Sam was mesmerized by the blinking red light on the answering machine.
Tina started slowly walking across the room toward her.
"Dont." The blonde put up a hand to stop Tina from coming any closer. "I need to go." She hurried into the bedroom and began throwing her belongings into her duffel bag. She got the last white shirt that was hanging in the closet, grabbed her tuxedo pants off the dresser, and went into the bathroom to get ready for work.
Tina waited for about twenty minutes, growing increasingly concerned with each passing second. "Samantha?"
The bathroom door was yanked open. "WHAT!"
"I I was worried. Are you all right?"
"No." Sam brushed by the tall woman. "I am NOT all right. Did you really think I would be?" She put the tee shirt and shorts she had changed out of into her luggage.
"Let me explain "
"I dont think theres anything you can say "
"Please at least let me try."
The musician pulled a clean pair of socks from the duffel bag before zipping it closed. As she put on her vest, she looked around on the floor near the edge of the bed. "Where the hell are my shoes?"
"Theyre in the living room remember? last night "
"Oh, yeah." Sam picked up her luggage, got the garment bag from the closet and went into the living room. She laid her things next to the couch and sat down to put on her socks and shoes.
Tina trailed after the furious woman. "I Im just asking for a few minutes. You dont have to be at work for hours yet."
Sam finished with her footwear. She didnt answer, but she stayed seated on the couch.
Okay I guess that means shell listen so what do I say? Tina started pacing back and forth. "I I have been wanting to talk to you about this for a while but I didnt know how. Ive been very confused. Ive never been involved with anyone like I am with you." She glanced at Sam, who was sitting very still and looking intently at her hands.
Keep going, T. "Well before I met you I umm dated other people like myself. People who didnt want a relationship no strings no emotional ties that kind of thing."
"Sounds like an empty existence." Sams voice was low but the underlying anger was palpable.
"I didnt know any better then but now I realize that there can be so much more." And apparently, just in time to lose it.
"Were all of these people women?"
"Not always, no."
"Youre full of surprises today." Sam stood up. "Anything else I should know?"
"Ill talk to Andi tonight and explain to her "
The sound of the womans name was too much for the blonde to bear. "I need to leave." She reached for her bags.
"Wait dont go yet."
For the first time since entering the living room, Sam looked directly at Tina. "I blame myself for this as much as, if not more than, you. I came into this knowing you couldnt make promises but I misunderstood. I thought you meant you couldnt commit to a long-term relationship not that you couldnt commit to one person." She shook her head sadly before continuing. "Chalk it up to the thought processes of a still naive thirty-nine year old. I never expected youd cheat on me. Get tired of me? Leave me? Maybe. But to find out that Im just one of your your " Tears trickled down her cheeks and she wiped them away.
"I havent cheated on you."
"You havent slept with anyone else since our the reunion?"
"Umm not since the night I took you home from the Beach Bar."
"Well three weeks! That must be some kind of record for you." Sam picked up her luggage. "A record that will evidently be broken tonight."
Tina sighed. Im not equipped to handle conversations like this. I say the wrong thing and only make it worse.
Sam walked to the foyer and stared at the door in front of her. She stopped herself from launching the stinging, parting remark that was foremost in her mind. Whatever I say now may be the last thing I ever get to tell her. Go with the truth rather than the cheap shot. "Its been a good couple of months especially the last few weeks."
Tina strained to hear the musicians softly spoken words.
"I truly believed with all my heart that we had something special. The mistake I made was thinking I could believe it enough for both of us."
"It IS something special." Tina stepped up behind Sam but not so close as to invade her personal space. "And I want to believe in it like you do if youll give me the chance."
"I dont know "
"Samantha Im sorry. I know I should have told you sooner. When youre ready, if you want me to explain it further Ill try. But for right now, I want you to understand that tonight Im going to tell her that I cant see her anymore. I am NOT going to sleep with her."
"I Im not thinking too clearly at the moment. Im upset angry and hurt." Sam opened the door. "I need to go."
Tina watched the small woman make her way down the hall. She closed the door and wandered through the condo, acutely aware of the quiet. Samantha brings so much life to this place and to me. The bathroom light was on and she went to turn it off. Lying on the counter, neatly folded, was the Florida State shirt Sam had worn the day before. Tina touched the lettering, a sad half-smile making its way to her face as she recalled the last time shed done that. Picking up the shirt, she brought it to her face and inhaled the blondes scent. My girl.
Looking into the mirror, Tina studied her reflection until her eyes became shiny with tears.
And she cried.
The headlights of the silver BMW lit the driveway of the well-kept Hyde Park bungalow. Tina got out of the car and walked up the pathway to the house, trying to calm her frazzled nerves. The odds are astronomical that I would have to take part in two conversations like this in the same day. Im sure this one wont go any better than the last. Samantha Whitwell, you have completely turned my world upside down.
As the accountant approached the front door, it opened.
"Hi." Andi smiled and gestured for Tina to come in.
Andrea Donovan was almost the same height as Tina, but she had a slimmer, less athletic build. Wavy, dark brown hair that matched her eye color fell loosely to her shoulders. When she smiled, a large dimple materialized on each cheek. She was dressed in casual designer label clothes that accentuated her graceful curves.
"Would you like a beer?"
Tina nodded. She remained standing in the center of the living room while the woman went to get the drink. She looked around at the hardwood floors, antique furniture, artwork, and flourishing plants. This is the last time Ill ever be here
"Come and sit with me." Andrea settled on the couch and held the beer out.
Tina took the drink and sat down.
"Im glad you showed up tonight. I missed you last time."
Another nod. Tina gulped a sizable portion of her beer before beginning to fidget with the label on the bottle.
Andi watched her nervous guest. Somethings wrong. Most nights, wed be on our way to the bedroom by now. "Whats going on?"
