"Ms. Crenshaw, how are you feeling today? How's the hand?"
"A little worse for the wear, Officer Brayton, but nothing major, thanks." Rae had slept late into the day, and then gotten up and cleaned her apartment before making her way to the police station.
"Andy, please." The young cop shook Rae's hand. "I'm glad to hear you didn't suffer any worse damage. Tommy and his boys have been causing problems for a few months, but just minor stuff, nothing we could ever hold them on. But now we've got him, with a weapon assault charge."
"He didn't know how to use it, lucky for me. If I'd had any idea he'd pull a knife, I'd have made a better effort to get out of there before things got out of hand. I really thought they were just a few kids blowing off steam."
"So did we, when we first started keeping an eye on them. They seemed pretty harmless. Then the incidents became more frequent and problematic. But thanks to you, they'll be off the beach for a good, long while. Where did you learn to fight like that?"
"I spent seven years in the air force, so I've had a lot of survival and unarmed combat training. That was a while ago, though, and I wasn't sure that the moves would come back. I was surprised, but my instincts just kicked right in."
"I'm glad they did. That was impressive self defense. Very efficient. You did some damage - a severely broken nose, a wicked shoulder sprain, and the other kid may never walk upright again."
"Officer, I mean Andy, I feel pretty bad about that. I don't feel I had much choice at the time, self preservation just took over, but I really hope I didn't do any permanent damage. They're just kids."
"Alright, Rae. You saved your life last night. Tommy had a knife and he used it, in case you don't remember. Don't feel badly. Think about it. You took them off the beach, so you may have saved a life besides your own."
Rae shrugged her shoulders. "Yeah, maybe you're right."
"Good. Now come with me and we'll find a room where you can give your statement."
Andy led the way down an empty corridor, doors and windows flanking both sides. As Rae followed, she noticed activity in a few rooms. Ah. Interrogation rooms. Her thoughts strayed to senior year in high school when she had been heavily recruited by both the military and the mounted police. At sixteen, she thought being a mountie would be the coolest thing on earth, but she was young, restless, and impatient back then, and after learning there would be a fifteen month wait before recruit camp, she elected to go with the sweet deal offered by the air force. Her parents were in no position to help with tuition costs, and the military recruiters offered her a full ride if she would consider joining the officer training program, and becoming a candidate for the CREW trials, Combat Related Employment for Women. They gave her a verbal commitment for pilot training and Rae was ecstatic. She wanted jets, and the smooth talking, perfectly groomed recruiter told the naive teenager that if she worked hard, he could practically guarantee her choice of classification.
Only after she had signed seven years of her life away did she learn that recruiters couldn't guarantee anything. The trials failed before Rae had even managed to progress to specialty training, and she was unceremoniously reclassed to transportation logistics. She threatened, begged and cried to be released from her contract, but was firmly informed by her liaison officer that continued insubordination would land her in jail if she wasn't careful.
It set the tone for the rest of her military career. Rae was never one to do things halfway, so even though her heart was never in it, she excelled at her job, receiving two accelerated promotions, and becoming the youngest ever female Captain in the armed forces. Her career was on the fast track. The relationship she'd had with Sarah during college was well over, so she accepted short-term postings all over the world, and was seriously contemplating staying with it until she met Shauna. Then her world turned upside down once again.
"Rae, I can set you up in here. Rae?"
"Oh. Yeah, sure."
"Feeling ok? No residual problems from last night?"
"No, I'm fine. I was just thinking that I almost joined the RCMP after high school instead of the military."
"Really? You would have done well, I'm sure. What stopped you?"
"Too long a wait for training, and the air force promised jets. Which they never followed through on."
"That must have been disappointing. That why you got out?"
"That was part of it. But it got pretty ugly towards the last year, so I decided to pack it in."
"Ugly? How so?"
Rae opened her mouth to answer, then stopped, narrowing her eyes and looking at the cop with a grin. "Am I being interrogated, officer?"
Andy laughed. "Not at all. Just curious. I have to say you impressed the hell out of me the way you dispatched those punks last night. Plus, I noticed that triangle stud in your ear. And the keying." They were inside the mostly bare room now, and Andy closed the door behind them. "That why it turned ugly?"
The sum total of Rae's experience with cops had been with the military police special units during their infamous lesbian witch hunts, disguised under the veil of drug investigations. Growing wary, she stared the officer down. "Well, you recognize the symbols, but that doesn't tell me anything about your attitude."
"My attitude is the last thing you have to worry about. Other than the obvious differences, I sit on the same side of the fence as you do."
Rae grinned. "Ah. Good to know my instincts haven't failed me."
"Tell me I'm not that obvious."
"Not to most, but you're talking to someone who spends a lot of time around gay men. I count some of them among my best friends."
"I knew you'd be a good person to know." Andy smiled. "I'm recently single, and fairly new in town. I haven't had much of a chance to get out. Maybe you can introduce me around."
"Anytime. You can be the fresh meat in town for a while." Rae patted the cop's shoulder. "Andy, I'm glad we met."
"Me too, Rae. Ok, back to business. Just fill this out and include as much detail and dialogue as you can remember. It's unlikely, but you may be called to testify at some point. Anyway, I'll leave you to it. When you're finished, just put it in the folder and bring it out to me. I'll be in the front office."
Rae stripped and put on her workout gear. Before she left the station, she and Andy had exchanged numbers, promising to get together soon. She felt good about meeting the young officer. Man, he's gonna be a hit at the bar with that body and those looks. They'll be begging me for introductions.
Her thoughts turned to Evon again, the conversation, the laughter, the kiss they'd shared and how good the young blonde had felt in her arms. In the light of a new day perspective had returned, and there was still a small part of her that hadn't given up on the idea that they could be friends. She wondered if Evon would call the next morning. I know where she works. That's where she said she'd be today. Of course, she'd be gone by now, but it couldn't be that difficult to track down an Evon Lagacé at the National Ballet.
