Will You Remember Me? - Part One
By H.M. Macpherson
As a result of the feedback I gratefully received from those who read Remember, I decided to take this story one step further and write a sequel. It was supposed to be a short story, however I expect it's now more closely aligned to a novella than a short story. Anyway, there are a few minor amendments to part one of Remember, although they aren't that fundamental that, having read the initial story, you couldn't go straight to part two and be lost completely. However, feel free to refresh your memory if you see fit!
First timer disclaimer - To be honest this isn't my first piece of work, however it's the first I've posted on line. So I expect the first request I should make, if I may, is that you be kind to me; well as kind as one can be I expect.
Sex/Violence disclaimer - If you're looking for gratuitous, "clear the office table, off with the clothes, let's get down to business" action, then I'm afraid you're going to be disappointed. As you read this story (if you elect to do so after that previous sentence), you'll understand why that isn't the case. Having said that, there are same sex themes - I sound like a cable disclaimer with that one! As for violence, well there is some name calling of ladies who have obsessions with nametags, the occasional use of a naughty word (nothing I'm sure you haven't heard in the course of your everyday lives) and just a really little disdain shown for men. Do I hate men; absolutely not! Some of my best friends are men (cheeky grin here at the ironic turn of phrase).
Australian wine disclaimer - Sorry, I admit that I am unashamedly proud of the wine this country produces. However, I've not asked permission to name these wines and do not aim to gain any profit through their mention in this story, or infer any offence through their use.
Song disclaimer - Sarah McLachlan is one of the most gifted artists to share her lyrical abilities with the rest of us. I did not ask her for permission to use the words from her song and like the wine disclaimer, do not aim to gain any profit through its mention in the story, or infer any offence through its use.
Teacher bashing disclaimer - Now this one has to be explained so that I don't have the teacher mafia knocking on my email door in the wee hours of the morning. Any references to poor teaching I have made are for those few within the profession who have really lost touch with what their role is in the bigger scheme of things. From my perspective and mine only, teachers aren't there to force feed information (and yes students can be a pain sometimes). They are a vital element of any community. They take what is essentially raw product and mould it, not in their own image, but in the image of one that will inquire, pursue knowledge and understand the difference between right and wrong. However, most importantly teachers create the stewards of the future. The success of this world or otherwise is inherent on the learning they receive from this wonderful group of people known as teachers, from the youngest through to the oldest ages. For that small group of teachers who have lost this skill, seek employment elsewhere. Oh, and yes, I am a teacher and tutor, but then again, so is everyone of us, in one form or another.
As for the rest of the story, well that's my intellectual property, covered under appropriate copyright laws. If you wish to use the characters or the poetry (that's mine as well), then at least do me the courtesy of letting me know in the first place. One last thing; for those of you who were kind enough to actually read this for me before I posted it one the web, I thank you very much. And now, on with the story. Feel free to let me know what you think; I take constructive criticism very well. As for homophobic, narrow-minded, get a life vitriol, those messages are relegated to that part of cyber space where they so rightly belong.
Rhiannon Sharp reversed her Roadster into a vacant spot within walking distance of the hall that was to be her destination for the evening. Smiling to herself, she was surprised at the fortune of finding a park so close to the auditorium. Turning off the car's engine, she collected herself as she listened to the fading sounds of a somewhat prophetic, if not haunting song: ‘I will remember you, will you remember me? Don't let your life pass you by, weep not for the memories.'
Nodding sagely she pulled the keys from the ignition and stepped from her car into the inky black of the night. In the distance she could make out the muted sounds of voices and laughter coming from the building and she braced herself. Is this what you want? Do you really want to be here? You could drive away now and no one would be any the wiser. Shaking her head she answered the silent voice from within. She could quite easily do that, however, to do so would potentially mean another 20 years of asking herself the same question. No, tonight she would get an answer to that question, one way or another.
Reaching back into the Roadster and across to its passenger side she pulled out a calf-length black jacket to match her slacks and compliment the burnished gold blouse she wore. Using the glow of the street lights against the glass of the car's windows she checked her reflection and caught herself. Mirrored in the reflection of the tinted glass was an imposing three-story sandstone building; one she hadn't seen in a number of years. Suddenly, it was if it was only yesterday that she arrived at the school, mid-term and under the charge of her Aunt.
She remembered that day clearly. A quiet, reserved 14 year old, she'd been placed in her Aunt's charge after the untimely death of her parents in a drink-driving accident. The tranquil southern highlands of New South Wales that had been her home for the past 15 years were now a recent memory as she found herself living in the noise and imposing dominance of what was Sydney. Rhiannon had spent her schooling years in a co-educational school, finding much more in common with the boys than she ever did with the girls. So it was with more than just a degree of trepidation that she absorbed her Aunt's news that she would be attending the local private girl's school.
Rhiannon shuddered, remembering her initial interview with the School Principal. A squat and white-haired woman, Mrs Remerson possessed a severe presence that was far removed from the friendly visage of her last Principal in Bowral. Rhiannon had always been a logical if not sometimes challenging girl and found herself wondering whether she would be able to logically talk her way out of hairy situations as she had with her previous Principal. After a short entry interview with the School Head she was thrust into the all-girl environment where she would spend her senior schooling years. An intelligent, yet insightful child, the first few months in the new school were difficult as she struggled to fit into an unfamiliar group dynamic of school girl cliques that had been developed over a number of years. Slowly she made her way in; and over a period of time she made a handful of close friends who shared her mischievous yet inquiring nature, while maintaining a large circle of acquaintances, formed on the sporting field and during her tenure as Vice-Captain.
Returning to the present, Rhiannon smiled thinking how much had happened since her time at this school. It wasn't that she disliked her final years, indeed she found her time at school fun, if not somewhat constrained by the one-dimensional thinking of some of her teachers. There were some that had truly challenged her mind and her own, yet developing ideals. However, there were a number of them who had taught students as if they were no more than funnels one would pour water into, with very little interest regarding the speed at which the water exited the funnel's smaller end. Rhiannon found herself hoping that along with the memorable ones, tonight she would also run into some of the dead wood also. It would be fun to engage them in a game of mental gymnastics, if for no other reason than to prove to them that they had not succeeded in their ‘sausage factory' method of teaching. Straightening the collar of her blouse over her jacket, she turned in the direction of the muted sounds of humanity.
Walking down the stairs towards the main entrance, she looked out across the sports fields where she had found so much solace in the first few months at her new school. She had always possessed an envious ability to adopt a sport and master it with very little fuss. Her skill and her just over six feet height had made her the pride of the physical education instructors, who were always keen to ensure that bodies excelled as well as minds. Looking at the back net of the softball diamond, Rhiannon could almost hear the call of a strike and the words of her coach as she told her to focus on the ball. That was easy for the coach to say - she wasn't facing a state level pitcher; and a gorgeous one at that.
Even as a young teenager Rhiannon had known boys had never interested her in the same manner they did for most of her peers. Sure, they were fun to play with, and she credited her remarkable speed and hand eye coordination with having to keep up with the boys at their own games. However, that was as far as it went for her. When she'd first been at High School in Bowral, and the boys and girls played catch and kiss she didn't just pretend to run like the other girls - she ran flat out. As far as she was concerned, being kissed by a smelly and sweaty boy was the last thing from her mind. Now had it been catch and kiss with certain softball team members the outcome may well have been different.
Despite knowing her mind so young and moving to an all-girls school, Rhiannon kept her own counsel regarding her feelings. Sport did provide her some degree of outlet and it was here she found others who had shared the same sexual interests as her own. Despite this, it was, to some extent, an unspoken secret between the few she'd met. Notwithstanding the natural athleticism shared between these young women, Rhiannon felt no connection on a personal level. Sure, they seemed to be interested enough in her, but for the tall insightful young woman the physical and emotional attraction wasn't mutual.
Coming to the foot of the steps, she hesitated. Turning her head slightly to the right she could make out the shape of a woman standing by a desk in the foyer, enthusiastically looking through a list of names before giving the woman opposite her a hug and a nametag to wear. Rhiannon shuddered - she had always hated labels and the thought of wearing a nametag for the evening made her skin crawl. Deciding to take a better look around before once more stepping into the breach, she strode past the foyer, her steps paralleling the building before she turned into what had been the upper quadrangle of her school.
Standing there a fond smile came to her face. How many morning tea breaks had she spent here with her best friend Virginia? As seniors they were allowed the sanctity of the upper quadrangle for meal breaks. It was a senior's only area, with the junior students relegated to the lower quadrangle and sports ovals. As the result of an incident that had occurred only weeks after her joining the school, Virginia or Ginny as Rhiannon had nicknamed her, had been the new girl's first friend.
Rhiannon had been sitting under a tree in the lower quadrangle, contemplating her next challenging question for her somewhat banal Modern History teacher when she heard the sounds of raised voices coming from behind the gym block. Annoyed someone had interrupted her train of thought; she stood up and smoothed her skirt before heading in the direction of the dispute.
"I'm going to ask you this just one more time four-eyes. Did you tell Miss Stinson that I'd been smoking in the lower quad toilets?"
Rounding the corner Rhiannon stopped quietly, observing the scene in front of her. Positioned in a belligerent stance, with hands on hips was a girl Rhiannon had accidentally bumped into in the corridor the previous day. The girl had rounded on her with such vehemence that Rhiannon was sure had she not been taller than this obvious bully, the other girl would have flattened her on the spot. It hadn't taken her long to learn the bully was Jackie Smethurst and she had a reputation for victimising the meeker and smaller members of the school. Standing opposite Jackie was the controlled figure of a girl, her brown hair loose about her shoulders, effectively masking her features from those of Rhiannon.
"As I've said to you already Jackie, no I didn't tell Miss Stinson. If you'd stop and think for a moment you'd realise how foolish you sound. How could I know how you occupy your day? It's not as if we share the same friends or anything."
Rhiannon smiled at the tenacity of the other girl. Should the situation escalate into something more physical, there was no way that the smaller one could hold her own. Despite her seemingly logical answer, it was obviously not what Jackie wanted to hear and she closed on the smaller student. Rhiannon ignored the group of girls standing behind the bully, and she brought herself within the peripheral range of the two key parties. "I'd say her answer sounds inherently reasonable wouldn't you?"
Jackie's progress was effectively halted by the words spoken by Rhiannon. Turning to see who had interrupted her in her quest, the bully's eyes grew wide as she realised who the other voice belonged to. "Not you again. I let you off easy yesterday when you nearly walked through me in the corridor. If you know what's good for you, you'll just go and crawl back under what ever hick rock it was you came from," the angry girl sneered, alluding to Rhiannon's country upbringing.
"What, so you can go and beat someone smaller than you to a pulp? Gee that must be a heap of fun; I wonder why it hasn't caught on as a sport?" pausing, Rhiannon brought herself up to her full height as Jackie turned on her. "Didn't you hear what she said? She wouldn't be caught dead with the likes of you, let alone frequent toilets where you shorten your pathetic little life through smoking. She didn't dob you in, how many languages do you have to hear it in before it's absorbed by that pre-historic brain of yours?"
Rhiannon could see Jackie was seething under the power of her words. Despite this the school bully wasn't that stupid. While she hadn't witnessed the strength of the girl in front of her, at the moment it seemed to flow off her in waves. Stepping back, Jackie sneered at the girl who only shortly before had been the target of her vitriol. "Consider yourself lucky that Wonder Woman here stepped in when she did. Just remember she won't always be around." Jackie stormed off, her gang in tow.
From that moment on Rhiannon had not only earned the undying gratitude of the girl in front of her, it had also been the start point in developing the respect of every other student who had suffered under Jackie's reign of fear. Overnight it was enough to mention Rhiannon's name in order to counter the threats from Jackie's gang. Whether she liked it or not, Rhiannon had developed a following - not out of fear but out of respect.
She and Virginia, the girl she had saved from an untimely belting, became the best of friends, discovering they had a number of things in common, not the least was a hatred of people who abused power. Many a day passed between Ginny and herself, indulging in the fine art of ‘teacher baiting'. Their baiting was never done with malicious intent - it was more aimed at forcing teachers to recognise the myopic nature of their own teachings. Had it not been for their consistently high scores, it was unlikely the girls would have gotten away with as much as they did. Rhiannon remembered their times in the upper quadrangle and the spontaneity both girls shared. She chuckled, recalling the day when both of them had been caught in a shower and, rather than hurry to get out of the deluge, had broken into a rendition of ‘Singing in the Rain', dancing their way up and down the quadrangle before being told in no uncertain terms by the Principal to get out of the downpour.
Rhiannon was sure her feelings for Ginny went far beyond that of just friends and on many occasions she'd tried to share her thoughts with her, only to baulk at the last moment. She fooled herself into believing that she should wait until their second-last year at school, when they were older, before she was more open with her brown-haired friend. However, as such matters are wont to do, her personal feelings were pushed further to the background, as both girls focussed on their studies. Having had Christmas overseas with her Aunt, it wasn't until Rhiannon returned for her final school year that she learnt the headaches Ginny had so often complained of had been diagnosed as a brain tumour and she'd died within weeks of the prognosis. Bringing herself back to the present she wondered if things might have been different between the two of them had she possessed the courage to share with Ginny how she really felt. The idea of facing that final year without her friend had been almost too hard to bear. Taking a deep breath and turning her face into the dark night, she knew that was an answer she would never know.
"Excuse me but can I help you?"
