Will You Remember Me
Part Two - The Head and the Heart
For we cannot
live together and we cannot live apart.
It's the classical dilemma, between the head and the heart.
Chris de Burgh
Disclaimer. Given this is a sequel, I've put most of the peripheral information at the end. If you haven't yet read Will You Remember Me? Part One, it might be a good idea to read it as this takes up where Part one finished. Additionally, the disclaimers at the beginning of Part One equally apply for part two.
Any feedback will be gratefully received firstname.lastname@example.org
In the very early light of the morning the only sound that interrupted the native calls of the parrots in the trees were the regular footfalls of Rhiannon as she navigated a course from her hotel. Her morning run was a regular routine, however she'd yet to completely re-familiarise herself with the undulating streets of Middle Harbour, having not run there since her schooling years. Her last 'home' had been relatively flat, presenting little challenge to the runner. This was entirely different, she thought, as she stopped to stretch her calves before tackling a particularly steep incline. She could have avoided the street, however that would be shirking the challenge it presented. And she was never one to shrug off a challenge, even when the kookaburras in the surrounding trees seemed to be laughing at the fact she was even making an attempt. Trying to block out their raucous sound, she cast her mind back to the evening before.
For the better part of the evening, the two women sat, sharing reminisces and bridging the gaps created by a twenty-year absence from each other. It was only in the small hours of the morning Rhiannon glanced at her watch, surprised at the time that had passed by, seemingly without either realising it. Despite her reticence to leave the comfort of where she was, the businesswoman was all too aware of a conference call that awaited her at 4.00am in her room. Pulling Angela up with her, she raised herself out of the lounge.
"I'm really sorry about this, but I've an international business call due in my room in about an hour and there's a few things I need to check on before I take the call," she paused as she brushed a strand of errant hair from the pianist's face. "Given what's happened over the past few hours, I know where I'd prefer to stay."
Angela lowered her head, vainly trying to hide the blush that coloured her features. Raising her face, she smiled as her eyes met those of the woman in her arms. "I expect you'll just have to learn to organise yourself a little better then, won't you?" Angela pulled the other woman into a hug before escorting her towards the door. "So, after the conference call, what does the day hold?"
Rhiannon paused, picking up her car keys from where she'd left them earlier in the evening. "Well, hopefully this won't drag out too long. I'm expected at the firm I'm working for at about 10 am, so I'm going to try and get some sleep before I show my face."
"Who is it you're working for again?" Angela worked the locks on the front door, before switching on the lights that illuminated the garden path.
"It's a group called Personnel Solutions. Their focus is on maximising the human resource aspects of the companies they consult with. They're a relatively new organisation with some fairly good credentials, even for a group so young. The CEO advised me that one of the reasons they hired me was to bring in some of the big guns of business, while at the same time allowing them to develop from my experience. Their tactics seemed to have worked as they've already contracted me out to look at personnel issues with a company in the Sydney CBD." Rhiannon paused as she searched her memory for the name of the company she'd only fleetingly browsed in the briefing portfolio sent to her by the CEO of Personnel Solutions. "Gardely and Balen I think he said their name was, but I'm not 100 per cent sure of that."
Angela drew her brows together in thought. "You know, the name rings a bell, but I don't know why. Are they involved in any major projects at the moment?"
Rhiannon shrugged. "I'm not altogether sure what their current projects are. Most of the ones that were covered in the Gardely and Balen briefing portfolio are over six month's old now so I'm not sure if any of those projects are current. I expect that when I meet with them later today I'll have a better idea of what they do for a living. Having said that, I'm sure they'll have disclosure clauses as to what can be mentioned to people outside their company. It seems to be the case these days."
Angela put her hands on her hips, shaking her head as she did so. "Damn, now what am I going to do? I suppose I'll lose my industrial espionage pin over this one," she joked.
Rhiannon laughed as she pulled the other woman to her. "And here I was, thinking you were interested in me, when you were only after the information I hold in that grey matter of mine."
The pianist allowed her hand to encircle the other woman's waist, before looking into Rhiannon's eyes. "No, I'd have to say that my interest lies in the whole package and not merely a part of it." Entangling her hand in the ebony locks of the businesswoman's hair, she drew Rhiannon's lips to her own.
The two stood locked, arms entwined around the bodies of each other, as the kiss which had started off as something relatively innocent was rapidly building towards a decidedly more passionate outcome. Rhiannon broke the embrace, stepping away from the other woman. "I think I better go, otherwise there'll be some rather annoyed people in New York when I don't take their call." The businesswoman reached out, brushing an errant strand of hair away from the pianist's eyes. "Can I call you tonight?"
Angela tilted her head to one side and smiled. "I'd be offended if you didn't. I think there's still so much more for us to talk about." Before she could qualify her comment a yawn broke forth from her mouth and she attempted conceal it with her hand. "But you're right; I think we both need to get a little rest."
Rhiannon gently sought the pianists hand, gallantly raising it to her lips before making her way down the steps towards her car.
Rhiannon shook her head as she brought herself back to the present. Realising any further reminiscing was merely delaying the inevitable, she resolutely made her way up the hill in front of her.
Waking at the outrageously late hour of 10am Angela stretched, taking a moment before tackling the day. Firstly there were some very much needed rehearsals she had to do. Although she was currently on a sabbatical from her work, it didn't mean she didn't endeavour to train at least once a day. She chuckled to herself realising her routine had been somewhat interrupted in the past 24 hours by an amazing turn of events. Or maybe it wasn't so much a turn of events as much as a circle coming its full course. Smiling, she continued to plot out her day. She really did have to contact the gardener about trying to regain some semblance into a backyard that was rapidly taking on jungle-like proportions. While the overgrowth did have a tendency to attract the birds, it also attracted other unwelcome visitors such as spiders and the like. It had only been last week when she'd wandered out to find Lachlan's full attention captured by a red back spider as it calmly went about the business of weaving its web. Her mental meandering was suddenly brought back on track by the thought of her son. Angela's eyes widened as she considered the current situation with Rhiannon, however equally as fast she stopped herself. What was the current situation between the two of them? What did she want it to be? Certainly she'd welcomed the warmth and comfort given by the other woman, feelings she'd reciprocated last night. However, in the cold light of day where were they both heading? And what of Lachlan? He loved the stories she wove about his father. Not to mention that for so long it had only been Lachlan and herself; how would he react to such a dramatic change in circumstances, if indeed there was one to react to? She found herself trying to rationalise the evening and her feelings in ever-decreasing circles. She was in no doubt she had feelings for the tall blue-eyed woman, but where did that fit in with her somewhat regulated life? Before she could give it much more thought, the shrill sound of the phone cut through her reverie. Picking it up she vaguely answered the call, her thoughts well and truly elsewhere.
"Hello, earth to Angela are you there?"
Snapping out of her pensive state, Angela recognised the tones of her close friend and head of the 'Save the Con' group, Phillipa Power. "Sorry Phillipa, I was away with the birds; how are you?"
The other woman's laugh filtered down the telephone line. "More to the point how are you? You sound like you're a million miles away."
"Sorry I had a bit of a late night last night…" Before she could get any further Phillipa cut in.
"Really," she said, as strong emphasis was placed on the word. "And who was it you were out to all hours with, hmmm?"
Angela was grateful for the degree of invisibility the phone call afforded as a stain of red suffused her features. "No, it's not what you think; I had a friend over for dinner, that's all."
"So tell me, tell me, what's his name?" The eagerness of the other woman's voice filtered down the line.
Angela sighed in exasperation. "No, it wasn't a man if you must know, it was an old school friend of mine I met at the reunion I went to the other night. She's just arrived back in town after a few years absence and so we were catching up on things." Which I don't intend to share with you at this stage, the pianist added silently.
"Oh," the tone of disappointment in the voice on the other end of the line was obvious. "You know there are so many men out there that I know who would love to take you out to dinner, if you'd just leave that house of yours. You're too young to sit there and do nothing at all."
"Phillipa, that's not the case and you know it. I have Lachlan and my music and more than enough things to occupy my time." Before Angela could continue she was interrupted by the voice on the other end of the line.
"Yes, neither of which can keep you warm at night."
There was silence as the pianist recalled the events of the previous evening. Shaking herself from such thoughts she tried to shift the focus of the conversation. "Phillipa, I'm sure you didn't ring to lecture me on various aspects of my love life or lack thereof. So why did you call?"
"Sorry, I got sidetracked there for a minute; yes I did call to see whether you're free on Tuesday night. We're having a small function at the Con to raise money for the legal fees needed to fight the proposed changes they're looking at making to the Con's buildings. Really, it's just horrendous…"
Angela listened as her friend launched into her normal tirade of words regarding the shocking state of affairs regarding architectural improvements to the Con. The Australasian Conservatorium of Music was what she was referring to and had been where Angela had completed her studies in music. Under the auspices of upgrading the existing buildings, some of which were over 100 years old, the current Federal Government had tendered for architectural improvements. Unfortunately some of the submitted options paid scant attention to the current style of the Conservatorium. The final group of tenderer's designs were incredibly modern and had the potential to take a building, which was a clear reminder of the architecture of a bygone era, and turn it into something akin to a bordello. Old classmates of the Conservatorium, of which Angela was one, had rallied and were fighting a rearguard action against any significant changes to the architectural style of the building, something which Angela was a key supporter of.
Phillipa's voice interrupted her mental wandering. "So what do you think?"
"I think the evening's a great idea." The pianist replied, trying to gloss over the fact she'd missed the majority of what her friend had just mentioned.
"Of course you think the evening's a good idea, but what about your contribution?"
Angela sat bolt upright in bed, realising she'd obviously missed something. "My contribution, what contribution?"
Phillipa's exasperation was evident. "You haven't been listening have you? I was asking whether you would mind doing a little recital for the group. We figured that we could charge a minor entry fee which could go into our slush fund for saving the Con." The silence on the other end of the phone was indicator enough of how the pianist felt about the idea. "Come on Angela; I know it's been a while since you played in public, but it would really help the cause. It wouldn't have to be too much, just a couple of pieces that's all."
Angela's brow furrowed in frustration. The last thing she wanted to do was to play without adequate rehearsal. However, she was all too aware this hadn't been the first time she'd politely declined such a request and to do so again would not be in keeping with helping the cause she so strongly supported. "I suppose just a couple of small pieces, but that's it Phillipa. I don't want to spend the whole evening tied to a piano, no matter how much I enjoy playing the instrument."
"That's great! We'll slot you in for say 8.00pm and then the auction will follow. I really do appreciate your help on this one Angela, it will make for a wonderful evening. Oh, I forgot to mention earlier, you can bring someone if you like." Phillipa paused, waiting a response from the person on the other end of the line. When none was forthcoming she continued. "Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to say you should bring a date or anything as terrible as that. What about your school friend? If she's new in town it mightn't be such a bad idea to see if she's interested. You never know, we may even end up enlisting another helper to the cause."
Angela stifled a laugh as she wondered how Phillipa would react if she was more aware of the nature of the innocent suggestion she'd just made, regarding Rhiannon's interests. "I'll ask her and get back to you, but she's just started with a new company and she's doing consulting so I can't make any promises. Not to mention, I'm not wedded to the idea of you recruiting anyone who I might bring along to the evening. It's sounds too much like you're taking advantage of the situation."
"Never! And I'm shocked to think that you would consider the only reason I'm asking you to bring anyone along is to get them interested in the cause." Her protestations were cut short by the laughter coming from the other end of the line.
"Oh Phillipa, stop sounding so offended; you know I know you better than that. I'll get back to you regarding numbers; just make sure everything's ready for the recital. In fact, if I could I'd like to drop by on Tuesday afternoon, just to get a feel for the instrument I'll be playing on. Seeing as how I'm giving up my time, the least you could do is ensure my favourite piano is waiting for me?" Aside from the one at home, Angela had always harboured a preference for a certain one of the Steinways the Conservatorium had under its roof. If she was to use it, it would need to be moved and retuned prior to tomorrow afternoon.
An exasperated sigh could be heard through the mouthpiece of the phone. "You don't make things easy do you? Yes I'll make sure it's all ready for you. When do you want to rehearse?"
"What about 2.00pm tomorrow. That should give them enough time to make sure it's suitable to play." Angela waited for an answer.
"I'll check with the staff and if it's likely to be a problem I'll get back to you. If you don't hear from me then assume that 2.00pm is fine. I'll see you and your friend tomorrow night then?" Phillipa paused.
"I'll let you know about Rhiannon; and no pork barrelling either or I'll refuse to play."
Saying her goodbyes Angela rung off and hopped out of bed to try and find the mobile number the businesswoman had given her the previous evening. Retrieving it from the coffee table in the lounge room she made her way back to the comfort of her bedroom before trying to contact the other woman. While she waited for the connection to be made she again made herself comfortable.
"Good morning, Rhiannon Sharp." The business-like tones of her blue-eyed friend echoed down the line, momentarily catching Angela off guard. This was the first time she'd heard such tones from her friend and smiled at the mental image it generated of a steely-eyed woman in her business suit, mixing it with the men in high business.
"Hello Rhiannon Sharp, can I help you?" The second time the words were uttered with a degree of impatience breaking Angela's daydream.
Remembering some people did work relatively normal hours and that she might be interrupting something Angela answered without further delay. "I'm sorry Rhiannon it's Angela. If I've called at a bad time I can call back."
Rhiannon's voice softened. "No, no, not at all. It's just when there was no answer I wondered what was going on. How are you?"
The pianist smiled at the relative laziness of her morning so far. "I expect probably a little better than you, seeing as how you've been at work for a while now and I've just woken up."
Quiet laughter was the reply. "Yes being in bed does seem like a much better option." A gasp from Angela caused the businesswoman to pause, realising the presumption of her comment, the businesswoman attempted to recover ground. "I mean, don't take it the wrong way, I didn't mean that I and you, well you know; oh hell!"
Angela's laughter filtered through as she imagined the look on the other woman's face. "No, I know, you just threw me for a second. So have you learnt anything about your consultancy that you can share with me? Something I could sell to the opposition perhaps?" She finished in jest.
"Now I know you're making fun of me, but don't you worry, there will be time enough for me to pay you back for that one. Basically the group I'm working with are finding it hard to retain their skilled workers, which isn't that uncommon to what's being experienced by most organisations today. They want me to review the problem and suggest some ideas for how to resolve the situation. They seem to pay their people pretty well, but I'm not sure they realise financial reward isn't the sole motivator for working within a company. The thing that never ceases to amaze me is none of the solutions I'll end up suggesting are rocket science and yet they seem blind to what internal problems exist." Rhiannon never ceased to be amazed at the myopic approach some organisations had to personnel issues.
"I know what you mean. Sometimes you don't know what the situation is until it is explained to you in more precise terms. Anyway, what I was really calling about is whether you were doing anything on Tuesday night." Angela paused, hearing sounds of movement from the other end of the line.
Rhiannon flipped open her planner. "I'm just opening my organiser, hang on, Tuesday, no I've nothing planned. What did you have in mind?"
"Well, an old friend of mine from the Con is organising a function to support her latest favourite cause and she's asked me if I would perform a small recital at the function. She said I could bring someone along and I wondered if you were busy." Angela unconsciously held her breath waiting for a reply.
Rhiannon stretched across her table, retrieving a pen and paper to jot down the relevant details. "I'd love to come along. I'm assuming it's at the Conservatorium; what time is it due to start and what's the dress for the evening?"
"The dress is after five and the recital is at 8.00pm, so I assume the evening will start about 7.30pm. I'd like to be there by about 7.00pm, just to limber up my fingers before I play. I was thinking of saving fuel and going together but if that's too early, I can meet you there if you like." Angela's voice trailed away, realising she was making decisions for the businesswoman without even asking her.
Rhiannon sensed the reticence in the other woman's tone and judged it for what it was. "That's fine by me. I'll leave the office early enough to change and then if you like I can pick you up say about 6.30? That will give us plenty of time to fight the traffic if need be."
Angela nodded out of habit, despite the fact she knew she couldn't be seen. "Sounds like a plan. Now I expect if I'm to sound at all like a concert pianist tomorrow evening I best get some rehearsing under my belt."
Rhiannon laughed, her voice lowering to a more intimate and sensuous level. "If last night was any indication, then I expect you've got nothing to worry about, except perhaps your fans throwing themselves at your feet."
The pianist blushed as she recalled the previous evening. "Yes, well that was different. I was playing for an audience whose opinion I cared deeply about and I have to honestly say I haven't played that well in a long time."
The businesswoman found herself at a loss for words. "Hmm, I'm flattered to think that was the case."
"You always had that effect on me. Whenever you listened to my rehearsals I was always focussed towards playing as good as I possibly could. Funny isn't it that after all these years I can only now realise that."
"Ah yes, but better late than never. Hang on a minute."
There was a muffled exchange of words between Rhiannon and another party, before she came back on the line. "I'm sorry but I'm going to have to go. It would seem I've been summoned. Can I still call you tonight?"
"Of course you can. I'm expecting a call from Lachlan around 7.00pm, but any time other than that would be fine. I expect I better get my act into gear or the day will have passed and I'll be still lounging in bed." Angela finished, rising from the bed and going to her wardrobe to lay out clothes for the day ahead.
"As fun as it sounds you're right. I'll call you later this evening and you can tell me how your rehearsals have been going. I'll talk to you soon." Waiting for Angela to say her goodbyes before ending the call Rhiannon made her way to the top floor of the building she was in and the group of Company Directors that awaited her.
The morning passed relatively quickly for Rhiannon, with most of it taken up by meetings with various representatives of the company she was doing consulting for. The meeting that had interrupted her call with Angela had been between senior directors of the Management Committee who were keen to provide her with an overview of both the organisation and the work they performed. She was again reminded of the importance of not discussing the nature of their work and that was indeed fine by her. Firstly they had been so vague about specific projects, she really wasn't in a position to discuss them with any credibility. Secondly, her focus was purely on people problems and outside of her business hours she wasn't really in the habit of discussing her work with anyone. She had to admit that up until very recently and despite previous relationships of varying lengths, there was really no one she wanted to share it with anyway. Of course that had the potential to change, although both her and Angela still had a lot of talking to do.
Taking a moment to stare out her window she found herself wondering where the relationship was heading and cast her mind back to the events of the previous evening. Was it the magic of the evening or was Angela interested in something more than that? From her perspective Rhiannon was eager to give their rekindled friendship every opportunity of developing further, however she was keen to ensure this was what the other woman wanted as well. The ringing of her phone broke through her thoughts and she answered it rather absently. Laughter down the line was the result.
"So Miss Sharp are you always so vague on the phone or just for select people?"
Rhiannon immediately recognised the soft tones of Elly Matheson, her English teacher whom she'd caught up with at the school reunion. "You should know us right-brained types. Always away with the birds on one concept or another." The two shared a laugh before she continued. "So how are you and more so how can I help you?"
"I was telling Jennifer how I'd caught up with you at the reunion and how you'd returned to town after being away for a while and she thought it might be a good idea if we got together for dinner. So are you free tomorrow night?" Elly waited for a response from the other woman.
"That sounds great but unfortunately I've got a date for tomorrow evening." She winced her features, closing her eyes in embarrassment, realising how her words must have sounded.
Elly couldn't help but laugh at the other woman. "I've heard of fast workers but that is quick. I didn't think you'd been back in the country long enough to actually find someone who piqued your interest." The ex-teacher paused as she recalled the mission her ex-student had been on during the reunion. "Or did you happen to find who it was you were looking for on Saturday night?"
The businesswoman was at odds to halt the blush that suffused her features. "Yes, in fact I did and a date probably isn't the right word for it. I've been invited to a function at the Conservatorium and I thought it would be nice to get back into the social side of things." Not to mention the company I'm going with. She added silently.
The last few comments had more than confirmed Jennifer's suspicions regarding the 'mysterious' woman Rhiannon had been trying to catch up with at the reunion. "So why don't you ask Angela if she'd like to come along?"
Surprised, Rhiannon couldn't help but look at the phone before forming an answer. "How did you know?"
Elly chuckled. "Remember on Saturday evening I mentioned there were other people who had eyes only for you on the last day of school? I was referring to Angela. If I ever lost you in the room that day all I had to do was find her and follow the path of her eyes. I wondered at the time if the two of you were more than just friends."