But she knew she wouldn't call, no matter how badly she wanted to. The only thing of value her parents had ever given her was a piece of rare wisdom from her father, spoken years ago as the two of them were sitting in the living room watching a hockey game. Her parents had had one of their horrible, frequent fights the night before, waking her from a dreamless sleep as her mother screamed obscenities and threats of leaving at her father, the gentlest, least confrontational man she'd ever known. "Rae," he'd said, "Never stay where you're not wanted. Never go where you're not wanted. Don't wait for anyone to tell you. Just leave, and save your dignity."
Funny how some things just stick in your craw your whole life.
She'd loved her father, his mild, accepting ways, his understated pride in her intelligence and accomplishments, but she'd hated his weakness and vowed never to repeat his mistakes.
So she'd wait until noon tomorrow for Evon's call. If it didn't come, it wasn't meant to be. She'd live, less for not having had the small, golden angel in her life, but she'd live. Her other rule was not to waste too much energy on things over which she had no control. Life was too short.
Her hand and elbow were throbbing now, so she cut short her workout, showered and started to get dressed. Halfway through buttoning her shirt, she hesitated. She was only going out to distract herself. She knew that as well as she knew her own heart. In fact, that was the only reason she'd been going out for years now; to divert her attention from the aloneness she'd felt for so long. Even Denise, as much as she loved her still, had been a temporary respite from the emptiness of her nights.
She didn't want to deal with Cindy, nor did she want to attempt the explanation she owed Dotty and Rachel. It was time for a quiet night in. She poured herself a huge glass of milk, slipped out of her clothes, and got into bed with the latest novel she'd picked up at the Rosedale bookstore. Taking a quick look at the neon numbers of her digital alarm clock, she laughed out loud. "Rae Crenshaw, this has got to be one for the record books. In bed by ten on a Saturday night. Alone, no less. You must be getting old." She shook her head and settled in comfortably, getting lost in the story.
The concentration hadn't been there, so next to nothing beyond the most menial tasks were completed. Evon's hand had strayed to the phone more times than she could count, and although she'd tried to draw courage from Denise's words, embarrassment and trepidation had kept her from dialing Rae's number. She knew her friend would never lead her astray. If Denise said that Rae was worth the effort, then she believed her. So it was simply a matter of following through. Which was, of course, the problem.
Evon paced the well worn path throughout her apartment once again and glanced up at the clock. 10 pm. She's probably at the bar by now. Maybe I should head on down there. And say what, for Christ's sake! Oh, I just chased you down here, Rae, to say I'm sorry for being such an immature ass last night. Right. And what if she's there with someone? Wouldn't that just put the icing on the damn cake! Um, sorry to interrupt your date, but I just wanted to tell you that I'd like to be your friend if you can handle the truckload of baggage I carry around.
"Dammit! I hate this!"
Plopping miserably down on the couch, Evon grabbed the remote and mindlessly flipped channels. "There's nothing on television on Saturday night." Disgusted, she turned off the tv and picked up the stereo remote. Pulling a fleece blanket around her, she curled into a ball and lay down, contemplating how simple her life would be if Vic were still alive, and how complicated her life would be if Rae became a part of it. Good complicated, though. I think. She fell into a fitful sleep while Van Morrison crooned melodic notes into her ear.
Rae awoke shortly after eight am, feeling more refreshed than she had in ages. Rarely did she get more than five or six hours sleep in a night; her body didn't seem to need it, in fact, rebelled against it. Too much sleep made her groggy all day. But she was alert today, a feeling of anticipation putting a jump in her step. Now, don't get your hopes up. You gave yourself that lecture last night. If she calls, great; if not, so be it.
But her gut was telling her good things, so she took her time making a healthy breakfast, reading the newspaper, and watching the Sunday morning pundits argue inane politics. Her eyes kept straying to the minutes ticking off the vcr display, too slowly, yet too quickly, given the absence of any ringing from the handset she'd placed near her on the couch. She hadn't taken a shower for fear of missing the call.
The upbeat mood of four hours ago dissolved into a melee of emotions - depression, sadness, then angry disgust ffor setting herself up for another letdown. Will you never fucking learn?! Rae could handle just about anything thrown at her except disappointment, directed her way by either herself or someone else. I should know better by now.
12:40 pm. She turned off the tv, cleaned her dishes, and stood in the shower under a stinging assault until there was no hot water left. A bitter, hard resolve settled in her heart as she changed into a nylon jogging suit and ferociously tightened the laces on her running shoes. The lace snapped under the abuse and she flung it across the room. "Fuck!" Running her fingers through her damp hair, she took a few deep breaths, then got up to fetch another set from a kitchen junk drawer. She knelt and threaded the new cord through the eyelets, muttering to herself about the total lack of quality left in this throw-away world.
She grabbed her fanny pack, locked the door, and headed to the stairwell, using it as a warm-up to her run on the beach.
Stubbornness and fear of further disappointment had kept her from looking in the direction of the answering machine. She'd set the limit at noon, and it was well past that now. So the red light continued to blink, steady and unnoticed in the empty apartment.
She's given up on me and gone out already. That, or she's refusing to pick up. Surely she has caller ID. Everyone has caller ID. Evon grew agitated. After two hours of arguing with herself, she'd finally summoned the courage to dial the numbers, but she had said she'd call in the morning, and it was now past 1 pm. She'd managed to convince herself to pick up the phone by playing a little mind game that had served her well during her performing years. What's the worst thing that could happen? She could tell me she doesn't want to have anything to do with me. Can I handle that? Yes, because it's better to know than endure anymore of this miserable guessing game.
And now she'd taken too long. As the echo of the fourth ring faded, she heard a digital version of the low, vibrant voice request that a message be left.
"Um, Rae, it's Evon. I find myself apologizing once again for taking so long to call." She laughed nervously. "I think I must have run out of my quota of apologies to you by now. Anyway, if you get this message, I'd still like to get together today, or tonight, if it's not too late for you. It's, um, ten past one, and I'll be here for a little while yet." She paused, and then quickly added before her courage failed, "I'd really like to hear from you. Bye."
