Part 8 - See disclaimers in part 1
"Yeah, it's me."
"What a wonderful surprise! It's been weeks! How are you, honey?"
"It has been a while, hasn't it? I'm ok. How are you?"
"Great! Amy and I just signed the papers on a house. My God! Can you believe that? It's being built now and will be ready in November. I didn't think it was possible to be so nervous about buying something! You'll have to come over and see it with us. We've been taking pictures as it progresses, and it's really taking shape. Amy is like a kid in a candy store!"
Rae smiled as she listened to her first love's excited chatter. Sarah had always been like this, exuberant and full of spark. Even after the accident that had almost taken her life, she was able to push aside the chronic pain, pain that still plagued her every moment, and return to the loving, vital person she had always been, albeit one who tired more easily.
"That is so terrific, Sarah. Congratulations. Where's the house located?"
"North. Up near Richmond. We'll only be five minutes from my perfect nieces and nephew, and fifteen from Amy's parents. It's a great location. And it'll cut the commute to work in half for both of us. I can't wait to move."
"I'm so happy for you, kiddo. Obviously, you and Amy are doing well."
Sarah's tone grew wistful. "Yes, Carrie and I are working on being friends. She's had a really hard time with the breakup. Amy has accepted the friendship, finally. It was difficult, but things are moving in the right direction. Thankfully." She stopped talking and listened to the telling few seconds of silence on the other end. "Rae, are you ok, sweetheart?"
More silence, then a sigh. "Yeah, I am. Just waxing nostalgic, that's all. You know me better than anyone in the world, and I just wanted to hear your voice. Grounds me, I think." A pause. "Ah fuck, I don't know. I've been in a funk lately."
"About what, hon?"
"I don't know. Life in general, I guess."
"Sounds like you need a little tlc."
Rae laughed gently. "Yeah, well, some wouldn't agree with you."
"Ah. So it's more a case of needing understanding than tlc."
"See what I mean? We are so in tune. I swear, even after all this time, we can still read each other."
"And we always will. Amy said something to me a few days ago that I found interesting. She said that even though she felt a little insecure about my continuing friendship with Carrie, the one she worried about most was you."
"Me? Surely she knows..."
"Rae, it's not that she thinks we're going to run off together. She just knows how much of us once belonged to each other, and that you owned my heart. It's not something I'll ever forget, and everyone who's important to me knows that."
Sarah couldn't see that on the other end of the line, Rae's remorse was painfully evident. Slumped over, and holding her head in her hands as she cradled the receiver on her shoulder, she spoke softly. "I'm so sorry I didn't take better care of it."
"Sweetheart, stop beating yourself up. Please. We've had too many sad conversations over this, and we always end up apologizing again and again. Nothing's going to change the past, so let's just take it from here."
"Yeah, I know."
"But never forget this, Rae. As high as the cost was, to both of us, I wouldn't trade one second of the love we shared to avoid the pain. Not one second."
For a brief, quiet moment, both women were lost in similar thoughts... remembrances of a love so complete, it seemed indestructible, and a loss so devastating, it seemed insurmountable. Sarah broke the spell.
"Hey, what are you doing tonight? Amy flew to New York this morning for a conference, and I'm here in an empty apartment. Have you eaten?"
"No, not yet. I just got home from work."
"Let me cook dinner for you. Come on over, and we'll get a smile back on that gorgeous face, ok?"
"That sounds terrific. Are you sure I'm not interrupting your evening of solitude?"
"Absolutely not. I can't think of a better way to while away the evening. Besides, it'll keep me from worrying too much about Amy. Poor thing. She hates flying, and I know that she won't sleep well until she's back here on solid ground."
"Will she be upset if I come over?"
"Oh, I'm sure there'll be a twinge, but she'll be fine. Anyway, she knows you're my dearest friend. You're part of the package, honey."
"I don't want to cause any problems."
"Stop. Just stop it. Now give me an hour and then get your butt over here. Prepare to be fed, young lady."
"Oooo, well, I guess I'd better do that. You know, you're irresistible when you're being all toppy."
"Brat. I'll see you in an hour."
"Ok, babe. I'll be there. See you in a bit." Rae hung up the phone and shook her head, her mood considerably lightened. My Sarah. I am so lucky to still have you in my life.
"So, Evon, what brings you here today? We haven't had an unscheduled appointment in a while." Joanna leaned back in her customary corner of the couch, steaming coffee in hand, just as she had for weeks now.
