Part 9 - See disclaimers in part 1

Chest heaving. Breasts swaying. Head thrown back with mouth open, while breathing in short gasps is a necessary function only to sustain the energy for continued motion. Moisture gathering, forming small rivulets that trickle down the valley of her spine as she straddles the strong, harness-clad hips thrusting beneath her. As the orgasm nears, she looks down at the beauty lying below her, long, raven hair splayed across the pillow, and ice blue eyes glazed over in lust, and love...

Evon shot up in bed, her brow soaked with the intensity of the dream. Momentarily disoriented, she glanced quickly around the room until the familiar shadows calmed her ragged breathing. "Sweet Jesus!" She rubbed her eyes, adjusting to the dim, and crawled out from under the covers, stumbling to the bathroom. She splashed cold water on her face before flicking on the light switch. Toweling dry, she shivered, as much from the vividness of the dream as the coolness of the apartment.

This was by far the most erotic of all the dreams that had plagued her since the business card had been pressed into her palm two weeks prior. My God, she was a vision in black leather! Evon felt terrible for not calling, not only because she knew it was impolite, given the obvious sincerity of the gesture, but also because her gut was telling her that she was cheating herself out of a potentially wonderful friendship. And she desperately wanted a close friend. Marsha was very nice, but her life revolved around ballet and finding a girlfriend. Beyond that, there sadly wasn't much marrow to the dancer.

It was her acute attraction to this tall stranger that was scaring her. But the woman had made the first move; the interest was apparently reciprocal. Evon's conscious thought vacillated between Vic and Rae. Should I call? What would Vic think? Vic is gone. What does this woman expect? How will you know if you don't call? Am I betraying Vic? Vic is dead.

The blonde pulled on a thick, terry robe and sat down heavily on the futon, tucking her feet underneath to ward off the chill. "Vic would be upset that beyond my job, I've stopped living." Something about saying the words aloud gave them validity and substance. Evon repeated them into the empty air of the room, recognizing that finally, she might be ready to focus, however slightly, on something besides the next production and the loss of her lover.

She watched through the window the dawn of a new day, and with sudden purpose, stood up. As she walked into the kitchen to make coffee, she resolved to call Rae to see if the dinner invitation was still open.

Everyone was steering clear of Rae. Her agitation was obvious and justified. The technician who had been causing her so much aggravation had finally pushed beyond the limits of her patience. His unauthorized absence in the wake of the disastrous mess strewn across his desk made the decision for her, even though she knew the laboratory would pay the price, moving as they were towards the busiest time of the year. She swore under her breath, turned on her heel, and stalked into the reception room.

"Julie, please reschedule everything on Bob's desk for the other technicians, as well as anything upcoming for him, then take him off the books."

The look on Rae's face left no doubt as to her intentions, and her office manager nodded assent as she logged into the employee computer files.

Rae walked into her office and shut the door forcefully, already hearing the buzz of relieved excitement from her staff. She picked up the phone and made quick work of the dismissal, refusing to be baited by the man's empty threats of legal action. She had a file an inch thick to back up her decision, and he knew it. It was with as much relief as dread that she ended the brief conversation.


She leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes. I should have done this months ago. Now if I can only find someone with some ability and a decent work ethic. Right.  It certainly wasn't from lack of effort that she hadn't found a replacement long ago. The current employment market was so thin that finding decent help was beyond frustrating. She punched the intercom button on her desk phone.

"Julie, run the ad again, would you please? And this time, put it in all the major trade publications. I'll pay to bring someone here from out of the province if we have to. Thanks."

Rae leaned her elbows on her desk and scrubbed her face with her hands. "I need a fucking vacation." But she knew that it wasn't just the work situation that was bothering her. She had yet to hear from Evon, and it seemed as though it had been forever since she'd seen her at the ballet. She was also disturbed that the silence was getting to her so much, but try as she might, she couldn't get the woman out of her head. Get over it, Crenshaw. She's not interested. It's not like you even know her. Leave it be. "Yeah, dream on." She laughed sarcastically at the futile attempt to dissuade herself.

Dragging herself heavily out of her chair, Rae prepared to face a day filled with complications. "Employment by crisis. That's what you thrive on. Time to earn your paycheck."

"Hello. May I please speak with Rae Crenshaw?"

"May I say who's calling, please?" Julie was used to screening all inquiries for Rae. They received so many solicitation calls that Rae had essentially put a stop to all of them, meeting new suppliers on an appointment basis only.

"Yes. Evon Lagacé."

"And can I tell her what this is regarding, Ms. Lagacé?"

She hesitated. "It's a personal call."

"Very well. Please hold while I check if she's available."

"Thank you." Evon was getting cold feet, and it took a tremendous effort not to simply bail out and hang up the receiver, but she had already given her name. Hanging up would be rude beyond question. She shifted uncomfortably in her office chair, feeling her heart rate increase as the seconds ticked by.

"Hello! This is Rae."

The slight breathlessness in the greeting caused the corners of Evon's mouth to turn up in a small grin.

"Hi, Rae. It's Evon. I'm sorry it's taken me so long to get back to you. I've been, um, a bit busy." She felt a nagging little tug in her conscience at the white lie. She hadn't been too busy; she'd been too afraid.

"Oh, that's alright." The lie was matched. "I've been insanely busy too. I'm glad you found the time to call though. How are you?"

"Fine, thank you. I've been swamped with details surrounding the production, but they seem to be finally ironing themselves out." Another lie. The production was enjoying a smooth, successful, opening run.

"The production?"

"Yes. Um, the ballet? The night you gave me your number?"

Rae was confused. "I'm sorry. I didn't realize you were involved with that."

"Oh. Yes, I'm the ballet company choreologist."

"Really? I didn't know that. I thought you were there as a spectator."

"Oh, I thought you knew that, because of Marsha, and um, Cindy, and... all that." Evon was stumbling over her words now, and feeling awkward.