"That day was so difficult for both of us. We were great friends and she supported me well through what could have been a difficult final year. I often used to sit in the hall as she rehearsed of a morning. I found it relaxed me to do so. Unfortunately it was only on the evening before the final day of school when both of us realised there was a possibility our feelings ran deeper than merely friendship." Rhiannon paused, recalling how difficult the final day had been before she pulled back to the current conversation. "She was at the reunion, in her usual place in the hall. We had lunch and dinner the next day and finally got around to talking about what we should have spoken about 20 years ago. It's still early but there seems to be something there Elly but, well, she's never gone out with a woman before and I think it's all relatively new to her, if you know what I mean." Rhiannon took comfort in being able to discuss the situation with another person. It wasn't as if there were many she could do this with.
The ex-teacher tried to place herself in the shoes of Angela. "Do you think she might be uncomfortable coming to dinner then?"
"I don't know. While she may have never gone out with a woman before I'd be surprised if in the world of music she hasn't been exposed to the idea. In fact dinner might help her to work through a few issues that are no doubt plaguing her mind." Although the pianist hadn't mentioned anything, it would be foolish for Rhiannon to believe she hadn't considered the reaction Lachlan might have to the situation. "She lost her husband to terminal illness and she has a young son. Of course, then there's always the fact that the situation between the two of us is relatively new to her. I'll ask her and see if she'd like to come and get back to you. However, given we're busy on Tuesday, could we make it Wednesday? I'd love to catch up with you and meet Jennifer, even if I end up going stag." She finished in a light-hearted tone.
"Wednesday's fine for us, just let me know how many I'm cooking for and if there's anything either you or the two of you don't eat. I better let you go, but could you let me know by say, Wednesday morning?"
"Not a problem." Rhiannon waited as Elly gave her directions to her home, jotting the information down on the notepad in front of her. Finishing the call the businesswoman made a note to ask Angela whether she wanted to go to dinner when she called her later that evening. The difficulty was how was she going to explain their dinner partners?
As it was, Rhiannon barely got a reasonable conversation out of the pianist that evening, her mind clearly focussed on ensuring she was ready for the recital on Tuesday night. As she explained the dinner was with a couple of female friends Angela seemed to have no great objection to the idea and it was only when the conversation ended Rhiannon wondered if she'd explained herself as well as what she could. Rather than bother Angela again she elected to speak with her about it when she picked her up tomorrow night.
All the same Rhiannon couldn't help but smile at the preoccupation of the other woman. It was just as the businesswoman had remembered her when she was rehearsing in the hall, her focus clearly on the instrument in front of her. She found herself eager to again hear her play again.
Tuesday flew by for Angela as she continued to rehearse for the evening's recital. She knew she would be among friends and she could play as if she were a novice and they would still be happy for her entertaining them. However, that wasn't the issue. Regardless of a rather lengthy sojourn away from playing with an orchestra, her attention to detail and her craft wouldn't allow her to settle for any less than perfect from her recital. She was relieved she'd checked her clothes the day before as she'd spent the better part of Tuesday afternoon rehearsing on the Steinway they'd set up for her. She arrived home barely in time to change before her doorbell rang, signalling her lift's arrival.
Opening the door she took in the woman before her, standing in the ambient light of the porch. Rhiannon was dressed in platinum-coloured pants, the silky sheen of the cloth highlighted by the muted glow of the landing. This was accompanied by a satin turquoise blouse, completed by a full-length platinum buttonless jacket, made of similar material to the slacks she wore. A light dusting of makeup complemented the woman's features, literally taking Angela's breath away. My god she is so beautiful, she thought.
Rhiannon too was caught up in her own appraisal. Angela had dressed for the evening in a similar attire to what she would normally wear when playing with an orchestra; the businesswoman remembering her attire from the previous time she'd heard her play in London. The skirt was full length and black, accompanied by a white silk shirt, the body of which was full, while leaving tapered sleeves so as not to hinder that pianist's movements with her instrument. In the hollow of her throat sat a flaming black harlequin opal in a modern gold setting, resting comfortably against the woman's fair skin. As Rhiannon's eyes travelled up the body to the hazel eyes of the woman opposite her, both women shared a nervous laugh.
"You look lovely." Angela whispered, being the first of the two to recover.
Rhiannon nodded her head at the compliment. "No more so than you do. You know I've really only seen you in that outfit once before and my breath was taken away on that occasion as well. However, I expect it might be safer for both of us if you grab your wrap and we get on the road. I'm afraid if I come in to collect it for you we may not end up anywhere we're supposed to be."
The pianist felt heat suffuse her features before nodding and heading back into the lounge room. This gave Rhiannon the time she needed to collect her thoughts and wonder how she was ever going to make it through the evening. It had been a long while since anyone had looked at her in the manner Angela just had and it did nothing to control the emotions she felt coursing through her body. Shaking her head in an attempt to clear her thoughts she waited the other woman's return and it wasn't long before they were on their way.
As they drove across the Harbour bridge it was hard not to look at the beauty of Sydney harbour at night. The neon lights of the business district reflected in the inky black water of the harbour, resulting in a shimmering kaleidoscope of colour off the dark waves. On the peninsula known as Bennelong's point stood the Sydney Opera House, the white sails of the building highlighted by subtle lighting, creating an illusion that the sails, although concrete covered in thousands of white tiles, were indeed in motion. Meanwhile on the water, the ferries of the Harbour continued to ply their trade, carrying passengers from one side of Sydney to the other. If its beauty was captured in the evening, it was only surpassed by its presence during the day.
Delicately interrupting the pianist's impromptu sightseeing, Rhiannon took the opportunity to explain more fully the dinner planned for the following evening. She felt a subtle change in the other woman's mood when she mentioned the nature of the relationship of the two women.
"Angela, are you alright with this? I'd understand if you didn't want to come; the last thing I want you to feel is uncomfortable. In fact, why don't we talk about this later, I should have realised now wasn't a good time, I just wanted to make sure you were completely aware of the dinner arrangements." Rhiannon silently chastised herself, realising the pianist's thoughts needed to be focussed towards her recital that evening and not something planned for the following night.
In turn Angela was silent, not quite sure how she felt about the invitation. After all, she'd invited Rhiannon out to this evening's function, but that was different. It wasn't just her and another couple, this was a public event with people she knew and in a strange manner granted a degree of anonymity to the two of them, or so Angela thought. The idea of sitting down to dinner with strangers was a little daunting to the woman who had always been shy around people, normally using her music to create a comfortable buffer between her and others. Realising she'd been considering the question far too long she struggled to translate her thoughts into words that wouldn't offend the woman beside her.
"No, it's okay, it's just I'm not that good around people I've never met before. It's strange I know, considering I'm content to sit in front of a packed concert hall and play, but they're at a reasonable distance if that makes sense." She struggled, trying to ensure that Rhiannon didn't receive the wrong message.
"Well, there's the possibility you'll at least remember one of the women there tomorrow night. Do you remember Elaine Matheson, the English Master at our school?" Seeing the silhouetted nod of the pianist, she continued. "I caught up with her at the reunion and she suggested she'd like to catch up with me when it was possible. She rang me yesterday and asked whether I was free."
"You mean she's," Angela struggled with the words to correctly frame the relationship. "I mean, she's seeing a woman?"
Rhiannon sensed the difficulties Angela was having and tried to phrase her response as casually as possible. "Yes, in fact they've been seeing each other for quite a while. They also have a little girl, Elly's partner, being the maternal mother. Look, why don't you give it some thought and if you're not comfortable then that's fine."
Embarrassed at how accommodating the businesswoman was trying to be, Angela made up her mind. "No, I'd be happy to go with you. It would be interesting to catch up with her after all these years. I didn't see her the other night, but then again I wasn't looking for her either."
Both were lost in their own thoughts as they entered the gates of the conservatorium. Angela directed Rhiannon down a winding single lane road to a spot where should could park her car and before she could alight Rhiannon had opened the door, offering her hand to help her out of the low set sports car. Angela took it gratefully, their touch lingering before the sounds of Phillipa echoed through the still of the evening. Quickly but with regret both women broke the connection.
"Angela, how are you? I didn't realise you'd be here so soon, but then what else should I expect, getting one more rehearsal in hey?" She turned to the woman beside the pianist. "And you must be?" Phillipa paused, waiting for introductions to be made.
Realising Phillipa was waiting for her to make introductions, Angela struggled with just how to do that. While to the pianist it was clear that she and Rhiannon were more than just friends, she'd no idea how her friend would react to the truth of the situation. She decided discretion was the better part of valour. "Phillipa this is an old school friend of mine, Rhiannon Sharp. As I mentioned to you yesterday she's in town on business after not being here for a while."
The tall woman picked up on the reticent tone in Angela's voice, filing it away to analyse its intent when she had a little more time. It was clear there was a degree of discomfort on Angela's behalf and she was in no doubt the pianist was happy for the concealment the evening's darkness afforded. She extended her hand to the pianist's friend. "Hello Phillipa, thankyou for allowing me to come along tonight. The Conservatorium's one of those old buildings in Sydney that are lovely examples of architecture of years gone by. Having said that, I've never actually been inside of it." Rhiannon attempted small talk to deflect the curious glare Phillipa was giving Angela.
Sufficiently diverted, Phillipa quickly seized the potential opportunity for another member of the Conservatorium group. "Really! If that's the case, why don't I show you around while Angela's going through her final rehearsal."
The women reached the foyer of the old building. "That's sounds fine; you don't mind do you Angela?" Somehow Rhiannon felt she wouldn't, preferring at this moment to be by herself.
The look of gratefulness that graced the pianist's features didn't go unnoticed by Rhiannon. "Phillipa could you? I'd really like to just get myself in order so I don't make a complete fool out of myself."
Phillipa laughed. "You forget I heard you this afternoon. I doubt there's any chance of that happening. I'll show Rhiannon around and we'll meet you in the main room at 7.30. Please ensure you make it rather than waiting by your piano. I'm sure there'll be a lot of people happy to see you again."
With that Rhiannon and Phillipa made their way into the depths of the building leaving Angela alone with her thoughts. All of a sudden it seemed as if everything was happening too fast. First the dinner invite and now the idea of mingling in a group of people with Rhiannon close by. One part of her was excited by the prospect, being escorted by a beautiful woman who, despite the many years they'd spent apart, understood her better than most of the friends she knew. Yet on the other hand there was reticence regarding how their friendship would be viewed by her friends. Of course she'd played in orchestras that had people whose partners were the same gender, but she'd never given it much thought, with her close friends either being married or in varying degrees of heterosexual relationships. How would they react to the discovery that while she'd once again found someone, it was a woman?
As she entered the silence of the recital room, she realised that to spend her time considering the issue would only eat into her valuable rehearsal time. Moving to the piano she seated herself. Closing her eyes, she slowed down her breathing, emptying her mind of any distractions till at last all she could see were the notes of the pieces she was to play, her mind's eye running over the keyboard in front of her. Arriving at a state of relaxation she started her final rehearsal.
In the meantime Rhiannon found her time more than occupied by the effervescent Phillipa, who seemed overly keen to show her every historically significant element of architecture there was about the old building. If the businesswoman didn't know any better she would say the socialite was attempting to sell her something and she made a mental note to ask Angela about it later. The enthusiasm of the talkative woman, coupled with the fact she seemed to like the sound of her own voice, gave Rhiannon the time to review the events of the evening so far.
It had been a while since she'd been involved in a relationship and while she'd always been discrete when in public with another woman, she wasn't dishonest. This was aided by the fact that most times people saw what they wanted to see and their view was often jaded by stereotypes. A tall, svelte woman with long dark hair and brooding blue eyes was not exactly their poster-child stereotype of a lesbian. The result was most times when she escorted another woman to a function no questions were asked. However, on the few occasions inquiries had been made she'd told the people to either mind their own business or had been brutally honest, depending on the situation. Somehow she got the feeling tonight was not the night for brutal honesty for, despite the energy the two women generated towards each other, she was sure Angela was struggling in trying to form a frame of reference for her feelings for the businesswoman. At this early stage she'd no intention of forcing her into a situation she wasn't comfortable with and so decided to be careful in the manner in which she conducted herself during the function.
This however proved more difficult than she expected with the evening being a challenge of her sensibilities. It seemed Angela was also not sure how to introduce her to her friends, stumbling over the appropriate words to use for their friendship. When this occurred, Rhiannon allowed her negotiating skills to kick in, smoothing over the introductions in a casual fashion, suggesting Angela's mind was more focussed on her performance than introducing old school friends. Despite this, Rhiannon couldn't help but feel uncomfortable about Angela's reticence.
Despite this, any feelings of reticence Rhiannon possessed disappeared as she listened to the pianist where she was most comfortable - in front of her piano. She couldn't help but look at the woman with a mixture of feeling on her features that wasn't easily hidden and was certainly obvious to anyone who cared to look.
The two had stayed long enough after the recital's end to mingle with the assembled group and the ever-present media before biding their farewells and leaving. Very few words were exchanged between the two women on the return journey, each keeping much to their own thoughts. As she pulled into the driveway of the pianist's home, Rhiannon made no attempt to open Angela's door, fearful that to do so would imply she wished to be invited in, when she wasn't sure that was what Angela wanted. Rather than leave the vehicle Angela turned to the woman beside her.
"Would you like to come in?" The pianist asked, her voice unsure.
"Would you like me to come in?" Rhiannon asked gently.
A silhouetted nod from Angela was her answer and they both made their way to the house. Opening the door to her home the pianist made her way into the lounge room, waiting as the door was closed and the businesswoman had followed her. She turned taking in the unsure features of Rhiannon.
A shy voice found its way from the brown haired woman's throat. "Could I ask a favour?" Seeing the other woman nod silently she continued. "Could you just hold me for a moment?" Before she got any further Rhiannon had crossed the room in two strides and was silently holding her.
Both were lost in the arms of each other, taking comfort in the security of how they felt when they were alone. Easing slightly away from Angela, Rhiannon looked down into the pianist's eyes before ever so slowly lowering her lips to the other woman's. As each melted further into the intimate embrace calmness took hold, suddenly grounding them after being in a state of limbo for the evening. Breaking the kiss Rhiannon led Angela towards the lounge.
Angela seated herself, focussing her efforts on the strong broad hand that encased her more supple elegant ones. "What happened tonight? I mean I was happy with my performance but the whole evening seemed to be incredibly awkward except when it was just the two of us. I've never been in that situation before."
The dark-haired woman smiled reassuringly. "I think the ideal has caught up with the reality and I have to say I'm sorry for that. Maybe I was expecting things to be different to what they are."
The pianist creased her forehead in confusion. "I don't understand what you mean."
"I'm not helping much am I?" Rhiannon paused trying to find the right words. "I expect what I'm trying to say is I think this is new ground for both of us. I've never started this sort of friendship with a woman who, well, has never gone out with a woman before and although I'm a private person I think in the past I've obviously taken some things for granted, not the least of which is how to act in public. It's new ground for you for unless you're not telling me something you haven't been in this sort of situation before either. It's difficult when you're trying to sort out not only your own feelings, but how your friends will react to dare I say recent developments." Seeing the depth of emotion in the hazel eyes of the woman opposite her, the businesswoman raised their hands to her lips, gently placing a kiss on the pianist's knuckles. "What you need to know is that I'd be unhappy if you felt you were being forced into something you didn't want to do. I'm more than happy to take things at your pace or indeed step away if you would feel more comfortable with that."
"No, I don't want you to step away at all. You're right, it's all a little new to me but you have to believe me when I say there's only one thing that's anchoring me at the moment and that's you." She covered their entwined hands with her own. "I honestly don't know where this will end, but I know this evening when we were together I found myself wishing the rest of the world would just go away. But I know that can't be the case and I've just got to work around it, if you'll allow me to do so that is." She finished in an unsure voice.
Rhiannon pulled the other woman into her embrace. "Take your time to work out where you stand. I'll wait and at the end of the day if all we have is friendship then that's fine, although I'd like it to be more." She finished, kissing the forehead of the pianist.
"I do and that's why tomorrow night scares me, but I want to go at the same time if that makes any sense. I don't want to have to think twice about what's going on around me before I look at you, because trust me if I look at you close to how you look at me, we'd be crazy to think someone won't realise what's going on sooner or later." Tilting her face she captured the other woman's lips with her own, shyly seeking entry into Rhiannon's mouth.
As both women relaxed hands began to wander, caressing the flesh imprisoned by nothing more than silk and satin. Despite her comments regarding pacing their relationship, Rhiannon sensed she was rapidly approaching a point where she would find it hard to keep control of herself, despite the apparent willingness of the woman in her arms. Gently disengaging herself from the embrace she rose from the lounge, reaching down for Angela's hand before pulling her up, but not into another embrace. The flushed look of the pianist wasn't lost on the other woman. "As much as I'd like to stay, I think I'd better go before, well, you know." Rhiannon paused, a shy grin lighting her features. "I'll pick you up at about 7.00 tomorrow, but if you change your mind then just give me a call; I won't mind. I'd prefer you be comfortable than to take you somewhere out of some mistaken sense of obligation on your behalf."
Angela brought her free hand up to the dark haired woman's face, caressing it lightly. "No I want to go, really and 7.00 will be fine, I'll ring up Lachlan a little early tomorrow, that's all." They walked silently to the door, hand in hand pausing to share a good night kiss before Rhiannon was on her way.
As the businesswoman pulled out of the driveway Angela closed the door leaning against it in an attempt to gain greater control of her raging emotions. As her breathing returned to normal she turned the light off in the lounge and made her way to her bedroom for what was to be a restless night's sleep.
Wednesday was a quiet day for Angela, allowing her the time to practice in the morning and do some much needed tidying around the house in the afternoon, without the presence of the hurricane commonly known as her son. She supposed he wasn't too bad really and would normally pick up after himself. That was unless his mind was focussed on completing a task. When this was the case he would drive towards it with little consideration for anything that might get in the way. The result was normally a trail that Angela would find, usually with her son at the end of the mess. At first this tended to frustrate her until she realised his actions weren't too dissimilar to her own.
The shrill of the phone provided her a temporary respite from the task of ridding the fridge of sauces and jams well past their use-by date. Pulling the gloves from her hands she reached for the phone.
"Angela how are you?"
The pianist smiled as she recognised her mother's voice. "I'm fine mum, but why are you calling so early? Is everything alright?" A note of alarm entered her voice as a number of scenarios involving possible injuries to her son flashed through her mind's eye.
"No, everything's fine. I rang you early to let you know Lachlan won't be here this evening as he's camping in the Saunders's back yard with their three sons." Maureen Drayton's voice filtered down the line.
Angela breathed a sigh of relief. "Thanks for letting me know; I was going to call earlier tonight anyway. I'm going out to dinner and I didn't want to miss him. Obviously camping has a higher priority over ringing his mother." She uttered with mock indignation.
Her mother joined in the joke. "Yes, well the apple doesn't fall far from the tree with that one. You weren't that dissimilar when you were his age. There were always more important things for you to do than sit still for any period of time. In fact on more than one occasion you neglected to tell me where you were going at all." Both women laughed in reminiscence. "You seem to be getting out a lot lately."
The younger woman frowned in puzzlement. "What do you mean?"
"I see you're playing again. I was watching one of those morning social programs and they mentioned there had been a function at the Conservatorium featuring a recital by you. There was a voice over and some nice pictures I must admit. How did it go and who was that with you?" Maureen shifted the phone to her other hand as she reached for her morning coffee.
Without notice Angela's mind was in overdrive. She'd no idea the media had telecast anything about the evening's recital. Sure they were there, but they always attended such functions taking what she was sure amounted to minutes and hours of footage that never actually reached the televisions of viewers. Of course if they'd televised the evening's events it would be natural there would be footage of her and Rhiannon together. Despite her best attempts she felt a sense of panic begin to surface and she attempted to redirect the conversation. "Why do the media feel it necessary to waste viewers time with such reporting? It was nothing more than a small function to assist the coffers of the 'Save the Con' committee and the additional legal aid they require. God, you'd think there was something more worthwhile to report."
Maureen couldn't help but note the frustration in the other woman's voice, nor the fact her daughter only answered half her question. That morning she'd really only paid a passing interest to the noise emanating from the television, with most of her focus taken up with preparing Lachlan for his camping trip. This had quickly changed as Lachlan shouted at the TV, rushing to turn the volume up to hear what was going on with his mother. Maureen had stopped what she was doing, surprised to hear her daughter was playing again, albeit no more than a small recital for charity purposes. Joining her grandson, she listened to the commentator mention the nature of the recital, running off a string of socialites names who had attended the small gathering. Knowing most of the Sydney social set, Maureen couldn't place the woman who was paying uncommon attention to her daughter among any of these. Whoever it was, her body language belied an attentiveness towards her daughter that confused the older woman.