Evon relaxed for the first time since the night she sang to her lost lover at The Rose. "Joanna, am I becoming too dependent on these sessions? They seem to be the only thing that I can count on to pull me out of these backward slides."
"Do you feel as though you've made progress, Evon?"
"Oh yes! I'm sleeping through the night now, for the most part, and I feel a lot stronger."
"And we discussed the possibility of relapses."
The young blonde sighed. "Yes, maybe I'm expecting too much too fast."
"Not at all, Evon. Considering the depth of your loss, and the circumstances surrounding it, your progress has been excellent. I wasn't kidding when I said that some never make it through."
"Does that mean that I cared less than I thought I did?" The earnest green eyes sought reassurance for her doubt, and validation for her recovery, and Joanna instantly knew that here was the crux of the problem.
"In my opinion, there is no correlation, Evon. We both know how much you loved Vic. That has never been in question. You are fortunate enough to have the strength to recognize that the only way to live a decent, full life from now on, is to put the debilitating anguish behind. Which you have been managing to do, very well, and independent of these sessions. Now tell me what happened to cause you to doubt yourself."
Evon related the events of the previous weekend, as her words and intonations were absorbed by a trained ear. She told of the freedom from the pain and guilt she had felt in the early evening, and then how alcohol and the familiar song had caused the world to come crashing down around her ears. And how the tall, dark woman with the gentle arms and caring eyes had caused her to forget, for just a second, and for the first time since the tragedy, the face of her dead lover.
"Evon, alcohol will induce, among other things, an aggressive response in some, and a highly charged emotional reaction in others. Inhibitions disappear, and emotion takes over. Nothing, I'm sure, you didn't already know, and quite expected, actually. But your primary concern seems to be your response to this woman, am I right?"
The blonde nodded weakly. "God, it felt so good, and it made me feel so bad, all at the same time. I just cried all night. Joanna, I'm afraid that if I ever get involved again, I'll forget Vic. And if it didn't work out. I don't know that I'd survive."
"So I take it this woman has shown some interest?"
"She wanted to take me home." Evon realized suddenly how that sounded, and added hastily, "I mean, she knew that I was drunk, and wanted to make sure I got home ok."
"Did she give you any other indication?"
"She asked if I would come back to the bar again."
"Then I think you can safely assume some level of interest. Did you feel any pressure from her?"
"Oh no, not at all! She has incredible presence. That's what drew me to her on the beach. Marsha said she intimidated the hell out of her, but I didn't feel that. She has these gentle, blue eyes, and I knew that when she asked me if I was ok, it wasn't a come on. I could just tell. And then she gave me this little grin, like one of those Elvis half smiles, you know? I just felt so drawn to her, it scared me. Now I don't know what to do."
"What would you like to do?"
Evon looked like a forlorn, lost child. "I'd like to have Vic back, and I'd like to take her to that bar, and dance and laugh, and then go home together, and have her hold me close all night."
Joanna watched her patient carefully, sensing a breakthrough to definite acceptance. And it happened.
A strangled whisper. "But she's never coming back, Joanna. Ever." The words were not unfamiliar. She'd said them many times before. But now it was different. It was as though a wound in her heart closed, slowly, and sealing behind it, with aching, indisputable finality, the life she had shared with her first love.
The impact of the sudden realization hit Evon hard, and she gasped for breath. Her hand flew to her throat as she waited for the hot, stinging tears. But they didn't come, and she looked wide-eyed at her therapist. "I feel awful. But I feel..." She struggled for the word. "Free."
Joanna nodded her head and smiled, as she gave the discovery a deserved few seconds of reverent silence. "And now we can start rebuilding your life in earnest. The worst is over, Evon, and you made it through." The admiration she felt for her patient was evident in the older woman's voice. The therapist was well aware that final acceptance rarely came in the form of a startling revelation like Evon's, that it was usually a gradual, pain filled process. But this young woman had experienced enough. She had earned, many times over, an easier transition to the freeing of the burden in her heart.
Evon suddenly felt very tired. "I'm going home to bed. I feel like I've run a marathon."
"That's a good idea. Can you take a few days from work to regroup?"
"Yes, I think so. We're ready for the production to open next week, and the ballet mistress can take care of the last details."
"Wonderful. What's the production?"
Evon smiled at the irony. "Romeo and Juliet."