Rhiannon found herself shaken out of her mental wanderings by the glow of a guard's torch on her features. Bringing her thoughts to the present she unconsciously drew her fingers through her hair. "No I'm fine thanks. I'm here for the reunion and I just thought I'd take the time to look around before confronting the noisy hoard."
The guard in front of her laughed. "Yes I know what you mean. I went to one of these things a couple of years ago and went home with the biggest headache. It seemed all anyone wanted to do was talk at you in the loudest voice possible. If that wasn't enough, most of the time was spent on seeing who had the best job and who was earning the most. It turned me off going to one of them ever again."
Rhiannon found herself joining in the guard's quiet laughter. "I think I know what you mean. I'm beginning to wonder whether this was such a smart idea after all."
"If you haven't been in there yet I'm sure you could quietly slip out of here without too many people noticing."
Rhiannon nodded, knowing that was exactly what one part of her wanted to do. What did she expect to achieve by attending such an evening? An answer. Her mind replied. She stood shaking her head. "Yes, well I could; but unfinished business and all that. Hopefully it won't take too long."
"And hopefully it won't be too painful for you." The guard added as the tall woman waved and strode in the direction of the auditorium.
Putting on her game face, she strode up the stairs that led into the small foyer where the excited nametag lady she'd initially viewed earlier had just finished sending another woman in down the entrance corridor and into the school proper.
"Hi and welcome to the Northwell school reunion." The woman's sickly sweet words were almost enough to cause Rhiannon to turn and run but she held her ground.
The dark-haired woman scanned the area, keen to avoid the eager face of the nametag person before her. As she did so she could see that the reunion wasn't merely restricted to the auditorium. A map had been fixed to a wall in the foyer, outlining that the reunion was actually spread over a number of rooms. Mentally sighing to herself about the difficulties this presented she returned her gaze to the woman in front of her.
"Thanks, I'm class of '82 and I was wondering…." she got no further as she was cut off by the excited voice of the nametag lady.
"Really! I'm class of '83, now if you just give me a minute I bet I can work out who you are."
Slightly embarrassed but aware people have to find their excitement somewhere, the ex-student waited as the woman picked up the schoolbook for that particular year. The woman gasped as she looked at the photo in the book before returning her gaze to the black-jacketed woman.
"You're Rhiannon Sharp! I'm surprised I don't remember you. I still recall the day you stood up to Smethurst when she was going to thump Virginia Martinson. It was such a shame she died when she did. You were good friends weren't you?" Nametag lady queried, somewhat oblivious to the hurt that crossed the other woman's eyes.
Gathering herself, Rhiannon returned her most business-like stare to Margaret Peters; assuming the nametag she wore was her own. "Yes Margaret we were. Now if you don't mind I might just mingle and see if I can catch up with anyone." Reaching for a map of the reunion's layout Rhiannon strode towards the door behind the table.
Margaret who had been somewhat mesmerised by the woman in front of her suddenly leapt into action. "Wait you can't go yet. You haven't got your nametag."
Rolling her eyes, the former senior collected herself before she turned on the woman, deciding to try another approach. Lowering her voice an octave, she looked into the eyes of Nametag lady. "Yes, but I think it would be much more exciting if people were forced to try and put a name to this mysterious woman; don't you?" She finished, a enigmatic smile on her face, her right eyebrow slightly raised.
Margaret found herself hypnotised by the person in front of her. She could barely manage a nod before the blue-eyed woman moved away and was a fair distance down the hall before Margaret brought herself back to the present. Her indecision regarding whether to pursue Rhiannon and make her wear her nametag was put on hold as she heard the footfall of more old schoolgirls coming through the door. Shaking herself out of her reverie, she turned on the small group, determined they wouldn't escape her without their required identification.
Rhiannon waited until she had turned a corner before halting her progress and leaning up against the cool sandstone wall of the corridor that led to the teachers' lunchroom. Relieved not to have been encumbered with yet another label, she looked at the map in her hand. The reunion was indeed spread over a number of rooms, with the teachers' lunchroom serving as the food area. Appropriate, Rhiannon thought. She'd only been in there once before and that was for the mandatory Captains' and Vice Captains' morning tea with the Principal and school Subject Masters. It was so very formal and false, she found herself taking solace in the laughing eyes of the English Master. The Master at the time had been her English teacher, and having identified the challenging mind Rhiannon possessed, she'd gone out of her way to work Rhiannon to her fullest mental capacity. Rhiannon rose to the challenge, posting grades that had never been made before.
Looking back down at the map, the second key room seemed to be the library. She found herself laughing at the irony, for the library had been set up as the dance room. This left the auditorium as a quiet area, holding pictorial testament to the history of the school. Shrugging her shoulders and deciding the food area was as good a place as any to start, she placed the map in her jacket pocket and moved towards the semi-open door.
She walked through the entrance, into a room occupied by a number of small groups partaking of the finger food that liberally adorned the tables lining most of the walls. Moving in the direction of the drinks table, Rhiannon picked up a glass of champagne before taking up an unobtrusive position along a part of the wall that wasn't supporting food. Such a position provided her with the opportunity to scan the small groups of ex-students, allowing her to look for her target. It wasn't the most social way to achieve her aim, however she could think of nothing worse than having to engage in meaningless small talk in order to achieve her evening's objective. So engrossed was she in scanning the faces within the crowd she was unaware of the woman who moved quietly beside her.
"So Miss Sharp, still avoiding crowds and pretentious chit-chat I see. Some things never change do they?"
Rhiannon nearly dropped her glass at the idea someone had gotten so close without her sensing their presence. Normally this was a skill she'd capably mastered, specifically for social functions where she preferred to keep her distance, or at least know if someone was closing in on her. As her mind sorted through its memory banks to put the voice to a name, she turned and faced the woman beside her. While the face possessed a few more traces of a life well lived, the strawberry blond hair and hazel eyes made the face in front of her unmistakable.
"Miss Matheson, my God how are you?" Rhiannon's eyes moved over the body of her old English Master, unashamed at her actions towards a woman she had always felt as being particularly beautiful, both on the outside and in.
"You know it's been quite a while since someone called me that. I think we're past that now Rhiannon; please call me Elaine or Elly." The redhead smiled, quietly conscious of the younger woman's impromptu tour of her body.
Rhiannon laughed. "It's funny how we fall back on old ground isn't it? After all these years it's still difficult to break away from the teacher-student relationship."
"Hopefully not too hard I hope. While it's great to see you again after all these years, I trust you're not here to berate me over past English marks?" Elly finished, allowing herself to surreptitiously view the person in front of her who had grown into a beautiful woman, and an influential one as well.
"If there was one thing you always were Elly, that was honest. When I scored low ‘90's on my work it was because I deserved it, nothing more, nothing less."
The older woman smiled sagely. "Still hard on yourself I see. I was hoping some of that perfectionism might have disappeared by now."
The dark haired woman raised her champagne to her lips as she mulled on the last statement. Sipping the cool liquid, she held it in her mouth conscious of the stare of the woman opposite her. Rhiannon decided that it was time to have some fun. "You know, I can't say my memory's that clear of my school days, but I know if you stared at me then like you are now, it's something I definitely wouldn't have forgotten."
Elly's eyes widened, surprised at the brazenness of the other woman. "Is that so? Well as you're well aware, there was a significant difference between what we were then and what we are now. I would have never allowed you to see any such thing when you were 17 and 18; to do so would have been irresponsible on my behalf."
The ex-student found herself a little surprised by the candid response of the English Master. Rather than pursue the line of discussion, she opted for safer ground. "I'm sorry, I couldn't help myself. As you can see I'm just as mischievous as I've always been, if not a little older. Would you like to sit down? With my height, standing in this crowd will make me a little too recognisable and that's not something I particularly want." Seeing the other woman nod her assent, the two moved in the direction of a couple of vacated lounge chairs.
Elly eased herself into the chair, placing her gin and tonic on the table in front of her. "That's a strange comment Rhiannon. If you don't want to be seen, a reunion would seem an unusual place to try and hide."
"Well you're right, however there were a few people I was hoping to catch up with tonight. It's been years and with some of them it's been school since we last met. I was just hoping maybe they were here tonight as well."
Elly took a sip from her gin and tonic. "Anyone I can help you with? I haven't been here long, but I have seen a couple of faces."
Rhiannon almost said her name, but held herself. For some reason, she felt the need to find this person on her own, not necessarily with the help of anyone else, no matter how good-looking they were. "It's okay, I'll have a look around later. If they're here then I'll find them and if not, well, so be it. So what have you been doing over the past 20 years or so?" Rhiannon deflected any further questions regarding her goal for the evening.
"Well, I kept with teaching until I finished my doctorate and for the last ten years or so I've been doing speech therapy and teaching with hearing-challenged children. It's a really rewarding job, not that teaching wasn't. It's just that the likes of you and your ‘tell me why' mind were few and far between. I began to fear I was becoming like some of the other teachers and that scared the shit out of me. I can honestly say I completely enjoy what I'm doing now. On a more personal note, I can also live my life openly, no longer in fear of the knee-jerk reactions of homophobic parents." Pausing she looked at the woman opposite her. "Enough of me, what about you? In the past few years you seem to be popping up everywhere important. Last time I saw you was at a women's dinner where you were the keynote speaker. I knew you were passionate in your beliefs, but I don't think I ever saw you as passionate as you were that night, talking on child abuse."
Rhiannon cast her mind back to a dinner she'd attended a couple of years ago. It had been after a day of doing volunteer work on a children's help line, barely maintaining her control as she listened to the calls she'd received from physically and sexually abused children. Coupled with her anger at what was happening was her disgust at the age of some of the children. It had been hard not to be passionate that night after the day she'd experienced. "Yes, I remember, the Packard dinner. I just couldn't fathom how someone could do that to children. Christ, it's not as if there aren't enough places where people can go and find sex or belt the crap out of someone. Why they focus their rage and lust on children is beyond my comprehension." She paused as she took another sip from her champagne. "So, you were there that night; why didn't you come and say hello?"
Elly smiled remembering the entourage that evening that had encased the woman. "Well besides the presence in your group of particularly good looking and no nonsense women, my partner wasn't well. We had every intention of saying hello, but we had to leave rather suddenly. Not to worry all's well that ends well, and I'm glad you came tonight. It's been great catching up with you.
Silence fell between the two women as they looked at each other. Rhiannon found herself remembering back to her final day at school. "Do you have any idea of the impact you had on me?" Seeing the panicked look on the other woman's face, she laid a comforting hand on Elly's knee. "Don't look so scared; I was just thinking about the last day. Everything was so strained. There was so much I wanted to speak with you about but no matter how hard I tried, the words just wouldn't come. Ironic that someone who could waffle crap with the best of them should clam up when I most needed to speak. But you seemed to know just what to say," the Ex-Master calmed as Rhiannon continued.
"Remember we were sitting on the table at the front of the auditorium and the place was filled with screaming girls. You turned to me and told me a story; do you remember it?"
Casting her mind back Elly remembered the day well. Rhiannon had been awkwardly silent through the luncheon, unspoken issues seemed to be weighing heavily on her mind. There was so much she'd wanted to share with this senior, however she was reticent to do so. Taking in the despair on the Vice-Captain's face, at that moment she knew she had to say something.
Elly returned her focus to the present. "Yes I remember. You looked so lost that day and I told you the story about my first English Master who never put any of his teaching degrees and awards on the wall. One day the Principal visited his office and asked them where they were. He said that he never hung them, as they really didn't matter. The Principal answered him quietly saying they did if you made a difference. At that moment in time I was trying to give to you something I'd used as a guide for so many years."
Rhiannon nodded, remembering the words as if it were yesterday. "You know I've never forgotten what you said that day. Whenever I find myself questioning my latest direction or the value of my actions, I think back on what you said. Those words have been a mantra for me over the past 20 years." Rhiannon paused as she cast her eyes over the room, choosing her next words carefully. "You know, you said you would meet us at the club that afternoon for a farewell drink," she watched as Elly nodded warily before continuing. "Why didn't you turn up?"
At that moment the look both women shared almost made any answer redundant. "Rhiannon you were and remain my favourite student. You pushed me beyond the boundaries, at times forcing me to question my own position on issues. Why remember the day in class when we argued over the hidden meaning of a poem?" Seeing the lopsided smile of remembrance that came to the younger woman's face she continued. "Here I was insisting on its meaning being quite clear and you came back at me with the idea that I could bite into a chocolate bar and taste chocolate and you could do the same and taste strawberry and we would both be right. Our tastes were our own, based on our perspectives and given that they were our own they couldn't be wrong. I think it was at this point I knew that my feelings for you went well beyond that of a student. Despite this, that's what you were. On the final day I wanted so badly to come and have a drink with you, but I was afraid. Seeing how lost you were on that last day and knowing how easy it would be for me to lead you astray so to speak made me steer clear of the club."
The ex-student laughed quietly. "I was so lost that day because there were so many people I was about to leave behind; you being one of them. People make promises about keeping in touch but it just doesn't work out that way. I knew there was a good chance I wouldn't see you again. And as for me being led astray, you must have known your feelings weren't all one sided?"
"I'd be lying if I said I didn't, however, besides the teacher/student issue there were a number of other issues, not to mention my age. Ten years is a large difference between two people Rhiannon. And besides, there were other people closer to your age who had eyes for you that day." She finished enigmatically.
"Yes there were, and they left too." The dark haired woman finished quietly as she took a sip from her champagne. "You know if I had a complex, I'd say there seems to be a trend in my life of people standing me up or just leaving me."
