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The local weatherman had predicted record heat for the
end of the week, and, as she sat in the dining room of the inn, Erin mentally
cursed him for being right about the heat but wrong about the timing. It was
only Tuesday, and a sticky, muggy heat had already settled over Blanchard's
Ferry. And it's only July. August is bound to be worse.
Fortunately, business at the inn was brisk, despite
the heat. Their midweek guests consisted of four couples, two married, one either
married or not, Erin was not sure, and one couple who was definitely not married,
at least not in the eyes of the law. All were staying through the weekend. Reservations
guaranteed that the inn would be full for the weekend, also mainly with couples.
Love is in the air, she thought ruefully.
A familiar sense of despondency crept in, as it so often
had in recent months. She fought an almost daily battle with it, often finding
herself consumed with thoughts of what might have been with Sawyer.
The drive back home after her confrontation with Sawyer
had been made in a haze. She had pulled off the road several times, first to
give in to the nausea she had felt in the office and empty her stomach of its
contents, then a few more times to let crying jags pass. When she arrived home,
Jack was waiting in the front yard, somehow attuned to the time when his sister
would arrive. As she stepped from the car, he was shocked at her haggard appearance
as she walked into his strong embrace. She had expended all of the tears her
body could produce on the ride home, so she quietly burrowed her face into his
chest. She pulled back long enough to say, "You were right, Jack," then walked
into the house.
Over the next few months, Erin told Jack nothing more
of her last conversation with Sawyer, and he did not push her for an explanation.
Erin retreated deep into herself, staying busy with the inn and rarely leaving
home. Her friends, noticing the change, pestered Jack for an explanation, but,
ever protective of his sister, he did not discuss the matter with another soul.
The most difficult one for him to put off was Alison Christianson. Concerned
about Erin, she made a rare midyear visit to the inn, but learned even less
than Jack already knew.
Through it all, Erin remained stoic and quiet, preferring
to indulge her despair in solitude. She told herself daily that she was over
the woman, had put the experience behind her, had forgotten the pain, but, even
in this, her thoughts were always of Sawyer.
Even thinking her name gets me depressed. I keep
going over and over it, what did I do wrong? What could I have done differently?
Were there signs I just ignored or . . . Jesus, stop it! Let this go, Forester.
She sipped her iced tea, forcing herself to contemplate
other topics. Those thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the telephone
ringing at the front desk. She sat, hoping Jack would answer it. She counted
three rings, then jumped up when she remembered that he was outside cleaning
the windows. She raced to the hall and answered the telephone breathlessly.
"Forest Inn," she barely managed to say. She heard nothing
from the other end and, for a moment, thought that she had not reached the phone
in time. As she was about to hang up the phone, she heard a rather subdued voice.
Instantly, she knew who was calling, but then she prayed
she was wrong. "Yes, this is Erin."
"It's Sawyer Bennett."
Of course it's Sawyer Bennett, I was trying to think
of everything under the sun but Sawyer Bennett, so naturally, Sawyer Bennett
calls me. She hesitated enough for the other woman to ask, "Are you there?"
Erin mentally marshaled her forces and responded. "Yes,
I'm here, Sawyer. How are you?" See, this is good, I can be polite. Why
didn't I let Jack get the phone?
"I'm afraid I've got bad news, Erin."
The uneasiness Erin felt at talking with her erstwhile
lover was replaced with trepidation. "What is it?"
"Alison asked me to call you and Jack, she would have
herself, but she's just in shock, frankly, and, besides, she doesn't really
know about . . . about . . . you know, you and me."
She does know, but she doesn't know the whole story.
When Alison pressed during her visit a couple of months ago, Erin told the older
woman that she and Sawyer had a falling out, but gave no details. She certainly
had not told Alison that they had been lovers. Oh, God, this is bad.
"Tell me, Sawyer."
"Harry had a massive coronary last night. He died this
Erin nearly dropped the phone in shock. "What?"
"He's gone, it was very sudden. I'm sorry, Erin."
"She's hanging in there, but it's tough. I'm at the
office now, but I'm going back to the house in a bit."
"I'll . . . can I call her? Is she at home?"
"She's there. A few friends are there manning the phones.
Make sure to give your name to whoever answers. I know she'll want to talk to
"Have any arrangements been made?"
"She's thinking of having the funeral on Thursday or
"Jack and I will drive to the city tomorrow."
"If you need a place to stay . . ."
No, that's the last thing I need. "That's okay,
we'll work out something when we get there." I'm already dreading seeing
you again. If I could avoid that, I would. "Thank you for calling us, Sawyer."
With that, Erin hung up the telephone and headed outside to find her brother.
* * * * * * *
Jack drove as he and Erin made the trek to Corinth on
Wednesday morning. Telling Jack about Harry's death was one of the hardest things
Erin had ever done.
"A heart attack?" Jack had finished rinsing off
the windows and asked that question as he walked over to turn off the faucet.
"Yes, it must have been a bad one. Sawyer said he
had it last night and was gone by this morning."
"But he was always in such great shape, working
out, always looking so healthy." Jack appeared utterly lost, and Erin knew what
he was thinking. She had already had the same thoughts.
Before she could speak, Jack said, "He wasn't like
. . ." His voice caught, and he was unable to finish the statement. Erin knew
what he meant to say and finished for him.
"No, he wasn't sick like Dad."
"We can't have lost Harry, Erin. Not the same way
we lost Dad. That's just too frigging much. We just found Harry." He paused,
then looked his sister in the eyes. "It's not fair."
"I know, Jack." Tears were streaming down Jack's
face at this point. Erin gently reached for his hand, leading him into the house.
"It'll be all right, Jack, we need to go see Alison, to be there for her." He
nodded, the heartbreak still evident on his face.
The rest of the day was spent talking on the phone
to Alison and making arrangements to be away from the inn for a few days. That
night, contrary to her usual routine, Erin left her bedroom door open and a
lamp on, giving a silent cue to her brother. As she expected, he appeared in
her doorway sometime after midnight.
"Erin, are you awake?"
"Yes, Jack, come in."
He walked over to sit on the bed, his head hanging
down. Erin knew that he was too embarrassed to ask for what he wanted. At 8
years of age, he felt no shame on the night their father died, but simply left
his bed in the room they shared and climbed into hers, spending the rest of
the night crying. He was 23 when their mother died, and he did ask for permission
that night, which was instantly granted. Now, he was the mature age of 29, and
Erin saved him the humiliation of actually asking his sister for this favor.
"Climb in, big brother," she said as she pulled
down the covers. He lay down on the bed and settled down on his side, as Erin
covered him with the sheet and comforter.
"This is silly, I mean, I just wanted to check on
you," Jack said.
"Uh huh." Erin rolled onto her back.
"No, really. But if you need me to stay, I will."
"I would like that a lot, thanks." She looked over
to see more tears pooling in green eyes that were so like her own.
"I won't tell a soul, Jack. I promise."
Now headed to Corinth, Erin glanced over at her brother
to find him a bit better settled than he had been last night. He needs that
reassurance, every now and then, to know that he's not alone. Hell, I need that,
too. Jack chose that moment to look away from the road at his sister. They
shared a brief smile, then both faced forward again.
"Are you okay, Erin?"
"I'm hanging in there, Jack. You?"
Jack took a deep breath, then asked, "Are you worried
about seeing her?"
Erin knew that the 'her' Jack meant was not Alison.
He can't even say her name, she thought. "I'm not looking forward to
it, but I'll get through it for Alison."
"I'm sorry, I've been so wrapped up in losing Harry
that I haven't even talked to you about this."
Erin looked back at her brother. "That's how it should
be. We should both be concerned about Harry and about being with Alison now.
I'll deal with Sawyer when I see her. I'll be fine."
Jack reached out across the console and grasped his
sister's hand. "I'm here for you, little sister. Know that, okay?"
"You always have been, Jack. You always have been."
* * * * * * *
As she and Jack met Alison in the spacious foyer of
the Christianson home, it seemed to Erin as if Alison had aged at least ten
years. The older woman was always particular about her appearance, but Erin
noticed that her hair was mussed a bit and her makeup was less than perfect.
God, I know this is hard for her.
"I'm so glad you're both here," Alison said as she hugged
the younger woman.
"We had to come, Alison." Jack stood behind his sister
and moved into the older woman's embrace once she released Erin.
She pulled back and clasped both of his hands. "This
isn't hurting you at the inn, is it, being here?"
Erin responded. "No, the ever loyal Daphne is watching
things, and she'll get a couple of people in to help with cooking and cleaning
while we're away."
"I was so glad when Sawyer said she would call you.