Rae stiffened at the mention of Cindy's name. How in the hell had she entered the goddamn picture? Jesus, I will never be rid of that bitch! "No, I didn't know. But I'm curious. How does this involve Cindy?" She didn't want to ask, but had to know if this was going to be an issue.

Evon heard the edge in Rae's voice, and almost decided to somehow end the phone call, but something held her there. "Small world, I guess. The night that we, um, ran into each other at the bar, I was there with Marsha. She's a dancer in the company, and Cindy's roommate."

"Ah. Yes, indeed. A small world." Goddammit! Rae knew instinctively that Evon was aware of her tryst with Cindy. "Well, I try to avoid Cindy these days. She's become a bit of a thorn in my side." And digging deeper. "However, it's my own fault, and some mistakes follow you around more than others."

"She certainly left an impression on me, albeit quite a negative one."

"Unfortunately, I have to say I'm glad to hear that. She's definitely a handful of trouble." Rae despised the fact that her first real conversation with this woman had centered on Cindy, so she attempted to change the subject and inject some levity into the discussion. "Anyway, enough about her. I'm hoping that you called to take me up on my dinner invitation."

She certainly doesn't beat around the bush, does she? Evon hesitated for a heartbeat; a hesitation not lost on Rae. "Actually, yes, I did."

The Olde House on Church was exactly that - a huge, century old, one family dwelling that had been purchased from the original owners when Church Street became the center of the city's gay mecca, and then converted into a beautiful restaurant full of charming ambiance. Beyond the required installation of necessary food service equipment, the internal structure had been left intact. Patrons never knew when reservations were made whether they would be dining in the front parlor, or in what once was an upstairs bedroom.

The atmosphere was close and elegant, and as Rae waited for Evon's arrival, she wondered not for the first time whether she should have chosen a less intimate setting. But she had been so thrilled when Evon called, and had wanted so much to make the evening memorable, that she had immediately selected this restaurant without thinking about Evon's possible interpretation of the surroundings. Rae glanced at her watch. It was a moot point at this stage. Evon was due to arrive any minute.

And there she was. Rae's breath caught in her throat as she rose to greet her dinner date, struck once again by the beautiful face with the sweet, sad smile. That same, insistent desire to gather the young woman into her arms and soothe away the hurt hit her again, this time stronger than ever. Before she was aware of her actions, Rae had stepped around the table, taken Evon's hands in her own, and leaned down to kiss her lightly on the cheek. So soft.

"Thank you for joining me. You look beautiful."

Evon was dressed in a pale blue, silk pant suit, the shirt unbuttoned over an ivory shell. The slight flush on her face at the compliment made her glow. The maître d' stepped graciously back with a small smile as Rae seated Evon herself, then moved back to her own chair.

"Thank you, and thank you for inviting me. This place is gorgeous. I've driven by many times, but never been inside. I see I've been missing out." The intimate greeting from Rae had shaken her a little, but she was well schooled in maintaining social composure, so the only outward sign of her discomfiture was a little chattering. "You look wonderful yourself. Black definitely suits you."

"Thank you, and I'm glad you like the restaurant. Gerald and Aaron have done a wonderful job with it."

"Oh, you know the owners?"

"Through mutual acquaintances only, but they're both very nice, and very adept at creating atmosphere, as you can see. They travel extensively and..." Rae broke off her reply as she noticed the waiter patiently standing a respectful distance from the table, obviously waiting for a break in their conversation.

He filled their water goblets as he introduced himself as André and requested their drink order. They agreed upon the excellent house white, and he was back with the bottle, pouring the wine as they perused the extensive menu. With a slight bow and the assurance that they would be very pleased with their meal choices, he left them to resume their conversation, interrupting briefly to bring appetizers.

"So you were saying that Gerald and Aaron travel a lot?"

"Yes, Europe mostly. Aaron has an incredible penchant for crystal, so they're always looking for pieces for the restaurant. Their apartment is filled with it. The last time I was there, I was afraid to move, scared to death I'd knock something over and have to sell my car to pay for it."

Rae was being completely honest - she had been daunted by the ostentatious display of wealth, and afraid to move - but she didn't realize how amusing her statement was until she looked up and saw Evon laughing quietly. It was the first time Rae had seen her laugh, and a thrill ran down her spine at being able to break through the beautiful blonde's melancholy. She decided to try again.

"Well, I was!" Rae leaned forward and whispered. "You see, when you're my size, a house full of expensive, irreplaceable knick-knacks is quite a danger zone. I'm a bit of a bull in a china shop, you know."

Evon laughed again. "Oh, I'm sure you aren't! You've never struck me as anything but graceful and in control." Evon blushed immediately, feeling as though she'd given something away.

"Really? Well, I'm flattered. In control, yes; graceful, hardly. I'm still not certain how I managed to secure that invitation. I'm sure they both heaved a sigh of relief when I left with everything still intact." Rae winked and lifted her glass for a toast. "Here's to unbroken crystal, and a future filled with potential gracefulness."

Evon touched her glass and smiled. "Thank you again for inviting me. I have to say I'm feeling more relaxed now." Her voice quieted slightly, and a hint of the sadness returned. "I haven't been doing much socializing recently, and I was beginning to wonder if I'd forgotten how."

"I  hope you're here because you want to be, and not because you felt pressured into it. That would upset me as much, if not more, than it would you." It didn't even register in Rae's mind just how much of herself she was revealing in that simple statement.

But Evon caught it, and suddenly her footing seemed more stable. "Yes, I can imagine it would. You don't seem the type to appreciate being pandered to."

Unblinking blue eyes held Evon's gaze. "No, I don't. Actually, I find it incredibly insulting."

The seriousness of Rae's expression unnerved the blonde again, and she dropped her sight to the barely touched salad in front of her. She cleared her throat. "Yes, I do too, and I wouldn't be here if I didn't want to be." She glanced up and saw the softening in Rae's eyes, which encouraged her to continue. "I've been looking forward to this, and I don't want you to think otherwise."

"I don't, really. I just wanted to be sure, because I've been looking forward to this evening as well." Rae smiled, and Evon was charmed by the dark woman's easy grin.