The English Master punched her arm playfully. "Well if that's the case, it doesn't seem to have adversely affected you." Pausing, she looked down at her watch. "Shit is that the time? Rhiannon I'm sorry but I've got to get home. My partner's a resident at Lander's Hospital and she has to do the night shift. We have a lovely little girl who is none too happy when she wakes up in the middle of the night and finds no one at home." Picking up her bag, she reached into its depths searching for something, her hand coming out holding a card. "This is my number and address. Let's try and make it a little less time between when we see each other again. I'd really like for you to meet Jennifer. I'm sure the two of you could keep each other amused for hours on end."
Standing up, she received a similar card from the other woman. "Thanks for the offer. My current job should keep me in the country for at least the next 12 months, so there should be ample time to catch up some more." Unashamedly pulling her ex-teacher into a hug, she whispered into her ear. "I'm very happy for you. Jennifer must be a very special woman."
Breaking the closeness of the hug Elly touched the tip of Rhiannon's nose. "Oh she is. And I hope you find who you're looking for tonight. Take care." Removing herself from the younger woman's arms, Elly was out the door before any more could be said. Reaching down to the table, the ex-student drained the dregs of her now warm champagne before moving out of the room, following the tendrils of 80's music that wafted from the interior of the library.
Pulling open the door before her, Rhiannon made her way into the muted lighting of the library. The music, while loud, was at least music she remembered and could relate to. She had very little tolerance for the majority of today's mainstream contemporary music, and drew a degree of relief from the likes of the artist coming through the speakers. Allowing herself to become accustomed to the softer lighting, she cast her eyes around the room, hoping to find the person she was looking for. However, instead of achieving her aim, she found herself trying to place the smiling visage of the short woman rapidly closing in on her direction.
"Well what do you know? G'day Tack how the hell are you? Somebody mentioned they'd seen you harassing some woman at the reception area; it's good to see some things don't change."
Rhiannon smiled at the use of a nickname she hadn't been called since school. Tack was in reference to her last name of Sharp and the Australian saying ‘Sharp as a tack.' Taking in the rubenesque features of the woman in front of her she held out her hand. "Robin Beresford, nobody's called me that name for years. I'm surprised you can even remember it after all this time."
The shorter woman took the accepted hand in her own. "You know me, always the font of useless knowledge. It just seems to get into my mind and sits there in an ever-increasing filing cabinet of superfluous information. Mind you, in my current job it helps to have a great memory."
"So what is it you're doing?" Rhiannon queried, innately aware the woman was keen to share the information.
"After I left school I spent some time in Teacher's College before I realised that should I ever be faced with having to teach children, I may just have to murder them. This realisation came shortly after my first practical teaching tenure where I was let loose on a class of ten year olds." Robin physically shuddered at the memory. "So I withdrew from there and applied to study law and low and behold, you see before you a barrister no less!"
Rhiannon laughed. "You know that kind of suits you. I can always remember you during those Inter-School debating sessions. You possessed an uncanny ability to take the truth and stretch it to suit your means - especially when it meant ensuring you or others could escape potential after-school detention."
"Pot this is kettle over; don't you talk! If you think I had a skill, then Rhiannon you left me for dead. If it wasn't students you were helping, it was you tying teachers in knots. I reckon the only reason they didn't kick you out was because half the time they weren't aware you were calling them fools until you were well and truly out of the classroom." The two women shared the joke, remembering the frustration the taller woman had caused many a teacher. "So what are you doing now?"
"Well, right now I'm consulting with a HR group in town. They're keen to use my skillsets to improve the face and focus of their company. I'm on a 12-month tenure here and I have to say it's nice to be back in Australia. Travelling is fine but there's nothing like getting home to where your roots are." Rhiannon finished, surreptitiously scanning the room yet again.
"Yes, you seem to have been doing quite a lot of that. I think the last time I saw you was on that current affairs show, discussing your latest book. Your allusion to the glass ceiling being more representational of an iceberg was very insightful. I had to laugh at the way you fielded the reporter's questions though. It was clear he hadn't done his research on you or the book." Robin drew the taller woman in the direction of the refreshment table.
"Well as they say: better to remain silent and be thought a fool, then to speak and remove all doubt." Rhiannon reached towards one of the plates of finger food occupying the table while Robin secured herself a drink. Moving towards a group of chairs that would afford a full view of the room, Rhiannon sat down, aware her newly acquired shadow was on her heels. She sighed inwardly. It wasn't that the other woman's presence wasn't welcomed, it was just she had a greater preference to be alone as she attempted to find what she had came for. Making herself comfortable she forced a smile at the woman before her.
"So, aside from consultancy, being a world-renown writer and global traveller what else have you been up to? Has anyone else occupied you on these travels?" The shorter woman, playfully nudged Rhiannon in the ribs.
Rhiannon was beginning to remember what she most detested about reunions and gatherings of this type. People weren't happy until they'd squeezed every little bit of intimate detail they possibly could out of people. While she wasn't closed about her personal life, she wasn't necessarily open either. Those people who needed to know did, and those who didn't, well, they just didn't need to know. Robin Beresford was one such person, especially if her unmatched ability to gossip was a well honed as it had been during her years as a student.
"No one for any great time really." She paused as she saw the shocked features of the blond-headed woman beside her.
Robin slapped the other woman's arm for effect. "You're joking right? With looks like yours it's a wonder you're not beating them off with a stick!"
"Looks aren't everything you know." She offered lamely, trying to avoid further discussion.
"That's easy for you to say. I remember those school dances with Pembroke Boys School; they couldn't keep their eyes off you. But then, a black hair blue eyed combination, not to mention your height was more than the incentive needed for most pimply-faced adolescents. What's more, I see age hasn't been that unkind to you. Looks mightn't be the be all and end all but they sure give you a foot in the door."
Rhiannon found herself quickly tiring of this line of conversation, deciding it was better to redirect the focus from her life to that of the woman opposite her. "Yes, I suppose you're right and no there hasn't been anyone on a regular basis. Travelling around the place and living out of a suitcase isn't a sound foundation for a relationship. So what about you?"
The brown-headed woman positively glowed as Rhiannon groaned silently. Hopefully she hasn't got a bevy of kids or I could be here all night looking at photographs.
"Well, you probably don't remember Jim Steinman, but he and I were an item during my senior years at school. He was my first husband." The woman sighed. "I suppose I really married him to satisfy a mother who seemed to think that if I waited too long, her chances at being a grandmother would be severely impeded. Not surprisingly the marriage didn't last long past the first year and we separated with some degree of acrimony between the two of us. I don't see Jim any more and I haven't a clue what he's doing with himself. After him there was no one for quite some time, and while it was nice not to have to tailor your life around someone else's, it was quite lonely." The woman paused, a faraway look in her eyes.
Rhiannon observed the other woman's features. She seemed to be recalling a time that wasn't all that comfortable to her and this was mirrored on her face. You're not telling me anything I don't know. Try living out of a suitcase and finding a partner who understands your rather unorthodox working hours, Rhiannon thought. While she had not been without companionship, it was the permanence that went with that company the blue-eyed woman's life lacked.
Returning to the present, Robin tapped the other woman's arm. "Yes well, that was then and this is now. A couple of years ago I finally met a man and we just seemed to click. We do have our differences, yet these seem to complement the two of us. I got married for the second time late last year and have been happy ever since. He's a barrister as well and you wouldn't believe how I met him."
Regardless of whether I want to or not, I get a feeling I'm going to hear anyway, Rhiannon thought, substituting her thoughts with a simple: "So how did you?"
"Well, on an annual basis my Practice requires each of its barristers to do a month of pro-bono work. I usually work with the local magistrate, providing legal aid to people who can't afford such, and this particular day I was scheduled to assist a woman whose house had been broken into by a robber who had subsequently been attacked by the home owner's dog. She was concerned the Defence was using the dog attack to overshadow the larger offence of the break-in and was concerned the result would be that she would lose her dog and the robber would get off scot-free. You've probably worked out by now that the Defence was Daniel, my husband to be, but you'll never guess who the robber was!" Robin barely waited for a response, verbal or otherwise, before she continued. "It was bloody Jackie Smethurst! I couldn't believe my luck. Having been on the receiving end of her verbal and physical abuse at school, I was more than happy to do my job. Anyway, it turned out she was a repeat offender and the judge wasn't swayed by the fact she was bitten by the owner's dog while breaking into the owner's property. The dog got off, she was jailed and Daniel and I went for drinks later; and the rest, as they say, is history." She laughed. "But isn't it amazing what goes around comes around? After Jackie being such a bitch to so many at school, to find herself in a position when one of her victims finally got the last say; well that's the sort of things books are written on."
Rhiannon nodded. "Yes life does turn a full circle sometimes. Maybe in prison she'll learn there's more to life than bullying people and taking the easy way to prosperity," she looked at her watch, suddenly urgent to find some time to herself. "Is that the time? I've got an early morning conference and I've not yet seen everything. Hey, it was great to catch up with you after all these years but if I'm to make any sense in the morning I'm going to have to push on." Raising herself from her seat she took the other woman's hand.
"Likewise," Robin said, taking the proffered hand. "Make sure you don't go without seeing the auditorium. Someone's gone to a great deal of trouble to create a pictorial history of the past years and its amazing what there's to see on the walls. Mind you, some people would probably be more comfortable not seeing what's on the walls." she laughed, walking the other woman to the door. "I've no doubt if I don't hear from you again, I'll at least hear about you Rhiannon. I look forward to your next book, whatever it may be."
The dark-haired woman murmured her thanks, making an exit before she could be accosted by anyone else. Walking back past the teacher's common room she could hear the sounds coming from within. The escalation in noise made it sound as if more than one person was trying to make themselves heard. Shaking her head she continued down the corridor to the foyer, pleased it was now vacant.
The entrance to the soundproof auditorium was closed, however, the light from the darkened windows of the doors assured her it was still open for people to walk through and recall memories with at least some degree of fondness. Quietly opening the door, Rhiannon was cast back 20 years. However, her regression in time had little to do with the photos adorning almost every spare wall in the hall. What triggered the recall was the sound coming from the piano in the far corner of the room. The soft lighting made the figure at the piano hard to define, however, the music coming from the corner assured the player could never be mistaken.
To say that Rhiannon had been shattered by Ginny's untimely death would have been an understatement. Although she still continued with her studies and her stewardship of other school members, much of this was done on autopilot. The void created by the death of her friend couldn't be filled and she found herself taking up more solitary athletic pursuits, if for no other reason than her reluctance to associate with anyone else on anything other than a superficial level.
To maintain a level of fitness for the cross-countries and triathlons she now pursued, she rode her bike to school every day, usually arriving a good hour before the rest of the school would come to life. She'd struck a deal with the school's maintenance man, who allowed her to house her bike in the shed below the stage of the auditorium. It was one such morning as she placed her bike out of the rain she became aware of the muted sounds of a piano coming from the auditorium above. It was something classical, that she was sure of; and whoever was playing it was very good. Grabbing a towel from her bag, she quickly made her way through the rain to a door at the rear of the hall.
Quietly slipping inside, she took a seat in the back row, wiping the excess water and perspiration from her body as she listened to the glorious sounds coming from the instrument. She was sure the other girl playing the piano hadn't heard her and so she sat, mesmerised at the emotion pouring forth from the instrument. The sounds were so haunting, as if whoever had written such music had suffered a terrible loss. Unable to translate that loss into words, they had chosen music instead, hoping to convey in sound if only a little of the pain the composer suffering. Rhiannon sat back, for the first time realising she was doing exactly the same in pursuing solitary sports and keeping people at arm's distance in this her final year of schooling. She'd suffered too much to ever let anyone that close again and she was surprised this melody seemed to encapsulate the depth of her loss. Placing her head in her hands she silently wept as the music enveloped her in a cocoon of sorrow. The person at the piano played on, too absorbed in the music to be aware of her solo audience. Collecting herself, Rhiannon picked her sports bag off the chair she'd placed it on, before silently making her way out of the auditorium.
From that day forward it became part of her morning ritual. Rhiannon would rise early, ensuring she never arrived before the pianist, but with time enough to listen for at least half an hour before silently making her way out of the hall to shower and change for the upcoming day. While the compositions played could never replace the loss she felt over Ginny, it helped her to realise she must reconcile this part of her life and move on. To remain in mourning for the unrequited love she felt for Ginny was an insult to the vivacity and life the young adult had radiated.
She was sure the other student was unaware she played with an audience, and so it was with a degree of surprise that after about a month of listening to the music, the voice at the piano spoke to her without turning. "You know, if you wish to sit and listen, I wouldn't mind if you moved a little closer. I won't bite you know."
Rhiannon was stunned. How long had the other girl known she had a private audience? "No, really it's fine, I can hear it quite well from back here. And besides, I would hate to disturb you in the middle of playing, you're really quite good you know."
The other stopped rearranging her compositions before rising from her chair. Walking towards Rhiannon was a slight-figured girl, who by the crest on her blazer was also a senior. Pulled back in a ponytail was a mass of gossamer fine light brown hair, complementing a fine-boned face with, Rhiannon realised as she continued her walk down the aisle, the most incredible hazel eyes. Pausing in front of the gawking sports-clad senior, she held out her hand. "I'm Angela Drayton and you are?" She paused, waiting for an answer.
Rhiannon looked at the offered hand, the fingers long and delicate, yet obviously possessing the strength needed to convey the passion of the music she played. Wiping her hand on the towel she was unconsciously gripping, she took pianist's hand in her own. "Rhiannon Sharp. I don't think I've ever seen you before," Or I'm sure I would have remembered if for much more than the beauty of your music. She added silently.