I . . . it was so hard . . . I admit I was afraid to tell you both." She started
crying, and Jack pulled her to him for another hug.
Sawyer said she'd call? Erin wondered.
I thought she told me Alison asked her to call.
"She's been a Godsend, I tell you," Alison said, once
Jack had released her. "Where is your luggage?"
"In the car," Jack said. "We're going to find a hotel
room tonight . . ."
"Nonsense," Alison interrupted. "You'll stay here with
me. I would really like it if you did." Jack nodded and put his arm around Alison's
shoulders as the trio walked further into the house.
Erin had visited Alison and Harry on several occasions
over the last few years at their home. Set in one of Corinth's more fashionable
sections, the house would technically qualify as a mansion, but Erin never found
it to be overly pretentious. There were enough homespun touches, such as family
photographs and knick knacks, spread around, that she felt comfortable from
her first visit. As they walked down the hall, it was clear Alison was leading
them to Harry's study. They entered through the double doors, and Erin grew
wistful as she entered the one room in the house that would forever remind her
of Harry Christianson.
"Let's sit down here. I haven't been able to step into
this room since he died."
Erin took Alison's hand and led her to the leather couch,
while Jack sat in the matching chair. They spoke about arrangements for the
visitation and funeral service that would take place the next day. Jack started
telling a humorous story involving a fishing trip he had taken with Harry that
had the two women laughing. Erin was amazed at her brother's intuition. You
might think she doesn't want to talk about Harry, but he knows she needs to
right now. And this is the same guy who could cry like a child last night. I
hope I never forget how lucky I am to have him for my brother.
About an hour later, the door opened, and Sawyer entered
the study. "I'm sorry to interrupt. Evelyn told me you were in here."
Alison rose from the couch and hugged Sawyer. Looking
on, Erin noted how comfortable the lawyer seemed to be with this show of affection.
"I'm glad you're here," Alison said. "I wanted to talk
about Harry's will. Would it be okay to do that now?"
Sawyer walked the woman back to sit on the couch, nodding
to Jack and Erin. She noticed the hostility in the brother's glare and the attempt
at indifference in the sister's. "If you're up to it."
Erin stood, motioning for Jack to do the same. "We'll
leave so you two can talk."
"No, no, dear," Alison said. "I want to discuss this
with you and Jack."
Erin was confused but sat back down. Sawyer remained
standing as Alison spoke.
"As you may know, Harry and I made new wills earlier
this year, which Sawyer wrote up for us. It's all rather complicated, estate
taxes and trusts and such, but the bottom line is that most everything goes
to me. Am I right, Sawyer?"
"I think you like playing the daffy housewife too much,
because you understand more of it than you let on. But, yes, most of it will
"I say most," Alison continued, ignoring Sawyer's comment,
"because we each made provisions for a bequest to the two of you."
Erin was stunned, so it was up to Jack to respond. "Alison,
you didn't have to do that."
"Yes, we did. You two have been like our children for
the past few years. You filled a void that Hal's death left. Your presence in
our lives was so precious to Harry and to me."
Finally able to speak, Erin said, "It wasn't one sided,
Alison. You both gave so much to Jack and me, too."
"That's the way it's supposed to work, Erin. When you
lose your family, you make a new one, right?"
"Right," Erin agreed.
"At any rate, it will take a while to administer the
estate, which, of course, Sawyer will do. How long will it take for Erin and
Jack to get their bequests, Sawyer?"
Erin was increasingly uncomfortable discussing this
in front of her former lover. The emotional strain of losing Harry was hard
enough, but the situation would be unbearable if she had to deal with the lawyer
for several months over estate matters. And what's she getting out of this?
It seems she fell into a nice situation, through my efforts, too.
"It could be done in a couple of months, once we get
the will probated."
"It'll take as long as it takes, Alison, the time doesn't
concern us," Jack said.
"Dear, I think you would like to get $100,000 as soon
as you could."
Erin's mind reeled as it took in Alison's words. She
had never fainted before in her life, but the swaying, dizzy feeling in her
head made her feel as if that was exactly what she was going to do. She looked
to Jack, seeing the same shock on his face.
"Go see if Evelyn can dig up some smelling salts, Sawyer,"
Alison said mischievously. "I think these two are going to pass out."
Jack was the first to regain his senses enough to speak.
"You shouldn't have done that, Alison. We can't accept. Right, Erin?" He glanced
over at his sister, expecting her to agree, and Erin nodded.
"It's already done, you must accept it," Alison said.
"We would have done more, but I suspected what your reactions would be." She
looked to Sawyer. "Isn't it nice to know I was right?"
The lawyer nodded and tried to think of a way to dispel
the tension in the room. Realizing that the Forester siblings were and would
continue to be uneasy with discussing this topic, she failed to arrive at a
Erin finally grasped Alison's hand in both of hers.
"Then Jack and I will try to be gracious in accepting these gifts, so long as
you know that the money can never be the real gift for us. Getting to know you
and Harry has been the real gift."
"You know how materialistic we are," Alison said. Jack
snorted his amusement at her statement. "We wanted a clear way to show you how
much the two of you mean to us."
"I think we get the message," Jack said.
"Come on, you two," Alison said as she rose. "Let's
get you settled upstairs and then you can help me figure out what to wear."
She slipped her hand around Erin's arm and let the younger woman lead her from
the room. As Sawyer moved to follow, Jack reached out to stop her. "Hang on
a second, Sawyer."
Sawyer turned to face the older Forester sibling. Jack
placed his hands on his hips. His stance was indicative of the acrimony he clearly
felt for the attorney.
"I just want to be clear with you on one thing."
"Yes, Jack?" Sawyer had a clue where this conversation
was headed and, though she tried, she could not keep the defensive tone from
"You've hurt my sister, badly, in case you didn't know
that." His eyes narrowed, and he moved closer to the lawyer. "I wish I could
tell you to stay away from her altogether, but it's impossible for the next
couple of days and the time it'll take to work out this bequest business." The
intimidation in his voice and body language was unmistakable. "I'm not going
to tell you not to hurt her again, either, 'cause I'm not going to let anything
get that far."
Sawyer felt it impossible to dampen her natural defense
of sarcasm. "Gee, Jack, I'm thinking you don't like me much. And here I thought
we were close."
Jack came even closer, invading her much guarded personal
space and knowing it. He was a few inches taller, and used his superior height
to look down into Sawyer's face. "If we were anywhere but here, I swear I'd
kick the shit out of you. But that would only make me feel better, and I won't
do that to Alison. I'm warning you - don't have anything more to do with Erin
than you have to. And when all this is over, I want you gone permanently."
Although she was not normally susceptible to intimidation,
Sawyer felt a tendril of fear through her guts. In this protective big brother
stance, Jack was more menacing than any opponent she had ever faced. In some
part of her mind, she acknowledged that he was absolutely right in taking this
position, and this exacerbated her fear. She swallowed and tried to back away
a bit from him.
He moved with her, until she was backed up against the
wall. "Am I clear? I want to be crystal clear with you on this, Bennett."
"Crystal, Jack. Crystal." Nodding and giving one more
menacing glance, Jack stepped back and left the room.
* * * * * * *
The funeral was one of the least somber that Erin could
remember attending. She and Jack were somewhat compartmentalized in the Christiansons'
life, seeing them for Christmas and the occasional visit during the rest of
the year. This did not indicate a lesser degree of affection between the older
couple and the younger, but was more a factor of time and distance. In fact,
the measure of affection was shown when Alison insisted that the Foresters stand
with her at the visitation and sit with her at the service. Erin did not know
the hundreds of people who came to pay their respects to Harry, and much of
the time was spent with Alison making introductions. A lot of those people
knew who Jack and I were, though. Several attendees had taken the time
to tell Erin and Jack how often Harry spoke of them and how much they helped
both Alison and Harry after their son's death.
At times, Erin glanced around the room, convincing herself
that curiosity was her motivation. Her reasoning weakened as the day progressed,
since her scanning would end as soon as she spotted a certain tall, dark-haired
woman. Sawyer spent most of the visitation on the move, dealing with the priest
who would perform the service, coordinating with the funeral home personnel,
and checking on Alison. The level of responsibility that Alison had placed with
Sawyer was apparent.
When the service was finally under way, Jack and Erin
took their places on either side of Alison in the front of the church, with
Sawyer sitting directly behind. Erin glanced back at the lawyer as she sat down
and caught her eyes, but Sawyer quickly glanced away. The priest announced that
many people had asked Alison if they could "say a few words about Harry." To
avoid slighting everyone and still finish up before the weekend, he said Alison
had chosen three people to speak. One was a man who had been Harry's friend
since childhood, and another was a long time business associate and friend.