Silence lay between them, not uncomfortably, as they turned to their salads, finishing just as the main courses arrived. The conversation slipped into an effortless cadence as they expressed delight with their meals and their surroundings. Rae was extremely happy that Evon was enjoying the atmosphere, and not feeling stifled. Normally, she would have slipped into a flirtatious mode by now, but surprising herself, she realized that although it was certainly there, sexual attraction wasn't her primary focus tonight. She tried hard not to stare at the way the candle's flame danced light and shadows over Evon's beautiful, youthful face and the strands of golden hair that hung over her forehead, catching in long lashes. The subtle layer of makeup however, couldn't hide evidence of dark circles beneath the hazel eyes, and without realizing it, Rae was staring, trying to penetrate through the hurt to catch a glimpse of the girl within.

Evon's gaze lifted slowly, sensing the scrutiny. "I know your mother must have explained that it's not polite to stare."

It took a second for the words to register, and then a few more to see the curl of a tiny smile. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to. You are a beautiful woman."

Something in the delivery of the statement told Evon that it wasn't a come on. Vic had told her that all the time, and the familiar words caused a trace of pain to flicker across her face. "Thank you."

"Why are you so sad?"

The unexpectedness and blunt honesty of the question took Evon by surprise, and she struggled for a response. "I, uh... I'm not... all the time. I think you've just caught me at bad moments." She fidgeted with the linen napkin in her lap, unprepared to share her personal disaster with a virtual stranger.

She wanted to say that she'd been there, that she understood, that she wanted to help somehow, but Rae was intuitive enough to recognize that forcing this issue was unfair to Evon, and might push her away instead of drawing her closer. She silently reprimanded herself, and then apologized. "I'm sorry. That was far too personal a question for a first date."

The slightly stunned look on Evon's face made Rae blink.

Oh, Mother of Christ! I did not just say that! "I mean, not 'date' as in dating you, or 'first' as in I expect there to be more, unless you'd like that, in which case I'd be inclined to agree, but..." The attempted recovery was futile, and Rae fell back in her chair, blowing a breath that lifted the bangs from her forehead. "I'm so sorry. I'm not usually this socially inept. I didn't mean to put you on the spot, and now I've made you uncomfortable again." She leaned forward, and picked up her fork, poking at the remaining morsels of prime rib on her plate.

Awkwardness was the last thing Evon expected from this imposing, self-confident woman, and she smiled, reminded of the same endearing quality in Vic. She reached across the table and touched Rae's forearm with her fingertips. "It's ok. I know what you meant, and I'm feeling a bit like I've gained an upper hand now, which cancels the discomfort. So we're even."

Rae's eyebrows hiked up underneath her hairline, and then she smiled at the coy grin on Evon's face.

"Even, huh?"

"Yes, even. And I've had a really nice time. You've been excellent company, and there's no need to apologize for an obvious compliment or an honest question." Evon brought her hand back and took a sip of wine. "I'm just not ready yet to discuss, um, certain things."

"Of course. I understand completely." Rae felt the exasperation with herself receding. "I do hope however, that by 'not ready yet', you mean that I can look forward to another evening together."

Evon could see the poise settle back over the dark woman. "I'd like that."

"Wonderful." Rae glanced at her watch. "Well, time flies, doesn't it?"

Evon looked up at the magnificent grandfather clock in the corner of the dining room. "My God! It certainly does!" They'd lingered over dinner almost three hours.

"Would you like anything else, or shall I just get the check?"

"Oh no, thank you. It was delicious, and I'm absolutely filled to the brim."

Rae signaled the waiter and handed him her amex card. "I've had a terrific few hours, Evon, and I'm reluctant to let you go. Can I talk you into spending a little more time with me? It's still quite early for a Friday night."

Evon silently weighed the prospect of continuing the date. "What did you have in mind?"

Rae didn't bother to disguise her delight. "Anything you'd like, mademoiselle."

"Ooo, well, in that case, how about a nice walk down Church to check out the sights?"

"Great idea. I need to walk off this incredible meal. I think I overindulged."

Evon laughed. "That makes both of us."

Rae signed the check and they headed out into the early fall evening. The slight breeze was cool, and Evon folded her arms over her chest.

"Did you bring a sweater or anything? It's a bit chilly. If not, you can have my coat. I'm pretty immune to the cold." Rae wasn't about to let the temperature shorten their time together.

Evon had a light jacket in her car and was about to say so when she felt the weight drape across her shoulders. The leather was warm with Rae's body heat and felt wonderful. She shivered from the sensation and turned to look up at her companion, who had her face turned upwards into the breeze, breathing deeply. She is stunning. Evon searched for a word to describe the tall woman's strong features and bearing. Noble. That's it. She looks like she belongs in a world of legendary kings and knights. A noble, dark knight, protecting a kingdom, saving princesses, loving maidens... mmm, a fairy tale with a twist. Maybe I'll write a story.

"Are you sure you won't be cold without this? I have a jacket in my car." Truth was, Evon didn't really want to give it back.

Rae looked down at her, smiling brilliantly at the sight of the small blonde wrapped in her oversized trench coat. "Yeah, I'm sure. My ex used to say I had some kind of thermal generator inside me. She'd pull all the blankets off the bed when we slept together."

Evon's voice almost failed her. She managed a weak, "Oh, really?"

Rae was oblivious, laughing as she remembered Sarah's antics. "Yeah, she'd put on all these melodramatic displays, acting as though she was going to melt on the spot. But every morning, she was in the same place, wrapped around me like velcro. She was so funny."

"Sounds nice." The faint reply was wistful.

Rae heard the tone and knew she had touched a sensitive area. She mentally kicked herself. Again. "Sorry about that. This isn't exactly an appropriate topic for discussion on an evening out, is it?

"No, it's ok. Honestly. I think a woman's choice of partner tells a lot about her. Perhaps more than she'd be willing to say about herself. I'd like to hear about it."

Rae debated the wisdom of saying more, and decided to try a light approach. "You're not an amateur headshrinker, are you, as well as being a choreographer? I wouldn't want to give too much away. You know, the upper hand and all that."