The other senior smiled. "You know I have to say the same thing. It's not that your reputation doesn't precede you," seeing the shocked look on the dark-haired student's features, she held up her hand. "Let me rephrase that. I've heard of your willingness to stand up for those who are regularly bullied by some of our more Neanderthal classmates. And, you're right, I don't think we've ever met, however, I suppose it's because we don't exactly have the same senior curriculum. Mine is very music-oriented, and without seeming too rude, yours is more focussed towards outdoors pursuits," she paused in her assessment, looking at the perspiration-clad clothes of the seated girl. "May I sit down?"
Realising she had added little to the conversation, Rhiannon shifted her bag, allowing the girl a seat beside her. "You're probably right there. My studies are primarily history rather than musically focussed. My junior years confirmed my lack of musical skills and after the mandatory four years of the subject, I was happy to move on."
"You've been listening for me for about a month haven't you?" Angela took in the shocked features of the girl opposite her. "Don't get me wrong, it doesn't bother me; I suppose I was used to having the school to myself at this time of the morning."
Rhiannon tilted her head, a crease appearing on her brow. "How did you know I was there? You never seemed to acknowledge my presence, playing on as if there was no interruption whatsoever."
"You know, I'm really not sure. It was almost as if I could sense your presence. I assumed you were more comfortable to just sit and listen than to make conversation and that suited me fine. My training requires me to practice day and night if I'm to be accepted into the Conservatorium of Music at the end of the year."
"You sound as if you're good enough to be there already, not that I'm any judge of course." The dark-haired student paused, searching for the right words. "You play with such emotion. It's as if you're an extension of the piano you're playing."
Angela blushed, not used to such praise despite the sports-clad girl's lack of formal knowledge. "Yes, I sometimes get carried away. I find myself trying to picture the composer's frame of mind when they originally wrote the music. What were they doing? Where were they at the time of writing? Why did they write as they did? Had they just been rewarded for their efforts? Had they been chastised, rebuffed by a suitor, perhaps suffered a loss? This allows me to put myself in their shoes per se and play with emotion that's sometimes not readily obvious in merely notes on a page," pausing, she looked at Rhiannon before quietly continuing. "Is that why you sometimes cry when you listen to me play?"
The athlete shifted uncomfortably in her chair, disconcerted to think someone else had been aware of her grief. Exposing the root of her pain wasn't an option with this almost stranger beside her. However, there was a decided reluctance on her behalf to lie to the other girl. "Yes, you could say that." Embarrassed in her confession, her voice rose barely above a whisper. Absorbed in her own silence, she was brought back to the present by the feather-light touch of a hand on her arm.
"I know we really don't know each other that well, but if you just want to talk, I've been told I'm a good listener. I promise whatever we discuss won't go any further." She shook her head ruefully. "It's not as if I have anyone to share anything you should happen to tell me anyway. My studies keep me fairly absorbed as it is, leaving little time for the trivialities of adolescent friendships."
Rhiannon raised her eyes to the other senior. The words weren't said with any form of superiority or bitterness; moreso as if she was stating a fact. She doubted this had anything to do with pretensions on Angela's behalf, it was more related to a drive - a drive to succeed. Having found a means to redirect the topic, she did so. "You must be very serious about your career. Is it that important to you, even over friendship?"
"My music is the hub of my life," she said with the precociousness of a young adult. "I've trained for so many years for the one thing - to train with the best at the Conservatorium. It's driven me for so long, I suppose friends just fell by the wayside. Not to worry, there'll be time once I'm there to form friendships."
The dark-haired girl lowered her head, not allowing the other student to see the shadow of pain that crossed her features. "Life is full of missed opportunities Angela. Your music is obviously important to you; the depth of skill and emotion when you play is testament to that. But don't wait too long for something you think will be there when you expect it to be. Don't hold people at arm's distance for too long or you may find when you finally lower that arm there's no one there. Trust me, I know." Rising from her seat, she offered a shy smile to the slight girl, before quietly making her way out of the auditorium.
Over the passage of the next few months a gradual friendship developed between the two, capably assisted the discussions they would engage in during Angela's break between sets and before Rhiannon would leave for a shower. Topics were many and varied without being intrusive. Occasionally they would see each other in the Senior's study room, usually when one was on the way out and the other coming in. Both seniors suspected the other of holding something back, however neither was quite sure on how to broach the topic and so it was left alone.
The months passed quickly and before either was really aware, the end of their final year of schooling was upon them. Rhiannon, who had drawn a little out of her self-imposed shell through the morning discussions the two young adults shared, had been appointed leader of the ‘muck up' day proceedings. This was the one-day of the year when seniors could get away with just about anything, providing it didn't cross the boundaries into bad taste or character assassination. Careful planning saw the each of the teacher's subject Studies targeted for some form of ‘sabotage'. The English and Maths Study's were to be filled with balloons, the Science Study with boxes and the Social Science and Music Study's with paper. Having allocated her work groups, each of the small teams got underway. Given the size of the Music Study, it only required two ‘saboteurs', and this task was left to Rhiannon and Angela to complete.
The girls worked silently beside each other, bunching up newspaper that had been collected for months, before throwing it onto the ever-increasing pile where there had once been a floor. It was after two hours, when the paper had reached waist height when Rhiannon heard the unmistakable tones of the head cleaner coming down the hallway. Both seniors froze, expecting any moment to be caught in the act of their ministrations. Motioning Angela to keep quiet, Rhiannon carefully made her way towards the door, listening for the footfall of the cleaner to pass the study, before she stepped out into the corridor.
"Mrs Davis, can I help you?"
The sudden voice of a person behind her caused the woman to jump before turning in the senior's direction. "Miss Sharp isn't it? Where did you come from? Never mind that; I believe you're the leader of these muck up day activities and I must say I'm concerned at some of the shenanigans I believe are going on. The shift for my cleaners is about to end and I hear there are some inappropriate actions occurring within this building."
Rhiannon forced herself to curb her smile, instead maintaining an air of innocence. "What sort of actions do you mean Mrs Davis? I've been very careful in ensuring whatever we do won't result in lasting damage to people or property. Could you be more specific?"
The woman searched the student's face for any sign of impudence on her behalf. The reputation of the senior in front of her was well known, especially the baiting of teaching staff. That being said, she never exercised anything other than extreme courtesy for the administrative staff of the school. "I've heard the teachers' Studys are being filled with all sorts of material; papers, balloons, boxes and the like."
"You're joking! I can't believe this is actually happening. Let me assure you Mrs Davis no permanent damage is being done to the school. I've allocated my tasks and I believe they're being followed to the letter," Rhiannon paused, knowing she hadn't entirely told the truth, however, she hadn't exactly lied either. No permanent damage was being done to the school and her teams were following her word to the letter. Taking in the other woman's face, she could see she wasn't yet convinced. "Mrs Davis, I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll call my teams together and reconfirm the tasks I've given them. If there's any doubt then I'll ensure it's cleared up right away." The woman still looked doubtful and Rhiannon moved towards the door of the Music Study. "However, if that's not enough then I'm willing to go to every Study with you, commencing with this one to check if anything's been done to them. I know your day is just about finished and this may take a bit of unpaid time, however, if that's what has to be done then so be it."
Hesitation crossed the older woman's features. She surreptitiously cast a glance at her watch, realising she was already 15 minutes over shift - time that wouldn't be compensated by the school. Looking up at the expectant face of the senior in front of her she spoke. "Miss Sharp, I trust your judgement on this one. However, I'd like you to contact your teams and ensure no permanent damage is being done. As well as this, I want you to ensure there will be no additional work for my cleaners at the end of tomorrow. Should this not be the case then you will leave me no recourse than to speak with the Principal." Turning away from the senior, the older woman made her way down the stairs.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Rhiannon opened the door of the Music Study, now strangely vacant. Closing the door behind her she looked around the cramped quarters. "Angela, are you in here?" She quietly whispered.
There was a slight rustle of papers before the form of the senior surfaced in the far corner of the room. She was obviously seated, as only the head of the other girl cleared the mass of newspaper that concealed the rest of her body. "I can't believe you did that! What would you have done if she'd called your bluff? When I heard the hand on the door handle, all I could do was dive for the furthest corner and hope that she didn't start removing the paper."
The athlete laughed as she moved towards the brown-haired student. "Well, had she called my bluff then I expect there would have been some explaining to do. However, I was hoping that you would hear the commotion and hide. Had I opened the door, all she would have been seen was a study full of paper. Mrs Davis would have been outraged, I would have looked shocked and told her I would look into it right away. I was hoping you would have had the presence of mind to hide, which given that you're sitting in a pile of newspaper, you obviously did." Smiling she offered her hand to help the other girl up.
Taking the proffered hand, Angela was almost upright when she felt one of her smooth soled shoes catch on the paper on the floor. Without sufficient purchase, she found herself careening towards the other senior, helpless to halt her fall. With ease borne out of years of physical activity, Rhiannon caught Angela's outstretched hands, holding them firmly while in the same action drawing the other girl slightly towards her.
The strength conveyed through the other hands caused Angela to catch her breath. While there'd been casual touches between the two of them during the course of their discussions, they'd never been so close or so…encompassing. Feeling an unusual warmth begin in the pit of her stomach, Angela looked up into the eyes of the person opposite her.
Rhiannon was fighting her own battle. Her actions had been purely based on instinct and the need to stop the other senior from falling back into the paper. Drawing her towards her had seemed a logical action, however the feeling coursing through her now was far from logical. When had she begun to feel this way for Angela or was she just caught up in the moment? And more's the point, what was the girl opposite her thinking? Looking down towards the hands still encased in her own, she found herself drawn to the eyes now searching her face.
Angela's features were hard to read and Rhiannon found herself at a loss for words. She found herself thinking back to almost 12 months prior when she and Ginny had gone their separate ways for the Christmas holidays. There was so much she'd wanted to say then and yet she'd held back. Was she willing to do the same again? Gathering her courage she smiled at the senior opposite her. "You know, I'm going to miss you when we leave here."
The face of the brown-headed girl was inscrutable. It was as if Angela was fighting with something she wasn't quite sure of. While Angela's thoughts were going in one direction, her body seemed to be going in a completely different one. Before she could open her mouth, both girls were distracted by the noise of the door handle turning. Breaking away from each other as if they shouldn't have been so close, they turned their focus to the door as one of the other team members stuck her head around it.
"Tack, I'm glad I found you! It seems Mrs Davis is on the warpath and some of the girls have taken refuge in the study."
Rhiannon silently cursed at the timing of the other girl. What was Angela about to say had they not been interrupted? Gathering her thoughts she focussed her full efforts to Yvonne Stuart. "Yeah I know, she was by here earlier and I assured her everything was okay. You can let the girls know that they can continue. At this rate we'll be here all night." She finished with exasperation at both the halt to work and her interrupted discussion with Angela.
Yvonne looked uncertain. "I tried to get them back to work, but they were a little reluctant. Mrs Davis isn't all that nice with people she finds creating a mess in her school."
Rhiannon was distracted from her considerations by the light touch of Angela's hand on her arm. "Maybe you should go and speak with them. Don't worry, I'll finish up here and you can get the others to work."
The athlete silently ground her teeth. This was definitely not the option she wanted to take and yet it was the most reasonable. What she really wanted to do was continue the conversation they were having before they were rudely interrupted. Rhiannon closed her eyes to gather her thoughts before returning her focus towards the expectant face of the student at the door. "Okay, lets go and get these people back to work. Knowing most of them, it was probably more an excuse to take a coffee break." She finished lightly, wading through the paper to the door. As she passed through it, her gaze strayed to the music student in the corner. Unfortunately her back was turned as she continued the task at hand, making it impossible for Rhiannon to gauge the reaction of Angela to her earlier words. Closing the door, she resolutely made her way down the hall towards the Senior Study.
Rhiannon's assessment of a coffee break was correct, for as she opened the door the group inside jumped in shock with more than one senior wearing coffee down the front of their blazer. The dark-haired girl sighed. She could hardly blame them - after all they'd been at the task for quite a while and most, especially the people blowing up balloons, probably needed a time out. She spent the next twenty minutes or so reassuring the group regarding the rampaging Mrs Davis, before everyone returned to their duties. Taking a quick tour of each of the studies, she was happy with the progress and was convinced another hour should see most of the work complete. With a casual outward countenance that was at odds with the internal emotions she was experiencing, she made her way back to the Music Study. She immediately cursed as she opened the door. The lights were out, the room obviously silent, except for the accumulated newspaper that now completely covered the desks in the room. A quick tour of the rest of the school confirmed what she had already presumed - Angela had left for the evening.
As she walked the corridors she found herself wondering if the other girl's quick departure was as a result of the conversation they'd begun just before she'd been called away. She'd been careful in what she said, not really giving much of her true feelings away. Rhiannon halted her wanderings, leaning up against a wall, eyes closed in frustration. Tomorrow was the last day of school and the likelihood of her being able to speak with Angela alone was slim. The auditorium had already been prepared for the Graduation luncheon and so there would be no piano rehearsal that following morning. Somehow she would have to find time in what promised to be a busy day to speak with the other senior. Shaking herself out of her reverie she continued down the corridor to do a final check on the ‘sabotage' before calling it a day.
Rhiannon had been right in her prediction as the final day of her schooling years flew by. It wasn't long before she found herself at the graduation luncheon, her eyes scanning the group for the familiar features of Angela. She found the girl engaged in a conversation with the music teachers, oblivious to the gaze of the athlete. Her face was animated as she spoke with the group, a rare smile lighting up her features. Why hadn't I recognised my feelings for her earlier? She thought ruefully. Or had I known about them all along and just refused to act on them? She was shaken out of her pensive state by the hand of her English Master on her shoulder.