The final speaker was Jack. His words were moving, as he spoke of the place
in his life Harry had taken in such a short time, that of a father figure. He
related some amusing anecdotes of fishing trips taken with Harry and teased
his sister by telling a story about their second Christmas with the Christiansons
and a practical joke he and Harry had played on her. Erin swung between laughter
and tears at Jack's speech. When the crying was particularly bad, Alison moved
closer and slipped her hand into Erin's.
The burial followed, and a reception was held at the
Christianson house afterwards. As Erin walked through the various rooms, she
judged by the size of the crowd that even more people showed up for the reception
than had attended the funeral. In the sunroom, she saw Alison conversing with
two men. The woman glanced up and, from the expression Alison aimed in her direction,
Erin figured this was one conversation that she wanted to leave behind. Erin
walked over, came up with the excuse that the caterer needed to speak with Alison,
and led the woman outside through the French doors.
"Thank you, dear. I just needed a breath of fresh air."
"Who were those guys?"
"Junior executives with the company. I can't tell if
they were buttering me up to keep their jobs or feeling me out about who is
going to be running the show now."
"I know you attribute all of the success of the company
to Harry, but you were right there with him. He always said you knew the ins
and outs of the place better than he did."
"Did he say that?"
"Yes, you didn't know?"
"No, he never told me." They were walking arm in arm
through the garden, and Alison stopped to sit down on a stone bench. "I'm glad
you told me."
"You could run things, you know. Do you want to?"
"I'm not sure. The business was like another child to
us. We built it from the ground up. I would like to stay involved. But I'm tired
now. Maybe I've earned a rest. I'll think about it, discuss it with Sawyer.
We need to make some decisions for the short term on running the business, but
the big decisions can wait. At least until after we get back from our trip."
"Oh, God, Alison, I forgot! You and Harry were going
to New Zealand in October, weren't you?"
"Yes. I checked with the travel agent, and I could get
out of it if I wanted to by paying some fee." Alison waived her hand, indicating
she obviously considered the amount of the fee to be a pittance. "But I really
want to take this trip. I think that Harry would want me to go. And I've asked
Sawyer to go with me. You know that she's always wanted to go there."
At the mention of the lawyer's name, Erin felt compelled
to raise an issue she had wanted to talk over with Alison. "It seems that Sawyer
has really been helpful to you, before and in this last week."
"Yes, yes, she has. I'm so grateful to you for bringing
her into our lives."
"It seems to me, Alison, and I don't want to criticize,
but it seems you are trusting her with an awful lot."
"Are you implying I shouldn't trust her?"
"I'm not saying that." I'm not necessarily saying
that. "I'm just concerned."
"Erin, she was your friend first."
"I know, I just . . ."
Erin sighed heavily. "I wonder what her motivations
The older woman studied her companion's face, trying
to glean Erin's motivation in questioning Sawyer's motivation. Alison was blessed
with a keen insight, and she feared her first impression was the correct one.
When Alison said nothing, Erin continued. "You've hired
her now, I assume she's collecting a nice fee for the work. And getting a trip
Alison looked away for a moment, then turned to face
her companion. "Erin, I love you and I want to clear up this issue, so I'll
discuss some things that really aren't your business. Yes, Harry and I went
to Sawyer to redo our wills. We hadn't changed them since Hal died. For me,
making a new will meant exactly that - I'd have to acknowledge that Hal was
gone. Harry never pushed me on it, but, once we met Sawyer and became friends,
he saw an opportunity to cross through that barrier, to take care of it with
someone we liked and felt we could trust, not just business-wise, but emotionally
"So, we went to see her. She spent quite a bit of time
on the wills, meeting with us, both at her office and at the house. She was
quite comprehensive, doing some estate planning, checking out life insurance,
IRAs, everything. I can't even tell you the number of hours she spent on it.
In a short period of time, she became a very important part of our lives, spending
time with Harry at the gym, with me or with both of us. After the new wills
were done, she sent us a bill. Do you want to know how much it was for?"
Erin was already mentally kicking herself for starting
this conversation and really did not want to know how much the bill was.
"It was $200.00," Alison said. "And she said that she
didn't want to charge us even that, but she had to get something off to satisfy
her partners. They were satisfied if something was paid, and she said she didn't
plan on telling them the actual number of hours worked."
"I really don't want to ask this question, but . . ."
"Go ahead, dear, I want this out of the way," Alison
"Did you . . . is she . . . did you and Harry leave
her something, like Jack and me?"
"No, but you know what? We wanted to. That's how important
she had become to us in such a short time. Sawyer said if we wanted her to handle
the estate, then we should not make a bequest to her."
"Well, she will collect a fee for the work she does
on the estate."
"Yes, she will. You've got me there, Erin. When we discussed
what needed to be done the day after Harry died, she said that there was no
way her partners would allow her not to bill for the work. She felt very bad
about doing so, and insisted if she were on her own, she would not charge a
fee. So I guess you've caught her, is that what you wanted?"
Erin sat with her arms on her thighs, her hands hanging
down along with her head. She felt low for bringing up issues that were painful
for her friend. In a quiet voice, she said, "No, it's not."
"And, as for the trip, I would have asked you, but,
if you recall, I've asked you to go on trips before, and you insist, understandably
so, that you can't take so much time off from the inn. I know that October is
a busy time for you, and, truthfully, I didn't want to make you feel bad because
you had to tell me you couldn't go. And Sawyer has wanted to go to New Zealand,
she was talking about the trip almost more than Harry and I were."
"I think you need to tell me what's behind your concerns
about Sawyer's reliability. I know you two had a disagreement, but that can't
Erin said nothing, and the older woman continued. "Let
me tell you, Erin, when Harry started having chest pains, it was nearly midnight.
We were already in bed. I called 911 for an ambulance and called Sawyer. She
met us at the hospital and stayed with me through to the next morning when they
told me . . ." Alison's voice broke, and Erin glanced up to see tears streaming
down the woman's face. "She stayed with me, took me home, cared for me. I could
not have gotten through this without her."
"I'm sorry, Alison."
"Is this jealousy on your part? You are not normally
a jealous person, Erin. I would have called you and Jack . . ."
"No, I understand. Believe me, I'm not jealous." She
paused, as a sense of self-revelation rolled over her. "Or maybe I am, but it's
not envy of Sawyer spending time with you."
Erin stopped, so Alison asked, "Then what?"
"Maybe I'm jealous because you still get to spend time
with her, and I don't."
Alison was amazed. While Erin was a warm and giving
person, she was not normally this forthright in expressing her emotions. It
was more typical to find meaning in the manner in which the young woman spoke,
rather than in the words she used. Alison had never seen Erin be as blunt as
she was being at this moment, and the older woman realized just how much the
situation with Sawyer, whatever that situation was, had affected Erin.
The concern must have shown on her face because Erin
said, "I made my own decisions here, and I'm living with them. This has no effect
on our relationship. If there's one thing in life that I'm secure about, it's
how solid my relationship with you is."
"It's your relationship with Sawyer you're not secure
"There really isn't a relationship with her now. She
. . . she's not the type of person I want to spend time with."
Alison knew Erin had shifted back to hiding her emotions.
"Erin, it is so unlike you to think badly of anyone. Normally, you see the good
in everyone, and I know you push aside the bad that others see in the ones you
care about. Talk to me."
"It's not right to burden you with this now."
"It is. I'm asking you to, please."
By this time, both women were in tears. Alison reached
out to hold Erin's hand as the younger woman finally related the details of
what had happened in February. Alison offered sympathy, but felt compelled to
offer some advice as well. "I think you're right, Erin. I think that there is
more to this. I believe Sawyer cares about you."
Erin's look was one of pure skepticism. "I doubt it,
"Again, Erin, this isn't you. When have you ever given
up on someone so easily? Don't you think it's worth another try?"
"I have tried, I can't keep fighting a losing battle."
"Take it from me, try once more."
* * * * * * *
By the evening, almost all of the guests had left, and
Erin kept busy by helping the caterers. Alison did not even try to stop the
younger woman, joking that Erin never took vacations because she would not know
how to stay at a hotel without telling the owners how to run the place.
As Erin walked back through the foyer checking for stray
glasses, she was suddenly approached by Sawyer. Up to that point, the lawyer
had methodically avoided her at the reception.
"Can I talk to you?" Her voice was short and full of
anger as she took Erin by the arm, leading her to the study.
"Can I say 'no'?"
"No, you can't," Sawyer said as they went into the room.
She released the iron grip she had on Erin's arm and started pacing. "What possessed
you to say what you did to Alison?"
