For disclaimers see part 1
Shana drove carefully along the empty country road, trying to avoid icy patches and little snowdrifts. She didn't go very fast because to do so would have meant turning some of her concentration away from her thoughts and to her driving. She was neither willing nor able to do that, so she crept along at a leisurely pace that ensured both her safe arrival and the longest possible delay of the inevitable.
"At least the road is empty," she muttered to herself. "All I need right now are some reckless idiots on the road." But half her heart wished for something, anything really, to lengthen the trip.
When she spotted the small sign to her right she knew what that something was. "Ah," she sighed, "how could I forget?"
She slowed down and turned onto the tiny dirt road that was hardly visible under the muddy snow that covered it. She turned off the engine and fished for her coat, shawl and gloves in the back seat. "Don't wanna get cold now, do I?" she asked her right glove before she pulled it on and left the car.
Outside it was a beautiful winter day. Freezing cold, with a clear blue sky and the absolute absence of sound that only snow can bring. Unless, of course, she concentrated and listened for the crackling of tiny branches under the weight of icicles, the sound of snow being carried from field to field, and the sounds little animals made when they broke the thin sheet of ice that covered the new snow. Shana listened closely, trying to find all the little noises Anne had pointed out to her in her first winter here so many years ago.
A native Texan, actually experiencing snow had been a new concept when she had visited Anne and her mother for the opening of Irene's Country Inn seven years ago. After the deaths of both her son and her husband, Anne's mother had finally allowed Anne to buy her an enormous mansion to turn into her dream hotel. The selling points for the place had been the sheer size of the piece of land that came with the house, the library it housed, and the small cemetery that lay right next to the land.
It was the cemetery Shana now entered through a small wooden gate to pay her respects to Peter Patakis, as she had done on every single visit since his ashes had been interred here. How could I have almost forgotten this, she asked herself while she meandered around the snowy graves, most of which were so covered in snow that only the headstones were visible.
The small blonde stopped in front of the grave she knew as well as the graves of her family back home in Texas. If not better. She cleared the stone of its snowy cap before she smiled in greeting at the inscription.
Peter Georgeos Patakis
A spirit freed
from bodily confines
than an eagle in the skies.
You always wanted to be a poet, didn't you? Shana removed the snow from the bench behind her and sat down. Her eyes fell on an irregularity in the snow covering the grave. Curious, she walked the three steps to the side of the grave and bent down to have a closer look. That looks like
With her fingertips she carefully shoved away some of the snow, exposing a dark red, frozen rose to the cold winter air. She picked up the flower and smoothed the snow before putting the rose down again, in perfect alignment with the center of the headstone, just as it had lain before she uncovered it. The contrast between the snow and the rose turned the color of the petals so dark it almost resembled black. Anne. You always gave him roses because he loved them. The darker, the better. You always tried to make him happy. I'm so sorry it didn't work. And I'm so, so sorry I made it worse than it already was. I didn't want to take away his protector.
"I didn't want to take her away, Pete," she said aloud. "I'm so sorry." She felt a tear slowly making its way down her cheek.
"Did you ever know why she left? Did anyone ever tell you it was my fault?" she asked the headstone. "How could they? No one but me and Anne knew " She leaned back against the bench and thought back to the birthday party almost 8 years ago.
"You know, Petey," Shana continued speaking as if in a conversation with the grave in front of her. "Your 21st birthday was one of the most terrible days of my life. I mean, you know it wasn't a great party, although you held such high hopes for it." The blonde woman sighed. "I really would have loved for you to have a different day, believe me." And for me. But hindsight is, as they say, 20/20.
March 15, 1994
The morning of Pete Patakis' 21st birthday saw Janet and Bob Wilson having a fit about an article in the papers. Her mother was nothing short of hysterical when she saw the picture of her daughter and Anne Patakis, and her father absolutely lost it when he read the accompanying article.
Throughout all the screaming and crying, Shana was only able to grasp a few words of her parents' concern. Money. Image. Contracts. The people. Damage control. The young blonde just sat there, clutching one of the tabloids to her, remembering the evening the photo was taken. It had been a great evening, and she had been floating on a cloud of bliss even though she had lost to Anne in the final. Or maybe because. She had never been able to resist the brilliant smile her tall friend always sent her over the net when she had won a match.