"Sometimes you amaze me Angela. Of course they'd be interested in what you're doing. You're an internationally renown concert pianist and this is the first time you've played in a while. In fact you're probably lucky they've left you alone for so long. I half expected you'd have them knocking on your door by now, with offers to play again on the international circuit. Speaking of which, was the person you were with chasing you for a performance somewhere or other?"
Angela nearly dropped the phone, not because of the question asked by her mother but of the innocent double meaning the question presented. She expected Rhiannon had indeed chased her and she'd allowed herself to be caught, but not for any musical performance; that was certain. However, how did she explain Rhiannon to her mother? She wished she'd seen the television spot so she could gauge whether the interaction between the two had been captured on film. She'd mentioned last night Rhiannon was at times unguarded with her admiration of her, she couldn't help but wonder whether this had been captured in the television piece. And what to tell her mother? "No, she's not an agent, she's an old school friend I met at the reunion I went to the other night. I don't think you ever met her though, her name's Rhiannon Sharp."
"Hmmm, I know the name, she's written some books if I recall correctly." The older woman could remember scanning something written by a woman by that name at the local bookstore not long ago. If she was right it was something to do with people and they being the link to a successful organisation. At the time it had struck her as humorous that it had taken so long for someone to point out the blatantly obvious. All the same, what she'd read had been well written and showed a depth of commitment that went beyond merely book sales.
"Yes, she's a businesswoman of some note and has just started a new job in town. When we were at school she'd often listen to me rehearse of a morning. It was nice to have someone to talk to who had interests outside of music I suppose."
"Well well, my daughter the social butterfly. So who are you going to dinner with tonight?" The older woman queried, reaching for her coffee.
Angela paused, wondering what she should tell her mother. Certainly if she was to mention she was again going out with Rhiannon this would only generate more questions from her mother. She decided that a creative interpretation of the truth might be in order. "It's just a group of friends that's all, most of whom I don't think you'd know. While I love Lachlan dearly sometimes its nice to have an adult dinner party every now and then."
"Yes, I know what you mean. Kids are lovely, but sometimes it's nice to have adult company every once in a while." Maureen paused as the sounds of her doorbell filtered down the hallway and into the kitchen. "I've got to go love, someone's at the front door. Let me know how your evening went."
"Mum, before you go, would Sunday be okay to pick Lachlan up?" Angela asked hurriedly.
"That's fine. So you're picking him up, you know I'm more than happy to drop him off if that suits you better?" Her mother replied.
"No, a drive in the country will do me good. Say about 2.00 o'clock then?"
The doorbell rang again. "That's fine. I better go, whoever's at the door is incredibly insistent." The older woman said her goodbyes before ringing off.
Angela hung up, trying to come to grips regarding her evasion with her mother. She'd always shared a strong relationship with her mother who had helped her greatly during the early stages of her loss of Phillip. They'd always been able to talk about anything, but how would she explain Rhiannon to her mother? And if she couldn't explain the businesswoman to her, who could she explain her to?
Angela had occupied the remainder of her afternoon, rather than try and rationalise too much how she felt about the developing situation between her and Rhiannon. She was well aware she'd have to face the situation; it was the how she hadn't yet come to grips with.
Arriving that evening for dinner they were met at the door by Elly who, Angela noted, showed little surprise at Rhiannon's dinner partner. Both women had dressed casually for the evening: Angela in tan dockers and a lilac blouse and Rhiannon in dress moleskins and a chambray shirt. Despite the casual attire the two women wore, Elly couldn't help but pick up on an undercurrent from Angela. Attempting to allay any uncertainty she might have, she shook her hand.
"Angela, it's so nice to see you again. Before we go too much further, I have a rather tragic admission to make." Elly smiled reassuringly, seeing the look of confusion flit across the pianist's features. "I am an unashamed fan of yours and absolutely love listening to you play. However, don't worry, there's not a piano in the house so there's no chance of me making you sing for your supper."
Angela smiled, acknowledging the praise from her former English teacher. "Thankyou; it's always nice to know someone enjoys my music."
Elly stepped back and looked at Rhiannon, incredulity obviously written in both their features. Simultaneously they both turned back to the brown-haired woman. Rhiannon was the first to voice her surprise.
"Angela, you can't be serious! How could anyone not love your music? I'm sure there's plenty of people around the world that love the way you play." Momentarily forgetting they had company the businesswoman reached for Angela's hand, her voice lowering in register. "I know I certainly do."
The ex-teacher witnessed the exchange between the two women, noticing the change in Angela's demeanour when Rhiannon spoke to her. It was almost as if the businesswoman represented some sort of anchor to the somewhat shy woman who was still holding onto her hand. Clearing her throat, she gained the attention of the two. "I don't mean to be rude, but if we don't get inside soon Jen will wonder where I've gotten to with the two of you." Stepping aside she ushered them in, closing the door behind them.
Walking into the lounge room Angela couldn't help but smile. It was obvious a child was in residence, the child-proofing of the room bore testimony to that. By her estimation whoever it was, was at least at walking age for anything remotely sharp or fragile had been strategically placed on the highest of shelves. A soft laugh escaped her mouth as she turned to the paternal mother of the child. "And how old is your daughter?"
The two women smiled both aware of the dead giveaway the room presented. "She's three and is very tactile at this point in time." Elly moved across to the mantelpiece over the Victorian fireplace dominating the room. Picking up a photograph, she returned to where the two women still stood. "It's past her bedtime, however here's a picture of her."
Angela took the picture, gazing down at the family setting that greeted her. Encased between Elly and a dark-haired woman with delicate oriental features was a little girl, dressed for a fancy dress party in a mini swan outfit, a smile splitting her features. She was a mirror image of her maternal mother with porcelain-like skin, tufts of hair escaping from the costume she was wearing and accompanied by deep brown eyes. "What a lovely girl." She said quietly.
"Don't be fooled by that small body or those disarmingly innocent looks. She can be a terror when she sets her mind to it." The group turned at the sound of the voice. Coming towards the three women could only have been the daughter's mother. Extending a hand she greeted her guests. "Hello, I'm Jennifer and you could only be Rhiannon." The businesswoman barely acknowledged the introduction before her hand was gripped and pumped vigorously. "You're exactly as Elly said you would be. She then turned her attention to the smaller woman standing beside Rhiannon. In an almost chameleon fashion her demeanor changed, becoming much more quiet and reserved. "And you must be Angela. I'm sure you hear this all the time, but I'm honoured to meet someone as talented as you. You play with a depth of emotion I've very rarely heard before."
Angela silently acknowledged the other woman's comments, feeling as if all at once she was at peace. It wasn't the woman's touch or indeed her compliments. She searched to understand where this feeling was coming from. It was Jennifer's eyes. As dark as they were they sparkled in welcome while at the same time radiating a peace and harmony that drew the other person in, making them feel comfortable in their presence. Rhiannon had mentioned on the trip over that Jennifer was a nurse. She could imagine the compassion and peacefulness this woman radiated would be well served in her profession.
Elly watched the interaction, aware Jennifer sometimes had this effect on people. It was her inner calm that had initially drawn Elly to her. Despite the circumstances or how dire they may seem, Jennifer never seemed to be phased by the situation. The ex-teacher broke the silence of the room. "That's no mean compliment Angela; Jennifer's father once was a concert pianist."
Angela searched her mind, trying to trace a name that may have been familiar. "Can I ask what your father's name was?"
"His stage name was Michael Sumato," Before she could continue Angela's eyes lit up in recognition.
"Of course, I remember him. His recitals are well known for their passion and perfection. His ability to almost become an extension of his instrument was truly amazing. Mind you, the thing I used to find incredibly curious is despite how he played, he never seemed to look exhausted after a performance. I find I both look and feel like a dishrag when I'm finished playing."
"I know what you mean, he didn't seem to perspire a lot. That was a genetic trait and not a very good one at that. His inability to perspire would often cause his system to almost overheat, much like a runner's does if they don't get enough fluid into their system when they're running. Why I remember one time,"
Elly held up her hand part in jest and part to halt her lover. "No medical stories tonight please. If I have to sit through one more procedure over a dinner table there may be blood and it definitely won't be mine."
Jennifer laughed, aware she'd only been stopped at the last minute. "Okay, I promise." She circled her arm around her partner's waist drawing her to her side. As she did so, out of the corner of her eye she noticed the reaction of the pianist. Casually disengaging herself she turned her attention to her partner. "Now, I've tossed the salad, prepared the cheese plate and the pre-dinner nibbles just need to be put together." She paused, making shooing motions with her hands. "How about you two go and put them together and leave me to show Angela around. I'm sure you can't get into too much trouble with that can you?"
Years of living with the same woman made Elly attuned to the fact her partner wished to speak in private with the other woman. Rather than question her motive, she dragged a protesting Rhiannon through the door into the other room.
Jennifer turned back to Angela, who was attempting to look nonplussed by the recent turn of events, but not altogether succeeding. "How about I show you around? I need to check on Beth anyway, just to make sure she's actually gone to bed rather than play with her toys."
The pianist's body relaxed as she recalled how Lachlan had been at that age. "I know what you mean. I can remember putting Lachlan down for a sleep one afternoon in the bedroom of a friend. Unfortunately they had wardrobes along one side of the room, with mirrors for doors and he was absolutely fascinated by them. I left him for about half an hour and decided to check that he was still in the middle of the bed sleeping. He was in the middle of the bed all right; albeit preoccupied with looking at himself in the mirror. I'll never forget when he caught sight of me. He went from vertical to horizontal in matter of seconds." Both women shared a laugh, relating well to the actions of young children.
They paused outside the entry to the young child's bedroom, silently opening the door. The room itself was bathed in a warm glow, courtesy of the Blinky Bill night lamp sitting on the chest of draws decorated with scenes from Snugglepot and Cuddlepie and the gumnut babies. Asleep in the middle of a small bed protected by a safety rail was Beth, clutching a stuffed bilby to her chest. Angela smiled remembering Lachlan at that age as Jennifer walked over to again draw the blanket over the sleeping child. Both departed the room unnoticed, closing the door behind them.
Angela smiled as they made their way back into the lounge room. "She's a real cutie."
"Yes she is, but boy she has a temper when she wants to. Some days it takes every ounce of my patience not to send her to her room and leave her there until she's 18. But yes, we love her dearly." Jennifer replied, surreptitiously placing emphasis on the word 'we'.
As they both made themselves comfortable on the sofa Angela searched for a way to diplomatically pose the numerous questions circling her mind, deciding to opt for an easy on to start with. "How did you and Elly meet?"
Jennifer smiled inwardly. She felt the other woman was keen to broach a number of issues; her innate ability to sense such things had been invaluable during her time as a nurse. She intuited an obvious closeness between Angela and Rhiannon, despite the short time they'd been re-acquainted. Yet at the same time there seemed to be a reticence on behalf of the pianist, almost as if she wasn't sure of herself. Realising Angela was still waiting a response, she recalled how her and Elly had met.
"It was funny actually and a bit of fate was thrown in for good measure. We both attended a women's camping long weekend in the Blue Mountains. We were doing a bit of a hike along the Six Foot track and were coupled up for the event. Unfortunately the two people who were supposed to be coming with us couldn't make it and so we got thrown in together, in the same tent for the weekend. We didn't get on all that well at first, finding it difficult to agree on any form of common ground. However as the weekend progressed we both realised there was something between us that was worthwhile pursuing, and pursue it we did. That was about ten years ago now and we're still going strong. Sure, we've had our ups and downs and in the beginning not everything ran smoothly. All the same, I'd have to say the end result was well worth the early hurdles we faced."
Angela seemed to reflect on these words, wanting to pursue the matter further when they were interrupted by Rhiannon and Elly's noisy entrance from the kitchen; one carrying a tray of food and the other wine and glasses. The ex-English teacher placed a tray of pre-dinner finger food on the coffee table before flopping herself, somewhat dramatically into one of the antique green leather recliners. "After all that effort I believe I deserve a drink. So Rhiannon, how about you do the honours?" The businesswoman laughed at the antics of Elly before pouring a glass of wine for each of the selected gathering.
Despite her misgivings regarding the dinner, Angela found herself surprised at the speed with which the evening progressed. It seemed the two women had only just arrived when it was time for them both to leave. With Rhiannon working the following day, it was necessary for her to make it a relatively early night. As they drove home Angela smiled as she recalled the interaction between the ex-teacher and the nurse. While her profession had it's fair share of gay musicians, she very rarely witnessed what home life was like for two men or women in a relationship. Having now been given the opportunity she was surprised at her own prejudices. Before the dinner she'd wondered whether she would be altogether comfortable in what she perceived to be an unrealistic setting. She chastised herself as the reality of the situation dawned on her. The love and friendship the two women shared wasn't that dissimilar to the relationships shared in heterosexual relationships. She wondered if she and Rhiannon would ever be allowed to get to a point where they shared the same life together. She frowned as the reality of the transient lifestyle of both women hit home. They were still yet to discuss their somewhat busy personal lives.
As Rhiannon manoeuvred the roadster around the streets of northern Sydney she smiled as she recalled the events of the evening. When they'd first arrived she was concerned the dinner wouldn't be a long one at all, given the discomfort of the pianist. However, it seemed the longer they stayed, the more relaxed Angela became, to the extent that she was actually enjoying herself. This was aided in no uncertain fashion by the soothing presence of Jennifer, who seemed in a very short period of time to sum up the situation and take a nervous Angela under her wing.
The only hiccup to the evening had been during the main meal when Elly had mentioned seeing the two women on that morning's current affairs program. Casting a surreptitious eye towards the pianist, Rhiannon had been aware of a tightening of the other woman's features, the lightness of her response belying her body language. Angela had casually mentioned how her mother had contacted her that morning, asking her the same questions. She joked, suggesting she was surprised that her mother, having seen her on TV so many times, still felt the need to contact her every time she saw her there. Jennifer had also picked up on Angela's forced casual responses to Elly's questions and had attempted to put a close to the line of conversation, suggesting the two of them looked lovely together.
Arriving at the pianist's residence, Rhiannon followed Angela through the front door and to the lounge room. She took a seat as Angela prepared a nightcap for the two of them. "You looked as if you enjoyed yourself tonight." She paused as Angela nodded in acknowledgment. "So what's this about a news article? I don't think I saw the news this morning. So did we look good or what?"
Angela took a seat beside the businesswoman, offering her one of the two Ports she'd poured. "What do you think? You could have turned up in a sack and you still would have outshone everyone in the room."
Rhiannon smiled as she took a sip of Port. She rolled the sweet liquid around her mouth, savouring the subtle flavours of the rich wine. Nodding in compliment of the quality of wine, she raised the question she'd been wanting to ask for the greater part of the evening. "So your mother saw the news clip?" she paused as the brown haired woman beside her nodded. "Did she say anything?"
Angela understood the implication of the final question, recalling her discussion that morning with her mother. "At first she thought you were some sort of industry person, chasing me for a performance somewhere or other. I told her you were just an old school friend and she seemed to be happy with the answer." She paused as she sensed an imperceptible shift from the woman beside her.
Leaning forward, Rhiannon placed her Port on the coffee table. "Is that what we are Angela? Just old school friends?" The blue-eyed woman asked quietly.
The pianist could have kicked herself. It was obvious her offhand response was at odds with the newfound relationship both women were experiencing. Angela placed her nightcap on the small table beside her. "No, that's not it at all. I don't know, I didn't think telling my mother about the nature of our friendship was something that should be discussed over the phone, if at all." She halted as she saw the look of pain that crossed the businesswoman's features. She reached for Rhiannon's hand, entwining her fingers with the other woman's.
"I'm not explaining myself very well, am I? We seem to hit on the important conversations when it's least appropriate to do so. You need to get some sleep if you're to function tomorrow and yet we do need to talk about a lot of issues between the two of us." She paused turning Rhiannon's downcast face towards her own. "You must know that I feel something for you that seems to have been missing from my life for a number of years. But this is all new for me. When I'm with you, the time seems to fly by all too fast. Despite the short time we've been reunited, when you're away from me, the hours seem to drag by before I see you again. Yet, I'm still trying to find a way to explain to others what it is I feel for you. However, be in no doubt you're more than just a school friend." Angela finished, snaking her hand to the back of Rhiannon's head, urging it towards her own and her waiting lips.
As the kiss deepened Angela's hands wandered across the back of the other woman, luxuriating in the play of the muscles she found there. Despite the years since school, it was obvious the businesswoman kept up a fitness regime that would put a teenager to shame. Seeking more contact, the pianist slid her hands under the other woman's jacket, stroking the muscle now only encased in the silkiness of a shirt.
Rhiannon moaned at the greater contact drawing Angela closer to her. With the opening of her jacket to the other woman's roaming hands, Rhiannon became intimately aware of the hardened nipples of the pianist against her own aroused chest. Entangling her hands in Angela's hair, she trailed her kisses to a hollow point in the woman's throat. Her soft caresses of the area were met by the other woman with a need for greater contact, and Rhiannon found herself being drawn down onto the lounge. Until that moment the businesswoman had managed to hold back the flood of emotion and want that threatened to burst forth. However, she knew to go any further would break down any remnant of self-control she possessed. Reluctantly she eased herself off the other woman, looking into Angela's passion-glazed eyes. She chuckled as the other woman brought herself back to the present.
"It seems discussions aren't the only things we have bad timing for. If I'm to get anything done tomorrow and be awake at the same time I really do have to get back to the hotel and get some sleep." She reluctantly released her hold on the pinainst and offering her a hand drew Angela up from her dreamlike state on the lounge. "If I'm to have the initial needs analysis done on time, I'm really going to have to work some late hours between now and Saturday morning." She paused as the features of the pianist fell. "However, I present the report at nine and should be finished well before midday. How does a picnic sound? Just the two of us on the foreshores of Sydney?"
Angela nodded. "Sometimes it's easy to forget when you work the hours I do that there are other jobs with relatively normal hours. A picnic sounds like a great idea. Do you want me to prepare anything?"
The businesswoman shook her head. "No don't worry about it. The hotel has a range of picnic baskets it will prepare at a price. I was thinking we could walk down the hill to the park down by the water. There's a small beach there and if it's hot enough we could always go for a swim."
"That sounds like a great idea, especially the not having to do anything part. Now that's the sort of picnic I like." She chuckled as she opened the door for Rhiannon. "So I guess I'll see you on Saturday then?"
"It sounds like a plan. How about we look at meeting in the foyer, say around 12.30pm?" Seeing the pianist nod, Rhiannon kissed her quickly before making her way out the door and to her waiting car.
Waving the other woman goodbye, Angela found herself wishing that Saturday couldn't come soon enough. Closing the door on the outside world she made her way to her room where after a quick shower she made herself comfortable in bed, once again revisiting the days events before she drifted off to sleep.
"So as you can see, the initial analysis of your situation reveals you have a highly skilled, motivated and intelligent group of people working for you. There's no doubt the financial incentives you give them are more than generous, but that's not going to stop an exodus of your people. Financial stability, while a key need, is not the sole determinant for people remaining with an organisation. At least 80% of the people I spoke with felt as if they were working in an organisation that didn't recognise the integral worth of their people." The businesswoman was forced to pause as she was interrupted by one of the Vice Presidents.
The frustration of the VP was evident. "How can you say that when you've only just finished telling us we reward them very well financially?"
Angela held up her hand in an attempt to allow her to complete her preliminary report. "Yes but that's not how these people see it. Have you ever received a present from someone and merely got money? Can you remember how you felt?" She paused as she allowed her audience to reminisce. "Of course you were happy to get the money, but in some sense it was almost as if giving the money was a convenience. The giver didn't have to invest a lot of mental rigour about what to buy and in fact that was left to the receiver." She could see the penny drop in the faces of at least half her group. "That's how these people are perceiving it as well. Humans need physical recognition of their worth not only through money, but through group recognition of their efforts, attendance on courses and promotion. These are the emotional aspects of recognition that serve to motivate people. Sure, keep rewarding your people financially, but reward them emotionally as well. Studies have shown that this is the key to retaining your personnel. Putting meat on the bones of your organisation will result in a more harmonious work environment. And if you think you're getting great ideas from your people now, a harmonious working environment will improve their outputs exponentially. Now, I'd be more than happy to come up with some ideas for you to look at if you're interested." She finished, allowing the group to speak among themselves as she packed up her presentation.
Clearing his throat, the CEO of Gardely and Balen rose from his seat. "Well Ms Sharp I'm very impressed with your findings and would be more than happy to hear any suggestions you might have for the company. Putting your suggestions into practice, might I suggest that as a consequence of your efforts, you take Monday off and you can start looking into a plan of action on Tuesday with the VP's on a more one to one basis. As for the rest of the day, I've no doubt you have plans that don't involve being stuck in an office for the next eight hours."