Rae rang the bell to the upstairs apartment for the second time, thinking maybe she'd picked the wrong one. Finally, she heard the pounding of footsteps coming down the inside stairs, and the door burst open. She grinned at Sarah who was in her customary chef's apron, cheeks flushed and a huge smile on her face.
"C'mon in! I've got a sauce simmering, and I need to keep stirring." She turned and raced back up over the stairs.
Rae followed slowly, chuckling, as she watched Sarah disappear around the corner. "What? I don't even get a hug?"
"Just hold your horses, you impatient thing. If I burn this sauce, it'll ruin the magnificent feast I've prepared for you."
Rae set the bottle of chilled German Piesporter on the dining room table, and then leaned on the kitchen doorway, arms folded across her chest, as she watched Sarah stir and bustle around. "Man, that smells great. All these years later, and you still move like a hurricane through the kitchen." The comment was met with a playful swat to the belly.
"Don't say that! I feel old enough as it is without you reminding me of how many years it's been since our torrid youth together!"
"Hey, where were you on your birthday, by the way?"
"Rae. Do not remind me. I made Amy take me out of town for the weekend, so I wouldn't have to face being reminded that I'm on the back end of my roaring thirties."
"Well, you don't look it, doll. Happy birthday. Sorry I missed it." Rae leaned her long frame over her ex's shoulder and captured her lips in a sweet kiss. Sarah's eyes closed and her lips parted involuntarily. As Rae pulled back, her eyes opened.
"God, you can still drop me like a rock with that kiss! That's some powerful stuff, Rae Crenshaw. Here stud, take these and set the table, please."
Rae took the silverware and arranged the table, coming back for wine glasses and condiments. They worked in companionable silence until Sarah announced that dinner was served. She brought out the steaming plates, then tuned the stereo to a mellow radio station, keeping the volume low. She smiled as she watched her dinner guest pour the wine with a flourish, and hold up her glass in a toast.
"To good friends who will always be there."
"This looks great, hon." Rae tried a piece of the tender whitefish, and moaned, as a look of ecstasy crossed her face. "Mmm, this is so good! Thank you for this, sweetie."
"Glad you like it. It's always nice to have an appreciative audience."
They made quick work of the meal, the sparse conversation indicative of just how delicious it was. Appetites sated, they sat back and sipped their wine, enjoying the quiet comfort they felt in each other's presence. Rae found herself drifting off in thought until Sarah's voice brought her back.
"Awfully pensive tonight. What's up, honey?"
Rae pulled herself back, the distant glaze in her eyes replaced by a serious look, as she searched Sarah's face.
"Do you think I've become a cold person?"
"No. Inaccessible sometimes. But never cold."
"Yes. I think you've shut your feelings down somewhat, and to people who don't know you or your capacity to love, it might come across as cold."
"So they're right then."
"The women I've dated recently. Let's see. I've been called cold, cruel, heartless, and numerous other colorful variations on the same theme."
Sarah reached across the table, and laid a hand on Rae's forearm. "You're none of those things, sweetheart. Those women are wrong. They obviously don't know you."
Rae gave a half hearted grin at the blonde's little bulldog defensive attitude. "You're biased."
"Yes. And your point?"
"I'm serious, Sarah. I don't seem to be able to give relationships a chance anymore. In my mind, they're dead in the water before they even get started. I always operate on the assumption that they aren't going to last, that I'm going to get blindsided and humiliated when the honeymoon is over and I'm not meeting their every expectation anymore. And what the fuck happened to a little bit of independence in a relationship? Christ, it's like you have to spend every minute joined at the hip just to prove your love! I can't stand it!"
Rae was up, pacing around the room. "You know, I look back at all the relationships I've been in, and I swear, you were the only one who understood that a little breathing room didn't mean I was going to run out the back door with someone else when you weren't looking."
"I trusted you. Then and now." Sarah watched her ex with a concerned eye, wondering what event had brought on the uncharacteristic display. She was slightly confused, knowing that when they had been involved, there was no such thing as breathing room. They spent every separated moment desiring the next moment together.
"Exactly! Jesus, I don't know. Do I invite distrust? Does my behavior make me seem untrustworthy?" The perturbed woman ran her fingers impatiently through her hair.
