Part 7 - See disclaimers in part 1

It was almost three o'clock when, through the kitchen window, Pat saw the red convertible pulling into the drive. "Alan! Rae's here!" No response. "Alan!"

"Heard ya, mom. I was just putting the cooler out back. Look at that. She's got someone with her."

"I'm so glad she came. She hasn't been by in ages. I missed her. And your dad is going to be thrilled."

Mother and son walked out to greet their new guests. As Rae unfolded her long body from the sports car, she spotted the tiny woman, and a huge smile crossed her face. "Mom! I didn't know you were going to be here! This is great!" She rushed over and engulfed the older woman in a massive hug, then picked her up and spun her around.

Pat closed her eyes and clung to Rae, laughing joyously, then smacked her on the arm. "Put me down! You're going to hurt yourself!" It was a hilarious statement coming from the diminutive woman who wasn't quite five feet tall, and all of ninety-five pounds.

Alan roared. "Yeah right, mom! Rae could probably pick Jim up if she had to!"

"Now that'd be something to see." The low, rumbling voice belonged to the Jim in question, a massive, bearded man with a beautiful smile. "Hey gorgeous, long time, no see."

"Jim! Man, this is like old home week! How are you, sweetheart?" Rae reached up to give him a hug.

"Pretty good, Rae. And you're looking fantastic, as usual."

Lana observed the scene with a smile. In the short time she'd known her, she'd never seen Rae so animated and open. And happy. It was clear that she loved these people, and that the feelings were reciprocated. She waited until the furor died down slightly before moving forward.

"Folks, this is my friend Lana. Lana, this is Pat, my adopted mom, who makes the best pot roast you'll ever taste in your life. This is her wild and crazy boy, Alan, who graciously shares his parents with all of us. He's also the sexy bartender at Chaps, and has plied my drinks and gotten me drunker than a skunk on more occasions than I care to remember. And this is my buddy Jim, who likes to think he's a tough guy, but he's just a big ol' teddy bear."

Introductions made, they headed to the backyard of the large rural property where a crowd of men were seated on various pieces of lawn furniture, and another round of raucous welcomes filled the air. Cold beers were passed around, and everyone got reacquainted, catching up on the happenings in each others' lives over the past few months. Stephan, the clown in the group, had Rae laughing so hard at the stories of his forlorn love life, that her eyes watered. Lana watched Rae holding her stomach, knees in the air, gasping for breath, and thought for the hundredth time since they'd arrived that the dark woman was breathtaking when she smiled and laughed. Rob and Tory told of Rae's many exploits as the only woman at the after-hours bar parties over the years, including the evening she showed up in drag, and had a young police officer madly in love with her until he found out she was a woman. At which point he contemplated going straight, until he found out she was a lesbian. Then he just got drunk.

Rob's face was bright red, he had laughed so hard while telling the story. "The poor guy. He came into the bar so many times after that looking for her. I think he thought if he wished hard enough, she'd turn into a guy. You messed him up, Rae."

"His own damn fault. It was a fucking Halloween party! Oops. Sorry, mom!" She covered her mouth like a child.

"Potty mouth." Pat chided with a chuckle. "That's all right. You should have heard dad out in the shed when he bashed his poor thumb. I swear the air turned blue."

George, Alan's dad, held up the swollen thumb, the nail completely purple, eliciting sympathetic groans and cringes from the group. "Yep. I think I cursed everything and everyone but mama here. Hurt like a sonovabitch."

Rae leaned over and gave the wounded digit a little kiss. "There. All better. What are you building now, dad?"

"Oh, Sugar Rae, you know me. I'm always putzing with something. Gotta keep busy now that I'm retired. I was shaping some bricks for the new fire pit, and it's a beauty. Did you see it yet?"

"No, where is it?"

"Just over there. Come on and take a look."

Rae wandered after him over to his latest project, and all eyes followed them affectionately. Rae always showed an interest in anything to do with the trades, and George loved showing her his latest creations. They were out of earshot, and Pat spoke.

"It's so good to see her again, Alan. Where's she been? She looks well."

"I don't know, mom. Staying busy, I'm sure. But you're right, it is great to see her again." All heads nodded in agreement.

Pat turned to Lana. "And how did you two meet, dear?"

"I'm an instructor at the gym where she works out. I've only known her for a few weeks, but I don't think I have to convince this crowd of how wonderful I think she is."

"No, honey, you don't. My adopted daughter is about as sweet as they come."

"And where did the nickname Sugar Rae come from?" Lana was curious.