The businesswoman thanked the CEO before gathering her things and leaving the boardroom. Already her mind was abuzz with how she and Angela might spend their time together.
"You know, I'm glad I opted for sandals today. You could have told me our picnic involved a preliminary two kilometre forced march." Angela could already feel the promise of aching muscles in the tops of her legs.
Rhiannon laughed. "What are you complaining about? You're only carrying your towel. I'm lugging our lunch and wine to boot!"
"Yes but something tells me you're more than used to this sort of physical activity. The closest I get to it these days is the walk I made down to the hotel this morning. Are you sure it wouldn't have been just as easy to get the hotel limousine to drop us down at the beach?" The pianist queried, brushing a fly away from her face.
"What and miss such a marvellous walk? Besides, there's a method to my madness. With the size of this hamper I think we're going to need to work up an appetite otherwise we will need to call for the limo for the journey home."
Angela stopped, grabbing the other woman's arm to halt their progress. "You mean we're going to walk home as well?"
The businesswoman couldn't help but smile at the look of incredulity on her friend's features. "Well, we will have to walk off lunch, won't we?" she paused stepping clear of the mock swipe thrown by the brown-haired woman. "All right, if you insist I'll call for the limo to take us back up the hill. I'm sure I packed my mobile somewhere in my bag."
Relief was mirrored in Angela's features. "Thank heaven's for that. Next thing I know you'll have me running." She shuddered at the thought.
Rhiannon laughed, "No, that's next week's plan. You know I've seen some wonderful things in my travels but Sydney harbour has to be one of the loveliest sights there is, especially on a day like today."
Their walk down the hill towards the water afforded them an uninterrupted view of the waters of the harbour, liberally dotted with pleasure boats and yachts, bobbing around on its deep green surface. Rhiannon pointed to one of the ferries making its way from one side of the harbour to the other. "You know when we were still at school I sometimes used to miss a day and come and ride the ferries. That was before they were all enclosed and you could still feel the spray on your face. I particularly used to like catching the Manly ferry on really rainy and windy days. The feel of the boat as it passed across the Heads that lead out into open water always meant the journey was a precarious one. Sure there were days when they would cancel the ferry but on the days when they didn't the ride was amazing and yet terrifying at the same time. Sometimes I used to wonder whether it matched my life - feeling as if I was in control but only by the most tenuous of links." The businesswoman paused as she recalled those days from so long ago.
Angela reflected on the insight the other woman had just given her. When they'd initially met so many years ago she sensed the sportswoman had been troubled. She also recalled the days when Rhiannon had missed her morning rehearsal and she found herself wondering if these days had coincided with bad weather days. Angela elected not to pursue the line of discussion, somehow sensing there was more to this introspection than met the eye and yet realising the subject was one better served when they were both not walking down the hill. Yet she felt the need to let the other woman know she was there if she needed to talk. "I often wondered where you got to on those days. You always seemed a little distant for a few days after your absences. You know if you ever want to talk about it, I'm more than willing to listen." The pianist allowed her fingers to trail reassuringly down the other woman's arm.
Rhiannon shook herself out of her temporary reverie and turned and smiled at the woman beside her. "Thankyou, I think I'll take you up on the offer - maybe after we've had a bite to eat."
The beach they arrived at was one of the many small inlets that dotted the foreshore of Sydney harbour. Being inside the harbour itself there were little waves to speak of, instead the water gently lapped at the golden sand, infrequently interrupted with larger waves created by the wake of marine traffic. Setting themselves up under one of the trees dotting the fringe of the beach both women took pleasure in watching the spectacle before them. The spot itself wasn't too busy; a beach cricket match was in full swing down the far end of the sands, while a small yacht was moored in the deeper waters to the front of the beach. As they watched the game occurring down the beach, Angela couldn't help but laugh at the restlessness of the woman beside her. It seemed age hadn't confined Rhiannon's competitive spirit and she was champing at the bit to join in the fun. When the cricket ball rolled to within a few metres of their picnic blanket Angela knew the battle was lost. With pleading eyes Rhiannon picked up the ball and turned towards the musician. "Go!" was all a laughing Angela could manage before the other woman was halfway down the sand.
In retrospect it hadn't been such a bad idea. The pianist was treated to an unimpeded view of the toned body of the businesswoman as she chased the ball along the sand before pivoting and throwing the ball back in the direction of the stumps. While the shorts Rhiannon wore were modest, they still afforded a tantalising view of legs whose muscles moved with a litheness which was testimony to the physical fitness of the person they belonged to. In between laying out the picnic on the blanket she took time to take in the vista before her.
The game was halted as most beach games are when an over-zealous batsman hit the ball into the deeper waters of the harbour. Without thought Rhiannon was into the surf and swimming towards the ever retreating ball when she heard the call of Angela from the water's edge.
"How about you leave that for now and come and have some lunch?"
Reluctantly turning away from her target she swam with easy strokes towards the shore. Reaching sand she rose out of the water and moved towards the other woman.
Angela was at once glad the other group had also broken for lunch and were far too preoccupied to see the vision moving with sure strides through the shallow water. The linen blouse the sportswoman wore had lost its opaqueness and Angela found herself both relieved and yet frustrated over the bikini top now easily seen through the see-through blouse. However, the soaked top did little to hide the tanned flat stomach of the other woman who, preoccupied with wringing some of the sea out of her hair, was impervious to the effect the visage was having on the pianist. Angela swallowed, wondering how she was ever going to make it through the rest of the afternoon.
Rhiannon reached for her towel before flopping her athletic body down on the blanket. "That was great fun! Why didn't you join us?"
Angela passed a glass of wine to the woman beside her. "I could have I suppose, but who would have prepared lunch?" She laughed as she saw the apologetic look on Rhiannon's features. "Don't worry about it, I saw more than enough from here and managed to set up lunch at the same time. Now let's eat before the flies and the ants conspire to carry this away."
A mix of seafood, salad and a couple of glasses of wine relaxed both women as they ate and talked their way through a great deal of the afternoon. Although Rhiannon had restricted herself to only a couple of glasses of white she was reluctant to go in for a swim, having seen too many people get into trouble by mixing alcohol with water. Angela, having listened to one of the tales the businesswoman had regarding such an incident elected to do the same and both women spent a great deal of their time catching up on topics and years lost between the two.
As they shared their interests the conversation wound its way to Rhiannon's writing and more particularly her poetry. Angela listened fascinated as Rhiannon explained the story behind some of the poems contained within her book. She was surprised to learn how many of the poems had been written while Rhiannon had been in her senior years at school, for the words belied a maturity that was rarely found in people of that age. The recurring theme with a lot of the poems was the source of inspiration - Virginia Martinson.
Rhiannon paused in her telling, sipping a glass of wine while throwing the remains of their dinner to the seagulls that now dotted the beach. She had enjoyed their afternoon and the ease at which both women seemed to be able to speak on just about any topic. All the same, she'd been somewhat surprised at how readily she had been willing to share with Angela the source of a number of her poems. She very rarely spoke about Virginia. Even the conversations the two had shared in school about the student had been somewhat restrained. Rhiannon had been reluctant to fully share her pain with anyone and yet now it seemed cathartic to speak her name.
This wasn't lost on Angela and she searched for the right words to ask a question that had been playing on her mind for a while. In her semi-reclined position she reached out, touching the thigh of the other woman in order to bring her attention back from tormenting the seagulls with morsels of their long since finished lunch. Gaining Rhiannon's attention she sought to diplomatically pose her question. "Rhiannon, you mentioned a lot of your poetry seems to be inspired by Virginia." Seeing the other woman nod she continued. "Were you and her friends, I mean in the sense that you and I are friends?" she stumbled over her words awkwardly, somewhat unsure of how to ask what she was keen to know.
The businesswoman cast her eyes over the now-shaded waters of the harbour before returning her gaze to the woman beside her. "I loved her Angela, although nothing ever came of it. I sometimes sensed she felt the same way although it was as if both of us knew there was something different in our friendship, we were both reluctant to cross that line. I'd never felt that way for another person although even then I knew I preferred women to men. It was a big step. The Christmas break we had away from each other gave me time to reflect and I had decided to tell her when we returned from the break. Unfortunately it was too late."
Try as she might Rhiannon couldn't hide the pain of the reminiscence. Despite the openness of where they were Angela reached for the other woman's hand, stroking it gently. "I'm sorry I asked you about Virginia; it's obviously still painful for you to talk about her."
The businesswoman took in the entwined hands of the two before returning her gaze to Angela. "You're right it is painful, even now. However I don't think you realise the strength and friendship you gave me in that final year. If I hadn't found you I don't know what I would have done. Being able to talk to you and listen to you play was the balm I needed at the time. Our friendship meant a lot to me and still does." Rhiannon paused as she brushed an errant strand of hair away from the other woman's face. "If you'll allow me I want our friendship to be so much more."
Angela smiled ruefully. "So do I, it's just there seems to be so much else that needs to be considered. When we're together it's as if nothing else matters and I feel as if I could stay with you for as long as you'd have me. Then the rest of the world comes crashing in and I don't know how to deal with it." She paused, trying to make her words sound less confused. "My son, I have no idea how he will react to a relationship between the two of us and that's just a start. I know what I want and that's to be with you, yet at the same time there are competing pressures."
Rhiannon was both pained and yet relieved they were having this conversation. She had sensed confusion on Angela's behalf and it was to be expected. Rhiannon had known for the greater part of her life where her choices lie and Angela was just discovering hers. It was understandable she would be confused. Despite the frustration caused by Angela's concerns, Rhiannon found herself heartened also. For the first time the pianist had referred to their friendship as a relationship and whether she realised it or not, that was a significant step. Despite this, she understood the reticence of the other woman.
"Angela I want you to know I would never come between your son and you and I understand your concerns. However, do you think you're putting up walls again without giving our relationship a chance? You know my aunt used to say there's only one way to eat an elephant and that's one bite at a time. If you look at a problem and see it as the size of an elephant it will always seem insurmountable. Why don't we just take this one bite at a time and see how we go. After all, I've waited 20 years to tell you how I feel, do you doubt my patience?" The businesswoman finished with a twinkle in her eye.
Angela couldn't help but smile. "How is it you can make things seem so easy?"
"Problems can be as big or small as you want them to be, it's all in the perspective of how you see them that helps to make them surmountable." The businesswoman drained the remaining wine.
"You know, I have to pick up my son tomorrow and well, if you weren't doing anything would you like to come for the drive? I'd really like you to meet my mum and for her to meet you. I wasn't entirely honest with her the other day when we spoke on the phone and that doesn't sit well with me. I'd really like her to know about the two of us."
The businesswoman sat up and faced Angela. "Are you sure that's what you want? I'm more than happy to come on the drive with you, but don't feel as if I'm forcing you to do something before you're ready to do it yourself."
"Don't tell me you have a thing against mother-in-laws?" Angela dodged a mock swipe from Rhiannon. "She's really nice you know and doesn't bite at all; well at least not too deeply." The pianist yelped as Rhiannon leapt across the blanket, effectively pinning the other woman beneath her. Searching for a ticklish spot she proceeded to make her point.
"No, I'm not frightened of mother-in-laws." She paused as she fought with the hand that was hindering her from her target. "And believe me I can bite back if necessary." Pausing again she effectively trapped both hands above the other woman's head. "And finally, just be thankful that we're in a public place or I don't think I could stop myself from kissing you right now."
Angela looked up into the face perilously close to her own. Mere inches separated the two and it wouldn't take much at all for her to reach up and capture the businesswoman's lips. This, coupled with the thigh that had insinuated itself between the pianist's legs made thinking difficult. Throwing caution to the wind she reached up and captured Rhiannon's lips with her own. As she did the sound of thunder echoed across the harbour.
"Wow, I would never have known your kisses could do that." Rhiannon laughed at the blushing features of the woman below her. Before she could utter much more the first splashes of rain hit her back. Reluctantly rolling off the other woman she reached for her bag. "If we don't want to get soaked best we pack up this repast and make for cover. I'll call for the limo."
As Angela packed the remains of their picnic the businesswoman pulled her mobile from her bag.
"Dammit! I knew there was something I was supposed to do last night. I forgot to recharge the phone." Disgustedly she threw it back into where it had been moments before.
"Well I suppose we're just going to have to wait it out under these trees." Angela picked up the bag containing the remains of their lunch and made for the closest tree.
Rhiannon shook her head as she walked toward the shorter woman. "You don't do picnics very much do you?" Seeing the confused look on the other woman's features she continued. "Trees are the worst places to wait out a thunderstorm. They have a tendency for attracting lightning." She barely masked a laugh as the pianist jumped away from the tree as if it were a snake.
"Well what do you suggest? We can't stand here and get wet." Angela paused at the wicked smile that dominated Rhiannon's features. "You can't be serious! We can't walk home; we'll get soaked. And besides, it's all up hill!"
Rhiannon laughed as she took the picnic basket and towels from the pianist. "No more soaked than if we stay here. Really, it's not that far." She could see the other woman was far from convinced. "Look we'll go as far as the hotel and wait the storm out there. There's towels in my room and you can dry yourself off while we wait for it to pass. Come on, we're only getting wet standing around here."
Angela's vacillation was cut short by the sound of more thunder, this one closer than the previous one. Reluctantly they made their way up the hill, finally reaching the hotel foyer looking as if they'd both taken a shower with their clothes on. Following Rhiannon's lead, they made for the closest elevator that whisked them away to the sixth floor and the dry towels that awaited them.
Closing the door behind her Rhiannon opened the wardrobe, in turn extracting two white terry towelling bath robes. Passing one to Angela she ushered her towards the door behind which held the bathroom. "Why don't you take a shower and get changed into this. I'll try and find something of mine that might fit you until we can get you home."
Angela turned and looked the other woman up and down before laughing. "Yes, I'm sure a pair of your shorts will capably do as a pair of my pants. Has anyone told you you're quite tall?" She finished as she was turned and propelled in the direction of the bathroom.
"Can we have this conversation later? I'd like to have a shower once you're finished and sometime before I die from hypothermia." Closing the door behind Angela, Rhiannon searched for the temperature controls in the room to bring it above the cooled atmosphere it currently was. As she did so she called room service for some hot coffee and cakes, just the way to see out a stormy Sydney afternoon.
She'd barely closed the door from the prompt room service when a robe encased pianist entered the room, towelling her fine brown hair as she went. Rhiannon struggled to look as nonchalant as possible while her mind raced over what lay beneath the robe of Angela's. In turn Angela seemed oblivious to the effect she was having on the other woman, instead making a beeline for the aroma of freshly brewed coffee. Shaking herself out of the sight of Angela bending over and helping herself to the room service, Rhiannon headed for the bathroom. "I'll only be a minute," she managed before entering and resting her back against the closed door. Stripping her wet clothes she entered the shower and the warmth of the water that washed away some of the chill caused by the rain.
Taking a sip from her coffee Angela marvelled at the view of the harbour afforded by the double windows in the businesswoman's suite. From the sixth floor window she had an uninterrupted view of the harbour and the storm that now lashed it. She couldn't help but wonder at how quickly the scenery had changed from one of serene cool green waters to one of grey whitecaps, lit up by the lightning that like fireworks lit up the harbour and surrounding shores. Thinking on the afternoon's events and the predicament she found herself in just before the storm, she felt a warmth filter in her belly as she remembered the kiss they'd shared, not to mention Rhiannon's errant leg. So preoccupied in her thoughts was she that she wasn't aware of the other woman's presence until she spoke.
"It's beautiful isn't it? It's one of the reasons I like staying here. On days like today I could sit here for hours and do nothing but look at nature placing us mere mortals back into perspective."
Angela took in the show before her, the reflection of Rhiannon now obvious in the glass of the window. "If I remember correctly you wrote a poem about the ocean didn't you?" She turned and faced the other woman. "Is this where you got your inspiration?"
"The harbour yes, this window, no. I was stuck in a seminar at Middle Head in Mosman that had been droning on for a couple of days. The only good thing was the seminar rooms were literally at the top of a headland that looked right out through the heads of Sydney harbour. On this particular day the seas were so rough the waves were hitting the sixty foot cliffs of North and South Head with the white spray breaking over the top of them. I don't think I learnt a lot that day although it did give me inspiration for the poem. I know it sounds strange, but I really do enjoy days like this, especially when I'm out of the rain, rather than stuck in it." Rhiannon smiled at the woman opposite her.
Angela looked up into the smiling blue eyes of the sometimes poet. "I'm sure there are better places to be right now but I don't think I can think of one."
Stepping forward she encircled her arms around the other woman's waist. Despite the contact the two had already shared Angela couldn't help but think how comfortable it felt. While the storm raged outside both felt at home in each other's embrace and Rhiannon found herself stroking the wet locks of the woman in her arms.
As Angela buried her face deeper into the soft towelling of the robe she could smell the fragrance of aloe vera on the skin of the other woman. Nuzzling her head she found her lips against the nakedness of Rhiannon. Without thought she kissed the skin in front of her before laying her head against Rhiannon's beating chest. So content was she, she nearly missed her name being called by the businesswoman. Raising her head from its resting place she met Rhiannon's lips with her own.
Breaking free from the intensity of the kiss Angela's hands traced the lapels of Rhiannon's bathrobe, down to the belt that held the robe closed. Looking up into the face of the other woman she gained silent approval before she tugged at the ties that constrained Rhiannon's garment. As the ties fell to the floor Angela's eyes followed the path her hands traced, as they moved inside Rhiannon's robe, opening it before the allowing the garment to slide down the body it had previously concealed.
The room was silent except for the storm that waged outside and the heightened breathing of both women. Angela was at odds to stay the hands that ached to touch the perfection that was the body before her. Returning her gaze to the eyes of Rhiannon she saw her own passion reflected back at her and found herself foundering. "I, I don't know what to do."
Rhiannon smiled drawing the other woman's body to her own. The coarseness of the cloth against Rhiannon's naked skin did nothing to assuage the desire coursing through her body and yet she was careful not to scare away the woman she now held in her arms. Kissing the top of Angela's head, Rhiannon chuckled. "I think you'd be surprised. You know what to do, just think about what pleases you as a woman; I'm sure it wouldn't be that dissimilar to what pleases me."
Angela broke their embrace and reached for Rhiannon's hands before bringing them down onto the tie of her own robe. "Show me." She whispered before waiting for the taller woman's lead.
Ever so gently Rhiannon loosened the ties of the gown before gently opening it and peeling it away from the beauty that was held within. Pulling the other woman to her she relished in the feel of skin on skin, marveling at the beauty she held within her arms.
For Angela the sensation was one that no amount of music could describe. It wasn't like Phillip, whose body was hardened as a man's naturally was. Instead there was a delicate softness encasing the definite musculature of the taller woman. It was a sensation of strength and yet soft comfort at the same time.
Taking her hand Rhiannon led Angela through another door of the suite and into a room dominated by a king sized bed. Gently easing the pianist onto the bed they spent the afternoon exploring each other, matching the crescendo of the storm before settling down to the regular rhythm of the rain outside, before climbing again to greater heights before finally settling into the comfort of each other's arms. As the afternoon's shadows lengthened neither woman could break the bonds of each other, electing instead to spend the night in the newfound closeness of each other's arms.
"Stop it, it's not nice to laugh at another person's misfortune." Angela swiped at Rhiannon as they made their way along the motorway toward her mother's home.
"I'm sorry but you should have seen yourself this morning; I wish I had a camera handy. Ow! Being in this passenger seat is dangerous!" The businesswoman dodged yet another blow from the driver's seat.
Their wake up that morning had been anything but serene. It had started with Angela rolling over only to discover she'd slept later than she had in ages, followed by her running around the room in ever decreasing circles in an attempt to find her clothes. This hadn't been helped at all by a reclining, smiling Rhiannon who was more interested in the visage her lover presented than helping her find the garments she'd worn for their picnic. That was until the pianist tersely reminded her of their destination that day. As she was succinctly advised, Angela's mother was expecting them for lunch, however at this rate it would be after 12.00pm before they arrived at Katoomba in the Blue Mountains. Having calmed Angela down sufficiently Rhiannon gently suggested that unless her mother was a stickler for time, it would be unlikely she'd expect the pianist to arrive right on midday. A quick call by Angela to her mother confirmed not only her arrival but also that of a friend and both women swung into action in getting ready for the journey.