Evon hit the end button, another dial tone sounding, and absently held the receiver in her hand until a mechanical sounding female voice intoned, "If you'd like to place a call, please...". The distracted blonde looked down at the handset, placed it gently in the cradle, and wrapped her arms around herself, hugging tightly.
Maybe she's in the shower. Or maybe she's deciding if she even wants to talk to me. Maybe she didn't go home last night. The possible explanations whirled in her mind as she poured a cup of coffee, and sat to wait for the callback the machine had promised would come.
Evon took stock of her situation. The tall, enigmatic woman had certainly captured her attention. She knew very little about her beyond the few superficial details she'd shared Friday night. Evon wondered about the circumstances with Cindy, and why a woman like Rae, who could ostensibly have anyone, would end up in bed with someone like that. But Denise had told her not to listen to rumors or hearsay; that there was far more to Rae than most would ever know. All Evon knew was that she wanted to be counted among the minority.
The conversation with Denise had done more to alleviate Evon's guilt than the last three sessions with Janet. It was inevitable, she supposed, that her progress in therapy would eventually stagnate; that she would reach a plateau where any further advances would strictly be a matter of time healing the wounds. The scars, she knew, would remain forever, but at least the hemorrhaging had stopped.
Her thoughts now were consumed with the future, and the hope that Rae would figure into it somehow. Evon was sure that guilt would continue to hound her for a long time to come, but as both her friend and her therapist had said, she could no longer allow it to dictate her life choices. She would never be the same woman she had once been, untouched by devastation, and from now on, life would be viewed through something other than rose tinted lenses.
Evon leaned forward, head in hands, huge, silent tears rolling down her cheeks, as she mourned the loss of innocence, and the death of first love. Even now, through all the pain, with the certainty of more to come, she wouldn't regret, nor ever give up one second of the glorious time she and Vic had shared together. It was too precious. She knew now what love could be, and she'd never settle for anything else.
She heaved a great sigh, then sat up straight, squaring her shoulders. There was no going back. There was just moving forward. Glancing at her wristwatch, she realized nearly an hour of her life had passed.
"Ok, enough waiting. And enough self pity."
She poured the remaining coffee into a large, thermal mug, gathered her sketchbook, knapsack, and beach chair, and headed out for some fresh air.
Rae had energy to burn, so after taking the sixteen flights of stairs down from her eighth floor condo, she decided a brisk walk to the beach instead of taking her car would be a good idea. Then a nice, long run in the sand should be sufficient to take the edge off her restlessness.
She walked the full length of the boardwalk, to the easternmost part of the lakeshore, shivering slightly as she passed the spot where she'd been accosted two nights prior. She turned around, facing a good, two mile stretch of leg burning beach. Rae bent over at the waist, straight legged, and wrapped her arms around her knees, stretching hams and calves. She stood up, took a few deep breaths, and bounced on her toes, swinging her arms and loosening her upper body. She decided to go full out as long as her lungs would let her, and took off, feeling the welcome pull of finely tuned muscles as her feet pounded the sand in impossibly long strides.
The shore wasn't too crowded today, the cool lake breeze discouraging the less hearty beachgoers, despite the brilliant sunlight. Evon set her low slung nylon chair into the sand near the water, and settled in with her sketchbook on her lap. Her eyes roamed the surrounding area, looking for a pleasing target on which to focus. Nearby, two preschool tots, bundled in miniature khaki pants and brightly colored fleece pullovers, were very busy with buckets and spades building a three year old's version of a magnificent castle, while young parents looked on in delight.
Evon smiled, her melancholy lifted by the happy sight, and clicked a mental picture of the foursome. For a few minutes, she was immersed in bringing her vision to the page, until the mother's shriek broke her concentration. She glanced up sharply, and saw the young woman scoop up one of the toddlers who had decided that a pail of water was necessary to complete his masterpiece. He giggled and screamed as his mother tickled his belly and scolded him good-naturedly.
Evon smiled again, and turned back to her drawing. The charcoal pencil stopped in midair as her consciousness registered what her peripheral vision had picked up while watching the child's rescue. Her head turned slowly to the left, and she watched the tall figure far off in the distance, moving closer, the loping, elegant gait unmistakable. Her heart leaped at the sight, and she thanked whatever force had brought her to the beach at this precise time.
A thought occurred to her, and she rummaged quickly in her bag for her wallet. She found it and pulled out the business card, marveling at her calmness. Flipping open her cell phone, she punched the number in and waited, squinting at the dark figure, still small, but looming larger. Have it with you, Rae. This would be easier than stumbling into each other face to face. If Rae didn't want to talk with her, at least she wouldn't be forced to see the reaction. She could disappear before Rae ever knew she was there.
Evon watched the steady stride break its rhythm. The figure slowed to a walk, fumbling at her waist. Seconds later, Evon heard the deep voice, distinctive even through the hollowness of the mobile link.
"Hello?" The reply was hoarse and breathy.
"Hi. It's Evon."
"Evon." A slight hitch in the heavy breathing. "Hi. I'd given up on hearing from you."
The tone was cool, and Evon felt a heaviness descend upon her. She forced herself to keep watching the distant form.
"I'm... sorry. Again." She didn't want to continue the conversation, feeling idiotic for thinking this was a good idea. "I... I left a message." It was an inadequate statement, and she wanted to end the call before despair engulfed her completely.
"When? I waited until almost one o'clock."
"I'm sorry. This was a mistake. I'll let you get back to your run." The misery Evon was feeling came through clearly.
Your run?! Rae swiveled her head, looking for the shock of blonde hair. Jesus, she doesn't seem like the stalker type. "Where are you? How do you know where I am?"
Realization dawned on the smaller woman. Oh God! She must think I'm following her! "I'm here... I'm here on the beach. I...I waited for you to call back... but you didn't and I thought... I just... I needed to get out... for some fresh air. I didn't know you were here. I just... I saw you running. That's all." Her voice had dropped almost to a whisper.