The desired effect was achieved. Evon laughed. "No, not to worry. I just like knowing what makes people tick, where they're coming from. And it's choreologist, not choreographer."

"Oh dear, I'm showing my vast ignorance of the finer arts. What's the difference?"

"Choreographers are the artistically temperamental, creative geniuses. I notate their visions into a series of instructions, then work with the ballet mistress to teach the dancers. That's the condensed version. The details would bore you, but I do have a store of funny anecdotes about bitchy ballerinas."

"Ha ha! I'll bet you do! How did you get involved in this? It sounds fascinating."

They strolled slowly down the street, trading superficial information about each other's lives. The "first date" awkwardness had vanished now, and the exchange was easy and instinctive, and filled with comedic stories about work, friends, traveling, and a discovered mutual dislike of horror films and rap music. Rae noticed that Evon was very animated when she felt at ease, using her hands and tone of voice, as much as her words, to relate a story. They window-shopped and watched people celebrating the end of the work week. Reaching the periphery of the jubilant bustle, by unspoken assent, they crossed the street and started up the other side, each loath to end the first night of what appeared to be the infancy of a burgeoning friendship.

As they approached The Rose, having largely ignored it the first time past on the other side of the street, Rae slowed her pace. The crowd waiting to get in had now spilled over the stairs and down onto the sidewalk, and if she wasn't going in, she sure as hell wasn't going to walk Evon through it. At least not until she had the opportunity to explain that her familiarity with these women wasn't as intimate as some would make it seem. For the first time in a very long time, Rae found herself concerned about the impression she was making on another woman. Analyzing why she felt this way was better left for another time.

She stuck her hands in her trouser pockets. "Um, Evon, did you want to go in for a drink?"

"No, I don't really want to wait in that line, Rae. Look at it. We'll be waiting an hour out here, at least."

"Well, that won't be a problem. I'm, uh... well, let's just say I'm pretty much a regular who's acquired a 'no waiting in line' status." She gave Evon a lopsided grin that the blonde found utterly adorable.

"Ah, I see. I'm not even going to ask how one earns that kind of distinction. Should I be made aware of your reputation now, Ms. Crenshaw, or shall I wait to hear the many sordid versions as time goes on?"

Rae was captivated by twinkling green eyes and a wicked little grin. She placed her hand over her heart dramatically. "You see, that's so harsh, and now you've hurt my feelings. But seriously Evon, I don't wait in line because I've served my time, so to speak. I've supported Deb and Liz since they opened the place, and it's a perk of appreciation. As far as the rep goes, well, if I'd slept with as many women as rumor says I have, I'd have made my way through half the lesbian population in the city by now. Believe me when I say it's not flattering."

"No, I can imagine it wouldn't be. But I can understand how it would happen. You are a rather striking woman, after all, and I can envision swooning lesbians throwing themselves at you constantly."

"Oh, you are a mean one, aren't you?"

Evon laughed, and Rae's heart opened wide.

"Quite honestly, Rae, I'm not that familiar with, um, the lesbian gossip wheel. I just haven't been exposed to much of it."

"Well, you certainly aren't missing anything, my dear. And in these parts, we call it dyke drama."

"Yes, I've heard that before. Suitable phrase."

They were standing still now, facing each other, a short block away from the queued, boisterous crowd.

"So, did you want to go in?" Rae hoped the answer was no. She wanted more one-on-one time with this precious creature before facing the inevitable interrogation from her friends.

"Actually, no, if that's ok with you. I've had a really wonderful evening, and I think I'm ready to head home. I have to check in early at the office tomorrow, and clear up some long neglected paperwork."

Rae was elated and disappointed at the same time. "I can't say I'm happy that you need to leave, or that you have to work on a Saturday, but I do understand. I'll walk you to your car. Where did you manage to park?"

"In that small lot, just across from the Common."

"I know exactly where that is." Without thinking, Rae took Evon's smaller hand into her own. She scanned up and down the street for oncoming traffic, and led the blonde across, jogging slightly.

Evon was laughing when they reached the other side. "My God! You have the longest stride! I almost had to take three steps for every one of yours! You'd kill me in a foot race!"

"Oh, I don't think so. I'll bet you're deceptively fast. You look in top shape."

"I do run, and being in the dance company helps a lot."

Rae hadn't relinquished Evon's hand, nor did the blonde attempt to take it back. Holding it just seemed very natural. They reached the lot and Evon pointed out the Camry in the far corner. As they approached the car however, the imminent, first good-bye made them both a little self-conscious. Rae released Evon's hand, and the smaller woman shrugged the coat off her shoulders and handed it back.

"Thank you for being so gallant. And I see you were right. You don't seem to get cold at all."

"No, not really." Rae slid the coat back on, and adjusted the collar.

The silence lengthened, and Evon busied herself getting her jacket from the passenger seat. Rae watched her as she put it on.

"Evon, I'm glad you came. I had a terrific time. Can we do it again?"

"I'd love to, Rae. My treat next time."

"You're on. I'm free this Sunday."

Rae was rewarded with another genuine peal of laughter from the woman whose sadness she'd managed to suspend for a few precious hours.

"Ok, Sunday it is. I'll call you Sunday morning and we'll make plans from there, alright?"

"Great. Ok, well, drive safe."

"I will, thanks. You too."

They stood, looking at each other for a few seconds, until finally Evon started moving around the car towards the driver's door. When she reached the corner where Rae was standing, she stopped and hesitantly placed her hands on the tall woman's arms. "Thank you for a wonderful evening."

Throwing caution out the window, Rae put her arms around the blonde's waist and gently hugged her. "You're welcome." When she felt arms encircle her neck, she hugged tighter, lifting Evon up onto the tips of her toes, and laying her cheek against the sweet smelling hair. After a long moment, she reluctantly loosened her grip when she felt Evon's arms slide down to her shoulders. Their faces were mere inches apart, and no amount of warning bells in Rae's head, however loud, could stop her from leaning forward and pressing her lips against those belonging to the sweet angel in her arms.