"I " Tina continued to give her full attention to the drink in her hands. "Umm Andi?"
"Yes?" The woman reached over and gently turned Tinas face so she could look at her. "What is it?"
There was no answer, but Andi saw the truth in heartbreaking blue eyes. "Youre leaving me."
"Yes." Tina broke the eye contact and again focused on her beer. "I met somebody."
"You meet people all the time. Thats never affected us before."
"This one is different." A smile tugged at the sides of Tinas mouth as she thought of Samantha.
Andi didnt miss the change in facial expression. "Amazing has someone really turned your head that much?"
"Is it a woman?"
"I always thought if anyone could ever tame you, it would be a woman." Andi took one of Tinas hands in her own. "Weve had this arrangement for over a year. I think its been working fine just the way it is. If you want to see this other person, too it shouldnt change what we have here."
"What weve had is the closest thing Ive had to a relationship... until now." Tina shifted her position so she could look at Andi. "I dont know whats happening to me maybe Im a fool for thinking I can do it but I have to give it a try. And while I do I cant continue this us."
"So, last time when you cancelled you were with her?"
"But you came back tonight."
"I thought I at least owed you a face-to-face explanation."
"Will you stay? Give me one more night?"
"I I cant."
"Sure you can." Andi leaned forward. "You know you still want me and I certainly still want you." She kissed Tina hard.
After a brief moment of resistance, Tina fell into the demanding kiss. The familiarity of it felt good two people fighting for control and each one more interested in taking than giving. It ignited a passion within her that was hard to ignore. But Tinas considerable willpower overcame it and she severed the kiss. "I cant we have to stop."
"Do you WANT to stop?"
Tina didnt reply right away. There was no doubt about the physical chemistry they possessed and after the emotionally draining day shed just had, the thought of an uncomplicated sexual encounter was more than enticing.
Andi moved forward for another kiss.
"No dont please." I will NOT break my promise to Samantha.
Tinas plaintive tone was so out of character that Andi immediately stopped.
"Umm Im sorry, Andi. I just cant."
"She doesnt have to know about us."
"She already does."
"You told her?"
"Its a long story. The thing is the reason Im here is to tell you that as much as Ive enjoyed our time together, I cant see you any more if I want a real chance with her." Tina shrugged again. "I dont know what else to say."
Andi looked into blue eyes that were glistening with tears. Ive never seen her like this if I didnt know her better, Id swear shes in love. "If it doesnt work out, Ill be here."
Tina stood up. "I hope that if I ever come back, youll tell me youve found someone who has touched your heart and you dont want me anymore." She walked to the door and turned to look one last time at the woman still seated on the couch. "You deserve better than what we had here, Andi. Maybe we both do."
Too astounded to speak, Andi watched Tina, who had visited her faithfully twice a month for the last year, slip out the door and close it quietly. I HAVE found someone who has touched my heart. A woman that, given time, Id hoped I could tame and she just walked out of my life.
Tina drove over the red cobblestone streets of Hyde Park toward Bayshore Boulevard and home. Saying good-bye to Andi was harder than I thought it would be. I didnt want to hurt her. I guess I really do care about her but its completely different from the way I feel about Samantha.
That green-eyed blonde has somehow taken hold of my heart. And it confuses the hell out of me. Like now, for instance how do I go about convincing her to give me another chance?
Tina parked the BMW in her space and took the elevator up to her floor. Stepping into the dark condo, she put her keys on the table in the foyer. Without bothering to switch on any lights, the accountant went into the kitchen and got a beer from the refrigerator. She opened the sliding glass door in the living room, moved out onto the patio, and sat at the table. Sipping her drink, she looked at the stars. It seems like forever since I sat here with Samantha having coffee but that was only this morning. So much has happened today and not much of it was good.
Tina finished her beer, got another one, and headed into the study. She turned the computer on and accessed her e-mail. Selecting the compose mail option, she typed in the address SamIAm. Leaning back in her chair, she stared at the blank page on the screen. Now, if I only knew what to write
Sam pulled into the driveway and breathed a sigh of relief. The minivan is gone they must be at dinner or a movie. Good, because Im sure not up to any questions about my weekend. She gathered her things from the back of the Toyota and trudged up the stairs.
She unlocked the door and smiled as she went inside. Home. The place she had fixed up with so much love and care always gave her a sense of peace. She dropped her luggage and went to the guitar that was resting in its stand next to the bookcase. With the amplifier on low, the musician strummed the instrument, occasionally humming a tune along with the chords. It was a ritual she had followed over the years strumming her guitar when she was upset finding that the rhythmic playing of the instrument had a way of comforting her.
It was almost an hour later when she heard voices in the driveway below her. She put the guitar down and looked out the window. Lisa, Mike and the children were getting out of the van. The boys were talking excitedly about something or other. Mike put his arm around Lisas waist as they all started walking toward the house. Sams vision became blurry with tears while she watched them. As if I havent cried enough today already. She swiped at the tears with the back of her hand.
"Mom? Can I go say hi to Auntie Sam?" Joshua asked.
"All right, but just for a minute. You have school tomorrow."
"Okay!" The boy dashed up the steps noisily.
When he reached the top, his aunt opened the door. "Hi there."
"Hi! We went to the movies! We got to see Toy Story 2."
"Thats great." Sam ushered the child inside. "Did you like it?"
"Yes! It was really good."
"Auntie Sam?" Joshua followed the woman as she took her luggage into the bedroom.
"Yes?" She began unpacking her duffel bag.
"Did you remember to tell Tina that I said hi?"
"Yes, I did. She says hi back."
The boy looked very pleased with his aunts answer. He sat on the bottom of the bed. "Is she coming over tonight?"
Sam took the garment bag and hung it in her closet. She kept her back to the child as she struggled to get the words out. "No, I dont think so."