Christ Rae, stop! You're freaking her out! She's no more a stalker than you are! The tall woman softened her tone. "I'm sorry, Evon. I didn't mean to imply anything. I just had... an incident... down here on Friday, after you, uh, after you went home, and I guess a little paranoia crept in. Where are you? Don't leave. Please."
Evon's stomach lurched in relief at the quiet plea. She isn't mad... maybe. "Um, well, I don't want to interrupt."
"You aren't interrupting. Honest. Where are you?" Rae started jogging down the beach, hoping this wouldn't be a repeat of the first time she'd seen Evon here. Keep her talking so she doesn't take off.
"I'm a little further down from where you are, past the lifeguard station, near the water."
"Ah, ok. I see you now. I'm on my way." Rae increased the pace. "Were you sketching?"
"Your subject didn't scare you away this time, huh?"
Rae could hear Evon's smile in her voice.
"No. Preschoolers don't intimidate me nearly as much as tall, dark strangers do."
"Ha! I know a two year old who can terrorize the bravest heart!"
"Oh, I love kids, even during the terrible twos."
"Yeah, well, this kid thinks he rules the world. Cute as a bug though."
Rae had almost reached Evon, close enough to see the blonde's nervousness. She felt a little awkward herself as she closed the phone and slid it into her pack, watching as Evon knelt to put hers away. The date had been so recent, yet she felt like they were back at square one, palpable tension shimmering between them. Rae stopped a healthy few feet away, respecting the smaller woman's private space, when what she really wanted to do was give her a hug and tell her there was nothing to be afraid of.
Evon stood up, not meeting Rae's eyes, and fidgeted with the zipper pull on her jacket. "Are you sure you don't want to finish your run? I mean, we can get together at a more convenient time, if you'd prefer."
Rae was trying to be patient. Obviously, the blonde had some relentless war raging inside, and as much as she wanted to penetrate through, sometimes offering the option of a graceful retreat was the more prudent maneuver.
"Evon, I had planned to spend the afternoon with you anyway, getting to know each other, becoming friends. If you're not up for it, that's cool."
"No!" The word leaped out too quickly. "I mean, yes, I am up for it. It's just... I'm sorry for not calling this morning, and... and for running out on you Friday night."
Rae had to lean forward to hear the barely perceptible words. "It's ok, really. Please stop apologizing." The tall woman took a hesitant step forward. "Look, I've got an idea. Let's put your stuff in the car and just go for a walk. How about it?"
A tiny smile lit up the blonde's beautiful, young face. "Yes, I'd like that."
"Great!" Feeling relieved, the morning's aggravation entirely forgotten, Rae picked up the beach chair and folded it, while Evon gathered her sketchbook and knapsack. "Lead on, McDuff."
"My uncle used to say that to me all the time when I was younger. Stuck in my head, I guess."
As they approached the car, Evon popped the trunk using the remote attached to her key ring. "We can just toss everything in here."
"Nice car. New?"
"Yes, well, fairly new. I bought it last year when I got back."
Rae glanced inside the clean, spacious trunk. "Very nice. Got back from where?"
"I, uh, I was in London for a while." Please don't ask. Not yet. I'm not ready. Evon braced herself, anticipating the question, as she watched Rae place the chair carefully inside the car. "Omigod! What happened to your hand?"
"Oh, that." The tall woman looked at the ugly wound, still an angry red, but completely closed and healing well. The massive bandage applied by the paramedic had been driving her crazy. Evon took her hand and examined the wicked slice that extended from the base of her thumb to her wrist bone. Rae was touched by the concern, and smiled. "It's really not as bad as it looks."
"It looks terrible! Does it hurt?" Evon's need to keep a personal distance was lost in her distress over the severity of the injury. She ran a gentle fingertip across the large hand below the wound.
A tingle tracked its way up Rae's arm. "Not really. Not anymore. I heal quickly."
"Good thing. How did you do it?" Evon let go, and Rae felt the loss of contact acutely. She really wanted to hug the young woman, but settled for draping her arm loosely across Evon's shoulders.
"Come on. Let's walk and I'll tell you all about it." This was a good icebreaker. Never thought I'd be thankful for getting knifed.
A slight flush tinted the blonde's cheeks. "Ok." She closed the trunk lid, thinking that Rae was the perfect height, and wondering where she should put her hands. She shoved them into the pockets of her jeans. They started walking and she was glad Rae didn't remove her arm. It felt so good to have physical contact again. "Would you rather window-shop or go down by the water?"
Blue eyes twinkled down at her. "Let's window-shop." The decision was not without motivation. Rae wanted to leave her arm exactly where it was, and shifting sand would make that difficult. "There's a great little ice cream parlor up a few blocks. My treat."
"Oh no! This time it's on me. Besides, I can put away a lot of ice cream!"
"Oh, you can, can you?" Rae grinned at the shining green eyes. "So can I. They have an absolute killer banana split. And a Chocolate Decadence to die for. Could be costly. You may have to sell your car."
Evon laughed. "Ok, you have to stop now. My stomach is reminding me that I didn't have lunch." She frowned. "Or breakfast, for that matter."
"Jesus, you must be starving! It's almost two thirty! I'll tell you what. Let's head up to the deli on Queen Street, grab something healthy, then on the way back, we'll get dessert. Sound good?"
"Sounds great." Evon felt giddy with relief, and the prospect of spending the rest of the afternoon with Rae was pleasing beyond her expectations. She nudged the tall woman shyly. "Now are you going to tell me what happened to your hand? You didn't do anything embarrassing or silly, did you?"
"Ah, no. I wouldn't call it embarrassing. Silly, maybe." Rae knew how foolish it had been to go down to the boardwalk alone so late at night. And she also knew how lucky she'd been to escape the situation without worse injuries. It was an incredibly safe city compared to most, but it was still a big city with an inherent criminal element. "Uh, I mentioned that I'd gotten involved in an incident Friday night." She squeezed the blonde's shoulder when she felt the woman stiffen slightly.