For a delirious fraction of a second, Evon responded. God, she wanted this! Then an enormous wave of guilt almost took her legs from beneath her. Unsteadily, she pushed the tall woman away and braced her arms back against the car, head down, hair obscuring her face.

"Oh fuck! Evon, I'm sorry. I'm sorry! I shouldn't have done that. I just... I didn't think. Shit." Rae was beside herself, with guilt, remorse, disgust and a multitude of other swirling emotions, including that ugly, sickening feeling of rejection. She jammed her hands in her coat pockets and spun on her heel, facing away from Evon. "I'm sorry."

The complete silence told her everything she needed to know. All night long, she'd been cautious, except for that one early slip when she'd asked Evon why she was sad. After that, they had made headway, feeling more and more at ease in each other's company. Now I fucked it up. And I only kissed her because it felt right, not because I was trying to get anything from her. But how the hell was she supposed to know that? She probably thinks I've just been trying to get in her pants.

While Rae was berating herself, Evon was consumed with conflicting feelings of longing and fear. She wanted to experience that heady rush of being wrapped in the tall woman's embrace again. She'd allowed it to happen. For God's sake, she'd even initiated it. And now the vision of Vic's broken body lying in her arms battered her consciousness. Pushing herself, weak kneed, away from the car, Evon glanced up at the back of the woman who was still so much a stranger, the broad, strong shoulders, the wide, defiant stance. She felt ill.

"I, uh, I have to go now. I'm sorry."

The words were spoken so softly that Rae barely heard them. She closed her eyes for a few seconds, then turned to face the car, but Evon was already in the driver's seat. She stood unmoving, and watched as the car pulled slowly out of the parking space. Rae thought the blonde was just going to drive off until the window slid down and the car rolled to a stop next to her.

"I'm sorry. I just have to leave." Evon didn't look into her eyes.

There was nothing she could do to take back what she'd done, nothing she could say to make it right, so Rae simply nodded and stared as the tail lights disappeared around the corner onto Church Street. The breeze had picked up, and it blew her long, black hair away from her face. For now, she would blame her watery eyes on the swirling city dust.

Dotty opened the door when she noticed the black clad figure ascending the stairs. "Hiya Rae! How goes it?" The bouncer sensed immediately there was something wrong. "Hey, you ok?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. I just need a beer."

"Long week?"

"Yeah, something like that." Rae responded without breaking her stride towards the bar.

Elbowing her way through the crowd, she found an empty barstool and ordered a chilled, double Absolute, straight up. She tossed the bills on the bar, and in one swallow, downed the entire contents of the glass.

"Hey babe. You wanna talk about it?" Rachel's voice was soft, and she leaned forward, forcing Rae to look into her eyes. "I'll listen, you know that."

"Thanks, but no. I'll have a beer though." She could already feel the warmth from the vodka spreading in her belly, but it did nothing to thaw the freeze in her veins.

"This one's on me, babe." Rachel slid a coaster under the Corona. "And if you need a ride home, let me know."

"Thanks, Rach." Rae was glad the bartender didn't press the issue. She didn't want to go home, she just wanted to nurse her beer without well-meaning interference. She needed passive activity surrounding her right now, in the background. It helped steady her, because she could feel the swell of frustration building inside, the kind that made her want to throw something and hear the satisfying crash. Being in public forced her to sit still and control the restless, negative energy.

"What's this? All alone tonight? How fortuitous."

Knuckles whitened on the beer bottle as Rae recognized the despised voice. Ignore her. She'll go away.

Cindy didn't leave. Instead, she slid in between the barstools, uncomfortably close. "Must be my lucky night. And you look delicious in black, my dear. Better yet, out of black." She chuckled at her flirtatious quip. "So how are you?"

Rae turned her head slowly and fixed Cindy with a dangerous, withering glare. "Get. Away. From me." The muscles in Rae's jaw jumped as she ground the words through clenched teeth.

A look of fear flickered in the blonde's eyes, gone as quickly as it appeared, and in its place, a gleam of lustful anticipation. This was how she'd found Rae that Friday night months ago - angry, coiled like a cobra wanting to strike, desperate to rid herself of the restless energy churning in her gut. And release it she had, claiming Cindy roughly, over and over again, taking the blonde to heights she'd never reached with anyone else. Her eyelids fluttered as she sucked in a tiny gasp, remembering the ecstasy, believing the opportunity was presenting itself here again tonight.

Cindy's eyes narrowed seductively. "Oh, you don't mean that. I can see how tense you are, darling. You know I can help you relieve it, just like before. It was so good for both of us. You remember."

The two women stared at each other.

"You just don't get it, do you? What I remember is that it should have never happened. Now get the hell away from me, because if you insist on continuing this, you won't like what I have to sa..."

"Hi Cindy!" Marsha was breathless with excitement. "Hi Rae. We haven't met, at least not formally. I'm Evon's friend, Marsha, remember? Where is she? I want to introduce her to my new girlfriend."

The dark woman turned towards the newcomer and looked at her coldly. "Evon isn't here."

"Oh." Marsha looked confused. "She said she couldn't go out with us tonight because she was meeting you downtown for dinner. When I saw you, I thought..." She glanced between the two women. Cindy's stare was fixed on Rae, lust, rage, and envy warring in her eyes. Rae turned away from both of them, a ferocious set to her hunched shoulders. "This is a bad time. I'll leave you alone." The dancer left quickly, anxious to get away from the storm brewing at the end of the bar.

"So. Jilted by the little vanilla babe. What a sad story for the big, bad butch."

"Shut the fuck up."

"Oh, this is priceless. What did you do? Scare her into next week?"

Rae concentrated on breathing. Ten. Nine. Eight...

"Silence is telling, gorgeous. Come on, Rae. Did you honestly think Miss Sugar and Spice would go for someone with your reputation? Besides, you know she'll never satisfy that wild, hungry libido of yours. Not like I ca..."