Gee, I guess Alison talked to her about our conversation,
Erin thought. Before she could speak, the lawyer continued.
"I know you don't trust me, and I don't blame you, but
it wasn't fair to drop that onto Alison. She's having a hard time . . ."
"Whoa, stop right there," Erin interrupted. "I know
exactly how hard a time she's having." How much did Alison say to her?
Without hearing the thought, Sawyer answered the question
anyway. "She told me that you questioned whether she should trust me. How could
you say that to her? You have every right to think the worst of me, but it's
not fair to push that onto Alison." The lawyer's venting slowed with her pacing,
and she finally came to a stop. "I swear, I'm not trying to take advantage of
her in any way, Erin. Alison and Harry . . . they became . . . they're very
important to me."
Erin pinned Sawyer with an intense gaze. "Why should
I believe you?"
Sawyer turned away, unable to look Erin in the eye.
"I guess you shouldn't, you've got no reason to."
"That's the third time you've indicated I shouldn't
trust you, shouldn't believe you. If what we had was just a business arrangement,
why should I think badly of you? I'm the one who misunderstood the situation,
right? You never had anything more in it than just a quick fuck . . ."
Sawyer turned around and held out her hand. "Stop, please
Erin could not stop, finally having the opportunity
to strike back at the woman who had hurt her so badly. "What? Isn't that what
"You don't have to be so graphic. It's not you."
"How would you know?!" Erin threw up her hands and started
her own pacing. "You didn't stay around long enough to know what is and isn't
me! And remember, that was your characterization, or close enough to it."
The lawyer was silent, so Erin continued. "Why would
you expect me to think badly of you in this situation? Something's fishy with
this picture, Sawyer, and I think you're the one who's holding the fish."
Her comment brought a smile to the lawyer's face. "That's
a good one. Where do you get these things?"
Erin stopped pacing and returned the smile. "I think
that one came from my dad." The emotional turmoil of the day caught up with
her all at once, and she collapsed into the leather arm chair.
"I don't want to lose Alison," Sawyer said. "I'm afraid
she'll listen to what you told her."
"I'm sorry, I swear to you it was not my intention to
hurt you by talking to Alison. I don't think she believed me, Sawyer. She called
me on it, figured out I was doing it because of what happened between us. I
hadn't told her the whole story until today, just told her that you and I had
a disagreement. I realized that she was right about my suspicions, too. It's
not me, thinking the worst of someone."
"So she knows now, knows about us?"
"Yes," Erin said.
"She knows . . ."
"I'm sorry, Sawyer, God knows why, but I tried to cast
you in as good a light as possible. I kind of had a hard time, given the way
. . ." As she had with Alison, Erin searched for the best way to express what
had happened between them. The way we broke up? No, that would mean we were
together, which we really weren't. The way you treated me? No, don't want to
make you the bad guy, especially when you blamed it all on me and my misunderstanding
the situation. The way you broke my heart, then pulled it out of my chest, stomped
on it, and cut it into little pieces, and, to top that off, expected me to thank
you? Might be a bit melodramatic.
Sawyer finally provided her own ending to Erin's description.
"The way I managed to fuck it up."
Erin was puzzled at Sawyer's characterization, but the
lawyer continued. "So now, Alison knows about me. Knows that I'm gay."
"Well, yeah, I guess so," Erin said. Is that what's
really important here?
Sawyer collapsed on the couch, utterly defeated. She
hung her hands down between her legs, face toward the floor. "It's over, then."
"What's over?" The conversation had taken a sudden turn
and left Erin far behind.
"She'll toss me out, just like . . ." The woman buried
her face in her hands.
Erin's confusion and exasperation were growing rapidly,
but somewhere in her mind, totally against her will, the idea sprouted that
listening to Sawyer now might finally yield the insight that would enable her
to understand this complex woman. While most of her wanted to run from the conversation
and the potential of further pain, a small piece of her grabbed onto this concept
and forced her to stay.
"Like who, Sawyer? Tell me," she said, standing and
walking over to the couch.
"I didn't want her to know that, I didn't want anyone
to know," Sawyer said.
Erin felt the stab of pain from this comment. No
one? Then maybe you shouldn't have shoved your tongue down my throat, not to
mention the other things you were shoving . . . Stop, Forester, give her a chance.
Didn't Alison say give her one more chance?
In a very quiet voice, the blonde asked, "Are you ashamed
of the fact that you're gay?"
The tall woman looked up. "No, no, I'm not." Erin could
see the lie in this statement in Sawyer's eyes and turned away.
"Sawyer, I'm confused as to where you're going with
this, but I want to tell you something. >From the time I first figured it out
for myself, I had avoided telling people I was close to about my sexuality.
Living in a small town, it's tough to stand out. When I went to college, I felt
liberated. Not only did I meet other lesbians, but I met people who accepted
me for what I was and didn't judge me just because I happened to enjoy having
sex with women, not men. When I got back home, I decided that if someone cared
about me, then he or she had to know this part of me, this important part of
me. I didn't hit people over the head with it, but I didn't keep it as a big
Lost in her memories, Erin walked around the room. "My
mom, that was tough. She had a hard time at first, but she finally came to accept
it. We were able to settle things just before she died. Jack had known all along
anyway, I think before I did. When I met Alison, I was concerned because I expected
her to be unable to accept it, accept me."
She moved back to stand in front of the lawyer. "She
could not have been more accepting. It took me a while, but I finally figured
out not to try to figure out Alison. She leads with her heart. She had no problem
with me. In truth, she had a problem with the fact that I thought she would
have a problem."
Sawyer looked unconvinced, so Erin continued. "She cares
about you, Sawyer. This won't matter to her."
The lawyer said nothing, simply staring at Erin. Afraid
of pushing her luck, but hopeful of breaking the gridlock, Erin asked, "Who
tossed you out, who hurt you before?"
Sawyer stood quickly, almost bumping into Erin and walking
quickly across to the desk, trying to distance herself.
"I'm not leaving, Sawyer, I think you need to talk about
this. I care about you . . ."
"Don't what? Don't care?"
The younger woman tapped her remaining source of energy
and moved toward the desk. The attorney was leaning back against the desk, her
arms crossed tightly across her chest and her head hanging down. "Talk to me,
"Think about this," Erin said. "Alison knows now, but
she hasn't thrown you out. I think she's shown you how much she cares about
you. Maybe Alison told you what I said to her because she wanted you to do what
you haven't done since I got here, what you're doing right now. I hit you right
in your vaunted honesty. Sawyer, she told you so that you would confront me,
talk to me. And it worked. I told you, she's good."
A wry smile as she looked up was Sawyer's acknowledgment
that Erin was right.
"Maybe she thinks that I can help you," the younger
woman continued. "I want to, Sawyer, I really do."
There was no response.
Erin repeated her plea. "Please, Sawyer, please talk
"It's been a long day . . ."
"Just as long as yesterday was and as long as tomorrow
will be, but the length of the day won't make the problem go away. Please, Sawyer."
She reached out, gently laying her hand on the other woman's arm. "I'm not going
Sawyer studied Erin's face for a moment and reached
her decision. "We can't talk here. Let's go to my place."
"Okay, wherever you want."
"Why don't you get changed? I'll tell Alison we're going.
You can tell Jack, I'm not his favorite person right now."
* * * * * * *
Jack was not thrilled with the idea of his sister leaving
with the lawyer, and that was an understatement. It took several assurances
that Erin would call if there was any trouble and, finally, Alison's intervention,
to obtain Jack's approval. Erin had put so much effort into arriving at this
spot with Sawyer, she would have gone against his wishes, but his support had
always been crucial to her.
As the women walked into Sawyer's house, Erin was not
surprised to find that the house was as sparsely decorated as she found the
office had been so many months ago. The house was one story and not large, but,
as Sawyer had said, it had more than enough space for one person. A small front
hallway opened into a living room. As Erin glanced around, she wondered at the
irony of only now seeing the living space of someone with whom she had been
"Are you hungry?"
The question snapped Erin out of her haze. "No, I'm
stuffed. I couldn't eat another finger sandwich or stuffed mushroom."
"Well, if you want something to drink, there's plenty
of Cokes in the refrigerator. Kitchen's over there," Sawyer said, pointing at
a door off to one side. "I'll go change." With that, she went down a hallway
Erin hoped Sawyer would change into someone who was
less brusque and more talkative. She decided she was not thirsty, so she stepped
into the living room and started investigating. A large couch, patterned in
blue and green stripes, sat against one wall, opposite an entertainment center.
