Please see part 1 for all disclaimers.
Adrienne surrendered to the storybook world of Whitley Point Ė sun-drenched days on the sea, starry nights filled with lovemaking, and the never-ending delight of being with Tanner. Tanner. Attentive, deeply passionate, beautiful Tanner.
She refused to think of anything beyond the precious moments they shared. They dined out; they explored the mainland shops together; they shared the memories of their pasts and their childhood dreams. She made no plans; she wanted none. All she wanted was to continue in the love-filled haze that was the last days of August.
Tanner, for her part, exulted in Adrienneís happiness. She needed no plans beyond the next moment with Adrienne. She had never defined what her future was to be, therefore she was not bound by the limits of any particular vision. She cherished each day for the miracle it appeared to be. Adrienne made no promises, no vows of love, and Tanner sought none. She needed no words to affirm what was obvious. When she and Adrienne made love, when they walked hand in hand on the moonlit beach, when they listened to each otherís silences, Tanner knew the peace she had always sought.
One morning in mid-August, reality walked uninvited into their lives. Tanner was on the bow as Adrienne brought the Pride smoothly into dock. Josh Thomas had seen them approach and had come down to catch the towline from Tanner. He looked up at her and said low enough that Adrienne couldnít hear, "Some people up at the office looking for Adrienne."
Tanner replied, "Who are they?" She was instantly alerted to the concern in Josh's voice. He was obviously displeased about something, and it was rare for him to comment on any one elseís affairs.
He simply shrugged.
Tanner shaded her eyes with one hand and stared up at the marina. Her heart plummeted when she saw a man in a Naval uniform coming down the dock toward them. She turned and saw that Adrienne had seen him too. Tanner hurried up front to the cockpit to join her.
"Whatís going on?" she inquired anxiously. She was disturbed by the stillness that had settled over Adrienne. "Adrienne?" she asked again.
Adrienne started slightly and smiled ruefully over at Tanner. "The past has finally caught up with the present. You are about to meet my commanding officer." She squeezed Tannerís hand firmly. "Come on."
She pulled Tanner with her to the side of the boat and they stepped down onto the dock, facing the elegant man who joined them. He smiled at Adrienne and held out his hand.
"Well! Finally caught up with you. How are you, Adrienne?" He shook her hand warmly, obviously glad to see her.
Adrienne returned his smile. "Really fine, Tom. What are you doing here?"
"I had some duty in Washington last week. I had a few daysí leave coming so I thought Iíd stop by here."
Adrienne nodded, not believing him, but seeing no point in arguing. Actually she had been wondering when she would be hearing something from the Navy. She hadnít expected to see Tom arrive in person, but considering that they had been close friends for many years, she wasnít all that surprised. "I see. Tom, Iíd like you to meet a friend of mine-"
"Hold the introductions for a minute, Adrienne," he interrupted. "Thereís someone else here to see you also." He gestured with a nod of his head back toward the office. Adrienne and Tanner both followed his gaze as a woman, also dressed in Navy whites, approached them. Tanner heard Adrienneís quick gasp of surprise and the anger in her voice as she turned to Tom.
"Damn it, Tom! What are you trying to pull?"
Tom looked embarrassed but did not lower his gaze. "Now wait a minute! It was her idea to come along. There was no way I could tell her not to," he defended himself.
By then the second officer, a stylish dark haired woman in her mid- thirties had reached them. Her eyes were fixed on Adrienneís face. "Hello, Adrienne," she said softly.
Adrienne stared for a moment into those hazel eyes she remembered so well, and then turned aside coolly. She grasped Tannerís hand and pulled her forward slightly. "Tanner, Iíd like you to meet Captain Tom Hardigan and Lieutenant Commander Alicia Ames. This is Tanner Whitley."
Tanner nodded to them both, wondering how she could get Adrienne out of there. She wasnít exactly sure what was going on, but she could sense Adrienneís tension, and she wanted to talk with her alone. Another thing was certain; she wasnít leaving Adrienne alone with them, especially not with Lt Commander Ames. An awkward silence ensued for several seconds as Alicia continued to stare at Adrienne, and Tom Hardigan stared out to sea, apparently trying to memorize the position of each sloop at mooring.