"Rhiannon, it's almost time for the Vice Captain's valedictory address. I was just wondering if I could have a word with you before you start." Nodding her assent the student followed her teacher's lead, both having time to speak to each other one final time before the day's activities drew to a close.
The Vice-Captain's address was short yet meaningful, thanking the staff for their efforts and wishing the graduating class the best in their endeavours. From her vantage point on the stage, she could scan the crowd, her eyes sometimes resting a little too long on the features of Angela Drayton before she continued. After her speech would come the Captain's and Principal's address, before the day ended with a piano concerto played by Angela. Rhiannon had decided that rather than return to her seat at the end of her speech, she would find a seat closer to the piano, hopeful of a word with the pianist once she'd finished.
Manoeuvering her way through the group, she secured a seat, her focus unimpeded by anything that might get between her and the figure seated at the instrument. She forced herself to listen to the final two addresses, clapping as required, despite her interest being elsewhere. A hush settled over the gathering as the opening chords of the concerto began, Rhiannon quickly recognising it as one of her favourites. It was not as sombre as some she'd heard, nor was it light and frivolous either. It was music that almost called on the listener to remember, as one might do when reminiscing of days long gone. Angela played with the passion the athlete had come to know, her fingers sweeping over the keys, barely touching them. As she came to an end there was silence before loud applause filled the gap. The senior acknowledged the group before turning her back to collect her music.
As conversations in the auditorium recommenced, Rhiannon found herself unable to move away from the close proximity of the musician. Gathering her strength, she rose from her chair, standing slightly to the left of the upright piano. "Angela, that was beautiful. You're lucky very few people know you can play like that or you mightn't have had any peace in your training over the last year."
"Thankyou. That means a lot to me coming from you." For the first time since the evening before, both girls once again looked into each other's eyes, surprised and yet confused at what they saw there. For a moment it was as if the crowd and noise around them ceased to exist, and they were once again alone as they'd been during many a mornings' practice. The intensity between the two was too much for Rhiannon to bear as she forced herself to break the silence, in pursuit of an answer.
She got no further as the other girl held up her hand. Gathering her music Angela turned to the confused features of the senior in front of her. "I'm sorry, but I've got to go."
Before she could voice a protest the musician was gone, hurriedly weaving her way through the luncheon tables, to the rear of the auditorium. Momentarily stunned and then shocked into action, Rhiannon attempted to follow her, only to have her progress blocked by that of the School Principal. With an ear barely on what the Principal was saying, she watched the retreating figure of the other girl leave the hall for the last time.
Now 20 years later as Rhiannon once again stood in the auditorium, listening to the music she hadn't heard for such a long time.
As the last chords of the piece died in the surrounds of the soundproof hall the musician at the instrument relaxed, tilting her head to one side before lowering it, as if in remembrance.
The dark haired woman released a wry chuckle before slowly making her way towards the figure at the piano. "You know it always amazed me how you seemed to know I was there. I could have been anyone tonight; how did you know it was me?" Rhiannon asked, coming to a halt at the woman's side.
Angela gazed up into the features of the other woman, and for a moment, they were back at school on their last day. Hazel eyes looked deeply into blue ones, quietly appraising the tanned, strong features of the tall lithe woman beside her. In return, eyes of blue repaid the compliment, surreptitiously taking in that same delicate face she'd remembered from what seemed an eternity ago, if not with a greater degree of maturity about it. The cream silk shirt and black slacks did little to hide a figure that for Rhiannon's liking was a little too thin. However, the hands remained the same. The long delicate, yet strong features were casually placed in the pianist's lap, displaying no hint of nervousness if in fact there was any. Realising they were indeed caught up in the moment, the petite woman broke the spell.
"Don't you remember I told you I always knew when you were listening? I can't really explain why, I suppose it's a feeling that I get. Maybe it's the footfall. Having said that, for a jock, you were surprisingly light on your feet."
The other woman laughed. "Yes well I think you've mistaken me for my male counterparts. It's much better on a soccer field to be able to sneak up on an opponent and then steal the ball from them, than give them the time to run. It's a very effective strategy I've found, figuratively and literally, both on and off the field."
Angela nodded. "You do seem to have made a name for yourself in business circles. You have a hand in everything if what the media reports say about you are correct. High profile mediation and negotiation, human resource management and of course in your spare time, writing. How do you find the hours in the day?"
Yes but that busyness is my sanity valve. It keeps me occupied so I don't have to think of other things. Rhiannon thought. "Don't you talk! I see you've achieved your goal. Concert pianist no less, feted by the world's best composers and symphony orchestra's. That couldn't have left you much time either, missy."
A shadow crossed Angela's features as she thought about the words spoken by the other woman. She looked down at her hands, smiling ruefully as she did so. "That's the price of fame I expect. At least when I come home I'm a little less recognised than what I am overseas. Why, when we're touring Lachlan and I never get a moment to ourselves." Suddenly pausing she scanned the auditorium, her face searching for a clock.
As she did the taller woman creased her brows. "Lachlan? Who's Lachlan?" It was only Angela's act of returning her eyes to Rhiannon's face that made her realise she'd spoken the words aloud.
The other woman seemed surprised by abruptness of the request, momentarily scanning the shocked features of the businesswoman. "He's my son. Do you have the time? Playing for a living, I've gotten used to never wearing a watch. Suffice to say, it usually results in me being late for rehearsals, if not missing them in their entirety." Not waiting for an answer, Angela hands followed her eyes to Rhiannon's right wrist, and without realising she was doing so, gently grasped the other woman's hand so she could better read the time.
Trying to maintain focus on her initial intent was proving difficult as Angela found herself surprised at the strength and electricity that seemed to surge from merely touching the other woman. In the recesses of her mind Angela remembered a room full of newspaper, falling and being caught, and a similar sensation. Disengaging herself from the other hand, she stood, closing the lid of the piano as she did so.
She turned to face Rhiannon, not surprised that she was still forced to look up into the other woman's features. The athlete had always been so tall and, despite her only wearing boots and Angela wearing small-heeled courts, the height difference was there nevertheless. "I've go to go."
With those words the dark-haired woman found herself shaken from her reverie. "What do you mean you've got to go? I've only just found you, I mean we haven't even had a chance to catch up on the years." She could have kicked herself at the faux pas, wondering how the other woman would interpret the words.
"I'm sorry, but the time seems to creep up on me and I did tell the baby sitter I'd be home by 10pm. At this rate I'll barely have time to catch the taxi and be back there before the clock strikes the hour." Shrugging herself into her jacket, she reached behind her neck, pulling the hair free of the constraints of the garment.
This isn't happening again. I've not waited 20 years to have you leave and have to wait another 20 before we sort some things out here. Forcing herself to calm down, Rhiannon hit upon a solution. "Listen, I've seen just about as much as I want to see and if it's okay by you, I could drive you home before I head back to the hotel." Seeing the doubt cloud the slighter woman's features she qualified her answer. "Besides, I've got a morning teleconference so I was leaving anyway."
Angela found herself torn between the inconvenience of catching a cab or finding herself in this woman's company, with feelings she couldn't quite explain. "I don't want to take you out of your way. Where are you staying?"
The athlete blushed; somewhat shy of admitting to where she was currently living. "Ahh, it's The Gables."
A smile lit up the musician's features as she shook her head. "Oh well, what else would I expect from you than the best boutique hotel on this side of town. Is it as nice as they say?"
The other woman felt a blush rise unbidden to her cheeks. It was the most expensive establishment on this side of Sydney, with commanding views of the Harbour, especially the one from her room on the sixth floor. "Yes, but it's only temporary. I'm waiting for the tenants who are currently in my house to finish their lease before I can move in. At least for the next 12 months Sydney will be my home base." Bringing the conversation back to its original purpose she gently stopped the other woman's progress towards the exit. "So can I take you home? Believe me, I wouldn't offer if I didn't want to."
Realising the foolishness of refusing such a request, Angela relented, especially given the proximity of her home to the hotel. "Thankyou that would be great. In fact, it's not that much out of your way. Do you remember Persimmon Street?" seeing the acknowledgment of the taller woman she continued, "That's where I am and The Gables I believe is only a couple of blocks south of that."
"Then it's settled then. Let me show you to my car and I'll have you home in no time." Both women silently made their way out of the School grounds, preoccupied with their own thoughts. It wasn't until both were on their way before the silence was broken.
Angela decided that she liked the idea of the night and Rhiannon driving, as this gave her time to surreptitiously view the confident actions of the woman beside her. What she didn't count on was the excellent peripheral vision of the driver of the vehicle, whose smile suddenly made her realise that she'd been caught. Thankful that the dark interior of the Roadster hid her embarrassment, she sought for a topic to break the silence. "So you're here for 12 months?" Rhiannon nodded, her attention divided between the question and negotiating a roundabout. Remembering the comments about the lease, Angela continued, "I didn't know you owned a house in this area?"
"Well actually it's my Aunts, however, when she died all her goods and my parents were left to me in her will. As the only child and with her never marrying, it was left to me to manage the estate as I saw fit. I sold a couple of the family properties up north and decided it was best to rent the others. This home, while not my favourite, allows me the ability to live in Sydney without being forced to pay the exorbitant costs associated with having to buy a home in the city. So my opulent current abode is somewhat temporary." She acknowledged the silent directions of the woman beside her.
"Yes, well I know what you mean. Hotels, no matter how nice, can be quite uncomfortable after a while. At the start of each tour, they're a bit like a novelty to me, however towards the end, it becomes almost too much for Lachlan and I to bear. Mind you, it always makes coming home all that special. See that sandstone fence? Just turn in there and we're here."
Rhiannon found the journey was over all too soon and yet there was still so much she wanted to say to the woman beside her. Negotiating the wooded driveway, she brought the car to a halt within walking distance of the front steps. A silence descended the vehicle, neither party moving, as both women searched for something to say. Rhiannon finally broke the silence between the two. "Listen, I really would like to catch up with you over more than just a few words. Seeing as how the Gables is only a few blocks away; would you mind having brunch with me tomorrow?" She held her breath, awaiting the other woman's answer.
"Lunch would be better. That will give me the morning with Lachlan before his Grandmother picks him up for the first week of the school holidays. We get so little time together that it's nice to spend a morning with him. Mind you, knowing he's going out to Fern Gully and his Grandmother, I'm likely to get very little sense out of him at all."
"In fact lunch would probably suit me also. That way I can get my teleconferencing over and done with, hopefully freeing me of clients who might bother me on a Sunday, which I never like that much. My free time is sacred, no matter how much the deal is worth. Shall we say 1.00pm? I'll meet you in the foyer and we can go from there. If you don't feel like going anywhere, the Hotel does have quite a good restaurant and a very lovely view of the harbour."
"That sounds fine, 1.00pm it is then." Angela finished, easing herself out of the comfort of the leather seats and into the cool night air. The motion sensor lighting picked up her presence as she headed towards the path and turning she waved towards the tinted windows of the BMW, before moving up the stairs and inside.
Rhiannon watched the retreating figure of the musician, her movements measured and yet confident, not that dissimilar to the way she played the piano, the athlete thought. She waited until the front door closed behind the features of the woman before she started her car and commenced her own journey home.
Pulling up the front of the hotel, she was immediately met by a valet, who opened her door, and as she alighted he moved into the car to park it for her. Making her way through the foyer, her focus was momentarily broken by the quiet sounds of a piano playing in the bar. Drawn towards the music, she motioned towards the bartender for a nightcap. Taking her drink to the safety of the shadows of the bar, she sat down and replayed the night's events.
She had been very happy to once again catch up with her English teacher. Strangely enough, she wasn't all that surprised to find Elly batted for the same team she did. In fact it explained a lot of the tension she often felt between the two of them. It was somehow different to the feelings she'd experienced when she was around Angela. However, Rhiannon expected that was more due to the fact she'd never been looking for anything from Angela than friendship. However, that wasn't to say she was looking for something more closer with the English teacher. It had really only been in the last days of school she'd begun to realise that what she felt between her and Angela went far beyond that of school buddies. And now, once again, it seemed as if she'd been too late. With a child, it was clear that Angela was married and most likely happily so. Draining the last of her drink, she made her way out of the bar and to the relative loneliness of her room.
It was after a fair degree of deliberation that Rhiannon finally arrived upon an outfit to wear for her lunch with Angela. She found herself trying to second guess what the other woman might wear, strangely not wanting to appear as if she'd gone to so much trouble, which, ironically she was. Despite the musician's modest appraisal of her career as a concert pianist the previous evening, there was no doubt she'd made her mark on both the domestic and international stage. Finally deciding on white dockers and a short sleeved turquoise blouse, she made her way down to the foyer, albeit early, to await the other woman's arrival.
Not surprisingly, Angela found herself going through a similar routine. Her mother had picked up Lochie, leaving the better part of her morning to the pianist. Despite the amount of time she had, it seemed as if it had only been at the last moment she'd finally decided upon a light summer dress, complemented by a pair of flat-soled slip-ons. Pulling her hair into a neat ponytail, she looked at her features in the mirror and paused, remembering the events of the evening before.