Although Angela was sure Lachlan would be more than impressed by Rhiannon's roadster, the practicalities of three of them in the vehicle on the way home meant the pianist's RV would be better suited for the journey.
Angela skillfully negotiated her way around the slow moving traffic occupying the left hand lane. "You know I can remember years ago going on holidays to the Blue Mountains and the drive seemed to take us forever. I think as kids we were far too focussed on reaching our destination than taking time to look at the scenery as it went by."
"I know what you mean, I was much the same way. However, I have to say in my senior Geology classes at school the Sydney Basin was always a study favourite of mine. I can remember the class going on a field trip up to the Blue Mountains to look at the Geology of the Sydney Basin. We stopped at Glenbrook to look at the Lapstone monocline, however with the exception of the teacher and myself we needn't have bothered. As soon as the bus had stopped everyone made a beeline for the closest milk bar, that is except Miss Davis and I. We were nose to nose with the closest exposed rock we could find. The folding of the rock was truly amazing, especially when you consider the pressure it must have been placed under to achieve such a change. Although this highway is obviously new, every now and then you catch a glimpse of the monocline itself." Rhiannon finished, searching for an example to show Angela.
"I never knew you were so interested in Geology. My music-intense curriculum left me little room for manoeuvre when it came to my senior classes and I was forced to take biology." The driver shuddered with the unpleasant memories it evoked. "I don't think I could ever look a frog in the face again after all the dissecting we did with those poor things."
The businesswoman laughed. "I know what you mean. There was a good reason why I didn't take biology - the idea of cutting into even dead animals just sends me cold."
Angela found herself asking a question that had plagued her mind most of the morning. "So how do you feel about meeting my mother?"
Rhiannon pondered the many angles and implications of the posed question. "I don't know, I don't think I have any grave reservations about the idea despite the fact that in the past I can't say I've met too many of my partners families."
The pianist was surprised. "Why was that?"
The blue-eyed woman smiled ruefully. "Oh, I think it had more to do with the people I met and where I met them. Most of my ex-partners, and don't get me wrong there haven't been all that many, were in transient careers like myself. Often their families were on the other side of the world."
Angela fell silent, thinking over the answer given by her passenger. If she was honest with herself, both of their careers were less than geographically stable. When she was touring she was often away for months at a time. As for the businesswoman, she had only mentioned the other night that the 12-month stint in Sydney was the longest one she'd had in a while. What would happen when they were both forced to go in opposite directions?
Rhiannon reached across and patted the other woman's knee. "You're doing it again aren't you?"
The pianist was surprised at how easily she'd been read. "What do you mean?"
"If I'm not mistaken you're searching for the mother of all forks to eat that elephant." Rhiannon stroked her lovers thigh reassuringly.
"Well you must admit we both have pretty transient careers. I can't begin to remember how many different tutors Lachlan has had over the years, not to mention the number of different places we've lived in. I know one thing's for sure and that's I'm getting a little tired of it all. You mentioned this current tenure was for 12 months." She paused as her passenger nodded. "Where are you off to after that?"
It was an understandable question to ask and on one level heartened Rhiannon. It indicated Angela's thoughts regarding their relationship may well extend beyond the short-term, something the businesswoman was hopeful of. Despite this, the question itself was difficult. Where would she be in 12 months time? "I don't know where I'll go next, I haven't really given it a lot of thought. Ideally I'd like nothing more than to find myself a little cottage and do nothing but write for the rest of my life and I'm just about in a position where that's achievable. Truth be told, I'm probably already there; I suppose I'm just ensuring the presence of that fifth financial safety net." Rhiannon turned to see the silhouetted features of her lover, deep in thought. "What about yourself; with a talent like yours it would be wrong not to once again share it with the rest of the world."
Angela tilted her head in acknowledgment of the compliment and observation. "Thankyou. I don't think a week goes by without some offer or another. I know I've kept up my playing and I could easily fit back into being part of an orchestra, it's just until recently I haven't felt much like doing that. It was as if I'd lost my passion for playing and without the passion they might as well just install a pianola on stage."
The businesswoman smiled recalling many a Christmas spent around her Grandmother's pianola, pumping the pedals of the instrument for all it was worth in order to hear the mechanical sounds produced from within. "Hey don't knock the old pianola! That's about as close as I get to musical greatness."
The lithe woman chuckled at the light-hearted comment. "Yes, well I don't think it quite works that way in a symphony orchestra. Just picture it: 'Ladies and Gentlemen, this evening we're proud to announce the concert pianist Angela Drayton and her rendition of Beethoven's fifth as played on her friend's Grandmother's pianola. Take it away Angela.'" The pianist found herself laughing at the mental image she had of her in formal concert attire, legs pumping furiously away to the tinny sounds of a classical masterpiece. "Somehow I don't think it would catch on. I need the passion to play and now it's returned I suppose I have some decisions to make." She reached over and entwined Rhiannon's hand with her own. "I have you to be thankful for regarding my finding that passion once again. I don't think I've ever played with such emotion as I did the night you came over."
The businesswoman smiled as she recalled the evening. "I have to say you floored me that evening. The way you played, almost as if you and the instrument were one and the same. It was truly breathtaking to behold. Again on the Tuesday when you played at the Conservatorium, I found it hard to control the emotions you evoked in me." Rhiannon fell silent, knowing she'd probably created more questions than she had answers as to where their future together lay. "I suppose the only thing to do is to see where this takes us."
Moving onto safer ground both women spent the remainder of the journey taking in the scenery of the Blue Mountains. Angela had never quite understood why they'd been given such a name and without pause Rhiannon launched into an explanation. The name was an old one, given to the ranges by early settlers to Sydney who were entranced by the blue-like colour of the distant mountains. It was later this colour was found to be created by the dew and moisture on the leaves of the eucalypt trees that dominated the ranges. These days, with the pollution created by Sydney's traffic, it was often difficult to envisage how anyone had ever called them blue.
It wasn't long before both women arrived at their destination and alighting from the RV they made their way to the back door of Maureen Drayton's home. Rhiannon couldn't help but stare at the magnificent view Mrs Drayton's backyard afforded. It literally abutted right against the escarpment, the inevitable drop to the floor of Jamison valley was halted only by the presence of a small sandstone fence. Rhiannon was entranced by the vista before her and had to be nudged into action by her lover.
"Come on, no doubt mum's heard the car pull up. There'll be plenty of time to have a look around the place." As the back screen door opened Angela turned, walking towards her mother and her welcoming arms.
Rhiannon silently witnessed the greeting between the two. Mrs Drayton was undoubtedly an older version of her daughter. While there was a frailty unwillingly thrust upon her with the onset of age, it was obvious the woman still possessed a regal yet gentle strength, not unlike that of her daughter. Breaking the hug Mrs Drayton looked across at the tall dark-haired woman who was seemingly preoccupied with her daughter. Advancing on the woman she held out her hand.
"Hello, you must be Rhiannon Sharp. I remember seeing you on the television the other day at the recital with Angela. It must have been wonderful to catch up with her at the reunion last Saturday. Welcome to Fern Gully, my home."
Taking the older woman's hand she was surprised at the deceptive strength it held. "Thankyou Mrs Drayton; I must say you have a beautiful garden and the view is just breathtaking."
"Oh please call me Maureen. Mrs Drayton serves to remind me just how old I am. As for my garden, many a wonderful afternoon was spent in the backyard with my Jack. In fact when he passed away the ceremony was held by the sandstone fence and his ashes were scattered in the winds of the valley below." Maureen Drayton smiled at the memory.
Embarrassed to have evoked such memories the businesswoman stumbled to apologise. "I'm terribly sorry, I didn't mean to dredge up unpleasant memories." She sought her lover's face for help out of what she perceived to be a sticky situation.
Without thought Angela rubbed the forearm of Rhiannon before turning to her mother who was cryptically viewing the scene before her. Before her daughter could speak the elder woman qualified her comments.
"No offense taken my dear, in fact I still believe he's around here now and then. I admit I do miss him but with the cancer he suffered it was for the best that he moved on. No doubt we'll meet again."
The assuredness with which the mother uttered those words surprised Rhiannon. "So you believe that there's more to just residing in a funeral plot when all is over and done with?"
Maureen Drayton laughed. "Don't be so surprised, it's not only you young ones who can have so-called new-age ideas. For many years Jack and I believed we were merely on a journey, one we'll continue to reacquaint ourselves with over our ensuing lifetimes. But enough of such talk." Pushing her daughter towards next door and where her grandson was still preoccupied with computer games and the next door neighbour's son, Maureen linked arms with the taller woman. "Angela, how about you go next door and retrieve Lachlan, while Rhiannon and I go inside and put the finishing touches to lunch." Watching her daughter round the corner of the house the older woman and her captive made their way up the back stairs and into the breakfast bay and kitchen. Motioning Rhiannon towards a chair, Maureen took one beside her.
"Now how about you tell me just exactly is going on between my daughter and you."
Rhiannon could feel the colour drain from her face. Before she could make the mistake of looking towards the back door in vain hope of Angela's quick return, she caught herself, allowing years of business acumen to take over. "I'm sorry, I'm not quite sure what you mean."
Maureen chuckled, crossing her hands across her chest. "Now I may be old but I'm certainly not blind. I thought the actions I saw on the television the other day were those of an eager entrepreneur trying to gain my daughter's favour. Now I see that wasn't the case at all. If that wasn't enough, the interaction between the two of you is almost palpable. So don't give me the coy answer of you don't know what I mean. Have either of you looked in the mirror lately?"
The businesswoman nervously ran her fingers through her sable locks. "I'm sorry, deception is not a strong suit for me but I believe this is a conversation you should first have with your daughter. I can tell you she wasn't comfortable with the conversation the two of you had the other day,"
The older woman nodded. "Yes, I sensed she was being a little evasive but I couldn't quite understand why."
"I'm sorry if she came across that way. This situation is a little new to her and I expect she's more than a little concerned as to how those who love her will react. Could I ask that you speak with her before we go too much further?" Rhiannon waited as the older woman searched the businesswoman's face.
"Is it no more than a situation to you?"
Rhiannon shook her head vigorously. "No, it's so much more than that, to me at least," The businesswoman paused as the screen door opened and the blond headed boy made his way to the breakfast bay.
Looking first at his grandmother and then at the blue-eyed woman beside her he precociously asked his question. "What's much more than that and who are you?"
Rhiannon tried vainly to find somewhere to hide as Angela jokingly shook her son. "Rhiannon I'm sorry for the rude introduction, Lachlan sometimes forgets his manners. Where did you leave them this morning hmmm?" She ruffled his hair, resulting in a series of giggles from the blue-eyed boy.
"On the table I think, just let me get them." The young boy made a pretense of searching under a series of chairs before cupping air in his hands and making a great exhibition of shoving something into his pocket. The trio could barely contain their mirth as he straightened himself, tucked in his shirt and made his way back towards the businesswoman, small hand outstretched. "Hello, I'm Lachlan Drayton, welcome to my Grandma's place. I don't think we've been introduced."
At that the three women could no longer contain themselves, instead breaking into gales of laughter, joined by the small gentleman in front of Rhiannon. Recovering herself, the businesswoman took his proffered hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you Lachlan, may I call you that?" seeing the boy nod she continued. "Your mother's told me a lot about you."
He disengaged his hand from the businesswoman's before hopping up onto one of the stools surrounding the breakfast bar. "Yep she does that sometimes, are you and her friends?" he queried reaching for an apple.
Angela recovered the apple from her son's outstretched hand, returning it to its place in the fruit bowl. "Yes we are. We used to go to school together back well before you were born. However, if you wish to live to see lunch you'll go and wash up."
Reluctantly hopping down from his stool Lachlan sought for a way to once again redirect the conversation. Turning once again to Rhiannon he reached out and squeezed her forearm. "You look strong. Do you play sport? Mum tries to kick the soccer ball around with me but she's not that good at it."
Rhiannon laughed at the shocked look on the face of the boy's mother. "Well, you know she's pretty good at other stuff, like piano playing and the like. I tell you what, how about you wash up and after lunch we'll go and kick the ball around a bit. I hope there's a park around here though. If that ball goes over your Grandmother's fence I'm sure not climbing down a cliff to retrieve it."
"Yep there's one just down the street. I can't wait!" The boy sped off in the direction of what must have been the bathroom while the adults occupied themselves with small talk and the preparation of lunch. On more than one occasion Angela witnessed the preoccupied look on her lover's face, however she wasn't in a position to pursue it any further. This, coupled with the sideways looks she was infrequently getting from her mother, made her wonder just what had been discussed between the two women in the short time she'd been gone to collect her son.
It wasn't long before lunch was over and the dishes done when Rhiannon found herself being dragged down the hallway and out the front door by a boy eager to run off some of his energy. "Be gentle on her!" was all Angela could manage before the door closed and she and her mother made their way out into the peacefulness of the garden.
Maureen made her way towards a seat in the shade of a large eucalyptus tree. "Rhiannon seems like a nice person."
Taking a seat beside her Angela wondered how to broach the topic with her mother. "Yes she is. It was lucky we met again at the reunion. We'd been good friends at school, it was good to catch up with her again."
Maureen searched her daughter's smiling features, pleased at how her face lit up when she spoke about the businesswoman. It had been a long time since she'd seen her daughter so full of life, not since Phillip. "So is that all you are now, good friends?"
The redness in her daughter's cheeks was answer enough. Suddenly preoccupied with brushing the brown leaves that covered the seat Angela sought for the words to make her mother understand how she felt. She searched the older woman's inscrutable features for any reaction to her next question. "Would it bother you if I said we were more than just good friends?"
The older woman couldn't help but laugh at the fear reflected in her daughter's features. She was well aware of the opinions of most people her age, however they weren't necessarily opinions shared by her. "No it wouldn't. However, I must say I'm surprised at the suddenness of it all. You've barely known each other for more than a week."
The pianist shook her head. "We've only just caught up with each other again, but I think I've known there was something between us ever since the last year at school. As I mentioned the other day, it used to be nice to have her sit and listen to me rehearse in that final year. However, at school we were just good friends until the last few days when during muck up day preparations I fell and she caught me. I don't think I'd ever felt so comfortable in all my life and while nothing happened I knew there'd been a subtle shift in our friendship; at that time a shift I wasn't willing to accept. I can only think that in the greater scheme of things there's been a reason why we've gone our separate ways over the past 20 years. But mum, when I felt her presence in the rehearsal hall the evening of the reunion, those memories came flooding back again. It's like you and dad when you used to have those conversations. You could go for days without discussing something and yet pick up exactly from where you left it. That's what it felt like with Rhiannon."
The younger woman stood, putting her hands in her back pockets before looking out towards the valley view in front of her. Turning she returned her gaze to where her mother sat, patiently listening to her daughter's story. "Having said that, I can't say the idea doesn't scare me. I've never been in a relationship with another woman, in fact I don't think I'd given it much thought. But with Rhiannon it just feels so right. Don't get me wrong, I loved Phillip but the emotions I felt for him were different to the ones between Rhiannon and I. Aside from that, I've no idea how Lachlan or indeed my friends will react to the new developments in my life."
Maureen patted the seat beside her, motioning for her daughter to join her. "My dear, you're a long time dead to be worrying about the opinions of your friends. If they wish to react in a negative fashion then that's up to them. Of course I can tell you this but at the end of the day it's how you feel about the matter. As for your son, that's a different kettle of fish. How does Rhiannon feel about children?"
"We've not spoken about it in that sense, however she's made it clear if Lachlan has difficulty coming to grips with the situation then she'd willingly step back. She's no intention of creating friction between Lachlan and I."
The older woman smiled, quietly pleased at the willingness of the businesswoman not to upset the bond between mother and son. "Then I have to say you're indeed lucky Angela. I don't for a minute envy you adopting a lifestyle outside the social norm. And I don't expect your decision will be met by all quarters with open arms. However, you'll always get support from me, no matter what you decide. I love you for who you are, not what your friends or the world perceives you to be. You'll always be my daughter no matter what."
The tears sprung to her eyes at her mother's final words as she launched herself into her mother's waiting arms. In fact that was how Lachlan and Rhiannon found them some time later, still reminiscing on years gone. As they got up to greet the two Angela could see the concern written on her lover's face, but before she could reassure her, she was being dragged by her son in the direction of the house in order to pack and return to Sydney.
Concerned that discussions may not have gone as smoothly as she hoped Rhiannon was at a loss as to what to do. Before she could follow in the direction of her partner the elder Drayton had grabbed her hand. Turning, she looked down into the smiling eyes of the older woman.
"Well I guess this is welcome then. Thankyou for bringing happiness back into my daughter's life, she's been far too long without it. All I ask is that you be patient; I know she's still coming to grips with this new relationship between the two of you."
The businesswoman breathed a sigh of relief. "Trust me when I say I'll try to be patient. I've waited 20 years to once again find your daughter and I'm willing to try and help her in any way I can. In the end if she decides that it's not the best for her, then I'll at least hope we can still be friends."
The older Drayton was touched by the nobility of Rhiannon. "That may be the case and that's all very noble, but where does that leave you?"
Rhiannon shrugged her shoulders. "Who knows, but it's something I'm willing to take one step at a time."
The drive home was an animated one with Lachlan talking at ten miles to the dozen about the soccer game between he and Rhiannon. He'd been surprised to see how good a 'girl' as he put it could actually be at soccer, right up until the sportswoman explained how she'd represented Australia at the under 19's level. His enthusiasm and relative acceptance of Rhiannon heartened both women. Remembering her reward for her presentation on Saturday prompted Rhiannon to make a suggestion of a picnic on Monday and a bit of soccer in the park, if that was okay with his mum of course. One look at her son's pleading face and Angela relented, relieved at how well her little boy and the businesswoman seemed to be getting along.
As the drive wore on the sounds from the back decreased as the small passenger recharged his batteries with sleep. Rather than wake him on returning home, Rhiannon effortlessly lifted the child, carrying the sleeping bundle through the house and into his bedroom without indeed a peep from Lachlan.
Making her way back into the lounge room she watched as a preoccupied Angela tidied where there was little need to do so. Settling on the couch she motioned for the pianist to join her. "I really enjoyed today. How did the talk with your mother go?"
Angela smiled. "She never ceases to amaze me. It seemed she'd already sensed there was more to us than met the eye. I should have known she'd be more interested in ensuring I was happy than whether you were man woman or Martian for that matter." Casting her eye towards the hallway, she took the businesswoman's hand in her own. "Things seemed to go well between you and Lachlan, I think he likes you. He's usually not so talkative around new people, certainly not someone who's over six foot tall."
Rhiannon laughed quietly. "Oh if he's like any boy of his age, he'd like anyone who'd get outside and kick a ball with him."
"I'm just glad it was you he could do that with." The pianist replied, gently stroking her lover's hand.
Lifting the hand to her face, Rhiannon softly brushed her lips against the pianist's fingers as she drew Angela to her. Their faces were mere inches apart, lips moist and eager to find their home.
The call from her son was like cold water to Angela's emotions causing her to leap off the couch while at the same time anxiously look in the direction from where the voice come. With relief she turned back to the confused woman still sitting on the couch. "I'm sorry, I just need to see what he wants."
Rhiannon rose, carefully avoiding contact between the two of them. "No, it's okay, I best be on my way. How about I meet you here tomorrow, around midday and we leave for the picnic from here, if that's still okay I mean."
"Of course it is, it's just," she paused as her son called for her again. "It's just, well,"
Rhiannon held up a hand in order to halt the pianist's explanation. "It's okay. Now you go to him and I'll show my own way out. I'll see you tomorrow then." Smiling in reassurance the businesswoman made her way out the house and towards her car. It was clear Angela's mother had few problems with the blossoming relationship the two shared, but what would happen if the same couldn't be said for Angela's son?
If it hadn't been for the promise she'd made to Angela's son, Rhiannon would have taken a rain check on the whole idea of a picnic and soccer in the park. A fault in the hotel's air conditioning system turned her night from one of relative comfort to a sleepless and humid one. This, combined with the couple next door who argued most of the night over the lack of air conditioning added to the businesswoman's lack of sleep and frayed nerves. Despite the Hotel's apologies over the incident and the promise of free accommodation for that evening the tall blue eyed woman left The Gables in what could best be termed a strained mood.
As she made the walk to Angela's house she thought over the evening's events and wondered why she hadn't just rung the pianist and asked if she could spend the night there rather than in a sticky hotel room. As quickly as the question was silently pondered it was answered. Given Angela's reaction the previous evening when they were about to kiss and her son called for his mother, it was unlikely that she'd be willing to have her in the same household anytime soon. Entering the yard of Angela's home she shook her head, trying to rid herself of the foul mood she currently found herself in. Her hand had barely made it to the knocker when the door was hurriedly opened.