"Oh. I wanted to tell her something." He sounded disappointed. "If she does get here before my bedtime, will you ask her to call me?"
"Yes." But I doubt shell be showing up anytime soon. After taking a deep breath and trying to conjure up a smile, she turned and faced her nephew. "Youd better be getting home now, before your mom comes looking for you." And Im not ready to talk to her yet.
"Okay." Josh hopped down from the bed and hugged his aunt. "Good night."
"Good night, Joshua." She walked the boy to the door and watched him until he got inside the house.
Sam went back into the bedroom and searched in her desk for a moment before finding what she was looking for. She sat in the middle of her bed, holding the manila envelope in her lap. Where are you right now? Who is this Andi youre with? She emptied the contents of the envelope on the bed. Her hands were shaking as she picked up and examined each item. The business card that Tina had written her e-mail address on, the notes Tina had left for her each morning when she stayed over, the baggie of shells she had collected at Lido Beach. Sam couldnt see anymore through the tears in her eyes. She lay down among the mementos and cried, until she cried herself to sleep.
Tina took her glasses off and laid them on the desk. She glanced at her watch. 10:00 AM. Samantha might not even be up yet. She might not check her e-mail today. She might have deleted it before reading it. So, what am I going to do next?
Vivian walked into Tinas office and caught her employee daydreaming. "Good morning."
"I had my monthly brunch with the country club group today." The boss sat down. "I talked up that New Zealand package you put together. We may get a few calls about it." She placed a cup of coffee on the desk. "I got this for you on the way back."
"How was your weekend?"
Vivian recognized the stress in her friends voice. "Whats wrong?"
"Nothing." Tina fiddled with the plastic lid she had removed from the coffee.
The older woman waited patiently.
"I I messed things up with Samantha. She may not want to see me any more."
Vivian was surprised. The budding relationship had appeared to be going quite smoothly. She reached over and closed the door to the office. "What happened?"
"She found out that Im not worth having." Tina fought to keep the tears back.
"What do you mean?" She looks like shes going to cry. And whats this about not being worth having? "Do you want to talk about it?"
"No yes I dont know."
"Did she SAY she didnt want to see you anymore?"
"She said she didnt know. She was angry and hurt."
Vivian was stunned at the mention of Andis name. It had been about a year ago that the two women had met at one of her dinner parties. She had seen the mutual attraction between them, but had no idea that it had developed into a long-term relationship. "Youve been seeing her?"
"What are you going to do?"
"I dont know."
"Tina," Vivian said gently, "what you need to do is look within yourself and decide what it is you really want."
"I want Samantha."
"Shes different from the other people youve dated "
"I know," Tina interrupted. "But if shell give me the chance I want to try."
"And what about Andrea?"
"I went over there last night and told her it was over."
"I see." This must have been an interesting weekend to say the least. "So, youre going to try to work things out with Samantha?"
"Yes." There was a prolonged pause before Tina spoke again. "I I never thought that Id meet someone like Samantha. She is umm special. Just being with her makes me feel good... and happy."
Vivian nodded, encouraging the woman to go on.
"Lately, I find myself thinking about the future and all I see is Samantha. I cant imagine living without her. But I dont know how to talk to her how to explain. She has me all confused. I find myself saying the stupidest things "
"I Im constantly agreeing with her. Then I told her she was my girl." Tina propped her elbows on the desk and buried her face in her hands. "I even told her she smelled like sunshine."
Vivian smiled. Sunshine? Sounds to me, my dear, like you have fallen in love. "Those are wonderful things to say! Samantha is probably the kind of person who would appreciate words like that."
Tina felt the blush creep up her neck and into her face. "Yeah I guess so."
"Well, do you want my opinion?"
Tina looked into sincere hazel eyes. If there was anyones opinion she valued, it was Vivians. After a decade of working together and being friends, she also knew shed hear the truth. "Yes."
Vivian collected her thoughts for a few moments before she began speaking. "Ive known you for a long time. Over the years, I have learned that you show people you love them by doing very thoughtful, meaningful things. Youve demonstrated this to me on countless occasions and I know that you love me, even though youve never said so in those exact words. I love you, too. You have been like a daughter to me the daughter I never had and I want you to know that if I HAD been fortunate enough to give birth to a daughter I wouldnt change a thing. Id want her to be just like you."
Both women had tears in their eyes.
"Now, what does all that have to do with the current situation?" Vivian came around the desk and leaned against it. She looked down at Tina and rested a hand on her shoulder. "You made a mistake continuing with Andi after you met Samantha. I think you knew right from the beginning that weekend at the reunion that there was something special between the two of you. But you were afraid to let go of your past. So youre going to have to talk to Samantha. Reassure her that you know what you want and you are prepared to do whatever it takes to make it work. And youre going to have to find the words to do it because thats what shell understand."
Vivian smiled at the typically brief response. "Ive always hoped that youd find some happiness in your life and I think you have an opportunity for that with Samantha. However, a relationship takes effort commitment and you have to be willing to give one hundred percent of yourself. Do you think youre ready to do that?"
"For Samantha yes."
"Then youd better start thinking about what youre going to say." Vivian walked to the door. "Meanwhile," she turned and winked at Tina. "Flowers are usually a nice touch."
Flowers? Why didnt I think of that? Tina jumped up, grabbed her backpack and followed her boss out of the office "Ill be back in a little while." She strode quickly toward the front of the travel agency.
Vivian smiled as she watched the love-struck woman leave. Ive never known you to fail at anything youve set your mind to. Lets hope this time will be no exception.