Finding the hall empty, the piano had been too much of a temptation for her when she walked through the doors of the auditorium,. Sitting down in front of the upright took her back years, and it seemed only natural she would play the last thing she could remember playing - the concerto played at the Graduation luncheon. She'd been aware of her friend's presence on that day, and for a short moment she wondered whether she was dreaming, sensing again the proximity of that once familiar presence. Concentrating on the music, yet allowing herself to stretch her senses further, a smile rose unbidden to her face when she realised Rhiannon was indeed in the hall. It was a strange sensation, a comforting reassuring presence, something the other woman had always exuded, unknowingly or otherwise. Bringing herself back to the present, she grabbed her bag before heading for the door and lunch.
In an attempt at privacy while waiting, Rhiannon had endeavoured to pass the time scanning the number of magazines liberally placed on one of the many coffee tables in the foyer. It was therefore with some degree of chagrin that she resented her personal space being invaded, despite the invader being a well-dressed male, by her judgement, in his early forties. Casting him a sideways glance, she expected he could be presumed handsome, if that's what you sought for in a partner, she thought. Despite her attempts to ignore him, it was obvious he would not be swayed.
"Excuse me, I hope you don't mind me asking, but you're Rhiannon Sharp aren't you?" The man leant forward, endeavouring to engage her in conversation.
Looking as much as possible as if her attention had been diverted from a life and death task rather than the recipes she was currently reading, she regarded the man beside her.
"Yes I am; I'm sorry I didn't catch your name?" Knowing she wasn't really sorry in the least.
The interruption extended his hand. "Malcom Pearson. I work for Global Consulting Solutions and I happened to catch your presentation last year in the States on The Yet Untapped Resource of an Organisation - People. It was quite an interesting and challenging talk."
Gripping the other man's hand in her own, she observed his eyes cringe at the strength she conveyed in the handshake. She'd never really liked the softer form of handshake, whether it was given by a man or a woman. "Thankyou, I'm glad you enjoyed it. However if you don't mind,"
Before she could get any further she was interrupted by her unwelcome guest, something she didn't take kindly to, either professionally or personally. "Seeing as how we're staying in the same hotel, I was wondering if I could interest you in lunch? I'd be very interested to hear more of your views regarding the organisational empowerment of individuals."
I bet you would, but only for a little while if your eyes and body language are any indication. Rhiannon attempted to look as if she was considering his offer when really she was cringing inside. It wouldn't be so bad if his interest in the subject was genuine, however by the look in his roving eyes, it was obvious that professional discourse wasn't his only intent. Why was it then that so many men believed unaccompanied women sat in foyers waiting to be saved from the monotony of life? "I'm terribly sorry but I'm actually meeting someone for lunch and other than that I'm fairly busy. However, thankyou for the offer; I'm glad you enjoyed the initial seminar. There's another coming up in a few weeks in Melbourne. If you're down there, maybe you could catch that one as well."
"I'm sorry but am I interrupting something?" Angela had stepped through the doors into the hotel foyer in time to view the interaction between the two on the couch. Despite the polite manner Rhiannon had adopted in refusing the man's request, it was obvious the businesswoman was less than impressed. The man had stumbled on blindly, either oblivious to the body language or believing he could convince the woman otherwise. Sensing he was about to launch into another offer of company, Angela took her cue, moving quietly across to the two people.
A look of appreciation crossed the businesswoman's features at about the same time a look of annoyance had crossed the man's.
Without a further reference to her earlier interruption, Rhiannon rose. Gesturing towards the entrance to the restaurant, both women began walking in that general direction. "Thanks for butting in when you did. Honestly, I get sick and tired of businessmen with time on their hands thinking they're God's gift to women."
Before Angela could respond the two had been met at the door by the Maitre D and escorted to their table, one with commanding views of the harbour. Ushering both women into their seats, he spread a fine linen napkin on each lap before quietly withdrawing from the table.
"Don't tell me you're surprised men accost you in such a fashion? I'm sure they find you very attractive; after all, you're a beautiful woman. And with baby blues like yours I'm sure you get all sorts of offers." Realising that the she was becoming a little too personal with her comments, the pianist brought the topic to a close, hiding her embarrassment under the pretense of browsing the menu.
Despite her surprise at the candid comments, Rhiannon fought to maintain her own composure and she too beat a hasty retreat behind her own menu. Realising the awkward silence between the two was lingering, Rhiannon attempted to restart the conversation.
"I don't know if it's much to your taste, but the seafood here is excellent. The Chef always makes a point of buying direct from the Fish Markets every morning, so you know it's always fresh. I must admit that while you can't go by fresh prawns or a good dozen oysters, I'm a bit of a sucker for mud crab."
Angela smiled, her mouth watering at the thought of seafood and the joy she read in the other woman's features. "You sound as if you eat here often. Is this where you usually stay when you're in town? Funny how we haven't run into each other before, with me living just around the corner and all."
Yes well if I'd known that's where you lived, we would have been having lunch a lot earlier than today. Rhiannon thought. "Although I don't often find myself in Sydney, it's where I stay when I'm here. It's a bit of an inconvenience when most of my business is on the other side of the harbour, however I find this a lot more quiet and personal than some of the boutique hotels in the city centre."
"Yes, when you're in the limelight privacy can be very important to you," she paused as she saw Rhiannon nod vigorously in agreement. Angela debated on the appropriateness of the next comment. "I don't mean to pry, but do you mind if I ask you a personal question?"
The dark-haired woman's mouth was suddenly dry; wondering what question of a personal nature this woman would want to know. Deciding that honesty, tempered with discretion was the best policy she answered. "I don't mind if you allow me the right of non-reply." She finished raising her eyebrow in challenge.
A smile crossed the Angela's features before she became preoccupied in her hands. Choosing her next words carefully she raised her eyes to the face opposite her. "Is that why you publish your poetry under the name of Virginia Martinson?" She asked quietly.
Rhiannon's eyes widened in shock, wondering how this woman had drawn the corollary. Her poetry, while mainstream and capable of being read by either gender, was primarily written from a woman's perspective about women. While none of the mainstream critics of her works had ever caught on to the subtle nuance which was interwoven in her poetry, members of the gay community had not been so blind. Was Angela trying to tell her something? Opting for a broad response she shook her head. "How did you know?"
"Well, I happened to have some time off in London last year and I was looking through one of those book-come-coffee shop places; you know the type?" seeing the businesswoman nod her assent she continued, "I was looking in the latest releases section of the store when I spotted a notice board promoting a book by Virginia Martinson. I saw the name first and immediately thought back to your friend who died before her final year of school. I remembered you once telling me about her. Given that she'd passed away, I found it ironic to see the same name on the other side of the world and so I opened the jacket to see if there was a bio on the author. Imagine my surprise when I found a picture of you. Why do you publish under her name?"
"It's a long story but suffice to say in order to succeed in the business world a certain image is necessary. That image doesn't involve the writing of poetry. On a more personal level, I wanted to separate my personal from my professional writing. Don't get me wrong, I'm proud of both, however my poetry represents a side of me I don't wish some people in the business sector to be able to readily identify with me." pausing, she took a sip from the glass of water in front of her before shyly continuing, "So tell me, did you buy the book?"
The pianist reached across, playfully slapping the other woman's arm. "Are you kidding? Of course I did! I was really excited to think I knew someone who was so talented. Some of the poems in there are quite profound, almost as if you've experienced some of those emotions yourself."
Rhiannon was suddenly quiet as she considered some of the works contained in her latest book. They were indeed drawn from personal experience, both good and bad. "Yes, you're right. I take a lot of inspiration from my life and those close to me. Nature plays a big part as well."
Angela tilted her head, as she gazed at the woman opposite her. "Some of the poems are so, I don't know, right if you know what I mean. I think my favourite is the one where you use the analogy of the poker player to discuss whether or not one should show their emotions and risk loss or hold their hand and gain nothing as a consequence. That's quite cleverly done."
The taller woman blushed at the comments she was receiving from the woman opposite her. It wasn't as if she hadn't heard such words uttered before, however, they seemed to carry a greater weight when spoken by Angela. Realising she was staring at the woman opposite her she continued. "Thankyou, your comments mean a lot to me." Seeing the pianist's features redden slightly she again headed for safer ground. "Enough of this talking, how about lunch?"
Before she could say anything further Angela's delicate hand had lightly grasped her wrist. She wrinkled her eyebrows in question, looking first at her wrist, and then at its captive, trying hard to dismiss the sensation the physical action was causing to her body.
Angela baulked, her focus momentarily shaken by the feelings rising unbidden from her innocent touch of the other woman's flesh. Shyly raising her eyes she continued. "Look, I'll understand if you've got commitments, however I'd be really grateful if I could get your signature in your book. I've never had one signed by an author before," seeing the features of Rhiannon light up in a smile before she nodded, the other woman continued, "Would it be asking too much for you to drop around tonight? I could fix us a small supper and then if you're interested, there's a new release on cable we could watch."
The corner of the businesswoman's mouth curved in a smile. "Turnabout's fair play. I'd be happy to sign your book, however, I would like to hear you play, if that's not asking too much."
Angela laughed. "Well, I suppose its only fair. I'll have to go easy during my rehearsal this afternoon so that I have some energy left for you."
Rhiannon baulked at the innocent words uttered by the other woman. I'd like to have the energy to play with you as well. She thought. The innocence of the face didn't conceal any deeper meaning to the pianist's words and so the businesswoman realigned her focus to her now grumbling tummy. "Well before we start talking supper at your place, how about we get lunch out of the way first? Do you like seafood?" she smiled as the other woman nodded her assent, "How about we go halves in a seafood platter? It's their house specialty and it has got to be tasted to be believed. It may make for a late supper though if that's not too inconvenient."
Angela nodded her head. "Not at all and yes a platter sounds great. Lochie's not a great lover of seafood and I'm afraid a platter for one just isn't the same."
Just as the blue-eyed woman was about to ask the obvious question, the Maitre D reappeared, again filling their water glasses before asking them if they were ready to order. Having ordered the platter, Rhiannon chose a Moon Mountain Chardonnay to accompany the meal. As the waiter moved away, Rhiannon realised she hadn't consulted her lunch partner regarding her choice of wine. "I'm terribly sorry, I ordered the wine without even thinking. If you want something else, I'm sure I can get his attention." She paused, searching the room for the wine waiter.
"No that's fine. I'll probably only have a glass anyway or my rehearsal this afternoon will be a complete waste of time."
Breathing a sigh of relief, Rhiannon brought the topic back to where it had been prior to the intrusion of the Maitre D. "If I'm overstepping the mark here, just let me know, but I just assumed with you having a son that there'd be a father in the picture somehow." Seeing the look of hurt cross the other woman's features she mentally kicked herself. Insensitive idiot. "I'm sorry, that's really none of my business, let's talk about something else."
"No that's okay, it's a reasonable assumption for you to make and in part of the case not incorrect. Shortly after I started on my first international tour I played with the Gerhusen Symphony orchestra, an orchestra made up of hand picked musicians. Phillip was the Principal violinist and was as passionate about his work as I was. We shared the fruits and the failings of such a passion, as both of us had never left the time aside to look outside our career for any real company. We found we had a lot in common and it seemed only natural that we formed a common bond. One night, after a little too much celebrating we found ourselves in bed and one thing naturally progressed to the other. When Phillip found out I was pregnant he was set on doing the "responsible thing." Angela used her fingers to emphasise the point. "So we married in a quiet ceremony so that Lochie could have a father and a mother. It was a comfortable arrangement, despite me having to give up touring for six months after the birth of our child. Phillip elected to do the same and, in retrospect, it was possibly a good thing," the pianist paused, turning her head and pursing her lips in regret. "During our sabbatical we both continued to practice, however Phillip began to experience difficulty in getting his fingers to respond to the messages he was sending them. This coupled with his ever-increasing headaches drove me to force him to see a specialist. It wasn't long after that he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour. Fortunately he got to spend at least some time with his son. Had it not been for the birth we both would have continued to work right up until his illness was uncovered. As it was, the outcome was pretty rapid after the diagnosis and I found myself with having lost a husband and gained an eight month old bundle of love to look after."
Rhiannon looked down at her own hands tightly clasped in her lap, her mind recalling the death of a friend in a not so dissimilar fashion so many years ago. "I'm so sorry Angela; I didn't mean to bring up what must have been a painful memory. Sometimes I wonder if my mouth engages well before my brain does."
The other woman smiled wanly. "No it's okay, it's cathartic to talk about it and plus as the years have gone by, it's not as painful as it used to be. And besides, the fame of Lochie's father's musical skills has meant there are plenty of photos and documentaries made about him for his son to see when he's of the right age. So tell me, did you ever marry?"
The dark-haired woman looked up, trying to gauge the true reason for the question, however seeing nothing other than innocent curiosity on the other woman's face she answered. "No I never have. There just hasn't seemed to have been enough time and I've never really met the right person. I've been in a couple of relationships, but nothing lasting or serious enough to warrant marriage." Rhiannon inwardly cringed at her duplicity. She hadn't entirely lied to the other woman yet she hadn't told the truth either. If she found a woman she loved and cared enough for she would marry her, however she was sure Angela's reference was focussed towards that of a male partner and not a female. She justified her deceit by qualifying she still wanted to have supper with the woman opposite her and this may not be the case should she find out about her sexuality.
Before either woman could engage in further conversation the wine waiter arrived, followed by a steady stream of paraphernalia for their seafood platter. The interruption served as a good break, allowing each woman to marshal their thoughts before redirecting the conversation to much safer topics of reminiscence.
The remainder of the luncheon was enjoyable, with Angela regretfully signalling its end with her need to at least get a couple of hours rehearsal this afternoon if she was to keep her fingers supple for her "Command Performance" that evening. The taller of the two women laughed as they made they made their way towards the doors of the foyer where Angela made her way home and Rhiannon made her way to the quiet contemplation of her room.