"Rae, this is my psych training talking here, ok? You're black and white, with very little gray in between. You love, or you hate, or you feel total indifference. You trust or you don't. You're brutally honest, or you don't say anything at all. Most people don't know how to deal with those kinds of extremes. They find it intimidating, and make assumptions about your motives, and that causes a negative reaction. And you have no patience for irrational behavior based on incorrect conclusions, so you get cold towards them. And I know that that's your way of not letting yourself get angry. You don't like feeling angry and out of control. I remember your battle with that legendary temper. But none of these things are bad. I admire the hell out of you for them, but that's because I know the rest."
Sarah got up from the table and led the agitated woman to the couch. She knew how to deal with Rae's extremes. "Please relax, and listen to me. Ok, honey?" The outburst was rare now from her ex lover, and she could feel the adrenaline coursing through the woman as she rubbed the tension out of the wide shoulders.
"Rae, as straightforward and from the hip as you are, you are still kind and gentle, and you try never to hurt anyone. You hate yourself when you do, and I think that holds you back from letting anyone in anymore. Shhh." Sarah stilled the interruption with gentle fingertips to soft lips. "You know how it feels to be hurt badly, and you don't want to be the cause of that for anyone else, or yourself."
"Baby, you're right about all those things, but I know what my problem is. I can tell when something is going to be short term, because I know myself. I feel suffocated unless I get that pang in my gut that I felt when we were together."
"Rae, don't glorify our relationship. It was far from perfect."
"I'm not talking about our relationship, and believe me, I know it wasn't perfect. I'm talking about what I felt for you when we were together; how we made each other feel. My God! You know what I'm talking about!" Rae was on her feet again, upset and restless. She leaned heavily against the wall. "Sarah, the passion we shared was... there isn't even a word to describe it! I think about it, and even now, it makes my heart beat faster."
Sarah nodded her head and glanced up at her ex lover, seeing through her to past memories. She understood exactly what Rae was saying. The passion had been expressed physically between them, yes, and it had been magnificent. An involuntary shiver slid down her spine as she recalled the intense, constant lovemaking, whispered urges through clenched teeth, until their cries echoed off the walls of the tiny college apartment. The feelings went far beyond the tangible substance of their bodies, but it was the only outlet they could find for the relentless fervor. They couldn't get close enough to each other. Ever. It consumed them both, and they couldn't stand any length of separation. She felt incomplete and almost panicked as soon as Rae was out of sight. It would have scared the hell out of both of them had it not felt so right.
Rae was lying spread eagled on her back on the carpet now, staring at the ceiling, and although she appeared still, Sarah could see the turbulent energy seeping from the long body. God, I know her so well! And for so long, I placed all the blame on her for something that I set in motion. The devastation she had felt when Rae ended their relationship after eighteen long distance months, blinded her for years to her part in the bittersweet loss. Her eyes glistened as she remembered looking back at her tall, proud, young lover, barely out of her teens, left behind in the airport as she flew off to begin her promising career, two thousand miles away. The look of pain and bewilderment on the tear streaked face had torn at her heart, but her feet kept moving her further and further away. They ignored the voice screaming in her head that it was impossible to ask this wild, reckless, passionate creature to accept this separation. It went against Rae's very nature. It was like asking a bird not to fly.
What Sarah didn't know was that in the aftermath of her departure, for four days, Rae didn't eat or sleep. She cried a lifetime of tears, until her stomach rebelled and her head pounded with such a force that she couldn't function. And on the fifth day, when Rae called her hotel room and calmly asked her to please come home, and she replied that she couldn't, she had signed a contract, something broke inside the dark, young woman and a fortress slammed into place around her heart.
Sarah's melancholy recollection was interrupted by the low, rumbling voice.
"I can't settle for anything less now, because if I don't feel it when I'm with someone, there's a part of me that never stops looking. And that's not fair to anyone involved. I mean, I'm not saying that it has to be that immediate connection like you and I experienced. I know that some things take time to develop, and I'm prepared to let that happen if I get the sense that it's possible. It's just the collar and leash I can do without." Rae was talking as though there was no one else in the room now, her musings more a method of organizing her feelings than communicating her thoughts. Then, she rolled over and looked up into Sarah's eyes, speaking quietly. "How did you do it? I know that your feelings were as strong as mine."