Sam rubbed her eyes. What time is it? She sat up slowly and looked at the digital clock. Almost midnight. Stumbling out of bed, she switched on the light and went into the bathroom. She took a long, hot shower, which helped to relax the tension in her neck and shoulders. After finishing getting ready for bed, she returned to her room and stood staring at the objects scattered about on the comforter. She picked up the items and put them back in the manila envelope. Placing the package in the drawer of her desk, she shut the light off and climbed under the covers. Out of habit, she grabbed Tinas pillow and pulled it close. Still able to faintly smell the womans scent, she closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep.
It was mid-morning when Sam awoke again. She made herself a cup of instant coffee, sat at the kitchen table, and thought about her day ahead. Thank goodness I dont have to work today. Im not feeling up to that. Running a hand through her hair, she sighed. Guess I might as well try to get a few things done around here. Moving to the opposite end of the small kitchen, she opened a set of bi-fold doors, exposing a stackable washer and dryer. Turning on the washer so it would start to fill, she went back to her bedroom, got her laundry, and sorted the clothes into two piles. After putting in the first load, she dusted and vacuumed the apartment, glad to have something to do to keep her busy. I know Im in trouble when I enjoy doing housework. She filled her large mug with water and put it in the microwave to heat for another cup of coffee. Leaning against the counter, she glanced at the memo board on the side of the refrigerator. Tinas handwriting caught her eye and she reached out to touch the name written there. I was so thrilled when I found your number here. I should have known I wasnt the only one you gave it to. The beeping of the microwave jarred her from her reverie. She prepared her coffee before moving the cleaned clothes into the dryer and putting the second load in the washer.
Taking her drink, she walked through the living room, picked up her keys and went outside. She locked her door and strolled over to Lisas house. Everyone was either at work or school, so Sam used her key to get in. She received an enthusiastic welcome from Beethoven and he trotted after her as she went into the study. The dog plopped down next to her when she sat at the desk and turned on the computer. She connected to the Internet and then clicked on her e-mail. Three messages oh Sam gasped. The third message was from T1Run. Tina. She read and answered the first two messages; one from a co-worker in the orchestra who was worried after seeing her visibly upset yesterday and the other from a good friend who wanted to get together sometime over the weekend. The third letter remained unopened for several minutes while Sam decided if she should read it or not. Taking a deep breath, she opened the e-mail. The first thing she noticed was that the note was extremely short. No surprise there. She read the words:
I miss you already. I guess I just wanted you to know that.
The blonde couldnt help but smile. She has a fantastic memory. The words on the monitor were the exact ones Sam had used when she had called Tina the very first time. Unsure of how to convey her sense of emptiness without the tall, dark-haired woman, Sam had simply ended up saying she missed her. Tina knows with these words Ill understand what shes feeling. Oh, you are good, Mellekas. You can come up with the right sentiment when you really want to. She closed the mail program and shut down the computer. Im not ready to talk to you yet. I have no idea what to say. Sam picked up her coffee cup and went into the family room. Beethoven followed her, wagging his tail. Sitting at the piano, she pressed the keys with one finger.
"Plink, plink, plink plink, plink, plink, plink, plink, plink plink, plink, plink."
Memories thats the problem, isnt it? That amazing memory of hers makes it hard for her to let go of the past. It never fades for her. Sam dropped her hand from the keyboard and petted Beethovens head resting in her lap. However, if thats true, then she remembers the good things, too. Us playing Heart and Soul on the piano the sunset at the beach me singing to her her calling me My Girl all of it.
She stood up and wandered out to the kitchen. Well, theres one thing Ill never forget looking in her eyes and seeing love. I know its there. She knows it, too. But if she isnt ready to commit to one person a hell of a lot of good its going to do me.
Sam said good-bye to the dog and went back to her apartment. Ill have to talk to Lisa today. If there ever was a time I didnt want to hear "I told you so," this is it. She folded her laundry, ran some errands, and stopped by a fast food drive-thru on her way home to grab a late lunch. After eating, she put on her bathing suit and sat in Lisas yard to take advantage of the beautiful fall afternoon.
"Huh?" Sams eyes popped open and she quickly raised one of her hands to block out the blinding sunlight.
Lisa grinned at her younger sibling. "It seems youve dozed off out here. Want to come in for some ice cream? The boys are at soccer practice."
"Okay." Sam put on the oversized tee shirt she had brought along and followed her sister into the house.
"So, how was your weekend at the luxurious condo in Tampa?" Lisa opened the freezer door and got the ice cream.
"It was okay." I knew Id fall apart as soon as she asked me about this.
Lisa put the ice cream on the counter and turned to look at Sam. She watched as the blonde tried to hold back tears. Uh oh. "What happened?"
Sam couldnt speak. She threw her arms around her sister and cried.
Lisa rubbed the distraught womans back and let her cry. Whatever this is ten-to-one Tina Mellekas is responsible.
"I Im sorry."
"Its all right. Thats what family is for, isnt it? To be here for each other." Lisa brought a box of tissues with her to the kitchen table. "Lets sit down and talk about it." She waited quietly while Sam got seated and collected herself.
"Its really nothing." Yeah right. "We had our first umm argument."
"Do you want to tell me what it was about?"
Sam shook her head.
"Okay." That means its something major. "Is there anything I can do?"
"No, but thanks for asking."
Lisa got up and busied herself making two bowls of ice cream with chocolate sauce. She placed one in front of Sam before sitting across from her again.
Both women ate the treat in silence.
Lisa was done first and put her bowl in the sink. "Are you coming over for the game on Saturday? I had thought you might watch it at Tinas but if things have changed " She looked at Sam questioningly.
"Game? Oh yeah." It was the biggest college football game of the year in Florida: the University of Florida Gators versus the Florida State Seminoles. It seemed like everyone in the state had an allegiance to one of the teams. Pre-game coverage dominated the news all week and Mike, a graduate of U of F, hosted a party each year on the day of the game.
"Youre always welcome here."
"Thanks. I I just dont know right now."