Leonard spoke up. "That's George's name for her, and I think she'd kill anyone else who tried to use it. Rae's a sweet gal, but she's tough too. George used to box in high school, and one day when she was here, he pulled out the old gloves and hung the punching bag in the shed. I'll never forget it. He showed her a few basics, and the next thing you know, that poor punching bag was crying for mercy. I swear that girl was an amazon in a past life. So he called her Sugar Rae after that. I think she loves it, coming from dad, but anyone else? Whoo boy!"

Rae and George returned to the table. "Hey guys, dad wants to play some killer croquet before he and mom head over to Aunt May's. Any takers? We've got six mallets."

Rob, Tory, Leonard and Alan joined them, and pretty soon, wooden balls were flying all over the backyard, as each player took every opportunity to send an opponent's ball out of play. Shouts of laughter filled the air, as Pat, Tim and Stephan stood on the sidelines and became impromptu cheerleaders. Lana sat quietly at the table, watching the game. Jim noticed her reticence, and asked if she was enjoying herself.

"Yes, very much, thanks. I'm glad Rae invited me. She certainly seems to be having a great time. So you've all known each other for quite a while?"

"Yep, we have. Rob and Tory opened the store about eight years ago, and then bought the bar year before last. So except for Tim, we've all known each other for eight years, some longer."

"So how does Rae fit into the picture?"

"Rae came into the store pretty frequently. So we got to know her, and everyone thought she was great. Some of these guys had a negative opinion of lesbians, but Rae changed that. When Rob and Tory bought the bar, I redid all their electrical, and Rae helped me every time she had a few spare hours. And she helps the guys with anything they need. She's a quick study, and a special gal, as far as I'm concerned."

"I won't argue with that." Lana remained silent for a few seconds, then muttered under her breath. "Pretty independent too."

Although it wasn't meant to be heard, Jim caught the comment, and shook his head imperceptibly. Well, I'll give this one no more than a month if she tries to put a leash on Rae.

It was almost 2am by the time they left the party. Speeding down Highway 400 back to the city, Rae was smiling, having had a terrific evening. The top was down, the wind was warm, and she was riding an emotional high from spending time with people who knew her well, and loved her. She hadn't given much thought to Lana's very recent, sullen mood, thinking that perhaps the girl had a couple too many Coronas. Finally, the silent gloominess was too much. "Lana, are you ok? You seem really bothered, or down, or something."

"I'm fine."

"Right. And people always have that miserable look on their faces when they're fine. What's up?"

"It's nothing, really. I just... well, we haven't seen each other recently, and I was looking forward to spending more time with you tonight, that's all."

"More time? Lana, I picked you up at 2:15 yesterday afternoon. We've spent the last twelve hours together. What do you mean, more time?"

"Sorry, poor choice of words. What I mean is we were in the same place, but I didn't see you all night."

Rae felt the good mood change to displeasure as she started regretting the invitation. "I haven't seen some of these folks in months, and I very much enjoy their company. I brought you with me to share time with people who are special to me. I thought you'd enjoy yourself too, and in fact, I was keeping my eye on you all night, making sure you were doing ok. You seemed to be having a good time with everyone."

"I was, Rae, but I went there to be with you, not with everyone else."

The exasperation grew. "Lana, when I'm out with a group of people, I socialize. That's the way I am. But I know who I went there with, and I know who I'm leaving with. I'm not a joined at the hip kind of person when I'm out. If I want to focus on one person, I stay home."

"Ok, I understand. We're obviously quite different in that respect."

"Actually, I differ from most women in that respect. But I'm through apologizing for it, quite frankly. I get very tense when I  perceive that anyone is trying to dictate my behavior."

"Even dating relationships need compromise sometimes, Rae."

"I know that, which makes me feel that perhaps I'm not capable any longer of having a relationship."

"Did you ever have one where you were comfortable with compromise?"

Rae glanced sideways at her passenger. "Yes, I did. But it was a long time ago, and hard doses of reality since then pretty much destroyed my youthful idealism."

"That's kind of sad, actually."

"No, I disagree. The more experiences you have, the better equipped you are to deal with the crap that life throws your way. It replaces the resilience of youth."

"So, no more compromise, no more relationships, ever?"

"I don't know, really. If I was in love, and she didn't try to change who I am, it might work, because I'd offer the same thing."

"I see."

They were very close to Lana's apartment, and the rest of the drive passed in silence. When Rae pulled to a stop in front of the building, she made no move to get out.

"You won't come in?" The blonde knew the answer before she asked.

"Not tonight, but thanks for coming with me. I wish you'd had a better time. I'll wait until you get inside."

"Ok, I'll see you around then."

"Yeah, I'll be around."

