Tomorrowís Promise

Part 4

by Radclyffe

Please see part 1 for all disclaimers.


 

Chapter Seven

Adrienne slept poorly that night and woke before the sun was fully up. She busied herself around the house and fought off the urge to call Tanner. She'll be fine. She doesn't need you to worry over her. And you don't need something else to worry about either.

She went for a run, plagued the entire time by thoughts of Tanner. Finally, at nine oíclock she gave in to her persistent concern and called Whitley Manor. The phone was answered on the second ring.

"Whitley residenceómay I help you?"

"This is Adrienne Pierce," she said. "Is Tanner awake yet?"

"Miss Whitley is not in right now. May I take a message for her?"

"Not in?" Adrienne exclaimed, unable to hide the alarm in her voice. "Is she all right?" She could hear muffled voices in the background, and then Constance Whitley took the phone.

"Ms. Pierce? This is Constance Whitley. Tanner left quite early this morning. Iím afraid she didnít leave word as to where she was going. She rarely does. Can I help you with anything?"

Adrienne sighed with relief. "No, thank you. I was just worried after last night that she might be ill."

"Last night? I donít understand."

Of course! Tanner probably doesnít make it a habit of informing her mother of her misadventures She recovered quickly, and continued smoothly. "I gave her a ride home last night, and she was soaking wet from the storm. I was worried she might come down with something."

Constance laughed. "Well, I shouldnít worry, Adrienne. Tanner is rarely ill. Iíll tell her that you called."

"Thanks," Adrienne said as she replaced the receiver. She stood with her hand on the phone for a few moments, wondering in exasperation why she even cared where Tanner was. If Tanner didnít have enough sense to take care of herself, it certainly wasnít Adrienneís problem. She turned resolutely away, determined to forget the whole thing. She found to her supreme irritation, however, that her thoughts kept returning to the events of the previous evening. It frightened her when she realized that Tanner might not have returned at all. She decided that if she was going to keep wondering about her, she might as well check the marina. If nothing else, she could at least go sailing to occupy her mind.

The sky was unusually clear after the heavy storm, and it promised to be a beautiful day. Adrienne's spirits lifted as she neared the bay. She parked and walked down the pier. In the daylight it was easy to pick out Tannerís boat. It was a beautiful craft, with a polished teak wood hull and maroon deck. The winches were all brass, and the cockpit had been centralized so that one person could handle all three sails. She could see several torn sheets and the remnants of the tattered jib, reminders of the previous nightís perilous journey. As she walked out onto the dock, admiring the fine workmanship, she heard whistling from below deck.

"Hello there," she called. "Tanner?"

Tannerís head appeared through the cabin hatch, and she grinned sheepishly at Adrienne. She looked pale and drawn, dark circles under her eyes, but her voice was cheerful. "Hi! Come aboard!"

Adrienne hesitated for a second and then climbed up to the deck.

Tanner climbed up from below to join her. "Sheís a little worse for the wear, but no serious damage. I was just about to replace the jib."

"How are you?" Adrienne asked dryly.

Tanner blushed. "A little worse for the wear, but almost sea worthy. Thanks for looking after me last night," she said, her eyes serious.

Adrienne shifted her gaze away from those intently searching dark brown eyes. "Youíre welcome," she responded softly. She changed the subject quickly. "Your boat is beautiful."

Tanner smiled with obvious pride and grabbed Adrienneís hand impulsively, drawing her down into the cockpit. "Let me show you how sheís outfitted."

Tanner took her on a tour of the boat, pointing out little modifications she had made that allowed her to handle it easily by herself. Adrienne was surprised to see that the cabin was completely stocked with food and wine, as well as a variety of books and CDs. The stereo system was elaborate, with speakers in both the fore and aft sleeping areas. She turned to Tanner, impressed. "Itís wonderful. All the comforts of home."

"It almost is home to me," Tanner responded. "I can sail anywhere and just drop anchor and stay there, if I want to."

"It must have taken you a long time to get it into this kind of shape," Adrienne commented.