"Thats okay." Lisa picked up Sams empty bowl. "You never have to give advance notice to come over here. Well be delighted if you join us."
"No problem." Lisa took the leash off a hook near the door. "I need to take Beethoven for his afternoon jaunt." The dog began rubbing against his owner, excited at the prospect of going out. It took a moment for her to attach the clasp to the collar of the active animal.
"I should be going anyway." Sam stood and put her used tissues in the trash.
"If you want to talk later, Im here for you."
They walked outside just as a white van was turning into the driveway. Hyde Park Florist was painted on the side of the vehicle. An older gentleman got out of the van with a clipboard in his hand. Beethoven barked and Lisa attempted to shush him. The man, keeping his distance from the rambunctious dog, looked at his clipboard and then at the two women. "Samantha Whitwell?"
"Yes? Thats me."
"I have a delivery for you." The man put his clipboard on the dashboard before going to the far side of the van to open the sliding door.
Lisa looked at Sam. "Flowers?"
The deliveryman came back holding a clear glass vase that contained a single rose. The flower was just blooming and the outermost petals had started to open. There was a small card attached to the sea green ribbon wrapped around the vase. He gave the present to the blonde.
"Its just like my " Catching herself, Sam stopped abruptly.
"Just like what?" Lisa asked.
"Oh nothing." Sam read the card. I saw this and it reminded me of you. T. She looked at the deliveryman. "Give me a second. Ill go get you a tip."
"No need for that, Miss. The customer already took care of it. She insisted that you not be allowed to tip." He climbed into the van and backed out of the driveway.
"Thats an awful long way to go for a delivery," Lisa commented. "Dont they usually call a local affiliate?"
"I guess so."
"Well, whatever happened, it sure looks like she wants to make up."
Sam touched the bit of greenery that surrounded the stem. "Hmm maybe." But on her terms or mine?
Beethoven, having waited as long as his energy level permitted, started pulling on the leash. "Want to come for a walk with us?" Lisa asked as she started down the driveway.
"Not today, Sis." Sam went into the backyard and got her towel and book from the lounge chair. She headed up the stairs to her apartment, positioning the vase in the center of the coffee table as soon as she was inside.
She had just finished changing into a tee shirt and shorts when the phone rang. "Hello?"
"Umm hi, Samantha. Its Tina."
Sams heart rate increased dramatically. As if you had to say who it was. That deep voice and the way you say my name
"Are you there?"
"Yes." Sam finally managed to answer.
"I " What the hell do I say? "I "
Sam could picture Tina pacing back and forth restlessly with the phone in her hand. If I could see you read your body language look into those blue eyes Id probably know whatever it is youre trying to say. "Thank you for the rose."
"Oh, you got it? Youre welcome." Whew at least shes speaking to me. "I umm its nice to hear your voice. I I miss you."
There was no response, so Tina continued. "Id like to talk to you if youll let me. Not on the phone, though. Can I see you?"
Sam considered the request. We have to work this out, one way or the other. May as well get it over with. "Okay."
YES! Shes going to give me a chance. "When?"
"Tomorrow." Im not ready for this today.
"I can bring dinner if you want "
"No." That kind of experience was still too fresh back when things were oh, so different.
"All right." Not that Id be able to eat anyway. My stomach is completely in knots. "Ill see you tomorrow night then."
"Good night, Samantha."
"Bye." Sam hung up the phone. She went to her guitar and began strumming.
She played well into the night.
Tina turned the car off and sat for a moment, gathering her courage. Just tell the truth and hope for the best. Taking her backpack and a small box from the passenger seat, she got out of the car.
"Hi!" One of Sams nephews came running across the yard.
"You know what?"
"What?" Tina sat on a step and the boy joined her.
"Daddys football team is playing your team this weekend."
"Oh yes." I havent even been paying attention to the hype about the game. This isnt like me at all.
"I wanted to tell you," the boy said excitedly, "I think your team is gonna win. I saw them on TV. They have this really cool cheer and they have a guy who has a horse. He rides on the field and throws a spear and everything!"
"Yes, they do." Tina smiled at the childs enthusiasm. "I think theyre going to win, too. But maybe we should keep that between us. We wouldnt want to hurt your dads feelings, now would we?"
"I guess not."
Sam had seen the BMW pull in the driveway. When her guest didnt show up after a minute or two, she opened the door and saw Tina sitting with her nephew down near the bottom of the stairs. Oh, good. He wanted to talk to her. Id forgotten about that.
"Will you teach me the cheer? Its SO cool!"
"I dont know if your dad would like that "
Theres too much of Samantha in this kid. "Okay. It goes like this "
Sam covered her mouth to keep from laughing as she watched the unlikely duo wave their arms in the tomahawk chop and perform the FSU chant.
Josh ran back to his house. As Tina turned to go up the stairs, she saw Sam standing in the doorway.
"That was quite a performance. I didnt know you gave lessons."
A slight blush colored Tinas face when she realized that Sam had overheard. "Only for Joshua." She reached the top of the stairs and the women went inside.
"You mean I cant have a lesson if I want one?" Sam closed the door behind them.
"You can have anything everything just ask."
Thats a heck of an opening line for the evening. "How about we start with something small?" Sam pointed at the gold-colored box. "Maybe that?"
Tina handed the gift over. "I remember you said these were your favorites when we were at the Godiva Store in Hyde Park."
"I feel like Im being courted."
"Is that a good thing?"
They went into the living room. Sam put the box of candy on the table next to the rose as she sat down on the couch. Tina, feeling that a certain amount of distance was appropriate under the circumstances, chose the large chair.
It was dreadfully silent for several minutes.
Sam was contemplating whether she should speak first. Shed spent a great deal of time thinking about everything that had happened and, even though she was still hurt, she realized that communication lapses by both of them had played a part in their current predicament.