"I didn't do it until I met Amy. The eight years I spent with Carrie were wonderful, and I wouldn't trade them for the world, but subconsciously I never stopped looking, no matter how much I had myself convinced that I could be happy with her for the rest of my life. I look back and I know she sensed it too, which is why she's struggling so much now. She feels betrayed, like it was all a farce. But it wasn't. I loved her with all my heart, and gave her everything I was capable of giving. I still love her. She just wasn't the one, and I didn't know it until Amy walked into my life. I saw the life in her eyes, and I just knew. I guess I'm lucky, lightening struck me twice. First you, now her."
"I'm really happy for you, Sarah. I'm glad you found each other, but I have to say, you had me convinced that Carrie was the one. I was a tad shocked when you told me that you'd split up, especially after the accident and all. I figured if you'd made it through that, you'd make it through anything together."
"You weren't the only one. I don't think our friends will ever forgive me. They keep reminding me of how much Carrie helped me through all the surgeries, and took care of me. I still feel a lot of guilt about that, but I can't base a relationship on obligation. No one can, and be fair."
"So how are you doing anyway? Is the new medication working?"
"Yeah, it is. I feel much better, and I can work full time now, which is the only way we were able to get the house. But you're changing the subject, which you were always so good at. What happened that brought on all this? It's unusual for you to care so much about what other people think of your motives or behavior."
Rae grinned, but it disappeared as quickly as it came. "I don't know, really. It's just that recently... well, I do know. I met this young gal, Lana, and she really captured my attention. She's an intelligent, beautiful, young blonde, and we hit it off...
"What is it with you and blondes?"
"Well jeez, Sarah, I don't know. It's not like a specific requirement or anything. Besides, Denise is a redhead, Shauna is dark. It's not like I post a bloody sign."
Sarah laughed at Rae's sarcasm. "Ok, ok, it just seems that you always find them. Sorry about the interruption. Go on, she sounds perfect, and...?"
"She wanted too much too fast. We slept together once, and then I took her with me to a party to meet some of my friends. She was laughing and joking around, getting to know everyone, and the next thing, she's all sullen on the way home because I didn't pay enough attention to her. So that pissed me off a bit. Then I thought about it for a few days, figured I'd try to meet her halfway, and explained that I'd like to continue dating her, but not exclusively, at least not yet. Let's just see how it goes. She asked me how I could be so cold about it, and I told her I didn't think I was being cold at all. Then she said she didn't want to be my fuckbuddy, and stalked off. But that's not what I meant at all. She didn't even give me a chance to finish."
Sarah knew that Rae was a very intelligent woman, prone to intellectualize emotional situations. She gave herself justification to avoid vulnerability and the potential for being perceived as weak. But the walls she had built did not shield her from the inevitable disappointment that comes with closing your heart too quickly.
"Rae, you can't always meet emotion with rationality. It makes people think you don't care about their feelings."
A sharp glance met her words. "I can't control how people feel, Sarah. And if I didn't care, I wouldn't bother trying to explain anything. I'd just blow them off."
"I know that. I understand exactly what you're saying, and you're right. People have to be responsible for their feelings, their reactions, their insecurities, and whatever else. It's just not always that cut and dried. It's that black and white thing, Rae. With me, you were tender, and loving, and always very aware of how my feelings were being affected. I know you remember the strength of our feelings for each other, but do you remember how it felt to be responsible for and take care of someone else's emotional well-being?"
"Yes, I do. And I did it for you because it was right, and real, and I didn't know then what it felt like to have my heart broken so badly, I'd want to die. And I guess that's the problem. I've grown very independent, and I like my space, and quite frankly, that will never change. So I don't even know anymore whether I'm capable of investing the necessary energy into a long-term relationship, or whether I can open myself up to that kind of risk again. I just don't know."
Sarah felt her heart jump at the lost, forlorn look on her ex lover's face. She got up and knelt at Rae's side, wrapping the broad shoulders in a warm embrace. "You can, honey. Really, you can. I believe that with all my heart. You have so much to give to the right woman. Don't be afraid. I'll help you if you need me."
They stayed in each other's arms for a long time, soaking in the warmth and understanding that can only come from someone who knows you completely, and accepts you for exactly who you are. Afterwards, they shared another glass of wine and talked about less intense things, until it was time for Rae to leave. They walked arm in arm down the stairs to the front door.
"Thank you, sweetheart, for dinner, and everything else. You're my little Gibraltar, did you know that?"