The hoarse yell, accompanied by the beer slamming down on the bar, stilled all conversation within earshot. Heads turned towards the commotion. Rachel moved quickly to pry the still intact bottle from Rae's grip. The bartender knew the situation was escalating rapidly, given Rae's mood and Cindy's proclivity to aggravate. She discreetly gave the trouble signal to Dotty, who covered the space between the door and the bar in seconds.

"Cindy, go find another source of amusement. Rae, I need to talk to you for a minute."

The blonde recovered quickly from her startlement at Rae's outburst. "Look, we were just having a conversation, Dotty. She's just a little tense tonight, aren't you, darling?" Cindy placed her hand on Rae's forearm, then winced, as the dark woman's large hand closed like a vice around her wrist.

"Do you have a fucking death wish, or what?" Rae shoved the blonde's hand away roughly. "I said, get the hell away from me!"

"Oh, for Christ's sake! There's no need to get violent. Dotty, talk some sense into this woman. Everyone gets dumped now and then, even you, lover." Cindy sauntered away, feeling victorious. Spying Marsha, she practically skipped towards her table, knowing she'd be able to pry all the information she wanted from her naive, trusting roommate. After all, Marsha owed her for introducing her to the new woman in her life.

"What's going on, Rae? Why are you letting that tramp get to you?"

"You know, I don't need this shit. I'm going home." The agitated woman pushed away from the bar and jostled past the bouncer.

"Look, I'm not the enemy here, so chill out, alright?" Dotty's voice was hard. "If you wanna talk, I'll listen and try to help, but save the attitude for someone else."

Rae stood still, the bouncer's words permeating her anger. She heaved a huge sigh and turned around. "I'm sorry, ok? But I can only take so much from that bitch before I want to tear her fucking head off."

"She has as much right to be in here as you do, so you're gonna have to find a way to deal with it. I know she never leaves you alone, but you're the only one who can put a stop to that."

"Yeah. Anyway, I'm leaving. Sorry about that little display."

"Don't sweat it. Listen Rae, I can come over after the bar closes if you need to talk. You've got my cell number."

"Thanks for the offer, but I'll be fine. See you later."

"Right. Bye." Dotty watched her disappear through the door, and wondered what woman in her right mind would turn down the passionate beauty.

Rae walked slowly down the boardwalk, the heels of her boots clicking on the well worn wooden planks. It wasn't the safest place to walk alone at night, but she cut an imposing enough figure that her solitude was pretty much guaranteed. Grimly, she pondered that anyone foolish enough to mess with her tonight would get more than they bargained for.

Why was she so keyed up? So what if she'd blown it with Evon, she'd screwed up with women before. What difference did it make? It wasn't like there had been time for any emotional investment. Why the hell was this affecting her so much?

She wanted a chance, that's why. A chance to mean something to this woman, to prove she was worthy of her friendship,  maybe her affection. Damn, it was all so fucking cliché! Did she want Evon because she seemed so elusive? It wouldn't be the first time her desire had been piqued by the unattainable.

No, there was no denying that indefinable twinge she felt in her gut just thinking about the blonde. It gnawed at her, and had since the night she'd watched her sing, her pain so great that she'd broken down in front of a room full of strangers. It was the first time since... well, since Sarah if she was honest with herself, that someone had insinuated themselves so easily into her consciousness. She didn't want to let go of the possibility she sensed existed with Evon.

Evon. She was so beautiful. Rae knew that concealed beneath the layers of unexplained sadness, there was a vibrant, joyous woman wanting to enjoy life again. She had seen a glimpse tonight, before she'd crossed that physical boundary and kissed her. The blonde had responded though, just for a split second, which certainly added an element of confusion for Rae. What was it that was making this sweet, young woman run so scared? Rae knew that a bad relationship in the past could leave a person gun-shy, but it was more than that. Evon's reaction had been extreme.

The tall woman was so lost in her musings that she didn't see the three young thugs until she had walked right past them, sitting on the short, concrete retaining wall between the street and the beach.

"Hey, pretty lady. All by yourself tonight?"

Rae looked up, startled. She immediately tensed, her right hand closing around the key ring in her pocket, slipping the points of the keys between her fingers.

"Nope, my friend's waiting for me." She kept walking, watching the antagonists out of the corner of her eye.

"I don't see nobody else around here, do you, boys? Unless you got an imaginary friend we can't see." He cracked up, slapping his knee, enjoying his own joke.

Rae kept going, her mind working quickly, assessing the extent of the danger she was in. They were teenagers really, all shorter than her, probably drunk although she couldn't be sure. That one, the guy in the black hooded sweatshirt looked to be the biggest threat. He was bigger than the other two, and wasn't laughing. And he was walking slowly towards her.

She forced herself to remain calm, calling to mind the lessons learned in four years of unarmed combat during her short stay in the military. She could handle these three as long as there were no weapons. Escape didn't seem possible. She'd be hindered trying to run through the sand in the boots she was wearing, but it was worth the effort. She started to walk more quickly.

"Hey now, where you running off to?" The two smaller boys circled around behind her while the larger one stood facing her. "Don't be in a hurry, pretty lady. Tommy just wants to talk to you." Apparently, the larger thug was Tommy, the ringleader of this little band.

"Gimme the leather."

Rae stopped walking and turned slightly sideways, staring Tommy in the eye, keeping her other senses trained on the two behind her. She debated the wisdom of her choice, but decided that these three little bastards could go to hell, without her coat. "Well, that could be a problem, Tommy. I'm kinda fond of this coat. It was a gift, you see, and I'd like to hang on to it. You understand."

"Gimme the fuckin' leather."

"Nope." She sensed the two behind her coming closer.

One grabbed her sleeve. "He said, give'em the fuckin' leather!"

Rae reacted instinctively. She drove her right elbow hard into the face of the kid gripping her arm, dropping him with a grunt and a spray of blood. She spun around, grabbing the other one by the shoulder with her left hand and driving her knee into his groin. She swore she heard his nuts pop as he collapsed to the ground with a sigh, unconscious. In her peripheral vision, she saw Tommy advance a step, so she spun back, slashing out at his face with her right hand, the points of the keys ripping into his cheek.