Tina was feeling exceedingly apprehensive and was having difficulty staying seated. Cmon, T, youre here to talk so TALK. She studied her feet as she began to speak in a soft, emotionally tinged voice. "Im so sorry I hurt you. If theres only one thing I say tonight that you believe I want it to be that." She took a deep breath to calm her nerves. Start at the beginning. "Umm I Ive been kind of confused ever since I met you. I havent had many close friends in my life and I really enjoyed the time we were spending together. I I knew I was physically attracted to you, but I tried to keep that contained. I thought sex would only mess up the special friendship we had."
"I guess it didnt help that I was constantly throwing myself at you." Sam said shamefully. And ignoring all the warnings you gave me because I wanted you so much.
Tina shook her head. "Youve done nothing wrong nothing to deserve this." Unable to stay seated any longer, the agitated woman got up and paced back and forth. Now, if I can just get past this next part. "For about a year before I met you, Id been seeing Andi. She was umm a person like me not looking for anything more than a tumble in the sheets a couple of times a month." Tinas voice became laden with self-loathing. "People like that like me have no business getting tangled up in the lives of people like you." She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.
"No please, let me finish. After you and I slept together, I knew I had to break up with Andi. But I wasnt sure how to do it. And then there was you. I was afraid to tell you about her. I knew it was going to hurt you and that youd be disappointed in me." She stopped pacing and forced herself to look at the woman who had come to mean so much to her. "Im sorry I didnt tell you. It was I was wrong."
"Tina, both of us made mistakes. Having thought about it and hearing what youve said here tonight, I can see that I pushed you into something you werent ready for and I never asked what YOU wanted "
"I should have told you about Andi."
"I should have asked." It seems so obvious in hindsight. "I think back now about how you always tried to stop me but I pushed and pushed. I wanted you and thats all that mattered."
Tina dropped down into the large chair again, already feeling emotionally drained. Well she hasnt tossed me out yet. Thats a positive sign. She clasped her hands together in her lap to try to stop them from trembling. One more thing to say then its up to her. "Samantha?"
"I umm there have only been a few times in my life when Ive felt a profound sense of loss. The first time was when I was a little girl and my father left. My whole world changed in the blink of an eye and I didnt really understand why." I guess I never did. "The second time was when Steven died." She cleared her throat and tried to maintain her composure. "The last time was when you walked out of my place on Sunday morning. I I wasnt able to do anything about the first two. But maybe if youll give me a chance this time can be different." Her next words were barely audible. "I dont want to lose you."
"I dont want to lose you, either," Sam said sadly. "But I cant be in a relationship with someone unless she is committed to me and ONLY me."
"Are you still seeing her?"
"No! Absolutely not. And even if you dont want me anymore youve taught me theres so much more to life than what Id been experiencing. I dont ever want to go back to the way things were the way I was."
"Do you really think youre ready for capable of a serious committed relationship?"
"Yes. I want to be with you ONLY you and I hope youll give me the opportunity to prove it."
"I want to be with you, too. But this whole thing has shaken me up. We have a lot to talk about. I have so many questions. I want to know everything."
Tina sighed. I only wish youd like what youre going to hear.
Sam realized that the taciturn woman was way beyond her quota of talking for one day. She looks totally exhausted. We need to take a break. "I think weve talked enough for now, dont you?"
"We have?" Tina looked relieved.
"Well, weve established that were going to work this out, right?"
"And we're going to start over in a committed relationship that's going to last for a long, long time." Like forever. "Right?" Please say yes.
Good answer and she didnt hesitate. "We'll talk as much as we need to because thats important in a relationship."
"Weve accomplished a lot, wouldnt you say?"
"Yes." I like this part where I can say yes or no this is much better.
"So, we dont have to discuss our entire lives in one evening." Sam smiled. At our ages that would be impossible anyway.
Tina was aware that she was purposely being giving a respite and she was very thankful for it. Its so nice to see her smile again. "I I suppose I should be going, then." She stood up.
"Do you want to go?"
"No, not really."
"Then why are you leaving?"
"I I dont know." Tina looked puzzled. "I guess I still have a lot to learn about this relationship thing."
"I have a feeling youll be a quick study." Sam went over and hugged the tall woman. "Were okay for now. We need to spend time together get close again."
Tina returned the hug. "I like the sound of that."
"What do you say to watching a little TV?"
They sat on the couch and Sam picked up the remote from the coffee table. "Let's see what's on." She started flipping through the channels. "An Indiana Jones movie! Hows that?"
"Fine with me."
"Why dont you lay down? Ill be your pillow."
Tina stretched out and rested her head on the younger womans lap. While they watched the movie, Sam stroked jet-black hair and lightly trailed her fingers along any bare skin within reach.
The movie ended and Tina rolled onto her back so she could look up at Sam. "I I like this."
Now SHE's agreeing with ME. Maybe I can subtract a mile when that happens. "Well, I have to work tomorrow. I really do need to get going."
They both stood and Tina picked up her backpack from next to the chair. "May I use the bathroom?"
"Thanks." The accountant went into Sams room. She stopped and listened to make sure she wasnt being followed. Quickly, she opened her backpack and carefully removed an item. Lifting the edge of the comforter, Tina slipped the object underneath, placing it on the pillow. Grinning, she started tiptoeing toward the bathroom.
"Everything all right?"
"EEEK!" Tina just about jumped out of her skin. She spun around and almost crashed into Sam.
"Im sorry. I didnt mean to scare you."
"Im sure you didnt. Its okay."
"You were going back in?" The blonde pointed in the direction Tina had been facing.
"Oh umm I decided maybe I should go back and splash some water on my face. I got a little sleepy watching TV."
Sam sat on the bed to wait. "Okay."