"You're welcome, honey, and of course I knew that. Don't you ever forget it." Sarah poked Rae's chest, punctuating the words, then reached up and wrapped her arms around the taller woman's neck for a tender hug. "My God, have you grown?"
Rae chuckled. "No, I think you've just gotten used to Amy. I never thought you'd actually find someone shorter than you."
"Yeah, well, you know the saying, good things, small packages. You said it to me often enough."
"I was right. Amy's a lucky gal."
"Flattery will get you everywhere, gorgeous. It's a good damn thing you don't make me horny anymore. Now get outta here before I call the cops."
A chaste kiss, and Rae was waving good-bye through the car window, infinitely thankful for the love of good friends. And thinking of passion, the kind she'd heard in the voice of the angelic blonde singer.
Lana lay on the couch, staring unseeing at the late night sitcom on the television, glowing blue in her darkened living room. Two tickets flipped in her fingertips. Tyke had given them to her in disgust after being turned down by the pretty brunette she'd been cultivating a friendship with at the gym. "Just take 'em, " Tyke had said, "I only bought them because I was sure she'd say yes. Maybe you'll have better luck."
Luck. Right. Lana knew who she wanted to ask, and for the millionth time since she stalked away from Rae's table at the bar, she wondered if she hadn't overreacted to the woman's inattention at Alan's party. I could tell the strength of the attraction wasn't mutual that first morning she walked out of here. And her explanation for the party was completely reasonable. So was the request to take things slow and just date for a while. So why did I freak on her?
She tossed the tickets on the table and got up to get a bottle of water from the refrigerator. She grabbed the phone before sitting back down on the couch and stared at it in her hand. Because there was no eagerness in her eyes, that's why. No desire in her voice to match what I was feeling for her. Just cold statements of fact, like she was trying to appease me, and that pissed me off more.
Lana punched in the number she had memorized from the client files that morning. She half expected to get a machine, guessing correctly that Rae screened all her calls, so she was taken slightly aback when the low voice answered.
"Uh, hi, Rae?"
"That's me. Did you expect someone else, Lana?"
Oh, this is getting off to a resounding start. "No, sorry. I expected to get a machine. I'm glad you answered though. I hope you don't mind, I got the number from your file at the gym."
"Nope, I don't mind. I'm surprised to hear from you given our last conversation."
"That's another reason I expected the machine."
"And what are the others?"
"I guessed you for the type who doesn't pick up the phone unless you're expecting a call."
"You're right about that, but curiosity got the better of me. I don't normally hear again from women who call me a cold son of a bitch, unless of course, your name is Cindy."
"I apologize for that. Please don't compare me to her. I was angry, and now I'm not. I'd like to get together with you and try to put this behind us."
"Listen Lana, I like you. I really do, but we want different things right now, and..."
"I know that, Rae. I'm not asking for a relationship from you, just a friendship, and like you said, we'll see where it goes from there."
"I don't want to run the risk of it turning out badly, Lana. Given what's already happened in the short time we've spent together, there doesn't seem to be a lot of promise here, you know?"
"I understand what you're saying. Let's just play it by ear, ok? I enjoy your company. I think you enjoy mine. Let's just get together occasionally, no strings whatsoever."
There was no attempt to mask the sigh. "Lana, there's no such thing as no strings. I think it's a human impossibility."
"I mean it Rae. Honestly. And I think it is possible, if you want the friendship badly enough."
"I do want to be friends. Ok, let's give it a shot, no strings. I'm guessing you have something in mind."
"Yes. Are you free this Sunday night?"
"Yeah, what's up?"
"Tyke gave me two tickets to the opening of Romeo and Juliet by the National Ballet. Interested?"
"Tyke gave them to you? Why?"
"Sad story. That brunette she's had her eye on turned her down tonight. Too bad actually. They'd make a cute couple."
"Aw shit. That's the one I introduced her to. Some things aren't meant to be, I guess."
"Don't I know it. So, are you up for it?"
"The ballet, huh? Well, I liked the movie. Sure, why not."
"Great! It starts at eight. Do you want me to come and get you?"
"No, I'll have a few errands to run before then. I'll swing by and pick you up, say around seven. Sound good?"
"Sounds great. I'll see you then."
"Ok. Lana, I'm glad you called. I do enjoy your company. Look forward to seeing you Sunday."
"Me too. Take care."
Sunday evening arrived quickly, and Lana was in the foyer when the convertible pulled up in front of her building. Rae flipped on the hazards and got out of the car, intending to buzz the apartment when she saw Lana come through the glass doors.