Tannerís face clouded for an instant, and then she shrugged. "I bought her just before my last year of high school, and Iíve been working on her ever since. Itís probably the only thing Iíve really accomplished since then."

Adrienne didnít know what to say, so she made a suggestion instead. "Listen, how about if I give you a hand refitting the jib."

"Sure," Tanner responded, her grin returning. "But only if you promise to come for a sail with me."

"No," Adrienne said quickly.

"Why not?"

Adrienne regarded her for a moment, and then laughed. Suddenly she very much wanted to be out on this sailboat, in the sun, in the wind, away from her worries and her fears. "I donít know. Why not? Iíd actually love to go out on her."

Tanner grabbed her hand again and pulled her toward the ladder. "Come on, then. Letís get to work."

They worked easily together, pulling down the torn sail and restringing the new one. They didnít talk much, but Adrienne found the silence comfortable. It had gotten quite warm, and both she and Tanner were sweating. The physical exertion felt good. When they finished, she stepped back and surveyed their work with a feeling of accomplishment. She realized that she had missed that feeling. Missed life having some meaning beyond mere existence.

"Ready?" Tanner asked. When Adrienne nodded, Tanner asked, "Do you think you can handle the sails while I take her out of the harbor?"

"I think so."

Adrienne quickly got used to the rigging and winches as Tanner maneuvered them efficiently out of the crowded harbor toward the open sea. Adrienne found Tanner to be a decisive and neat sailor, wasting none of the wind and setting their sails to full advantage. They barely spoke as the craft moved swiftly out into the ocean, cutting a clean line parallel to the coast. Tanner led them into a secluded cove near one of the many islands that dotted the waters, and they dropped anchor.

"Why donít you relax for a while," Tanner called as she headed below deck. "Iíll be right back."

Adrienne made herself comfortable on the forward deck, and Tanner returned shortly with a tray of fruit and cheese and a bottle of chilled white wine.

"Brunch, anyone?" she called as she spread out a tablecloth and weighted it down with plates and two frosted glasses.

Adrienne smiled in appreciation. "Great idea," she said. She accepted the wine gratefully and stretched her long legs out in the sun. She sighed and surveyed the boat. "She sails wonderfully."

Tanner nodded. "I know. Youíre pretty good yourself. This afternoon youíll have to take the wheel."

"Iíd love to," Adrienne answered instantly. "Itís been a long time since Iíve sailed anything this big."

"You can handle her. Do you have your own boat?"

"Uh huh," Adrienne replied as she helped herself to some fruit. "A thirty-eight footer. Just right for long weekends. I used to spend as much time out on her as I could."

Tanner regarded her thoughtfully. "What did you doóin the Navy?"

"I was, am, a civil engineer. I went to college on the ROTC plan and went active as soon as I graduated."

"Did you like it?"

"Engineering or the Navy?"

"Both."

"I enjoyed the work, and I like the organization of the Navy. It was very secureóat least professionally. It offered a lot of opportunity, despite its restrictions. And, of course, as an officer, I had a great deal of freedom. We lived in a house off base, right near the bay. I worked a pretty steady forty-hour week. It suited me." She finished self-consciously, realizing that she had said more than she had meant to. She had been so relaxed that she hadnít given it a second thought.

"Was it a problem, being a lesbian?" Tanner asked.

Adrienne laughed. "Being a lesbian? Or being a lesbian in the Navy?"

Tanner grinned back at her. "You know what I mean. Were you paranoid about it?"

"Sometimes. I led my own private life, and no one seemed to care. There were other gays, of course, both men and women. We were discreet, we had to be."

Tanner poured them some more wine and munched a cracker thoughtfully. "Sounds like a pretty good life in some ways."

"There's a lot that needs improving, but I knew that going in. "

"Soó" Tanner began.

Adrienne laughed good-naturedly. "Must you always ask so many questions?"

"Canít help it," Tanner replied. "I love details."

"Iíve noticed." Adrienne commented dryly. "And what about you? What do you do when you're not sailing?"

Tanner shrugged. "I pretend to help run the Whitley Corporation."