"Im fully awake now, thanks to you." Tina smirked as she took Sams hand and pulled her off the bed. "So, I dont need the water." She took long strides out of the room and the shorter woman had to jog to keep up.
They arrived at the door. Tina, unable to think of what to say, put her arms around Sam and hugged her.
"This really is like starting over, isnt it?" The blonde murmured.
"Are you coming over tomorrow night?"
"If you want me to, yes."
"I want you to."
"Then Ill be here." Tina gave the woman a reassuring squeeze before breaking the embrace. "Good night, Samantha."
Sam watched Tina go down the stairs before closing and locking the door. She paused before turning off the lights, looking at the rose and box of candy on the coffee table. You certainly get an A for effort, Mellekas.
She took her shower and got ready for bed. When she pulled back the comforter to get under the covers, she saw something on the pillow. Whats this? A big smile spread across Sams face as she recognized the Florida State shirt she had worn while she was at Tinas. She picked up the garment and a note fluttered out. She read the beautiful script:
I thought maybe wearing this would bring back some good memories.
Lets change that A to an A plus. Sam put on the shirt and glanced at the bedside clock. She wont be home yet. She lay awake in bed, thinking about Tina. Finally, she picked up the phone and dialed.
"Hi, its Sam."
"I found the shirt. Im wearing it."
"I was hoping you would."
The women listened to each other breathe.
"I miss you already."
"Me, too." So much for subtracting that mile. I may as well sign up for a marathon.
"Were still not very good on the phone, are we?"
Tina laughed. "I guess not."
Its nice to hear you laugh again. "Well good night."
"Good night, Samantha."
Across the miles, each of them lay in bed thinking about the other. Sam fell asleep first, a smile on her face, and pillow clutched tight. Tina was more restless replaying in her mind what had been said that evening and what had not. She also pulled a pillow close, inhaling the fragrance of the woman she missed holding in the night.
And so they slept.
Hmmm. Tina examined the information on her computer screen. That looks perfect. She printed out the page and put it in her backpack. The Internet is a wonderful thing.
Her intercom buzzed and she picked up the phone. "Yes?"
"Samantha Whitwell for you on line one."
"Thanks, Brenda." Quickly pressing the appropriate button, she took off her glasses and leaned back in her chair. "Hello."
"I was wondering what time you were going to come over tonight. I thought if you could get here a little early, we could walk on the beach while we talk."
"Thats a great idea."
"Around five oclock?"
"I'll be there."
"Do you want to meet at my house first? Or at the beach?"
"At the beach. I can cut right across from the interstate and miss some of the rush hour traffic."
"All right. Ill see you later, then."
Tina knew she was grinning from ear to ear but she couldnt help it. A soothing warmth had spread throughout her body when shed heard Sams voice on the phone. She has an effect on me like no one else
"How about some lunch?"
"Huh?" Tina hadnt noticed her boss standing in the doorway.
Vivian laughed. "You seemed lost in thought there, but it must have been a very nice thought."
"Oh umm yeah."
"Would you care to join me for lunch?"
They went to The Cactus Club and Vivian was able to obtain a concise summary of the previous nights discussion from her friend. She was happy to hear that the two women were working things out.
"But we still have a lot to talk about." Tina tinkered with her utensils. "I was going to leave a little early today, if thats okay."
"Since when do you need to ask?" Vivian joked. "You virtually run the place now."
"I do not "
"You know darn well Im telling the truth. You took my little hole-in-the-wall travel agency and transformed it into a thriving, prosperous business. Then, you invested my profits so now I have more money than I know what to do with. And all the while, you continued to make the wages of an office clerk, refusing any efforts of mine to give you a raise."
Embarrassed by the compliments, Tina traced the patterns on the tablecloth. "I have the car and the condo what else do I need?"
"Samantha thats what else you need. Although you seem to have already figured that out on your own." Vivian reached across the table and rested her hand on Tinas arm. "Dont think for one minute Im unaware that your substantial talents have been wasted on my small business. When I think of the money you could be making at some big "
"I like working for you. Its where I belong." And Samantha was right. Everyone needs to belong somewhere.
"Im awfully lucky that you feel that way."
"No. Ive been the lucky one."
The women smiled at each other, affection evident on both their faces.
"So," Tina asked again, "is it okay if I leave a little early?"
Vivian rolled her eyes heavenward. "Yes, dear. You can leave early."
Tina drove around St. Armands Circle and made a left onto the nearly deserted street that ran alongside the beach. She immediately spotted Sams Toyota and pulled into the vacant space behind it.
Taking a sweatshirt with her, she walked to the beach access, breaking into a jog as she started over the wooden footbridge. She paused at the top when she saw Sam at the shoreline, looking out at the water. Leaning against the railing, Tina watched her. I never thought I could feel this way about someone. I think I belong with her. It just seems so right.
Sam checked her wristwatch. Almost 5:00. She should be here soon. She turned and was surprised to see Tina standing on the footbridge. She waved and began making her way across the sand.
Tina met her halfway and they stood in uncomfortable silence for a few seconds.
"Lets walk a little, okay?" Sam suggested.
They went down near the waters edge and then began strolling in a southerly direction. The women walked for a while, not speaking, both of them feeling nervous.
Sam decided to get the most pressing issue out of the way first. Even if Im not sure Im ready to hear this we have to talk about it. "Tell me about Andi."
"Umm around a year ago, Vivian had one of her periodic dinner parties. I usually dont go to those things, but somehow or another, she talked me into it that night. Andi happened to be there and we we were attracted to each other. We flirted throughout the evening and when I was getting ready to leave she umm asked me if I wanted to come over to her place for a drink. I hadnt done anything like that in a while, but I went and I stayed." Tina peeked at the blonde, whose eyes were fixed on the ground in front of them. "Umm I saw her again after that. Then she asked me if we could have a couple of set days a month that we could meet. I d never done that before, but I I dont know I was tired of the way things had been. It seemed like a step in the right direction so I agreed."