"Oh, hi. I hope you haven't been waiting long. I got caught in the traffic on Church."
"Not at all. I just got off the elevator and saw you pull up. Wow, don't you clean up nice! I think this is the first time I've seen you in anything besides blue jeans." The dark woman was wearing dress boots with black pleated slacks and an open collar, black linen shirt. A supple leather trench completed the outfit.
"Thanks. Though I'll have you know that jeans are the most perfect garment manufactured in the history of mankind. Anything leather is a very, very close second. And you look pretty spectacular yourself."
Rae appreciated the refined beauty of the young woman, dressed in a classic knee length, form fitting, pale gray dress, with no adornments except a thin gold chain around her neck, her long, blonde hair flowing freely. A slight, cashmere cardigan of the same gray covered her bare shoulders.
"Thank you. I love this outfit, and I rarely get to wear it."
"Well, it looks beautiful on you. Will you be warm enough, or would you prefer I closed the top?"
"I'd rather you closed it, otherwise my hair will be a nest by the time we get there. Do you mind?"
"Not at all."
Rae held open the door and Lana slipped inside.
Evon was nervous. She always was on opening night, even though she wasn't on stage any longer. She suffered vicariously through the butterflies of the dancers. Watching the pandemonium backstage for a while, she found herself recalling the first time she had taken Vic to a performance. The girl had protested initially, stating that she'd stick out like a sore thumb in what she perceived to be a haute crowd. But Evon had won her over, especially when she'd come home with a beautiful black leather blazer for her to wear to the show. Vic strutted in that jacket, she remembered, and Evon still had it hanging in her closet at home. Her eyes glistened with unshed tears as the sad, but very sweet memories filled her mind.
She slipped away from the controlled chaos to take her seat in the auditorium, next to her parents who had insisted they attend opening night with her. After all, it was the first display of her work with the company.
What's wrong, honey? You look upset. Did something happen backstage?"
"No, mother. I'm fine. I was just thinking about London." It was easier these days to say London, rather than Vic. Her parents were still insistent that she carry on a "normal" life, now that she was home and away from the heathens who had unduly influenced their only child. Evon didn't want to argue anymore, at least not tonight when she had so many other things on her mind. Her eyes watered again, thinking of the wonderful, caring friends who had helped her when Vic died. She slumped very slightly in her seat, feeling the pressure of pain, loss and non acceptance, when she should have been elated at seeing the culmination of her first effort with the company.
"Sit up straight, dear, and smile. Your mascara will run. Don't worry, the production will be flawless, I'm sure." Monica Lagacé patted her daughter's knee, ignoring her awareness that Evon's sadness had little to do with any trepidation surrounding the show's success.
When Rae and Lana arrived, they elected to have a glass of wine before finding their seats. They chatted about Rae's work, and Lana's aspirations to manage a fitness center, and eventually own a franchise, growing more comfortable with their status as friends. They laughed easily and enjoyed the conversation, drawing many glances from the other patrons milling around in the foyer. They made a striking pair.
The lights flickered, signaling two minutes to curtain, and they headed inside.
"These are excellent seats, Lana. It's really too bad Tyke didn't use them."
The anticipatory murmur of voices heightened as the house lights dimmed, then fell silent as the spotlights lit the stage. Lana leaned over to whisper in Rae's ear, and the dark head inclined slightly. "Thank you for coming with me."
Rae smiled and gently squeezed Lana's forearm. "Thanks for asking me."
They were in aisle seats near the front of the auditorium, just to the right of the stage. Rae glanced around at the crowd, observing how diverse patrons of the arts could be. The range spanned generations, cultures, and economics, by the looks of things. Then again, the tall woman knew that appearances were, as the old cliché went, deceiving. Suddenly, her attention was captured by a shock of golden blonde hair, lit by the reflection from the stage. The profile was unmistakable - it was her. She felt a pang in her heart at the sight of the sad face, and the urge to comfort and protect the young woman was as overwhelming now as it had been the first time.