"Well, I went for a walk down here after you went home."
"Hold on a sec. Yes, by myself. You have to understand, I come here all the time and I'm pretty familiar with the place. Anyway, I just wanted to walk for a while..."
Rae related the assault with as little detail as possible, downplaying the knife attack. She didn't want to upset Evon, but her instincts told her that the young woman would feel at least partially responsible for what had happened. By the time she was finished recounting the evening and her trip to the police station the next day, they had reached the deli and Evon's mood had turned somber.
Shit! This is exactly what I didn't want to happen! Come on, Rae, say something to lighten her up again. "But see, I'm fine. And now I know exactly how I'll react in a situation like that if it ever happens again. That's a good thing. I mean, you always wonder, and now I know. I feel pretty good about how I handled it, actually. I am a force to be reckoned with, m'dear." She struck a pose, flexing her biceps, and was rewarded with a reluctant grin from her companion. "There ya go. That's better."
Rae flashed a brilliant smile at her success, and held the door open for Evon. The delicious smells made their mouths water, and they studied the huge chalkboard, listing an incredible variety of soups, sandwiches, salads, and pies. They both selected the house specialty, a massive bread bowl salad with strips of chicken, almonds and tangerine slices, covered in a tangy oriental dressing. After choosing their drinks, Evon stayed at the counter to pay while Rae took the tray to a small, cozy table near the window.
"Oh God, don't tell me." Evon searched her pockets frantically for her wallet, until it finally dawned on her that she had left it in her knapsack. In the trunk of her car. She was absolutely mortified, and turned beet red as the girl behind the register looked on sympathetically. "Um, hang on a minute." She walked over to the table, total chagrin evident on her face. "Rae?"
"Yeah? Hey, what's wrong?"
Evon took a deep breath. "You're not going to believe this, but I have no money. My wallet is in my bag."
"In the trunk of your car."
Rae tried very hard not to embarrass Evon any more than she already was, but she just couldn't hold it in. Her head tilted back, and she laughed, a pure, clear sound of amusement that made Evon smile, just for a moment. "Are you telling me we have to hide our food inside our jackets and make a run for it?"
"Rae, stop! God, I feel awful!" The blonde hid her crimson cheeks in her hands.
The tall woman stood up and stopped laughing, but couldn't wipe the huge grin off her face. "Come here, my dear." She took Evon's arm and led her back to the counter, giving a disarming wink to the teenaged employee, whose eyes opened wide as she blushed. "My friend here would like to know, since we already have our food, if she can stay after we eat to wash dishes in order to pay for our meals."
"I happen to know she's a very good dishwasher because she told me herself."
"Rae, stop! I'm dying here!" Evon swatted her stomach, catching the dark woman totally off guard. Rae's eyebrows hiked up underneath her bangs as she turned to grin at her, loving that the blonde was finally relaxing in her company, even if it was due to complete mortification.
"I'm guessing you don't like to do dishes."
"Please just pay her. I'll pay you back, I promise."
Rae chuckled and took care of the bill, as Evon went back to their table and felt like crawling beneath it. When Rae returned, she sat down and leaned forward, smiling gently at her new friend.
Evon scratched at a dent in the tabletop with her fingernail. "I'm so sorry. That's all I seem to do around you, apologize. First, I run away from you at the beach, then I'm a blubbering drunk at the bar. Then I act like I've seen a ghost when I see you at the ballet. Then I leave you high and dry with no explanation after a wonderful dinner. Then I miss calling you on time. Twice. And now I try to buy you lunch with no money. God, you must think I'm an idiot!"
Well, I wouldn't say 'dry' after that kiss, but... don't go there, Crenshaw. That's thin ice, and it's not what you want from her anyway. "Wow, you did all that? Hmmm, when you put it like that..."
"I'm just kidding with you. We're having fun, aren't we?
"Oh yeah, a blast."
"Now, now. I've often gone out with someone and left my wallet behind. Accidentally, of course." Rae couldn't resist a little more teasing.
"Oh God. You're killing me."
"Aw, I'm just playing. Don't worry about it. But you do owe me now for keeping you from dishpan hands, and I get to choose my payback."
"Yep. That's rule number seven in the Crenshaw second date handbook."
"I see. And what are the first six?"
"Oh no, not yet. All in good time, my dear."
"So what's your payback choice, or do I want to know?"
"Oh, I can tell you right now."
"Okaaay." Evon looked a little spooked.
"My choice is... a third date."
Rae's grin was so charming and sweet that Evon couldn't help but smile back. "So is there a third date handbook?"
"Can I see it?"
"Egads, no! Well, maybe. But I'll have to know you much, much better before I entrust you with such classified material." Rae knew she was acting silly, but it had been years since she'd had this much fun teasing such a sweet woman. She pointed her fork at Evon. "Now eat your lunch, young lady, before your tangerines shrivel."
Evon laughed, and Rae felt like a joyous teenager on a date with the prettiest girl in school.
By the time they left the deli, both women knew they had crossed some invisible barrier that had previously separated them. Rae discovered that Evon was a very physical person, when she attained a certain comfort level. She loved to touch, and while regaling Rae with funny stories of her stints with bands during college, she had frequently sought her hand or arm across the table for brief contact. The tall woman had been content to sit and listen to the blonde's chatter, smiling as she watched her animated companion open up to her.
They had purposely saved room for ice cream, and as they wandered slowly back toward the lake, Rae dropped her arm across Evon's shoulders once again, hoping it wouldn't be too much for the blonde. A brief squeeze around the waist answered her concern before Evon put her hands back into her jacket pockets.
They ate as much of the enormous banana splits as they could handle before throwing down their spoons in surrender.
Rae groaned. "So much for that run. I'm gonna have to jog to Montreal and back to burn this off."