Erin walked over to investigate the CDs and videos stacked on the shelves around
the television and other equipment. As she expected, this area was not very
organized. Jack would have all of these alphabetically arranged. Her
eye caught on a framed photograph hanging on the wall on the other side of the
entertainment center. She walked toward it, turning on a standing lamp to get
a better view. It was obviously a picture that Sawyer or someone else had taken
and enlarged, not one taken by a professional photographer. A sense of familiarity
washed over her, and she realized that the scene was the clearing by the stream
that she and Sawyer had visited on their horse ride last year.
She heard Sawyer return to the living room and turned
from the photograph. "When did you take this?"
The lawyer had changed into the standard uniform of
boxer shorts and a T-shirt. I hope this means she's relaxed a bit,
Erin thought. Sawyer came half way across the room, then stopped when she realized
the reference for Erin's question. "A couple of months ago. I'm sorry, Erin.
I went up for a day hike. I shouldn't have done that, I guess."
The ramifications of Sawyer's confession hit hard, and
Erin turned back to the photograph, unsure with that revelation if she was correct
about the setting of the picture. Sure enough, it was the same clearing, the
same stream, that the two of them had enjoyed that fall afternoon. Erin turned
back to face her former lover. "Sawyer, the fact that you have this says a lot
to me. I think you've been less than honest."
The lawyer sat on the couch. She made no motion for
Erin to join her there, so the other woman sat in the chair covered with blue
fabric matching the blue in the couch. Silence reigned for several minutes.
Erin was mentally running through words intended to persuade Sawyer to open
up to her and quickly discarding them. As she finally hit upon what she felt
might work, Sawyer started to speak.
"I've never told anyone about this before. It's going
to be hard, so be patient, okay?"
By a barely perceptible nod, Erin indicated her agreement.
"I grew up in a small town on the Florida coast. A very
conservative small town on the Florida coast. I had a wonderful childhood, I
really did. I was the oldest of three girls, and, from day one, I knew my parents
loved me and my sisters. They doted on us, supported us, told us we could do
anything we wanted to do, be anything we wanted to be. With all that love, I
was bound to succeed. A straight A student, an excellent athlete in volleyball
and softball. Every time I reached for the brass ring, I grabbed it. I could
do no wrong. I look back now and realize how sheltered I was, but I didn't know
it at the time."
Sawyer nervously resettled on the couch before continuing.
"It never occurred to me that I got unconditional love because I did nothing
bad. No drinking or staying out late, no drugs, no hanging out with the wrong
crowd. My parents loved me as the ideal child because I was the ideal child.
My sisters worshiped me.
"In my last year of high school, my softball coach's
younger sister got involved with the team, helping us to practice. Tracy was
taking a year off from college and was a couple of years older than I was. We
clicked right away, got along well, were spending a lot of time together. It
just seemed natural to be with her. Very comfortable, you know?"
"Yes, I know."
"Then, a couple of weeks before graduation, she told
me that she was attracted to me. I was lost at first, I really had no idea what
she meant. I told you, I had a sheltered upbringing. I can remember the scene
so clearly. We were on the beach, it was late, and the spot was pretty isolated."
Sawyer stood up and walked toward the window, steeped
in her recollections of that night. "She leaned over and kissed me. In the middle
of the kiss, I felt a door open. Several doors, actually. The feelings I had
about Tracy all this time suddenly made sense. I think that we would have gone
all the way right there on the beach, I was ready to. But she said she wanted
my first time to be special. Turns out she was quite romantic for a jock. That
weekend, she set up a romantic dinner at her apartment, and we made love. It
was . . . it was beautiful."
Erin could not help recalling the romantic dinner that
Sawyer had arranged for her the first time they had made love.
"I had never kept anything from my mom and dad before.
I told them everything. Why wouldn't I? They were always happy about how I lived
my life. But I hadn't given them anything to be unhappy about. They loved me
without question, I thought they would be happy for me, I was so happy with
Tracy. Everybody was going to be so happy.
"About a week later, Tracy came over to the house for
dinner. We had decided to tell my parents about us."
She stopped, and Erin moved to stand next to her. She
noticed unshed tears in the blue eyes. "I suppose they didn't take it well."
"No, they didn't. My mom cried and screamed. My dad,
he yelled at Tracy and tossed her out of the house. I mean, physically grabbed
her by the shirt and threw her out the door. My sisters came running at the
commotion, and Dad yelled at them to get back to their room. Then he turned
around and looked at me. I remember thinking, 'that's not my dad, he doesn't
look like my dad.' He was so angry."
Sawyer reached up and wiped at the tears now falling
from her eyes. Erin wanted to reach out to her, but held back.
"He moved toward me and . . . he hit me. Smacked me
right across the face. He'd never hit me before, never hit any of us before.
I stood my ground, and I guess that pissed him off because he hit me again,
got me right under the eye and left a cut. I fell down this time. I felt the
blood on my face, but didn't feel any pain. And I could still hear my mother
crying. Dad grabbed me by the arm and dragged me to my room. He told me to pack
my things and get out. What he was saying, it didn't register, so I just stood
there. He clocked me again, across the head, and yelled at me to get out of
his house. I tossed some clothes and stuff into a couple of bags while he watched.
Then he escorted me out of my room. I saw my sisters peeking out of their room,
confused about what was happening. Mom moved into their room, never looking
at me. Dad shoved some money into my hands and opened the front door. I can
still hear his words like it happened yesterday. 'Get out. I won't have one
of you living in my house. You are not our child. You will have nothing to do
with either of us or our daughters ever again.'"
Erin's empathic nature had reached its limit, and she
grasped Sawyer's hand. As Sawyer looked up, the pain etched on her face broke
Erin's heart. She gave the hand she held a tug and led Sawyer to the couch.
Taking a seat, she pulled the older woman down, keeping their hands clasped
"I never expected that reaction from them. But I realized
that homosexuality was a topic we had never discussed. We didn't know anyone
who was gay. I guess I know why now. But they never told me it was wrong, or
at least that they thought it was wrong."
"It's not wrong, Sawyer."
"I haven't seen my father or my sisters since that day.
I went to Tracy's place. I didn't have anywhere else to go. She took care of
me, God bless her, and I stayed there through graduation and the summer. But
we both knew it was over. It wasn't her fault, I didn't blame her, but maybe
in a way I did. I was cut off completely from my family because of my relationship
with her. I came to resent her. I treated her rather badly at the end. I'm not
proud of that. She finally had enough, and by the end of the summer she told
me to leave."
The words fairly gushed from Sawyer now. On some level,
it occurred to Erin that this story had stayed inside of Sawyer for so long,
it just needed to come out.
"Anyway, I was already going to college on a scholarship.
I had turned 18 earlier that year, so I could be on my own legally. I was afraid
my parents would mess the scholarship up, but they stayed true to their word
and cut me out of their lives completely."
"And you haven't seen them since?"
"I have one cousin who keeps in touch with me when he
feels like it. The others, aunts, uncles, cousins, Mom and Dad had warned all
of them to stay away from me. I went from this big, warm, loving family to nobody.
But this cousin, Nick, he was always kind of a rebel, doing the opposite of
what you'd tell him to do, so I think he rebelled by talking to me. He lets
me know where they are, how they're doing. My sisters both got married. Between
them, they have five children. I have nieces and nephews I've never even met."
"Have you tried to see them?"
"Yeah, but nothing works. My cousin told me that he
mentions my name every now and then, I think mostly for the reaction, but whenever
the topic of me comes up, everyone is adamant, they don't want to see me. About
four years ago, Nick told me that my father was in the hospital. He had cancer,
and the prognosis was very bad. I thought I should go see him, try to make amends
before he died. I got to the hospital and ran into Mom in the corridor. Even
after everything, I was so happy to see her. But she spotted me and all I saw
in her was anger. I said I wanted to see Dad. She toed the party line: he's
not my dad, I'm not their daughter, I shouldn't be there, what if someone saw
me, the whole nine yards. I asked if I could at least talk to my sisters and
meet their kids. She panicked, said she wasn't going to expose her grandchildren
to someone as perverted as me. Perverted, can you believe that? So I left. My
dad died about a week later.
"The really pathetic thing is, I hadn't even dated any
women since then. In college, I tried dating a few guys, but it didn't work.
A couple of women showed interest, but I cut them off, not too nicely, I might
add. I hadn't slept with anyone since Tracy. At least until . . ."
"Yeah, until you. I haven't been able to get close to
anybody since then. It's been easier to be alone."