"Rhiannon! Mum, it's Rhiannon!" Lachlan shouted down the corridor towards the kitchen.
Angela rounded the corner, smiling at the businesswoman, although sensing by her body language all was not right. "Yes, I sort of guessed that and I'm sure half of the neighbourhood know by now." She motioned towards Rhiannon. "Come on in, I'm just putting the finishing touches to the picnic basket. Would you like a cup of coffee while we wait for Lachlan to make his bed?"
"Mum! It's school holidays! Can't I leave it unmade just this once? I'm only going to hop in it later on tonight, it seems a waste to make it." The young boy pleaded with all his boyish charm, eager to be on his way to the park and soccer with his new found friend.
Angela ruffled the head of the pleading child. "Yes it's school holidays but that makes no difference. And besides, it wouldn't be the first time you've left it unmade. As for the fact you're only going to sleep in it tonight, I'm sorry buster that doesn't cut the mustard either." Giving him a mock slap on the backside she gently pushed him on his way. "Now the sooner you get that done, the sooner we can be on our way to the picnic."
Sensing defeat the boy shuffled towards his room and the chore that awaited him. Given a bit of privacy Angela returned her attention to the woman seated at the breakfast bar. "Everything all right?" she queried as she poured each of them a coffee.
The businesswoman took a sip of her brew. "Oh just a bad night's sleep that's all. The air conditioning broke down and the couple next door fought like cats and dogs about it for most of the night. Just the joys of hotel living I suppose."
"Are you certain you still want to go on a picnic? I'm sure Lachlan would understand if you didn't feel up to it."
"No, I'm okay; I wouldn't want to ruin his day. And besides, it gives me a chance to be with you." Simultaneously as she uttered her sentiments towards the other woman she reached for Angela's hand only to see it whipped away from its resting place on the breakfast bar. "What's wrong?"
"I'm sorry, it's just we have to be careful. I don't know when Lachlan's going to come through the door and I don't want him to catch us, well, holding hands if you get what I mean." The pianist finished, casting her eye towards the hallway door.
Despite the pianist's comments making perfect sense, Rhiannon found herself grinding her teeth. "I understand that, however can't friends hold hands? I think that's perfectly innocent. I believe an adult rather than a child would have a problem with that concept." Seeing the confused look on Angela's face she caught herself. "I'm sorry, I suppose I'm just a little short this morning. I understand what you mean, it's just a little difficult I suppose."
"What's difficult?" Lachlan queried as he returned from his task.
"Never you mind. Have you made your bed? I hope you haven't just pulled up the sheets like you normally do." Angela left the two of them in the kitchen not only to check on the bed but to also get her own feelings in check. She was glad of the way her mother reacted to her recent personal developments; it seemed however whenever she was away from Rhiannon old fears came seeping back in. She couldn't help but wonder how her friends would respond to her new lifestyle and not to mention her son's response to the somewhat new changes.
Left to their own devices in the kitchen the boy smiled at his new found soccer partner. "She's a perfectionist sometimes. Everything has to be done just right. But she's my mum and I like her a lot."
Rhiannon chuckled. "Would it help if I told you she was like that at school too? Everything had to be just right or she was less than impressed." She paused as the small boy giggled at the idea of his mother as a school girl. Bending down she pulled him to her as she whispered in his ear. "And just for the record, I like her a lot too."
Angela, having satisfied herself of the successful completion of household chores, joined the other two and they made their way to the park, Lachlan once again full of stories to share with the two women during their short journey.
Cognisant she would get little food into her son should they launch into a game of soccer on arrival at the Park, the picnic was the first order of the afternoon. For Lachlan the food issue wasn't a great problem, it was the waiting for the next ˝ hour as everything settled before he and Rhiannon could kick around the ball.
Not a second had gone by since the beginning of the 30 minutes and Lachlan was off, soccer ball and Rhiannon in tow. Angela was amazed at the boundless energy the two possessed, running up and down the field, feinting left and right with the ball before kicking half way down the field and chasing after it. She was as surprised as anyone when Rhiannon convinced her to get up and join the two soccer fans for a little two-on-one. Rhiannon elected to take the middle position while both mother and son kicked the ball to each other, busily trying to avoid Rhiannon's skillful boot.
Both mother and son had been managing admirably to avoid the outstretched legs of the other woman when a misguided kick from Lachlan sent her mother running towards the elusive ball. As she did she could hear the footfall of the sportswoman behind her, slowly closing on both her and the ball. In a last ditch attempt to rob Rhiannon of her objective, she picked it up and began running for all she was worth. Unfortunately her legs didn't carry her far before she was caught by the other woman and brought gently to the ground.
"Let go of the ball!" Rhiannon laughed, trying vainly to rest it from Angela's vise-like grip.
"No, it's mine, if I let it go I'll never get it back and I don't want to be in the middle!" She giggled, struggling to hang onto the mass of leather that was slowly slipping from her grasp.
"If that's your final answer then you leave me no choice." Rhiannon laughed as she proceeded to tickle the woman beneath her into submission. It wasn't long before the ball dislodged itself and a giggling Lachlan kicked it further down field towards the goal posts.
"That will teach you." Rhiannon continued merciless assault on the pianist's ticklish spots, despite the squealing protestations of the woman beneath her. So preoccupied were the two, they failed to notice they were no longer alone.
"Angela Drayton, is that you?" An elderly voice called to the women locked to each other on the grass.
Angela searched to put a face to the voice and when she did all but launched Rhiannon into orbit in an attempt to escape the compromising position they'd been caught in. Jumping up, she made an attempt to pull down her t-shirt, which had ridden up to her midriff courtesy of the attack by Rhiannon. Pulling tufts of grass from her hair she turned to the elderly woman. "Mrs Frank, fancy meeting you here. How are you?"
Having regained her own footing after being unceremoniously thrown from her previous position, Rhiannon watched bemused as the pianist tried to explain just exactly what she'd been doing and who she'd been doing it with. As she bent over to dust herself off for the obligatory explanations and introductions she could hear Mrs Frank ask who Rhiannon was. She straightened up to meet the elder woman properly yet froze when she heard the pianist's explanation of the businesswoman.
"Oh, she's just a friend."
Pausing Rhiannon looked at the younger woman before nodding her head towards Mrs Frank. "I'll leave you two to catch up with each other. This 'friend' will keep your son occupied in the meantime." Rhiannon couldn't quite rightly say why the comment grated her so, however she knew that to stay and try to engage in civil conversation would be less than fruitful given the turn in her mood. Making her way towards Lachlan she endeavoured to mask the frustration she was currently feeling.
The young boy kicked the ball in the advancing businesswoman's direction. "That's Mrs Frank, a friend of Grandma's. She's a bit of a busy body. Mum calls her an extension of the local news service, whatever that means."
Rhiannon smiled while inwardly her emotions were at odds with each other. It was bad enough to be known as 'just a friend', but they'd also managed to run into the local gossip. As she dribbled the ball back in Lachlan's direction she discovered he was trying hard to disguise a yawn. "Come on sport, maybe we should grab the basket and your mum and head home. You're looking a little tired."
The boy yawned again before picking up the ball and heading towards Rhiannon. Thrusting his small hand into her larger one, they headed for the picnic setting. "I'm playing soccer on Saturday. Do you think you can come and see me play?" Seeing the look of doubt on the adult's face he continued. "Mum will be there too you know. You two could talk when you're not watching me."
The businesswoman smiled and placed her arm around Lachlan's small shoulders. "I think that can be arranged. I'd be more than happy to see the soccer star in action. Now how about you go and rescue your mum and I'll pack this mess up." She finished, ushering the son in the direction of his mother.
The walk home was a silent one with Lachlan dribbling the ball to the forefront with the two women behind him, lost in their own thoughts. Angela's mind was a blur as she tried to rationalise the implications of Mrs Frank finding her in the position she was in with Rhiannon. In turn, the more the businesswoman thought about Angela's reaction, the more frustrated she became.
Opening the door Angela ushered her son down the hallway and towards a well needed shower before returning to the kitchen and a sullen blue-eyed woman.
"Rhiannon, is anything the matter? You've hardly said two words since we left the park." Angela paused as she met the other woman's inscrutable expression.
"I could ask you the same thing Angela but not about you, about us. What is going on between the two of us? It seems every time you need to explain me to someone the best you can manage is: 'she's just a friend'. You make it sound as if I'm an afterthought." Rhiannon knew her words were harsh but could do nothing to halt the sentiments escaping her mouth.
Angela attempted to explain her actions. "I don't know, when I heard her I just panicked. Telling Mrs Frank anything is tantamount to seeing it reported in the local papers the next day. She's the local gossip and more than capable of putting her own twist on a situation."
The businesswoman struggled to keep her voice down, cognisant that shouting would get her nowhere. "What's is the problem here? I mean, can't two people of the same age and sex have some fun with each other? Why is it that everyone seems to be finding something sordid with the idea?"
The pianist stepped back as if struck. "Is that what you think I'm doing, finding something sordid with the idea?"
"I don't know, you tell me."
Angela's fingers gripped the benchtop in an attempt to control her anger. Raising her eyes to the other woman's she responded as evenly as possible. "Maybe you're right and maybe you're not, who knows? At the moment I think it would be best if you gave me some time to work it out for myself and then maybe we can take things from there."
Rhiannon roughly ran her fingers through her hair, head bowed, eyes clenched in frustration. "You know, maybe you're right. Best I leave now before we add anymore negative fuel to this discussion." As she moved to leave, Angela began to follow her. Pausing Rhiannon held up her hand to halt Angela. "Don't worry, this friend knows her way out." Making her way down the corridor, the businesswoman made her way out the front door and towards the sanctuary of her hotel.
As the door closed, the pianist collapsed into the closest chair she could find. Head in hands, she tried to make sense of how the argument had started and why both of them had allowed it to escalate to such a stage. The sound of light footfall announced her son's presence in the room.
"Mum, where's Rhiannon?"
"Oh she had to go back to the hotel, she's got some work she needs to finish before work tomorrow." She replied, pulling freshly showered Lachlan to her lap.
As he made himself comfortable, the young boy's thoughts wandered to his new friend. "Mum, I like Rhiannon. I like her a real lot."
As he snuggled deeper into his mother's embrace he failed to notice the hitch in his mother's voice. "So do I son, so do I."
The couple of bottles of wine she'd consumed, coupled with a lack of sleep from the previous evening culminated in Rhiannon sleeping through her alarm, giving her little time to rethink the argument between her and Angela. It was only as she found herself trapped in the quagmire of Sydney's peak hour traffic that she cast her mind back to the previous day's events.
She cursed herself over her lack of control, especially given the fact it was she who had suggested they take things one step at a time. In the reasoned light of day it was quite obvious that rushing the pianist would most likely result in their relationship not going much further than the stage it was currently at. Shaking her head in frustration she made a mental note to ring Angela at work to see if she could come over to apologise for her surly behaviour.
She'd barely made her first coffee when Trish her Secretary knocked on her door. "Rhiannon, the CEO was looking to speak with you if you had a moment."
Placing her cup on the table she rose, reaching for her Organiser as she did so. "Sure, I'll head up there now. Any idea what he wanted to speak with me about?"
The secretary shook her head. "He didn't say; he merely asked that as soon as you arrived could make your way to his office."
"Hmm, it must be about the presentation on Saturday. I shouldn't be long." The businesswoman finished as she made her way around Trish.
Taking the stairs up the five flights gave Rhiannon time to go over her presentation on Saturday. He had seemed quite happy with it, I wonder what his question is?, the businesswoman thought.
Arriving at the outside rooms to his office she made herself known to the Secretary before awaiting her summons. The Secretary was quick to return and usher Rhiannon into the office politely closing the doors as she left.
Alastair Gardely motioned her to a chair before rising from his and making his way over to her. As he did so he softly placed a copy of Sunday's paper in front of her, opened at the social section. "I was wondering if you could explain this?"
Open on the table in front of her were a series of newspaper standard black and white photographs, taken at the function she and Angela had attended the previous Tuesday. Rhiannon took the time to study the photos as a myriad of thoughts rushed through her mind. On arrival she'd cast a hurried glance over the Company's equity policy and so was almost sure the question he was asking had nothing to do with her personal association with the pianist. Despite being open about her prior relationships, and given the previous evening's events she decided that discretion was the better part of valour. She looked across at the man who had taken a seat and was patiently waiting an answer.
"I'm not sure what you mean. An old school friend played a recital at the Conservatorium on Tuesday night and she invited me to attend. Is there a problem with that?"
Searching the blue-eyed woman's face for any hint of deception and finding none the CEO relaxed. "I'm sure it was, however you'll recall the discussion we had regarding disclosure when you were contracted to us." He paused as she nodded in recognition. "Well those clauses are binding and any breach may result in legal action."
Perplexed, Rhiannon looked down at the photos and back again at the man opposite her. "I have to say I really have no idea what you're talking about. Firstly, I've been very careful of not making myself privy to any information that sits outside my contract or that I need to know to do my job. Hence, when I'm finished with the Company's VP's, most of my time will be occupied with the Company's HR department. Secondly, in all my years in the business my integrity has never been questioned." She left the implication of her last response hanging in the air between them.
Alastair Gardely raised his hand in an attempt to supplicate the woman whose colour had heightened over the last few minutes. "No one is questioning your integrity. It's just that, well you need to be aware of these interest groups. Sometimes they have an uncanny way of gleaning information from you without you even being aware of the fact."
"As I said before, I can honestly say I have no idea what you're talking about. As far as I was concerned I was attending the recital of a friend, certainly no more than that. Is there something else I should be aware of?"
Weighing up his decision the CEO shook his head. No, given your answer I don't think there is. However, it would be remiss of me not to remind you of the clauses that exist within your contract." The man rose, signalling an end to the discussion. "Now I'm sure you've got better things to do than sit here answering questions from me. By the way, your presentation on Saturday was quite impressive. I've no doubt you'll have some resistance on your hands, but I'm sure it's nothing you can't handle." Reaching forward he opened the door for the businesswoman.
Rhiannon smiled. "Well then, this company won't be that dissimilar to a number I've worked with over the years." Leaving the head of Gardely and Balen she made her way back down the stairs, still confused over the meeting she'd just had. He seemed reticent to tell her what it was about, however she was sure she could rely on Angela to fill her in. Stopping, she closed her eyes, a soft curse escaped her lips. She really did need to call the pianist and see if they could sort out not only this mystery, but more importantly the falling out the two had suffered.
Returning to her office she closed her door and dialled the other woman's number. The rings droned on before defaulting to the answering machine and the sound of the pianist's voice. Listening to her soft tones, Rhiannon found herself wondering how she ever managed to get into an argument with someone she cared so deeply about. Electing not to leave an apology on something as impersonal as an answering service, she made a mental note to visit the woman on her way home from work that evening. Hanging up, she refocused her efforts towards the day ahead, the gentle features of one said pianist never far from her mind.
Angela waited as long as she could before leaving home for the 'Save the Con' meeting she'd rashly agreed to attend the evening before. Phillipa had rung not 30 minutes after the disagreement between the pianist and businesswoman and Angela's thoughts had been less than focussed. To make matters worse, her friend sensed Angela's mood and refused to let the issue go. It was only after she'd agreed to attend the following morning's meeting and used the excuse of Lachlan calling her that she managed to escape the prying curiosity of her friend. Now, having left her son under the watchful eye of her next door neighbour she reluctantly made her way to her friend's house for what would necessarily be a long and drawn out morning.
Pulling her car into the driveway, she parked behind a silver roadster, not that dissimilar to the car Rhiannon drove. Cutting the engine she began to slow her breathing much like she would before a performance. Although there was no performance awaiting her, it served to push her annoyance at Rhiannon not ringing her that morning to the recesses of her mind, rather than the forefront where it was currently in residence. Satisfied her mask was in place she made her way to the meeting that awaited her.
Phillipa opened the door and motioned her friend through to the family room. "Well, well ladies, look who I found on the doorstep. If it isn't our social butterfly."
Angela turned and looked quizzically at her friend. "I'm sorry you've lost me there." She made herself comfortable as she waited for further explanation from her friend.
With great exaggeration Phillipa flopped her body into the chair diagonally opposite the pianist, a well manicured hand flicking coloured locks away from her face as she did so. "I don't know how many times I've tried to call you this past week and all I've got is that answering machine."
Angela tilted her head in recollection. "I don't recall any messages on the machine, maybe there's something wrong with it."
Phillipa looked with mock condescension at her friend. "You know I hate those things. I would never leave a message on one. If you don't answer then it's clear you're not there. Speaking of which, where have you been?"
The pianist found herself at a loss for words. Despite the friendship they'd shared over the years and the fact the rest of the group were all friends, she was reticent to give them more than rudimentary details. "Phillipa, I'm sure you exaggerate. I haven't been out all that much at all. I had dinner with some old friends and went to the beach on Saturday before picking up Lachlan on Sunday. Any other time I was most likely in my backyard doing some well needed gardening."
Her friend smiled an enigmatic smile. "So was it gardening you were doing at 10 o'clock on Saturday night?"
Schooling her features Angela casually took her bag from her lap, placing it on the floor beside her chair. "As you well know, 10 o'clock is past my bedtime. Obviously I was in bed asleep and didn't hear the phone." Well that wasn't that far from the truth, She thought. She had been in bed, Rhiannon's bed, and wasn't likely to hear her own phone from the hotel.
Sara Williamson, another member of the Con Committee nudged the persistent woman. "Oh Phillipa for heaven's sake leave the poor woman alone! Just because she refuses to be set up with any of your male friends doesn't mean she can't have a life of her own, now how about we get down to business? There's a lot to cover this morning and we best get underway."
Phillipa scowled at the interference. "Sara, at least be civilised. We should start with some morning tea first and then we can get down to the strategies we need to discuss." Rising from her chair she motioned at two of the four seated women. "Janine, you and Sara can help me in the kitchen. "Frances, you can keep Angela company and make sure she doesn't quietly leave as she's done on many previous occasions." The three made their way across the sweeping hall and in the general direction of the kitchen.
Thankful for the respite Angela sunk back in her chair.
Frances turned and faced the pianist. "She can be a little full-on sometimes however I expect her heart's in the right place."
Angela smiled. "Yes, we've been friends for years but she can really only be taken in small doses." The two shared a laugh as the pianist observed the woman next to her. Frances Ainsley had been a school friend of Phillipa's and had offered her time to do pro-bono legal work for the Conservatorium. Dressed casually in linen slacks and a silk blouse it would be easy to mistake her for no more than a Sydney socialite with too much time on her hands. Her refined, slightly tanned features, complemented by her stylishly short brown hair made her seem deceptively appealing and quite in keeping with the social circles Phillipa frequented.
"I saw your recital the other night on the late news. You certainly haven't lost any of your passion have you?" The lawyer paused seeing the consternation written on the other woman's features.
Angela rubbed her forehead. "Was it on the late news as well? At this rate it's a wonder it wasn't reported in the newspapers."
Frances tilted her head, a knowing smile on her face.
The pianist rolled her eyes. "Don't tell me." As the other woman nodded she shook her head. "I don't believe it! With all the problems in the world you'd think the media would have more to write on than a small social gathering."
The lawyer laughed seeing the frustration on the pianist's face. "You looked lovely, really. By the way, who was that with you? She cut quite a striking presence at the function."
Angela caught herself before she could utter the phrase that seemed to have gotten her into so much trouble over the past few days. It was clear Rhiannon was not just a friend, she was so much more; if Angela could just get past how others may react to her lifestyle changes. She looked up at the expectant features of the woman beside her. "She's a very good friend from my school days and we caught up at a School reunion the other night. She's new in town and so I asked her if she'd like to come along."
The lawyer leant back in her chair a pensive look on her features. "Hmm, you don't know if she's seeing anyone do you?"
At that point in time Angela was glad she hadn't been seated on the edge of her chair for she was sure had she been she would have found herself on the floor by now. The implications of what Frances had just asked were obvious. What wasn't obvious to Angela was how to answer them in truth. She was fairly certain the lawyer wasn't aware of the situation between the two women, what Angela wasn't certain of was whether, after Sunday, Rhiannon was indeed seeing her or not. "I'm not sure but I expect she may be; why do you ask?"
"Well if she wasn't involved I wouldn't mind if you knew where I could find her." The lawyer paused at the goggle eyed shock of the woman beside her. "Angela, what's the matter?"