"Ugh. I'll go with you." Evon pulled the edge of her tshirt up and leaned back, patting her belly, giving Rae an enticing view of a toned, flat stomach. "I think my jeans must have shrunk in the last wash."
"Um, no. I think you may have eaten one monstrous strawberry too many. But better you than me. Thank God for elastic waistbands." Rae sat back in the booth and closed her eyes, relaxed, stuffed, and happy. "So m'dear, we've managed to eat our way through another very pleasant three hours. Got any plans for tonight, or shall we make an evening of it?" The tone was deliberately light; the feelings anything but.
Evon took the opportunity to study the sharply angled features of the striking face across from her, highlighted by the rays of the late evening sun. She hadn't had the chance before now, without appearing to stare, and she realized that she hadn't done the woman justice in the sketch. I'll have to fix that. She did a masterful job at matching the casual inflection of Rae's question, while delighted that her new friend wanted to continue their 'second date'. "Not really. Paperwork, as always. New notations for the next production. I didn't get very much accomplished yesterday, unfortunately."
Rae could sense Evon's appraisal, so she opened her eyes slowly, giving the blonde a chance to look away. She'd caught herself staring a few times, and wondered if Evon had been aware of it. The last thing she wanted to do at this point was scare the woman away again. "So, is that a yes, or a no? But," Rae held up her hand to postpone Evon's reply. "Before you answer, let me say that I am absolutely free of any engagements myself so you will not be intruding upon anything, quite the contrary in fact, and I've had a great day and would like to continue it, and although I will be devastated if we can't continue, I will understand completely if you have other pressing matters to attend tonight." She gave the blonde a crooked grin. "Does that cover any questions?"
Evon shook her head and smiled. "Yes. I get it. And yes." She laughed at the tall woman's confused look. "That means I'd enjoy spending more time with you, and the paperwork can wait. So what did you have in mind?"
"Wonderful! Well, let's see. Did you want to go to the bar?" A slight grimace gave her the answer. "Good, good. Neither did I. We could go see a movie, but I'll have to go home and change out of these running clothes. Speaking of which, I hope I haven't been too ripe for you. I sweat like a horse when I run."
"No, I'm not much into movie theaters. I have such a hard time paying eight dollars for a coke and twenty-five cents worth of popcorn. I prefer to rent films and enjoy them at home. And no, you haven't been offensive at all." I can't believe she asked me that.
"Good. Ok then, how about this, and please feel free to say no if you aren't comfortable with it. Always give an out. I have a freshly spic and spanned apartment replete with popcorn, coke, beer and wine, and a number of DVDs that I haven't had the chance to watch yet. I would be humbled with the presence of your company there this evening, mademoiselle." Rae bowed her head and waved her hand in the air with a flourish.
Evon propped her chin in her hand, her elbow resting on the table, as she smiled at Rae's antics. "I don't think I can say no after that little display. Have you ever been in the theater?" Butterflies flitted in the blonde's stomach. Take it easy, Evon. Not every suggestion has a sexual overtone. It's just a friendly invitation to watch a movie.
"Alas, no. Do you think I've been squandering my talents by not taking them to the stage?"
"Absolutely!" Evon laughed. "I just may have a part for you! Can you dance?"
"Well? No, but I can sing a mean tune."
"Then I'll see what I can do about getting you a role where you can stand still, look handsome, and sing your little heart out."
"That's it then." Rae placed her hands flat on the tabletop and flashed Evon a wide, toothy grin. "You are now officially my agent."
"I'll take no less than twenty percent." The blonde was enjoying this humorous side of Rae's personality.
"Highway robbery! I'll have my people get in touch with your people to hash out the negotiations. Now, shall we get the limo?"
"Yes madam. Your chariot awaits. You didn't bring your car, I assume?"
"Nope, I walked, but I don't live far. I don't have butter."
Evon tried vainly to connect the two statements. "Pardon?"
"For the popcorn. I don't have butter."
The blonde cracked up. "You are so funny. I don't put butter on popcorn. Too greasy."
"Phew! I thought maybe lack of butter might make you change your mind."
"You're a nut."
"Yes, but a handsome nut. You said so yourself." Rae lifted her chin proudly and strode out to the street.
Evon followed, grinning. She makes me smile.
Evon's hands were sweating on the steering wheel, the reality of being alone with Rae, in the privacy of her apartment, settling in the most nervous part of her stomach. She was finding it difficult to focus on driving, let alone listening to directions. Rae's voice sounded distant and hollow, competing with the hammering of her heart. I shouldn't have said yes. I don't think I can do this.
"Evon? Evon, here!"
"Wha...? Shit! Sorry, did I miss it?"
"Yeah, but that's alright. Just get over into the right lane and turn at this side street. We'll circle back a block." Rae glanced over her shoulder to check for oncoming traffic. "You're clear." She'd noticed the rhythmic clenching and unclenching of the blonde's hands on the wheel, and fully expected that by the time they reached her condo, Evon would back out of their plans. She couldn't think of anything to say to put the blonde's mind at ease. "Ok, right here, then go down two blocks. You'll see the entrance on your left, just past the second light."
Rae directed her through the lot, finally pointing at an empty space marked 801-2. The Z3 was parked in 801-1, right next to it. Evon pulled in and put the car in park, leaving the engine running. They sat quietly for a minute that felt like an hour.
Finally, Rae couldn't stand it anymore. "Would you like to come in? There's popcorn calling your name." She leaned forward, trying to capture Evon's eyes. "I promise I won't bite." The look on the blonde's face made her cringe in sympathy. "It's alright. We can do this another time when you're feeling up to it. Really." Rae reached over and gently squeezed Evon's hand. "And I'm a good listener if you ever want to talk about anything."
Evon turned to face the tall woman, and saw the compassion and understanding in her voice reflected in her eyes. It broke through her fear and calmed the thudding in her chest. She turned off the ignition. "I'm ok. Let's go watch a movie."
"Are you sure?"