As Angela busied herself with the arrangement of garden-cut flowers into a vase, she shook her head at the lack of work she'd managed to achieve that afternoon. She had returned from her luncheon feeling light headed and refreshed, regardless of the fact she'd refrained from drinking more than one glass of wine. Arriving home she had every good intention of getting in at least a solid three hours rehearsal prior to the appearance of her guest for the evening. Yet despite all her best intentions, when she sat down at the piano she found her mind would wander, once again revisiting those school days when she would play undisturbed and yet comforted by the presence of the other student.
Casting her thoughts to the time spent at the Gables with Rhiannon, it had been such a strange luncheon, with each of the women falling into the comfortable niche they had first developed all those years ago. Stories were told, thoughts shared, and before too long the time had gotten away from them. Now, as she arranged the flowers into a pattern of colours, she found herself critically examining the actions of the other woman. While Rhiannon had been herself, at the same time she seemed to be holding something back. Yet while holding something back, it was as if she wanted to share something with the pianist. When Angela had raised the issue of the poetry the look of surprise that crossed the other woman's features was unmistakable, almost as if she was embarrassed and surprised anyone should draw the connection between the businesswoman and the poet. She creased her forehead in concentration, somewhat confused at the response. The poetry was so expressive, capturing the essence of specific moments or actions in time. Angela's enjoyment of the poems was well evident, the books itself bore it's own testimony to being one of Angela's favourites. The book's spine lay claim to many openings, with the cover far from pristine. Shaking herself from her reverie she placed the flowers on the table before preparing herself for the evening.
From actions bred out of years of deadlines, Rhiannon found herself knocking on Angela's door at 7.00pm sharp. Feeling decidedly uncomfortable about arriving empty-handed, she had stopped at the local liquor store which, she was delighted to find, had a respectable range of cellared vintages - at a price. After purchasing a bottle of Petaluma Chardonnay, she had made her way to her supper appointment.
Angela took the bottle from the proffered hand as she motioned the taller woman inside. "You know you really didn't have to bother, but thanks all the same. You obviously found the cellars off Kingston road."
"Yes, I was quite amazed. It's not often that you find a cellar that not only sells fine wines, but with some years on them as well. Mind you, around here I expect there would be ample people willing to part with money in order to secure a good red or white." She waited in the hallway for Angela to close the door before following the pianist down towards what was obviously the lounge room.
"Make yourself comfortable, I'll just put this in the fridge for the moment. I'll give you the grand tour in a minute. In the meantime, can I get you a drink?"
Rhiannon called towards the retreating figure. "Do you have any scotch by chance?"
"I've got a single malt which is a favourite of mine if you're interested," came the voice back through the doorway.
"That will be fine, with a little ice if I could." As she listened to the other woman busy herself with the drinks, Rhiannon took the time to take in her surroundings. While one wall and sideboard of the room was dominated by a rather impressive entertainment system, another wall was completed dedicated to the pianist's work, with awards and photographs from Orchestras she'd been guest to all over the world.
As she turned away from the obvious evidence of this woman's success she found the next wall was a much more personal one. A dresser was littered with photographs of what was, given the resemblance, surely Angela's family, including one of a wedding photo with who could have only been Phillip. Moving past the baby photos she found herself looking at what was a more recent shot of Angela and her son. The photo must have been taken in an unguarded moment, for the look of adoration on the pianist's face for the young boy beside her had been captured to perfection. Having picked up the photo to study it more closely, she almost dropped it when she heard the voice of the other woman so close behind her.
"That's my little man, all blond hair and blue eyes. He's a pretty good kid, if at times a little too driven for a child of his age." Angela lovingly wiped an invisible speck of dust from the photo's frame.
"Gee, I wonder where he gets that trait from?" Rhiannon queried with a degree of tongue in cheek as she took her crystal tumbler from Angela.
The pianist smiled in return. "Yes well, his mother is obviously a bad influence on the child. He sees me far too often sitting in front of a piano practicing for hours on end. What he needs is someone who can get him out of the house and show him that there's more to life than just music."
The businesswoman found herself surprised and embarrassed at the other woman's words. Was she looking for another husband, possibly a father figure for Lachlan? Smothering the desire to ask that exact question, she opted for safer waters. "You know I can remember a senior once telling me that she would have ample time for friends later and that her music would inevitably come first. Don't tell me you've changed your mind on that idea." She finished in a teasing note, raising her glass to her lips for a taste of the peaty, yet smooth scotch.
The woman opposite her raised her glass in a mock toast. "Well I expect I had that coming to me, but childhood and young adulthood does that to you. However, as you grow you see life from a completely different perspective and things no longer revolve around solely your wants and needs. While I don't regret my hours of training or the doors it has opened for me, I wouldn't really wish that lifestyle on my son. There are enough pressures in the entertainment world without him being forced to grow up in the shadow of his famous father."
"Not to mention his equally famous mother." Rhiannon added, wiping the condensation from around the base of the crystal glass filled with scotch. "You seem to be very quick to dismiss your own fame and yet I'm sure he's proud or will be proud of what you've achieved, and I've no doubt you'll continue to achieve."
Angela blushed, affected by the words of the taller woman. Masking her embarrassment she took a sip of her wine before leading Rhiannon on an impromptu tour of the house, ending up in what could only be called the piano room.
The room itself was dominated by the presence of a Steinway Grand; its glossy dark reflection absorbing the muted lighting of the room. Sitting close to the piano was yet another music system, clearly for use in this room alone, acting as acoustic accompaniment during Angela's rehearsals. The piano was offset towards a corner of the room, it's sleek lines reflected in the glass windows that nearly took up the expanse of a wall, before opening out onto an enclosed verandah and the gardens beyond.
Motioning Rhiannon towards a recliner opposite the windows and to the right of the full view of the piano, Angela made herself comfortable behind the instrument, busying herself in her preparations to play. "To coin a well-worn cliché, do you have any requests?"
The dark-haired woman smiled. "Let me just clarify something. I've come to hear you play and what you can do with a piano is just incredible. However, that doesn't mean I've come any closer to being able to tell one artist or musical piece from the other. I focus more on how the music makes me feel, so surprise me."
Angela busied herself with the high fidelity music system behind her, preparing it so as to accompany her in her repertoire. "Still the savage beast hey, capably soothed by music." She stopped as she heard the snort of the other woman before continuing. "Well let's see what I can play for you then."
For the next half hour Rhiannon found herself held captive in the sounds that radiated from the Steinway, conveyed through the skillful hands of the artist seated in front of it. Angela chose a variety of pieces to play, both from the modern Masters and the older Masters, from Beethoven's Sonata in A Major, Opus 69, through to Nyman's The Piano Concerto, used in the movie The Piano.
However, it wasn't just the music that held the attention of the seated woman. It wasn't until Angela began to play that Rhiannon realised this was the first time she'd actually been able to see the emotions that crossed the artist's face and she was surprised at the depth and intensity displayed there. Angela's face, like clouds on a windy day, shifted from concentration to rapture, from happiness to the depths of sorry before yet again cresting to passion, as her fingers moved over the piano at an almost incomprehensible speed. Rhiannon felt her mouth go dry as she looked at the features of the pianist. My God, she's so beautiful. It's a good thing I never did see this view at school. At least I've got a little more discipline now than what I did then.
Unbidden, she found her mind filling with possibilities with this other woman, none of which seemed even remotely possible. So absorbed was she in the miasma of the music that wove itself around her and her thoughts of the brown-haired artist, she failed to realise Angela had even finished. As the silence descended Rhiannon found herself being drawn back towards her immediate surroundings and the picture of a woman, now drenched in perspiration from her efforts.
"I don't know I could ever find the words to express what you've just done, but that was just amazing. I'd give anything for the talent you have. To be able to play with such intensity and passion - it's a wonder you're ever allowed to rest." She was unabashed in her praise, however it was entirely warranted.
The woman rose from the piano, pausing as she reached for a towel to wipe away the immediate evidence of her exertions. "You have your own talent Rhiannon, even if you're a little reluctant to admit you do. What you do with words is no more than what I do with music. We both make our own medium come to life - allowing other people an insight into that which lays beyond the reality of everyday living." Pausing, she saw that similar look cross the other woman's features as had in the restaurant earlier today. Not wishing to be the cause of such discomfort Angela beat a diplomatic retreat.
"Listen, before we have some supper I just want to freshen up a bit. I didn't realise it was so warm in here when I started to play and I'm soaked. I'll only take a minute. If you want to go back to the lounge room, I'll meet you there and we'll have supper on the balcony. In fact, if you want to open that bottle of white, the bottle opener's on the benchtop and the wine's in the fridge - help yourself." Her last comments echoed down the hallway as Angela made her way to the safety of her room.
Closing the bedroom door behind her, Angela exhaled a breath she didn't realise she was holding. She was quietly pleased at her recital tonight. Being intimately familiar with her own skills, she was aware it had been quite a while since she'd played with such passion. So focussed was she on her performance that she was only peripherally aware of the presence of the other woman. That was, right up until the moment when she finished and raised her head to gaze at Rhiannon's unguarded features.
For that brief moment in the piano room the door had been opened, exposing her to a hauntingly familiar look. Where had she seen this before? Sorting through her memories, she cast her mind back years, to an incident in a study filled with newspaper. That same open look had been there as well. With a degree of surprise, it dawned upon her. The beatific look on the seated woman's features was clearly directed at her. Disciplined to being able to keep her emotions in check, it was only the slight widening of Angela's eyes that signalled the thoughts that were now racing through her mind at breakneck speed. Searching her own feelings, she tried to gain an idea of how she felt regarding what she was seeing. However, before she could develop these thoughts any further, Rhiannon had regained her composure and began praising the pianist's efforts.
Attempting to hide her sudden confusion, Angela had used the excuse of changing in order to marshal her thoughts. Now, in the privacy of her bedroom, she quickly washed and changed on autopilot; allowing herself the time to review how she felt about what she'd just seen. If she was honest with herself, she'd been aware of these same emotions in the Music study all those years ago. Unlike that time, today she possessed greater circumspection. Tucking her blouse into her pants, she couldn't help being confused. Did Rhiannon's feelings go further than those of merely a friend or was she misreading the situation? What about her feelings - were they the same? How could they be? I've never felt like this before, she thought. That's right, not even with Phillip. A tiny voice inside her whispered. But what to do with Rhiannon's recently disclosed emotion? Shaking her head in frustration, she placed the damp clothes and towel down the laundry chute before collecting her emotions and returning to the presence of the other woman.
Rhiannon handed a glass of wine to her friend. "I'm happy to say this is quite a good white."
Taking the proffered glass Angela tentatively took a sip, pleasantly surprised at the sudden burst of flavour within her mouth. "Lovely," was all she could manage as she looked at the woman opposite her.
For a moment the businesswoman was taken aback. What was happening here? Was she being told something? Was she reading too much into an innocent comment? Masking her confusion, Rhiannon moved away from the close proximity of the brown-haired woman. "Well I don't know about you but I'm a little hungry. Now wasn't part of the deal you were going to feed me?" She queried, using humour to try and redirect the moment to safer ground.
Angela chuckled. "Some guest I am. Yes of course that was part of the deal as you so professionally put it. Now, if you can tear yourself away from this liquid ambrosia we'll have the table set in no time."
The women worked together to transfer food from its current position out to the enclosed verandah, and it wasn't long before they were sitting down to a casual supper between the two of them. The conversation was light, almost as if neither party wanted to transgress into that unspoken area of emotion.
Taking a crusty roll and breaking a piece from it, Angela looked at the woman opposite her. "This afternoon you mentioned you were here for 12 months. What happens after that?"
"I honestly don't know. It's been a while since I've been in one place for as long as this current tenure. In my younger years there was a novelty to seeing so much of the world." Rhiannon took a sip from her wine.
The pianist chuckled. "If the biography of your books is any indication, you've seen quite a lot. France, London, Paris, Los Angeles, Wellington and Antarctica no less. What did you do during your time at the bottom of the world?"
The businesswoman was quietly impressed at the amount of knowledge Angela had regarding her life. "I was employed by NASA to look at the long-term effects of individuals in extreme and isolated conditions. Antarctica as you might have guessed is indeed extreme and during winter, no ships could get to the bases on the continent and the surrounding sea freezes, increasing the size of the continent exponentially. It was a very interesting experience, if not terribly cold. But tell me; how did you find out about what I've been doing?"
"I was in London a few years ago and saw you being interviewed by the BBC. The interviewer started with an overview of your curriculum vitae. Who would have guessed that a sportswoman could go so far?" Angela's final comment was uttered with a twinkle in her eye.
"Is that right! That's a lovely thing to say. It's a good thing I know you're joking or I might have to remind you of who's the stronger of the two." The smaller of the two women held up her hands in mock surrender and Rhiannon laughed accordingly. "Was that when you were playing with the Royal Philharmonic?"
Angela was surprised. "Yes, why do you ask?"
"I had some time off and caught one of the recitals you gave. It was quite brilliant."
"Thankyou," Angela nodded her head in acknowledgment of the compliment, "Why didn't you come and say hello?"
The dark-haired woman laughed. "Well I tried to. I managed to wrangle a back door pass, however, just as I got within hailing distance you were on your way and I missed the opportunity to catch up."