Lana got out of the car and walked slowly up to the door. After stepping inside the foyer, she turned to wave through the glass doors, and received a wave back. She watched the little red car speed away, fully certain that she'd blown any opportunity she may have had with the tall, enigmatic woman.

"Hullo?" The voice was breathless, like the owner had been running upstairs or something, and Evon didn't recognize it immediately.


"Yes, this is she. Who's calling please?"

"Denise, it's Evon."

Silence for a few loud heartbeats. "Evon Lagacé?"

"How many Evons do you know, Denise?"

"Just one of any importance. How are you, honey?" There was a halting uncertainty, and a hint of wonder in the question, like Denise couldn't grasp that the relatively strong, unwavering voice on the other end really belonged to the shell of a woman she'd last seen well over a year ago. Even the couple of calls in between did nothing to allay Denise's fear that this poor woman would never recover from the trauma of her loss.

Evon sighed. "Actually, I'm doing a little better, Denise, and I'm calling to apologize for not having kept in touch. I know that wasn't fair, and I'm sorry."

"Oh honey, you have nothing to be sorry for!" The redhead was beside herself, standing in the hallway of her flat, her hand to her throat, trying desperately not to cry. "I'm so happy to hear your voice." The statement came out in a strangled whisper. "So happy."

Evon's voice cracked as well, under the pressure of envisioning her dear friend trying to hold back tears on her behalf. "I didn't think you'd be angry, but I wasn't sure. How are you?"

The tears were flowing freely now, from both women, but this time they were the result of relief and happiness.

"I'm just fine, sweetie. Where are you?"

"I'm home in Toronto, at my apartment. I'm so glad I caught you because I really needed to hear your voice tonight."

"I just got home from the bar, and I'm glad you caught me too. Are you really doing ok?"

"Yeah, it's been a long year, Denise, but I think I'm finally starting to feel human again. I'm in therapy, and it's helped a lot. Joanna, my therapist, is a lesbian who's been in a relationship for twelve years, and she's wonderful. I went out to dinner tonight with her and her partner, and she asked about my friends back in London. I told her about you, and she asked if we'd spoken since... since the accident. So I filled her in, and then I felt this incredible need to connect with you again. So here I am. A little late, but I'm here."

"Oh honey, it's ok. I knew you needed time. I was worried, but I would have eventually called if you hadn't. You sound strong, Evon. And that makes me so happy."

"I feel stronger than I have in a while. The nightmares are still there, but manageable, so I'm getting better sleep now. Joanna says that I'll eventually get to the point where they're very infrequent, and I'm looking forward to that. I'm eating better, and running a lot, so physically I feel ok. I've started sketching again, which takes my mind off things, and the job is going well. So I guess I'm on the road to rejoining civilization. I know I'll have relapses, but hopefully fewer of them. My parents are my worst problem, but I'm learning to deal with that too."

"Have you been spending all your time alone, honey?"

"Why did I know you'd ask that?" Despite the tears, Evon smiled. "You always said I was a social butterfly."

"And you are, sweetie. You enjoy people so much, and make friends so easily. Have you gone out at all?"

"Not yet, but Joanna agrees with you. She says that's the next step for me. So I'm going to The Rose this weekend."

"By yourself?"

"Yeah. I really don't know how I'll react, so I don't want to feel the pressure of having to stay because I'm there with someone, you know? I need to be able to bolt if I feel like it. Besides, I've never been in this community before, remember? I came out in London. The only lesbian I know here is a dancer in the company named Marsha, and finding out about her was a fluke. I went to lunch one day with her and her really, really hyper roommate who just blurted it out. Marsha was mortified, until I told her that I was gay too. It was a risk, but there hasn't been any fallout yet, so I think she'll keep it quiet.
Anyway, they said they were going there on Saturday night. If I decide to stay, I'll have someone to sit with. Marsha's ok, quiet, and she's never been there either. But her roomie has, and she's a bit weird, apparently quite the flirt, so hopefully she'll be off doing her thing, and Marsha and I can just talk. If I stay."

"Well, it sounds like you've got it all worked out, honey. Just be careful, and try to have fun. I've been there. It's a nice place, and most of the people who go there are pretty decent. Listen, I know a few people in town. Would you like me to call and..."

"No, Denise. Thanks, but I need to ease myself into this, ok? I don't think I can deal with meeting too many people right now. I just want to go out for a little while and have a drink, and feel like I'm part of the world again."

"Ok, honey. Let me know if you want to make some contacts. I know some very sweet women whose company you'd enjoy."

"Thanks, Denise. I really appreciate that."

"You're welcome, sweetie."