"Excellent. Let's go then."
They rode the elevator in silence, each lost in their own thoughts.
I have to tread lightly with her. She's hurting, and skittish as a colt. No contact unless she initiates it, and no stupid questions that are gonna make her clam up or run away.
Denise was right. She doesn't push, and I feel like I can trust her. I just have to try harder to get my emotions under control when I'm around her. It'll get easier. It already has. I still love you, Vic. Are you watching over me?
The subdued chime signaled their stop, and Rae ushered Evon out into the hallway. "801. Last door down on your left."
Standing behind the tall woman as she unlocked the door, Evon took a deep breath and closed her eyes briefly.
Rae held the door for her and allowed her to step through first. "Welcome to my humble abode."
The apartment was dimly lit, the glow coming from a tall halogen floor lamp in the corner of the living room. The vertical blinds were drawn back, revealing a patio door that led out to a large balcony, and in the dusk of the fall evening, Evon could see a beautiful view of the lakeshore.
"Let me get you something to drink, and then you can go on in and sit down." Rae flipped on the kitchen light, opened the refrigerator, and started rummaging around. "Let's see, I've got wine, German white, not too dry, beer, Corona and Blue Light, Absolute, coke, ginger ale, club soda, apple and orange juice. Oh, and Bailey's. What's your pleasure, m'dear?" Rae turned around and smiled at her guest.
"Bailey's sounds great." Might take the edge off my nerves a little.
"Mixed or straight up?"
"Just ice, please."
"One Bailey's on the rocks coming right up, mademoiselle."
Evon leaned on the counter and glanced around the gleaming kitchen, no signs of use apparent. She smiled at a magnet on the fridge that was holding up a picture of Rae with a beautiful baby boy in her arms. It read, 'I kiss better than I cook'. She had to ask. "Do you cook?"
"Nah. Never had much interest in it, actually. I enjoy cooking only when someone else is doing it, and we can turn it into a bit of a party. But I'm one heck of a helper, and I have an extremely well equipped kitchen. Go figure. I don't cook, but I have every kitchen gadget known to mankind. They fascinate me, even though I don't know what half of them are for." She shrugged. "How about you? Do you cook?"
"I like to cook, but not enough to do it just for myself."
"Well then, I think you've just provided the inspiration for my third date payback." Rae winked and handed Evon her drink. "Come on. I'll give you the nickel tour."
"You aren't having anything?"
"I will, but after I show you the place, if you don't mind, I was going to grab a quick shower. Feeling a little grungy from the run this afternoon."
"Oh, no problem." Evon flushed a little at the statement, her body betraying her. If Rae noticed, she certainly didn't let on, and the blonde was grateful for her tact. "So is this yours, or do you rent?"
"I bought it when they first started revitalizing this section of the lakeshore. Thankfully I got in before the rush. I'd never be able to afford the prices they're asking now. I wanted to live downtown because I'm a true city rat. I love that you can be surrounded by people and activity, yet retain total anonymity if you want. I despise suburbia. Besides, the view is fantastic."
"It certainly is. The balcony is beautiful. You don't usually see them this large on downtown properties."
"Yeah, the balcony was the clincher for me. I really love it. It's great in the summer." They wandered down the hall. "Well, you've seen the kitchen. There's two bedrooms, one of which I've converted to a home office. The master bath is right here, and there's a half bath on the other side of the hallway across from the kitchen. The master bedroom is at this end, and as you can see, it has the same view as the living room. I love the huge window."
"It really is beautiful, Rae. You have a gorgeous place. And I love how you've furnished it."
"Thanks. I'm glad you like it. Alright, I'm going to show you where all the movies are, and you can choose whichever one you'd like to watch, and I'll join you in a few minutes, ok?"
Rae headed off to the bedroom after pointing Evon to the video cabinet. The blonde browsed through the eclectic mix of tapes, CDs and DVDs, recent releases mixed in with some decades old. The tall woman certainly couldn't be pigeonholed by her taste in music and film. Evon did discover quite a collection of gay-themed movies, ranging from Personal Best to Boys Don't Cry. She thought it best not to choose one of those, knowing that right now, she'd feel far too uncomfortable watching intimate scenes with Rae. She selected the Gladiator DVD, having not had a chance to see it, and assuming, since it was still in the cellophane packaging, that Rae hadn't either.
She could hear the shower running still, so she decided to look around while waiting. The soloflex in the corner near the patio door looked well used, and was surrounded by free weights, curl bars, worn lifting gloves, and a portable stairmaster. The entertainment center dominated one wall, and there was a comfortable looking, reclining black leather chair and ottoman that matched the couch. The bedroom furnishings were dark as well, and Evon decided that the apartment had a distinct bachelor feel to it, masculine, which she liked. A lot.
Then her attention was captured by a tall, narrow bookcase, filled with books and framed pictures. It held a huge collection of Ayn Rand, and a variety of scifi fantasy novels. There were travel books, gay guides, and computer texts. There was one five by seven photograph of a group of people in front of a fireplace at a Christmas gathering, with a younger Rae sitting on the floor in the front. The older couple had to be her parents. She was definitely a mixture of the two. Of the other four people in the picture, Evon assumed they were relatives. She wondered if Rae was an only child like herself. She hadn't spoken much of her family.
The other photos were apparently friends, or exgirlfriends. Evon's breath caught when she saw a shot of Rae and Denise, arms slung around each other, smiling for the camera on a summer day. They looked beautiful together. Suddenly it occurred to Evon that they may have been more than friends, and some indefinable emotion tingled in her belly. She looked at the remaining pictures, all of which had Rae and other obviously close friends in them, male and female, the backgrounds indicating some pretty exotic locations and activities. Let's see... scuba diving and parasailing in... Hawaii it looks like. Sky diving. Bungee jumping off a bridge in some tropical location. That one has a sign behind her... Bondi Beach, Australia. That's the Parthenon in Athens. White water rafting. Those trees don't look like anything indigenous to North America. Wow. She's been all over. A small picture behind the others caught her eye. Evon picked it up, her curiosity piqued. It was a polaroid, unframed, corners yellowed, of a short haired brunette in hospital scrubs looking down, frowning and concentrating on a text in her lap. It seemed out of place with this collection of happy pictures.