"Pretend?"

"I go into the headquarters now and then, but it's not serious. My father left my mother in charge."

Adrienne looked at her closely, remembering Josh's story about Charles Whitley's death. "I'm sorry about your father."

Tanner stared at her, then down at her hands. It wasn't something she talked about. Ever. When she looked back at Adrienne, she found only compassion. And then the words came.

"We fought Ė the day he died. We were supposed to go out to together, but he didn't wait."

Adrienne saw her hands tremble. "What happened?" she asked quietly, knowing there was something.

Tanner stood, walked to the rail, looked out over the endless sea, recalling the scene vividly. Her voice was low, and she spoke quietly, as if recounting a dream. "He asked me why I had broken up with Todd. He reminded me how close our families were, and how much he liked 'the boy'." She laughed humorlessly. "I informed him I wasn't interested in Todd or any other guy."

She shrugged, looked at Adrienne with wounded eyes. "He hit me. I told him to go to hell." She drew a shaky breath. "That was the only time he ever struck me. As soon as he did it, he looked like he might cry. And then he was gone Ė out on the boat, and he never noticed the storm --"

Oh god Ė she must feel so guilty. "Tanneró" Adrienne began.

"No need to say anything. It was more than ten years ago. I'm over it now," Tanner said abruptly, moving to gather the remains of their lunch.

Adrienne watched her in helpless silence. She of all people knew there were some hurts words could not heal.

Chapter Eight

They finished the wine, each still lost in memories, while the sun rose high in the sky. Adrienne was caught off guard when Tanner sat up suddenly and stripped off her tee shirt. For a moment, Adrienne was captivated. Sunlight bathed Tannerís tanned shoulders and pale firm breasts in a golden glow, highlighting her strong, yet feminine form.

Oh, god. Sheís so lovely! Desire struck out of nowhere, and she looked hastily away.

"What do you think youíre doing?" Adrienne asked harshly.

Tanner stood up and pushed her shorts down. "Iím going swimming. Come onóitíll wake you up."

Adrienne realized that her heart was pounding as she tried to avoid looking at Tannerís nakedness. Unbidden, images of Tanner lying on the cot the previous evening kaleidoscoped through her mind. She swallowed hard and managed to say evenly, "You go ahead. Iíll stand guard."

"Thereís no one here," Tanner protested playfully. She reached down and attempted to pull Adrienne to her feet. "Come onóitíll be wonderful!"

Adrienne jerked her arm away. "No!"

Tanner failed to appreciate the note of panic in Adrienneís voice. She was a little high from the wine, and wanted only to put the past out of mind. She grabbed for Adrienne again, determined now to get her into the water. "Iíll just have to throw you in then," she cried as she innocently grabbed Adrienneís shirt and tugged it out of her pants. She was caught totally off guard when Adrienne slapped her, hard, across the face. Tanner rocked back on her heels and looked at Adrienne in amaze≠ment. A red welt rose on her left cheek, but it wasn't the blow that stung.

"Jesus, Adrienne! What do you think I am? I wasnít going to rape you," she said in a stunned voice.

Adrienne stared at her for a second, then turned and rushed to the rear of the boat. All she wanted to do was to get away. She grasped the rail in both hands, trembling, and fought for composure.

A few minutes later, Tanner, fully dressed again, came to stand beside Adrienne. "Iím sorry," Tanner began, not sure exactly why she was apologizing. "I didn't mean to upset you Ė Damn! I was just so Ė happy Ė that you were here."

Adrienne turned to her, a trace of tears still on her face. She looked miserable, and that was harder for Tanner than the slap had been. Adrienne's distress made her forget her own indignation. She caught her breath and touched Adrienneís face lightly, brushing a tear away with her thumb. "Will you please tell me what I did?" She wanted desperately to understand.

Adrienne replied in a choked voice, "I donít know if I can."

"Can we try? Please," Tanner pleaded gently.