And she had remembered, with a tingling feeling in her body, the whispered "I'm looking forward to the party tomorrow" that Anne had sent her way while they shared their usual after-match embrace for the photographers. It had somehow sounded more like an invitation than anything else ever had.
The party had been nice but nothing spectacular, apart from the fact that she had almost swallowed her tongue when she had seen Anne for the first time that night. All of her 6'2'' muscular frame fitted into one short, tightly fitting dark red dress that clung to all of her curves, highlighting all of her many assets. She still blushed when she thought of Kevin, who had come up behind her to poke her in the ribs and whisper a very silent, but commanding "Breathe" into her ear.
Good old Kevin. Who had even been drunk enough that night to dare Anne to dance with Shana without ever realizing that the actual idea had been provided by Shana herself. And that dance had been fantastic, gorgeous, mind-blowing. Not that she could remember any details about it. All she could remember was the closeness of Anne's blue eyes and the feel of the dark-haired woman's body against her own. She had never seen any photographers around them as she had felt absolutely safe and protected in the arms of her best friend and in the company of their friends and fellow players. It was a little embarrassing when she hadn't noticed that the music had stopped, but Anne had seemed oblivious as well. What had really gotten her to think was the fact that all their friends had looked at them a little differently when they had left the dance floor, Now that the picture was all over the papers she could see why they had looked at them that way. She and Anne had practically been all over each other during the dance.
Well, it was clear that her parents hated everything about that picture and the accusations that went with it. Their lovely daughter, one of those lesbians? No way. Her parents had, of course, accused Anne of corrupting her, of being a bad influence on their oh-so-perfect little daughter. Just like they always had, from the first day on.
Her parents, with the tabloids in hand, demanded that she stopped seeing Anne, at least socially, since she couldn't very well avoid meeting Anne on the tennis courts of the world. Shana refused, outraged and simply not understanding what was so wrong about Anne or their friendship.
"You will end this friendship once and for all, Shana!" her mother had simply demanded.
"But why, Mom? I don't understand it."
"Because she's bad for you. You can't be friends and rivals on the court." Her mother's voice took on a hard edge. "You will never be able to beat her if you keep going on like this. You didn't even seem to mind that you lost to her again! How do you think you're ever going to be the best if your strongest opponent is also your friend?"
The young blonde was lost in thought. I can't very well tell her that Anne's more important to me than being number one, can I? She paused. Since when has it been like this anyway? I always wanted to be the best! Why is it suddenly not important anymore? She shied away from the answer her heart knew, but there was a nagging voice in the back of her head that she couldn't shake. It's always been like this. She'll always be more important. Always. Always.
Janet Wilson kept on talking, completely ignoring her daughter's lack of response. When she noticed that Shana didn't even seem to listen to her ramblings, she called her husband over, wanting his help and his more businesslike approach. "Bob, could you please tell our ungrateful child that that Greek is bad for her?"
That finally got a reaction from Shana. "Anne is not Greek, her grandfather was. And don't make it sound like an insult. We can't all be from grand old Southern stock like you." She managed to make her mother's provenance sound conspicuously like an insult herself.
Janet Wilson pretended to be from a very old Southern family, rich and distinguished beyond belief. She had fabricated some sort of family history for herself, with a multitude of deceased governors and presidents adorning her family tree. The truth was that Janet Wilson was born and raised in a trailer park in the middle of nowhere, and only her mediocre talent for tennis had helped get her out of there. She had been somewhat successful on the challenge tour for a couple of years, but had never made it in the big tournaments.
Her real success had begun when she had started to turn her daughter into the brilliant player that she became by tying a small tennis racket to her hand when Shana was no more than 18 months old. Her daughter's outstanding natural talent hadn't hurt as well. She had pushed her daughter into a tennis career from the crib on, intent on achieving all her dreams through Shana.
"I'm not going to let you ruin your career!" Janet screamed at the top of her lungs.
"Janet," Bob Wilson interrupted her calmly. "Let me handle this."
But his wife was already more than halfway into an explosion. "You ungrateful brat," she spat, "you would be nothing if it weren't for us. I taught you everything you know. I gave up my career for you. I could have been the greatest player the world had ever seen." She knew perfectly well that sending Shana on a guilt trip was the best way of getting what she wanted.