"Aargh! You fuckin' bitch!" Tommy's hand flew to his face, coming away covered in blood. "You fuckin' cut me!" He looked at her incredulously as his eyes darted back and forth between her and his two cohorts laying still on the ground. He reached into the back pocket of his jeans and flicked open a menacing butterfly knife. "Fuckin' cunt! I'm gonna cut you wide open."

Shit! Rae leaned forward on the balls of her feet, waiting for his first move.

He lunged at her, low and clumsy, just as a bright spotlight lit up the beach, glinting on the knife and blinding both her and Tommy. She felt the blade as it scraped across the top of her left hand.

"Police! Drop your weapon!"

Rae took advantage of the distraction, spinning sideways and using Tommy's momentum to send him flying past her, face first into the sand. She leaped on top of him, one knee between his shoulder blades, the other pinning his hand and the knife to the ground. She grabbed his other arm, wrenching it up and behind his back, taking great satisfaction from his howl of pain.

The young, burly officer called on his shoulder radio for backup and an ambulance as he dropped to the sand next to Rae and slapped cuffs on the prone thug. "Stay down, Tommy, if you know what's good for you." He looked at Rae and noticed the blood seeping from her hand. "You alright, ma'am? Looks like a nasty gash."

"Yeah, I'm ok. Didn't penetrate." Rae was feeling lightheaded from the adrenaline pumping furiously through her veins. She sat down heavily and concentrated on taking short, quick breaths.

The officer checked out the damage done to the other two boys. One was awake now, clutching his groin, puking. The other was also conscious, but laying quietly. The cop sat back on his heels and gave a low whistle, turning towards Rae. "These guys seem to have picked the wrong person to roll tonight. I don't suppose you want a job as a police officer, do you?"

Rae smiled at him. "No thanks. Too much excitement for me."

Two black and whites and the ambulance pulled up, silencing the sirens, but leaving the lights flashing. The three boys were hauled off after receiving medical attention from the paramedics. Rae's superficial wound was cleaned and bandaged, after which she was requested to hang around for a few minutes.

"So, you ok? I'm Officer Brayton, by the way."

"Yeah, I'm fine really. No stitches needed."

"I'll need you to come down to the station tomorrow and make a formal statement. Here's my card. The case number is on the back."

"Thanks. Any specific time you need me there?"

"No, anytime is fine." The cop looked at Rae curiously. "If I hadn't seen what happened, I would have thought you were the one rolling them. You really did a number on those punks."

Rae grimaced. "Yeah well, they caught me in a bad mood."

The officer chuckled. "I'll say. I should lecture you about walking alone down here at night. Mind telling me what you were doing?"

"Just trying to sort out a few things in my head. Nothing mysterious."

"Alright, Ms. Crenshaw. Heading home now?"

"Yeah, I'm beat."

"Ok then, drive safely. And take care of that hand."

"Thanks, I will." Rae headed towards her car, stretching her back as she walked. She felt the strain in her muscles now that the rush had left her body. Her elbow hurt from slamming it into that kid's face, and her hand stung like a bitch.

Not exactly how I wanted to spend the rest of my evening. The frustration she had felt earlier had definitely depleted. That was one good thing about the evening's little rumble. And she felt proud of the way she'd handled the whole situation. There was a certain satisfaction in knowing how you'd react in a crisis like that.

I wonder what Evon's doing?

Evon was an emotional mess, remembering nothing of the drive home, her hands steering the car as if by remote. She hated herself for leaving without some kind of explanation, but knew she couldn't stay to offer one. Rae deserved more than that - she hadn't done anything wrong. She had simply responded to Evon's invitation, and the blonde knew she'd be lucky if the woman ever spoke to her again after that display of immaturity. For God's sake, I freaked out over a kiss! Now she probably thinks I'm some kind of emotionally stunted child.

Evon paced the floor of her apartment. She knew it was going to happen. She knew she would see Vic's face the minute she felt any interest towards another woman. The guilt that had almost upended her was frightening in its intensity. And it wasn't just the irrational guilt of betrayal; it was also guilt from leading someone to believe she was ready for anything beyond friendship. Was she ready? She knew she wanted it - wanted the opportunity to live and love again. Was guilt going to hold her back forever?

She ran her fingers through her hair and squeezed her temples. She needed to talk to someone. It was unreasonable to call Joanna, especially this late on a weekend night. The therapist had a life to live too. Denise! Evon glanced up at the clock, calculating the time in London. Her friend would have been home from the bar for almost an hour. She decided to take the chance, hoping to catch her still awake. She dialed the number quickly from memory and sat, listening to the distinctive rings. Three... four... the answering machine kicked on. Damn it! Evon was about to hang up when a sleepy voice sounded through the receiver.


"Denise, it's Evon. I'm sorry to wake you up." More guilt washed over her for bothering her friend at this ungodly hour.

"Evon? No, no! It's fine. I just dozed off. Honey, what's wrong?" Denise was fully awake now, fearing the worst. "Are you ok?"

"Yes, I'm fine. I just wanted to talk, but it's nothing that can't wait until later. Honestly. Go back to sleep. I just took a chance that you might be still up. I'm ok, really."

"Sweetie, you wouldn't have called if it wasn't important. Talk to me."

Evon sighed. "God, Denise, I feel like such an idiot. Here I am calling you in the bloody middle of the night, and I don't even know what to say. How are you, by the way? How's work?"

"I'm fine. The bar's been really busy, which is great. And I completed those two commission jobs I told you about. They turned out really well and the clients were ecstatic. So now I'm rolling in the proverbial dough, as they say." Denise laughed. "At least for a few weeks. Seriously though, I have enough to fly home for Christmas now and I can't wait to see you. You will be home over the holidays, right?"

"Yes! That's fantastic! God, it'll be so good to see you! This is terrific news. I could sure use a friend around for a while."

"Oh, honey, I wish I could be there sooner."