Adrienne shrugged, almost in defeat, and walked slowly back to the fore of the boat where she sat down, her arms wrapped protectively around her bent knees. Tanner sat as close to her as she dared and waited quietly. Adrienne stared past her, her thoughts drifting with the waves. There were so many things she might say, or should say, and yet she couldnít find the words. She had never been able, in all of the last lonely and terrifying months, to express her feelings about any of it. How could she possibly explain it to Tanner, someone she barely knew? Yet for some strange reason, she wanted to try. She wanted to tell her things that she had never told anyone, not even Alicia or Tom. She wasnít sure why, it just seemed important. She met the dark eyes that had never left her face. They seemed very calm, and surprisingly comforting.

"Tanner," she began, keeping her eyes level with Tannerís, "I haveóI hadócancer. I donít know why I didnít tell you before."

Tanner continued to look into Adrienneís face, searching for understanding. "What does that mean exactly?" she said at last, her voice tight but steady. She was frightened by the thought of any harm coming to this woman. "I mean, I know what it means, but what does it mean for you?"

Adrienne smiled a little. How refreshing not to be met with pointless platitudes. And how typical of Tanner to barge right in.

She shrugged. "Thatís a good question. I wish I knew the answer. No one has ever asked me before. Everyone usually thinks they know precisely what it means. For me, it meant having my right breast removed. And then six months of chemotherapy that made me feel like hell. Luckily my hair didnít fall out, and I only threw up for the first few days every month, but I felt like I didnít have enough strength to get through the day. I tried to work, but it was difficult for me to put in a full eight hours."

She paused for breath, thinking of those hectic first few months Ė wanting to continue her life as if everything were the same Ė when nothing was the same! She pushed both hands through her hair and looked at Tanner ruefully. "Everyone around me treated me as if I might shatter at any moment. I couldnít stand their kindness. I just wanted them to treat me as if I was normal. But I didnít really feel normalóI felt betrayed. Betrayed by something inside myself. Finally, I just stopped trying to go on as if everything were still the same. I took a medical leave Ė and I guess you know the rest."

She stopped suddenly, aware that her words had been pouring out as if a dam had burst inside of her. She was surprised to find that Tanner was still regarding her intently, her face very serious. Most people were uncomfortable with the subject, and often couldnít meet her eyes. "I'm sorry. You didn't bargain for all of that."

Tanner ignored the remark. "Is it gone now?" she asked, her tone soft and gentle.

Adrienne shrugged bitterly, confronting the issue that plagued her every day. "I donít know. I know the statistics Ė but I don't know what they mean for me. They gave me plenty of figures Ė two years, five years, ten. No guaran≠tees, just odds."

"How long has it been?"

"A year."

"And?"

"So far, so good, I think. Iím due for a checkup soon. Every six months I have a chest X-ray, and a bone scan, and some blood tests. And a mam≠mogram on the other side, of course."

"Is that why you left the Navy?"

"Partly. I'm actually still on extended leave. Iíll have to make a decision about that soon."

"What about your lover?" Tanner asked quietly. She saw the look of pain that flashed across Adrienneís face, but she persisted. "Why arenít you together now?"

Adrienne shook her head in resignation. "She was wonderful, at first. She came with me for the biopsy, and to the surgeons for the second opinion. She was there when I woke up after the mastectomy. It was only after I came home, after the worst of it seemed to be over, that she began to change." Adrienne stopped, swallowing hard. She wasnít sure she could face those feelings again. She thought she could live with the fear of her cancer, but it was so damned hard to live with everything else!

"And then what happened?" Tanner urged gently. She wanted desperately for Adrienne to keep talking, to let her close.

"She was afraid, I think. Afraid that I might die, afraid that everything we knew, everything we had planned, might disappear. I donít think she could deal with the not knowing."

Tanner thought she could understand that. But there must be something else. "Why did you leave? Didnít you love her anymore?"

"YesóI loved her. But I couldnít live with her. She walked around me in the house as if I werenít even there. She seemed to be afraid to be close to me. AndÖand I knew that she couldnít deal with the way I looked."

Tanner winced at that, but she kept her voice calm. "Did she say that?"