Tanner broke the silence first. "Excuse me, Adrienne, but we'll need to hurry if weíre going to be on time for our dinner engagement."
Aliciaís eyebrows rose slightly as she suddenly began to scrutinize Tanner with much more interest.
Adrienne turned to Tanner, quickly hiding her surprise. She realized almost immediately that Tanner was offering her a polite escape. "Youíre right. I had almost forgotten about it." She forced a smile, and started up the pier, Alicia and Tom following after a second's hesitation. "I'm sorry," she continued. "I'm a little short on time right now. Where are you two staying? We should get together and talkósometime."
Tom glanced at Alicia uncomfortably and coughed. "Well, actually, we havenít any place to stay as of yet. We were hoping you could put us up tonight and then we could get a place at a motel or something tomorrow."
Tanner was seething. The last thing she wanted was to have Alicia anywhere near Adrienne, and especially not in Adrienneís house! She spoke quickly, before Adrienne had a chance to reply. "Actually, Captain, Commander - we would be happy to accommodate you at Whitley Manor. We have several guestrooms that never get enough use now that we do not entertain as much as we once did. Iím sure my mother would be delighted to have you. I think those arrangements should be suitable?"
Adrienne looked at Tanner in amazement, almost not recognizing the calm, aristo≠cratic tone in her voice. But, of course, she reminded herself, Tanner was the heir to Whitley Island and all that that entailed. Tanner had indeed been raised to assume that position even though it rarely showed in her manner. Even Tom and Alicia seemed to recognize that there was no way they could politely refuse this offer from her.
Tom looked at Alicia who smiled somewhat thinly at Tanner as she replied, "Thatís a very generous offer, Ms. Whitley. The captain and I are grateful for your thoughtfulness. We have a car. We could follow you there."
Tanner did not miss the touch of sarcasm in her voice but she chose to ignore it. "Fine," Tanner answered. She took Adrienneís arm and led her toward their car. She wanted to break into a run, but she knew that would not solve this problem. She and Adrienne couldn't run from the past, or the future, any longer.
Aliciaís eyes followed them as she and Tom walked toward their black rental car. "She looks well, doesnít she?" she remarked.
"Better than Iíve seen her look in months," Tom agreed. "This place seems to agree with her."
"I can certainly see why," Alicia answered. Obviously Adrienne had come to some sort of terms with her life. She looked marvelously fit, and there was no mistaking the way that handsome young woman had looked at Adrienne. If this was what it took to bring Adrienne out of the despondency that had threatened to stifle her this last year, Alicia was glad. Despite everything that had happened, she couldnít erase the memory of eight years of happy living she and Adrienne had shared. She hoped that Adrienne couldnít forget either. She settled back in the front seat of the car and contemplated what her next move might be.
Tanner gunned out of the marina parking lot with Alicia and Tom trailing in their rental car.
"What the hell is this all about?" she said as soon as they were alone. Her voice quivered with anger despite her best efforts to stay calm. Her hands on the wheel were clenched tightly, the tendons taut beneath her tanned skin.
Adrienne sighed, rubbing her eyes briefly, trying to dispel the tension. "Obvious, isnít it? They are here to take me back, I would imagine."
"Thatís ridiculous!" Tanner shouted. "Youíre not some escapeeóyou didnít go AWOL or anything. Tell them to go the fuck away."
Adrienne grasped Tannerís hand, alarmed by her anger. God, why hadn't she seen this coming? And now, Tanner was involved too Ė just what she had wanted to avoid. Back when she still had some sense left.
"Tanner, slow down. These are my friends. Until eight months ago, they were the two most important people in my life." She moved closer on the seat, placing her hand lightly on Tannerís thigh. "I understand how you feel. Iím angry, too. They should have called, let me know they were coming, but I canít just send them away."
Tanner slumped slightly behind the wheel. "I knowóIím just frightened."
"Of what?" Adrienne asked gently.
"You said it. Theyíve come to take you away. Iím afraid you might go."