The pianist's face was tinged with sincere regret. "I'm sorry about that. One of the biggest problems when playing in another country was I always felt like I was in a sea of strangers. It would have been nice to see a friendly face amongst the group." Angela paused in thought. "It's like that poem you wrote on loneliness. I always felt like a being on the fringes of so-called humanity, never breaking through. But listen to me, delving into the realms of the morose. Talking about your poetry; now it's time for you to honor your side of the bargain." Rising from her chair, Angela moved inside.
Rhiannon took advantage of the pause in conversation to consider the night's events to date. She shook her head in confusion at the mixed messages she seemed to be receiving. Angela was happy to see her, of that there was no doubt. But what to read into the comment earlier when she'd been looking at the photos? Was she looking to settle down again, find a father figure for her son? If that was the case, what explanation was there for the look on her features when the pianist had returned from changing in her room? Throwing her head back Rhiannon exhaled deeply. It was clearly obvious she'd been far too long out of the game of courtship to know whether the feelings she was picking up from the pianist were ones of friendship, or something that ran much deeper. Rolling her head to ease the tension in her neck, she almost missed the returning sounds of the other woman.
Angela sat down, her inner control failing to hide the concern that was reflected in her features. "I'm not keeping you up am I? I didn't think to ask when you arrived back in Australia and by the looks of you it wasn't that long ago. I'm sorry for pressing you about the poetry; if you want to call it a night, I'll understand." The pianist attempted to hide the disappointment in her voice.
Despite her attempts, the tone wasn't lost on the dark-haired woman as she smiled at Angela. "No really, it's all right. I just get a little bit stiff travelling for such long hours in a plane. I've booked in for a full body workout with the hotel masseuse tomorrow, and that should help me to get back to my old self in no time." Reaching across to where her book rested, she picked it up, taking time to study the state of the publication. It was well worn, as if it had been carried a great way. Despite its appearance, the wear wasn't one of neglect, it was more of continual use. It dawned on her then that this was something that had obviously been a part of the pianist's life for quite a while. Feigning an attempt at humour she continued. "So did you buy this second hand? It looks as if it's seen a lot of use."
Raising her gaze to the other woman's Rhiannon felt for a moment as if time had frozen as she looked into the other woman's eyes. She could feel a flush rising to her cheeks, however she could no more break contact with Angela's features than she could cease to breathe. A wistful look clouded the pianist's features as she answered.
"No, it was bought some years ago, however I've carried it with me wherever I went. It always served as a great salvation for me, capturing in words what I was never able to say. I know poets don't make a lot of money, but you've quite a talent you know." Breaths were held as both women stared into each other's eyes. Just for a moment the years fell away and again they were in the Auditorium on the last day of school, the emotions the same, yet not quite as confused as all those years ago. Angela found herself shaking at the intensity of emotion captured in the other woman's eyes. Masking her feelings she rose from her chair. "You know it's a little chilly out here, I'll be back in a moment."
Moments passed before Angela returned, somewhat more composed, a lightweight cashmere jumper pulled over her blouse.
Rhiannon found herself humbled and yet enlightened that this book, her book of poetry had been a constant companion to this woman. Embarrassed and yet aware of the lingering silence, she searched for something to say. Angela had not returned to her seat, instead deciding to lean up against the waist high rail that encircled the enclosed verandah. Attempting to keep her emotions in check, she searched for a safe topic of conversation. "So tell me, did you have any favourites in the book?"
The pianist smiled, her eyes temporarily distant. "You know, each of them held something for me. At first I thought it was just me, yet when I showed your book to my manager, she could see the same thing, yet anchored to her life's experiences. You seem to possess an uncanny ability for capturing thoughts and emotions, not that dissimilar to what other people feel. But I digress. If I had to pick a favourite, I'd have to say it was the one I mentioned this afternoon - the analogy about the poker player."
The dark haired woman smiled in reminiscence. That was one of her earlier pieces and related to a woman she'd loved and yet the love didn't seem to be reciprocated. There had been a strong friendship between her and Michela, yet Rhiannon had feared crossing the boundary into something deeper; especially when Michela had admitted to her the feelings she had for another woman. Their friendship had remained strong and the topic regarding Rhiannon's emotions for Michela had never been broached, with Rhiannon electing to play it safe. Rhiannon found herself suddenly wondering what the result might have been had she voiced her emotions. She was brought back to the present by the sound of knuckles knocking on wood.
"Hello, earth to Rhiannon are you still receiving me over?" The pianist smiled as she empathised with the trip the other woman had taken. There were pieces of music that made her feel the same way, so much so that she didn't need to play them to feel the emotion of sound and feelings that were evoked through their mere thought.
The other woman smiled, gathering her thoughts. "I'm sorry I tuned out there for a moment. I know the one you're talking about and I must say you have very good taste. You see, it's a bittersweet favourite of mine."
"How so?" The other woman asked, almost immediately regretting her straightforwardness.
Seeing the other woman's embarrassment in the muted shadows cast across her features Rhiannon smiled. "Well to be honest, when I write my poetry I always do so from a personal perspective and I always have someone in mind. That one was written about 10 years ago now, but it still holds dear to me. And you're right; I suppose there's something in my poems for everyone if they look deeply enough."
An awkward silence lingered between the two as both struggled for something to say. Without too much preamble, Angela uttered the first thought that came into her mind. "So have you written anything lately?"
"As a matter of fact I have." The silence hung between the two, the invitation awaiting its acceptance.
The connection that had seemed to exist between the two women since their re-acquaintance suddenly seemed to shift. Angela found herself mesmerised by the look on the other woman's features. How had they arrived at this point so fast? With a voice filled with trepidation and yet at the same time expectation Angela found herself whispering. "Will you share it with me?"
Rising from her chair, Rhiannon stood within arm's reach of the smaller woman. She too had sensed the buildup in emotion and attempted to bring it back to a more manageable level. "I will, as long as you don't laugh."
Angela smiled, recognising the insecurity of an artist when first sharing their work. "I'd never do that, no matter what the subject of your poem."
Rhiannon nodded as she closed herself down, marshalling the words that had only so recently come to her.
Where did you come from?
Walking into my dreams like that.
You - one who is so far away,
but a welcome visitor all the same.
Picking up from where we never really managed to start;
a visitor known only to me.
You come into my dreams
with your warm smile and sparkling eyes,
giving me relief from my everyday life.
Offering no more than a gentle hand in friendship,
and warm thoughts when I most need them.
We seem to spend a lot of time
coming and going in each other's lives.
Like people in a revolving door
You are always on the way out,
and I on the way in.
Like parallel lines we run beside each other;
when will those lines ever cross?
The time you spend inside my
can never be too long.
Such thoughts can only be surpassed
by your actual presence.
But, alas, with the break of day you dissolve;
leaving me with nothing but memories and dreams.
With the hope that some day such dreams will come true.
Rhiannon raised her head from it previous pensive position, finding herself staring into the eyes of the woman opposite her. She smiled shyly, somehow seeking the other woman's reassurance. "So what do you think?"
Angela's eyes never left her face. "You know you think I have a skill with music. It takes me ages to put into music what seems to take you so little time to put into words. Rhiannon, that was beautiful and truly touching." The response to her words was reflected in the dark-haired woman's features and for a moment the music to the careful dance they had moved to all night had stopped. Angela gazed at the woman opposite her, weighing up the risks involved in posing the question she was about to ask. Taking a deep breath and throwing caution to the wind she asked anyway. "So who was this one about?"
The blue-eyed woman saw the uncertainty in the smaller woman's eyes. It was as if it was a question that she needed to ask and yet Angela was somewhat fearful of the answer. Taking a deep breath and gathering her thoughts, Rhiannon chose honesty over flippancy. "Angela, I could give you a trite response right now and we could both step back. However, I don't know I want to do that so instead I'll opt for the truth. I was never very good at hiding things anyway," she paused, looking at the floor, before raising her blue eyes to gaze into the hazel ones of the woman opposite her. "It was about you. The poem was about you and me and the way I see, I've always seen the two of us."
Before she could expand on what she said, Angela had turned her back, her face now silhouetted by the balcony's lighting, the pianist's focus taken up by the garden and beyond. Rhiannon found herself unsure of how to proceed. Had she turned away in embarrassment or disgust? The businesswoman found herself shuddering at the thought. As she struggled over what to do next, her thoughts returned to the key reason why she had attended the reunion in the first place. The question she'd waited to ask for so long still awaited a response. She closed the distance between the two of them, yet not so close as to invade the smaller woman's space and make her feel uncomfortable. Suddenly there it was, the questioned formed that she'd waited so long to ask. "Angela, why did you leave?"
Like a vortex Angela found herself being sucked back to a time long since past and yet the memories were still so fresh. To that first time when she'd been aware of the other girl's presence as she ran through her piano drills in the auditorium. The discipline she'd shown, with one ear on the piano and the other focussed towards the rear of the room as she'd heard the other senior's silent weeping. To initial introductions and a friendship that seemed to grow without pretence and pressure. To that moment in the Music study, when for a brief moment in time she'd been held and for the first time in her life felt as if she were home - entirely comfortable. The confusion of the feelings and the need to find the space to search such feelings. All the memories rushed to the forefront of her mind as the emotional floodgates refused to hold them back any longer. Turning her face to the sincere visage of the woman so perilously close to her, she realised that nothing other than the truth would suffice - despite the impact it may have on their newly resurrected friendship.
"I was confused. You know, we seemed to share such similar interests and yet at the same time seemed to have so little in common. You were a sports fanatic and I was so focussed on becoming the best pianist there ever was, at the expense of everything around me. And then that one day, when I tripped and you caught me, you threw everything out of kilter. For a brief moment in time, nothing mattered, not my grades, my parents or most of all my aspirations as a musician - only the feelings you evoked in me counted. And that scared the hell out of me. I was so close to my dream and yet in the simple act of trying to catch me you brought it all back into a frightening perspective I don't think I was ready to accept. I could see how you felt and I was afraid. Afraid of what might happen to my dream, yet most of all afraid of what I felt for you.
The day of graduation, I watched as you moved about the hall, graciously stopping to talk with people and yet never losing focus of your final destination. You've no idea how difficult it was for me to flawlessly play that piece, knowing you were seated right behind me. I knew you were there - I didn't need to look. Yet when I turned and saw the look in your eyes I knew I had to get out of that hall. If I didn't, well I wasn't quite sure what would have happened next, but I know that it wouldn't have been conducive to the School's morals and high code of conduct. And so I left before you could say anything." Realising that in her telling her face had once again been focussed towards the inky blackness of her garden, Angela again turned to face the other woman as she whispered. "You must have known. Why didn't you follow me?"
Rhiannon smiled ruefully. "You've no idea how much I tried. Initially you shocked me with your sudden departure and by the time I'd managed to marshal my limbs into action, you were already halfway across the hall and I'd been accosted by the Principal. When I finally managed to talk myself free, I ran to the senior study, only to find it was empty. Figuring you'd already left, I returned to the function and my promise to go with some of the girls to the Club later on that afternoon. Once exams started our schedules were different and there was no way that we were likely to cross paths. Years later when I heard of your initial successes, I was quietly pleased that you'd achieved your dream. Despite this, I could never stop thinking whether or not you'd finally stopped holding people at arms length long enough to let others in."
Angela found herself reminiscing on how long that had been the case. If it hadn't been for the persistence of Phillip, she figured she'd be still holding people at a distance, ensuring a safe yet lonely place for herself to reside in. Seconds seemed to lapse into minutes, and it wasn't until she sensed the movement of Rhiannon shifting away from her, to a more comfortable distance, that she took the initiative. Reaching out she covered her hand over the larger hand that tensely gripped the wood of the balcony. As she did so she looked into the face opposite her, partially encased in shadows. "However, that's not the case now, and as you can see, I'm not running anywhere." She held her breath as she awaited the response to her somewhat bold actions. She breathed a sigh of relief as Rhiannon's hand turned and entwined with hers.
The taller woman gazed at the delicate, yet strong hand now encased with her own. "You know if I was honest with myself, I've been doing some pretty good running of my own over the years. I've received all the invitations to attend school reunions in the past; however, this is the first one I've attended. I suppose I too have had enough of holding people at arm's distance and wanted some answers of my own. Last night, when I looked and couldn't find you I began to think my return had been for nothing. And yet when I entered that hall, I knew it had all been worth it. This question had plagued me for years and if I was ever to get any closure, it needed an answer."
Tentatively Angela searched the face perilously close to her; afraid of the answer her next question might evoke. Ever so quietly she posed her next question. "So did you get the closure you were looking for?"
In a moment, intense blue eyes sought her own as a strong yet hand reached out to cup her cheek, stroking it gently, feeling its texture. "You could see it that way I suppose. However, I'm hoping it will be seen as more of an opening."
Without breaking contact with the pianist, Rhiannon closed the distance between the two, careful for any sign that Angela wasn't comfortable with the inevitability of where the situation was heading. Ever so softly she brushed her lips against the other woman's. What started out as the softest of touches soon built as arms encased bodies and years of memories flooded back. Questions were asked and answers were given. The soft interplay of tongues across lips were met with an acceptance and welcoming of a dance that seemed so natural and yet had waited so long. Neither was aware of how long the moment had lasted, only that when the moment was broken, both were breathless and yet still in each other arms. Tentatively brushing her fingers against Rhiannon's soft and yet so passionate lips Angela herself asked her own question of the woman now in her arms.
"Will you stay?" The question hung in the air; it's possible responses so multi-faceted.
"As long as you want me to. As long as you want me to."
Copyright © 2001 by Helen M. Macpherson
Return to Main Page