"Well, I have to go. It was so good talking with you, even for a few minutes."

"Thank you so much for calling, Evon. I'm so happy you're doing better. I'll tell everyone you said hi."

"Oh yes! Please do! I'll call you again in a few weeks. And Denise?"

"Yes, honey?"

"Talking with you reminds me of her. I miss her so much." The sudden swell of emotion constricted Evon's throat, and she choked back a sob.

"I know. God, I know. I miss her too."

"Yeah. But it's getting easier, and sometimes I feel so guilty for that."

Denise could hear the hoarseness in her friend's voice, and spoke gently. "Don't feel guilty, honey. Vic knows how much you love her, and that you always will. She'd be sad if you didn't try to be happy again. And she knows you'll never forget her."

"Yeah, I know."

"You're doing so well, Evon. You're so strong. That's something she loved about you."

They cried together for a while; a purging cry that could only be shared by two people who understood the devastating effects of such a traumatic loss. Finally, amidst tears and endearments, they said good-bye, and promised to stay in much closer contact.

Imposed isolation has its merits. The corner of her mouth curled in a satisfied smirk as she observed the rippling muscle of her naked body in the full length mirror. Rae had decided to avoid her usual haunts all week. Work had been busy enough to keep her attention for days that stretched into nights. And when the light turned to dusk in the warm, summer evenings, she left the laboratory and went home to start another round of intense workouts.

Doesn't take long to get the high definition back. The image in the mirror smiled at her.

She changed into a sports bra and shorts, pulled on her running shoes, and started to loosen up. Part of her ritual over the last six days had included uttering no words aloud after she closed the door to her apartment, until she had to leave the next morning. No television, no radio, no phone, just sounds from selected CDs pouring forth from the stereo speakers, and the soft clank of metal weights, accompanied her breathing.

This form of meditation was not unfamiliar to Rae. Years ago, after Richard and before Sarah, she spent many months alone, voluntarily, determining who she was and what she wanted from life. Richard's accident had unnerved her back then; it was her first real brush with death's potential. And it was then that she learned how powerful and destructive love could be. So she had to know if she was prepared to deal with the consequences of unrequited love again; whether love was worth the agony that accompanied it. For it was canon in her mind that even the purest form carried with it the capability of rending a heart. Richard's love for her had been pure, and his life could have ended because of it.

She had taken herself to movies, to the streets of the gay quarter, and to the bars, where she remained alone, remote and unapproachable, always watching, observing the interaction of couples and the drama that surrounded their lives. The  balance, it seemed, was never there. One always loved more than the other. One was more possessive, jealous; the other required more independence and room to breathe. So she came to the firm conclusion that remaining emotionally detached was, for her, the best course of action.

Then, on an innocent long weekend, camping with friends, resolve was shattered by a beautiful whirlwind named Sarah, who took her breath away and made her forget about balance.

Rae added more weight to the curl bar as she listened to the magnificent guitar mastery of Santana. She started with 21's, three sets of seven, low, high, then full extension until she felt the slow burn begin in her biceps. Her mind wandered as she blocked out the pain.

It's Saturday and they're having another bloody amateur night. Should I even bother to go? Lana will probably be there, and that could be a bit tense. And Cindy. Maybe they've gotten chummy by now. Nah. Don't be an idiot. Lana's a smart girl and she picked up on Cindy pretty quick. Too bad she had to have so many damn expectations so fast.

Rae grimaced as she released her fatigued muscles from the weight, and shook out her arms. She paced around the room for a few seconds, then retrieved the bar again, and started repetitions of upright rows. She started to feel the irritation well up inside her.

Why does everything have to be so fucking complicated?! I liked her. Then she has to go and pull this bullshit!

She yanked fiercely on the curl bar, expelling loud breaths through clenched teeth. The harder she pulled, the more aggravated she became. Thoughts swirled through her head like a maelstrom, pulling in old memories of sneaking back to Sarah's apartment between college classes, their first kiss on the night before Christmas Eve, the look on her face when Rae said it was over, the succession of women who followed, faces blurry from not remembering, because they weren't her. And then Shauna, who tore the heart out of Rae's chest, and ground it into the floor like a public execution in front of a group of strangers, when all she had done was offer her love. She hadn't known which was worse - recognizing that all of it was lies or enduring the humiliating aftermath. Perhaps they were the same thing.

And I wonder why I can't let anyone close! Who the fuck would want to put up with that crap again! I know what I need! I need a woman who doesn't want anything from me other than what I'm prepared to give. Someone who doesn't bug me about how much attention they get, or how much time we spend, and who just accepts me for exactly what I am!