"Oh, Tanneró" Adrienne began, her heart breaking at the anguish in Tannerís voice. "Youíve always known I would leave somedayódonít make it any more difficult."
"No," Tanner said fiercely. "I havenít always known that you would leave. Only that you said you would. For some strange reason, I thought you'd change your mind." She turned to Adrienne, her eyes wounded. "Must you leave just because you have something to stay for now?"
Adrienne bit her lip, because Tanner was right. The truth was she was more afraid to stay than she was to leave. Life without Tanner would be empty, but it would also offer some respite from the doubts that plagued her even during her happiest moments. She couldnít help feeling that what she was doing was wrong somehow. "Can we at least talk later, when things have settled down a little?" she asked.
Tanner heard the plea in her voice, and her heart ached Ė for both of them. She forced herself to answer quietly. "Of course. I know it must be a shock for you to see Tomóand Alicia."
Adrienne smiled wanly. "I have a feeling things are going to get a lot more interesting before this is done."
Constance Whitley accepted the unexpected entourage with aplomb. She directed May to take Tom and Alicia upstairs to the guestrooms and turned to her daughter and Adrienne, who waited in the foyer.
"I hope you can join us for dinner, Adrienne. It will give you a chance to talk with your friendsóon neutral territory," Constance said.
Adrienne, taken off guard by Constanceís insight, laughed. "We might need a referee. How did you know?"
Constance smiled, her fine features flushing slightly. "I can usually forecast the weather in my daughterís eyes, and right now thereís a storm brewing. In addition to which, I donít imagine two officers travel all the way across the country for a simple chat."
Turning to Tanner, Constance said, "Could you mix us a pitcher of martinis, Tanner? And I think Iíd like them strongóyour fatherís recipe." Then, grasping Adrienneís arm, she added, "Weíll be on the verandah."
Adrienne glanced at Tanner, who shrugged and headed for the bar as if to say, "Whatever my mother says."
Constance stopped at the far side of the wide porch, glancing down the broad expanse of the rear property towards the ocean. The top of Tannerís bungalow was just visible in a stand of windswept trees near the shore. She and Adrienne stood side by side, silent, watching the sky turn a brilliant red as the sun touched the water's edge. Finally, she said, "Is there anything I can do?"
Adrienne looked at her fine features, so like Tannerís, and smiled. She wondered where to begin, and wondered how much Constance already knew. "You must understand, ConstanceóTom and Alicia have come here because they care about me. There is no mystery, really. I have been on extended leave for some time, and they hope to convince me to return to San Diegoóand the Navy. It is a decision I have been avoiding all summer Ė and before that really. Under other circumstances, I would be delighted to see them."
"Do you want to return to the Navy?" Constance asked quietly, without the slightest hint of criticism.
Adrienne sighed. "I miss it. This summer has been wonderful, but I canít continue to live this way. I must make some plans. I must work. The military is a life Iím used to. Itís just that there are someódifficulties, which I need to resolve."
Constance nodded, watching Adrienne's face carefully. "Tanner has been happier these past two months than she's been in years. She and her dog donít seem to be residing on the dunes much these days. Youíve been very good for her."
Adrienne stared at Constance, at a loss for words.
"Forgive me if Iím acting like a mother," Constance continued. "Tanner doesnít discuss her private life with meóbut, she is very much like her father. He was a wild sort of manóquick to anger, unsettled in many ways, but he was a man of passion, and he loved deeply. It was a kind of love one could depend on. I have always known that Tanner would someday find someone to love, and when she did, it would be as he didóintensely, instinctively, and with honor. I hope that you consider Tanner in your decision."
"Constance," Adrienne began, moved by Constanceís compassion, "there are some things you may not be aware of. Tanner is young; she has a lifetime ahead of her. She is still finding her wayóin her heart and in the world. She deserves a future as bright as her spirit, and I don't think that future is with me." Adrienne stopped, torn by her own words. She believed what she said, but, god, how it hurt!
"There are not many things I am unaware of, Adrienne," Constance said softly, placing her hand gently on Adrienne's arm. "I hope youíll forgive him, but Admiral Evans has been a dear friend of mine for many years. He spoke to me, in confidence of course, but I am aware of your difficulties."