Tears were flowing freely down Sawyer's face now, and
Erin's patience reached its limit. She put her arms around the other woman,
pulling her into a soft embrace. Sawyer's head was cushioned on Erin's chest
as the silent tears continued. As if suddenly realizing where she was, or possibly
whom she was with, Sawyer pulled back abruptly. Erin kept one arm around her
"I can't believe you're doing this, you shouldn't be
"Why not?" Erin found herself tearing up and tried to
keep her voice calm.
"You can ask why, after what I did to you?"
"You kept telling me that was my fault, I misunderstood
your intentions. If that's true, it doesn't mean I can't comfort you, especially
now that I understand."
Sawyer's carefully controlled emotions had not been
so strained since the fateful spring night when she was discarded from her family.
A break was coming, but she was not sure that she could handle it. "No, you
don't understand, if you did you'd be gone. I'm meant to be alone, can't you
see that?!" Sawyer was vehement in her anger over this point. "I shouldn't have
let things go so far with you!"
"You regret what we did?"
"Yes, I do." Sawyer calmed a bit with this admission.
"Tell me why you regret it."
"Because . . ."
Erin patiently waited for the answer, her hand rubbing
comfortingly on Sawyer's back.
"Because . . ."
You can do it, Sawyer, Erin thought. Let
"Because I hurt you so badly."
"Yes, you did. But that happens sometimes, you hurt
those you care about. I know I hurt you that day in your office."
"No, it's not the same."
"You can't care about me, you can't."
Erin leaned closer to Sawyer. "There aren't really rules
for this kind of thing, Sawyer. For me, it's not a question of can or can't.
I just do. I love you . . ."
Sawyer sprang off the couch so quickly that Erin almost
fell off with her. "No."
"That's the big sticking point, isn't it? There's really
no question of whether you care about me, I know you do." Sawyer was prepared
to dispute this point, but Erin stuck her hand up, stopping the lawyer's words.
"No, you do. What we shared, how your body reacted to mine, the photograph on
the wall, everything adds up to tell me that you love me. I know that, Sawyer."
The tall woman made no further protest, so Erin continued.
"The problem here is that I love you."
Sawyer's entire body sagged at this statement, and Erin
stood, reaching out for her. They ended up in a clumsy embrace, with the shorter
woman somehow supporting the taller one.
"You can't," Sawyer mumbled.
"I don't believe you."
"I know. Tell me why it's so hard to hear." Erin felt
she was losing the tenuous grasp she had, and she guided them back to sit on
the couch. Sawyer lost all pretense of wanting to be away from the other woman
and lay on her back with her head in Erin's lap.
As Erin gently stroked her head, Sawyer spoke. "I can't
believe that you love me, that anyone can love me. If you do . . . if you say
you love me . . ."
"What? What will happen, Sawyer?"
"My parents, they loved me. My sisters, my family, everybody
loved me. Tracy did, too. And they all threw me out."
"So you think I'll throw you out, too."
A slight nod was the response.
Erin continued with her analysis. "So it's easier not
to believe that I love you, that anyone loves you, rather than risk being hurt."
"Sawyer, I love you and I think that under all of this
you are a sweet, wonderful person, but this is a load of shit."
"Is this the caring, empathic side of you coming out?"
Erin smiled, relieved that some of Sawyer's sense of
humor was surfacing. "It's an old story, goofy. Can't love without risking hurt
or pain or disappointment. The bad often comes with the good, remember?"
Sawyer sat up and shifted away from Erin. "I don't know
if I can do that. I've been hurt so badly. I'm not sure if I can risk it."
"You have already risked it! It had to be clear to you
what was happening between us, if not earlier, then at the latest on that night
we kissed for the first time. You could have left then, before we made love.
You stayed. You were a willing, if not a leading, participant. Why?"
"I don't know."
Erin did her best to keep her voice calm and keep her
exasperation in check. "Try, Sawyer, try to know."
The lawyer said nothing, but a blush crept over her
face. "It felt so good to kiss you, to hold you, God, simply to spend time with
you. I . . . I forgot for a while. I wanted to . . . I wanted to be with you
more than anything else in the world."
The need and caring shining out from those blue eyes
melted any annoyance Erin felt. With a renewed certainty, she searched her heart
and let loose the last shreds of bitterness remaining in her heart over Sawyer's
"And you can," Erin said quietly. "That's what I want
The doubt Sawyer felt at that comment was clear, so
Erin took another tack. "Why did you let Alison and Harry in, get close to them?"
With a wry curve of her lips, Sawyer asked, "Have you
ever been able to say 'no' to Alison, on anything?"
"No, good point. They became a big part of your life
"I should think the role they played for me was obvious
since they played the same role for you."
True enough, Erin thought. "Are you going to
try to get rid of Alison, too, if she tells you that she loves you?"
A perceptible shiver ran through Sawyer's body. "Maybe,
if I get scared enough. It's my pattern, my modus operandi. I've been alone
for a long time. I've gotten used to it. I've gotten by so far."
"Exactly, you've gotten by. I did not imagine what we
had together, Sawyer. I understand now what you were trying to do when I was
in your office. You pushed me away, and I left. But I'm not leaving now. And
I'm not throwing you out. You can trust me on this."
"I don't want to hurt you again."
Erin reached out for Sawyer's hand, pleased when the
tall woman did not refuse. "I think you're worth the risk."
"How can you say that?"
"Replay this entire conversation. Replay every moment
of those incredible days we had in February. We have something special together,
Sawyer. It's worth the effort and worth the risk."
The lawyer remained silent.
"Trust me, Sawyer. If I haven't left by now, then I'm
not leaving." Erin noticed more tears had formed in the blue eyes gazing at
her. She put her arms out in invitation. Sawyer moved toward her, huddling up
against the smaller body, as the tears became sobs. Years of pain and frustration
poured out of the tall woman with those tears, and Erin did her best to provide
comfort through her words and her touch. As the tears slowed, exhaustion caught
up with both women, and they fell asleep, as tightly wrapped together as two
people could be.
* * * * * * *
The next morning found them in much the same position,
Erin halfway between sitting and lying at one end with her legs extended on
the couch. Most of Sawyer's upper torso was on top of her, cuddled up against
the blonde, and her long legs were folded up against Erin's shorter ones. The
ringing of a telephone woke Erin first, and she reached for the cordless telephone
sitting on an end table by the couch.
"Erin, is that you?"
She could hear the anxiety in her brother's voice through
the phone. "Yes, Jack. What time is it?"
"It's nearly 7:00. I got worried, you said you'd call.
Alison gave me the number."
I hope you didn't wake Alison before 7:00 a.m. just
to give you a phone number. "No, Jack, I said I'd call if there was a problem.
I'm sorry you were worried, though. Everything's fine." At that moment, Sawyer
started to wake up and, realizing where she was, tried to move out of the younger
woman's embrace. Erin tightened her free arm around Sawyer and continued the
conversation with her brother.
"Jack, I'm sorry, we were talking and fell asleep."
"Should I come to get you now?"
Sawyer could obviously hear Jack's part of the conversation
because she snickered. "Yes, save your little sister from my evil clutches,"
Erin chuckled herself and shifted the phone to her other
hand and placed that arm around Sawyer. Jack said, "What was that, Erin?"
"Nothing, Jack. Sawyer and I still have some things
to talk about, so I'll be a bit longer. She can bring me back to Alison's house."
She gave the lawyer a 'you can do that, right?' look, to which Sawyer agreed.
"I can come and get you," Jack said.
Erin decided a firmer tone was necessary. "Jack, you're
overplaying the protective big brother part. I'm fine. Please let me be an adult
and work this out for myself."
"I am letting you be an adult. I'm just trying to look
out for you." It was clear from his voice that Erin had hurt his feelings.
She decided she had been too firm. "I'm sorry, Jack,
I know you are. I promise I'll call when we're on our way, okay? I love you."
Sawyer looked on in wonder. She knew very few siblings
who were as close as the Foresters, let alone any who, as adults, vocally expressed
their love for their sibling. Yet, it seemed to be an important part of Jack
and Erin's relationship.
"I love you, too," Jack replied
"I love you even if you've got cooties," Erin said.
Come on, Jack, I need your help here.
"I have not got cooties! I love you even if you didn't
play with Barbie dolls when you were little, like all the other girls."
That's my big brother. "It was always so much
more fun to go fishing or play baseball with you."
"Yeah, you were the brother I never had."
"Guess I shouldn't have been surprised that you weren't
surprised when I told you I was gay," Erin joked.
"What gave it away," Jack said, laughing, "was when
I was drooling over Laurie Miller in her cheerleader uniform, and I looked over
to see you were drooling, too."
"I was not drooling! Why does everyone think I drool?"
Jesus, I didn't know he saw that.
"At least I got farther with her than you did."
"Don't be so sure, Jack my boy."