"She didnít have to!" Adrienne snapped, her blue eyes suddenly cold. "She couldnít bring herself to come near me. Not just in bed, but anywhere. She would find some reason to disappear any time I wasnít covered." Adrienne laughed without humor. "It made it hell trying to get showered in the morning. She pretended she just wanted to give me time to recover, to get my strength back; but I knew the real reason. She couldnít stand to look at me. So, finally, I left. I went home to Philadelphia for a while, until my family almost drove me mad. They acted like I might fall over at any second! And that brings me at last to Whitley Pointóthe island hide away. You were so right, that first morning on the beach. Iím hiding here, all right, from everything I ever knew. And especially myself."

"Iím so sorry," Tanner whispered. She felt so inadequate it was like physical pain. She wanted somehow to ease Adrienneís sorrowóto erase the rejection and fear she must feel. She had no idea how to even begin. Were there any words at all that could reach that terrible sorrow?

Adrienne stood up suddenly. "Why? It has nothing to do with you. Iím sorry that I slapped you. You had no way of knowing. I really just donít like to be touched. Itís really very simple, Tanner. I have no future, and only the barest glimmer of a present. Iím just here for the summer. Think of me like any another tourist, escaping for a few months on your fairy tale island. When summer ends, I'll be gone. It will make it easier for us both."

She turned resolutely away, making it clear their conversation was over.

Chapter Nine

They didn't talk at all on the way back to port. Adrienne handled the wheel with expert efficiency while Tanner silently set the sails for a fast run. Adrienne left hurriedly after a polite but distant good-bye, saying she was tired and wanted to get home before dark.

Tanner watched her all the way up the pier and continued to stare after her until she saw the car pull away. She was left with an empty feeling of some≠thing only half-completed. She and Adrienne should have talked more, but she had been afraid to try. Adrienne had closed her out, her self-imposed isolation complete.

Tanner stowed the lines and secured the deck automatically, all the while thinking of things she should have said to Adrienne when she had the chance. Now she wasnít sure if she would get the opportunity again. She sighed in exasperation and headed for her car. Exhausted though she was after only a few hours sleep the night before, coupled with the emotional turmoil of her day with Adrienne, she didnít look forward to an evening at home. She wasnít sure she wanted to be alone with her thoughts. The memories of her unresolved past and Adrienne's painful present were not something she wanted to confront. She turned right and headed south toward the mainland.

~

Constance awakened sometime after midnight to the sound of a car pulling up in the drive. She was a very light sleeper, and on warm nights such as this one, she slept with her windows open. She lay listening to the familiar steps make their way around the side of the house to the lower walkway. She was surprised when she heard someone slowly climbing the outside stairs to the verandah. She reached for her robe and went outside. Tanner was sagged into a deck chair, her feet propped up on the rail. Constance could tell that she had been drinking. She sat down next to her daughter and looked ahead into the night. It had been a long time since Tanner had come here this late at night, and she recognized it as a sign that Tanner needed company, or that she wanted to talk. Constance was an undemanding comfort, offering her unconditional love, and occasionally her guidance, whenever Tanner could bring herself to ask for it. Tanner ran her hand distractedly through her windblown hair and sighed audibly.

"Mother," she asked quietly, as if they had been sitting in deep conversation for hours, "if you had known that Father would die when he did, would it have made any difference to you?"

Constance forced herself to consider the question honestly. She was so amazed by it that she wasnít sure she would be able to answer. Tanner almost never mentioned her father, and she never talked about his death. Constance replied softly, "What do you mean by 'a difference'?"

Tanner turned to her mother and asked pointedly, "Would you still have married him?"

"Oh, my god, yes!" Constance exclaimed instantly. "I would have married him if I thought we had only a month together!" She smiled slightly in the moonlight. "I loved being with him Ė and being married to him. He was the one I wanted, and I wouldnít have traded that for anything."

"Was it worth the pain of losing him?" Tanner persisted. She knew how desolate she had felt when he died Ė and could barely imagine how much worse it must have been for her mother. She knew, too, how difficult these questions were, but she didnít care. She felt like she was drowning, and she had nowhere else to turn.