Adrienne grimaced bitterly. "Then you must know how little I have to offer Tanner."
Constance spoke softly, lost in memory. "Time is an elusive element. Sometimes an hour with someone you love very deeply feels like a lifetime. It seems to me now, looking back, that I loved Charles for an eternity. Measured in years, it was not long, but the emotions we shared sustain me still. I would not change the choices I made in my life because things turned out differently than I had hoped. I believe that in that way, Tanner is like me."
Tanner, watching Adrienne and her mother from the doorway, heard her mother's quiet words. She realized for the first time what the last ten years must have been like for her, and she was embarrassed at how often she had shut her mother out of her life. She could imagine her mother's anguish so much more now as she contemplated the agony of losing Adrienne. "Mother," she said softly, crossing the wide porch toward them.
Constance turned, her face alight with the pleasure she always drew from her daughterís presence. "Have you made the drinks, love?"
Tanner nodded, her eyes on her motherís clear brown eyes, her throat tight with long ago tears. "I hope Iíve succeeded in repeating the secret Whitley recipe."
Constance laughed, slipping her arm around Tannerís waist. "Some things, my dear, are inborn. Letís test the theory, shall we?"
They went inside where Tom and Alicia joined them. Both officers had changed into leisure clothes. Tom looked trim and athletically attractive, while Alicia appeared softer and almost seductive in her silk blouse and slacks. The group settled into casual conversation as they sipped the drinks Tanner provided. When dinner was served, they enjoyed the meal from a dining room that overlooked the water. Tom Hardigan quickly engaged Constance in conversation, questioning her on the islandís development and the Whitley family history. Adrienne told Alicia of the summer events and caught up on news of friends from California. Tanner, sitting across the table from Adrienne, joined in both conversations occasionally, her eyes studying Adrienne and Alicia together. She wondered how much remained of the life they had shared together, and the love. They were obviously still close, and she fought the jealousy that she knew stemmed from fear. Fear that Adrienne would leave herófear that what she had to offer Adrienne was not as strong as the pull of the life Adrienne had known.
After dinner Constance and Tom retired to the verandah to enjoy the breeze and the view, leaving Adrienne, Tanner and Alicia alone at the table.
Alicia leaned back in her chair and sighed. "I can certainly see why youíve grown so fond of this place, Adrienne. The islandólike its inhabitantsóis very beautiful."
Adrienne looked from Alicia to Tanner and nodded. "Yes," she said softly, "quite beautiful."
Alicia continued, noting the flush that stole over Tannerís cheeks, continued quickly, "Adrienne, Iíd love for you to show me the beach." She gave Tanner a thin smile. "Would you mind very much if I took Adrienne away for a while, Tanner?"
Tanner stood up slowly, her eyes meeting Aliciaís blue ones coldly. "Not at all. For a while." She touched Adrienneís shoulder lightly and left the room.
Adrienne and Alicia were silent as they threaded their way across the dunes toward the beach. When they reached the waterís edge, they stood watching the waves break, their bodies buffeted by the wind.
"Iím glad to see you," Alicia said softly, slipping her arm through Adrienneís. "Iíve missed you these last six months."
"Iíve missed you, too."
"You know why Iíve come, donít you?" Alicia continued.
"Youíre both rather obvious," Adrienne responded, beginning to walk.
"Oh, we both want you to come back, of course. But, itís more than that. I want you to come home."
Adrienne stopped abruptly. "Come home?"
Alicia smiled wistfully, "Yes, Adrienne, I want you to come homeówith me, to me." She hurried on before Adrienne could protest. "Oh, I know Iíve acted badly. I didnít know how to copeóso I made a mess of things. Iíve done a lot of thinking. I think I can do better now. Iíd like you to give me another chance."
Adrienne turned to face the woman she had spent so much of her life loving, and her heart softened. "Alicia, nothing has changed. Iím still the same. I havenít miraculously been made whole again."
"But Iíve changed," Alicia said, stepping close to Adrienne, her hands clasping Adrienneís arms. "I love you stillóI always have. I want us to be together again. I know we were good together. We have the house, and all our plans."