"I'm kidding, Jack." Sawyer was showing signs of trying
to get up, so Erin felt the need to end the conversation with Jack. "Gotta go.
I'll call you soon." Erin disconnected the call and looked at Sawyer. "Where
are you going?"
"He's not pleased about this, is he?" She decided not
to tell Erin about the ultimatum Jack had delivered two days ago.
"No, he's not. He gets very protective when I get hurt,
tries his best to keep it from happening again."
"This could damage your relationship with him, being
Erin took a deep breath, contemplating this possibility.
"I suppose it could. Again, loving someone means risking pain. But I think you're
worth it. And I think that Jack will eventually deal with it." I hope Jack
will deal with it.
Sawyer settled back into the comfort of Erin's body.
They lay silently for a time, and Erin was grateful for every moment that the
tall woman did not bolt from her arms.
"This is nice," came the mumbled voice from below her
"Yes," Erin answered, "very nice."
"I want to trust you, to believe you, I do, Erin, I
swear I do."
"It's been so long since I could trust anyone."
Sawyer seemed comfortable talking from their present
position and, although Erin wanted to see her face and read the emotion there,
she made no move to do so.
For a few moments, the only sound in the room was their
breathing. Then, Sawyer sighed heavily. "You've been so patient with me. I appreciate
"I want to work at this, Erin."
Thank God, Erin mentally cheered, I think
that's the best thing I've ever heard. "I'm glad, Sawyer. I think we should
move slowly, though."
Sawyer finally lifted up, bracing her arms on either
side of Erin's body. The gleam in her eyes was only mildly libidinous. "How
slowly?" She leaned down, capturing Erin's lips in a kiss which she intended
to be heated and passionate, but which turned tender instead. Sawyer broke off
the kiss, lay her body down on Erin's and nuzzled the soft skin of the blonde's
neck. "I'm sorry," she murmured.
Erin's response to the apology was automatic. "Nothing
to be sorry for." She lovingly stroked the dark head.
"I want you, I mean, I really want you, right here,
The response Erin's body had to those words was automatic
as well. If you pushed me, even very gently, right now . . . However,
she realized that making love now would be a mistake, given the fragile nature
of their relationship. Even though they had seemingly progressed at a glacier's
pace before their time together in February, she realized the possibility that
moving too quickly then had been one of the reasons for the subsequent problems.
"I want you, too, believe me." Erin's hand moved rhythmically
through the dark hair, massaging the scalp under her fingers. "But I think we
should wait 'til we're on more stable ground."
"If you want to wait, you'd better stop doing that."
Both women laughed, and Erin gently extricated her fingers
from the long tresses. Sawyer slowly stood up, complaining about old muscles.
"I haven't slept on a couch in years."
"Why don't you get a shower while I fix breakfast? I
hear showers do wonders for muscles."
"I will, but let's go out to eat." Sawyer performed
a quick mental inventory of her kitchen. "I think I've got cereal, but the milk's
probably gone solid by now." A sheepish grin settled on her face as Sawyer admitted,
"I've kind of fallen behind in my breakfast fixing skills."
Erin nodded as Sawyer walked toward the bathroom. She
stopped and turned back. "Do you want to take a shower, too? Separately, of
"Yeah, I'll get one after you."
"I probably have some clothes you can borrow, at least
for the trip back to Alison's. Although my shorts will probably be long pants
Erin was pleased to see a bit of their bantering return.
"At least I can wear your stuff. If you fell asleep on my couch, you'd be hard
pressed to fit into a pair of my shorts, 'pressed' being the operative word.
But it sure would be nice to see."
Sawyer laughed, then turned serious. "I've missed this
with you, I have." The insecurity was obvious on her face. "Where do we stand,
"We're fine, Sawyer. You know how I feel, and I know
how you feel. Life will be a bit hectic for us. This is a busy time at the inn,
you've got Harry's estate to deal with, then the trip with Alison. We'll get
there, I promise." I've never meant a promise more.
"And I'll do my best, Erin. I promise you that with
all my heart."
"I can't ask for more, Sawyer."
Epiphanies come in all shapes and sizes, in small ways
and big ways, and at all times of the day and the night. If it was somehow unusual
to experience an epiphany at the cruising altitude of 32,000 feet somewhere
over the Pacific Ocean while sitting in a first class seat of a Boeing 767,
Sawyer did not let the location bother her.
Her thoughts at the time, as they had been so often
during the two week trip with Alison, were on Erin, what they had shared and
what the younger woman had brought into her life. No, that's just it. She
brought me life. Before, I was . . . I was, nothing more. With her, I can .
. . do, I can be, I can feel, there's no end to it. Finally finding her
existence worth living, the possibility of continuing that existence without
Erin was too frightening to consider.
It was all too much not to share. Sawyer felt blessed,
truly blessed, to be able to share it with the woman at her side.
The older woman looked up from her book, removing her
reading glasses. She noticed the single tear rolling down Sawyer's face and
reached out gently to catch it, keeping her hand on the cheek.
"What is it, dear? Are you all right?"
"I'm okay . . ." Sawyer was embarrassed to hear the
hitch in her voice.
Alison turned in her seat, never taking her hand from
Sawyer's face. "What's wrong?"
"I love her, Alison."
The smile that followed the admission fairly shone from
Sawyer's face. Alison patted her cheek, smiling herself. "Of course you do,
dear." Then she put her glasses back on and returned to her book.
"No, I mean I really do."
Alison did not look up from her book. "I know you do,
Sawyer. I've known it for a while now."
Sawyer laughed. "Well, I wish you'd told me."
"I couldn't, dear."
"I know, I know, it's one of those 'I have to realize
it on my own' kind of things."
"Yes, yes, it is."
Sawyer continued to stare at Alison, amazed by it all.
"It really doesn't bother you, Erin and me."
Alison had a clue about Sawyer's past from her conversations
with Erin prior to the trip. Although Erin betrayed no confidences, as always,
the young woman revealed more in what she did not say than what she said. Alison's
intuition told her that Sawyer had been hurt badly in the past, simply due to
her sexual orientation. Therefore, she chose her next words carefully.
"I think from the moment I first spoke to Erin on the
phone, she captured me. She is such a loving, giving soul." Alison glanced up
to see Sawyer smile and nod. "When she rather tactfully explained to me that
she, how did she put it? Oh, yes, 'Jack and I shop on the same aisle in the
love supermarket.' It did give me about a half-second's pause, but I realized
that Erin is no different from me. I found all I ever hoped for in a spouse,
lover, partner, best friend, in Harry. And that's all Erin's looking for." She
tilted her glasses, gazing over the lenses at her companion. "Even if we're
shopping on different aisles in the great supermarket of love."
Alison let those words sink in, then continued. "She
believes she has found that in you, Sawyer. I care a great deal for you both.
If you can make her happy, and she makes you happy, then I'm happy. We're all
one big group of happy people."
Sawyer pondered the sentiment, achingly familiar but
heretofore unattainable, then spoke. "I haven't been very happy."
"I know, dear. Or I guessed as much."
"I can do that, I can do happy."
"Yes, you can."
"With Erin." The tall woman's eyes welled with tears
again, but Alison knew they were tears of joy.
"With Erin," Alison repeated.
* * * * * * *
As night settled over Blanchard's Ferry, Erin found
herself sitting on one of the chairs out on the porch. Her mind naturally drifted
to Sawyer and their first real conversation, here on this porch almost one year
ago. This night was unusually warm for October, but a shiver ran through her
She had not seen Sawyer since the day after Harry's
funeral. Payment of the bequests from Harry's estate had been handled via the
mail. Alison visited the inn in September, making a point to tell Erin how swamped
Sawyer was with work. The inn was unusually busy as well. The two women did
manage a few telephone conversations and e-mails. Their communications were
stilted and rather formal, as would befit a period of reacquaintance. Or perhaps,
it was more the fact that they were getting to know each other for the first
time. Sawyer, while reserved, was more forthcoming about events in her past
and about her feelings. Erin sensed her friend gently pulling away layer upon
layer of the hard protective shell built over years of pain and denial. She
felt a breakthrough was imminent; suddenly, though, it was October, and Sawyer
left on the trip with Alison.
During the two weeks they were away, Alison called a
couple of times, to let Erin and Jack know all was well. E-mails were exchanged,
the first few from Alison alone, then a few where the older woman had obviously
convinced Sawyer to add a couple of words. Finally one, then another, came to
Erin from Sawyer alone. Two postcards had arrived at the inn, the first with
notes from both women, then one from Sawyer. From the messages, it was clear
that both women were enjoying the trip. Jack retrieved the mail when the second
card arrived, and he handed it to Erin, shaking his head. The siblings had talked
very little about Sawyer's return to Erin's life, but his sister knew Jack was
I don't have enough energy to fix two relationships
in my life at the same time, Erin thought. I think I'm getting somewhere
with Sawyer, and I need her so much. I need Jack, too, but he's always been
there for me. I'm just afraid that if I get Sawyer back, I'll lose Jack.