The pianist stumbled over her words, finding it difficult to frame a coherent sentence. "Are you interested, I mean do you want to ask her, I mean are you gay?"
"Well, I wasn't going to ask her out to compare musical interests if that's what you mean. Does that concern you, that I'm gay that is?"
"No you surprised me that's all. I suppose I wasn't expecting to meet someone like you in Phillipa's circle of friends. And I mean, well, you don't look gay." Angela blurted out a response, still trying to refocus her thoughts which were all over the place.
The lawyer smiled at the pianist's confusion. "Ah yes, of course, the pink triangle on my forehead has been cunningly hidden with some fairly heavy concealer. What were you expecting? I mean, does your school friend look gay to you? Not all women are social stereotypes. In fact we come from all walks of life, just like people who are straight. And some of us hold fairly high paid and respectable positions."
Angela was confused. How had this woman identified Rhiannon so readily when she had been consciously or unconsciously blind to her friend's sexuality for so many years. "How do you know she's gay?"
Frances couldn't help but tease the pianist just one more time. "It's that triangle, under certain light it's quite obvious." The dour look on the other woman's face was enough to indicate she'd pushed the teasing a little too far. "I don't know, she mightn't be; I may have read the situation incorrectly. However, in the overview they had on the late news she seemed impervious to the attentions of a couple of the males in her group and continually had eyes for only the women, in particular you if I recall correctly." She paused at the reddened features of the woman beside her. As the lawyers analytical mind put two and two together she smiled in realisation. "I see; I'm sorry if I've butted in here I just wasn't aware of how things were that's all."
The pianist bowed her head, rubbing her hands through her hair as she did so. "Neither was I and in fact I'm still not sure. This is all very new to me and well, I'm finding it a little difficult to come to grips with." She paused looking at the understanding radiating from the lawyer's eyes.
Frances reached across, taking Angela's hand in her own. "I think I understand what you mean. It's difficult, especially with family and friends. Just remember, for those who don't accept, ask yourself 'were they really true friends in the first place?'" Bending down she reached down into her handbag, pulling out a card to give to the woman. "If you want to talk give me a call. I have to say though I do envy you; she's a very beautiful woman." The sound of footfall in the hallway brought a halt to any further conversation between the two, and morning tea was set up for the gathering.
Rather than launch into strategies over morning tea the conversation remained light and more focussed towards who was seen with who and what was going on between a long feuding couple and their respective lovers. Angela took little active participation in the discussion preferring to keep her own counsel. As a consequence, so engrossed was she in her own thoughts she missed Janine's question entirely. A nudge from Frances brought her back to the present. She looked around at the group of expectant faces. "Sorry, did I miss something?"
Janine repeated her question. "You are away with the birds this morning. I asked how your friend enjoyed the recital the other night. She was quite charming by all accounts. Who is she and what does she do again?"
The pianist cast a sideways glance at Frances before answering the question. "Her name is Rhiannon Sharp and we used to go to school together. I met her again after not seeing her for 20 years at the school reunion the other night. Phillipa decided she might need some 'fresh blood' for her cause and so she asked me to invite her along. As for work, she's consulting at the moment."
Janine poured herself another cup of coffee. "So where's she consulting?"
Angela searched her mind for the name of the company Rhiannon had given her the other day. "It's a two named firm if I recall correctly. Yes, that's it Gardely and Balen."
The sudden silence in the room blanketed the group. Placing her plate carefully on the table in front of her, Phillipa looked at the shocked faces of the other women before looking across at Angela. "You're joking aren't you?"
The silence and looks passed between the women around her unsettled the pianist. "No I'm not. Phillipa what's wrong?"
Her friend leaned forward in her chair, searching Angela's features. "Has she asked you anything strange lately, maybe about your work with the 'Save the Con' Committee and are you sure it was you who invited her to the gathering the other night and not the other around?"
"No, of course she hasn't and no she didn't ask to be invited to the Con. If you recall it was you Phillipa who invited me and suggested I bring Rhiannon along, not the other way around." Despite her attempt at a calm countenance, Angela could feel her temper rising. "Now would you care to tell me what's going on?"
It was Frances who gave her an answer to her question, her features foreboding at the sudden development. "Gardely and Balen are one of the key architectural firms who are involved both financially and physically in changes to the Conservatorium. It seems you may have been taken advantage of."
Angela looked at Frances in disbelief before scanning the other faces around her and returning to Frances. "You've got to be joking! Rhiannon is an old school friend, I told you that. She'd never do anything like this. My God you all sound as if you've been rehearsing for a B Grade spy movie."
Frances shook her head in resignation. "Angela, that's not the case. There are well documented instances of private firms using old friends to abuse a friendship in order to gain inside information on a project or tender. Usually the people are very close to the individual they target, taking advantage of the situation without the person actually knowing. I'm sorry, but are you sure this isn't the case with you?"
The hidden meaning behind Frances' words were obvious to Angela, yet she found it hard to believe Rhiannon would be involved in such a deception. Her actions had been so genuine and not once had she asked any detailed questions regarding the Conservatorium. As she turned the idea over in her mind she found herself recalling the eagerness of the other woman to attend the social gathering, however she thought this was because the businesswoman wished to hear her play again, or was it something else? Had Rhiannon played on Angela's situation to suit her own means? There had been a 20 year break between the two; what did Angela really know of Rhiannon's life outside of what she'd told her? The pain of possible deception was too much to bear and reached for her bag as she rose from her seat. "I'm sorry, but I've got to go and collect Lachlan." She straightened her slacks before addressing the group. "I don't know what the case is with Rhiannon but I can tell you I haven't betrayed any confidences with regard to what we discuss at these meetings. If you leave it with me I'll sort it out myself."
Angela barely made it to the privacy of her car before silent tears began to fall. Had she been that gullible? Was Rhiannon after insider information rather than her heart? The more she played the possibility over in her mind the angrier she got. By the time she reached home and retrieved her son from the next door neighbour it was all she could do not to call the businesswoman and give her a piece of her mind.
As the day progressed her anger simmered and rather than stalk around the house she took to the backyard and some cathartic gardening. On more than one occasion Lachlan had tried to engage her in conversation, only to be provided with staccato answers. Sensing his mother may well be in one of her 'pianist's' moods he left her to her own devices, instead occupying himself with his toys.
It seemed the mini-inquisition that heralded Rhiannon's start to her day merely served as a portent for what was to come. Her day saw her conducting detailed discussions with the VP's she had briefed the previous Saturday. Unfortunately, it was the dissenting VP from that presentation who took up most of her day. No matter how many ways she tried to explain the benefit mentoring and motivating his staff he refused to budge. Despite using every mediation trick in the book he wouldn't be swayed from his opinion. In the end it was a polite yet terse reminder from the businesswoman of the CEO's position on the matter that finally forced him to work with rather than against her. Despite the reminder Rhiannon couldn't help but think the day had been somewhat akin to pulling teeth. Exhausted, she could think of nothing better than to retire to her hotel room for a long hot bath and a glass of wine. However before she could consider such an indulgence she first needed to clear the air with Angela. On more than one occasion the businesswoman's stubborn pride and leaving issues unresolved had sounded the death knell to her personal relationships. Making her way up the pianist's stairs she searched her mind for some way to begin the conversation. However, as the door opened the stony look on the other woman's face halted any words she'd formed. Closing the door behind her she followed the rigid back of the pianist down the hallway and into the lounge room.
The businesswoman searched for a way to begin her apology. "Angela I think we need, I mean I need to explain myself and my actions."
The pianist wheeled, disdainfully looking the businesswoman up and down. "I've no doubt you do." She said, the iciness in her voice unmistakable. "In fact I've got a few questions I wouldn't mind answers to if you'd be so kind."
The businesswoman creased her forehead in confusion. The woman in front of her had changed from the warm yet shy friend she'd reconnected with only a little over a week ago to a remote individual, standing her ground and coldly keeping her distance from Rhiannon. Despite the hackles rising on the back of her neck in response to Angela's confrontational nature Rhiannon forced herself to remain calm. "I'd be more than happy to answer any questions you may have Angela. Ask away."
If anything Angela found herself even more angry at the businesswoman's ability to remain calm. Pacing the lounge room to gather her thoughts she turned and asked the question that had been haunting her since her morning meeting. "What is it you really want from me?"
Rhiannon stepped back as if struck. "What do you mean, what is it I want from you? I thought I'd made that quite clear. What's going on here Angela?"
Misreading the disquiet on the other woman's face for possible deception she pressed on. "What's going on here? That's what I'd like to know! Why didn't you tell me who Gardely and Balen were? Why didn't you mention they're heavily involved in the project relating to architectural improvements to the Conservatorium? Was your visit to the Con the other night no more than a small reconnaissance?"
Angela got no further as Rhiannon held up her hand, her frustration building. "Now just hang on a minute. I don't know what you're talking about. I didn't tell you about Gardely and Balen as I didn't think it would be of any great interest to you. As for their working on Conservatorium improvements, as I mentioned before I'm not aware of every project they're involved in and I needn't be either. I don't need to know that information to do the job I've been contracted to do. As for some sort of reconnaissance, are you crazy? Of course that wasn't the idea! The only reason I attended the event at all was to hear your recital. Why would I have gone otherwise? I've little in common with the people who were there." Halting in an attempt to lower her voice and regain control of her temper she reviewed the questions the pianist had asked her. In doing so the real truth of the issue hit home. "Are you suggesting the only reason I started a friendship with you was to pump you for information?"
The raised voice of the other woman added fuel to the flames of Angela's ire. "I don't know, was it?"
Rhiannon strode across the room, halting just short of the pianist. "I don't know what's happened between now and yesterday but obviously something has. I came over here this afternoon to apologise for my actions yesterday. I had no right to place unrealistic expectations on you, especially after saying that I wouldn't. For those actions all I can say is I'm only human and my want to take our current situation beyond a strong friendship caused a little frustration on my behalf and clouded my judgment. For my actions yesterday I apologise." The businesswoman paused in an attempt to rein in her growing temper, however the snowball effect of her day and the questions she was now being inflicted with proved too much. "Having said that, your actions today are ludicrous to say the least. I started off my day being grilled by the CEO of Gardely and Balen regarding a possible clash of interests. I told him what I'll tell you now. Such suggestions bring into question my integrity and that's something I won't countenance! If you think for one minute the reason why after receiving notification of the 20 year reunion I resigned from a perfectly good overseas position, found a lesser paying job in Australia and attended the only such reunion in 20 years, was to find you and pump you for insider information then you're sorely mistaken! I came back because for years I've wondered if I did the right thing. Why didn't I go after you that day? Did you feel the same way? Was there a spark between us? Now I can't help but wonder if I entirely misread the situation. Obviously this is all too hard for you."
So obsessed were the two women in their argument they failed to notice the sudden presence of a spectator in the doorway. "Rhiannon, what are you and mum shouting about?" Lachlan looked between the two women, waiting an answer.
As Rhiannon cursed herself for allowing her emotions to get the better of her, Angela moved to her son's side. "It's just a disagreement that's all. Rhiannon and I have both had a long day and are tired." She turned to the other woman, her next words brooking no disagreement. "In fact I think she was just leaving so she can get home and have a rest."
Lachlan moved out of his mother's embrace and towards the businesswoman. Placing his hand in hers he looked up at her before she lowered to her haunches to be on equal footing with the boy. "Just because you and mum are yelling at each other, does that mean you won't be at the soccer on Saturday?"
Rhiannon looked over the boy's head towards the unreadable features of his mother. "I don't know matey. I'm pretty busy at work at the moment, not to mention there are a lot of obstacles in my way." Feeling the boy's shoulders slump she pulled him into a hug before ruffling his hair. "However, if I can possibly make it I'll be there, don't you worry about that. Now how about you go back to what you were doing and I'll be on my way."
Before she could rise the little boy had pulled her into his own hug, rewarding her with a kiss on a cheek and a softly whispered I like you a lot before he took off at a jog down the hall towards his room. If anything the boy had proved a calming salve to the temper the businesswoman had shown only moments before. Touched by the sincerity of Lachlan but aware she'd outstayed her welcome she rose and faced the other woman.
"Angela, despite how you obviously feel about the situation, my feelings for you remain the same. I would never deceive you or hurt you in any way for I care too deeply for you to ever let whatever I do for a living cloud my judgment. Rest assured no matter what happens between us in the future you'll remain at the forefront of my thoughts." Choking on her last words the businesswoman moved past Angela and out the door.
Softly locking the door behind the businesswoman, Angela lay her forehead against the cool wood. It was clear to her now Rhiannon's friendship with her had never been anything to do with industrial espionage and had she given the businesswoman half the trust she deserved Angela would have seen that all along. Gripping her forehead between thumb and forefinger she rubbed it in frustration. Why had she listened to her friends that morning? Why had she been so ready to accept what she saw now as being patently ridiculous? And how am I ever going to be able to explain that to Rhiannon after what I said and did today?, the pianist thought. Once again she'd listened to others instead of listening to her own heart and the price she was to pay this time could well turn out to be too much to bear. Angry at herself for her obvious stupidity she made her way to her rehearsal room, stopping only long enough to ensure Lachlan was okay before taking her place at the piano. Refocusing the anger and frustration of the past few days events she began to play, unaware the door to the soundproof room was ajar and her son had occupied the intervening space.
The sun's afternoon reflection afforded Lachlan a view of his mother's fingers in the room's windows as they flew unbidden across the instrument in front of her. Her eyes closed, her fingers moved across the length of the keys only stopping as if to highlight her anger before once again returning to their original position. With a passion Lachlan hadn't witnessed in a while, the woman's fingers alternated, first gathering to place emphasis on the higher notes to the right of the piano before doing the same at the other end of the instrument.
Although the piece his mother played was over seven minutes long it seemed to the young boy that time had kept pace with his mother's fingers and with a suddenness the music stopped.
Eyes closed and breathing heavily, Angela could feel some of the anger leave her, to be replaced with a growing sense of frustration over how she'd acted towards someone who had only ever wanted to give her as much as she was willing to allow. Eyes closed, she visualised the notes and once again she became an extension of the Steinway in front of her.
His mother's fingers were much slower now, the rhythm slowed and yet sad all the same. Unlike the frantic movement of the previous piece her body now moved as if to emphasis elements of the mournful piece, his mother's face creased in pain and frustration. Watching her play so, the young boy couldn't help but wonder what had happened to make his mother so angry and yet sad at the same time. Hypnotised by her swaying movement he stood waiting for the music to finish.
Softly moving to her side he placed a small hand on her arm. "Mum, why are you so angry? What's wrong?"
Startled by Lachlan's appearance, she fought to gain control of her emotions before answering her son. She wanly smiled smoothing his hair as she did so. "I'm not angry, mum just needed a little rehearsal time that's all." She was surprised as he stepped away and looked at her in disbelief.
"You were angry. You always play Moonlight part three and the Takeaway song from that Piano movie when you're not happy." Lachlan replied, hands on hips, legs akimbo.
The figure of her indignant young son and his reference to the music she'd played served to lighten her spirits just a little. Pulling him to her lap she hugged the boy before answering his question. "That was Beethoven's Moonlight sonata, third movement." She chuckled as he shrugged his shoulders as if to indicate he didn't care for it's formal name. "And the second piece was The Sacrifice from as you so rightly put it that Piano movie. When have you heard me play it before?"
He turned to his mother as he looked into her eyes. "You used to play it a lot around the anniversary of dad dying; sometimes I could hear it through the walls. You always seemed so quiet after you played it though, I thought it must have been his favourite."
Lachlan's sudden preoccupation with the hands clasped within his lap brought tears to his mother's eyes. She raised a hand to dash them away before answering him. "It wasn't his favourite, however it helped me through some tough times and memories. Sometimes when things seem to be closing in on me I like to play it just to clear my mind. Besides I never knew these soundproof walls weren't so soundproof." She hugged him to her as Lachlan snuggled deeper into his mother's embrace. Kissing the top of his head she continued. "Do you miss not having a father?"
The boy pulled himself away from the embrace to look at his mother. "Some days I do and it's not real nice, usually when I want to do things outside and there's no one around to kick a ball or play cricket with."
"Hey! I'm here, I can do that!" Angela replied in mock indignation.
Looking at his mother in a condescending manner he answered with the candour only children of his age possess. "Mum, let's face it, you're not too good on the outdoor thing; you can't even bowl a ball in a straight line, let alone kick one. Rhiannon can though, that's why she's so much fun, not to mention she doesn't treat me like I'm some sort of dill, not that you do either, but it's nice to have someone else not treat you like a baby."
The pianist's stomach clenched as her son mentioned the businesswoman's name. "Yes she is pretty good at that isn't she."
"She sure is! She told me she once used to do a whole lot of representative sports and for someone as old as her she sure is fit." He paused in thought. "Mum, why were you and Rhiannon arguing this afternoon?"
Despite his young years it was obvious her son wouldn't be satisfied with a trite response and to give him one would merely offend. Angela chose her words carefully. "Sometimes adults say things to each other that are hurtful and dumb. Yesterday Rhiannon said some things that I wasn't too happy with and today I hurt her with what I said. Unfortunately I don't know whether she's talking to me right now or if she's ever going to talk to me again."
Lachlan weighed up his mother's reply. "Well, why don't you just kiss and make up?"
The woman's eyes widened at the innocence of the statement as she took in the expectant eyes of the boy on her lap. "Normally two women or two men wouldn't kiss and make up like that."
The boy's forehead creased in confusion. "Why not? You and Grandma do it all the time."
The woman smiled at the innocent reply. "Yes, but she's my mum and mothers and daughters are allowed to do that, much like mothers and sons."
Lachlan vigorously shook his head. "Yeah but at school Ms Haley and Ms Wiles do it all the time."
It seemed that the day was full of surprises. Careful not to misconstrue her son's statement, she clarified what he'd just said. "You mean they argue a lot?"
"No mum! They kiss a lot, well at least when they think no one is looking. I saw them kiss a couple of weeks ago and on the last day of school break when Ms Wiles tripped and hurt herself and was crying Ms Haley hugged her and kissed her." Lachlan paused his head tilted in thought. "Mum, why shouldn't men kiss men and women kiss women? I mean if you like each other, what's wrong with it?"
Angela couldn't help but wish it was all so simple or was it? Her son seemed to think so and that was a great relief to pianist. Now, if only the difficulties between her and Rhiannon could be resolved by kissing and making up. Angela chuckled ruefully. "Yes I suppose you're right." Lifting her son from her lap they made their way out the rehearsal room and into the garden where Angela tried unsuccessfully to emulate Rhiannon's skills with a soccer ball, her mind wondering whether things would ever be the same again between the two women.
The remainder of the week passed slowly for Rhiannon, her days taken up battling against obstructionist VP's from Gardely and Balen and her nights preoccupied with thoughts of how things between her and Angela had gone so bad so soon. It hurt her deeply to have the pianist believe the rekindling of their friendship had been no more than a ruse on her behalf, yet she knew that despite the wound she still cared deeply for the other woman. In deference to Angela's feelings Rhiannon didn't contact her during the week, deciding instead to endeavour to speak with her after Lachlan's soccer match on Saturday. Yet despite her skills as an orator, she'd no idea how she was going to make Angela see sense of the whole situation.
In turn, the morning after the argument between the two women Angela had received a call from New York, offering her a position with the Armitage Symphony orchestra. The principals were all hand picked by the rich benefactor who funded the orchestra; and no amount of money or talent could buy a musician's way into the prestigious group. What made the offer even more amazing was the long sabbatical Angela had taken out of the international spotlight.
Honoured and excited at the prospect of playing with such a group, Angela's immediate reaction was to ring Rhiannon to tell her the good news, only to be brought to ground by the reality of the current situation with the other woman. Electing instead to call her mother, they spent a good ten minutes discussing the opportunity before Maureen Drayton asked her daughter what Rhiannon thought of the idea. Filling her mother in on the developments, or lack thereof, between the two proved harder than Angela expected and on more than one occasion she was forced to stop in order to pull herself together.
Her mother listened patiently to what had occurred between the two women before posing what seemed like a patently obvious question to the elder Drayton, if not her daughter. "My dear, what is it you really want? Do you want to play again, do you want Rhiannon or do you want both?"
Angela found herself recalling something the businesswoman had told her when they were both still at school. "Years ago when we were no more than schoolgirls Rhiannon once questioned me on my choice of a career over friends. I'd told her I was happy to look for friends once I'd achieved my goals and she reminded me to not hold people at arm's length for too long because when I lowered that arm they may no longer be there. Mum, I know this is the chance of a lifetime and although Lochie would accompany me overseas I can't help but feel it would be pretty hollow if I couldn't share it with another adult, a friend if you know what I mean. I'd dearly love to share it with Rhiannon but equally so, she's now committed to the job she's in and not likely to leave it on the whim of someone who questioned her integrity less than 24 hours ago."