Evon couldn't help it. She burst into tears. The disastrous end to the evening with Rae, the guilt over Vic, and the utter aloneness she felt all came together to break open the well of emotion that had built up inside her.

Denise remained silent, letting her friend cry.

Evon choked back her sobs. "I thought I had it together by now, Denise, but I don't, and it's tearing me up. No one here knows except Joanna, and I feel like I'm going to spend the rest of my life in therapy. I want to spend one night, just one night, feeling good, enjoying someone's company without freaking out. I'm so tired of it. Sometimes I feel like I just want to give up. And I was angry at her tonight, Denise, as ridiculous as that sounds. Angry at a dead person. Jesus! I'm losing my mind."

"No, you aren't, sweetie. I'd be angry too, and I was for a while until I accepted that it was an accident. A horrible, heartbreaking accident."

"I know it was an accident, and I can't bring her back. I'm angry at her because I feel so guilty about being interested in someone else. Maybe I'm just angry at myself for feeling so weak and out of control."

"You're strong, Evon. Trust me on that, but you're human, honey. Give yourself a break."

"I'm trying. I am."

"You met someone?"

"Yes, well, I guess so. I don't know. I went out to dinner tonight with a really nice woman."

"That's wonderful! Tell me about it."

"God, she is so beautiful, Denise. She's tall and handsome, and intelligent, and so kind. She took me to that gorgeous restaurant on Church, and the night just flew by. Then we went for a walk and talked and laughed. It was the best night I've had in ages. She's really sweet, and I felt comfortable with her. I mean, it was a little awkward at first, but then we just clicked. Do you know what I mean?"

Denise smiled, misty eyed. She had missed this Evon so much, and for a while, thought she'd never see her again. Time will heal her, and whoever this woman is, she deserves a medal for seeing past Evon's pain.

"Yes sweetie, I know exactly what you mean. She sounds lovely."

"She is! And I was trying to come up with a word to describe her. She's noble, Denise. She reminds me of a noble knight, like she would fit in perfectly at Arthur's round table or something. She has flowing black, black hair and the bluest eyes you've ever seen."

A thin ripple of shock coursed through Denise's body.

"Oh God, listen to me! I sound like I'm caught up in some kind of fantasy land. I didn't mean to ramble on like that."

"No, it's ok, honey." Denise was torn. She didn't know what to say. She was so happy for her friend, for both of them, but she had no idea if telling Evon that she and Rae had a past together would upset her or not. She didn't want to lie, and she certainly couldn't feign ignorance. How many women in the gay community fit that physical description? Only one who Denise had ever seen. She decided she would at least let Evon know that she and Rae were friends, which was very true. Close friends. "Evon, her name is Rae, isn't it?"

"Yes! You know her?"

"I've known her for a long time, actually. We're very good friends. And you're right about her, Evon. She is beautiful and very kind."

"I don't believe it! Here I am, going on and on like a kid, and you already know who I'm talking about."

"But I don't understand, honey. It sounds like you two really hit it off. What happened to upset you?"

Evon's mood evaporated. She described the remainder of the evening in as much detail as she could recall, telling Denise of the guilt that had caused her to cut and run, and what she could discern of Rae's reaction. She told her of the tremor that had rocked her when she felt Rae's lips on hers, and how she'd wanted it to continue. And how ridiculous she felt, leaving the woman standing there, thinking God knows what about this child who disappeared without any plausible explanation.

"I feel like a fool, Denise. But I don't know her well enough to even attempt to explain what the last year and a half has been like for me. I mean, I'm in therapy. I'm an emotional wreck half the time. I can't even accept a peck on the lips without falling apart. This woman could have anyone she wants. If she ever found out what kind of a mess I am, and the baggage I carry around, I'm sure she'd take off screaming in the other direction."

Denise spoke quietly. "Don't underestimate her, Evon. I know her well, probably better than most. She's compassionate and kind, and one of the most caring women I've ever met."

"Ok, I believe you, I do. I just wanted to be her friend, and then that kiss undid me. And I initiated it. It wasn't her fault. I wanted it, and now I have to backtrack. She'll think I'm a basket case, if she ever wants to speak to me again." Evon hesitated, feeling inadequate. "Denise, I've... I've heard things. Not bad things. It's just... a woman like that... she expects, well, I assume she expects... things. Denise, I've only ever been with Vic. I mean, it's not like I don't know what I'm doing but... oh for God's sake, I don't know what the hell I'm saying here. Just forget it."

"Evon honey, listen to me. First, don't listen to garbage about Rae from anyone, ok? Please. Second, Rae doesn't judge anyone, and as far as expectations go, she has them of herself, no one else. She's a good, decent person. Now, would you like me to talk to her?"

"Omigod! No! Denise, promise me you won't say anything to her!"

"Ok, sweetie, ok. I won't. I promise. Honestly, I won't. But Evon, give her a chance. Believe me when I tell you she understands pain. She's had her share of it. Just be her friend, and when you feel comfortable, let her help. She's wonderful, Evon. So are you. Call her. She's probably worried about you more than anything else, and knowing her as I do, I'll bet that she'll let you initiate any further contact. She won't call because she'll think you don't want her to. She never forces her presence on anyone, Evon. She doesn't go where she thinks she's not wanted. It's a creed she's lived by as long as I've known her. Rae would rather suffer the loss than feel the rejection. If you want her friendship, tell her. She's worth it."

"Denise, I wish everyone in the world had a friend like you."

"Oh Evon, thank you. I love you, honey. You're so sweet. And I'm so happy that you two met. You're two of my favorite people in the whole world. And I can't wait to see both of you at Christmas."

"I love you too, Denise. Thanks for talking with me. You have no idea how much it helped."

"I know, sweetie. I know. Now you need to get some sleep and contemplate my infinite wisdom in your dreams. And Evon? When you talk to Rae, tell her I said hi."

"Denise, you are priceless. I'll see what I can do. Bye, love."

"Bye, honey. Sweet dreams."

"You too."

Evon slept with a tiny smile curling her lips.

Part 10
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