She let go of the curl bar and it crashed to the mat, leaving a small indentation in the hardwood floor underneath. The muscles in her shoulders and neck were quivering uncontrollably, the number of reps far exceeding the usual, she had been so caught up in her anger and pain. Twenty intense minutes later on the stair master, the tension finally lifted. She sat down heavily on the bench, her chest heaving.

Admit it, Crenshaw. You don't want that kind of woman any more than you want a man. And you're angry at Lana? For what? You're afraid of commitment. You're afraid you're going to make the same mistake that you made with Shauna. You're afraid that you're going to lose part of yourself again if you give too much, like you did when you said good-bye to Sarah. Remember the phrase "Go away a little bit closer"? You're a classic example, asshole. Get over it. And it doesn't get any simpler than that.

She sat quietly for a long time, absently tracing the pulsating veins on the top of her hand with a fingertip. She knew she didn't want Lana, at least not as a long-term relationship, anymore than she had wanted the others before her, for the same reason. She liked Lana, but that inexplicable feeling wasn't there. If she hadn't felt it with Sarah, she would never have known what it was like to love someone so much that it physically hurt when you were apart from them. It had set the standard too high. Not that she compared everyone else to Sarah. That would be beyond realistic. What she did compare was the feeling that was generated inside her by anyone else, to those she had felt with her first love. If she was a betting woman, she'd say the odds of finding that again were pretty slim.

Ok, get off your duff, and your self pity trip, and go try to make friends with Lana. None of this is her fault, and she doesn't need to bear the brunt of your issues.

Stripping off the soaked clothing as she walked down the hall, she decided to try and lighten up a bit. The steaming shower helped her relax, and with a level of control peculiar to very few people, she set aside the extreme emotions she was feeling earlier, and reminded herself that the past was exactly that - the past - and nothing would change it. Agonizing over things beyond her control was a waste of energy.

It's time, Rae. You've quarantined yourself for six bloody days, thinking, purging, and deciphering what you already knew. Accept whatever's in store for you, and stop worrying about it.

Evon felt nervous as she paid the cover charge to an extremely large, friendly woman who introduced herself as Dotty. It was fairly early so the bar was only half full, and the DJ hadn't started yet. Glancing around, she noticed Marsha sitting at a table on the raised area beside the dance floor. She waved, and then indicated that she was going to get a drink.

"Hi there. What's your pleasure?"

"Gin and tonic, please. Tall."

"Coming right up." As Rachel poured the drink, she noticed that the blonde appeared a little on edge. "First time here?"

"Yes, actually. Nice place."

"Best dyke bar in the country, as far as I'm concerned, and I've been in quite a few of them."

Evon smiled at the petite bartender, thinking she looked about twelve, and wondered how early she'd started her bar travels. "Take this as a compliment please. You don't look old enough to even be here."

Rachel laughed pleasantly. "Good genes. My mother is forty-eight, and looks thirty. You'll all be envious in twenty years." Satisfied that she'd done her bit to relax the newcomer, she slid the glass across the bar. "That'll be two seventy-five. I'm Rachel, by the way."

"Hi. I'm Evon." She handed her a ten dollar bill, and then stuck out her hand in greeting.

"Nice to meet you, Evon. Cool name. Are you here alone?"

"No, my friend is waiting for me." She indicated the table.

"Great! Two newcomers. I like to see new faces in here. You get tired of the old ones sometimes." Rachel grinned and winked. "Just joking. They're mostly all nice gals. I know 'em all, so if you want any introductions, let me know."

"Oh, thanks, but I think I'll be fine. It was nice meeting you." Evon left a generous tip, and turned to head over to the table.

Rachel watched the beautiful figure in the snug blue jeans ascend the steps to the seating area, and glanced over at Dotty, catching her eye. With raised eyebrows, the bartender mimicked a whistle, and the bouncer nodded her agreement.

"Hi, Marsha. Good to see you."

"You too, Evon. Glad you made it."

"Yeah, I almost backed out, but thought what the hell, it's Saturday night. Great table. You can see everything from here." She sat down and picked up the hot pink flyer folded like a triangle. "Oh, they're having a talent show. That should be interesting."

"I was reading that earlier. Anyone can enter. Maybe we should do a little number for them from the production."

"Ya think?" The two women looked at each other, and then howled with laughter. "Yeah, let's get up there and do the climactic scene. Romeo and Juliet on karaoke in a lesbian bar!"

"Jesus Christ! The ballet mistress would pass out!

The laughter did them a world of good. The nervousness they were both feeling dissipated, and they started chatting like old friends.

"You know, I did sing in a couple of local bands when I was in college."