She cringed, trying to push aside a thought that was too horrible to consider.
I wish he and I could talk about this.
Erin heard the front door open, and as if she had willed
it, Jack stepped onto the porch.
"You okay out here, Erin?"
Over the course of their life together, her big brother
had, from time to time, been obnoxious, amazingly immature, annoying and painfully
compulsive. But he was, and always had been, her staunchest supporter.
"I'm okay, Jack." She continued to stare out into the
"She gets back from the trip today with Alison, right?"
He's also a mind reader, Erin thought. "Yes,
their flight should have landed sometime this afternoon."
Jack came to stand in front of his sister, leaning back
against the rail. He sighed and seemed to gather his thoughts in preparation
for a speech. "I want what's best for you, Erin."
"I know, Jack, and I love you for that, but it's for
me to decide what's best for me."
"I agree. I'll support whatever decision you make."
Erin looked at him with wonder. "You will?"
"Yeah," he said quietly.
"Thank you, Jack, your support means a lot to me."
"Even if I feel you're not thinking clearly . . ."
". . . and I think you're making a mistake . . ."
"Got it, Jack."
". . . and . . ."
"Jack, your support is meaning less and less to me."
He smiled his 'reserved for Erin' smile, and rather
shyly asked, "So we're okay?"
She stood up and pulled him into a hug. "We're okay."
He bent down to kiss her cheek, then disengaged from
the hug and headed back for the door. He stopped at the doorway and turned back.
In a shy voice, he asked, "How far did you get with Laurie Miller?"
Talk about a conversation shift. I'll be on the
way to my own funeral, and I'll still be wondering how my brother's mind works.
"One kiss, Jack, that's all. Remember the field trip to Canby's Mill in 10th
grade? That's why I came back soaked. She pushed me into the river after I kissed
"You dog! You told Mom you fell in! She was mad, 'cause
you were sick for days."
"I wasn't going to tell Mom the truth. I was embarrassed
enough." Erin did not tell him that she had worked up the nerve to kiss Laurie
after weeks of blatant flirting by the cheerleader, nor did she tell him exactly
how long and involved the one kiss was. She also did not reveal that, as the
kiss ended, they heard a rustling in the bushes. Laurie, afraid one of their
classmates had seen them kissing, feigned indignance and shoved Erin into the
river. As it turned out, the witness in the bushes was a rabbit. Chagrined,
Laurie reached out to help Erin to the bank, but Erin's ardor had already cooled,
even without the chill of the water.
"Well then, I did get farther, at least a bit farther,"
Jack said, wisely keeping the details to himself. "But then she got all weird
on me and broke it off."
Laurie, realizing her charms no longer worked on the
younger Forester, had shifted her attentions to the older. Now clued in to the
cheerleader's true nature, Erin convinced Laurie to fish in another gene pool,
so to speak, by threatening to expose their kiss if the girl did not stop seeing
Jack. This left her brother confused, but much less hurt than he would have
been if the relationship had continued.
"Yeah," Erin said, "I never did figure that out." And
I hope you never do.
"Don't stay out here too long," Jack warned as he entered
Erin remained at the railing, watching the yard. I
don't know what I'm waiting for, it's not as if she would fly half way around
the world, then drive all the way up here without sleep, or food, or . . .
Those thoughts were interrupted by what had to be the
sweetest sound Erin had ever heard. She had long ago memorized the distinctive
sound of a Boxster engine and, unless a new customer with a taste for German
cars was paying an unannounced visit, Sawyer Bennett was driving up to the inn.
Erin stood at the railing, watching.
The Boxster finally emerged into the light cast from
the house, hitting the edge of the drive a little too fast, Erin feared. The
driver had no problems controlling the car, turning into one of the available
spaces. Erin realized she was holding her breath and finally inhaled as a tall,
dark-haired figure unfolded itself from the car.
"Fancy seeing you here," Sawyer called out, as she walked
toward the porch.
"What are you doing here?"
"Why do you always ask me that?" The rakish grin on
the tall woman's face warmed Erin's heart. As she stepped onto the porch and
stood in front of the blonde, Sawyer said, "I am tired as can be, and hungry,
'cause you know I'm always hungry after a drive. And I don't even know what
day it is. I think I lost a day today, or wait, maybe I got one back I'd lost
before, but it wasn't exactly the same day. Is it today or tomorrow?"
"It's the day they finally take you away, goofy. You
should be asleep. I can't believe you drove here. Didn't you get back this afternoon?"
The grin turned into a full-blown smile. "I'm not sure
if this afternoon was this afternoon. I think it's really tomorrow. Oh, and
did I tell you I had an overwhelming urge to drive on the left side of the road
on the way here?"
"You have lost it. Come on inside."
Sawyer suddenly became very serious. "No, not yet. I
traveled a long way to see you, Erin. I have something important to tell you.
But first, I need you to tell me something."
"Tell you what?"
"Say it, Erin"
The younger woman was mystified. "Say what?"
Sawyer grasped her hands. "Say it, Erin."
A light went on, and Erin squeezed the hands holding
hers. "I love you, Sawyer."
The dark head leaned back to look skyward, savoring
the moment. "Say it again."
"I love you, Sawyer."
Sawyer brought her head back down and gazed deeply into
the green eyes in front of her, conveying the importance of the moment. "And
I believe you."
"Yep, and I'm sure. I believe you here," as she touched
her temple, "and here," as she placed her hand on her chest over her heart,
or at least as close as a lawyer who once contemplated going to medical school
could get to where the organ was actually located.
"I've accomplished a lot, professionally speaking, over
the last twenty years," Sawyer said. "But personally, I had nothing, no life,
no home, no love. All of that was taken away long ago when my family tossed
me out with the trash and my soul was shattered. And I tried, I really tried,
to put the pieces back together. But I wasn't willing to risk more pain."
She paused, bringing her hands up to cup Erin's cheeks.
"It took somebody stronger than I was to do it. That's you, Erin. You put the
pieces of my soul back together, and they're gonna stay stuck, better than super
glue. It's Erin glue!" At this, she wrapped her arms around the smaller woman,
picked her up and spun the two of them on the porch.
Erin laughed. "You are beyond goofy, goofy. You're into
giddy now. You helped with the glueing, you know."
"It's a wonderful thing, Erin glue," Sawyer said, gently
placing Erin back on her feet. "But we'll never test in on the general public,
because it's mine alone."
"Yes, it's yours alone. Thank you, Sawyer."
"For coming here tonight, for deciding to stay at the
inn on your first trip here, for opening the door just enough for me to get
through . . . for a lot of things. Mostly, for being what I've been looking
my whole life for without even realizing it."
"I'm that?" Erin saw the amazement slide over Sawyer's
"Yes, you are."
"I love you, Erin," Sawyer said, as she leaned down
to press her lips to those of the smaller woman in a gentle kiss of reaffirmation.
"I love you, too, Sawyer," Erin said as her lips were
"Say it again."
"This is going to be a habit with you, isn't it? I love
"Hey, that's become your little nickname for me, goofy,
"Well, it fits, especially today."
"Yeah, but I have a certain reputation to maintain.
And part of that is foregoing cute little pet names."
A small thread of doubt slipped into Erin's heart, but
she was preparing to promise not to use the nickname again when Sawyer reached
up and tapped her on the nose. "At least until I figure out a cute little nickname
for you." The lawyer paused, seemingly lost in thought. "Pumpkin? Peanut? Goldilocks?"
Erin almost growled, "I am not cute, so . . . hey, is
'peanut' another crack about my height?"
"You are very sensitive about being vertically challenged,
you know. No, 'shrimp' would be a rather obvious crack about your height. You
are not a 'shrimp.' You are cute and absolutely adorable and the best thing
that has ever happened to me."
The blonde now blushed. "That feeling is very, very
The women turned, Sawyer's arm still clasped tightly
around Erin's shoulders, and walked toward the front door. Sawyer asked, "Hey,
have you got any Oreo cookies? I hear they go great with Irish coffee, honeycakes.
No, sweetie pie. No, wait, give me time."
Erin pushed the tall woman inside, laughing all the
Thanks for all of the incredible feedback I've gotten
for this story. That has provided an incredible boost for my ego at a time when
it was sorely needed.