"So, which movie did you choose?" Rae was walking down the hall, barefoot, toweling her long hair, dressed in a pair of lightweight sweatshorts and a weathered kd lang tshirt. "Goddamn hair. It's a pain in the ass. I'm gonna cut it all off."
Evon hadn't heard the water shut off, or Rae's approach, engrossed as she was in the mystery of this odd photograph. She was so startled she almost dropped her drink.
"Oh! God, you scared me!"
"Sorry." Rae grinned. "I see you've found my little gallery. Some good times in those pictures." She saw the picture in Evon's hand and the grin disappeared. She took it gently and put it back in the far corner. "I'm gonna get a drink. How's yours?"
"Fine, thanks." Evon felt terrible, like she'd invaded a space she wasn't supposed to occupy. She followed Rae out to the kitchen. "Um, I'm sorry about that. I didn't mean to pry. It just... didn't seem to belong there."
Rae stopped preparing her vodka tonic and leaned on the counter, arms folded, facing her guest. A lopsided grin appeared, but there was a hint of sadness behind it. "You were right. You're always apologizing. We'll have to do something about that." She finished mixing her drink. "Come on. Let's sit down."
Rae steered Evon to one side of the couch, then nestled herself in the other corner, stretching her long legs out, crossed at the ankle, to rest on the coffee table. She gave a brief smile, then focused her gaze at a distant spot on the floor. "No, that picture really doesn't belong, but I leave it there to remind myself of a huge mistake I made years ago." The tall woman sighed and leaned her head back. "I didn't listen to my gut, and I broke one of the two rules I promised myself I'd never break. As a result, I paid the piper and got my heart ripped out of my chest. I gave up everything for her, despite the alarms that were jangling like bloody church bells in my head, only to have it all tossed back in my face in the most public, most degrading way possible, in front of all our so-called friends, in a bar no less. The fact that I was the last to know what was coming only added to the humiliation. You see, Shauna was a very sadistic woman; I'm sure she still is, and she took perverse pleasure out of "getting me", when according to her, I was considered by everyone else to be unattainable."
Rae's jaw was clenching, the long buried pain and anger from that experience surfacing once again. But she forged ahead with the story, wanting Evon to understand that she too was familiar with grief and suffering.
"So once her conquest was complete, and word of our relationship started making the rounds, the military police got wind of it and the inquisition started. One very ambitious young MP decided that I was going to be his ticket to promotion, since I was an officer with a fast moving career, and he made my life hell for a year. Shauna dutifully stuck by me, like a goddamn snake in my bed, but she wasn't once called in for interrogation. Unlike myself, who was taking weekly trips to the dungeon in the MP shack, answering the same fucking questions over and over again. And then, out of the blue, she received a preferred posting across the country. I'd had enough by then, and submitted my resignation effective three months later at the end of my contract. We decided that I'd follow her out there at the end of the three months and enroll in a premed program, and after I was established, she could get out of the military and go back to school, which supposedly fit the timetable she'd set for herself before we ever got together. So, I send all my stuff with her, finish out my time, and head across the country. I get there, get school organized, ignoring the fact that something wasn't quite right, meet up with some folks I'd known from previous postings, meet her new friends, and start socializing, going out to the bars. Then, we're out one night, everyone's there, and she introduces me to her new girlfriend, the one she's been seeing since shortly after she arrived. Seems that she'd been telling everyone that we were just friends, and I was staying with her because she felt bad that I'd had such a rough year. Needless to say, I moved out, dropped out of school, and found a full-time job. And that, my dear, is the end of the sick and twisted story of Shauna, the woman in the picture. I'm sure I've left out many details, but you get the gist."
Evon had been listening, wide-eyed. "God, Rae. That's awful. I'm so sorry that happened to you."
The tall woman barked out a harsh laugh. "Thanks, but I'm entirely to blame for placing my trust, and my heart, in her hands. The funniest thing is that for months after I left, she kept trying to contact me, saying she missed me and wanted to be friends. She knew better than to confront me face to face, but she'd leave messages on my answering machine, and write these ridiculously long letters about how much she regretted hurting me and losing our friendship. What a joke."
"Did you love her?"
Rae looked at Evon and saw no judgment, just compassion in her eyes. Sadness replaced the bitterness. She downed her drink. "I loved who I thought she was, but I was never in love with her. I wanted to be, and honestly thought it was possible with time, but it would have never happened, because I already knew at that point what real love felt like."
Evon set her glass on the table. "I understand." Try as she might to wish them away, the hot tears still welled up in her eyes, for Rae's pain as much as her own.
Rae couldn't stop herself from reaching out to the smaller woman. She grasped her hand. "Oh Evon. It's going to be ok. I see the hurt on your face all the time, and it reminds me of how I felt after Shauna, and I wouldn't wish that on anyone. That first night at the bar when you were so upset, I just wished that whoever hurt you so much was dead, the bastard."
"Oh God, nooo..." Evon moaned and started crying uncontrollably, rocking herself back and forth.
Rae moved over quickly and pulled the sobbing woman close, wrapping long arms around her and tucking the blonde head under her chin. "It gets easier with time, honest."
Evon shook her head. "You... you don't understand."
"I do, Evon, I do. I lost someone I loved too."
"No." The sobs were heartbreaking. "She was killed, Rae. She... she died in my arms."
Oh my God. Oh God. I didn't know... "Evon, forgive me." Rae held the woman tighter, rocking her as she kissed the damp forehead and rubbed her cheek in the blonde hair. "I'm so sorry."
Evon clutched the front of Rae's shirt in her fists as the anguish took over, and for the first time since Vic's death, allowed herself comfort in another woman's arms.
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