Rae saw little of the ballet beyond her periphery after that. Evon was seated a few rows ahead in the next section, directly in Rae's line of vision to the stage. She knew what it was that drew her to the beautiful, melancholy woman; she had given it much thought since her dinner with Sarah. This woman knew the deepest secrets of passion and pain and heartbreak, and had somehow survived, just like she herself had. She had seen it in her eyes that night at the bar, when all her defenses were down, and the agony was as clear as crystal to someone who knew and understood. There's a kinship in pain, and losing someone you love more than life itself is a form of death. Real love is not for the faint of heart, and the courage it takes to survive it, and love again, is more than the average soul can bear. Something in Rae told her that there was nothing average about Evon. She had to talk to her.
The house lights went up for the first intermission, and Rae snapped back to reality. Lana was saying something to her, but she hadn't heard a word.
"I'm sorry. I was out of it there for a second. What did you ask me?"
"I asked if you were enjoying the ballet. You seemed completely engrossed."
Rae contemplated telling her the truth, but decided it would be better to wait until after the show. She didn't want to take the chance of ruining Lana's evening. "Yes. I have a bit of a problem sitting still for too long, it's just not in my nature. But I am enjoying it. Are you?"
"I think it's wonderful. Different interpretations of the classics are always so interesting. The story remains the same, but the choreography changes each time. This production is beautiful."
"It is beautiful. I need to get up and stretch my legs. They never make these seats far enough apart for my stilts."
"Well, I have to go to the rest room. Meet me outside by the bar?"
As they walked down the aisle, Rae glanced back and saw Evon standing, surrounded by older couples who all seemed to know her well. She wanted to get a message to her somehow, to ask her if they could get together. She could see that the rest room was quite busy, so she had a few minutes before Lana would return. On the back of one of her business cards, she wrote her home and cell numbers, and at the bottom, "I'd like to invite you for dinner and good conversation. Please call me anytime. R."
She headed back into the auditorium and was relieved to still see Evon standing there, with far fewer people. She took a deep breath and walked up behind the blonde, stopping a few paces behind her.
"Excuse me, Evon?"
The blonde whirled around at the familiar voice, and her face blanched.
Rae felt uncharacteristically awkward now, given the woman's response. "I'm sorry to interrupt. I just wanted to give you this." She handed over the business card, and stood there for an uncomfortable moment, gazing into Evon's eyes. Realizing that her presence had shocked the young woman, she extricated herself as delicately as she could. "I hope you're enjoying the ballet. It was good to see you again." She turned and walked away, upset at the reaction, but remembering that the circumstances under which they'd seen each other before hadn't exactly been conducive to warm greetings.
She turned at the mention of her name.
"I'm sorry. My parents..."
"It's ok. You have my number now. Please call me. I'd like to have a chance to know you." It was an honest request, spoken in earnest, and Evon recognized that.
"Enjoy your evening, Evon."
Lana knew that Rae was distracted, and she couldn't understand why. The ballet had been spectacular, and Rae had seemed captivated, her eyes never leaving the stage.
"Rae, is everything ok? You're a million miles away."
Yeah, I'm fine. Listen, Lana, can I come up for a minute? I want to talk to you about something."
When they entered the apartment, Rae sat down on the couch, not bothering to remove her coat. Lana busied herself making tea for them, wondering what the problem was. She brought the steaming mugs over and set them on the coffee table, then sat down on the other end of the couch.
"What's wrong, Rae?"
The dark woman didn't respond immediately, seeming to collect her thoughts.
"Lana, do you remember the blonde woman who sang at the bar a while ago? The one who was so upset?" When Lana nodded, she continued. "She was there tonight. I gave her my card and asked her to call me. While you were in the rest room."
"Oh. I thought you weren't interested in any relationships right now."
"I don't even know the woman, Lana. We may not even end up as friends, let alone get involved. That's not what this is about. I don't know how to explain this, but I want you to know it has nothing to do with you. I want you and I to be good friends, and I just wanted you to be aware that I'm going to try to make some kind of connection with Evon."
"Well, I'm glad you told me. Why didn't you mention it earlier?"
"Because I didn't want to ruin our evening. I'm sorry I was distracted, and not better company."
"It's ok. I had a nice time anyway."
"I'm glad. Thanks for the tea, but I'm going to head home. Mondays are always crazy at work, and I need to get an early start."
"Thanks for going with me, Rae. I'd like to do other things like this with you, if you'd like."
"I would. Take care, Lana. I'll probably see you at the gym this week. Don't get up. I'll let myself out."
As the door clicked shut, Lana felt the last hope for a relationship with Rae dissipate into the air, like the steam from the untouched mug of tea on the table.
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