. "Thank you, Graham, for trusting me with your music. It meant more to me than I can ever say." She turned to leave, but couldnít help but ask, "Will I see you at dinner?"
Graham shook her head, "Not tonight, Anna."
"Is Graham coming for dinner?" Helen asked as she set out the hot rolls to cool.
Anna shook her head, busying herself with the dishes. She didnít trust herself to speak, she was still shaking.
"Working still, is she?"
"Yes," Anna managed.
Helen gave her a concerned look. The girl was completely white. "Everything going all right?" she asked cautiously.
"She finished something this afternoon," Anna replied hollowly. After a pause, she added softly, "It was unbelievable."
"Oh?" Helen asked in surprise. "She played it for you?"
"Yes, she did," Anna replied, her voice devoid of emotion.
Helen gave Anna her full attention, setting aside the roast she was carving. For Graham to have played for Anna was nothing short of a miracle, but it seemed to have produced anything but a happy response.
"Graham can be very self-absorbed when sheís working. Sometimes she forgets about common civility and other peoples feelings," she ventured, thinking that Grahamís notoriously volatile nature may have given offense.
"She was perfectly charming, as always," Anna remarked somewhat harshly. Graham raised even rejection to an art form. Damn her pristine control! Isnít there anything that affects her iron clad self-discipline? Anna was only too afraid she knew the answer to that.
"Well, sheís done something, now hasnít she?" Helen persisted softly.
"No, Helen," Anna began, surrendering to her frustration. "Iíve done something." Iíve fallen in love with her! She closed her eyes, searching for calm. She couldnít very well tell Helen that she wanted Graham to make love to her, now could she?
"I canít seem to reach her," she said carefully. "She is always polite, always cordial and her distance is driving me crazy. She wonít accept one compliment; she canít hear one kind word, without mistrusting it! Itís so hard when you care about her!" She caught back a sob, struggling for the tatters of her own self-control.
"Graham has been alone a very long time," Helen said carefully. "She has forgotten how to get on with people." She sensed it was more serious than that, but Helen didnít want to embarrass Anna if her assumptions were wrong. Annaís moodiness hadnít escaped her notice, and neither had Grahamís growing reliance on Anna. She had been expecting some kind of confrontation for weeks.
"Well, she certainly seemed to know how to get along with Christine!" Anna said angrily. She certainly didnít have any problems kissing her! she wanted to shout. Oh god, I really am losing my mind!
"Christine?" Helen responded dismissively, "Graham suffered her presence, thatís all."
"Iím not so sure about that," Anna responded, her anger escalating, too hurt for caution. "She suffered a lot more than her presence. She allowed that woman to fall all over her, and she could deny her nothing!! I think sheís still in love with her and is just too damn stubborn to admit it!"
"So she told you about them, did she?" Helen asked, beginning to get a better idea about the source of Annaís distress.
"Yes, she told me!!" Anna barked. "The love affair to end all love affairs. Whether Christine is here or not, she will always have that hold on Graham! God, Iím such a fool!"
Helen shook her head adamantly, "Oh no, my dear. You are wrong. Graham made a fool out of herself over that girl, but she wasnít so much a fool that she would do it twice!! When Christine left Graham for Richard Blair, she not only broke Graham's heart, she betrayed everything Graham believed love to be. As hard as it was, at some point even Graham had to accept that she was only an exciting and forbidden diversion for Christine. Love her still? No my dear, Graham would never have forgiven the betrayal."
"Then what is it that keeps her so apart?" Anna beseeched. "She is so talented, so sensitive, so kindóhow can she bury all of that as if it meant nothing? As if she herself meant nothing? What is she hiding from??"
Helen had never seen Anna so distraught, and she knew the only words that might help her would also reveal Grahamís deepest secrets. It was not for her to expose Graham in that way.
"Perhaps she just needs time, Anna. These last months, since youíve come, sheís changed so much. Oh, I know you canít see itóbut I can. She no longer sits for hours, alone in her rooms, or wanders the bluff at all hours of the night. There is life in her now, Anna, life that has been missing for more than a decade! Just listen to her music if you donít believe me. You led her back into the world. You put a flower in her hand and showed her there was life that she could experience still. Such a simple thing as a flower! It took you to do that!"
Anna shook her head, feeling sad and defeated. "Whatever else she needs, I canít seem to give her. And I donít know how much more I can take." She looked at Helen with despair in her eyes. "Iím sorry, Helen, you donít deserve this. I donít even know why Iím so upsetóI donít even know what Iím feeling half the time. Itís foolish of me to be carrying on like this. Maybe Iím just being selfish - Graham certainly seems content." She gave Helen a tremulous smile and a swift hug. "Donít wait dinner for me," she said as she hurried from the room.
Helen looked after her, conflicting loyalties warring in her mind. As much as she adored Graham Yardley, she couldnít stand by and watch Anna suffer.
"Graham?" Helen called at the music room door. She entered to find the room deserted. The doors to the terrace were open, despite the brisk October wind. A few leaves fluttered through and clustered on the floor. Grahamís body was outlined in moonlight as she leaned against the balustrade, facing out to the night. Her light shirt whipped about her thin form in the wind.
Helen wrapped her shawl tighter around herself and ventured out. She was shocked by the chill in Grahamís fingers when she covered her hand where it lay on the railing.
"Graham! Youíre freezing. Come inside!"
"Iím fine, Helen," Graham answered hollowly. "Go backóitís too cold here for you."
"And youíre made of stone?" Helen snapped, her patience perilously close to gone. First Anna, and now Grahamóthe two of them suffering was more than she could watch in silence.
"It seems that I am," replied Graham with a cynical smile.
"I know better than that, and you would too if youíd let yourself admit it."
"Helen," Graham said warningly, "I love you like my own parent, but this is something you know nothing about. Let it alone, pleaseófor my sake."
"I have!! All these years when you locked yourself away hereóbut thereís not just you anymoreóthereís Anna."
"Helenó" Graham growled harshly, "leave Anna out of this!"
"I would if I could, but thatís not up to me, is it? Iíve watched you dying slowly right before my eyes for too many yearsóyou who I cherish with all my heart, and Iíve never said a word, never tried to change your mind. I know how much you lost - and your sight was the least of it!"
"Helen, please," Graham whispered, her fists clenched against the stone rail, "please, donít do this now. Please let me have some peace."
"This is not peace, Graham! You may be blind, but your heart is notóyou may think love deserted you, but you know as well as I do that wasnít love! I wonít believe you canít recognize it when you feel it! Anna loves youó"
"Anna pities meó"
"No, Graham. For once your blindness has trapped you! I can see what you refuse to feeló I only have to look at her look at you to know! She loves you, Graham!"
A groan escaped Graham as she turned away. "You know me Helen! You know what my life demands, what I demand! Do you truly think anyone, especially someone as young and vital as Anna, would stay, once she knew what it really meant? I might have killed Christine in the car that night, because she couldnít give me what I wanted- because she was leaving me. I believed once, and it destroyed me. I will not believe again-I cannot survive the loss."
"You underestimate her, Grahamóand itís not just yourself youíre hurting now. Youíre breaking her heart."
"No!" Graham shouted, her fists pounding the unyielding stone. "I cannot, I will not, let this happenóit would destroy us both! I will not bind her to this barren world that is my heart. Now leave me, pleaseóI beg of you." Her last words came in a choked whisper, and tears streaked down her anguished face.
Helen bent her head in defeat, longing to take the trembling woman in her arms. But she knew that Graham would not allow even that sympathy. What Graham feared was inside herself, and nothing could assuage her inconsolable grief.
Continue to Part 5
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