"Those things may never happen now," Adrienne said harshly, knowing it was time to say what had never been said between them. "I may not be able to do all the things we once planned. I may not have the time."
Alicia shook her head stubbornly. "But we have memories, Adrienne. We have a past together. Donít turn your back on those. No matter what happens, you would be with someone who knows you and who cares about you."
"Memories," Adrienne said softly. "Oh, yes, we have memories. Donít think Iíve forgotten, Alicia. I havenít. I never could. But, Iím not sure I want to spend whatever time remains to me hiding in safe memories."
Alicia tilted her head up, her lips close to Adrienneís. "Donít you love me anymore?"
Adrienne felt an overwhelming tenderness for this woman she had held so many nights. They had loved together, grown together, struggled together, and finally come to a harsh parting. "Love you?" she whispered, her voice breaking. "Of course I love you. How could I not love you? I know you like I know my own skinóthereís a part of my heart that will always belong to you."
Alicia stepped back from her and studied Adrienneís face intently. "But you donít love me in quite the same way any longer, do you?"
Adrienne was silent for a moment. "No," she said at last.
Alicia was shaken by the finality in Adrienneís voice, but she knew if she relented now it truly would be over. "Do you love this girl so much it can erase everything weíve been to each other? Everything weíve shared?" she asked sharply.
"No one could ever do that," Adrienne said, meaning it. "But I love her. God, how I love her! Iím sorry if that hurts you, Alicia, but itís the truth. She moves me in ways I didnít think possible any longer. I can see forever in her eyes." She stopped suddenly, realizing it was the first time she had admitted her feelings, even to herself.
"Thatís not very fair to her, is it?" Alicia said harshly. "You know as well as I how tenuous forever might be. Especially for you."
Adrienne recoiled, stung by the words, but knowing them to be true. She looked out into a night sky so black even the stars were obscured. Her heart ached for some surcease. "I know itís selfish of me to want her. I know! But she makes it so easy to love her. When weíre together, tomorrow doesnít seem so very important."
"Not to you, perhaps. But what about her? She'll get over you if you leave now, but the longer you stay the harder it will be if --" Alicia stopped, unable to say it. She finished quietly, "What will happen to her then?"
Adrienne's voice was hollow. "I donít know. I havenít wanted to think about it."
"Let her go, Adrienneófor her sake. I can accept that you feel differently about me now. I donít care. I am so lonely without you. I can live without the passion, but I canít live without you in my life. We could be happy together, even without the physical things. We have friendship, that hasnít changed. Come home where youíre safe, at least. Let Tanner get on with her life."
Adrienne turned to Alicia, tormented by conflicting emotions. Leave Tanner? How could she leave Tanner, when she was the only thing that meant anything in her life? But was it asking too much, that Tanner risk her future on someone who might not be able to share it with her? She knew Alicia cared for her, that she accepted whatever might happen. How could she ask Tanner to do the same?
"Perhaps youíre right. I donít know; I canít decide now. Give me time," Adrienne said at last.
Alicia smiled in relief and took Adrienneís hand, "Of course, love. Iíll wait."
It was a beginning.
Tanner lay in the still darkness, awake. When finally she heard Adrienneís steps on the stone path to her bungalow, she closed her eyes, waiting.
Adrienne entered softly, closing the door carefully behind her and snapping the lock. She crossed the room to the bed where Tanner lay naked in the hot August night, outlined in moonlight. Tannerís back was to her, the contour of her hips and breasts as sweepingly graceful as the dunes. Adrienne undressed quickly and lay down beside her, pressing close. She slipped an arm around her waist and nestled her face in Tannerís hair. She kissed the base of Tannerís neck tenderly as she cradled one breast in her hand.
Tanner remained motionless as Adrienne gathered her as completely as possible. She felt Adrienneís tears on her own cheeks and willed her peace with all the strength of her love. She was awake long after Adrienne's tears had stopped, wondering which of them Adrienne had cried for.