Tina had to consciously slow her pace so she didnt move too far ahead of the shorter woman. "I umm Im not sure what else you want to know."
"You were tired of the way things had been? What does that mean?"
"Im not sure. Several things happened at once. I turned forty and it I I wondered where my life had gone what I was doing where I was going. Right around then, Vivians husband died. She was overcome with grief and I well I understood. I stopped traveling and ran the business full-time while she was dealing with that. I was so busy between the agency and keeping an eye on Vivian, I didnt really think about dating. I went a long time without being with anybody."
"Then you met Andi?"
"Yes and I guess I was lonely and having some major angst about being old."
"Did you see anyone else while you were with her?"
"No, but she assumed I was seeing other people the whole time. I never told her any different."
"You didnt want her to know you were faithful?"
Tina shrugged. "I I didnt want her to think it meant something."
"Well didnt it?"
"I dont know."
They walked quietly for a few minutes.
"Im not sure what I expected, but I didnt think youd say youve only been with one person in the last couple of years. I had visions of you telling me youve conquered most of the known world." And youre gorgeous enough to do it.
"Well umm." Tina looked contrite. "We havent talked about what happened BEFORE I turned forty."
"Lets deal with the more recent past first."
"You said that having this relationship with Andi was a step in the right direction. How so?"
"I felt like I should settle down. I d been running from everything and everyone since Steven died and I was tired of it."
"And it was going well?"
"For what it was, yes. But we we never went anywhere together or watched a sunset or danced we never did anything like that. It wasnt REALLY a relationship, but it was the closest Id been to it in a long time."
Sam tried to ask the question that had been on her mind for days. "Did you did she I mean, you wouldnt let me " Cmon spit it out. "Did you let her make love to you?"
Tina looked down at her feet, trying to formulate a response that would make sense to someone like Samantha. She realized there wasnt one.
The non-answer confirmed Sams fears. Unable to restrain her tears, she wandered away from the shoreline.
I have to explain. But how? Tina followed the weeping blonde. "Please dont cry."
Sam headed for one of the benches that were sprinkled along the beach and sat down.
Tina sat next to her. "Samantha, what Andi and I had was just sex. I know that sounds terrible, but its the truth. What you want from me is so much more. It it scares me. Ive been overwhelmed by this whole thing I dont even know how to explain it." Tina considered what else she should say. Tell her everything. "Umm ever since I met you, Ive wondered what it is you see in me. Sometimes you look at me with such I dont know I knew it was only a matter of time before youd discover I didnt deserve that look." Her voice shook with emotion. "I I wished at the fountain that I could be whatever it was you thought you were seeing but not all wishes come true."
"You ARE everything I see," Sam sniffled. "Maybe someday youll let yourself see it, too." She slid over and leaned against the dark-haired woman.
"I cant change my past Lord knows if there was any way "
"Im not judging you, Tina. Everyone does what he or she has to do to get through life. You had some rough times and you did what you needed to do to cope. But I cant help it if some of it is hard to hear."
"I dont want you to be sorry for who you are. Whatever weve had to go through in our lives, its brought us here. And being together now thats the most important thing, isnt it?"
"Theres that positive thinking again." Making things sound better than they really are. Making ME sound better than I really am.
"I I have to tell you something."
Tina tensed. Uh oh
"Its nothing bad. At least I hope you dont think so." Sam looked deeply into blue eyes. "All my life, Ive wondered if there was someone special someone meant just for me to share my life with. I when I saw you at the reunion " She reached up and lightly trailed her fingers down the side of Tinas face. " and looked into your eyes I knew you were the one."
"I I felt something, too." And it scared me. Hell, Im STILL scared.
"Do you believe in love, Tina?"
The accountant put her arms around Sam and pulled her close. "I I guess so but I always believed it was for other people not me."
"I dont know. Just thought thats the way it was."
"Have you changed your mind?"
"Youve changed my life, Samantha. If anybody can make me believe in it its you."
"Ill take that as a yes."
Tina kissed the top of the blonde head tucked beneath her chin before adding, in a voice so soft it was almost lost in the sounds of the surf, "Yes."
Sam smiled and listened to the rapid beating of the heart beneath her ear. Well, thats quite a lot of progress for one day. "Look." She pointed toward the horizon. "The sun will be setting soon."
The women watched the beautiful view in silence as they snuggled together on the bench.
"You ready to go?" Tina could feel the musician starting to shiver as the temperature quickly dropped. "Here." She held out the maroon FSU sweatshirt she had brought along. "Put this on."
Sam donned the heavy top. "Thanks."
"Would you like to go get some dinner?"
"That sounds good."
They began walking back toward the footbridge.
Tina saw that the beach was almost empty on the cool November evening. After mentally debating with herself, she reached over and held Sams hand. I hope this is okay. She looked at the musician and got a big smile in return. Yeah its okay.
They walked along, hand in hand.
"This is nice, isnt it?" Sam asked.
"Yes. I like this place."
"Yes." Tina stopped at the base of the footbridge. She brought their joined hands up to her lips and kissed their entwined fingers. "I like YOU."
"I like you, too." Sam grinned, waiting as the tall woman shuffled her feet in the sand, obviously trying to find the words to say something.
"Have you noticed that we agree a lot?"
"I think so, yes."
"Thats good, isnt it?"
"Umm yes." Tina sounded a bit perplexed. "But I Im not used to it."
"Well, youd better get used to it, because I have lots of things I want you to agree to."
"Oh YES " Sam stood on her tiptoes and kissed Tina.
"Umm well "
They started over the bridge.
"What do you think about me training for a marathon?"
"They're having one in Tampa this spring "
The womens voices faded into the night.
Continued in Part 8
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