Constance took a deep breath and shuddered slightly. "I still canít believe heís gone. After all these years I still find myself wanting him, wondering how Iím going to survive without him. But I do. Strangely enough, I not only survive, I continue to take pleasure in life. It seems bittersweet at times, but it is pleasure nevertheless. Loving him was worth every bit of the pain of not being with him. And I can tell you something elseóit would have hurt every bit as deeply if we had lived together two years, or twenty, or two hundred."

"So you have no regrets?"

Constance smiled again softly. How like Charles his daughter was. Tanner wouldnít leave anything alone until she examined it from every angle, and understood it in every detail. "I didnít say that. If I had known we would not grow old together, I might have tried harder to share in his worldóthe world of business, which I never cared for. And I think I would have told him more often that I loved him."

Tanner stood up a little unsteadily and walked over to the rail, gazing down over the dunes to the surf. "Mother," she asked softly, "why is it so terrifying to need someone?"

Constance wasnít sure to whom Tanner was referring. The wistful tone in her voice suggested she meant herself. Constance came up beside her and slipped her arm gently around Tannerís waist. "When you find someone you really want to love, Tanner, you wonít be afraid anymore."

Constance didnít expect a reply, and could only watch helplessly as Tanner walked slowly down the path to her bungalow, disappearing into the darkness. Something had happened, something - or more likely someone, had awakened Tannerís passion at last. Constance only hoped it was someone who would have the courage to embrace her daughterís tumultuous soul.

~

Early the next morning Tanner returned to the marina, hoping to see Adrienne. She wanted to call her, but she feared the overture might only alienate Adrienne further.

"Josh," she called as she entered the office. "You in here?"

"Yep," he replied, coming out from the rear room.

She waved and leaned against the window. "Have you seen Adrienne today?"

"Nope. First day sheís missed in a while," he remarked. "Might be sheíll be down later."

Tanner looked doubtful. "Maybe. Iíll just go on down and check the Pride. She took some water the other night, and I want to make sure sheís tight now."

"Good idea. I wasnít sure Iíd see either you or the Pride again."

"Oh, come on, Josh! You know it takes more than a storm to beat me!"

He nodded sagely. "I know. But some day youíll take one too many chances. Me and your lady friend were mighty worried the other night."

Tanner stared at him. "What do you mean?" she asked.

"Well, she came in just ahead of the storm in the late afternoon. As soon as she found out that you were still out she plunked herself down and wouldnít budge."

Tanner had not even thought to ask why Adrienne had been there when she awoke. She had been too confused to think clearly. Why hadn't Adrienne said something to her yesterday? At this point she wouldnít have minded if Adrienne had been furious with her. Even anger would have been preferable to distant silence.

"She was here all that time?" she said. She waited for me?

Josh nodded. "Sure was. Mighty fine looking woman."

"Now, Josh," Tanner laughed.

"I know, I know. Iím too old for her. She seemed pretty fond of you, though."

Tanner grimaced. "I'm not feeling all that likeable these days."

He laughed. "Iíve known you all your life. I can remember when you used to come down here with your daddy when you were just a little thing. I've always liked you."

In the decade since her father died, Josh had become the closest thing she'd had to a friend. He was honest, and loyal, and completely without pretense. Most importantly, she trusted him. Tanner smiled, but shook her head. "But Iím not three anymore, Josh."

Josh tapped his pipe out in the waste paper basket and studied her specula≠tively. "Whatís got you all out of sorts anyhow? Adrienne?"

Tanner looked away uncomfortably. "Partly. Iím not sure I know how to handle her."

He leaned his chair back on its rear legs and thought about that. He shrugged and replied, "Well then, donít."

Tanner looked at him in surprise. "What do you mean?"

"Donít try to handle her. Let her come around on her own. You canít force the wind."

"But what if she never comes around?"

"She will," Josh said matter-of-factly. He remembered the way Adrienne had held Tanner the night of the storm. "Just give her a little time."

"Time?" Tanner repeated, almost to herself. "What if there isnít any time?"

Continue to Part 5

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