"Janet," Shana's father said forcefully, "why don't you let me talk to Shana for a second." It was not a question. His wife looked at him for a moment, then nodded and left the room, loudly slamming the door as she did so.
Bob turned towards his daughter and touched her shoulders in a gentle, fatherly way. "You know, Shana-girl, we only have your own best interest at heart. You do know that, don't you?" Shana nodded slightly. "We only want what's best for you, and your infatuation with that woman is not in your best interest. You have to stop this friendship as soon as possible before your career and your image gets even more damaged than it already is." Shana twisted out of his grasp while he continued to talk.
"I've already had a couple of calls today concerning your alleged affair with " he hesitated, unwilling to pronounce the name.
"Anne." Shana quietly said. "Her name is Anne, Dad."
"Yes, yes," he said. "Anyway, several of your advertising contracts are just being renegotiated and they threatened not to go through with them, if this story was true."
"You don't seem to understand." He was getting impatient by now. "Without those contracts you'll lose a big part of your income." Not getting a response from his daughter, he hastily continued, "But that's not the worst. I've also had calls from the papers who said that the people out there, your loyal fans, were very disappointed. Shana, this is hurting your career and your image, can you see that? If you go on with this friendship, the rumors will go on. You will lose the support of your fans and your business partners, and very soon you'll be reduced to nothing. How are you going to survive out there on the tennis court without the support you're used to? You know you can't!"
His voice had taken on an almost hypnotic rhythm by now, confusing Shana. There were still huge doubts in her mind at what he was telling her, but she loved her fans dearly and thrived on the positive reactions she received from the crowds. What gave her life meaning was playing tennis and making people happy when she was doing it. And Anne.
She shook her head, trying to clear the conflicting voices inside, the ones that told her that her parents were right and this was hurting her career, and the ones that claimed that Anne was the only solution to all her problems and that she should tell her parents to go to hell. At that moment, though, Shana found it unbelievably difficult to decide which voice to trust. Feebly, she tried to come up with something to say to her father.
"But, Dad, when I started out I didn't have any contracts and the people were just getting to know me. Maybe I can gain their trust again." And then she felt she could end the whole argument with one little sentence. "There is nothing between me and Anne, Dad, it's just a rumor. We were both slightly tipsy when that picture was taken, and that was all there is to it."
"It's not important if there's something going on between the two of you," her father said, his voice suddenly taking on a cold, hard edge. "You are going to stop this because we want you to. You owe this to us!" he bellowed.
"But Anne is my best friend." Shana scrambled for words that would convince her father. "I can't do that. She wouldn't know what's going on."
"I don't particularly care about that, girl." He grinned. "You're going to stop seeing her or I'll call every single one of those papers and tell them that you're an innocent victim in all of this, and that your so-called best friend took you home after that party." Shana somehow missed the threat in this, but her father went on. "I'll also tell them how your best friend took advantage of the fact that you were drunk and raped you," he said in a mocking tone.
"But that's not true, and you know it!" Shana exclaimed. "You can't do that! Why would you want to do that?"
"Why?" he asked. "That's easy. Because it would destroy her." He smiled at her. "And you wouldn't want that, would you?"
Shana only shook her head, tears streaming down her face. She knew she had to find a way out of this, but she couldn't think of anything. If I keep on seeing her, it will destroy her career and most probably her life. If I stop seeing her, it will destroy my soul. And Anne's as well, the still nagging part of her mind added. She came to a decision.
"All right, Dad," she said without looking up at him, "I will end my friendship with Anne." At least for a while. She felt her heart breaking at uttering those words. Not for long, Anne, not for long. "But I'm invited there tonight for her brother's birthday party. I can't not go there. Please let me tell her good-bye. I'll come back here tomorrow and everything will be over by then."
Her father thought for what seemed like hours to Shana. "OK, you can go there tonight and tell her that you have to end this friendship. But," he forced his daughter's chin up so she had to meet his eyes, "you will come back here before midnight or the papers will have one hell of a headline in the morning. Understood?"
Shana jerked her head from his hand and nodded slightly. She kept a shaky lid of control on her emotions until her father had left the room. Then she collapsed on the floor and cried for a breaking heart and shattering soul.
TBC in part 4
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