Marsha looked at the choreologist in disbelief. "You're kidding? Around here?"

"Yeah. I was wild a few years ago. But I hadn't acknowledged that I was gay back then, so we did gigs in the college pub, and a few festivals in High Park. Didn't last long."

"Evon, about you being gay. You don't need to worry abo...."

"I know, Marsha. And you don't have to either. I'm just sorry that Cindy blurted it out like that to me. I could tell you were uncomfortable."

"Well, good evening ladies. You look wonderful, Evon, as usual." Cindy sat down and openly appraised her roommate's friend. "So here you are, in the lesbian den of iniquity. What do you think so far?"

"Seems nice enough, thanks. The staff are very friendly." Something about Cindy caused the hairs on the back of Evon's neck to prickle unpleasantly. "I take it you come here frequently?"

"Oh yes. I'm what they refer to as a regular. The staff and I go way back. I've had my share of run-ins with them, but then I'm a wild and crazy gal who likes to have bit of fun."

"So you're not involved then?" Evon was trying to make polite conversation, and realized her mistake immediately after she asked the question. The presumption would be made, and it was.

"No, I'm not. Are you interested?" Cindy leaned forward and gave her a wanton leer. "I could show you a great time."

"Cindy, please." Marsha was embarrassed at her roommate's behavior.

"Oh Christ, Marsha, lighten up. I'm just playing. As cute as she is, your friend here is just not my type. Too vanilla, baby." The bleached blonde glanced around at the door. "But there's one who always fits the bill. See you ladies. Mingle. Have some fun. Get laid. I think you both need it." She laughed evilly and left the table.

"Evon, I am so sorry! Cindy can be such an asshole sometimes."

"Why do you even associate with someone like that?"

"You're not the first person who's asked me that. Amazingly enough, underneath all that attitude and bravado, is a decent human being. She was really there for me when I needed support through my last breakup, and...." The dancer's voice trailed off when she noticed the look on her friend's face. "Evon, are you ok?" She waved a hand in front of a glazed expression.

Evon glanced up, startled. "Oh! I... I, uh... think I should leave." She downed her drink. As Cindy had descended the stairs, the line of sight to the door had cleared. She knew that woman. It was the runner on the beach. Blue. Her eyes are blue. Guilt surfaced again, as it had then, but this time it was more like the remembrance of a bad feeling, without the nausea.

"Why? What's wrong? Why do you have to go?"

"I just... um, just... give me a second, ok?" She concentrated on steadying her hands, and glanced back towards the door. The tall woman was striding purposefully away from Cindy, shaking her head, while the blonde continued talking to the bouncer, who turned away from her in disgust. Cindy shrugged and waved her hand dismissively, then turned and followed the woman out the back door.

"What's out there?"

Marsha trailed Evon's sight towards the back of the bar. "Oh, there's a patio. Cindy showed it to me when we arrived. It's nice. Do you want to go and get some air?"

The response was quick. "No, no. I was just wondering." She took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. The disappearance of the familiar woman calmed Evon. "I need another drink. Would you like one?"

"Yes, please. A Bloody Mary would be great. Do you want me to go with you? Cindy said they don't have table service until 10."

"No, that's ok. I'll get them. Could you stay and hold the table? It's filling up in here a bit."

"So you don't want to leave?"

Evon realized that her initial response was a knee jerk reaction to seeing the sculpted body she had so carefully finished sketching, just a few days prior. The vision had remained vivid in her mind for weeks. Now she could finish the face.

"I'll stay a little while longer, I think."

She left a puzzled Marsha sitting at the table while she found an opening at the bar.

Rachel appeared instantly. "Another gin and tonic?"

"Yes, please. Could you make it a double? And a Bloody Mary as well, thanks."


Surprisingly, this time, the strongest feeling was curiosity, not guilt. Maybe Joanna is right. Maybe I am getting stronger. Absently, she paid for the drinks and headed back to the table, not noticing the brilliant smile bestowed upon her by the bartender.

Marsha accepted the glass, and did a quick taste test. "Mmm, she makes a great drink. Thanks. I'll get the next one. Um, Evon, if I'm not prying, what happened earlier?"

The blonde took a healthy sip of her drink, and debated the answer. "It was a tough year, to be honest. I... I lost someone very dear to me, and it's been a difficult readjustment."

"Oh, I'm so sorry. My breakup was awful, so I can relate."

Evon smiled sadly. "Well, it was a little more than a breakup. She was killed." She emptied her glass, trying to stave off the approaching sense of remorse that threatened to engulf her. "Anyway."

"Oh my God. Evon, I'm sorry. I didn't mean...."