When Tanner awoke, Adrienne was gone. She lay still for a long time, remembering Adrienneís touch, achingly aware of how empty her days would be without Adrienne beside her. She had always known what she risked in loving Adrienneóshe had seen the loneliness in her motherís eyes too many times not to know. It had never mattered. She didnít want a guarantee; she wanted Adrienneónow, today, and for all the tomorrows they might share.
She rose and threw on her clothes. She ran out into bright sunlight, and hurried southward. With each crest of windswept sand she searched the shore for Adrienneís familiar figure. She scrambled up the path to Adrienneís house and knocked hard enough to shake the door in its frame. The house was empty, and when Tanner walked around to the drive, she saw that Adrienneís car was gone. She considered going to look for her, but she knew it was pointless. She had said all she could. Adrienne must fight her demons alone.
Adrienne sailed out to the quiet cove where she and Tanner had spent so many afternoons Ė swimming, talking, making love. She dropped anchor, climbed up onto the bow, and watched the clouds stream across blue skies so perfect it was painful. She followed the waves as they dwindled into soft tongues of froth along the shoals. Her thoughts were all of Tanner, and every now and then she smiled at some memory. She missed her, especially here on the boat, where Tanner was in her element -- often moving about shirtless, diving into the cool clear waters, climbing out to lie indolently in the sun. Adrienne had been content to sit for hours, her fingers entwined in Tannerís, doing nothing more than listening to her breathe.
She looked back over the magical months since she had first arrived on Whitley Point, and all the joy that Tanner had given her. It was more than she had ever hoped to have again, and in many ways, more than she had ever known before. Tanner's love had come at a time when she had forgotten how to dream, and for those brief weeks together, she had been blessed. She was, indeed, a lucky woman. Finally, she turned the craft toward home; her decision was made.
When she drove up the familiar lane toward the house she now considered home, she sensed Tanner was waiting. She climbed slowly up the outside steps to the deck, rehearsing what she would say. Tanner was sitting in the sun in a lounge chair, her head back, one arm curled over her head, partially shading her face. Adrienne stood for a moment, taking in every detail of her. She would remember each feature, she knew, for all eternity.
Adrienne brushed the tousled hair back from Tannerís forehead, her fingers lingering for a moment. Tanner's face was pale, and she trembled slightly. "How long have you been here?" Adrienne asked.
"All day," Tanner said quietly. She stood up and they both moved to the railing, facing the ocean. They stood close together, but did not touch. "Youíre going to leave, arenít you?" Tanner said at last, her voice strained.
"Yes," Adrienne responded softly.
Adrienne looked away, choosing her words carefully. She wanted to leave no room for argument. She knew she had to convince Tanner beyond any doubtóand she knew only one way.
"I want to go home, Tanner. I want to go back to Alicia, to the life I knew. Thatís where I belongóitís where Iíve always belonged. This summer has been like a fantasyóa wonderful fantasy, but itís ended for me. Itís over." She said the words she had planned to say, closing her heart to the pain in Tannerís face.
Tanner gripped the rail tightly and swallowed, suddenly dizzy. "Do you love Alicia?"
Tanner turned to her then, her eyes searching Adrienneís face. "And me?"
Adrienne could not answer while she looked into Tannerís wounded eyes. She looked away and replied, "I care for you, Tanner, you know that. But, itís not loveóitís passion, perhaps, but itís not the kind of love I need to live on. Iím sorry."
Tanner shuddered as if she had been struck. She had been so wrong! All this time. She forced out the next words, trying to keep from screaming. "I see. Will you call me before you go?"
Adrienne very nearly relented at that moment. It was agony to witness Tanner's torment, and to know that she was causing it. She wanted to hold her so badly, and to heal the hurt she had created.
"It would be best if we said good-bye now," Adrienne answered, her voice low.
Tanner gasped. It was too much. She grasped Adrienneís arms, her face wet with tears. "Adrienne, please! You canít mean this! You can't!"
I have to stop this! Adrienne stepped back firmly, breaking Tannerís hold on her. "Go home, Tanner. Please, itís overójust let it go."
Tanner stared at her for a moment, and then she was taking the stairs two at time down to the beach. In a moment, she was gone. Adrienne slumped against the rail, exhausted. She had done it. And now she must leave - quickly.
Continue to part 8
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