The soft laughter of her mother filtered down the line. "Yes, she's a very clever woman is Rhiannon. Life is full of choices and decisions isn't it, and you have quite a few to make. However, I'd say one of the first ones is to decide whether to talk out matters with Rhiannon and then take it from there. Don't make choices on her behalf, for something tells me she'd be none too happy with that idea either."
Saying her good byes to her mother, Angela sunk into her favourite lounge chair, deep in thought. That the two women had to talk went without saying. However, would Rhiannon be willing to talk with her or indeed would she actually turn up at the game that Saturday at all?
"She's not coming." A disconsolate seven-year old toed the grass with his soccer boot, refusing to meet his mother's gaze.
Crouching down Angela placed her finger under her son's chin easing it up until his eyes were locked with hers. "Remember, Rhiannon did say she was a little busy however she'd try to make it if she could. Maybe work has held her up that's all."
Lachlan shrugged, not caring much for his mother's explanation of the businesswoman's absence.
Seeing the sadness mirrored in the boy's posture she drew him to her so he could not see the disappointment mirrored in his mother's eyes. She softly rubbed his back as she offered words of comfort, while at the same time wondering who would do the same for her. "I'm sure she'll be here if she possibly can. But in the meantime you've got a game to play. You don't want Rhiannon to arrive and find you sulking on the sidelines do you?" She felt his head shake against her chest. "That's the way. Now how about you go out there and have some fun. She'll come soon enough."
Disengaging himself from his mother's arms, Lachlan gave her a sloppy kiss before trotting out onto the field to join the rest of his team. As she straightened up she was aware of the sideways look given to her by a father of one of the other children.
"That boy needs to toughen up and learn to roll with the punches. What he needs is his father to whip him into shape. If he wants to be any good at this game he needs to grow up and take the good with the bad."
Angela turned and faced the arrogant man beside her. Reigning in her temper she endeavoured to qualify the parent's comments as diplomatically as possible. "Thankyou for your suggestions however my son doesn't have a father, he died some years ago and as for toughening up, this is a game of junior soccer, not the national competition."
Before the man could reply the whistle had blown and he began to occupy himself, continually shouting instructions from the sideline to his somewhat embarrassed son on the field. Disgusted, Angela allowed her focus to return to the game, annoyed that any parent would treat a child in such a manner.
As she watched the gaggle of children run after the ball she couldn't help but laugh. Fanned out behind the one boy who was too busy kicking to look where he was going, Angela couldn't help but think of the musical piece 'The Flight of the Bumblebee'. The frantic pace at which the little bodies, fully kitted out in their soccer garb, chased their elusive prize was priceless to say the least. Blocking out the cries from the man beside her she allowed herself to be carried away with the game.
It was at that stage the ball was kicked just a little hard by the lead boy, resulting in it landing well clear of the soccer field. Electing to retrieve the ball Lachlan was surprised to have it kicked back from its position behind a group of bushes. Stepping out into the clear Rhiannon smiled at the boy.
"Rhiannon you came!" Forgetting the ball Lachlan launched himself headlong into the businesswoman's arms.
Rhiannon enveloped the boy in a hug. "Of course I did champ. I'm sorry I wasn't here at the start. Have I missed anything?"
"No we've just started. Mum's here; she's on the other side of the field."
Shielding her eyes from the sun, she could make out the lithe figure of the pianist, her body language clearly indicating she wasn't all that happy with something. Is it me, or is something else bothering her? Rhiannon thought. Raising her hand she acknowledged Angela and was acknowledged in return. Unsure of whether to join her the businesswoman elected to stay on the opposite side of the field. Noticing the game had once again started and Lachlan was still holding onto her hand, she motioned him back onto the field and the game that was now in full swing.
The appearance of his new soccer friend proved the salve needed to lift the young boy's mood, with him now playing to the best of his limited abilities. Unfortunately this occasionally saw him tangle with other boys resulting in both of them falling to the ground.
"Your son should be more careful. Soccer's a game of finesse, not something thugs play." Again the tones of the man beside her interrupted Angela's thoughts.
"I honestly don't think he meant to trip the other boy; he's just a bit excited that's all." Angela offered in a conciliatory tone.
Muttering an answer under his breath the man returned his focus to the game, once again berating his son for yet again letting the ball get past him. Shaking her head, Angela in turn shouted encouragement to Lachlan, cheering when he made a mini-break away from the hoard that was following him.
As he dribbled towards the goal mouth, so intent was he on moving the ball down the field that he failed to see the figure of a child who had taken a position in front of him in an attempt to halt his progress. As the full weight of his little body met the static object both boys fell to the ground, a tangle of arms and limbs.
It was with shock that Angela now found the daunting figure of the man who had been nothing but derogatory to his son now occupying the ground immediately in front of her. "That little brat of yours did that deliberately!"
Shocked Angela stepped back. "Oh, for heaven's sake, Lachlan was focussed on the ball, not the child standing still in front of him."
Refusing to let the issue die the man once again closed on Angela. "He did it deliberately, he's no more than a thug and doesn't deserve to be on the team!"
As parents distanced themselves from the argument that ensued Angela held up her hands in an attempt to placate the advancing man. "I can assure you it was an innocent mistake."
To that moment Rhiannon had watched with concern from the other side of the field as the obvious father of the fallen child berated Angela. Snatches of Angela's conciliatory tones drifted across the field as the children in the middle watched the scene between the two parents, one adult closing on the other. Rhiannon was about to make her way around the pitch when she saw Angela raise her hands, only to see one grasped forcefully by the man in front of her. She would never quite recall just how long it took her to reach Angela's side, but as Lachlan told it later it was as if she had flown across the field to his mother's rescue.
"Do you have any idea who's hand you're holding onto right now?" A voice dripping with barely controlled aggression whispered in the belligerent parent's ear.
"Who the hell are you and what the hell do I care who's hand I'm holding!"
He got no further as thumb applied pressure to a sensitive point along the jaw line of the aggressor. "Well let me tell you. She's a concert pianist and her hands are her life. So unless you want to end your poor excuse for an existence I suggest you let her go." While the businesswoman's voice could be barely heard by the other parents observing the incident, the menace Rhiannon's body language conveyed was clear for all to see.
Releasing Angela's hand he stepped back and rubbed his chin, disdainfully looking up and down at Rhiannon. He sneered at the businesswoman in an attempt to regain some shred of false machismo before turning his gaze to Angela. "And who is this? Is this your big dyke girlfriend coming to the rescue? No wonder your boy doesn't have a father, with a dyke for a mother, and no wonder he's so bloody hopeless on the field!
Shocked into silence Angela looked between the parent, Rhiannon and her son who by the confused look on his face, had no doubt heard the last comment. Rhiannon, seeing the pianist at a loss for words and realising that if both Angela and Lachlan were to continue to be accepted within the group of children and their parents, decided to intervene. "I would expect something as narrow minded from someone like you. That's not the case at all. Angela and I are just friends."
Hearing those words from the mouth of her friend made Angela finally realise the inadequacy of such a phrase in expressing what did exist and what she hoped would exist between the two women. Disregarding the curious looks from the parents observing the unfolding drama Angela moved towards the businesswoman, placing a possessive arm around the woman's waist as she did so. "No that's not true. She's more than just my friend. It's just a shame it's taken me so long to wake up to the reality of the situation." She smiled as she looked up at the startled features of the businesswoman beside her. Gaining strength in Rhiannon's gaze she once again returned her attention to the poor excuse of a parent in front of her. "As for you and your small mind, why don't you go and take a look at yourself. As a parent you set a poor example for your son and as a man," she paused her eyes disgustedly travelling the length of his body. "Well if you're all the male species has to offer then I feel sorry for you."
'Bravo', one parent called as broken clapping was interspersed between the rest of the gathering. Realising he was defeated the man grabbed his reluctant son by the arm and made a beeline for what could only be his car.
As Rhiannon looked down into the eyes of the woman, whose arm had remained securely around her waist, the umpire/coach of the mini-mites soccer team approached the two.
"Thankyou very much for what you said back there and I apologise that I haven't dealt with the situation sooner. Mr Keeling has been a problem parent for quite a while now. Unfortunately if I ask him to leave not only he, but his son is punished also. Hopefully this may force him to learn some manners before he returns." Pausing, he took in the two women. "I hope this won't turn the two of you off coming back to watch the mini-mites play?"
Surprised yet pleased at the obvious acceptance of the coach/umpire, Angela searched the consenting eyes of Rhiannon before she nodded. "Yes, we'll be back and when we do hopefully Lachlan will have a few more skills to his repertoire."
Given the morning's events the coach called a halt to the game much to the loud disappointment of the children. Promising extra time would be played next Saturday, kids reluctantly trudged towards their respective parents, soon leaving only the two women and Lachlan standing by the field. Searching for something to say, Angela found herself gazumped by her son.
"What are you doing now Rhiannon? Do you want to come back to our place?"
The businesswoman smiled at the boy, before returning her gaze to his mother. "Isn't it always polite to ask your mother first before you invite friends over?"
"Can we mum, please?" The sorrowful, pleading look was too much for Angela as she broke into laughter at her son's antics.
"Yes of course that will be okay. In fact if your 'friend' wants to, how about we have a Drive In movie afternoon and night in the lounge room?" She paused as Lachlan enthusiastically jumped at the idea. "Of course, if you're going to go to the movies you have to get cleaned up first." The pianist pulled a small sod of dirt from the behind the boy's ear. "I swear you've got half of the soccer field behind here."
Not waiting for further instruction Lachlan made a beeline for the family car, pausing only long enough to take off his shoes while he waited for his mother to follow. Afforded a bit of privacy, Angela turned towards the woman beside her. "You don't mind do you? I'd really like to talk to you and if at all possible explain my actions over the past few days. However, if you can't make it," Angela got no further, her words silenced by Rhiannon's soft fingers on the pianist's lips.
"I'd love to. I think we've both got a little explaining to do. However, if you don't make your way to your car, I'm afraid Lachlan may in fact run home." Rhiannon paused as both women looked towards the young boy who was eagerly hopping from one foot to the other. "My car's on the other side of the park; I'll pick up some snacks at the corner store and then how about I meet you at your place?"
Nodding her head the two separated, one elated woman heading towards an impatient child while the other elated woman jogged across the sports field and the roadster that awaited her.
Angela opened the door to the house, juggling a soccer ball in one hand and junk mail in the other. "Now if we're to get the lounge room ready for our picnic and movies you better get those clothes off while I run you a bath."
Lachlan scampered down the hall, bouncing off the walls as he attempted to pull the soccer jersey over his head. Placing the mail on the hallway table the pianist followed him, rolling his ball into her son's bedroom before continuing to the bathroom.
Running through the door, the boy came to a halt, giving his mother a hug in the process. "I'm ready!"
Turning around Angela couldn't help but laugh. There was no doubt the amount of skin which had been covered by his soccer gear, for the skin that hadn't been covered was liberally coated in dirt. Checking the water she motioned him in while in turn she searched for the shampoo.
Lachlan grabbed a face washer and after generously coating it with bath gel, launched an attack on his legs to get them clean. "That man wasn't very nice today was he?"
The pianist took a seat on the side of the bath and watched her son's attempts to put more water on the outside of the bath than what was inside. "No sweetie he wasn't; in fact he was very rude."
The boy swirled the washer in the water, watching the suds as they formed a mini whirlpool. "Mum, why did he call you and Rhiannon a dyke? What does that mean?"
Angela reached for the face washer, and turning her son around began to wash his back. As she did so she couldn't help but wish things would have been so much easier if Rhiannon was here to explain.
"Well honey, a dyke is a word that's sometimes used to describe two women who like women instead of men." Seeing the quizzical look on her son's face she attempted to clarify her comment. "You remember how I told you about boyfriends and girlfriends, well it's like that except you have two girlfriends. Does that make any sense?"
Lachlan nodded. "I think so." The boy seemed to consider his mother's response before once again turning his face to hers. "Is that what you and Rhiannon are? You know, girlfriends I mean?"
The inquisitive, serious look on the face of her son left no room for a dismissive answer from his mother. "Would it bother you if we were?" Angela held her breath as her son innocently pondered the question, unaware of the implications of his response.
He shrugged his shoulders non-committally. "I don't think so. I think Rhiannon's great and she can kick a ball so much better than you." The boy giggled as he dodged a mock swipe from his mother. "When you and her are together, except for the other day, you're really happy and you don't wander around the house as if you've lost something. Is Rhiannon going to stay, I mean for a long time, not just for this afternoon and this evening? And what happens if you go overseas to play in that Orchestra; will she come along?"
The relief of her son's acceptance was tempered with the reality of the situation. "I don't know son, I expect we'll just have to take one thing at a time."
Washed and changed from the day's events, mother and son prepared the lounge room as they awaited the businesswoman's arrival. The remainder of the afternoon and a good deal of the evening was taken up with a picnic and movies which were more suited to a seven year old boy than the two adults who sat with him. Neither woman seemed to matter however, both were too involved in the other, eagerly waiting the chance when they could get the issues of the past few days out into the open.
As the hours lengthened the energy of the little boy waned until it was obvious sleep wasn't too far away. With very little urging from his mother Lachlan stood, hugging his mother before he did the same to Rhiannon. Patting the boy on the backside the businesswoman turned him in the direction of his room. He stopped at the door, as if he'd forgotten something. Turning, he looked at his mother and then to the woman beside her.
"So are you going to have a sleepover as well as the drive-in movie/picnic?" He asked innocently, not completely aware of the question he'd just posed.
At that moment Rhiannon was happy she'd finished swallowing the coffee she'd been drinking or it may well have ended up on the carpeted floor of Angela's lounge room. Collecting herself she chose her words carefully. "Well, I'd like to, but that's really up to your mother. It's a bit like inviting people for picnics and movies you see, you have to ask first."
Lachlan turned his questioning stare to his mother and awaited her answer.
Angela smiled at him, before gazing at the woman beside her. Losing herself in the deep blue eyes of her partner she took a step off the precipice and found nothing but solid ground. "I'd like that too, especially on a more permanent basis, if that's okay with you that is."
Shocked, Rhiannon was stunned into paralysis that was only broken by the small figure that had all but launched itself from the other side of the room. "Are you sure Angela? You do realise what you're asking don't you?"
Lachlan, who had been tired only moments before was now leaping with energy. "That's a great idea! "Cool! I can have two mums instead of one, not every one has two mums do they? We can have heaps of fun together!"
She turned to her son. "Yes we will be able to have lots of fun won't we." Taking the shocked businesswoman's hand in her own, she answered Rhiannon's previous question. "I'm very sure and, yes, I do realise what I'm asking. I realise we've some things to work out, but I now know that if you want to I'd like you to be a part of my life."
Before Rhiannon could answer, Lachlan interjected. "Can we have a slumber party out here tonight mum?"
Angela laughed as her gaze remained locked with the other woman's. "Well that's not exactly what I had in mind. How about you head down to your room and give me a yell when you're ready to be tucked in?"
Once again hugging the two women the boy skipped out of the lounge room and down the hall. Her face serious, Angela returned her attention to her partner. Taking Rhiannon's hand, she drew it to her lips. "I'm so sorry for the way I've acted over the past few days. I certainly didn't mean to question you the way I did or to question your integrity. I expect once again I was too focussed on the opinions of others to really listen to the ones that mattered most. Can you forgive me? Would you still like to be part of my life?" she finished, a note of uncertainty in her voice.
Rhiannon smiled, answering the pianist with a kiss that left no room for doubt. Easing out of the embrace she found herself lost in Angela's sparkling hazel eyes. "I think these past few days have been the worst I've been through in years. I said some pretty horrible things too the other day; can you forgive me?"
Angela drew her partner into a hug. "Of course I can; I think we both said things we didn't really mean and as for the past few days, I know exactly what you mean. Poor Lachlan has borne the brunt of my bad mood." At that moment the sounds of her son echoed down the corridor. Angela stood, extending her hand to Rhiannon. "I've got to go and tuck him in; would you like to help me?"
Accepting the proffered hand Rhiannon stood, not breaking the contact between the two. Walking together into the boy's bedroom both women chuckled as they witnessed him struggle to conceal a yawn. "Well young man, I expect you won't be getting up too early tomorrow will you?" Angela queried as she tucked Lachlan in before bending over and kissing his forehead. Rhiannon mirrored her partner's actions before the pianist dimmed the light, leaving the door slightly ajar. "He doesn't have trouble sleeping however he doesn't like the door closed for some reason.
Rhiannon chuckled. "When I was a child, I was much the same. Of course, it doesn't seem to bother me as much now." Rhiannon made her way towards the lounge room, only to have her arm captured by the woman behind her. Turning, she tilted her head in query.
Angela pulled the woman towards her and through the door of the master bedroom. "That's good to know. I'd hate to have Lachlan stumble in on us during the evening." Closing the door, she drew the dumbfounded businesswoman towards the bed. Feeling a tug on her hand Angela turned towards the other woman.
Surprised at the pianist's candour, Rhiannon struggled to regain control of the situation, something that wasn't made easy by the deliberate fingers of Angela as they proceeded to unbutton her blouse. "Don't you think there's still some issues to talk about? I mean, I'm happy we've resolved the past few days but what about your work, my work and your friends to say the least? Now I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be that difficult to get out of my existing contract; in fact truth be told I'm not sure it was worth the trouble in the first place. But what about when you start touring again? Are you ready for ready for your life to be well and truly in the spotlight?"
The pianist smiled as her busy fingers peeled the blouse away from her partner's shoulders. Reaching forward she allowed her lips to graze Rhiannon's flesh, pleased at the gasp the other woman elicited. Using her fingers to lightly trace the outlines of the businesswoman's well-defined muscles, she listened distractedly as Rhiannon continued to list the large number of potential hurdles the three of them faced in the future. "You know, a very smart woman once told me sometimes difficulties can seem as insurmountable as eating an elephant. However she had a solution to that which up until now I really didn't understand. Take just one bite at a time, one little bite at a time."
I'd like to thank all those people who emailed me after my first story to tell me how much they enjoyed reading it. Truth be told, had I not received so many queries about a sequel, I would never have written one. One person wrote, when told there was going to be a sequel: 'If it's half as good as Remember, then I'm sure people will like it.' Well JJ, I hope it lived up to your expectations. And by the way; thanks for your feedback, it was gratefully received and helped to spots those kinks I'd overlooked.
Just a couple of points, clarification and disclaimers before I let you get back to reading some of the great writers on the Net. The reference to the song by Chris de Burgh was done without me seeking his permission and isn't meant for profit in any way, shape or form. As for the reference to the third movement of the Moonlight sonata by Beethoven, no I didn't use a psychic to try and get his permission either. The same goes for the piece from the movie The Piano. However if you get the chance, have a listen to the three pieces of music, especially Beethoven and The Piano. I listened to these as I wrote the respective paragraphs in the story.
Blinky Bill the koala is a children's cartoon character created by Dorothy Wall in the 1940's and he and his mates regularly create havoc throughout the Australian countryside. Despite his age, he still entertains the children of today, most recently with a video being released on his exploits. The use of Blinky Bill wasn't meant for profit, merely to bring an Australian feel to the story and plus I like him!
Snugglepot and Cuddlepie and the Gumnut Babies are the creation of May Gibbs, who created these lovely characters back in 1916 and 1918 and they are carefully interwoven with elements of the Australian countryside. If you get the chance to read any of her stories, you'll quite clearly see how they couldn't be mistaken for anything else but Australian. While May Gibbs has long since passed away, the use of her characters wasn't for gain in any way shape or form - however, they were a well loved part of my childhood.
Finally the bilby. A bilby is a real creature and is a member of the bandicoot species. An Australian marsupial, the bilby is on the endangered species list and is in fact the Australian poster child for endangered species. Hence, at Easter time in Australia it's not unusual to see both chocolate Easter bunnies and Easter bilbys.
Oh just one more; a face washer you may know better as a flannel but they serve the same purpose.
Oh yes, there were no belligerent sports mad parents hurt during the writing of this sequel, although I was sorely tempted!
H.M. Macpherson, author of And Those Who Trespass Against Us, a historical romance published by Renaissance Alliance Publications. Visit their website at www.rapbooks.biz
Copyright © 2002 by Helen M. Macpherson