"No, it's ok. You had no way of knowing." She glanced around, and noticed a waitress winding through the tables. She waved her over. "I think I'll have another."

"Let me get this one. Listen, Evon, are you driving?"

"I drove here. I won't be driving back. I never drink and drive. Too many long-term implications. I'll get a cab."

Marsha was relieved that she didn't have to argue about the issue. "No, this is going to be my last one. I'll take you home, and then we can get your car tomorrow. I don't mind at all. Where do you live?"

Evon thought briefly about whether the dancer was interested in something more than a drive home. She dismissed the idea, having not felt any interest beyond friendship from the pretty brunette. "Ok, thanks. I appreciate it. Cabs are scarce on Saturday nights. I live just south of Greektown." She tossed her driver's license on the table. "There's the address. Would you mind putting my keys in your purse? I don't want to lose them."

"No, not at all. Hey, I know that address. It's the big white Victorian, isn't it? A friend of mine lives just a few houses down on the same side. Wow! That's such a coincidence."

"Small world, Marsha. It's a small world. What's your friend's name?"

"John. He's a sweet guy."

Evon was distracted, and feeling the warm, tranquilizing effects of the alcohol. Her mind was slowly alternating between sobering thoughts of Vic, and images of the tall beauty out on the patio.

Sensing the distance, Marsha remained quiet until the house lights dimmed, and the spotlight shone on the dance floor. "I'm looking forward to this."

"Yeah. Should be fun."

They turned their attention to the first performer, who did a very decent rendition of the 4Non-Blondes' What's Up. When the gal finished, they looked at each other with surprise and nodded.

"You should get up there, Evon."

"A couple more of these, and I might." She drained the glass again, and motioned to the server. Her eyes settled on the occupants of the table directly below, next to the dance floor. The dark head was leaning in, close to the ear of a pretty, young blonde. Evon hadn't noticed her reappearance in the bar. The conversation she was witnessing seemed tense, until finally, the blonde shook her head and left the table. Almost immediately, the chair was occupied by a heavyset, tattooed woman.

A fresh gin and tonic was paid for, and Evon turned to face her friend. "Do you know that woman? That one at the table near the dance floor."

Marsha had been thoroughly engrossed in watching the good looking butch in the spotlight singing Strawberry Wine. "Which one?"

"Right there, in the leather jacket."

"Oh, ok. I've never met her, but by the descriptions I've heard from Cindy, not to mention that I noticed she practically chased her out onto the patio, I'd put big money on a guess that her name is Rae Crenshaw."

"Rae. Suits her. What's with her and Cindy?"

"Oh God. Cindy has been obsessed with that woman since the dawn of time, I think. She came home crowing one morning that she'd finally managed to spend the night with her, and ever since, they've been vicious with each other."

"They slept together?"

"Yes, but quite honestly, I think Rae must have had a moment of temporary insanity, because Cindy tells me everything, detail by sordid detail. Reading between the lines, I'd say she did it to get Cindy off her back. Didn't work, now Cindy won't leave her alone."

Evon felt vaguely disappointed, like she'd expected more from this woman she didn't even know, as unrealistic as she knew that was. She tried to shrug it off, and concentrate on the next performer.

"So I take it it didn't go well." Mel looked at the disconsolate Rae.

"Nah. I guess she decided that being friends isn't enough. She said she can get a fuck buddy anywhere."

"Ouch! No fire in the belly for you, huh?"

"No, not really. It might have been possible with more time, but waiting isn't her gig, I guess." Rae took a swig of her Corona and leaned back in the chair, facing the floor. Jailbait was singing one of her favorites, Whispering Your Name, and thankfully, wasn't butchering it.

"Oh, they have Alison Moyet's stuff. Do you know her songs, Marsha? They're great. I love them even though they're sad. Did you ever listen to the lyrics? They're just heartbreaking. Someone must have really hurt that woman, like Sinead, you know?"

Marsha smiled at her somewhat inebriated friend. She didn't consider herself to be an overly perceptive person, but she sensed that Evon needed to talk, so she let her ramble on.

"I want to sing, Marsha. Think I should sing a song?"

"Do you feel up to it?"

"Yeah, I'm gonna sing a sad song. One of Alison's, if they have it."

To her credit, Evon didn't stumble as she negotiated the few stairs down to the main floor. She approached the Dj with her request, who nodded, then stood in the dark corner by the booth, swaying slightly, waiting for her name to be called. The signal came that she was up next, and Evon was still competent enough to recognize that her total lack of nervousness was alcohol induced.

"And now ladies, for your listening pleasure, here's Evon, singing This House, another great song from Alison Moyet."

Evon walked slowly into the spotlight and removed the microphone from the video stand. She didn't need the screen; she knew the words by heart. Sliding the stool away from the stand, she leaned back against it, hooking the heel of her boot in the bottom rung. Her eyes closed as the music began, and she lifted the mic.

Rae was dumbstruck. Evon. The artist from the beach. It had to be. Unconsciously, she leaned forward.

It was a beautiful song, but filled with a sadness so profound, listening was almost painful. Evon knew the song, and the pain, very well.

Whose sticky hands are these
What is this empty place
I could be happily lost
But for your face

Here stands an empty house
It used to be full of life
Now it's home for no one
And here's why

It's a hovel and

Who can take your place
I can't face another day
Who will shelter me
It's cold in here
Cover me

Evon's head was tilted upwards, her throat straining with emotion. The sweet voice filled the room, every haunting note pure, the desperate passion radiating from her like a tangible entity.

As Rae listened, she fought the incredible urge to take this beautiful young woman in her arms, and erase her suffering. The tears trickling down the singer's soft cheeks were almost her undoing.

The entire room was listening in rapt silence, paying reverence to the tortured offering of this golden haired angel they'd never seen before. Marsha was tearing up, sharing Evon's agony, and even Cindy, who had come in from the patio, forgot her intent to pursue a conversation with Rae.

Under these fingertips
A strange body rolls and dips
I close my eyes
And you're here again

Later as day descends
I'll shout from my window
To anyone listening
I'm losing

Who can take your place
I can't face another day
Who will shelter me
It's cold in here
Cover me

Oh the plague of hateful questioning
It's like dancing every syllable from ear to ear
I hear the din of lovers jousting
When I'm hiding with my head to the wall

Who will shelter me
It's cold in here

The song neared its end, and tears flowing freely now, Evon's head bowed, and she whispered, "Cover me." The hand holding the microphone dropped heavily into her lap as the last notes died in the air. A long second of utter silence filled the space as she sat unmoving, until a single clap was heard. The sound snapped the stunned crowd out of its trance, and a thunderous round of applause crashed through the room. Evon lifted her head slowly, and leaned across to replace the mic, stumbling slightly as her heel remained caught on the barstool. Rae was up immediately, catching both Evon and the mic in her strong grasp.

"It's ok. I've got you. I won't let you fall."

The words were spoken quietly enough for only Evon to hear. She lifted her eyes, wet with tears, and met Rae's soft gaze. She tried to stand, but her legs were weak and unsteady.

"I'm sorry. I can't seem to get my balance." The long, powerful arm that encircled her waist felt like a blessing.

"Come over here and sit down for a minute. Catch your bearings."

"No. No, I have to go home."

The pleading eyes rung Rae's heart, as the entire room watched quietly.

"Ok, I'll get you home, alright?" She led her over to the table and sat her down gently. "I'm Rae."

"I know. You run on the beach."

"Yes, I do, Evon. And you sketched me one day."

"Yes. You looked strong in the sunlight."

Rae held the woman's gaze, knowing instinctively that the words held another meaning, one that she wanted to learn desperately.

"Evon! Are you ok?" Marsha had finally pushed her way through the crowd to reach her friend's side. Rae stood up as she felt the moment pass, replaced by an irrational annoyance.

"Is she with you?"

The dancer looked up into the steely blue stare, and pushed aside the intimidation she felt. "Yes, she's my friend, and I'm going to take her home."

"I'll follow you." The statement brooked no argument.

"That's not necessa...."

Evon interrupted hesitantly. "Thank you, Rae, but I'll be fine."

The tall woman reached out and helped her stand. "Will you come back?"

"I... I'm not sure. I think so... later... in a few days, maybe." Evon felt confused and emotionally drained, the inhibitions returning. Part of her wanted the strength of those arms around her again, but the larger part retaliated against it. The attention was making her feel a little panicked, and she wanted to leave.

Rae released her hand. "I'll be here." It was a promise voiced to fill an unspoken need.

"Ok. I'll look for you."

Cindy turned to Lana, who was seated at the bar, and sneered. "The next blonde of the month. I guess you've been replaced, honey."

"Fuck you, Cindy."

Lana stalked out onto the patio.

Rae stood on the steps of the bar, and watched as Marsha and Evon drove away. Dotty came up behind her.

"That was quite a performance."

She turned her head and flashed the bouncer a cold look. "That was no performance. That was as real as it gets."

"Well yeah, I know that. I meant it was a bit shocking to see."

"I've never witnessed pain like that. I hope whoever the hell did that to her is dead." Rae walked down the stairs without a backward glance.

Part 8
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